Welcome to the eighteenth installment of -
"A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE UNTO HEAVEN " By Pepe K.
(Winner of 30 UKE Awards)
The following story concerns the Toonsters' freshman year of Acme Looniversity at college level. This tale of mystery and adventure is best read from the beginning - the other parts are available at HKUriah's TTA Fanfic site, among others. I suggest you read it from the start or you'll not know what is transpiring.
This tale is rated PG-13.
This story contains many references to music, some of which you may be familiar with. It contains and was inspired by the music of Danny Elfman's film soundtracks. In order to enhance this experience, I've made notations as to where each specific piece of music fits into the story. If it's available to you, I'd *strongly* suggest getting the CD or cassette tape, so that you'll not only read the story, but hear it happen as well. All the music is available on CD.
Most is from Danny Elfman's Original Motion
MUSIC FOR A DARKENED THEATRE -Vol. 2,
"BIG FISH" (SK 93094), "THE HULK" (B0000633-02),
William Stromberg's original motion picture soundtrack of
"TRINITY AND BEYOND" (The Atomic Bomb Movie)
"The Planets" by Gustav Holst, (Telarc.CD.80133)
& the film soundtrack of "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN".
I'd like to thank HKUriah, Thorne, Andy Fox, Peter Bunny, Leloni Bunny, Dennis Smith and Danny Elfman.
This story is dedicated to my Beloved Wife.
For two great film composers: Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein
All historical data of the years 1861-1862 contained herein is based on authenticated facts.
And now - Part 18 of -
(Trinity & Beyond, #5, "Operation: Crossbow")
The Atlantic ocean - thousands of miles of empty blue-grey water lay before them. Far away, across the vista of endless waters, mighty waves pounded upon themselves, throwing hundreds of tons of seawater over and down with enough crushing force to bury a whole world.
"We're here!" said Doctor Lord with passion. "We're *really* here!"
The Toonsters and Lord stood on the deck of the USS Monitor; a small, flat, blackish pointed oval in the midst of a seemingly endless sea. Behind them rose the world's first round iron gun turret, and before them, a small box-like pilot house. The ship rode smoothly though the water at the end of a pair of thick hawser ropes, being towed by the side-wheel tug boat 'Seth Low' that was loping on four hundred feet ahead of them.
The Monitor seemed like something right out of Jules Verne's novels; a flat dark, strangely-shaped, all-metal vessel with rivet heads bumping out all over her surfaces in rows, like Captain Nemo's submarine 'Nautilus'. Behind the turret were square twin smokestacks six feet high with coal-smoke flowing out of them. Behind those were two similar stacks for drawing in fresh air to the ship's engines. Sitting on the deck in front of the turret and between the smokestacks were two small wooden life boats. Trailing far behind were two other steamers, chugging along as part of the tiny convoy headed south.
There was fine westerly wind, a smooth sea and as fair as sky as can be found in the month of March. The wind and sea air were fresh in the toons' faces. The sun on the empty ocean was perfect. The steady clank, clank, clank of the steam engines told them that the ship was operating. It was a calm, mild day.
"So we're finally on our way," said Furball, surprised once again to find his voice.
"Heh, dis boat looks like somebody threw a hat onto a lake!" remarked Fowlmouth, shifting his sneakers on the perfectly flat iron deck.
"Or a cheese box on a raft!" added Gogo.
"Or a tin can on a shingle," commented Wakko.
"Interesting... that's exactly how some witnesses described her as looking," observed Doctor Lord.
"What's that stretch of land coming up on the right, Doc?" asked Mary pointing into the distance.
"I do believe that is Sandy Hook, New Jersey. On the northern tip of it is Fort Hancock...Hmm, I think perhaps we'd better get below."
The big skunk lead the way to the turret and an iron ladder on its' side. One by one, the Toonsters climbed up the nine feet of iron and stood on the iron rails that made up the roof. Plucky and Fifi were the last up the ladder as the duck couldn't resist looking into the gunports.
"These look just like train tracks" observed Buster, shifting his big furry feet on the hard metal roof.
"That's just what they are" Hamton confirmed.
From their vantage point, everyone could see far and wide. The sunlight sparkled upon every dappled wave, mirroring hot yellow shimmers into their eyes. Nearer to the ship, shifting grayish shadows angled down into the ocean's depths like roadways to the bottom of the sea. The crisp breezes and the smell of seawater made it breathtaking.
Doctor Lord stood staring at the horizon as everyone else began to move towards the twin hatchways down into the turret. Babs slid the metal plate open and looked down into the darkness below. As they moved to climb down the ladders inside, Shirley and the others noted that Lord had not moved, but stood solemnly gazing out ahead of the ship.
"Where're we goin' Doc?", she asked, trying to see what he saw.
It took a moment before Lord broke from his thoughts to look at her and a another moment before he found words.
"...On a strange journey, my friends. ..From where we are now... to where we must be," he said profoundly.
"Like, way to wreck the mood, Doc," remarked Shirley.
Amused, the tall skunk chuckled once as he lead them down the hatchway into the darkness below. The interior of the turret was lit by candles fitted into covered sconces on the curved iron walls. Some sunlight filtered in through the slats of the roof, throwing bizarre striped shadows on everything. The cramped turret was dominated by two tremendous guns. These massive black smoothbore cannons were shaped like rounded soda-pop bottles. On the wooden grating that was the floor lay big black cannon balls and long strange, pole-like tools.
"Hey, these look like the cannons we use at home!" observed Buster.
"They may look like them - but these guns won't just blacken you with soot", the Doctor told them gravely, "They can fire one of those one hundred and sixty-six pound solid shot on the floor over a mile away. They can also shoot explosive shells with enough power to rip any wooden ship into nothing but splinters."
"Word!" Mary responded with some hip moves. "Reality check - *not* like at home! Un-uhhhh!"
"If you'll look carefully at the gun carriages, you'll see that they have been broken and repaired," Lord told them. "You see, this vessel is is a prototype and the sailors were not used to its' newfangled machinery. What usually happens when you fire a gun?"
"Somebody's beak winds up on the wrong side of their head?" Plucky commented, sticking his head down the cannon's muzzle, making his voice echo.
"The gun recoils," Calamity stated calmly. "For each action - there is
an equal and opposite reaction."
"Correct," said Lord, "but in this confined space, there's no room to let the gun recoil. It would break off its' carriage and might crush the gunners."
"So John Ericsson designed a 'friction gear' to take up the recoil," Mary added.
"Yes he did, but the chief engineer forgot to wind it the right way the first time they fired them and both guns jumped off their carriages," Hamton concluded.
As the conversation continued, Fifi glowered in silence. She began to think of what her sister had told her on the phone only minutes ago. Why had Moufette known of Lord's true nature? Why hadn't he mentioned it? At the moment, she couldn't ask him in front of everyone... but she could think to him.
["Ah need to speak weeth vous,"] she thought to Lord.
Only his silver eyes registered that he'd heard her as he continued to speak to the others.
["There's no time now, Petite`,"] he answered. ["We're about to-!"]
Suddenly the group felt their hosts coming on. By the time Fifi had thought her next words they'd all changed and found themselves as male humans again.
["Moufette m'a dites..."] Fifi thought aloud, stopping when she saw bearded sailors standing where her toony friends had stood moments ago.
["Told you vat?"] asked Arnold, once again in the body of Lieutenant Greene, the young mustachioed second in command.
["N-...nutheeng,"] the skunkette sighed, ["Ah waz joost theenking."]
"Heh, look at those two," said Lt. Greene, referring to the gunboats following the Monitor. "They only have four thirty-two pounders and a twenty pound gun apiece! We could sink 'em with one shot."
"Aye Sir, they ain't much of a convoy for the likes of us," agreed the burly Boatswain's Mate whom Hamton inhabited.
"They are just lifeboats," huffed Fifi's man, Gunner's Mate Joseph Crown. "The Navy still doesn't think we'll float."
"Belay that," admonished Greene. "This ship is more buoyant than any I ever shipped aboard."
With that, Greene climbed the ladder to the roof of the turret, followed by Gogo's young thin host, Master Louis Stodder.
Hamton's fellow watched them go, then sat on one of the big cannon balls to relax and drew out a pipe. As he stuffed it with fragrant tobacco, Hamton's thoughts found their way to Fifi.
["Don't think about Moufette now. It will only make you mad."]
["Les Eww! You're goeeng to let him smoke zat?"] gasped Fifi in revulsion as Hamton's host lit the pipe.
["Looks like I have no choice - oh Gross!"] coughed the pig as the Boatswain's Mate breathed in the fruity-smelling pipe smoke. ["If I could turn green, I would!"] he thought. ["Smells like when I helped clean Dizzy's refrigerator!"]
Wakko found himself comfortably seated in a cabin near the ship's bow, writing a letter. The room, although small, was beautifully furnished with everything made of black walnut. He sat on a camp stool, composing a letter by the light of a single candle. Overhead, a single round skylight made of thick greenish glass allowed some filtered light in and the echoing sounds of the swell told him that his room lay in the hull of the ship - underwater.
His human host's weathered hands dipped a spindly pen's stylus into a bottle of ink and wrote in script on rough paper.
"U.S. Steamer Monitor
Off Sandy Hook
March 6th, 1862
4 o'clock P.M. We have just parted with our pilot & may consider ourselves at sea. We have a fine westerly wind, a smooth sea & as fair a sky as we could expect in the month of March."
Wakko was startled by a voice so close that it seemed as if the speaker were at his elbow. When he heard other voices just as loud, his host looked up at the ceiling and found that there were mere partitions separating his cabin from the officer's ward room and that the sound carried over the tops of them. Shaking his head and adjusting the spectacles on his nose, Paymaster William Keeler returned to his writing.
"We are in tow of the tug Seth Low & convoyed by the U.S. Steam Gun Boats, Currituck and Sachem, who are ordered to accompany us the whole distance. Our boat proves to be much more buoyant than we expected & no water of consequence has yet found its way on deck. Our hatchways are covered with glass hatches battened down & the only means of access to the deck is up through the top of the tower & then down to the deck."
Just then Captain Worden stuck his head around the corner. Keeler began to rise to salute him, but the young lieutenant waved him down with a smile. Surgeon Logue was with him.
"Relax Paymaster," the pale fellow said. "I would just ask to have the pleasure of your company at supper this evening."
"I would be honored, Sir," agreed Keeler.
["It's us, Wakko,"] said the thoughts of Furball and Shirley.
["Fab-boo! I'm starvin'! When do we eat?"] wondered the Warner kid.
["In like, two hours, dude,"] Shirley informed him.
As Wakko groaned at having to wait, Furball and the Loon returned to their trip through the ship. They passed through the elegant, rose wood- paneled Ward Room and onto the Berth deck behind it. Lighted by hanging oil lamps, they saw the wide expanse of the ship's largest room and a crowd of about twenty-five crewmen. A few swung in their hammocks, but most sat or laid on the deck. A young thin-faced Fireman stood to attention as the two officers approached.
["Hiya Shirl,"] said Plucky's mind from the man.
["Ya like cute fer a man in uniform,"] Shirley smiled inwardly. ["Better watch what ya say, darlin' - I'm like, an officer."]
["Looks like half the crew is on watch, while everyone else is here"] observed Furball, as they passed on through the crew who all stood in silence at the sight of them.
Plucky's host, Fireman George Geer turned to work on hanging his own hammock from a hook on the wall. He secured one end and was pulling hard on the opposite end when another sailor reached over and helped him to get it on its' proper hook. In thanking him, Geer looked up into a face which he had no recollection of - but Plucky did.
"Billy!" said Plucky and with such pleasure that Geer said it too.
"Hello shipmate! Do I know you?" asked Billy with a smile.
Geer had never seen this fellow before, but now a strange familiarity crept into his consciousness. Plucky knew him - he had 'been' him when they'd first been at the burning of the Norfolk Navy Yard. He'd been the daring fellow who'd saved Lieutenant Wise's (and Hamton's) life.
Plucky realized he'd overstepped his bounds and didn't know what to say.
"Weren't you aboard the 'North Carolina'?" Geer asked.
"No, mate. But that doesn't matter. Now we're all shipmates aboard this vessel, aren't we?" Billy answered cheerfully.
"Aye, that we are," agreed Geer, liking the man already. "My name's George Geer. I am Fireman, first class."
"M'name's William Allen - but everyone calls me Billy. Glad to meet you, shipmate."
"Likewise, mate," Geer said looking about. "This is surely the strangest vessel I've ever seen."
"Aye, that she is. All backward like," Billy pointed out. "Officers up in the fore' while we live amidships. And bein' shut up like this down here, tis hard to tell if it's day or night."
"I'm with the engines most times," Geer said.
Plucky noted then how his uniform smelled of smoke, fly ash and was spotted with machine oil and coal dust.
"Aye. So I see," laughed Billy, good-naturedly.
As Geer/Plucky and Billy continued their conversation, Shirley found herself with an embarrassing problem.
"Captain? I'll join you in a moment," her host called to Furball's as he made his way to the ship's aft restroom.
["Oh Gad! Like do something Furball! This guy's gonna go to the - you know!"] the Loon cried inside Surgeon Logue.
["Go where?? What can I do? I can't stop him! That'd be interfering!"] shrugged Furball.
["To the Loo! The Porcelain Honda! The Men's Room! Just say something! Anything!!"] she begged as the man reached the door of the bathroom.
"You *do* know how to work that thing?" the captain asked.
"I...think so, Sir," answered the Surgeon as he opened the door, revealing an out house-like seat with a hole beneath it.
["Furball - Do something!!"] Shirley pleaded as the door closed behind her. ["Like - I CAN'T use the little boys room! I need the little *Girls* room! ....._Oh_ no_...."]
In the ominous silence that followed, Furball called ["Shirley! What's going on in-"]
From behind the bathroom door, Shirley's mind hummed and sang: ["We're Like Tiny! We're Toony! "We're- (Urrgh!) a little loony! An' now I'm- like singin' - Cuz I don't want to (Erfff!) see!!.."]
Furball and Plucky snickered within their hosts while Shirley continued to try and distract herself from what her host was doing.
Captain Worden continued speaking to the Surgeon through the compartment's door, unaware of the thoughts of the toons.
"Due to the fact that most of the ship is underwater, Captain Ericsson designed some sea-going flush toilets for this vessel. Although the operation of all the valves and pumps is a little hard to get used to, I think it's a vast improvement over a standard ship's head, don't you think Doctor?"
From within the bathroom there was a sudden WHOOSH sound! The door flew open and the half-dressed surgeon was abruptly thrown three feet in the air atop a geyser of water! He was propelled across the deck to land face down in a growing puddle of seawater with his pants down by his ankles!
The captain immediately rushed in and closed the valve to keep the plumbing from flooding the ship. Surgeon Logue stood awkwardly pulling up his trousers while the sailors snickered and grinned. Plucky giggled but fought the temptation to break out laughing at Shirley's predicament. He stiffened to attention as the ruffled Surgeon spoke to the captain again.
"Are you all right? asked Worden.
"I am wounded in my dignity only," the Surgeon replied stiffly.
Within him, Shirley glowed a bright red in anger and embarrassment. She glared at Plucky and Furball as they fought to keep their laughter inside.
["_Don't_ say_another_word!_,"] she growled.
["About what? I didn't see anything!"] the Pluckster lied as he held his beak shut to keep from exploding.
["This_never_ happened! _GOT IT?!"] she threatened.
["Oh yeah - Got it!"] agreed Furball. ["Never saw a thing!"]
The Surgeon swiftly retired to his quarters with a red face.
Shirley chanted to her Aura, telling herself: ["My body is a temple! My mind is pure!"]
When she'd left, the crew and the Captain broke into peals of laughter.
Unable to resist it any longer, Plucky's mind laughed: ["Shirley go down the hooooole!!"]
["But look Plucky! Water came *back*!"] chuckled Furball.
["Ooo! Shirley came *back*!"] the mocking mallard grinned.
["I heard that, Duckko!"] came the Loon's thoughts.
The rest of the Toonsters found themselves working in the engine room. Buster stood hunched over inside the body of a man named Ellis, occasionally heaving shovelfuls of coal into the blazing boiler doors. Even on this cold day in March, the steam-powered engine room was roasting at over one hundred degrees. The crew sweated at their stations.
["@#&*! It's dadgum hot in here!"] swore Fowlmouth as he too shoveled blackish blue lumps of anthracite into the hissing steam boilers.
["Far be it from me to dis the menu, but I don't like roast chicken,"] Babs quipped from the body of the First Assistant Chief Engineer, Isaac Newton.
["Well I hope you have a better menu in mind because you're the caterer for the officers' mess,"] retorted Lord.
["Well - if it's the Captain's Mess - let *him* clean it up!"] quoted Buster. ["Right now I'm about as close to being roast rabbit as I ever wanna be."]
["Yeah, somebody crank the AC!"] agreed Mary from the host body of the Second assistant Engineer, Albert Campbell.
Within the Third Assistant Engineer, Robinson Hands, the Doctor was at that moment inspecting the large induction fans overhead. The twin fans were situated in the ceiling under the two ventilator stacks in the deck. Driven by steam-powered leather belts, they drew in cool sea air down to the ship's fires and into the living spaces. The primitive fan blades were oddly shaped and the machinery squeaked like a monotonous mouse, but they pulled in an adequate amount of air.
"These will need oiling every day," said Hands.
"See that it's done, Mister Hands," acknowledged Acting Master Lois Stodder, Gogo's host.
["This_is_fascinating!"] marveled Calamity, as his host, Chief Engineer Stimers watched the main steam engine.
The oddly-shaped, thirty-five ton engine's rocker arms moved back and forth, rotating the ship's drive shaft and propeller. The giant steam pistons were back to back with the driving arms pulling together and apart around the shaft in a circle, making the machine look a bit like a crab moving it's mandibles while eating. Its' constant clank, clank, clank combined with the hiss of the escaping steam and the roar of the boilers under pressure was enough to make the room alive with noise and heat.
["A "vibrating-lever" system of Ericsson's own design,"] Lord told the coyote with pride. ["The three-foot pistons will create three hundred and twenty horsepower."]
["Which should drive the ship at approximately nine knots... but as I understand, she seldom made over seven knots,"] concluded Calamity.
["Yes...perhaps we can find out why,"] the Doctor pondered.
While the two toons wondered, Calamity's host had a different idea.
"All hands check for leaks!" he called as he left through the heavy watertight door.
The men stepped over and around the engine compartment, looking at the seals around the drive shaft and into the bilges, but found no leakage.
["I guess I'll see you later,"] the Doctor said as his host followed Calamity's.
Sweating at their stations, the remaining toons continued heaving coal into the boilers and raking it about with the strange tools of their trade, the "devil's claw" and the slice bar.
"How long till the watch ends?" asked Fowlmouth's crewman.
"It's nearly six, then you'll get your dinner," answered Babs' host.
["...Man! I never dreamed humans ever had it this hard,"] thought Buster as he labored.
["This is real history, Buster,"] Mary told the bunny. ["This is how people really lived and worked - hard."]
["That's what's worryin' me,"] Buster said thoughtfully. ["If things're this tough - how bad'll it be when we get into *real* combat?"]
["Don't you worry, blue-ears! The Doc said he won't let anybody come to harm. You heard him - if we find that anybody's in the host of a guy who's supposed to get killed, he'll stop the whole thing and take us back, right?"] Babs smiled.
["Heh, dat's a comforting thought,"] agreed Fowlmouth.
["..Maybe it is....But that doesn't make me feel much better..."] Buster thought quietly.
Once again, Wakko watched from within his host as he wrote another part of his letter home. The warm yellowish-white glow of candle-light and lamp-light filled the small cabin as Paymaster Keeler dipped his pen in his inkwell...
"9 P.M. I have just returned from the top of the turret. The moon is shining bright, the water smooth & everything seems favorable. The green lights of the gun boats are on our lee beam but a short distance off & the tug is pulling lustily at our big hawser, about 400 feet ahead. A number of sail are visible in different directions, their white sails glistening in the moon light. Not a sea has passed over our deck, it is as dry as when we left port. We had a merry company at at the supper table, the Captain telling some of his experiences as a Midshipman."
In his own cabin, Calamity watched as his host, Mr. Stimers, composed a letter to Captain Ericsson, the ship's designer. He had been assigned by the Navy Department to observe and report on the Monitor's success or failure. Calamity was extremely pleased with his luck at getting a mechanical genius as his host and was reading the man's thoughts, gathering all his technological expertise on steam power.
"The only leaks discovered," wrote Stimers, "were from the forward hatch and some of the deck lights, but these were of such a minor nature that they can easily be handled by the ship's pumps. I never saw a vessel more buoyant or less shocked, than she was yesterday. There has not been sufficient movement to disturb a wine glass setting on the table."
Meanwhile, in the main crew's compartment on the Berth Deck, those who weren't officers began to try and settle themselves for the night. Some slung their hammocks from the hooks on the walls, but there was so little room, that most just lay on their rough woolen blankets on the iron deck.
Buster, Plucky, Fowlmouth, Hamton and Fifi were there relaxing as their various hosts dozed or talked quietly.
["Ah still find eet hard to be eenside zis male human,"] Fifi thought.
["At least you're inside a 'linesman' - and not an engineer. Ah'm gonna smell like ash and smoke for a week!"] complained Buster.
["What's a 'linesman'? Ya mean he woiks fer the phone comp'ny?"] asked Fowlmouth.
["No, it means he's 'a man of the line' - a crewman who works the guns or sails the ship, like my host and Fifi's,"] answered Hamton.
["Seems like the crew were kinda cliquey,"] mused Buster.
["Society was very class-concious back then,"] Hamton confirmed.
As if to prove this fact, a nearby sailor mumbled, "I hear them top rail skunks get wine an' brandy with their supper."
"Aye! No hardtack and mule fer them," agreed another.
["Skonks?! What does ee mean?!"] thought Fifi indignantly.
["Officers,"] explained Fowlmouth. ["What else?"]
["Looks like we're the only crewmen. Everyone else is an officer - and they get their own bunks,"] Buster complained.
["Ehhh, what cha cryin' about? At least I'm not seasick!"] admonished Plucky. ["An look who's here with us! Remember 'Billy'?"]
["Hey, great!"] thought Buster. ["Isn't he the one who saved Hamton?"]
["Yeah, but it was me inside him! *I* saved Hamton!"] argued the duck.
["Billy did duh savin' - yous waz just along fer the ride!"] countered Fowlmouth.
["You weren't even there, Sir Rooster the Rude! You tell 'em Hammy - tell 'em who saved your life from drowning!"] the Pluckster insisted.
Hamton thought a moment before thinking ["Well...unless you willingly interfered with Billy's freewill... Billy saved me, I guess..."]
["Ozzerwise, you wood be violating heestory, no?"] added Fifi.
["But I meant to save you just as much as he did the other guy! I had just as much a hand in it as he did!"] claimed the defensive duck.
"It sure is good to be aboard ship again," said Billy to Plucky's host, luckily interrupting the unheard argument.
"Aye, it's certainly better than being on that miserable 'North Carolina'" agreed George Geer.
"This newfangled battery will send the Merrimack packing, I'll bet!" said Hamton's host, the Boatswain's Mate.
"I was aboard the Merrimack the night the Rebs got her," Billy told them. "There can't be much left that's of any good to them. Her engines were condemned more'n two years ago, an she was in a sorry state. We left her sunk in the mud up to her gunwales and her timbers burnin' like Perdition's flames, when last I saw her!" he smiled heartily.
"The Monitor's mighty new, I'll warrant ya," Fifi's host said doubtfully. "I hope to see my sweetheart again."
"Pipe down, men," said Mr. Hands as he entered on his way aft.
Fifi had been thinking of a way to converse with her grandfather without letting the others know what they were saying. Since telepathy in English was impossible and since she knew Hamton and Arnold would understand French, and that Arnold would understand German, Dutch and Polish, she tried thinking in the only other language available - one she barely knew.
["Moufette she has tongued me respecting you,"] Fifi thought in Swedish.
["What??"] asked Lord also in Swedish, but not understanding her.
Hamton and the others present noticed instantly and listened in confusion.
["She said - conception all relations concerning you!"] Fifi stammered, trying to say the right words.
["Have you been watching those naughty Swedish movies again?"]
["No!"] Fifi thought, growing infuriated at her flawed speech. ["She_ knows...all _about you_...WHY?!"]
Lord was momentarily shocked at this, but recovered quickly.
["...Because it would have been bad for you to know...Now your friends are getting suspicious - we'll have to talk about this some other time."]
Fifi watched as the Doctor's host made his way towards the aft door.
["Wait! You_tell me!"] she demanded.
["Sorry, I can't stop him. Can't interfere,"] Lord replied as his host left.
As the skunkette grumbled to herself, the others' curiosity was peaked.
["What was that all about?"] asked Buster.
["Wuz dat German you were sayin'?"] wondered FM.
["Umm, well.. Lord once told Hamtone et moi zat ee can speak all languages...So ah waz tryeeng to tell heem a joke een Swedeesh..."] Fifi lied.
["It didn't sound like a joke ta me,"] remarked Plucky.
["Well.. mah Swedeesh eez not too good an...ah deedn't tell eet right."]
Buster shrugged as his host rolled over and went to sleep, the bunny within him following suit. Soon the others were asleep and snoring - all but Fifi and Hamton, who lay there thinking. He had heard her speak Moufette's name to Lord once...and now began to wonder if it had been twice. His host began to fall asleep like the others and though he fought to keep thinking, sleep overtook his gloomy thoughts.
Only Fifi's mind remained alert as her host lay worrying about what the future would bring - a fight with the Merrimack. The fear of a violent death in battle or going down with the sinking ship were very real things to the gunner's mate. Fifi felt these fears too, but was also consumed with jealousy, frustration and anger at the situation Lord seemed to have put her in. Why had her rotten sister known all along and not her? What could have been bad about her learning the truth? Her Grandfather had always been kind to them both, despite how bossy and selfish Moufette had always been and Fifi had always felt jealous of her. Could this have had something to do with it?
Her host's mind finally drifted away from his problems and into dreamland and Fifi reluctantly followed.
("The Magnificent Seven" #1, Main Titles)
Plucky watched the huge black screen with gleaming pride as five jarringly triumphant, trumpeted triplets blasted in his ears!
"A PLUCKY DUCK PRODUCTION OF A PLUCKY DUCK FILM! STARRING - PLUCKY DUCK!" the gaudy yellow titles blared!
The screen filled with a bright Mexican desertscape as macho trumpets, cymbals and drums blazed forth in all their Cinemascopic glory!
"THE MAGNIFICENT PLUCKY!" said the main title as Elmer Bernstein's music soared with brass, strings and thundering percussion!
A lone, tall rider approached on horseback out of the brilliantly- colored desert - a grimly determined gunman all in black. He was a green duck wearing a black western hat atop a featherless bald head. He pulled his Peacemaker from his belt holster and fired his revolver from the hip with a roar! A slimy-looking dark-bearded Montana Max with gold teeth got his black sombrero shot off! The cowardly bandito chieftain turned and ran away with his forty thieves! Firing their rifles and pistols behind the resolute Plucky were his six compadres; Buster, Dizzy, Calamity, Furball, a tough, stubble-faced Hamton and Lightning Rodriguez!
The magnificent seven rode their fiery horses abreast across before a stormy western sky! Their galloping hooves pounded the prairie dust along with the rolling, thundering drums!
Plucky took off his black hat and tossed it on top of an adobe wall without looking - as his heroic eyes were fixed on the lovely Mexican Shirley who looked at him in silence with stormy blue eyes. He twirled his pistol into it's holster and she leaped into his arms. Their tender kiss grew to magnificence as she ran her white feathery fingers around his bald pink head. Their passion flared as they closed their eyes - then the sky seemed to open in a cloudburst. Raindrops fell on their faces, causing them to look up and wonder how it could be pouring rain in the middle of a Southwestern desert???
It wasn't. Seawater was pouring intermittently down from the hatchway over his head and was dripping on his host's forehead. For a moment Plucky thought he was still dreaming as he saw his host's human body and hands wiping his face. When he felt the cold water running down his neck, he awoke fully and remembered that he was still inside Fireman George Geer aboard the Monitor.
Buster and the others also awoke to find cold water raining on them. The damp, dimly-lit compartment smelled of the sea and they could hear water running across the deck and dripping from the ceiling. The hammocks and dim oil lanterns swayed to and fro, telling the men that the Monitor was encountering heavy weather. Many of the men got up, complaining and wet, while a few still snored.
The ship shifted as a wave rolled over its' unobstructed flat deck. The men heard the ton of water wash overhead and suddenly a torrent of seawater came down from under the turret! A crewman underneath was caught as though he were in a waterfall. He shouted and fell from his hammock to the soaked deck. Hamton watched as the water drenched everything below, but saw the water disappear under the floorboards.
"The pumps are working! It's all right!" said his host, the boatswain's mate. "Watch for other leaks."
In the corners, the men found some of the deck lights were leaking too. They saw the green waves pass over the round glass window, momentarily blotting out the little light that filtered though. The men's spirits sank as the vessel rolled with the swell overhead.
["It's like bein' inside a leaky submarine!"] moaned Fowlmouth.
An officer suddenly appeared and ducked into the ship's head. The others heard him retching through the closed door and turned away. After the small roar of the head's flushing, Ship's Surgeon Logue appeared from the door and staggered back toward his cabin. Within him, Shirley had turned nearly as green as her boyfriend.
["Shirl! Are you okay? Ya feel any better?"] Plucky asked.
["Like...I'd have to be dead three days ta feel any better"] she muttered drunkenly as she left. ["Like...heavy barfing action, man..."]
["She lookz tarryble!"] thought Fifi.
["It's lucky most of our hosts are 'old salts'. I'm not seasick,"] thought Hamton with confidence. ["Are you guys okay?"]
The others nodded except for Plucky who had a odd look on his face. His host didn't seem to be the least bothered, but the duck within him was feeling his gorge rising.
["..Oh crab cakes!"] he thought - then twinged to the reaction of his
own stomach at the mention of food. ["..I..wanna hurl - But this guy doesn't even feel it!"]
["Heheh! The spirit is weak, but the flesh is willing!"] joked Fowlmouth.
["Oh! Funny! Dat is funny!"] the Pluckster said imitating Peter Faulk. ["Uh-oh! Looks like I'm gonna be busy!"] he told them as his host ran to his station in the engine room.
Just then Lieutenant Greene helped the Captain into the room.
["You okay, Furball?"] asked Arnold inside the executive officer.
["I...I gotta have fresh air before I ..toss cat chow again!"] mumbled the cat weakly, sounding like he'd eaten Sweetie's horseflies again.
Hamton's host helped Greene up the ladder into the turret, despite the waterfall of seawater that poured down on them.
"The oakum has washed out!", cried Greene, "The tower is unsealed to the sea!"
["What's oakum?"] wondered Buster.
["They didn't have watertight seals in those days"] thought Mary as she appeared in the body of Engineer Campbell, ["So they jacked up the turret and packed old pieces of rope underneath to keep the water out."]
"I told them not to use oakum! It was those fools at the Navy Yard who wouldn't listen to Captain Ericsson!" Lord's host, Robinson Hands shouted over the din as he came out of the engine room.
"That doesn't matter now! We must seal the leaks - jack the tower back down, quickly!" Lt. Greene ordered.
"It can't be done when the vessel is unstable - as we are now" the Chief Engineer told them. "The ship must be stationary to do that."
"Can't we jack it down now?" asked Captain Worden weakly.
"No sir," Calamity's host replied. "The motion of the ship might damage the turning mechanism. We'd also have to put men on deck to do it."
"Then we'll have to plug the leaks as best we can," ordered Greene. Turning to the men, he shouted, "All hands staunch the leaks! Use whatever you can!"
"Aye-aye Sir!" replied Hamton's host before calling to the crew. "Fetch any sail-cloth we have! Plug the leaks under the tower! The rest of you - use red lead putty to seal the hatches!"
As the crew scurried to obey, Wakko's host, Paymaster Keeler, walked sleepily into the room, looking stupefied at the scene.
["Whut's goin' on? Ah was asleep!"] muttered Wakko within him.
["Get to woik, Wakko! The ship's takin' on water!"] Fowlmouth told him as his host dragged an old sail to the base of the turret.
Inside Lt. Greene, Arnold labored to help lug the sick Captain up the ladder and into the turret. While his host was grimly determined to save the situation - the Pitbull shivered inside at the thought of going up into the weather and the open stormy sea. He knew Greene could swim, being a Naval Academy graduate - but felt only his fear of drowning. Still hoping Calamity and the others had forgotten that he could not swim, the Pitbull blustered to sound braver.
Holding his Captain by the shoulders, Greene tugged him through the square opening into the turret. The wooden floor was dry here at least.
["C'mon kitty! Ve got to get you topside to der fresh air, yah?"]
["Gee kid... I didn't know ya cared,"] Furrball's queasy mind purred.
["Aw shaddup,"] the dog replied with a slight smile as he pulled his comrade to yet another ladder.
Wakko followed him, his host carrying the sick surgeon with a very ill Shirley within him. Up the second ladder behind the massive black guns they climbed. With a gulp, Arnold slid back the top hatch and lugged his friend out onto the top of the turret. The noise of the sea filled his ears as he set Captain Worden on his back across the iron rail grating.
Arnold was terrified by what he saw. The Monitor was in the middle of a gathering storm, with raging waves sweeping over her flat deck! A light gale had worked up from the west, storm clouds gathered overhead and the smooth seas had become choppy and angry. The seas were breaking over the deck with such force that the whole ship shook beneath their feet! They could see the waves cover the whole deck as though the turret were just a floating drum in the middle of the ocean. They saw the water finding its' way into deck lights, hatches, coaling hatches and under the rim of the jacked-up turret!
["Ach Himmel! I vant to go home!"] the dog whimpered.
["Don't worry..we may feel lousy for a while..but we're gonna be okay, shipmate,"] said the nauseated Furball.
["Like ..at least this fresh air feels a bit better,"] Shirley moaned. ["I'll totally blow chunks later, but right now it's at least bearable."]
["Wow, lookit the wild waves! It's like being on the world's biggest surfboard!"] grinned Wakko.
["Aren't you in the least bit seasick, Wakko?"] asked the blue cat as he turned green again.
["Are you kidding me?!"] laughed Wakko calmly. ["I rode the 'Happy-Go-Pukey' fer a month solid! Nothing can phase the roller coaster champion! This is nuthin'!"]
Other men were being brought topside and laid out close next to each other on the roof. Occasionally one of them would hurriedly pull himself to the edge of their round iron island and retch over the side. Luckily, the wind was blowing quite fresh and they soon felt a bit better.
Wakko saw a number of sails were in sight and their companions, the gunboats were maintaining about the same relative positions that they had last night, but they were rolling badly. They would occasionally roll the muzzles of their guns underwater.
As Arnold watched, waves would strike the small pilot house up forward and then go over the turret in beautiful curves, drenching them to the skin. In the tiny pill-box-like pilot house, the sea would come through the narrow eye-holes with such force as to knock the helmsman completely round from the ship's wheel.
As the minutes turned to hours, the crew grew anxious.
["I vant to go home,"] Arnold whimpered to himself.
In the Monitor's engine room, there was worse trouble. The engineers stood watching as seawater alternately dripped or poured down the ventilator shafts.
Inside Robinson Hands, Doctor Lord saw the faults in his own design. As Ericsson, he had designed the Monitor so that she would require no smokestack, but for the voyage south he had added temporary twin, six-foot high square funnels to protect against high seas, revealing another design error. Seawater poured into the engine room from the air-intake vents on deck and dripped on the leather belts that carried power off the engines to turn the blower fans. The moisture was stretching and loosening the belts and the fans, which were designed to pull in fresh air and expel foul air, were slowing down.
With less fresh air going to feed the fires, the engines were also slowing. The fires burned with a sickly blaze and were in danger of releasing deadly carbon-monoxide and carbon dioxide gases into the ship. If that happened, the crew would be asphyxiated!
Calamity saw this approaching danger too. So did his host.
"We must keep these fans operating at all costs!" Stimers told his engineers. "Get the auxiliary pumps working, quickly!"
["What'll we do, Calamity?"] thought Buster as his host tried to shift the piles of coal away from the creeping ocean water on the floor.
["We must keep the fan's drive belts from getting wet - if they get wet and stretch, they'll slip on the wheels and slow the fans. They could even break and the smoldering fires would create CO and CO2,"] answered the coyote.
["What's dat?"] wondered Fowlmouth as he swept excess water towards the bilges.
["Deadly gases that could poison us all,"] Lord told them.
["Oh! Charming!"] thought Plucky sarcastically. ["Okay, I'm ready to go home."]
["And here I just thought it was Plucky's smell that was deadly,"] quipped Babs absently.
["Not funny, Babs - this is serious,"] Mary retorted.
Seeing as how disturbed Mary was, the others became pensive.
["Now relax - no one is injured or lost on this journey,"] Lord reminded them. ["We just have to see how they manage to survive."]
["Good! And then can we go home?"] persisted the Pluckster.
Stimers and Isaac Newton looked carefully at the fan's leather belt and the squeaking wheels that drove it and the whirling fan blades.
"How can we keep the fan belt at enough tension so that it won't slip off?" asked Newton as Babs watched from within him.
"If we increase the tension, that may help for a while," Stimers said.
"It might also break the belt," Mr. Hands added doubtfully. "If that happens, we do have a few replacements for it though."
"Yes, but for every second that the fans don't operate - the fires will convert all the air in the engine and fire rooms into carbonic-acid gas, a few inhalations of which are sufficient to destroy animal life!" warned Stimers.
["We could try drying the belts..."] Calamity thought.
["But how? With what??"] Buster asked.
["Got a hare-dryer?"] joked Babs halfheartedly.
["We'll just hafta keep the water from soaking the leather. Maybe the friction of it's turning will be enough to dry it,"] thought the coyote.
["Maybe we could powder the belt with something to keep it dry?"] wondered Mary.
["What powder have we got? Coal dust?"] postulated Fowlmouth.
["Anthracite dust? No... that might make the belt slippery - or too gritty, in which case it would gunk up the works and damage the belt,"] answered the coyote in thought.
"The best way is just to keep the belt from getting wet - now how can we do that?" said Mr. Hands with his occupant, the Doctor, agreeing.
"Keep the water off the belt and it's wheels," said Newton.
["We'll have to hang a cover over the belts - like a plastic tarp,"] thought Mary.
"Let's hang a tarpaulin over the belts to keep it dry," said her host.
["We'll need to keep the coal dry too. Wet coal won't burn,"] agreed the Doctor.
"Better hang the tarpaulin over the coal bins too," added Hands.
In short order, two canvas tarps were hung over the coal bins on each side of the engine. They were tied over the side to angle the falling water to the floor and away from the heavy leather belts, which wet from moisture, were squeaking more than usual.
["This won't last,"] thought Calamity doubtfully. ["It's just delaying the inevitable. The canvas isn't waterproof."]
["How 'bout some plastic sheets?"] wondered Fowlmouth.
["No plastic in the nineteenth century, FM,"] Mary reminded him.
"We've done all we can for now," Stimers told the crew. "This will eventually soak through...unless we make it to calmer seas."
"I'll go tell the Captain," said Hands, making for the door.
Leaving the engineers to ponder their fate, Hands entered the galley, where the ship's old black cook was handing out some hardtack biscuits and water to the men.
"Oh my bread basket! I'll never keep these hard crackers down!" complained one man.
"Thus's all you you gonna git, suh," mumbled the cook.
"How about some 'io and mule?" begged another man.
"We cain't light no fires! Th' water's 'most put them out already!" argued the cook.
"Gimme some water, you ol' dog robber," the sick crewman said.
"If you's seasick, try drinkin' a lil seawater. Thet's mah rem'dy," grumbled the cook.
Some of the men followed Hands as he went into the berth deck and went up the ladder to the turret. As Lord passed though the compartment inside Hands, Fifi looked up sourly at him from inside her dozing host. With a look at her, Lord was transported up the ladders to the top of the turret. Her aggravation with him hurt like a dull blade.
The crewmen who'd followed him were scooping up dipper-fulls of salt water over the side of the turret whenever a wave came high enough. Making faces, they drank the seawater and grumbled further at the cook's seasick remedy.
The Doctor listened as Hands reported to the Captain and Lt. Greene, who then began wondering how they might attract the attention of their tugboat. Lord found Wakko there in the form of Paymaster Keeler.
["How are you, my boy?"] Lord asked as they watched the sea.
["Oh, I'm great! This is exciting!"] the clown-faced toon smiled, but there was something else in his tone, some source of unrest.
["Are you sure?"] the Doctor asked gently.
Wakko's smile turned sideways in his lips and he added ["Wull..."]
(The Hulk, #3, "Betty's Dream")
Wakko frowned and then bitterly blurted out: ["I wuz mad at Yakko and Dot fer how they made you spill the beans about poor Red an' we 'ad this awful fight an' now nobody's talking to each other!"]
The little boy hung his head and cried. The Doctor's host sat down atop the turret and looked gloomily out at the vast gray ocean.
["If I could, I'd put my hand on your shoulder, son,"] the old being said. ["..Don't be angry with your brother and sister... If they hadn't insisted upon knowing, someone else would have eventually asked. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. If she hadn't wanted it to be kept a secret, I might have told a few people the truth...I could only guess why she wanted it that way..."]
["They're both really sorry. They had no idea how much it could hurt."]
["I know...They couldn't possibly understand,"] Lord said softly. ["Few toons understand real pain and loss...They've never stood in the snows of Russia...or the trenches of Verdun..the mud on the Somme..."]
Wakko was puzzled by the faraway tone in the old skunk's voice.
["What chu talkin' bout, Doc?"] he asked.
Instead of answering, Lord's unseen eyes turned away and his host grew quiet, looking out at the melancholy seas. It was nearly noon and the wind had increased, blowing a gale from the no'west and getting up quite heavy seas. The tiny black iron ship scarcely stood out from the dark waves. The top of every wave that broke against its' sides rolled unobstructed over the deck, dashing and foaming at a terrible rate.
As he watched, Shirley's host was sick over the side again. The Surgeon's face was chalky white as he laid back again on the cold metal roof - the sea spray on his face indistinguishable from the cold sweat on his brow. The loon inside him moaned miserably.
["We should go home..."] Lord sighed regretfully to himself. ["I shouldn't be putting you all through this misery...It's all my fault."]
["..No Doc,"] said a weak voice.
The Doctor turned to face a sick-looking Furball within the body of the Captain. The wobbly cat smiled at him bravely.
["We volunteered for this mission and we'll see it though. We're just a lil (erp) seasick, that's all,"] Furball told him. ["Hey...something wrong with your eyes?"]
The ancient being looked at him forlornly, his silver eyes clouded with blackness spreading over them like a blight. The Toonsters were momentarily unnerved by his puzzling look, then he shook it off - his eyes returning to normal.
["You can see me inside my host?"] he asked in amazement.
["Yeah,"] said Furball as the others nodded. ["I guess it's cause we've been in these bodies for almost a whole day. We must be getting used to things."]
["Yes that must be it,"] the Doctor agreed quickly as his host stood up.
["Thank you, Furball. Wakko? Don't worry...if the three of you want to, bring Dot and Yakko over and we'll all talk. Looks like I'm going somewhere."]
His host, Mr. Hands returned down the ladder from whence he came, leaving the others to wonder. Shirley had seen the black stain in his eyes too and was the only one who began to feel worse instead of better.
Mister Hands made his way down through the turret where many of the crew stood trying to relax, away from the damp conditions below. He continued down into the belly of the ship, onto the Berth deck where Hamton, Fifi and Plucky stood nervously watching the water running across the floor.
["We don't sink now - do we?"] inquired the nervous duck.
["Not till New Year's Eve, Plucky,"] Hamton told him. ["But I bet they could use some help in the Engine Room right about now."]
Fireman Geer and the Boatswain's Mate followed Hands into the Engine room, leaving Fifi's host to wait alone. Calamity's host, Stimers had had the men set up the auxiliary pumps, which began chugging away at the seawater that had been slowly gaining on the bilge pumps. There was considerable relief on the men's faces as the water was sucked away.
"The Captain says he will try to signal the Seth Low. Perhaps they'll see us when light permits," Hands told Stimers.
"Tell him things are under control at the moment, but that we really need to get to calmer water to be safe," the Chief Engineer said.
To make his point, Stimers pointed to the canvas draped over the ventilator belts. The belt's wheels were turning slowly and squeaking all the while. Every once in a while they would slip - making a sudden Voop noise and then as the belt took hold again and worked back up to speed, the drone of the fans would die and then return. Along with the hissing and clanking of the steam engine, the diminished roar of the boilers and the waves rolling over the deck above - it made for an unsettling din.
["The power will diminish as things get wetter down here - it's only a matter of time, Doctor,"] Calamity declared.
["I'll go tell Furball and the others,"] Hamton said as his host left for the turret.
Plucky's host took up his station at the steam box alongside Buster's man who was trying to find the driest coal to feed the fires. With a grim face, Lord left and went to sit in the wardroom next to the berth deck.
He passed by the gunner's mate with his granddaughter inside. Like Furball had, he could now faintly see her face within the man, like a ghostly image. Obviously the humans were unaware of this, so they could not see the toons within each other. The image of her face seemed to waver and be surrounded by an angry reddish mist.
["We must be seeing each other's thoughts of self...our own mental self-portraits..."] he thought to her.
Fifi was steadfast in her intention.
["I must_ know *why*.."] she thought to him in Swedish again, ["You...must *inform*!"]
["You won't be able to answer - we can't talk in broken Swedish"] he answered in the Scandinavian language.
["..Make _it_ come!"] she insisted, still flustered at her bad use of words.
["Your friends will hear...unless I can create - a second field of thoughts...if that's possible,"] he considered.
["Yes! Do it!"] Fifi demanded.
["...Are you sure you haven't been watching those blue Swedish movies?...Never mind,"] he thought. ["I don't know if I can ... I've never done it before. ...Never had to."]
["Very well... but I don't know how well it'll work or how long I can maintain it..."]
Fifi could faintly see her grandfather's face through the man's body. His large eyes closed, his heavy brows knitting in intense concentration as he tried to create an separate mental bubble within the first. Her friends' thoughts sounded far away but audible, but Lord finally said: ["I can't".]
She was about to demand that more be done when he said: ["You'll have to...come inside."]
["In?...Where?"] she wondered.
["Into my mind..."]
("The Planets" #7, "Neptune the Mystic")
Fifi felt cold, as if each separate hair on her body were a goosebump. The dingy world of Reality faded into blackness before her eyes and was slowly replaced by...something she'd never experienced before.
She seemed to be standing ...or floating over the surface of an alien planet. The sky was as black as outer space and the ground (if you could call it that) seemed to be entirely crystalline. There seemed to be no air, as if she were in a vacuum, but there was flowing mist everywhere, wafting around brilliantly colored crystals that stretched up miles into the heavens. They were the most exquisite colors; vermilion, dark green, deep blue, orange, violet - and their glow bathed everything in the purest spectral hues.
The sky was the most intense star-scape Fifi had ever imagined! Billions and billions of stars slowly wheeled across the firmament, glittering like diamonds scattered on black velvet.
In her ears she heard strange orchestral music... quiet and beautiful but reflecting the alien silence of this world. Awe-struck, Fifi saw a mountain of purple crystal - like a gigantic amethyst obelisk that sang a never-ending high note like a woman's voice. At the base of the glowing lavender gem, a figure stood. It was like a living statue made of sparse bits of white sand, not solid, but as if lightly covering an invisible being. The creature moved to face her and as it turned - it became an ancient Greek warrior king, with an armored breastplate, helmet and sword.
"Ask your questions, child" said the creature in Kirrik's voice, a reverberating whisper.
"..W-why waz Moufette told ze truth zat waz kept from moi?" she asked quietly.
The blank eyes of the soldier of sand looked into her own.
"Your father was honest to a fault...He wished that no secrets be kept within the family...Because of our feelings for him, his wishes were honored," the Greek told her.
The creature's form shifted, slithering into what appeared to be a Roman Emperor clad in an elegant royal toga.
"Your sister was told when she was old enough...she did not understand us - but she knew she could ask us for anything and get it."
"Oui. Mah seester haz a habit ov asking for theengz," Fifi agreed with some bitterness.
"She grew up getting whatever she wished and thinking nothing of it's value," said the being whose form Fifi recognized as similar to the statue on the roof of Lord's mansion - Julius Caesar.
The being's form changed again, flowing to become a bearded Viking with a winged helmet.
"When you were born...and Moufette discovered that you would inherit our powers and immortality, she became jealous. While she could still possess all material things - it was what she could *not* have that obsessed her," the filmy Emperor declared before changing into a wizened old sage.
"She is jealous - of moi??!...All zis time??..." Fifi gasped.
"She demanded to be made immortal...and when she learned it could never be - she set to revenge herself - by threatening to tell you the secret... Your father now saw that you must be allowed to grow up normally," said the old man, "We thought to delete her memory of the secret - but that would have destroyed who she was. Right or wrong - your father protected her."
The being's form shifted again into that of a Mongolian warrior king, complete with furs and a long drooping mustache. Fifi could see that these were the different lives her grandfather had led.
"We tried to please her..to help her...but she only became more embittered. We went to great lengths to appease her - to keep her from telling you.."
"And zees eez why she eez so greedy and mean?"
"What would *you* be like if you were given everything you asked for with no responsibilities attached - and still you were left unsatisfied?"
The skunkette looked down within herself and said: " Ah...suppose ah'd be like Montana Max... spoiled rotten."
The creature seemed to nod in agreement - but in fact it was changing into another form. The white particles formed scales, bat's wings and dorsal spines that ran to the tip of it's long bony tail. The dragon's horned face looked into Fifi's eyes as it's long armored neck arched like a snake.
"Then perhaps now you see why the secrets were kept from you," it said staring at her.
Fifi's lips curled in defiance. Her voice fell like iron on velvet.
"All ah see - is yet anozzer life - ruined by your secrets!"
Suddenly the dragon changed back to a human form. The face of a woman gazed back at her and kept staring at her - as it's particles melted onto the ground. Slowly down and down the figure went, it's saddened eyes looking into Fifi's all the while in silence... till all that was left was a handful of dust.
Alone, the skunkette saw the towering crystals glowing brighter and brighter as the music grew dark and ominous and the mist grew thicker and thicker around her. The fog surrounded her, distorting the light and the glowing gem-like landscape turned the fog into a multi-colored spectrum of gases. As she could only see the sky now, Fifi turned her frightened eyes heavenward to the stars...and the stars came down to meet her! The billions of points of light wheeled around and descended towards her like a swarm of bees! Down they came from everywhere to hover close by!
Fifi cowered fearfully as the lights surrounded her. They seemed to all be staring at her...in the closest she seemed to see a face.
The hollow white outline of her father's face looked down upon her from out of the star. His features had no expression.
Fifi tried to cry out to him - but could make no sound. Her mother's eyes looked at her, and her Grandmother's, and Red Hot's, and Lothar' Von Richtofen's - she saw the face of the woman Shirley had been at Captain Ericsson's house - and more and more men and women. The ghosts all stared as they sailed past - and more and more came. In silence, the billions of spirits glided past gazing at her.
The long note of the of the purple obelisk's song became a lamenting wail that accompanied the endless procession of ghosts...
Unable to stand it any longer Fifi shut her eyes and ears. ..She opened them again and found herself back in the body of the gunner's mate, sitting in the soggy berth deck on board the Monitor.
Of her grandfather or his host she saw nothing. It was as if he had vanished. Men were rushing around the room as the water had risen higher above the floor. There were shouts in her ears and a foul smell in the air. Seawater now sloshed across the deck under her feet.
["Fifi! Do you hear me?!"] called Hamton's thoughts. ["We've got to help them!"]
["Vat'z goeeng on? Where are you?"] she answered.
Hamton's host, the boatswain's mate raced down the ladder from the turret and grabbed as many men as he could.
"We've got to stop the leaks! Hurry men!" he yelled.
["I've been calling and calling you! Didn't you hear me?!"] called Hamton.
Fifi remained flustered as her host ran to help the crew, wondering why Lord had left her so suddenly.
In the engine room, Calamity and Babs worked together to keep the ventilator fans operating. Buster and Fowlmouth carefully shoveled the driest coal into the furnaces, only to watch the fires grow weaker and weaker. Plucky helped his host to keep the pumps working, but they too were dying. The ventilators squeaked slower and slower.
["This couldn't possibly get any worse!"] declared Plucky.
Just then, the port side ventilator belt snapped and went flying over to hit the door like a broken rubber band.
["Ya just *had* to say that, didn't ya?"] Fowlmouth remarked.
As the ventilator ground to a halt, the men rushed to fix it.
"Quick! Get the spare belt! Hurry!" shouted Calamity's host, Stimers.
["Babsy...I don't feel so good,"] thought Buster as his host coughed.
["Yeah.. me too. My headache is killin' me!"] she thought.
"I'll report to the Captain," said Lord's host as he left for the turret.
"Tell him we must get to calmer water!" called Babs' host, Isaac Newton.
The air grew thick and heavy around them as they struggled to reattach the new leather belt to the ventilator's wheels. The fires burned with a sickly blaze as the remaining oxygen in the room was burned up. The belt slipped on finally, but during the struggle, the engine room and fire room were filling with carbon dioxide and deadly carbon monoxide gas!
As the men grew dizzy, they coughed and grew sluggish as their oxygen-deprived brains were slowly poisoned. Their vision grew hazy.
["Hey, I think I'm feeling more at home now,"] Gogo said blithely as his host, Mr. Stodder weaved drunkenly and finally sat down.
["..FM...help me!..."] gasped Mary as her host, Mr. Campbell swayed and dropped to the deck, insensible.
["I'll save ya, Mare!"] the rooster vowed.
Fowlmouth's host stumbled over through the fumes and helped Campbell into the fire room.
["..Must... get her out!"]
He struggled to open the door to the berth deck. His grasping hands fought to reach the door handle before he too was overcome by the gas! He fell backward between some piles of coal and passed out.
"Everyone out! Clear the room!!" coughed Newton.
"But we.. must get the air..working.." choked Buster's host, Ellis.
"Go! That is an order! ..I'll stay and fix them!" Stimers shouted.
Calamity's host bravely stepped aside to let the others stagger out through the gathering smoke and then turned his mind to repairing the ventilator. It would barely turn, so he moved to it's propulsive wheel and desperately began straining to turn it by hand!
Within him, Calamity sweated to give the man all his strength! He could make the wheels turn but he knew he was fighting the powerless steam piston's suction - pushing against a vacuum.
Behind him, he heard a shovel scrapping the deck and turned to see Babs' host, Assistant Chief Engineer Newton, still trying to stoke the furnace.
The men threw each other a grim smile, but Calamity thought: ["You go, bunny! There's nothing more we can do!"]
["Sorry Calamity - this guy's determined to do his duty - besides (cough) we ..gotta keep the pumps working!"] the pink doe contended.
As they turned back to their desperate labors, they both felt the effects of the gas. Calamity's ears were ringing and his skull ached. Babs' head was swimming and her vision was blurry now, but they both pressed on to try and avert disaster!
The seawater on the floorboards lapped at the lip of the ash pits as Babs shoveled and raked the hot coals in the furnaces. The heat was dying away and with it - the engines! Her blue eyes opened wide as the water overflowed into the fires -
["LOOK OUT!"] yelled Calamity as Stimers jumped over to yank Newton aside!
A huge jet of super-heated steam leapt out of the ash pits into the room just missing them both by inches! The scalding steam filled the entire compartment in seconds and the boiling heat halted any chance they had to keep the engines running!
["Let's get out of here"!!] Calamity cried as the two weaved drunkenly to the door.
With the cloud of steam following, the men ran to escape. His head spinning, Calamity's host reeled and fell across the fallen host of Mary. Together, the two lifted Albert Campbell and tumbled out of the door. From behind them, the steam and deadly gases poured out into the rest of the ship! The smoke and steam concealed the collapsed body of Fowlmouth's host from sight.
Atop the turret, Robinson Hands had just told Captain Worden that the belt had snapped.
"We must ...signal the tug boat..." Worden said weakly, before collapsing again.
Inside him, Furball struggled to remain conscious but was losing his battle as his ailing host began to pass out. He thought quickly.
["Quick Arnold! Scare me! Keep me awake!"]
With an inward shrug, the pitbull's mind barked ferociously and snarled at the cat! The sudden noise startled all the toons and had the desired effect on the blue feline. The unexpected side effect was that Arnold's host made a strange grumbly cough. Jolted from their misery, the rest of the crew looked at him strangely for a moment.
"Excuse me," Lieutenant Greene mumbled quietly.
Furball smiled as the Captain awoke again and sat up.
["Thanks Arnold - I needed that."]
"Get the slate and all the lanterns you can," said Worden. "Tell the Seth Low to heave to inshore."
"Aye aye, Sir," said Greene, motioning for the men to obey the orders.
Within Paymaster Keeler, Wakko was standing inside the turret, steadying himself by holding onto one of the gun slides of the ship's big cannon when a pale figure came staggering up the ladder from below. It was Engineer Campbell with Mary inside him. He stumbled drunkenly up the steps, pale, wet, blackened with soot and staggering along gasping for breath! The breathless man grabbed his lapel.
"Please!....Do you have - any brandy?" Campbell begged before slumping to the deck.
["Ow can 'ee think ov drinkin' at a time like this?"] thought Wakko.
["Wakko! You must (cough) -get the others out of the engine room! ...The gas!"] Mary implored desperately. ["-FM! He's still in there!!"]
Hearing this, the Warner kid and his host leapt into action, racing for the hatchway down. But blocking his way was Stimers coming through the opening in the floor, dragging up Isaac Newton - apparently lifeless!
Calamity pulled and tugged Babs onto the floor, before groping his way to the ladder. His vision was turning black as he gasped for fresh air - his lungs full of noxious carbon dioxide! He blindly clawed his way up the ladder towards fresh air, pulled himself onto the roof and rolled over onto his back, sucking in breath after breath.
Keeler bent over Newton and shook him. The man seemed gone.
["Babs! Babs wake up!!"] he shouted, trying to rouse her.
He could faintly see her face, all it's color drained from it with black crosses on her closed eyelids. His host shook the man again and saw his eyelids flutter. Just then, Buster's host clambered his way up the steps and knelt beside his fallen comrade.
"I'll take care of him, Sir," said Ellis the coal heaver, who was also
covered with soot and coughing.
Worriedly, Wakko and his host went down the ladder to help as Buster tended to his fiancee, taking her hand to slap it to awaken her.
["Babs! Wake up!!! You gotta wake up!!"] he pleaded.
Wakko looked down the steps into the darkness of the berth deck ten feet below and dimly saw more men coming from out of the steam. The acidic smell of the smoke burned his eyes and made him hold his breath as he climbed down into the foul belly of the ship. The whole deck was filled with gas, scalding steam and smoke as the ash pits and boilers had gotten partially flooded. Pulling his Navy coat over his mouth and nose, Keeler felt his way towards the fire room doors. His eyes stung and watered from the thick choking smoke and the steam's heat was terrible. He nearly stumbled over a fallen sailor and helped the crewman to his feet. Everyone else was rushing up the stairs to the turret to escape! Finally he found the open door, steam and smoke still boiling out of it.
He was about to shut it when the crewman said, "There's still a man in there!"
["It must be Fowlmouth!"] Wakko thought and with another deep muffled breath - he plunged into the conflagration!
Thought he knew the room's layout - he instantly lost his bearings in the blinding fumes. The heat was oppressive, making the iron walls burn his hands! There was no time to be lost! His own head began to ring and he choked on the deadly atmosphere. He rushed over wet heaps of coal and ashes and fortunately found the man lying insensible on the floor. Keeler grabbed the man by the shoulders and began half-dragging - half-carrying him toward the door. His heels dragging through the few inches of water on the deck, Fowlmouth's host seemed lifeless, his body sagging like so much dead weight. As Wakko began to stagger from the effects of the gas, Lt. Greene appeared at the door.
["Mach schnell, Vakko!"] Arnold shouted as together they lugged their comrade out of the fire room and slammed the door shut behind them! Between them hung Fowlmouth's host: pallid, blackened with soot and ash and to all appearances, dead. Quickly they hauled him up the ladder into the turret and pushed and pulled him up the steps onto the roof of the turret. Gently, he was laid on his back alongside the other collapsed men. While Wakko coughed and hacked away the fumes in his lungs, Arnold listened at the man's chest.
"He's almost gone," said Greene.
Together, they raised his arms over his head and moved them back and forth, the nineteenth century form of artificial respiration, but nothing seemed to be happening!
["Whut'll we do? 'Ee's not breathin'!"] Wakko thought in panic.
["I could try mouth-to-beak resuscitation?"] thought Mary.
["You'd change history - besides - I don't know what the other crew would think of an officer blowing into a crewman's mouth,"] Lord cautioned, ["He'll come round. Try giving him some brandy."]
The ship's surgeon was on his shaky feet again and was doling out jiggers of brandy to the men. He stooped to give some to Fowlmouth's host, who was white in the face.
["Like, here FM, try drinking this..."] thought Shirley with concern.
Carefully she poured a few drops of the strong liquid into his mouth. For a long painful moment, nothing happened and the Toonsters looked at each other grimly...then the man swallowed and suddenly gasped for breath as the alcohol jolted his system. He slowly began to take breaths again, his color improving slowly. Mary's host slapped the man's hands to awaken him, but it was a long anxious while before his eyes opened.
Below in the turret, Buster was still trying to bring Babs back to consciousness. His host raised and lowered the crewman's arms over his head to move air through his lungs, but was having limited success. ["Wake up, Babs! Ya gotta wake up!"... Don't you dare leave me! Darnit, I got ya the ring and everything! C'mon!"] he thought desperately.
He moved to raise and lower her legs to get her circulation moving and Babs sneaked one eye open, shutting it when he moved back. Buster noticed a slight change in her face and squinted at her, growing angry. He suddenly slapped her cheek and shouted.
["WAKE UP BARBARA ANNE!"]
["Don't call me that!..."] she snapped - then catching herself, moaned ["Ohhh....what happened to me? ..Buster...is that you?"]
She sniffed at the foul smoke rising from below and asked ["Where am I?....Cleveland??"]
["Howdoyalikethat! Foolin' around when I'm trying to save you and the ship is sinking!"] the provoked blue bunny snorted angrily. ["One o' these days - your jokes are gonna come back ta haunt ya! And then we'll see who's laughing!"] he thought angrily as his host climbed up to the roof and away from her.
["Aw c'mon Buster!.. It was funny! Come on! This was Grade A material! ...Bugs did it all the time!"] she called up after him.
Chastened, the pink doe wanted to follow him, but her host preferred to remain and recover his senses.
A few feet above, Fowlmouth and his host had regained consciousness.
["Are you okay?"] Mary asked as her host knelt at his side.
["My head's ringin' like a choirch steeple an' I got the mother of all hangover's.. but I think I'll make it,"] acknowledged the rooster gratefully. ["Tanks fer pullin me out guys,"] he said as Babs' host Mr. Newton crawled up through the hatchway. ["If yous guys hadn't a' gotten to me when ya did, I'd be a goner by now... Wakko? Arnold?..I won't forget. Honest I won't."] he told them humbly.
["If Mary 'nd that other crewman hadn't told me - I wouldn't ave known,"] Wakko shrugged modestly.
["Our host'z saved you too, you know,"] smiled the big pit bull at him.
Fowlmouth eyes were big and wet as he looked at Mary.
["...Ya saved me Mare...ya saved my life - ya came back for me!"]
The lass blushed and lowered her eyes before looking back at him.
["You'd already done the same for me, sugar...You picked me up when I fainted in there - you took me out-"]
["But I didn't Mare! - I passed out before I could get the door open! I tried *so*hard-!"] he confessed with tears in his eyes.
["Calamity and Babs pulled you out, Mary,"] Lord told her as his host, Mr. Hands walked by, ["..You all saved each other."]
As the Toonsters all looked at one another, Fowlmouth's host put up a trembling hand to Mr. Keeler, Wakko's host.
"Thank you, Sir," he said simply.
Keeler merely smiled at the man and shook his hand, his action speaking volumes. Then he went down the ladder again to help more of the crew below.
Babs had been watching this from the hatchway and her host now came up to sit in the fresh air with the others. As Mr. Newton sat beside Alban Stimers, Babs looked contritely at her fiancee.
["Buster?..I'm sorry. I forgot how serious this is..I shouldn't have teased you. Calamity? Thanks for saving me."]
["Sorry to interrupt this mutual admiration society, but we got some big problems to overcome!"] Furball reminded them.
"Mister Greene! We must get the attention of the tug boat!" said the Captain, raising his voice as the storm increased. "Bring me that slate."
Arnold's host brought him a two foot square writing slate and a piece of chalk and they huddled over it as the Captain wrote.
["What're they doing with that? This no time to draw on a blackboard!"] sneered Plucky.
["They had to use that to send messages to the other ships,"] Hamton told him from his lookout near the fore side of the turret.
["Why not use seegnal flags?"] wondered Fifi.
["Look around - they had no masts to fly them from,"] Calamity answered as he looked out into the storm.
Lieutenant Greene held the slate over his head as high as he could.
"PULL ASHORE!" it said in the biggest letters possible.
As the exec held the sign aloft, Fifi and Hamton's hosts held up their lanterns to try and light the sign so it could be read. Through the dark, wind and rain, they could dimly see their consort ship, the Seth Low out far ahead. Through the storm, there was only a small chance of being seen.
"Mister Greene!" called a man from below. "The fires are out! The waters are rising!"
"Come along men! We must get the fans and the pumps working again," Calamity's host, Stimers announced as his engineers turned to head back down to the engine room.
"Mister Stimers! Get the hand pumps going!" ordered Arnold's host.
"Until we get the engines started, that's all we *can do*," Stimers agreed.
Isaac Newton followed, his head still aching from before as the men returned to the dangerous environment that had nearly cost them their lives.
["We have to go back into that deathtrap, Calamity?!"] Babs argued, ["We just barely got out alive!"]
["It's either that or we lose the ship,"] he answered.
["So Babs? Which would you prefer - choking or drowning?"] Gogo chortled lightly.
["Buster's right...it isn't funny,"] she replied. ["Let's go!"]
"Sir! They can't see our signal!" the boatswain called over the sound of the storm as he waved his lantern, the yellow light reflecting on the men's anxious faces.
"Quickly! Hoist our colors upside down!" ordered Greene.
"Aye-aye sir!" Hamton's host answered, handing his lantern to Fifi's man and crossing to the ladder down to the deck.
["Hammy, vat are tu doing?!"] Fifi cried in alarm.
["We've got to signal the tug that we're in distress! I've got to go to the stern and turn our flag upside down. That'll attract their attention."]
["Boot tu could be swept overboard! Aren't tu scared?!"]
As his host turned backward to climb down the cast iron ladder, she caught sight of her pig's frightened trembling face as he looked down across the eighty feet of sea-swept deck he'd have to cross to get to the flag. The waves were regularly pouring over it and there was no life-line at the edge!
[" Scared? - I'm p-p-p-petrified!!"] Hamton shivered.
Fifi looked for help. ["Where'z Lord? 'Ee can-"]
["Like - he's below with the rest of the engineers, trying to start the engines,"] Shirley told her.
Before he could speak, Hamton's host was bravely climbing down the ladder. The sea spray felt like a sand-storm hitting his body and the cold and the dark ocean beyond made him grip the iron rungs with all his strength. The waves washed under his feet, turning the black deck into a raging river of foam! Shivering, he looked out astern into the blackness. He could see the sides of the square smokestacks but not much beyond them. The task would be perilous indeed!
["Here!"] called Fifi about him, her host holding up a glowing lantern.
With light on the subject, he could see the lifeboat and the ventilator stacks beyond the first smokestacks but not the flagstaff itself. He knew it was there - they knew he would accomplish it, according to history. But how?
Just then a big wave caught him by the ankles, nearly tearing him from the ladder! The Boatswain struggled and hung on for dear life! As the water receded, a rope slapped against his side. Fifi's host, the gunner's mate had tied it to the top of the ladder to give him a lifeline.
"Be careful!" the man called down to him.
Hamton and his host watched the waves falling across the stern, timing their rise and fall. Suddenly, the wind died and the seas slowed to a lull. John Stocking quickly jumped down to the deck, his shoes landing hard on the flat iron! Quickly he scrambled the eighteen feet across to between the smokestacks and grabbed one of them to shield himself!
Fifi watched from the roof of the turret, trying to light his way with the lantern as best she could. She saw a small wave dash over the deck, catching Hamton and soaking him to the waist!
["Ohh! It's COLD!!!"] the pig whined as his nether regions were dunked in icy seawater, saturating his woolen clothes.
His tough host took little notice as he calculated his next hurdle - the twenty feet over to the ventilator stacks and getting around the lifeboat. He waited just long enough for a wave to sweep by, then plunged through the ankle-deep water towards the port side, around the life craft and to the blower intake! It seemed father and farther away, but in moments his arms were hugging the cold metal sheeting. Breathing hard with his pig's-knuckles burning and his heart racing with adrenaline, Hamton saw the widest expanse of forty feet of deck and blackness that he had to traverse.
["Tu can make eet, Hammy! Zee heestoree bookz said so!"] said Fifi's voice in his head.
With his eyes becoming better accustomed to the dark, he could see the flagstaff at the tip of the stern now. This part would be the most dangerous as there was nothing to stop him at the edge. Thinking quickly, he tied the rope from the turret around his wrist, the wet twine slipping in his grasp. When the next wave passed by, he lunged ahead!
Abruptly his arm was yanked back, stopping him in his tracks! The line was too short to reach! As he fumbled with it, a wave caught him in the midriff, sweeping him off his feet and under the water! He saw a surge of blackness tearing at him and felt the frozen seawater tackling his body, carrying him along with it! He clawed desperately at the deck to hang on as it dragged him helplessly towards the deck's edge!
On top of the turret, Fifi felt the rope in her paws grow taut and dimly saw Hamton disappear suddenly.
["Hammy!!"] she yelled as she watched the line jerk about.
She felt the line suddenly go slack and tugged on it to find no resistance!
["HAMTON!!!"] screamed Fifi!
There was a deathly silence - then his thoughts reached her across the gulf: ["I'm alright! Just had to let go - the rope's too short."]
Hamton's host, the boatswain lay flat on the deck hanging onto the propeller well cover with his fingernails. He'd pulled the rope from around his arm and cast it aside. From here he could see the edges of the deck at the stern and the eighteen foot tall flagstaff, still waving the 'Stars and Stripes' of the Union. Standing again in his drenched clothes, he carefully ran the last twenty feet and grabbed ahold of the flagpole. He paused a second, grateful "that our flag was still there".
As fast as he could, he undid the rope from it's cleat and rapidly hauled down the flag, undid the top scissor-clamp and brought the top grommet down to the bottom one and switched the two, bringing the bottom grommet up to clamp it into the top scissor-clamp, thus flipping the flag upside down. With the blue field of stars on the bottom, it looked quite odd as he hauled it back up.
As he tied it off and launched himself back towards the turret and safety again, the Boatswain threw his country's flag a little salute. Ahead he saw the lights from the turret's roof where Fifi and the others waited. The sea was momentarily calm and he ran with all his might and mane! Within sight of his comrades, another wave caught him and pulled his feet out from under him! As Fifi watched, he was again swept to the edge of the black deck, his arms flailing! Luckily, she'd thought to coil the rope back up and now her host threw it to his comrade! He stretched and caught the line, pulling himself back to the turret where he grabbed the bottom rung of the ladder and climbed up to safety. His friends were glad to see him. Fifi wanted to hug him, but her host just patted the boatswain on the shoulder.
["That was totally heroic Hamton! Like, how did you manage it?"] asked Shirley.
["Thank years of flag-raising ceremonies in the Pig Scouts - and a really brave bosun's mate!"] said Hamton as he sat heavily on the roof.
Back in the cramped engine room, things were little better. The fumes had mostly cleared through the hatch to the turret, but there was still no new air being pulled in and the water was rising. Stimers and Newton were turning the ventilator belts as best they could by hand, but it was slow arduous work. Calamity and Babs each worked at turning them, their arms aching with the desperate labor.
Meanwhile the water in the berth deck sloshed from end to end! Arnold knew nothing about setting up the ship's hand pumps, but fortunately, his host, Lt. Greene did. Pulling long handles back and forth atop the crude machines, they began to pump the water into the sea. Two men stood facing each other, pushing a long wooden pole back and forth between them. Plucky's host, George Geer stood working with Billy. "Shissh-kollash-shissh-kollash" went the pumps, but they seemed to be choked with seawater. Gogo and Lord's host's worked at the other hand pump but got no better results. The men worked grimly in silence for hours, with only their sweaty work to keep them warm, the cold slimy bildgewater rising to their ankles.
In the engine room, Babs host, Mr. Newton grimly looked into the fire box. Babs looked desperately at Buster.
["Captain!"] she thought with a Scottish accent. ["He's turned the engines _off_! Completely cold! It'll take thirty minutes to regenerate them!"]
["Scotty!"] exclaimed Buster as he fell into it.
["Ah cahn't change the laws of physics! Ah've *got* ta have thirty minutes!!"]
Buster almost laughed, but smiled fondly at his fiancee and thought ["That would be pretty funny if it weren't true."]
["Okay! I've had enough! I officially wanna go home now!"] Plucky announced.
["Whatsamatter Plucky? The pressure gettin' to be too much for ya?"] Gogo laughed. ["Or don't you enjoy doing very hard repetitive work while getting soaked in cold water?"]
["Toony water's different than this real stuff! Toony water I can stand - cause it's not icy cold and never gives me chilblains! I can even *live* under toony water!"] the duck griped, his breath turning to steam in the frigid air.
["Vat's a chilblain?"] wondered Arnold.
["Gee! You make Reality sound like a *bad thing*!"] the Dodo guffawed.
Gogo continued to make lots of peculiar noises and began to sing like Sam Cooke as they continued pumping: ["I hear someone saying: OO! AH! OO! AH! Yeah, don't you know? That's the sound of the men - working on the Chain - Gaaang!"]
After a moment, Plucky shrugged and sang along with the droll Dodo. The Doctor worked the pumps in silence, watching the water level in the ship.
("Music For a Darkened Theatre" Disc #2, Mission Impossible, "Looking For Job")
["We've gotta get the fire started again so we can start the engine and the pumps!"] worried Wakko, splashing in the ankle-deep water.
["But that'll burn up all the air in here and gas us again!"] countered Buster as he looked into the soggy ash pits.
["First we hafta get the water out of the fire area - then we'll hafta build a fire to get the temperature up - then we can start the coal fires burning,"] Calamity told them firmly.
["*Build* a fire to *start* a fire?! Can't we just light the coal?"] Babs objected as her host was sweeping the water out of the fire grates.
["Coal will only start to burn at a temperature of a couple hundred degrees - and wet coal will have to be heated and dried out partially or it won't burn at all!"] the coyote scientist explained. ["With luck, a wood fire will dry the coal, heat the engine and maybe provide enough steam to drive the ventilators. - If it doesn't - we'll just asphyxiate ourselves again.. and we'll lose the ship."]
["Right! So we have to get the fire boxes dry first!"] thought Mary, ["Our hosts seem to know what to do."]
Newton and Ellis (Buster & Babs hosts) were sweeping and shoveling out the soggy ash pits, while Mary and Fowlmouth's hosts now worked the ventilators. Stimers and Keeler (Calamity's and Wakko's men) were gathering the driest coal and kindling to start the fires. Keeler found that some of the coal bunkers were wet and took note of the few dry ones, but he also saw how the water was not receding and the men were still shoveling it out of the ash pits and fire boxes. Stimers found his emergency cache of firewood, but he too saw that nothing could be done till the water was cleared out.
Above on the turret, Captain Worden saw that the Seth Low was not seeing his ship's signals of distress. The tug boat was still struggling along at the other end of the tow line, without taking notice of his waving lanterns. The sea's spray was constantly washing off the chalked letters on his slate and it was so small it could hardly be seen against the darkening sky. It was now past sunset and even the Monitor's upside-down flag could barely be seen. Their consort ships were in much the same condition, rolling badly in the storm.
His seasick crew dodged the spray and the waves that splashed up the sides of their tiny island of iron. They'd raised an old sail up on the roof and set it up like a circus tent to protect them from the sea, but the stormy, cold March weather made everyone miserable. It was a sorry looking company that crowded the only habitable spot on the vessel and it looked as though they would have to abandon the ship.
Down in the muggy berth deck, the water was still rising. Despite the hand pumps, the eighteen by twenty-four foot chamber had nearly a foot of water in it, sloshing from side to side as the ship rolled in the swell. The men worked the pumps as fast as they could, but the water was making for some anxious faces. Any more water and the ship might turn turtle and go down!
"Mister Stodder! Organize a bucket brigade! Get the bailing buckets!" shouted Lieutenant Green.
Gogo's host fumbled with his lantern in the dark, getting into a side locker, then handing out the new canvas buckets to the men.
"Up the stairs, through the turret and out through the top hatches!" he ordered, the shivering men doing their best to comply.
The first man on the floor near the steps began scooping up a bucketful of water and handed it to the next crewman. From man to man, each bucket was passed up the line, sloppily dripping as it passed from hand to hand. The last man on the roof handed it to a man at the turret's edge who dumped the water over the side into the sea. The buckets sloshed and slurped and the men sweated in the cold as the heavy buckets were raised up the nine man chain. The men alternately passed the empty buckets back down at the same time, dropping them down to be refilled with more slimy saltwater.
Lord's host, Mr. Hands kept to his station at the hand pumps, not seeming to feel the monotonous motions he was making. Hands stared at the human chain as if he already knew his fate. Within him, Lord's mind was being overloaded with misery from Fifi's condemnation and by his own guilty feelings of sending the Toonsters on this dreadful mission. Perhaps it was time to go...
In the engine room, the twelve feet of space between the huge Martin boilers and the steam box was a flurry of frustrated motion. The officers were determined to get the fires going, but were still thwarted by the high level of the water. They jostled past each other to check the fire box and slipped in the water more than once.
Babs host tripped and fell face-first into the slimy water. He rose to his knees with an oath and leaned against the wall.
["Ya know, right now would be a good time for a commercial break!"] Babs declared, sputtering with the foul bildgewater.
["Yeah, that'd be great! - If this was a show,"] Buster replied.
["I can't tell weather the water's goin' down er not,"] Wakko observed gloomily.
["To be honest...neither can I,"] Calamity thought fatefully.
Above on the turret, Fifi's host kept passing the buckets back and forth while she could only think of how horrible this situation had become. Why was her grandfather so willing to put herself and her friends in such mortal danger? Was this strange little ship so valuable that he'd put them all in such jeopardy? Even if she was truly immortal - why would he endanger everyone? Or... was it everyone? He couldn't possibly intend to get rid of -?! No, it was unthinkable! Yet...
Inside the turret, Hamton's host also handled bucket after bucket.
They were so heavy and he was so tired, but he thought ["At least I'm keeping the ship clean and safe...I hope."]
As the men around him worked, he watched their faces becoming more and more frightened. As his own host's thoughts turned to fears of not seeing his home and family again, Hamton had to force himself to remember that the ship would not sink this night and that he was still safe.
As Captain Worden and Surgeon Logue watched the faraway tug boat for signs that it might turn to assist them, the doctor gave voice to his thoughts.
"I told my son he should stay at home and not get involved in this war, but he never listens to me..."
"He joined up, eh?" asked the Captain.
"Worse.. he joined the Army to fight with McClellan. He'll be limbered sure if they ever invade Richmond...He's a good lad, but ...he just won't mind his mother nor I," Logue said dejectedly.
"How sharper than a serpents tooth it is - to have a thankless child," mused the captain.
"What's that?" asked Logue.
"Never mind," said Captain Worden as he continued to watch their tow boat.
Fifi overheard this and turned away in thought. Shirley sensed the skunkette's anger and what was really happening. She thought of a way to get the message to Fifi without arousing the other's suspicions.
["Oh wow, that like, totally reminds me of Crabby Appleton! Ya ever heard of him, Feef?"]
["Non. 'Oo eez 'ee?"]
["He was like, the villain on the ol' Tom Terrific Show - ya' know?"]
["Ze old black and white line draweeng UAP show we saw een heestoree class last year? Oui."]
["Well, Crabby Appleton wuz like the ultimate sourpuss - he loved bringing people down,"] the loon thought, trying to lead Fifi to an obvious conclusion. ["He had this freaky lil song, ya know?"]
Musing in her head, she sang a little ditty:
["My name is Crabby Appleton - I'm rotten to the core!
I do a bad deed every day - and sometimes three or four!
I'm fond of gloom, impending doom,
I think good deeds are sappy!
I find I'm at my happiest - when everyone's unhappy!"]
Fifi and Furball looked at her as if she had just turned into a frog.
["To use yer own werdz - Like Whaaaat are you talking about??"] asked a confused Fifi.
["Like, cheese an' crackers! I'm *tryin'* to call attention to a *certain situation* here!"] sputtered the frustrated loon. ["I like, think you rilly need to talk to the Doc 'an stop giving off the negatory vibes!"]
Fifi was taken aback for a moment, then thought ["Ah *don't want* to talk to heem."]
["Yer *being totally obstinate* and making *everything* worse! Don't ya like *see* that?"] Shirley blurted out.
["Non, Ah 'like' don't!"] Fifi thought, imitating her sarcastically, ["So mind your own beezness!"]
["Ladies, please! This situation is bad enough. Let's not make it worse,"] Furball reprimanded them.
Below, Hamton turned to Plucky and wondered: ["What was that all about? Fifi's never fought with Shirley before! And what's Shirley need Fifi to talk to Doctor Lord for?"]
["Eh, women! Go figure 'em!"] the Pluckster shrugged carelessly.
["It's not like them to fight, Plucky.."]
["We've got bigger things ta worry about! Like - how much more punishment can my stomach take before it erupts?! I have a (erp!) feeling that the second we get outta these host bodies - I'm gonna Mount Saint Helens all over the place!"] Plucky whined.
["I know he's a friend of her family and all, but why should Fifi need to talk to the Doctor... instead of me?"] Hamton continued.
["Maybe she's sick? Who knows?! Cuz he's her doctor,"] the duck thought simply.
["Her doctor?!"] Hamton asked in shock. ["He's her medical doctor?!"]
["Yeah, I guess so. Shirley said that Lord was her baby doctor - he delivered her,"] Plucky told him.
Now Hamton was thoroughly puzzled.
["She never told *me* that... - Just that he was a friend of her Grandfather's..."]
Confused, Hamton kept to himself while Plucky continued to grumble about his state of nausea.
Up on top of the turret, Lieutenant Greene reported quietly "Sir.. the bailing isn't doing much good. I don't know-"
"If nothing else, it will keep the men from panicking, Mister Greene. Keep 'em at it. We can't give up the ship," Worden said softly.
But just as the shroud of doom seemed to be surrounding them, a seasick crewman stood up and pointed.
"Captain! The Seth Low is turning!"
They all turned to stare off into the darkness - and saw the whole side of their tug boat crossing towards shore. She was showing her starboard lights! Signals lanterns waved back at them at last!
There was a muffled cry of relief from the crew of the Monitor as they realized that they were finally heading closer to shore and to safer, calmer waters. As their ship turned at the end of its' hawser and was pulled slowly towards shore, they at last saw hope for their survival.
The trip took hours more, but the seas became less and less. Soon only an occasional wave found it's way on deck and the ship rode smoothly. The water in the hull receded, as less and less found it's way into the ship. Slowly the bailing and hand pumps drained the ship, the floor boards of the berth deck finally could be seen again as the water level dwindled down.
In the engine room, the exhausted men now carefully built a pile of kindling and logs in the fire box. Newton and Stimers were drawn by their exertions, but cautiously conferred about starting the fires again.
"Should we close the fire doors, just in case the smoke gets to us?" asked Stimers.
"If the fire starts the engines, it'll start the ventilators, but we've got to build up steam before engaging the load on them. We'll need as much fresh air as we can get till the engine turns over. Open the doors," said Newton." Bring the Lucifer."
When everything was ready, Newton struck a match and lit a newspaper in the midst of the kindling. Slowly the flames licked the wood and as the expectant men watched and blew onto the small fire. The flames ebbed and flowed and Buster unconsciously crossed his fingers.
Fireman Geer came in from the Fire room and watched. As the fire began to dwindle, he tossed a piece of worn paper into the flames.
"Isn't that your wife's letter, Mister Geer?" asked Master Stodder.
"I've read it, sir," Geer said simply.
The men smelled the wood smoke and began to grow nervous.
["We've got to increase the heat to ignite the coal!"] thought Calamity.
"Here, try this," his host Stimers said, bringing over a large oil can.
He pointed the oversized oil can's spout at a log and squirted some of the brown machine oil into the fire. The flames immediately flared up and caught the rest of the wood, but the room was growing smoky. Most of the heat and fumes were being drawn up through the boilers by a simple draft, but some were backing up in the fire box.
["Now if we can get the coal to light, we've got it made!"] thought Mary as they watched the fire and the temperature gauge expectantly.
The gauge had risen slowly to about two hundred degrees, as they carefully began to shovel the driest coal close to the flames. The black lumps began to sizzle as the water escaped and was vaporized. The wood fire crackled and popped, but the heat wasn't rising.
Stimers took the oil can again and carefully squirted a stream of machine oil from the coal to the base of the fire.
["Just like lighter fluid, heheh!"] thought Calamity.
The men all crowded in to watch the oil flame burn like a fuse.
["Guys! They're all still lil pyromaniacs,"] Babs remarked in distaste.
The line of oil burned like a trail of gunpowder and zipped into the pile of coals. The crew's hope arose as the coals were covered in flames as the oil burned on them, but would the coal itself light?
The flames began to die and Stimers began to squirt all the oil into the flames as fast as he could. The fire flared with a roar as the flammable liquid burned wildly! Quickly dropping the oil can, Stimers pushed a heap of the coal into the base of the wood fire...
They were rewarded at last as the coal caught fire and the temperature gauge slowly began to rise! The men cheered and sighed with relief as they heard the boilers begin to make their usual dull roar as the boiling water inside was converted to steam - nice hot useful steam! The men watched their gauges carefully, piled on more coal and monitored the water and steam pressure gauges. The room grew warm again, warming their blood from the water's icy chill.
Relieved, Buster's host stood up from his crouched position and found his head in a thin cloud of smoke! The backed-up fumes from the fire clouded the engine room and the air was growing thin again!
["The smoke will get into the rest of the ship!"] he thought.
["We need the air! We've got to keep the fire doors open until we get the fans operating!"] Calamity determined as his host looked over the gauges on the steam box.
The fires slowly burned, but the steam pressure was rising. Calamity knew that they had only a matter of minutes to start the engines before the gases would overcome them again. Their heads began to ache again and the men coughed quietly, trying to remain stoic.
Again, Stimers sprayed machine oil onto the flames. The crewmen looked at each other nervously, wanting to bolt away from the gathering gases. But they dutifully remained at their posts.
Mr. Newton anxiously watched the pressure gauge as the needle trembled closer to the point where he could engage the steam governor and set the engine in motion. The air was fouling. Babs felt faint again. There were only moments left..
["Here goes nothing!"] the bunny thought as her host threw open the steam lines to the valves.
There was a hiss - and an awful pause... Then the gigantic piston began to move. It slowly pushed to one side...another painful pause... then it drew back again. Very slowly - the engine turned. The men's nerves were on a knife edge as they coughed, praying for the machine to save their lives!
"Divert the load to the blowers!" ordered Stimers.
Newton turned the shiny brass control wheel and they heard the engine slow down as it engaged it's labors. The ventilator's driving wheels jerked - and slowly began to turn.
"Shut the doors to the berth deck!" Newton called and Fowlmouth's host ran to seal the room.
The fans spun slowly, but they began to bring in a fresh sea breeze. The men crowded to the louvered fans to breath in the sweet new air and their pale faces regained some color as the oxygen reached them. Soon the compartment was free of smoke and the steam pressure was back up. Stimers turned the engine's control wheel - and the Monitor's propeller thumped back to life! Their ship was safe at last!
As the ship was pumped dry of the remaining water, she rode through calm inland waters just off the coast of Delaware. As fresh air coursed through the ship again and the leaks stopped, the crew returned from the turret to warm themselves in the fire room and to eat - something they hadn't done all day. The stove was wet though so it could not be lit, so the cook handed out more of the infamous hardtack and fresh water.
["Bread and water?!"] complained Fowlmouth. [" What's is dis? Prison?! Next thing ya know, we'll be in the chow line with Harley Quinn an' Poison Ivy!...Hmm - on second thought - dat's not a bad idea."]
["Hey turkey, I better be the only one in your hen house - hear?"] Mary scolded him.
"Don't you have anything *more*, Howard?" Billy asked the ship's cook.
"Yassir! I've got th' cheese ya'll had fer breakfast," the cook replied.
With a grin, Billy and the others each got a hunk of white cheese.
"Ya know - *before* this cheese was a bit stale. But *right now* it's the best thing I've ever eaten!" Billy said thoughtfully smiling.
As they thought of what might have happened, the crewmen heartily agreed with him.
In the engine room, Wakko's host, the Paymaster took charge of the engines while the other officers relaxed. Shirley's host, Surgeon Logue attended to the sick men still on top of the turret, including the captain. Those who could, tried to rest or sleep as practically no one aboard had slept in more than a full day at least.
It was midnight and the exhausted Toonsters were still busy making their ship ship-shape. The crew knew they'd probably be going into battle very soon so it was best to be prepared.
Fifi's host had been kept busy re-caulking the turret's leaks and Fifi herself was still brooding over her trouble with Lord. She was just retiring down the steps to the Berth Deck when a bizarre thing happened – her host and all the other humans aboard disappeared!
(Edward Scissorhands, #12 "The Tide Turns"(suite))
|Art by Pepe K.|
Suddenly being without her host, Fifi's feet missed the step and she tripped down the stairs, recovering her footing just in time to keep from hitting the floor. The pain she felt was real and it did not go away quickly. Although she'd witnessed it for years, it now seemed odd to see Hamton come running up to help her, his bright clear toony colors so powerful amidst the dull hues they'd lived with for the past thirty-two hours.
"Are you okay, Fifi?" he asked, surprised to find himself in his own form as she was.
Just then, Plucky appeared from the engine room door, looking very green indeed. He ran past them, heading for the ship's bathroom.
"Free at last! Free at last!!" he cried holding his beak and his stomach as he dashed in to the lavatory and slammed the door.
Buster and Shirley appeared from the Ward Room, chuckling at the seasick duck until they heard him retching.
This time it was the loon's turn to say, "Like, Plucky go down the hooooooole!"
The others poked their heads into the room and soon they were all asking the same question: "Are we going home now?"
"But what happened? Why so early?" wondered Buster.
"Maybe Doc called it off - Doc?" said Wakko, looking around.
That was when they all noticed - Lord was not among them!
"Where is he?!" exclaimed Babs.
"I tought 'ee vas vith you!" Arnold shrugged.
"I haven't seen him!" Mary replied.
"Where is he then?! We can't wait around!" Gogo said urgently.
"We've only got a few minutes to assemble!" shouted Calamity.
"Quick! Search the ship!" shouted Buster as everyone scattered and ran to find Lord, "Shirl! Contact the Fox and tell 'im to wait!"
As the blue bunny ran to the bow to search, Shirley looked at Fifi with an accusing stare.
"I totally tried to warn you!" she snapped as she pulled out the light blue crystal that allowed her to contact the Tooniverse.
"Vat are you talkeeng about?! Warn moi about vat??" Fifi retorted angrily.
"I told you- Like come in Andy! Andy Fox, do you hear me?" the loon cried, trying to concentrate on her telepathic communication.
["Loud and clear, Shirley,"] came the scientist's faraway thoughts.
"Houston.. we've like had a problem.."
Buster ran through the Captain's cabin and to the pilot house, climbing the ladder to poke his head into it. All he saw was the ship's wheel! He looked in the chain locker underneath - and saw only the anchor well. Everywhere, everyone was calling for the Doctor.
Calamity looked though the engine room, calling for Lord - but there was no answer! Wakko ran through the officer's tiny quarters, finding no one. Babs looked in the fire room. Arnold looked into the turret. Gogo looked through the side lockers. Furball looked into the ships' bathrooms - and found Plucky!
["I can only hold off the transporter for a few more minutes,"] said Andy's disembodied voice, ["then the time stream will start to move forward again and there might be some - weird effects."]
["Like Good weird - or Bad weird??"] Shirley cried.
["Uh.. most likely bad,"] said the Fox.
["Like whatever! Stand by!"] the exasperated loon told him. She faced Fifi again angrily: "I told you not to get down on Doc! When you're both upset with each other - your psychic connection doubles yer depression! He's off somewhere at the end of his rope and it's your fault!"
Fifi clutched her face in shock as the realization hit her!
"Oh Mon Dieu!!" she cried realizing what had happened the last time she'd been irate with her grandfather! "Where is 'ee??!"
The other toons ran in from all directions, shaking their heads.
Screaming his name, Fifi ran for the stairs in panic, her purple feet flying up the stairs to the hatchway! Finding no one in the turret, she leaped to the ladder to the roof!
Outside on the ice cold iron deck, Doctor Lord walked alone. His face was pale like his huge silver eyes, which stared emptily at the frozen stars. A mournful frown creased his features as he shuffled slowly towards the stern, feeling only hopeless and forlorn. His tail dragged across the black metal like the trailing bandages from a walking mummy. Feeling only sorrow, he walked fatefully to his doom.
Fifi pulled herself through the top hatch and onto the roof. For a moment she could see nothing, as though she was at the bottom of a well, then her night vision adjusted to the darkness.
"Lord!!" she cried spinning around on the cold metal rails as she searched for him. "Dieu! Vat ave ah done?!"
In the darkness she saw him walking slowly towards the stern between the ventilator stacks. His plodding pace was just like it had been before he'd changed to the Berserker and gone off on a rampage into the past. She remembered the horrible soulless eyes and the terrible roar of the monster! She knew that she had driven him to the brink once again!
"Where do you theenk you're goeeng?!" she shouted at him.
His next step was halted a moment, but he kept going without acknowledging her presence!
The sea was beginning to get rough again and a wave flashed over the deck, spraying Fifi with it's cold. He wasn't listening!
|Art by Pepe K.|
She saw him reach the flagstaff at the stern and stand there, motionless and silent. He did not turn.
"Lord! Come Back!!" she yelled at him.
"...Go home, Fifi," said his plaintive muffled voice.
The skunkette was shocked and said, "What do vous mean?! You get back here right now! We can't leave weethout you!"
"...I'm not going, Petite...Tell Bugs the mission was a failure...tell him I scrubbed it," he said mournfully, his voice shaking.
This hit Fifi like a ton of bricks! He was suicidal now - and it was her fault! Desperately, she thought.
"Turn around! Look at moi! - You can't stay here! Come back weeth moi! Hurry! Zere eezn't much time!" she begged.
"No, Fifi... You were right - you were right about me. Tell your sister. You were right. I am a monster - a creature. I've destroyed thousands of lives, but I won't do it anymore. I'll live here.. at the bottom of the sea," he cried. "Perhaps as a clam.. under miles of darkness and mud..buried alive.. Here in the past - where the present will be safe from me."
"Non! Tu can't! Tu can't leave moi!!" she cried.
Suddenly the Time stream began to move! The waves and the sky began to move faster - as though they were speeded into fast motion on a film. The waves and spray grew higher, whipping their faces with spray! Things began to get blurry!
"Go Fifi! Hurry before it's too late!" Lord shouted over the wind.
"NO! Noo! Ah won't go weethout tu!! COME BACK!!" the skunkette cried, her tears filling her windswept eyes! "What weel appen to moi?! Zee President needz you to protect us!!"
At that, the tall skunk finally turned - and Fifi saw his eyes! They were clouded with darkness, the centers were glowing red! His hair and fur blown by the savage wind, he roared in anguish!
"The world doesn't need me!" he cried through his tears. "It's always hated me! After all I've done for it - the world is better off without me!! All those Turks and Allied airmen will live - all those Japanese will live!!"
Tears ran down his silver cheeks as he finally said: "...Red.. will live without me!... Now - go!"
"NO! AH WON'T LEAVE YOU!! AH WON'T FORGET YOU!! Ah...Ah Love you!! PLEASE!! COME BACK!!"
Lord's power crackled on his tail and his eyes glowed red as he slowly raised his hand to point at her!
"Then - I'll have to *make you* forget me..."
Seeing that he was about to erase her memory, Fifi screamed!
Tears filled his red eyes as he zeroed in on her.
"...Goodbye Petite... I love you too.."
Driven to the brink herself, Fifi leaped into space! She tumbled to the deck just as a wave struck it! Time was moving faster and the ocean blurred into a blue-black deluge of rain and waves! Fifi fought to her feet and struggled out towards her Grandfather, running into more and more waves which soaked her to the skin!
"No! Go back! GO BACK!!" he shouted as he drew his power back. He started towards her through the waves that slapped at him.
"Stop! Don't tu see! Eetz ze Berserker! 'Eetz getteeng control ov you! Your eyes are red! Eet'z trying to destroy you!!" she told him.
"GO BACK!" he roared.
Fifi was knocked sideways by a wave and nearly crumpled to the deck. She tottered to her feet and looked at him sadly.
"Weethout you - Mama and ah weel *never* exist...your daughters!"
Lord stopped dead in his tracks and shut his eyes hard. His body was seized by a terrible contraction - and then he leaped to grab her!
His eyes shone silver and white again as he struggled to pick her up. Seeing that the power of the beast was gone, Fifi smiled into his eyes - then both of them were suddenly drawn to look up into the sky!
The black void of the time displacement was rapidly closing on them from the horizon! Carrying Fifi in his arms, Lord ran with all he had - but a big wave caught them both, flinging them sideways! Fifi fell from his grasp and the wave swept her towards the edge of the ship's deck!
The two struggled in the icy water, clawing to reach each other through the cold seawater that poured over them! As she saw the ocean about to swallow her, Fifi's arm was grabbed and she was hauled back into her grandfather's arms!
Overhead, the white tornado funnel was coming towards the ship! Lord stood a moment and then leaped the last twenty-five feet onto the top of the turret in the nick of time!
As the two skunks looked at each other and wiped away each other's tears, another tear-stained face turned crestfallen towards the floor - standing alone inside the turret was Hamton!
The time tunnel flashed white - carrying the Toonsters home.
Look for the next Chapters of -
"A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE UNTO HEAVEN"
coming to you soon.