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My Hovercraft is Full of Eels: Part Eighteen

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That temporary fling I was planning on having with a short story turned into a month long writing mess.  The thing sprawled out to over 10,000 words before I beat it back to a somewhat manageable 7,900.  But I’m done working on ‘Tick’ (a.k.a Horton-Hears-A-Who-In-Space) and am itching to get back into some juicy eel action.   But before you run off to your favorite Sushi restaurant and/or weird porn shop, let me get you caught up on my brand of eels.  Our protagonist Persephone Roe has been hired by the rakish Archimedes Albion to steal the schematics for a new type of hovercraft.  She achieves this, but can’t make sense of the plans before the government of Mud City Mud World shows up to confiscate the stolen goods and issue a stern warning!  Some serious scolding here and some dire hints that the technology might be dangerous to Mud World itself.  Meanwhile, a trade war erupts over the theft pitting the Albion company against the mysterious eXime firm.  Buildings blow up.  More scolding ensues.  eXime attempts to kill Arch by sending agents to wreck his hovercraft.  He and Persephone turn the tables and manage to steal one of the eXime craft, but it has hardly enough fuel to get back to the city!  The driver reveals that the creatures that serve as the engine for the craft require rats.  All caught up and ready for the next installment?  I now proudly present, THE GREAT RAT HUNT.  But first, some crashing and relationship stuff.  I wish my characters would stop trying to date each other.  😛

Featured Image:  This image originally posted on Flikr was obtained through WikiPedia on 5/29/2015.  It is sharable with attribution to Suzuran Japan Foods Trading Pty Ltd, Camberwell, VIC under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  Suzuran has no affiliation with and does not endorse the contents of this blog.

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The driver hesitated. “You won’t believe me,” the driver said, “but it’s rats. The boffins feed them rats.” She reached for the yoke. Persephone tensed, but Arch just looked stunned for a moment and then tossed back his head and laughed, big gulping hysterical laughs. “That’s so ridiculous, I almost believe you. “

“Why would I lie? I want to live.   That’s what I I know.”

Arch continued laughing, but released the controls and stood up. “So much for Q and A industries. Get ready for Lab Rats Incorporated.” He continued laughing.

The woman ignored him. She scrambled back into the driver’s seat and toggled the altitude lever. They dropped out of the clouds and plummeted all the way to a cruising height of 4 meters. Then she fired the thrusters and sent them rocketing back towards the city. If she’d been lying about the fuel reserves she did a pretty convincing job of faking desperation. They were swooping in over the Floats in under five and a half minutes. The racing stadium was in view.

“No,” Arch said. “Not there.”

“Racing craft aren’t legal in the city flyways. We need to go back to the pits.”

“Where your friends will club us over the head. No. Take us into the slums.”

“That’s the same thing as handing this thing over to the police. You know they have visuals and radar on us now.”

“You shot at us. You wrecked Arch’s boat. Agent Hixton will lock you up,” Persephone said. She’d never had faith in the law before, but her pain seemed to have a clarifying effect.

The driver smirked at Persephone, but her smile was short lived. In one fluid motion, Arch flicked open the door, grabbed the driver’s collar and tossed her out. Before the splash had even reached them, Arch was in the seat and steering them into the Floats.

“But… She…” Persephone spluttered.

“She looked like a better swimmer than Boyce,” Arch said. He reached out and yanked the door shut.  “And anyway,” he gestured at the skyline. “They’re already coming out to get her.”

Persephone had a brief glimpse of a police tow boat pulling away from the East Bay docks before they were surrounded by floating hovels.

“You’re driving awfully fast,” Persephone said.

Arch grunted. He avoided a strip of shacks by driving through someone’s laundry.

“They think this stuff is gonna dry out here?” He muttered.

“And we’re awfully low,” Persephone said.

Arch pulled up on the stick, but the craft barely responded. They skimmed over a wide support raft, missed the apartment, but flattened the attached out house.

“Come on baby. Just a little further,” Arch murmured.

“Where are we going?” Persephone asked.

“There!” Arch pointed. It was another floating line of shacks. There were people outside, pointing, yelling and then ducking for cover as the H-craft bushed over their deck and fell into the adjacent canal.

The eXime machine was clearly better than the Abion one in all respects, including crashing. Persephone didn’t even black out this time. Arch popped open the door and waved.

“Japeth!”

The dark-haired woman stood up on the deck and crossed her arms.

“You have rope?”

The woman shrugged. The craft settled a little deeper. Apparently it was superior to the Albion craft except in the area of sinking. It was going down faster.

“Persephone’s hurt. A little help?” Arch said hopefully

Japeth turned very slowly, picked up a hitching rope and tossed a loop in their direction.

************************************************************************************

“Seriously. You had to come here?” Japeth and about twelve of her cousins had gotten the H-craft tied up and draped a tarp over it.

“We were low enough coming in that the police shouldn’t be able to track us. And they had to stop to pick up the driver.” Arch smiled proudly and then winced. “Do they know what they’re doing?”

One of Japeth’s elderly Aunts snapped Persephone’s arm back into place, drawing a yelp from the woman. Then a teenage cousin closed in to wrap Persephone’s arm with electrical tape.

“They have a basic medical training.” Japeth watched her family offer up pain pills, water, and a flask of booze. Persephone waved off the latter and moved unsteadily towards the H-craft.

“That can wait,” Japeth called.

Persephone twitched off the tarp, popped the hood and studied the interior for thirty seconds before tottering back towards Arch.

“No surprises. Two tanks. Muddy water. Full of eels. Seemed awfully sluggish. Hope you didn’t kill them.” Then turning towards, Japeth. “You have any rats?”

Japeth raised an eyebrow. “You need to lie down, honey?”

“No. She’s right. It’s a fuel source. Call it Vitamin R for antigravity critters. If we can find a few, we’ll be out of your way.” Arch said.

Japeth walked over, closed the hood and twitched the tarp back into place. “When it gets dark, just call for a tow.”

“The engine might literally be dead by then.” Persephone said. “I mean how often do these things need to eat?   And why two tanks? And why the hell did you need to dump the driver?”

“She didn’t know anything,” Arch said.

“But Boyce might have! It’s really why I have a ‘no kill’ policy. Loss of resources,” Persephone grumbled.

“And here I thought it was just your strong ethical upbringing,” Japeth snapped. “Listen. I’ve already lost a house and been arrested. I’d like to make sure nothing happens to my family. Best way to do that is for both of you to leave.”

“Sweetheart,” Arch murmured. “I mean we were good together, right?” He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t you want to introduce me to your family?” His smile practically lit up the houseboat.

Japeth’s expression remained neutral until one of the younger cousins started to giggle. Then Japeth’s face collapsed into a slightly pained smile.   “Fine. Fine. The one laughing like an idiot is Trisha. But if you want to go looking for rats, you should get to know Clive and Cora. Trisha couldn’t catch a rat even if one walked up and bit her on the ass.”

“Did you mean to say ‘grabbed my ass’?” Trisha sassed back.

Japeth sighed. “Ignore her. We all do. And come inside before they start running some drones over the Shanties.”

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“You really shouldn’t play Japeth like that.” Persephone whispered.

She and Arch were in a boat with the twins, Cora and Clive, the family pickers. They trolled the canals with nets and gaffer poles and brought back whatever they could find. Rats weren’t their usual quarry, but the twins sometimes followed the critters to find edible salvage. Persephone remembered the chicken she’d shared with Japeth a while ago and tried not to gag.

“She has a soft heart,” Persephone continued.

“Like I’m sure that eXime driver had a soft heart.”

“Who? That woman you tossed out?”

“Oh-my-god! Oh-my-god! I’m your biggest fan,” Arch mimicked a high and breathy squeal.

“I don’t sound like that,” Persephone said. “And anyhow, Blondie was different. I had a job to do. For you. And need I mention that its one you haven’t paid for yet?” Persephone didn’t consider stock options in a non-existent company to be payment.

“Has it occurred to you that I like Japeth? And was genuinely honored to meet her family?” Arch said.

Persephone didn’t have to think too long about her answer. “No. You’re not the type.”

“What type is that?”

“The type to settle for a working-class woman from the Floats.”

Arch whistled softly. “Did I hire you to do quality control on my love life?”

“You? This is about you? What about Japeth?”

“Yeah. You’re right. She could use a better friend.” Arch turned away.

Persephone opened her mouth, but her reply was cut off by the swish of a net landing at her feet. “That’s yours,” Clara said. “You,” she jerked her chin at Arch, “Man a pole.”

Arch slid towards the prow, settled next to Clive, and picked up a boat pole with a loop at the end

“Why does he get the pole?” Persephone couldn’t say why, but that suddenly seemed like the better job.

“Cause he has two working hands,” Clara said. “You wanna chase rats with a broken arm, you get a net. Wait until they’re close.”

“Right. Don’t fire until you see the white of their eyes,” Persephone muttered and scooped up the net with her left hand. “You ever done this?”

“We’re improvising,” Clive grinned back at her.

“Shh.” Clara said. “We’re getting close to one of the dead drops.”

Garbage from all city zones got dumped wherever was convenient.   Some of it dispersed some of it swirled up and collected in the so called dead drops. Areas where circular slow moving currents would pile it up into loose islands. In the Floats, the stability of the dead drops made them popular shopping areas. This dead drop consisted of junk-filled lagoon surrounded by a floating circle of pubs. Clara’s “Shh” seemed ridiculous. Persephone could no longer hear the dip of Clive’s paddle over the music and drunken babble. At least visibility was good. The afternoon’s rain had turned into evening mist.   Perfect weather for a barrel fire outside one of the bars. Perfect evening to yell and throw beer at passing boats.

“Lovely,” Persephone muttered and ducked a can.

“Free samples. Increases business,” Clive said. He waved and paddled them into one of twenty liquid alleyway. The noise and light dropped abruptly. Persephone cold hear the silt lapping against the walls. Then a strange noise, almost a slurp as they popped out of the alley into the central lagoon. The boat twitched slightly, felt like something had knocked against the hull.

“Was that normal?”

Clara shrugged. “All sorts of things down there. Mostly plastic.”

“Now what?”

“Now, we wait. You see something move, throw your net at it. Rats are the only things that’ll be paddling around on the surface.”

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Author: KMolyneaux

Author, Knitter, ex-Academic

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