• 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 8: The Dog and Pony Show part 1- the Ponies

Sunday, January 17th, twenty-sixteen, dawned gray in Kansas City, low clouds dropping a thin, freezing drizzle threatening to change to snow. Frick and Frack were inspecting the Deliverance, one last check before pulling out, heading downstream. Smoking Horn was walking with Frick, while Cold Current, the hippogriff, was in the water inspecting the boat’s hull.

“Been good having you here, Frick. You and yours have done more for me and mine than I ever realized needed doing,” Smoking Horn said after a puff on his ever-present pipe. “Before, we knew what we wanted, but didn’t know how to go about getting it. Now, we do.”

“Believe me, we’re happy to help. You’re comfortable with that small boat we picked up on Friday and refurbished?” Frick asked, pointing to the small fishing boat moored upstream of the Deliverance, with ‘River Bitch’ painted on the stern.

“Comfortable operating it, yes. When we move down to the breezies, we should get it all the way down the Blue River and find a mooring spot not far away. That and a truck or two will help in supplies. Thanks again for the Friday jaunt. The deer and grain will be a big help,” Smokey said through a cloud.

“Hey, we’re happy to help. You may want to move sooner than spring, though. Wakinya will want a place to run around in, and that school across the street would be a good place to shelter. Will keep a tribe warm and dry for a while, right?” Frick observed.

“How about by the first of March? We’ll want to get another truck up, survey the river, and scout the area for supplies. The nearby farms will keep us fed and occupied once spring hits, and the breezies will make good neighbors.”

“Don’t forget to transmit the potion books when they are done writing them. I know both we and the WSU want them, and you have more than enough space to build a potion factory,” Frick pointed out.

“I’ve already talked to the WSU about that. Hopefully they will be able to send a truck or train out here to K C to pick up potions, and find something suitable to swap for it. If I had my fingers, I would cross them,” Smoking Horn grunted, holding up his right forehoof.

“I know the feeling, Smokey. I know you have our numbers and emails, and we have yours. Take care of you and yours, and keep in touch. What with Margo and Morgan with you, the computers and radio are in good hooves. We will miss you, and we have a long way ahead of us to go to meet up with the WSU. Look after Wakinya, okay? I’m sure the kid will want to chat with Fred and Freida some time.” Frick looked up to see Frack waving a wing to get his attention. “Looks like all is ready to go,” he said, looking back to Smoking Horn and raising a hoof for a bump, which was returned with a smile.

“Be well, Frick, and may Raven guide your path to your new home. Keep in touch,” Smoking Horn said before releasing a massive cloud of cherry-scented tobacco smoke, which Frick had to admit was a good scent to inhale, despite being a life-long anti-smoker. Sometimes, personal biases have to take a back seat to co-operation.

“Thank you, Smokey. My best to the tribe, and may we never lose touch,” Frick said before shouting, “Qa’pla!”

“What’s that?” Smoking Horn asked.

“Klingon for ‘success’ or ‘victory’. Never was a Trekkie, was you?”

“Nope. Never appealed to me. Safe trip!”

With the Deliverance heading downstream, Frack sat next to Frick in the pilothouse. “What’s our plan of attack, bro?” he asked the Captain.

Using a pencil held in his magic, Frick tapped one of the display screens, the one showing the Missouri River. “I’m figuring Saint Louis on Wednesday morning. Today, get down to Glasgow. Tomorrow, Jefferson City. Tuesday, get near to Saint Louis but stop short. That will allow us to check the motors over Tuesday afternoon, to see if we need anything for them. Wednesday, find a place to moor and fuel before digging for supplies. If we find anything worth stopping for heading this way, we’ll stop and top up,” he told his brother.

“Sounds like a plan. Not many cities right up on the river, so not too many places to stop. Looks good enough to me. What do you know about Central Missouri, bro?” Frack asked.

“About as much as you do,” Frick replied.

“Meaning, nothing that’s not on the maps. Well, we’ll manage. Relieve you at noon?”

“Yep. By then, we should be well past Kaycee and we can open the throttles some. Water’s high and fast.”

“So will we. Let’s see what those Cummins diesels can do!” Frack said enthusiastically.

“AFTER we round the next bend. Why bother the manticores?” Frick observed.

“You have a point, bro.”

Below deck, Fran sat in her cabin, arranging a spot for Chopin to call her own. “Hope you can be comfortable on the voyage, Chopin,” she said to her as she arranged a box for the breezie.

“I hope so too, Fran. I know I can subsist on the different forms of flour you grind, and a small bag of all four types will keep me going a long time, along with access to water. Mind if I trim some of your mane, to line the nest with?” the little breezie squeaked.

“Can you do so, or would you like me to?” Fran asked, a hand going up to her almost-black headfur.

“You can. Some pieces about the length of my body will work, plus something warm and soft to sleep on.”

Fran dug in a drawer, pulling out several squares of flannel from the sewing supplies kept there. “How about this?” she asked, putting the pieces where Chopin can reach them.

After rolling on them carefully, Chopin nodded happily. “Perfect!” she shrilled, making her approval clear.

“Okay, then. How big a space would you like for your own?”

Chopin flew around the cabin, looking about. Flitting around the closet at first, then to the chest of drawers, then looking at the bed. She flew back to the chest and tapped the bottom drawer with a hoof. “Here. Take this piece off, and hang a sturdy cloth over the front. That will give me more than enough space to be happy!”

Fran smiled in relief. Something simple, that she didn’t have to ask for help doing. “Okay! Let me get it emptied first and the gear stowed, then I’ll get the tools. Until then, you can use my pillow, okay?”

“Okay!” Chopin squeaked, almost super-sonically. Fran got right to work getting things just so for her friend.

Shortly after that, once the Ameristar Casino disappeared around the bend in the river, Frick picked up the ship’s intercom microphone. “Attention everyone!” he called out. “Increasing speed to fifty percent power! Trust me, I know what I’m doing!”

Slowly, he eased the throttles forward. The big Cummins diesels came to excited life, rumbling happily as they started to show what they were capable of. The boat settled a little to the stern and the bow raised as it picked up speed, a wake forming on the surface of the river. With the drizzle, Frick did not want to go to full power, because he still had to watch for snags and drags in the river, high as it was. “Now, this is the way to travel!” he shouted happily as the Deliverance started to move faster.

“You sound happy, bro!” Frack shouted into the pilothouse.

“Because I am! Check out the provisions on the foredeck and the fly bridge. I want to be sure they’re tied down tight!” Frick yelled back, clearly thrilled to be moving at speed.

“Right!” Frack called back before heading to the foredeck. There, he found the big tubs of wheat, corn, oats and barley were still firmly in place, lids on tight, and Fran’s bicycle likewise secure. With a few strong flaps, he went to the fly bridge, slipping under the firm ‘roof’ to land on the deck. That took some doing to accomplish, because of the smoked meats hanging from the cover and the bins of food strapped to the deck, along with the auxiliary generator, gas cans, and whatever else was stashed up there. Frack only stayed up there long enough to determine everything was in place before hustling down off the bridge, because the smell of meat was both persistent and repulsive.

He made his way to an intercom panel. “Outside stowage secure, Captain! Anything else before I freeze my chibogies off?” Frack asked.

“Nope! Come in and get warm! You relieve me after lunch, so get ready for that!” Frick responded over the intercom.

“Be right in!” and he was, because the intercom point was right by the saloon aft door, and he wasted no time coming in, ignoring the fridge and going straight for the coffee mug Frieda was holding out in her claw, handle turned for Frack to grab it, which he did. “Thanks, Freida!”

“Welcome, Frack. Lunch in ninety. Go take a nap,” Frieda commanded. Frack guzzled down his coffee and did just that.

The chill, drizzle and mist lasted all the way through Wednesday, slowing them up enough so they missed their target stops every single day, overnighting in different towns than they had planned. Once, they just anchored out in the river. That night, Frick posted night watches, just in case. Nothing happened that night, but everyone aboard understood why he posted the night watches, including Chopin.

An hour before sunset Wednesday afternoon, Frick parked the Deliverance in a narrow stretch of the Missouri River, south side of something listed on the charts as Johnson Island, upriver of Saint Louis. After dropping anchor, he announced over the intercom, “Attention all hooves, paws and what-have-you. While the sun is shining, everyone turn to for boat inspection! You have your assignments, and dinner won’t be served until we are done! That is all!”

After starting the auxiliary generator and shutting down the main diesels, Frick started his duty- hull inspection fore and aft, including the fly bridge. Frack checked the engines, Freida the saloon while fixing dinner, Fred below decks and Fran in the pilothouse, checking the main computer.

Over dinner, Frick took everyone’s reports and thought fast before speaking. “Okay, everyone. Tonight, Fran and I are going to go over some maps, to find some places where we can fuel up at, find more grains and other sundry supplies. Once that’s done, we will all turn in, to get an early start tomorrow. We’re already behind whatever schedule we do have, thanks to the weather.

“I’ll do the check-in with the WSU before I go to sleep tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll take the first watch, Fred the second, unless we find what we want early, in which case I’ll take volunteers for a shutdown watch. Fred, time for our evening services before cleanup.”

Fred stood up. “Thanks, Frick,” he said to the Captain before doing the prayer service. He surprised everyone by adding at the end, “...and no pranking us, you old bird! Look after your pack there, this is OUR job! Amen!”

“What was that about, Fred?” Frack asked.

“Just letting Raven know I have not forgotten about him, Frack. I’m sure he appreciates the attention,” Fred replied, the pair moving to the back of the saloon while the others cleaned up.

The next morning over breakfast, Frick had a plan set up for the fliers. “Freida, I want you to check out the north bank of the river. We’re upstream of St. Charles, so your job is to do a fast scan of the riverbank area, looking for signs of life and quick plunder. Frack, you take the south bank. There’s a place across from Saint Charles that is listed as ‘LaFarge-North America’ on my charts. It’s a sand and gravel pit, but they have dock areas. What I’m looking for is a place to refuel. If you give the go-ahead, I’ll pull in there and we’ll set up the purifier.

“As soon as you two leave, I’ll start up and follow slowly, just making steerageway downstream. I’ll be listening to the radio, and if you find anything, we’ll pick up speed to meet you. Got it?”

“From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs,” Frieda quoted.

“Just that, Freida,” Frick acknowledged. “You two are the fliers, so you go ahead and scout. You take a weapon with you, in case you see some game. We still have plenty, but if we’re going to be refueling, it will take us all day and into tomorrow to do. I want to see if I can do Firebrand’s method of smoking meats for you and Fran.”

“Got it, Frick,” both Frack and Freida replied simultaneously. The pegasus and griffin looked at each other and smiled some.
“Get started now. I’ll do the breakfast dishes,” Frick told the two.

Together, the two flew along the Missouri River, going east, then north then east again as the river took its own course. “Okay, it’s after we pass the I-70 bridge that we should start looking closer. If we pass a third bridge, we overshot.” Frack called over to his aerial partner.

“Right. Want me to stick with you while searching for the fuel point, or separate then?” Freida asked.

“Let’s stay together. If there is a suitable fuel point there, it won’t take long to find, then we can explore Saint Charles together. I need another couple of cases of VC!” Frack called back.

“Plus we’re low on Fred’s favorite tea. He’s been burning through a lot since we left Kaycee,” Freida confided.

“Is Fred all right?” Frack asked, concern evident.

“He will be. He’s just got a lot on his mind, what with the talents Raven bestowed on him, and some concern about Wakinya. At least Smokey or CC takes him out to a field for some running around. That makes the little buffalo happy, charging around an empty lot. Fred and I are proud of the little fellow,” Freida admitted.

“As well you should be. He looks up to the two of you. Why didn’t you and Fred ever have kids?” Frack asked. “One of you incapable?”

“Oh, no, it’s not that,” Freida said quickly. “It’s just that we were more career-oriented. Neither of us wanted to be away from our jobs long enough to raise children properly. Besides, I had plenty of kids to look after at the library, and Fred did the same at the church. That was enough for us.”

“I can believe that. Besides, we kept each other busy, looking out for us all. The Fearsome Foursome, fifty-plus years together. Not even the end of the world could keep us apart!” Frack laughed.

“That’s the truth!” Freida laughed in agreement.

It wasn’t long before the two came upon the gravel pit Frick had highlighted on their maps as a possible fueling point. Frack and Freida made several overflights of the river’s south bank, seeing the rock loading conveyors, the barges tied up alongside the docks, but… no tugboats and most worrisome, no fuel points. “Well, so much for that idea…” Frack said, disappointed.

“There's bound to be some sort of fueling station around here somewhere…” Freida started to say before Frack cut her off.

“I’m sure there is, but I didn’t see any possibilities other than this place. We’re down to forty percent in the tanks, so we’re not in ‘aw, shit’ mode, but we are in the ‘it’s beginning to get worrisome’ mode right now,” Frack sighed before looking at the north bank. “Let’s see if we can find a Wal-Mart or a Sam’s Club”

“Sounds like a plan to me. You're going to call in the findings, or shall I?” Freida asked.

“You do it. I can talk and fly, but it’s easier for you than me,” Frack admitted.

“Okay, Just go into a hover for a moment,” Freida said as she got her radio out of her flight bag. “Crusher to Enterprise.”

“This is the Enterprise. Have you and Geordi found anything significant, Doctor?” Frick asked.

“Yes. The hoped-for dilithium station is not here. Just a cargo facility for barges. We’re about to check the city on the north side. We’ll be in touch,” Freida said with a straight face. She knew how Frick and Frack thought, and she was as big a sci-fi fan as they are, just not as extreme with it.

“Understood, Doctor. Good hunting! Enterprise out,” Frick said to them in his best Picard imitation.

“Okay, let’s get looking. Overfly the shore end to end, then go in a block or two and try again?” Freida suggested as she put her radio back in the bag.

“Good idea. Let’s start over there at the east end and work back,” Frack replied, pointing with a wingtip before heading that way, Freida in close formation.

They got to fifty feet altitude before starting the sweep. “Athletic center…” Frack snorted.

“Rock climbing building…” Freida said, pointing a claw.

“Parkland, parkland, parkland…” Frack muttered.

“Ameristar Casino… I hate Ameristars… Wait, what’s that?” Freida said, pointing at the casino garage.

“What’s what?” Frack asked, circling to see. He looked to see something on the roof of the garage before he let out a screech, an arrow piercing his right wing.

“Frack!” Freida shouted, immediately flying under him to catch him on her back. “Hold your wing still! Let me do the flying!”

“Okay, Freida…” Frack told her, pain apparent. Freida got her radio back out.

“Frick! Priority one! Medical emergency! Frack’s taken a shot to his wing. Go to full power and I’ll meet you!” she squawked, diving some to pick up speed before leveling off some twenty feet above the water.

Frick, while he liked to play his way through life, knew when to be serious. “Deliverance going to full power. I’ll alert Fred. Can you land on the after deck?” he asked, throttling up, the sound of the engines coming over the radio.

“Meet me there and you can lift him off my back. Out.” Freida said, letting the radio hang by its strap from her wrist, concentrating more on flying. She could hear Frack struggling to maintain his composure. “Frack, it hurts and I know it. Ten minutes max, and we can get it out. At least it didn’t skewer your side.”

“Yeah, but it still hurts. What I want to know is who’s shooting arrows so damn well? We had to be at least a hundred yards off, maybe more!” Frack panted, the talk helping him get through the pain of the arrow through his wing and trying to hold it still while in the air.

“Someone who doesn’t like pegasi, for sure. Just breathe, it won’t be long. Fred can heal you. I have a case of your poison stashed away. Should still be nice and cold,” Freida told Frack as she flapped some, boosting her speed, banking slightly to the right as she followed the river.

Five minutes later, as she banked left, the Deliverance came into view about a thousand yards ahead, rounding another bend. “I have you in sight, Freida!” Fran said over the radio. “Is that an arrow?”

“Sure is! I see you ahead! Get below and take over from Frick so he and Fred can meet me! Frack’s losing blood, I don’t know how much.”

“Doing,” was Fran’s response. Freida could see Fran heading off the fly bridge.

Three minutes later, Freida was hovering off of Deliverance’s stern as Frick lifted his brother off her back. She flew to the fly bridge to land as Frick cut the arrow in half with bolt cutters and removed said arrow from Frack’s wing. Fred touched his nose to Frack’s hoof, and a white glow suffused over the pegasus, who sighed in relief before falling asleep.

Frick lifted Frack off the deck, through the saloon door, and onto the table. Freida came in and grabbed the first aid kit, the small one, before inspecting Frack’s wound. “You heal good, Fred. If it wasn’t for the blood on his feathers, I couldn’t find the wound,” she commented.

“Just glad it worked, Maw. It did hurt him, but I think it is more from surprise than any real damage. Frick, let’s put him to bed. He’ll wake up hungry in a few hours,” Fred cautioned.

Frick did just that, putting Frack on his bunk in the cabin they shared below before coming up and asking for a full report, which he got from Freida. “A doglike form with a bow and arrows from the roof of the parking garage of the Ameristar? Makes me want to avoid casinos, period,” he said after the report.

“I don’t think so, Frick, not this time. If this dog is like us, he or she is going to need some help,” Fred said from his seat. “This bears looking into, plus we know the WSU is interested in any colonies we find.”

“Pardon me for being nervous about this, Fred. One of us has already been shot down. What do we do, go in under cover of gunfire?” Frick asked rhetorically.

“Not quite, but close,” Fran called from the pilothouse. “Go in with guns visible, and shoot only when necessary. In this case, warning shots will work.”

“You sure, Fran?” Frick asked.

“No, just a feeling I got, is all. I also feel it will be darkest before the dawn, and it’s only midnight,” Fran answered.

Frick looked over at Fred and Freida. “She’s fitting right in,” he said in low tones.

“She’s smarter than her looks,” Freida said quietly before speaking a bit louder. “Get the maps and let’s figure out what to do next.”

Half an hour later, the Deliverance anchored on the south bank of the Missouri, just past the I-70 bridge. Frick put the motors in idle and called the others to the saloon. “Okay, here’s my plan. Freida, you’re high guard. Fran, Fred, you two climb the bank and take the bridge across to explore the casino. Chopin, you can go if you choose. I won’t make you.”

“I stay here, watch over Frack. Keep him out of the way while the rest of you work,” the little breezie shrilled from her ‘patch’ on the table, a felt-lined plastic storage box just big enough for her to fit in comfortably, with a ledge for food and drink to be placed for her convenience.

“I like that idea, Chopin. Fred, how long will he be asleep?” Frick asked.

“He’s been under half an hour already. My best guesstimate is that he will wake up within the next hour,” Fred reported.

“Okay. Chopin, when Frack wakes up and achieves something close to mental clarity, have him come up and see me. By then, we’ll have some idea of what’s going on, I hope.

“Let’s get to it, ponies and others. Solve this, and we can go back on our quest for fuel and supplies,” Frick concluded, getting up, as did the others. Fran and Freida went to the arms locker for weapons, while Fred went down below to get his saddlebags.

Fred and Fran made their way from the riverbank up a path to the side of I-70, to find some things they were not expecting, like there being a guard shack-like small building sitting alongside the westbound lanes of the interstate, a gray and green unicorn stallion inside the guard shack, and a large-bore shotgun held in the unicorn’s green magic pointed right at Fran. “I would suggest you two not take another step. Especially you, two-foot!” the unicorn said with an Oklahoma twang and a snarl that was clear to all. “What are you two doing here?”

“Looking for who shot a friend of ours through the wing with an arrow from the Ameristar garage roof. I’m Fred, first mate of the trawler Deliverance, parked down under the bridge. With me is our Technical officer, Fran. What be your name, good sir?” Fred asked, in tones which managed to mix kindness with power of the type that did not want to be woken up.

“Virgil Parker, from Tulsa originally. I was passing through Saint Loo on my way to Chicago, stopped for the night here, and woke up like this. Where are you from?” he asked, his gun not wavering at all.

“Columbus, Nebraska. My wife and I, along with two friends, were going out fishing one Saturday in May, and we appeared in the same spot about a week before Christmas. We took the fishing boat downstream to outside of Omaha, where we found a better boat, and we found Fran in the same neighborhood. We’re bound for New Orleans, then along the coast to Florida. If I may ask, why the gun and why are you pointing it at Fran?” Fred asked after his explanations.

“Because there’s a pack of no-good two-foots across the river who refuse to stay on their side of the river and come here to steal whatever they can get their grubby paws on! There ain’t nought more than eight of us over here, and we is just barely hangin’ on by our fingernails here!” Virgil said with desperation in his voice. “We don’t need them damn two-foots nickin’ from what we built up!”

“How long have you and the two-foots been at odds with each other? You can put the gun down. We won’t bite,” Fred said calmly.

“Just as long as the two-foot don’t come any closer, I will. First time in weeks I’ve had the chance to jawbone with someone I didn’t know, someone not part of our group.” Virgil said, lowering the gun. Fran obediently stepped back a few paces, putting Fred between her and the unicorn. “That’s better.

“Now, to answer your question, I’ve been back here since sometime in July. Up until my semi ran out of gas, I did a lot of scavenging. Right now, we’re living at the food bank, all eight of us. The damn two-foots started their thieving in August. Not once did they try to parley, just take. Since we put up the shack, no more thefts.”

“When did you put up the shack?” Fred asked.

“First of November, when Sadie showed up. That allowed one of us to keep watch while the rest scavenged for the food bank. Found Zach last week, makes eight in our bunch. Ah got the duty here because I know how to shoot a gun AND hit a target,” Virgil said with a bit of pride.

Fran then dared ask a question. “Do you have any contact with the outside world?” she asked.

Virgil literally stopped in his tracks, eyes shifting some as the question hit him. It took him a minute to answer. “To be honest, all we know of the ‘outside world’ are the damned two-foots across the river here and half-a-dozen four-foots down around the Arch. We’ve met up a couple of times, but Suzanne handles that. She’s the boss.”

“Tell you what. We’re anchored down on the river here, under the bridge. I’m authorized by our captain to offer two ponies here dinner tonight, just so we can talk. Come armed if you feel you should, but just remember. We’re armed, too. We’re perfectly happy to make friends, but we won’t stand for back-stabbers,” Fred declared like a preacher from the pulpit calling down the wrath of God on a misbehaving congregation.

Virgil stepped back a pace. “Hold on there, minister! We may not like two-foots, but we have reason. Plus, the occasional dog pack makes life here after dark a bit miserable. What I can do is to bring Suzanne the news of your arrival when I get off shift, and let her know of your presence. If she wants to, we can make it over about an hour after dark. Is that too late for you?” he offered.

“You don’t have any radios?” Fran asked.

“Miss Fran, we don’t got anything of the sort. Of the eight of us, we have two of each type of horse, a zebra and a griffon. Suzanne’s the oldest of us, then me. I was a truck driver, Suzanne worked at an advertising firm, we got a high school student, an elementary school teacher’s aide, a bag lady, a photographer, a cab driver and Mary Sue won’t say. She refuses to talk about before, hell, getting her to speak at all is an effort!” Virgil exclaimed, tossing his head with a snort, letting his uncropped greenish-yellow mane fly about in annoyance. “None of us knows anything about how to start everything up again!”

“Tell you what, Virgil,” Fred said in quite reasonable tones. “You and Suzanne come over for if not dinner, then coffee and cake with the crew of the ship. I’m sure we can come up with some sort of a deal to get you started. First off would be getting a radio setup so you can talk to, or just listen to, the WSU, the World Seafarer’s Union. Just that alone can help you get up from nothing to something which will lead to more things, right?”

“I should think so. I’ll try to talk Suzanne into it. If we’re not at your boat by two hours after dark, we won’t be coming. I’ll be back on guard duty shortly after sunrise, if you want to talk. Maybe I can bring Suzanne out here then, if not tonight. Deal?” Virgil asked, still a bit wary, but seeming more open to talk.

“Sounds good to me. If you’re not at the Deliverance tonight, we’ll bring you a thermos of hot coffee in the morning. Okay?” Fred offered.

Virgil immediately broke out into a big grin. “For hot coffee, it’s a deal! Trying to use a camp percolator over a bonfire is so iffy, I just gave up trying. I miss my coffee!”

“I’m sure we can come up with a way to get you SOME power, at least enough to run a coffee pot!” Fran said with an equally bright smile.

“You may be a damned two-foot, but you come offering, not taking. If only the other two-foots were more like you,” Virgil sighed.

“I have an idea!” Fran said from her position behind Fred. “It’s early still, so let me dash back to the boat, get a thermos full of coffee, and bring it back here? How do you like your coffee? We have sugar, powdered milk and creamer packets!”

Virgil’s eyes lit up in delight, his weapon slipping back into its holster in a flash of greenish light. “Miss Fran, that is a most excellent idea!” he said, his joy obvious. “Creamer and sugar, please!”

“See if there are any other breakfast leftovers too, Fran. Bring the big thermos, four cups, and check on Frack for me. He should still be asleep,” Fred asked.

“Right, Fred! Be right back!” Fran said before dashing off.

“Eager, isn’t she?” Virgil asked, watching Fran sprint to the river.

“She’s young, not even twenty-five yet. She learns fast, though. I’m proud to be one of her teachers,” Fred told Virgil before saying in the same tone of voice, “If nothing’s going on across the river, Maw, come on down.”

“Maw? Who’s Maw?” Virgil asked.

“My wife of forty years plus, Freida. She’s been overhead the whole time, circling, observing, and listening,” Fred explained, tapping the radio slung on to his saddlebags. “The Captain and Maw have been listening the whole time. Maw’s a griffin.”

“She can fly? How? Zach hasn’t figured out how to yet, nor have our pegasusses! How does she do it?” Virgil exclaimed, totally surprised as a shadow passed over him, causing him to look up and see Freida coming in to land beside Fred, putting a wing around her husband.

“Simple enough, Virgil,” Freida said, turning her spectacled face to the startled unicorn. “God gave us wings, and if He didn’t mean for us to make use of them, we would not have them to begin with. Once I convinced myself of that, all it takes is practice.” She then reached up with a claw and removed the tape holding Fred’s microphone open before turning her own radio back on. Feedback is a bitch, ya know.

“You’ve just got to teach Zach, Carol and Lena how to get off the ground. That will impress the hell out of Suzanne if we can get fliers out of this!” Virgil said, joy and hope coming to his voice.

“That’s part of our purpose on this voyage, Virgil, to teach what we have learned to those who want to learn. That way, we do God’s work as well as our own,” Fred said plainly, like saying the sun was out from between the clouds, which it was.

“Were you a preacher before all this, Fred?” Virgil asked.

“Nope. Sexton of Saint Isidore’s church in Columbus, Nebraska. Been there since the seventies. Never did have the desire to truly preach, just live my life by His laws and teach by example,” he explained as paws could be heard approaching.

Fran ran up the small slope, wearing a backpack and carrying a large thermos. “Sorry I took so long, Virgil. I made a fresh pot before coming back. Got rolls, molasses, and two tubs of porridge. I hope you like!” she said as she put the thermos down, took off the backpack, and dug out four plastic coffee mugs.

“Go ahead and pour yourself some coffee, Virgil,” Fred advised as Fran then pulled out the creamer and sugar packets. “You know how you like it.”

“Don’t mind if I do!” Virgil exclaimed as he got the top off the thermos, poured himself a mug, then adulterated it to fit his taste before taking a slow sip. “Coffee…” he sighed happily.

“If I may make a suggestion, Virgil, how about you tell me where Suzanne is, and I’ll fly over to talk to her. Maybe we can bring her over to the Deliverance to parley today,” Freida suggested.

“Good idea!” Virgil said. Using a hoof, he pointed northeast. “Go around this building here and you’ll find Rider Trail. Follow that as it curves to the right, then you’ll see a double-laned road. That’s Earth City Expressway. Follow that and you’ll cross Saint Charles Rock Road. Follow the expressway and you’ll see two buildings on the left, one big, one small. The smaller one’s the food bank. Suzanne’s the zebra. She’s in charge. Don’t mind her, she is a bit pushy, but she is a good leader.”

“All right, then. Let me head over that way while you have breakfast. Fred and Fran will keep you company,” Freida said as Fran got out rolls, molasses and their four-grain porridge. “Wish we had butter, but…”

“We got butter and eggs. The food bank’s cooler is well-insulated, and it kept butter and eggs fresh until we found them. I’m sure she’ll be willing to dicker,” Virgil said as he coated a roll with molasses before taking a bite. “Hey! That’s fresh!”

“Baked it yesterday. Now, time to get moving!” Freida said before moving clear and leaping into the air, her wings getting that first good flap in to get her airborne.

“My, my, my…” Virgil said after swallowing.

Freida, following the directions she was given, soon found herself over the food bank. What made it easy to find was that she spotted two ponies pulling a cart heading that way, so she decided to circle it, watching the two ponies. One was a unicorn, white in color with a red mane and tail, and a pink horn, with a cutie mark of some sort of reddish circle, Freida could not quite make out. The other was a pegasus, mottled blue and black with a blonde mane and tail and gray wings. That one did not have a cutie mark. After a few moments, she decided to land in front of them, by the building they were heading for, the food bank.

“Hello, everyone!” she said brightly after she had paws on the pavement. “I’m Freida Halvorsen, from Columbus, Nebraska. I met your gate guard up on the interstate and he said to come here and talk to Suzanne. Can you show me where she is?”

The two ponies stared at Freida, mouths open, for a good ten seconds before the white one managed to pull herself together. “Yes. She’s inside. May we unhitch ourselves first?”

“Of course. I would like to see how you do it. Who did the sewing?” Freida asked. She was able to tell the stitching, while undeniably strong, was also crude.

“At first Suzette and Virgil. After I got here, me,” the unicorn explained as her horn glowed pink, and a pink aura formed around the buckles, undoing them and letting the straps go loose before the two ponies stepped out. That’s when Freida noticed that the unicorn’s cutie mark was that of a single red apple.

“Gets the job done, I can tell. I’ve been doing a lot of sewing for the crew of our boat, but I don’t mind it. Only two of us have hands,” Freida explained.

“Just how do you fly?” the pegasus asked once the straps came off her. She flapped her wings with a pout on her face.

An authoritative voice cut in from the building. “Right now, I’m the questions, Lena. Turn around, stranger, and do it slowly. I have half a mind to kick your tail right now just because it feels good!”

Freida made no obvious sign, other than putting a front paw in her belt pouch. “Oh, I’ll turn around, because meeting the boss is what I came here for. But, we don’t hold truck with bullies. We have a score to settle with the ones across the river!” Freida said with a snap that could only come from decades of experience rassling up kids in libraries. She quickly spun in place, to see a zebra holding a metal baseball bat high. With a glare in place on her griffin face, she pulled her pistol out and pointed it squarely at the zebra’s midsection. “I doubt you would forgive me if I fired, but I know God would. Now, put that down and let sense rule your mind, not misplaced anger!”

The two ladies locked eyes for a good half minute or so before the zebra relaxed. “I hope you don’t mind if I get defensive for my people,” she said as she put the bat away in a crude sling strapped to her side.

Freida put her pistol away. “Why should I? Virgil was the same way, but he soon saw the right of things. My husband and the boat’s technical officer are chatting with him now, over coffee. Captain’s in charge onboard the boat, while the Engineer should be waking up any time now. Dogs across the river shot him through the wing. If I may ask, how are your folk doing?” she asked in a much calmer tone of voice. From behind, she could hear the two ponies exhale rather noisily.

“Do you have a doctor among your crew?” the zebra asked. “Zach, the griffon we found last week, isn’t doing well. He’s weak, despite a good appetite.”

“I’m an EMT, and Fred’s a healer. How much red meat do you have?” Freida asked. “Us griffins require meat in our diets to thrive. Fish will work too, especially for pegasi.”

“Canned, we have. Fresh, no. The cool box is maintaining a temperature just below freezing, but much of the meats, fish and poultry already got freezer-burned. Just how do you manage to fly?” the zebra asked before hitting her face with a hoof. “Forgive me for forgetting my social graces. I’m Suzanne Blakeslee, formerly an advertising agent for KMOX radio. Behind you are Sadie MacLeod, a former elementary school teacher’s aide, and Lena Roth.”

“I’m Freida Halvorsen, formerly Chief Librarian of Columbus, Nebraska. Our ship’s captain, Frick Larsen, was the chief Engineer of KZEN radio in Columbus. Our Engineer, his younger brother Frack, was a mechanic for a garage in town, my husband Fred was sexton of Saint Isidore’s church, and our latest recruit, Fran Vasquez, was an I.T. employee for the University of Nebraska in Omaha. I’ve been asked by Frick to see if anyone wants to come by for coffee and cakes. Anyone willing?” Freida asked.

“Did you say COFFEE?” all three ponies squeaked in surprise and desire. Suzanne went on with, “Every time we try a percolator on a charcoal grille, we never manage to get it right. How do you manage it?”

“With a regular Mister Coffee. We have power on the boat. We can teach you how to clean up fuel, both diesel and gasoline, so you can run generators. We can also offer fresh meat and fish for your pegasi and your griffon. What do you have to trade?” Freida asked.

“More canned goods than you can shake a stick at, plus butter, eggs, cheese, cans of flour, sugar, and a lot of government surplus stuff. We found a warehouse full of that stuff early on, and we managed to move a lot of stuff that needed cool here. Back then, it was just me, Virgil, Carl and Mary Sue. We worked hard getting our stocks built up here,” Suzanne explained.

“While we not only have tech knowledge, fresh meat and whole grains, we have contacts with the outside world. Once you have power, we can get you set up with the WSU. We’re heading out to meet them, eventually to settle at the WSU headquarters in Rotterdam. A seagoing merchant fleet trying to keep themselves running. Interested?” Freida asked with a smile.

“You better believe it! But, what can we bring to the table?” Suzanne asked.

“That will be up to you and the WSU to determine. But not quite yet. May I check in with the ship? Please pardon us, we are a bit eccentric, but the eccentricities keep us sane in this crazy world,” Freida said a touch lamely as she got her radio out of her pack.

“What do you mean by ‘eccentric’?” Suzanne asked.

Freida gave Suzanne a ‘you’ll see’ look as ske keyed her mic. “T’Pol to Archer,” she called.

“This is Captain Archer. Go ahead, T’Pol. Did you make contact?” Frick asked.

“Yes, I did. They have plenty to trade, and are willing to talk. Is Trip awake yet?”

“Yes, he is. He’s trying to get the blood out of his feathers, and is raising a bit of a ruckus. I think he’s earned the opportunity to vent.”

“I have to agree, Captain. I would like to make a suggestion, if I may, and that is to bring the ship up to that LaFarge place we scouted earlier. No fuel, but it does have mooring facilities and it is closer to their base than where you’re parked now. Plus, you have Trip as a guide.”

“Point made, T’Pol. Let me call Hoshi and Malcolm to let them know before pulling up stakes. Deal?”

“Sounds good to me, Captain. Meet you in what, an hour?” Freida asked.

That should be enough time, T’Pol. Anything else I should make ready?”

“Just be glad I insisted on bagging some deer earlier. There’s a griffon here showing signs of malnutrition. We got enough to swap, and put on fresh coffee!”

“Gotcha. This world seems to run on fresh coffee! See you soon! Archer out.”

“Later, Captain. T’Pol out.” Freida said before restowing her radio.

“Now I see what you mean by bizarre. How can you do that?” Suzanne asked.

“Frick, Frack, Fred and I grew up together in Columbus. We’re all sci-fi addicts, but Frick and Frack ‘play the game’ more than Fred or I do. Fred and I have been married over forty years. Treat life like a game, but know when to drop the game and get things done. It’s how we get along despite everything,” Freida explained.

“Let’s get inside and I’ll show you around. You tell me what you can use in trade, okay” Suzanne asked, actually smiling.

“Sounds like a deal. Let’s get to it.”

Author's Note:

Chapter eight and the start of the Saint Louis arc. One casualty already, fortunately minor, but who knows what evil lurks on the north shore of the Missouri? The Shadow knows... snickers ...and so do I. The rest of you are going to have to wait a week or two.

Don't worry, going down the Mississippi, it's only going to get worse.

Personal PSA note- if you have not been vaccinated for Covid-19, DO IT! I was lucky to survive my first encounter. The second dose had me flatbacked for almost a week, but the side effects are worth the protection bestowed.

Until next time!