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The Hawaiian Triple-Cross - Page 5: August 9, 2013 - October 2, 2013

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Scoring a Goal
Dosing a Cephalopod
Baby Squirt
Tormenta Cubana
The Interview Chair
You Can’t Get There From There


Scoring a Goal

Entry for August 9, 2013 Written by David L. Drake

The engine on the Peregrine was running at full steam to finish inflating the air yacht’s envelope. Over the throaty roar of the engine, Sparky heard the mooring lines creak as they tightened, a good sign that all was going well for the emergency launch. At the base of the lines secured on the lower deck, J.B. and Yin stood at the ready to unhitch them when signaled. Sparky was at the helm shouting directions to Erasmus, her make-shift engineer. He busied himself in the rear of the Peregrine, setting levers and verifying gauge readings, all the while calling out his findings to Sparky. Despite his initial protestations regarding Sparky’s mission of rescue, the pair worked as two gears in a clockwork, smoothly and meticulously.

In the few minutes it took to prepare the Peregrine, most of the crew of the San Juan had crowded at the upper deck’s starboard rail, watching the intertwined tentacles and listing masts on the horizon. Two, however, had instead run toward the Peregrine: the captain and Tiny.

Breathing hard from the run, the captain shouted up to Sparky, “A’seein’ ya’re pushin’ off on quick trip to kill ya’self. I’ll point out tha’ we’re in ta’ middle of the ocean and can’t drop anchor and just wait fer ya’. We’ll not take the time and sweat to heave to, nor strike the sails, all those bein’ wasted labor. I’ll sail ‘round the whaler once, givin’ tha’ monster some distance. Be back before I finish our junket, if ya’ please. If not, ya’ll be left ta’ chase us in ya’r floatin’ bucket, mi’ lady.”

Sparky leaned out of the open window and shouted back down, “So kind of you. I’ll bring her back in time.”

The captain nodded an unhappy acknowledgement, and added, “And I’m hopin’ for a cleaner landin’, if such a thing be possible. Don’t forget, this’ll…”

Sparky finished his sentence for him using her best parody of his dilect; “I know, I know,
this’ll cost us extra.”

“Take me with you!” shouted Tiny. “I have sailed on a whaling ship; I know the way they think.”

Sparky looked at the shear size of the lad and motioned him up. Without hesitation, he grabbed ahold of one of the mooring lines and climbed up hand over hand. He athletically scaled the Peregrine’s rail, landing on its deck.

The captain put both his arms in the air, vainly motioning, “what are you doing?” Then his arms dropped just as fast in resignation that Tiny was unstoppable when adventure awaited.

With a twirl of her index finger skyward, Sparky motioned for the release of the lines. J.B. and Yin leapt to their tasks and the Peregrine soared up above the ocean. The first obstacle for Sparky, Erasmus, and Tiny was to adjust from the ocean-ruled swaying of the San Juan to the rocking of a balloon on the wind. Tiny had the worst of it, grabbing at the railing and making the mistake of looking over the edge as the clipper ship drew away. His eyes grew big as the Peregrine rose above twice the height of the San Juan’s masts. To add to Tiny’s new experience, the San Juan also sailed away from under the airship, making a slow arc to its starboard to travel around the whaler. He watched anxiously as his captain and crew, as well as the safety of his ship, withdrew.

“I have always wanted to fly in an airship,” the young man quietly professed.

Sparky, with pilot headgear on and gripping the yoke, yelled at Tiny, “get your head into the mission! Work your way to the front and tell me everything you see.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“And call me Sparky!”

“Yes, ma’am!...Sorry…Sparky!”

Tiny carefully walked his way to the fore of the airship, hanging on to the rail with both hands throughout. The engine’s pitch changed as its forces were channeled to the two drive propellers. The blades whined in the ocean air as they rushed into blurred translucent disks of noise. With a jolt, the ship was traveling horizontally on a beeline toward the thrashing and wailing ahead.

Sparky’s view was suddenly of the wide back of the sailor. “Step to the side!” she shouted. He turned around to see her waving him off the nose of the airship; he nodded and moved a couple of steps to port.

Erasmus passed through the door that separated the engine compartment and the helm, joining Sparky. “Do we have a plan? Other than my crazy idea to use Green Fantasy?”

Sparky eyes darted between the whaling ship ahead and various gauges lining the console. “I know nothing about this beast.”

Erasmus agreed, “For all my years onboard, neither do I. I have heard the legends. Old sailors who spoke of mermaids, sirens, and kraken. Always seemed to be the creative fantasies of rum-soaked nights at sea. But that thing…,” he pointed a shaky finger at the whaling ship with multiple tentacle arms wrapped around it, “…that’s a bona fide living monster.”

Tiny gave a report every few seconds as the airship neared the ship. He noted that the whale lashed to the starboard side was a fifty-foot sperm whale; its side toward the ship had a single open strip for harvesting its blubber. The whalers were paying no heed to their catch, and instead were uselessly hacking at the meaty arms of the kraken. Despite the sailors’ access to various slicing tools of the whaling trade, they were unaccustomed to using them against an attacking beast, making only nicks in its rubber-hard skin.

As the Peregrine neared the ship, Erasmus joined Tiny on the aft side to get his own perspective. The head of the monster, if it had one, was well below the ship, and Erasmus could now see that its arms, at least six, completely enveloped the whaling ship. Two of the arms had their tips wrapped tightly around the base of two of their masts, and had yanked the ship hard to starboard, dunking the whale into the ocean, forcing the men to grab onto any surface to stay on board.

Sparky shouted, “Hang on!” She hastily disengaged the propulsion clutch, slammed on the propeller brake, and threw the aft rudder hard to starboard. The prop shaft unhappily squealed to a stop. The Peregrine twisted about, sideways, forcing an inelegant termination of forward motion. The three occupants grabbed for handholds as the airship overshot the whaler, its abrupt aerial stop resulting in the gondola swinging to and fro directly over a sailor who was pinned to the rail on the upper deck by an immense purple-grey, suction-cupped appendage.

On the raised port side of the ship, they could see dozens of sailors hacking at the lines for the whaleboats, hoping to provide jerry-rigged life rafts. One of the whaleboats loosed the line holding its stern and it swung over the edge of the ship by what little line held its fore.

At the top of his lungs, Tiny implored the sailors to run one way or another, and to act in unison, but the pleaded requests were lost to the roar of the thrashing sea, the din of hollering seamen, and stressed joints of the throttled ship. He signaled Sparky to get lower, so a line or a tool could be passed to the desperate victims of the briny demon. Sparky carefully inched toward the ship, until the Peregrine’s gondola was below the top of the entwined ship’s mast.

From here, both Tiny and Sparky could clearly see the situation below. Four sucker-covered arms wrapped from the ship’s port, and three from starboard. They resembled octopus or squid arms, but were far grander in size and strength.

Tiny turned to the helm, frantic in his plea to Sparky to get the airship lower so he could toss a line to a whaleboat, if the sailors finished the task of launching it, so it could be towed away from the endangered ship.

Sparky was beside herself with a need to have a decisive plan to execute. She hollered to Erasmus, “Run to the back and stoke the embers, recheck the water level, watch to make sure the prop is correctly reengaged, and find weapons! Any weapons! The cutlass I practiced with should be back there.”

Erasmus was off like a flash, ran back through the helm and through the door to the engine compartment. He grabbed a boiler mitt and flung open the door, seeing the bright orange-white within. He turned to the stacked hardwood, grabbed two large pieces, and tossed them in the boiler furnace. Of course the pieces didn’t go in as far as Erasmus wanted, so he turned to find the poker to finish the job correctly.

Tiny looked back down to see a sight he didn’t think possible; the creature’s arms flexed and tried to pull the entire ship straight down into the ocean. The noise of the snapping rails and rigging was horrendous. Tiny would have sworn that the ship flexed in the middle as it was suddenly jerked six feet lower, causing sailors to fly about as they were instantly airborne. They bounced off the arms, and then each other until they were slammed into the deck as the ship reaffirmed its buoyancy.

The creature repositioned its arms on the port side to be just around the whale, and started tugging to free it, but the whale held fast. The yanking became more violent, straining the three masts, and whipping their sails about.

The sailors hacked through the final line holding the whaleboat. The boat skidded across the ship’s hull and awkwardly splashed in the water. Without hesitation, eight sailors followed, sliding or running over the edge, and splashing into the angry ocean. Despite their swimming, they instantly began drifting apart and away from the whaleboat. Tiny readied the line in his hand for throwing and leaned as far as he could over the rail. Sparky eased the elevation control and lowered the ship down a few feet.

Just as Tiny was about to toss the line to the two sailors that had been able to board the whaleboat, all four port side arms let go and repositioned across the ship and the whale. A dark, ominous shape filled the port side waters. Tiny hesitated. He was only a few yards directly above its mass as he hung out over the rail. He gasped at the sheer size of the dark shadow just under the surface; it was many times larger than the Peregrine, and about half the size of the ship.

It surfaced, toppling the whaleboat. It was a giant squid head with one bulbous eye in the middle of it. Tiny looked directly down on the unblinking gelatinous structure, and he screamed.

Sparky yelled, “What do you see? Tiny, report!”

An eight-inch diameter ropy tentacle appendage shot up out of the saltwater and with an oversized palm-like club grabbed the upper third of the midship’s mast. Sparky saw the purple-grey limb as it passed by the Peregrine, her eyes following the bulbous prehensile end as it grabbed the mast like a child grabs a toy rattle.

The Ropy Tentacle Appendage
The Ropy Tentacle Appendage
Source: A. E. Verrill


Then the limb went taut and the club raked down the mast, leaving fang-like scratches down the sides of the post, snapping off the top rigging as if it were a dried twig. A scream rang out from Sparky that she didn’t know she could produce, surprising herself in the level of utter terror that she was feeling and could not suppress.

Tiny reacted by grabbing a knife out of his waistline and flinging it downward. He just wanted the beast to free the ship, leave this place, and return to the depths. The knife flipped end over end. A perfect throw executed without thought. And it stuck, shank-deep, into the enormous gaping squid eye.

The reaction was immediate and decisive. A second ropy arm shot up and swatted at the airship. The bulbous club slammed into the side of the envelope, sending the airship between two of the ship’s masts, as if the monster was scoring a goal. The impact forced the entire airship to spin about, the gondola flying up and over the envelope and down on the other side. Tiny was flung out during the flip, but the line he held drew tight around his wrist. Ten feet out, he endured the flight up and over the envelope as he was whip-cracked over the airship. When the gondola stopped at the bottom, Tiny continued his arc under the gondola and over to the other side of the Peregrine, where he flew into the open window of the bridge opposite the side where he was originally standing. Sparky had bounced around the helm during the tumble, but she was saved by the serendipitous jumble of leather cushions.

Erasmus had found the cutlass and poker, and had been holding both when the Peregrine flipped. Unlike Sparky’s bridge, the engine compartment was less tied down with tidy straps of homogeneously cocoa-colored leather. The room was instantly filled with cut wood, bright orange burning embers, cans of lubricating oil, and Erasmus. The boiling hot engine was exposed: its scorching fuel door open, its twin drive shafts and its eighteen-inch flywheel whirring. Out of the tiny window, Erasmus saw the flash of ocean, then sky, and then clouds. The flying debris permeated the room with danger, and all went black.

When Erasmus’ eyes reopened, he was lying on the floor in the corner with his legs up on the wall. Ash swirled in the air and the Chief Inspector had a hard time getting a good breath without coughing. He blinked and rubbed his head.
“I’ll have a few lumps tomorrow.” He struggled to right himself, which took some doing because of the scattered embers he was trying to avoid. He stood up, hoping to verify that both he and the room were still sound. That was when he bumped into something about head height. Feeling around, he found both the poker and cutlass stuck into the ceiling. “That must be one of the surfaces I bounced off of. Of all of the places I could have stuck these, including myself, the ceiling was one of the best choices.” He pulled both of them down, restocked the boiler, and headed out through the door to return to the helm.

When he got there, he found Tiny nursing the rope burn on his arm and Sparky who was hopping mad.

She looked at Erasmus, his face and clothes smeared with ash and grime, noticing the hot poker in one hand and a cutlass in the other. She only provided a faint nod showing her relief that he was unhurt.

Through gritted teeth she flatly stated, “No more playing around. This is my war now. Tiny, break out the bottles of Green Fantasy!”




Dosing a Cephalopod

Entry for August 19, 2013 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Although she was ready for a fight, Sparky had the battle sense to establish a flying pattern circling just out of reach of the treacherous tentacles.

Tiny tipped one of the Green Fantasy bottles back and forth, considering the viscous green fluid through the darkened glass. The expression on his face reflected his dubious consideration of the contents. “What is this…stuff?”

“It is a variety of absinthe with some additional, unconventional ingredients. It might or might not have hallucinogenic properties,” the Chief Inspector tried to explain, although he was equivocating more than Sparky would have expected of him.

She interrupted, “Dearest Erasmus, have you considered how you might ‘administer’ this medication?”

“There is no way to know if it would be effective injected through the skin…er…hide. Nor do we really have a tool to do so. It seems we must entice the beast to drink it.” He sounded none to sure about the viability of this plan.

“And where would its mouth be?” she asked, although she doubted that he would know.

“In between the tentacles,” Tiny offered brightly and hopefully.

“Oh lovely,” muttered the pilot. “Are you sure?”

“I was up close to one of these creatures before.”

Sparky tried not to envision what he could possibly have meant by that because the thought just made her queasy.

“That is where it puts food and it is never seen again.” She definitely didn’t need to know any more about this scenario.
“And people thought airship travel was dangerous!” she thought to herself. At least none of her passengers had ever been eaten.

“Gentlemen, I don’t think we should give our Neptunian nemesis the advantage of another pass within range. Are your throwing arms sufficiently accurate to hit its ‘mouth?’”

Tiny and Erasmus peered out the portholes of the Peregrine, trying to get a fix on the creature’s oral aperture. The looks they exchanged were not promising.

“Perhaps if you could fly a bit lower?” Erasmus suggested meekly.

“Unless your plan is for that…thing… to swallow the Peregrine and the Green Fantasy whole, I think not. Recall that the Peregrine is running low on fuel and the San Juan is not waiting for us.” She pointed toward the clipper ship making a run for it away from the melee below them.

Drake took a deep breath. “I have another idea, but I hazard to suggest that you may not like it much better.”

“Yes, dear?”

“If I were unencumbered by the size of the portholes, my aim would be improved.”

She tried several geometric and engineering configurations in her head. None of them were the least bit plausible or desirable. “Can you be more specific?”

“Tiny will tie a rope around me. I’ll drop the gangplank. Tiny will anchor the rope. I’ll lay flat on the gangplank, tossing bottles at the target.” His words spilled out in a rapid, smooth stream. He rather hoped that his delivery made the idea sound more agreeable, and not completely mad. Considering the fact that he had chosen to marry such a logical, intelligent woman, he should have known better.

“Are you insane!?”

“Do you have a better idea?” He offered in his defense.

As she completed another circle over the scene, assessed the declining prospects of the whaling vessel, and gauged the distance to the departing San Juan, she was forced to concede, “No.”

Erasmus had rather hoped that she had another scheme, because he didn’t like his chances with the one he proposed, but now he was well and truly stuck. There was nothing to do but put his plan in action. He gave a nod to Tiny to fetch a length of line. He slid the crate of Green Fantasy over to the gangplank opening and wedged it where he judged he could reach it.

Tiny approached. He had already wrapped the rope around himself a few times and tied it off securely. Drake lifted his arms for the sailor to make him fast to his human anchor. Once Tiny had double- and triple-checked the knots, he positioned himself between the chairs bolted to the floor and braced himself against them for added security. “I’m ready when you are, sir.” His expression was focused and earnest, reflecting his understanding of the symbiotic nature of such seafaring missions.

Drake unlatched the hatch, lay down on the floor, and inched out to the end of the gangplank. Sparky did her best to push the fact that her beloved’s life was in her hands so she could focus on her flying, just as she always had. It was considerably easier to do so when she was only putting her own life in danger. Something even more precious was at stake now. She consciously relaxed her shoulders and braced her elbows at her sides to steady her steering, bringing the Peregrine as close as she could to the battle below, threading the air yacht in between the masts of the listing whaling ship and the whipping tentacles of the cephalopod.

Drake took aim and threw as accurately as possible given the constrained movement of his arm. His first throw was slightly wide, causing the bottle to break on one of the tentacles and inflicting tiny scratches. They were not enough to injure the creature, but they were enough to enrage it. It took a swipe at its new attacker, narrowly missing the edge of the gangplank and its precariously perched passenger. Sparky swerved to dodge the retaliatory attack. Drake rolled sideways, his torso flopping over the edge. Tiny yanked back hard on the tether, nearly knocking the wind out of the Chief Inspector, but bringing him back to safety.

McTrowell barked, “That’s enough! We’re heading for the San Juan. The whaling ship is on its own.”

“No!” Drake pleaded, “I have the gist of it now. Let me try one more time.”

Sparky didn’t like the idea at all. “Just one more try.” She addressed Tiny, “If you drop him, there will be hell to pay.”

Erasmus confirmed, “She means it.” Tiny swallowed hard. He’d never met another woman like this airship pilot, but he was clear on the ferocity of her temper. He reset his anchor position as if his life depended upon it, which it almost certainly did.

On the next pass, Drake grabbed a bottle in each hand and slithered like a snake out to the point where the middle of his ribcage rested on the edge of the gangplank. The creature uncoiled two of its thick arms, reaching into the air under Drake, as if it had hoped to catch him if he fell. In doing so, it revealed a mouth of sorts, more of a beak. “
Perfectly sized for devouring humans,” Drake thought with trepidation. He took a deep breath and arched his back so his powerful shoulders and arms were clear of the boards. His first throw with his left hand went straight into the beast’s maw. The second with his right hand broke on the side, splashing some of the contents in and some on the side of the creature.

Sparky pulled up and away gently this time while Erasmus crab-walked back inside. He fetched two more bottles. “Let’s give it one more dose for good measure.” Sparky obliged with another circle. This time, Drake threw with his left before passing the second bottle from his right to his left. Both projectiles were right on target. He inched back inside. “Is it having any effect?”

Sparky watched for a moment, wanting to be sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking that the menace was slowing down. No, she was now quite sure that it was relinquishing its hold on the whaling ship and its original quarry. She watched as the tentacles relaxed and withdrew. It slipped back into the sea, allowing the seafaring vessel to bobble back upright. A cheer arose from the crewmembers on deck.

Sparky acclaimed, “Well done, gentlemen! Let’s get back to the San Juan before we run out of steam.”

She set a course straight for their own ocean-going ride while Drake secured the gangplank and Tiny untied the safety line.

“Um, ma’am?”

“Yes, Tiny?”

“I think we have a problem.”

Drake sidled up to where Tiny was peering out a porthole. Unable to see around the bulk of the sailor, he sidestepped to the next one. “Oh dear.”

Sparky did not like the sound of that. “Oh dear, what? I can’t very leave the helm and come look. What are you two going on about?”

“Perhaps Professor Farnsworth is part cephalopod.”

“What on earth are you talking about!?”

“I believe our adversary has a taste for Green Fantasy. He’s following us. Or at least he’s following our shadow.”

Sparky steered in an arc to starboard and craned her neck around to look over her right shoulder. “I don’t see anything.”

“It changed course when you did.”

She corrected back to their original heading. “It’s not as if it can catch us up here.”

Her fiancé stepped up behind her and pointed over her shoulder. “No, but you’re leading it straight to the San Juan.”

“I swear I’m going to kill this thing with my bare hands! How much fuel do we have left?”

Erasmus hurried back to open the door of the boiler compartment. “Only enough to get straight back to the San Juan.”

The experience airship pilot tapped her foot anxiously, casting about for a tactic. “
I have an idea. Hang on!



Baby Squirt

Entry for August 30, 2013 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus woke and tried to open his eyes. Even the smallest slits brought on the burning hot of unfiltered brightness. With his lids squeezed shut, he was still visually drowned in eyelid pink. He tried to move an arm to shield his face, but his muscles refused, and added their own pain. “How did I do this to myself?” he thought.

He groaned and forced his hand up to block out the light.

“He’s awake!”

Erasmus heard the loud, but happy, male voice call out. He responded by burying his face with his elbow and roll onto his side. Without his ears covered, Erasmus endured the sounds of the happy person running off and repeating his shout.

The cheer was echoed from a distance by multiple voices. “He’s awake! He’s awake!” Some other voices chimed in, ringing with elation.

“Go celebrate somewhere else.” He reached down for some kind of blanket to pull over his aching head but found none. “What am I on? A cot? A hammock?”

He wrapped a second elbow over his face to further dampen his senses. Someone stumbled in close.

“Erasmus, me friend! Good to have ya’ back.”

“The captain? We’re friends now? What is that I smell? Rum? And cooked crab?” Erasmus replied to the captain with a unique guttural sound that meant, “go away” in every known culture. A hungry stray dog would have recognized and obeyed if it had a lick of sense. The captain, of course, persevered.

“Hungry? Thirsty? We ‘ave quite a feast out ‘ere, lad.”

Erasmus reflexively made a self-assessment and determined that he was, in fact, hungry, but his stomach didn’t want any food. “Water would be nice,” he croaked out.

The sound of running people converged on the hammock where the Chief Inspector laid.

Sparky’s voice cut through the noise. “Erasmus! How do you feel? We have boar and fruit juices! Crab, too. Do you feel like eating?”

Erasmus unwrapped his arms from his face and scooted up a bit in his makeshift bed. He felt, and heard, at least six vertebrae adjust from the change of position. He shielded his eyes and forced an eye open. Sparky was near the hammock, beaming and holding a glass mug of yellow-orange colored concoction. She was framed with a half dozen other faces, all smiling as if Erasmus were going to distribute confections. Behind them, Erasmus realized, were palm trees.

“Where am I?”

Sparky lead the cheer. “Bermuda!” She followed with, “Horseshoe Bay, to be exact.”

“How...did we...get here?”

This time the captain answered. “You don’t rememba’?”

Erasmus forced himself through another self-assessment. No, he didn’t remember. Not a lick of it. Reasoning that if he were ambulatory he might be more aware of his recent past, he brought his knees up and tried to get out of the hammock. He didn’t have the strength and extended a hand for help. More than one hand quickly took it and other hands helped ease his legs over the edge of the hammock. His bare feet landed on soft, white beach sand. His legs did not want to support him, and he had to mentally concentrate to stand upright, despite the three or four people helping him do so. The change to vertical forced him to realize that he was very hungry.

“The last thing I remember was hanging over the edge of the airship, throwing bottles at…that thing.”

There was a muffled gasp in the small crowd near him. Sparky pressed her mug into his hand. Erasmus looked at the happy-colored liquid, then back at Sparky with a questioning look.

“Passion fruit juice. Drink some.”

He brought the mug up and sipped a bit, making him realize how dry his mouth was. The sweet nectar was refreshing, and he took a second, bigger mouthful. Then he stopped, concerned.

“There is no rum in this, is there?”

“Oh, my dear, no,” she replied, concerned. She continued, “Do you have any pains? Does your head hurt?”

“No, I’m just tired and the world is too bright. What did I do to myself?”

The captain jumped back into the conversation. “You don’t remember anything? You mus’ remember the French flinger!” He followed that with bellowing, “Vive le France!”

All the sailors within earshot held their arms up and shouted in unison, “Vive le France!” Sparky rolled her eyes, and said quietly to Erasmus, “I’ll explain. Drink some juice.”

Erasmus drank another mouthful. He looked at his clothes. His shirt was unbuttoned halfway down his chest and his sleeves were rolled up above his elbows. His trousers were rolled up to just under his knees, and he was shoeless. Sparky was also dressed for the heat. She wore a loose tunic and a wrapped skirt that flowed easily with her movements.

Erasmus observed, “Dressed for the beach, I see. Both of us.”

“I was worried. You had a fever for a while. The cool sea air, a hammock in the shade, I thought these may help you recover. Keep sipping that drink. Walk with me. We have a fire pit over there,” she pointed over near a clutch of sailors in conversation, “I’ll get you a dish of food.”

After a few unsteady initial steps across the beach, Erasmus asked, “So, what happened?”

“I’ll start from the beginning. Well, from the point you last remember. Up in the Peregrine, correct?”

Erasmus tried hard to think back. “Yes, the kraken had just released the whaling ship.”

Using her storytelling voice, Sparky began, “It started to follow the Peregrine. To my estimation, it was following our shadow. So I headed up into the clouds. It couldn’t see us, I assume, and we couldn’t see it. I headed over towards the San Juan, and descended. Just as we were a few yards from the mid-mast, one of its tentacles, the club-ended kind, flopped up on deck. All the sailors ran away, as you would expect. That’s when you, well, did that thing you do.”

“Pardon?” Erasmus asked quizzically.

“Went all, you know, hero.” Sparky paused to think of a better term. Then she shook it off and simply continued. “You yelled that you knew what to do, bit the cork out of the end of a Green Fantasy Bottle, guzzled about a third of it, re-corked it, …” She pantomimed the motion of slamming a cork into a bottle and then hammering it home with the heal of her hand. She continued, “and threw the bottle out into the ocean to lure the creature away from the ship.”

They had reached the fire pit where a stack of boiled-in-the-shell crab had been stacked on a communal rough wood platter, along with freshly cooked boar. Jugs of juice had been set out on a fallen palm trunk, mugs nearby for easy filling.

Sparky readied a plate for her beloved while he took in the sun as is rode low on the horizon down the western shore. It was that time of day when the warmth of the fire pit felt good to Erasmus, but so did the cool of the sand on his bare feet. He stood on his own near the low flames and the red cinders, warming his hands, looking over the faces of the happy sailors and the murmur of their conversations.

Sparky placed the dish in his hand. “Have some of the pork. It was a young boar. Quite tasty.” Erasmus used his hand to break off a piece and pop it into his mouth. Yes, he determined, he was hungry. He continued eating as his eyes told her to continue.

Sparky smiled. “That’s when you jumped out of the airship. Right off the side. Into the crows nest as easy as you please. You yelled back, ‘Throw me a line,’ which Tiny did, and you secured it to the mast. We were able to play it out a bit and tether the airship. I killed the engines while Tiny climbed over to the San Juan on the line.” Sparky aped the action of Tiny going hand-over-hand, pretending to be twice as big as she really was. Erasmus chuckled at her impersonation.

“As you scurried down the rigging, you yelled for more crates of Green Fantasy to be brought up on deck. Since the tentacle has retreated some as the creature went for the bottle, the sailors rushed back and complied. By the time you hit the deck, there were at least four cases at your feet. You stripped the shirt and belt off one of the sailors, grabbed a line, and wrapped it all around the tentacle.” She showed this action as if she was in an incredible hurry, showing a shirt going on first, then the rope, and then a belt to secure it to the animal. “You tied the line off mid ship, securing the tentacle. We, particularly the sailors, thought you’d gone mad, but the beast did go for the bottle. Some of the sailors approached to help, and you got a volunteer to give up another shirt and belt. That’s when you…well…you wacked the secured tentacle with a new bottle of Green Fantasy. ‘Here it comes,’ you yelled, and as you guessed, the other tentacle came flying over the deck, TWHACK! You and three other sailors secure that one, too, with a line. You grabbed the line, and while playing it out, ran to the port side and secured it. The sailors followed with a case of bottles. Then back on the bow, you took a bottle, grabbed a rag, poured a good deal of Green Fantasy on it, stuffed it into neck of the bottle and flung it out in front of the bow. The monster went for it! Another hit on both the tentacles, and an arm came up over the rail! You and the men secured that one, too. You drew the lines tight, and you ordered Tiny to throw another rag and bottle combination as far as he could in front of the ship. The animal surged forward and starts towing the ship forward!”

“Are you…serious? This is a whopper of a tale.” Sparky’s reaction to Erasmus’ disbelief was to playfully hit him in his chest.

“You scared me half to death! Drinking, jumping, wrestling with tentacles! I thought you were going to kill yourself and capsize our ship!” She pulled herself together, stepped back and cleared her throat, preparing to finish the story. At this point, the sailors, including the captain started to gather about, to hear her account.

“You stood at the bow demanding carpenter’s tools, wooden rails, and various hardware. I watched all this from the Peregrine. With the ship being towed, the airship was fairly easy to dock. I was able to slowly descend onto the upper deck and disembark without incident. By the time I joined you up at the bow of the ship, you and the ship’s carpenter had been able to construct a simple swinging arm siege machine for throwing. You said it was a ‘trebuchet,’ and that you had seen these weapons in history books.”

Erasmus was, again, stunned. “Yes I have, but I didn’t know I could construct one. I’ve only seen pictures.”

“Well this one was a wonder. I would guess it had an eight-foot arm, which was counterbalanced with a weight that you fashioned from a bag of spare metal parts, and a rope at the throwing end with a pouch. Every twenty minutes, you would prepare a Green Fantasy bottle with a dampened rag, and fling it ahead of the monster. It would suck up the bottle into its maw and keep going!”

Erasmus grabbed a crab and another mug of juice as he thought, and then asked, “How could this work? It didn’t drag us to the deep? Or turn on us?”

“’Carrot and stick,’ you would say, ‘carrot and stick.’ You used the tethered arm as a rudder to steer the beast, and when it flagged or started to go deeper, you flung out another bottle with the trebuchet.”

Erasmus had a myriad of questions in his head. “How long did this keep up?”

“Fourteen hours! And let me tell you it wasn’t a smooth ride!”

At this the sailors laughed. They followed this with a chorus of “Whoosh! ... Whoosh! ... Whoosh!” and, using their hands, showing a ship pulled hard then slacking up, then pulled hard again. Sparky rolled her eyes again at the memory of riding a ship being pulled in this manner.

Erasmus selected another question out of his mental pile. “What was all this about France?”

The sailors, including the captain, all yelled, “Vive la France!” and then laughed at their fun.

Sparky leaned over and said to Erasmus, “They couldn’t remember the word ‘trebuchet,’ so they kept calling it the ‘French flinger.’ And every time it was used, they would line up next to it, salute, and yell…”

Without additional prompting, the sailors rang out again, “Vive la France!”

The captain couldn’t help himself and added, “We had to feed Baby Squirt!”

Erasmus, amazed, asked, “Baby Squirt? You nicknamed that beast Baby Squirt?”

“No, no!” the captain roared, “Ya’ gave him tha’ name!”

Erasmus laughed at himself and the sailors joined in. He then asked, “So how did we get here, to Bermuda?”

“Baby Squirt dragged us three hundred and fifty nautical miles before it quit.”

“Quit?”

The captain looked about to see who was willing to tell the story. With no volunteers, he continued. “Ta’ thing just stopped. Lifeless, it was. Limp. We figured it was dead. We were thirty-five miles off ta’ Bermuda coast, west-south-west. Ya’ called up the cook, took his knife, and sliced off’a five-foot length of ta’ arm. We cut the otha’ lines and let the beast go back to the depths. You then took the arm to make calamari stew.”

Erasmus came alive when he mentioned that dish. “That is one of my favorites! I haven’t made that for years. You know, most only cook it for a few minutes, but if you cook the meat long enough…”

Sparky finished the sentence for him, “…it softens up and absorbs the flavors. We all know that. You must have said it a thousand times while you were making the stew. ‘Keep it just under a simmer.’”

Erasmus cracked open another crab leg, revealing the tender pink meat inside. He popped the morsel into his mouth, adding, “It must have been quite a party. This is the worst hangover I have ever had.”

Sparky stepped closer to him. “This was not from drinking. You tested the soup after about four hours of cooking and collapsed. We think the meat poisoned you. We tossed the soup overboard, even though you used up all of the dried tomatoes. We sailed to the island to see if we could get medical help. You got a fever so we set you out to cool off. You have been out for hours, tossing and turning.” Sparky paused as she thought what to say next. “Sergeant Fox and Dr. Young are hiking to the nearest Fort. It’s British, of course. Tiny knew where to go, he lead the expedition.”

The fire was stoked and conversation continued as the sun went down. As the sky crept from sunset red to purple, the trio of J.B., Yin, and Tiny returned. They greeted Erasmus and praised the fact that he was up and about. They reported that the Fort was in the process of standing down, so personnel was slim, and they couldn’t spare their doctor or medicine. J.B. and Yin got their plates filled and found a seat on a log to enjoy their supper, but Tiny took Sparky and Erasmus aside.

“Chief Inspector, I have something I must tell you. That show of being the first to taste the Baby Squirt soup in front of the crew was brave. But you should know that both you and I had half a bowl of it earlier without effect. I think it was poisoned some time in between.”

Sparky gasped. “Do you think someone was planning to sicken the whole crew?”

Tiny replied, “It is not my place to judge such things. I just know I had no illness at all. You are the only others that know.”

Erasmus thought to himself,
“Fine time for me to be unconscious! During a crime!”



Tormenta Cubana

Entry for September 8, 2013 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“Are you sure? If I have mechanical difficulty with the Peregrine, I’ll be at a distinct disadvantage without your expertise.” Sparky wished that Erasmus were present with his diplomat skills, but she suspected Yin had intentionally arranged their conversation to deprive her of Drake’s persuasive support.

“It is the most effective plan. If you must transport the Hawaiians on the Peregrine, it must be lighter. We are close to the United States where Sergeant Fox has another mission. Your medical skills are respect, but dàg
ē should be closer to a hospital.”

Sparky observed two “tells” in Yin’s monologue. She was so distressed about the Aerial Marine’s physical well being that she slipped and referred to him by a familiar name. Sparky didn’t know what it meant, but she recognized the warmth in Yin’s tone. More Subtly, Yin glanced furtively to the northeast several times. Ah yes, Edmond. If Fox and Young detoured to Washington, DC, the Chinese scientist would avoid the long journey to the Pacific islands. She would almost certainly return to her beloved sooner. Sparky had to admit to herself that it was impossible for her to construct an argument to sway Yin. Her friend’s mind was made up.

Sparky sighed. “When do you leave?”

“Our ship sails within the hour.”

“Have you told the Chief Inspector?”

“Sergeant Fox is informing him now.”

To the surprise and slight discomfort of the reserved scientist, Sparky jumped up and hugged her. “Travel safely, my friend. Promise me you will stand with me when Erasmus and I marry.” Sparky stepped back, sniffed, and choked back her nascent tears. Yin bowed formally and departed.

Sparky was still staring glumly at the sand between her toes when her fiancé sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulder, saying, “We are a good team, just the two of us.”

Sparky pressed her lips together to hold back her emotion. “I fear our enemies outnumber us.”

“We could load up the Peregrine, and catch up with Sergeant Fox and Dr. Young.”

“No,” she sighed resignedly, “they have their mission and we have ours. I assume the San Juan is departing soon as well?”

“Yes, I came to fetch you. The captain says we should make Montego Bay within four days. I hear that Jamaican rum is very tasty,” he offered, hoping the prospect would lift her flagging spirits.

“It’s a shame you worked ‘Baby Squirt’ to death. We could cut that time almost in half.” She smiled wryly despite her dewy eyes. He took it as a small sign that her adventurous spirit was returning. He rose, stood in front of her, and stretched out his hands with his arms crossed at the wrists. She took his hands and allowed him to pull her to her feet, and into a kiss. They returned to the San Juan in silence.

The next three days passed in excruciating lethargy. It was too hot to sleep below decks during the day, nor was it much better at night. Her heart wasn’t in the fencing lessons. There wasn’t anything to clean or polish on the Peregrine because Sparky had worked on it frantically to calm her nerves waiting for Drake to recover from his poisoning. The only relief was the mental puzzle of reconstructing the whereabouts of everyone on the ship to identify the poisoning perpetrator. But even that was laborious due to the need for circumspection. They couldn’t very well just go around asking everyone if they had tried to poison the Chief Inspector. So they constructed little investigative pantomimes that they performed with various crew members to determine their locations during the period of time in question. It was slow going, despite the invigorating nature of the mental challenge.

McTrowell was rudely awakened on the fourth day by a rude pitch of the ship that nearly dumped her from her bunk to the floor. She had to hang on each step of the way to the deck. There the airship pilot instantly regretted her lamentations about the dullness of the preceding three days. Although she had spent very little time sailing on the ocean in her life, she knew a storm when she saw one, regardless of the angle. If she’d seen such an atmospheric demon from the cockpit of an airship, she would have landed immediately and run for cover. Unfortunately, there was neither ground nor cover out here in the Atlantic.

The ocean had taken on an ugly color as if it were competing with the clouds above. It rolled and pitched the ship, making even Sparky strain to keep her legs under herself. Sparky walked hand-over-hand along the railing until she reached the captain. “Shouldn’t we turn around and head back?”

“Ya migh’ know a thing or two about yer fancy
air ships, but na’ a thing about real ships.” He emphasized the word “real” with a tinge of scorn. “If we come about, she’ll only chase us down.” Sparky made a mental note of the venom with which the captain referred to the hurricane as “she.” “We’ll turn west ta Cuba an’ hope the land takes the brunt o’ it.”

“We’ll miss the SS California!”

Better late than never.



The Interview Chair

Entry for September 26, 2013 Written by David L. Drake

Sparky sat down in the chair across from Erasmus. He laid his notebook on the table and dipped a pen into the ink well.

Sparky scrunched her face up like a child that didn’t want to do her chores. “Why am I here again?”

The ship tossed on the rough waves as the San Juan made its way toward the northern coast of Cuba. Inside the Chief Inspector’s cabin, Sparky felt the slow but uneven pitching of the ship deep in the pit of her stomach. The ship’s motions were only visible by the few items that swayed with the roll. It gave the cabin an uneven-floored carnival-house feel, particularly for Sparky, where what she was seeing and what she was experiencing were two different things.

Erasmus calmly replied, “I just want to know everyone’s whereabouts on the evening when I was poisoned. What did you see and where did you see others? That sort of thing.”

“I didn’t poison you, my dear,” she stated flatly. Her face was slowly becoming ashen.

Erasmus set his pen down and gazed at his fiancée. She was sitting up very straight but clutching her chair with both hands. The pen rolled a bit one way, and then rolled back.

“You do not like…the sway of the ship in this small room, I believe.”

“You are
so observant, Chief Inspector. May I go?” Sparky lost a bit more color and put one of her hands on the table for stability.

“Could you answer just where you were that night?”

“…Excuse me. I don’t feel so well.” She rose and immediately extended both arms outward to hang onto anything she could reach. She took a few unsure steps toward the cabin door. When she reached it, she embraced the handle and was out of the room before Erasmus could even offer to lend a hand.

Under his breath Erasmus proclaimed, “Just a bit too rough for her…”

The ship went through an unexpected pitch and fall, causing the pen to fly straight up off the table. Erasmus caught it in mid-flight.

“I hope she makes it to the rail in time. Now on to interview someone else!”

Erasmus hopped up and headed to the hallway, gathered three sailors, sat them down in his cabin, and went though the drill of finding out what they knew.

He repeated this until he had talked to almost everyone on the ship. What he had found out was that the ship was practically in a party atmosphere because of Baby Squirt’s swiftness in getting so close to Bermuda. Few were at their posts, many were drinking and waiting for the stew that Erasmus was making, and if there was any serious conversation, it was who was or was not going to shore for supplies.

After a few hours, Erasmus finally sat down with Edwin, who appeared unusually tired from the hard ride. Unlike Sparky, Edwin pulled his chair close to the table, and leaned across it.

“Erasmus, I must say this is not my cup of tea,” he stated through clenched teeth.

“Agreed, my friend, but the waters should be calmer on the north side of the island of Cuba. At least we hope so. I will make this quick. What do you remember of the night that I made the tainted stew?”

“Well, I kept to myself. I have resigned to being cordial on this trip despite being a prisoner of sorts. In spite of that resignation, I still have not made friends with the crew. Nor the Hawaiians, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“So I was sitting in the dining hall, by myself, waiting.”

“Really? Did you see anyone go in or out of the galley?”

“Only the sizable gent. I think he is called ‘Tiny.’ He was there for a few minutes, then he left. Otherwise, you were by yourself to finish your culinary project. ‘Monster Stew’ the crew was calling it.”

Erasmus smiled. “Yes, I have heard that. I wonder if it was called that due to its sheer volume?”

Rather than smiling, Edwin just raised his eyebrows. That was a good enough signal to Erasmus that he had tickled his former teacher’s funny bone.

Erasmus continued, “So no one else? Just Tiny?”

That’s correct. And Erasmus…you owe me a couple of bowls of stew.”

They laughed and rose. Erasmus patted Edwin on the shoulder, and opened the door for him. Edwin walked slowly and carefully across the rocking deck, and out into the hallway. Just then, Tiny was passing by.

Erasmus motioned him into the cabin, asking “Tiny! Can you join me for a few minutes?”

“Ugh, sure. I guess,” Tiny responsed hesitantly.

Erasmus directed Tiny toward the chair that Edwin had just vacated. The large young sailor sat uneasily into it.

“How…how can I…What do you need to know?” he stammered out.

Erasmus asked without hesitation, “Tell me about giant multi-armed sea creatures.”

“Huh? Aren’t you going to ask me about that night? You know, when you became ill? That is what you have been asking everyone!”

“Sea creatures. What do you know?”

“Not much. They are really rare. Very few sailors have seen one, I guess.” The young man that was so bold before now seemed extraordinarily timid.

“Tell me about how whalers pass the time between catches.”

Tiny looked quickly away from Erasmus, then shook his head and mumbled, “They whittle, I think. Scrimshaw.”

“You have a problem, and it has caused someone to nearly die. Me. How did the poison get into the stew?”

“I don’t know what you mean! I was the one who told you that it must have been poisoned! I
told you.”

“You know, and now I know, about your habit of lying. You lied to Sparky to get onto the airship. Remember telling her you had sailing experience on a whaling ship? You then lied to me when you said you had been close up to a giant cephalopod before.”

Tiny lost some of his size as he wilted in his chair. He wasn’t used to someone taking him to task for his tall tales.

“I have read about whaling,” he said quietly, “and I have seen a squid this long…” He held his index fingers apart about nine inches.

“The issue is that you lied about tasting the soup. You were not in the galley long enough to have that bowl of stew with me. How did the stew really get poisoned?”

“How would I know?”

“Because you went through the effort to lie to me about it. To cast blame of my illness away from yourself. Tell me…the
truth.”

Tiny thought for a moment, as if weighing the investment he had put into his deception. His shoulders slumped even more.

“I killed it. I killed Baby Squirt….I did not mean to!”

Tiny covered his face from shame. He did not want to see Erasmus’ reaction. Though embarrassed tears, he continued.

“I thought we had tortured the beast enough. I wanted to put it out of its misery. So in the dark, when no one was looking, I put rat poison on one of its tentacles. In the suckers. It was absorbed so quickly I just kept putting more on until it stopped swimming. I didn’t think I could kill something that big!”

“Why didn’t you tell me, or anyone, after we started the stew!?”

“I didn’t want to get in trouble for…killing it! I thought if I poisoned the tentacle, it might not have affected the arm you took! I came to the galley to tell you, but…I could not bring myself…”

“I am glad to be alive, young man. And I forgive you. But your last lie was to yourself. It is time to change your ways.”



You Can’t Get There From There

Entry for October 2, 2013 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Drake and McTrowell sat huddled in a corner of the deck of the San Juan, only partially shielded from the fury of the storm and thoroughly soaked. Erasmus would have preferred the dry relative comfort of his cabin, but he couldn’t countenance affording himself that luxury knowing his beloved would be suffering in sodden solitude exposed to the elements. And there was no hope that, as demonstrated by her hasty departure from his cabin the day before, she could ride out the storm below decks. Even topside she was a little green.

Erasmus was doing his best to distract her from the atmospheric turmoil, “He is basically a good human being. He is just young and doesn’t always consider the consequences of his actions. If he can learn to think through these situations and understand that the long term outcomes are often much worse than the temporary discomfort of telling the truth in the present, he will become a fine and honorable man.”

“Like you?” she smiled at him a little wanly and mistily. Or maybe the latter was just the rain on her face.

“Um, yes.” He changed the subject quickly. “My dear, do you think it would be faster if we flew from Cuba to the United States, perhaps New Orleans, and took trains to California? Perhaps we could make up some of the lost time.”

She smiled back at him a little wryly. “Erasmus, the United States is not Great Britain. It is approximately…,” she paused for a moment to perform some mental geographic calculations, “six times the distance from Puerto Padre to New Orleans as it is from London to Paris. The Peregrine could never make that distance. We would have to play at scotch-hoppers across the pestilential swamps of Florida where there is little combustible fuel and even less civilization. And even if we reached New Orleans, there are no trains west from there.”

While the brief respite of cerebral exercise momentarily lifted her spirits, they plummeted again as the San Juan heaved in the storm. She was trapped in this saturated confinement. Erasmus attempted to envelope her in his embrace to shelter her from the miserable drenching and to reassure her that this too would pass.

“Oh, wait!” She jerked her head up so quickly that the crown of it nearly collided with his chin. Only the remote sensors of his beard hairs warned him to take evasive maneuvers in time. “Do you think we could convince the captain to detour to Veracruz instead of going straight to Portobelo? I should think he would welcome some additional funds as well as our early departure. I estimate we might recover two to three days, enough to catch the California.”

“You know, my dear, I think this is, as you say, ‘one of those problems that can be solved with money.’” And then he kissed her warmly to reinforce her improved state of mind. “
I shall negotiate with the captain as soon as we reach Puerto Padre.

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