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Thread: The Weathermakers of the Mysterious Planet

  1. #1
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    Default (Furago Hime) The Weathermakers of the Mysterious Planet (PG)

    Hello everyone. I'm ready throw myself to the wolves yet again with a fanfic.

    This time it's a non-Pokemon fanfic. Instead it's based on a rather humorous but sadly short lived anime called Fushigiboshi no Futago Hime (translation: The Twin Princesses of the Mysterious Planet). Actually it's based more on the original concept the anime derived from it.

    The Mysterious Planet (fushigiboshi) his an inside out world devided into seven kingdoms. While it's the typical fairytale setting there's also an underlying science fiction theme as two of the kingdoms (the Water Drop Kingdom and the Windmill Kingdom) make the weather for the planet using their advanced technology. As a weather-nut I thought this was an awesome idea that was sadly ignored.

    About a year ago I started creating this project I came to call The Weathermakers of the Mysterious Planet playing off the name of the concept. Instead of centering around the Sunny Kingdom Princesses like the concept and official canon it centers on a small group of Water Drop and Windmill workers (called the Weathermakers).

    So enjoy.

    Based on Fusigiboshi no Futagohime (The Twin Princesses of the Mysterious Planet)
    Concept by: BIRTHDAY

    Drifting through the infinite depths of the cosmos was a strange world aptly named the Mysterious Planet. While it appeared to be another lifeless lump of rock from the outside, it held a thriving civilization within its hollow shell.

    This civilization was divided into seven countries, each charged with a duty to make the interior habitable. The Water Drop Kingdom was one of these countries and made the clouds and rain for the planet and…that’s it. What? You were honestly expecting some fantastic legend about saving the Mysterious Planet from calamity?
    Last edited by The Big Al; 15th April 2008 at 4:19 AM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  2. #2
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    Chapter 1: BLINDSIDED!

    Queen Yamul finished etching her name in a beautiful cursive script on the line at the bottom of the page. She closed the blue, three-ring binder and deposited it on a stack of identical binders sitting in a tray labeled “out”. Another issue was resolved, at least for now. Though, a much larger sack of binders sat in the “in” tray on the other side of her wide desk.

    The anthropomorphic beaver was short by human standards at only a meter and a half. However, her powerful physique made up for her unimpressive stature. Her fur coat was short, fine, and a pale beige in color and she wore the traditional attire of the queen of the Water Drop Kingdom.

    She exhaled a sigh and sat back in her chair. Before her grabbed another binder she reached under the pair of reading glasses perched on her muzzle and rubbed the corners of lavender eyes to try and massage the fatigue from them. She let her glasses slip to the tip of her nose to see the view in front of her.

    Her office had changed little in the seventeen years of her reign. It was the same spacious, oval shaped chamber with a half dozen transparent columns spaced evenly along the wall with water being drawn up through them. Aside from her desk and large, teardrop-shaped chair there was no other furniture leaving a wide, open space between her desk and the blue double doors at the opposite end. Though the floor had been carved in the shape of a curled teardrop surrounded by open water, reducing the area one could actually stand on.

    Her office was also very bright. Large bay windows behind her allowed in copious amounts of light and the glossy, cream-colored walls…or perhaps wall was more appropriate…reflected the incoming light throughout the room. Coupled with the gentle sound of water flowing peacefully up the columns it was a very calming setting.

    However, she had more important things on her schedule than her office. With one hand she pushed her glasses back in place and with the other she took the binder on top of the “in” stack. She opened to its first page when a pair of electronic chimes came from a small pad set in the stained oak desk. Yamul pressed a small button next to a flashing red light on the pad and answered “yes”.

    “Ma’am,” a male voice came from the pad’s speaker, “your daughter wishes to see you.”

    “Send her in.” Yamul said casually, closing the binder and setting it on the desk and removing her reading glasses.

    The blue double doors at the far end of her office slid apart with the soft hiss of hydraulic motors. A sandy-haired girl in her mid-teens stepped in quietly. She was half human and half beaver with the only apparent sign of her mother’s heritage being a pair of beige, beaver-like ears nestled in her silky hair.

    She was a dainty thing, slight of build and a little shorter than average. Her attire consisted of a long-sleeved, robin egg blue bodice with a wide collar and a white bell skirt decorated by blue teardrops. A small hat resembling a curled teardrop sat elegantly on her head. Even had she carried herself was the definition of prim and proper.

    “Good morning mother.” She dipped in an elegant curtsy.

    “Good morning Milro.” Yamul replied.

    “We missed you at breakfast.” Milro said in her soft, timid voice.

    “There was a lot of work this morning so I thought I’d start early.” Yamul surveyed her desk and heaved an exasperated sigh. “The more they say we’re becoming a paperless society the more paperwork seems to collect on my desk. Oh well.” She replaced her glasses on their perch. “You just have to mull through sometimes.” She opened the binder on the desk in front of her and began reading the first page. “It’s something you’ll come to understand when you are queen.”

    “Oh.” Milro shied her violet eyes away and her beaver-like ears drooped over. She knew eventually she would be the queen of the Water Drop Kingdom. However, it was something she preferred not to think about as she doubted her ability to rule. “I’m sorry for disturbing you then.” She curtsied again and turned to leave.

    “It’s alright, I…” Yamul was interrupted when another pair of electric chimes came from the desk. “I wonder what it could be now.” She thought out loud before answering “yes”.

    “I’m sorry to disturb you again ma’am.” The male voice said apologetically. “However, Prince Auler-sama and Princess Sophie-sama from the Windmill Kingdom are here and wish to speak with you.”

    “Well that’s odd.” Yamul thought out loud, scratching at the side of her head under her large, teardrop-shaped crown. “Did you invite them?” She asked Milro.

    “I didn’t invite them.” Milro replied in equal confusion.

    “I told them you were busy but they said it’s urgent.” The male voice continued.

    “It’s alright. Send them in.” Yarmul said. She then straightened her crown and pulled her blouse straight again.

    As the doors slid apart again, the royal siblings of the Windmill Kingdom stepped in. Like Milro, they were half human and half one of the many animal-like races that lived in the Mysterious Planet. In their case it was doggel, a race resembling the spaniel breeds of dog. This was represented by their ears being long, floppy things covered in fine, pink fur that hung from the sides of their heads past their shoulders.

    Auler was a forest green-haired youth in his late teens. He wore a purple jacket and slacks under a sleeveless, robe like coat decorated with a sky design. “Good morning Your Highness and thank you for seeing us.” He removed his top hat-like crown and bowed.

    Sophie was Milro’s age and had wavy, mint-colored hair. She wore a purple jacket over a white bell skirt and a dome-shaped crown similar in design to her brother’s. “Yes. Thank you Your Majesty.” She curtsied.

    “I’m always honored to see our friends from the Windmill Kingdom.” Yamul replied, removing her reading glasses. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

    Auler and Sophie then looked at one another with obvious concern in their sapphire blue eyes. Auler then replied in a more somber tone. “It’s not us.” He motioned with his eyes to the floor between them.

    Yamul stood up to peer over her desk. Standing between them was a diminutive human from the Seed Kingdom. The ten centimeter tall man was dressed in a green overcoat and cone-shaped hat. However, it was hard to tell under the dried mud covering him.

    “Could you give me one more lift-dane?” The tiny man asked.

    “Of course.” Sophie put her hand down so he could climb on and set him down on the desk.

    “Your highness,” he bowed before reaching in the satchel slung across his shoulder, “I regret that I bring distressing news from the Seed Kingdom-dane.” He pulled out a letter and handed to Yamul.

    Yamul took the tiny letter gently between her thumb and index finger and rummaged through a desk drawer for her text magnifier. She placed the letter under the magnifier and began reading. The letter read:

    To Queen Yamul of the Water Drop Kingdom

    As I am writing this, it has been raining almost continuously across the Seed Kingdom for two straight days. Already the rivers and lakes throughout the kingdom are beginning to rise and are threatening our fields. I fear that if action isn’t taken soon, our villages might be in danger.

    Please, as soon as you get this message, reply through our messenger and do whatever you can to stop this.

    Your Colleague:
    King of the Seed Kingdom


    “It’s been more than a week now.” The messenger explained as Yamul looked up from the magnifier. “I tried to come directly into the Water Drop Kingdom but everything was impassible. It took me five days to reach the Windmill Kingdom. Fortunately Prince Auler-sama and Princess Sophie-sama were willing to bring me to you.”

    “We were glad we could help.” Auler replied. He then turned to Yamul, his face fixed in a grave expression. “The situation is very dire down there Your Highness. We passed through the Seed Kingdom coming here. It’s still raining and the flooding is extensive. It’s already starting to threaten their lower lying villages. Something has to be done.”

    Yamul leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms as she contemplated this news. Something most certainly would be done. She centered her fist to slam the pad on her desk but stopped and extended her index finger to press a button instead.

    “Yes?” The voice asked.

    “Get me the Cloud Management Room.” Yamul ordered sharply.

    **********

    Lee, a gangly young man in his mid-to-late-teens, sat at his station in the Cloud Management Room. He was human if one ignored the five pairs of gill slits set in the sides of his neck and the extended webbing of skin between his fingers. He sat in front of one of the two meteorology stations. The other sat empty next to him. Several flat screen monitors were before him, displaying air profiles, maps of surface observations, and mosaics made from extrapolations of information. Below them was a bank of controls in various kinds, colors, and labels.

    It was one of several stations along the circular wall of the Cloud Management Room. Aside from the vacant station next to him each was manned by an engineer. The males were blue overcoats blue overcoats and wide-brimmed, cone-shaped hats and the females wore blue overdresses with dark blue shawls and bandanas tied over the back of their heads. Most were beavers, some the size of Yamul and the rest closer in size to the actual animals. There were also some beaver-halves, and aquatic humans like him.

    In contrast to Yamul’s bright office, the huge, dome-shaped chamber was dimly lit with no windows to let in “natural” light. There was a soft, blue glow coming from the huge glass pipe leading from the massive condenser unit set in the center of the floor through the ceiling. However, it didn’t provide any appreciable illumination.

    The assembly at the center of the room was only a small portion of the machine of the Water Drop. The colossal device housed within the castle made all the clouds for the Mysterious Planet. The Cloud Management Room at the top of the central tower was where all the controls and monitors for the machine were housed. It was also where the engineering crew charged with its upkeep could access its systems.

    The azure-haired youth stretched in his chair. It was another quiet weekend morning for Epsilon Shift. The weather over the kingdom appeared to be behaving itself. The machine itself also seemed to be in order given the quiet. Electronic chimes began echoing through the chamber in pairs.

    They were coming from the Chief’s station on the other side of vacant station. Lee turned to see their Chief, Spigot asleep in his chair. He a beaver like Yamul though smaller, closer in size to the actual animal, and his fur was coarser and more tan in color.

    “Chief,” Lee whispered to his slumbering superior and when he got no response he repeated “Chief” a little louder.

    The beaver opened one beady eye slightly. Another pair of chimes came from his station. He picked up his foot and lazily struck a button next to the speaker with his fur-covered heal.

    “What?” He yawned.

    “SPIGOT…” Yamul’s powerful voice boomed over the speaker, resounding through the domed chamber like a clang within a bell. The small engineer woke with such a start he leapt clear out of his chair and landed on the floor with on audible thud. “…in my office, NOW!”

    Spigot slowly raised his trembling hand to grab the edge of his work station and pulled himself up. “I’ll be right down.” He saluted, still shaking from the shock. He turned to a female beaver with a large tuft of hair sticking out from under her bandana. “Emily, you have the cloud machine.”

    “Will do boss.” She replied as Spigot shuffled out of the room grumbling something under his breath. After the large doors slid together behind him she heaved an exasperated sigh. “This can’t be good.”

    “Why’s that?” Lee asked.

    “The only time anyone even acknowledges our existence is when something is wrong.” Emily explained. “And I haven’t heard Yamul-sama this p*ssed off since the Crisis of the Sunny Kingdom.”

    “So be afraid?” The silver-eyed youth asked.

    “Be very afraid.” Emily replied.

    **********

    It didn’t take Spigot long to make his way to Yamul’s office. Though, he paused before he entered her office. Yamul was not a woman to be crossed, even in a good mood. He took a moment to collect his thoughts before passing in front of the electronic eyes triggering the doors to slide apart.

    “You bellowed?” He asked as he walked in as casually as he could muster.

    “Yes.” Yamul took the letter and handed it to Spigot as he came to her desk. “Would you care to explain this?”

    Spigot took the letter and put it under a magnifying glass he pulled from his side pocket. “What the hell?” He exclaimed after skimming over it. “Two days?”

    “And that was written more than five days ago.” Yamul added.

    “Dear God.” Spigot looked up.

    His tiny, dark eyes meant Yamul’s staring down at him in a cold glare. It felt like his Adam’s apple doubled in size in his throat. Problems with the rain immediately fell on the fault of the cloud machine and the engineers charged with its upkeep. He tried to swallow the growing lump in his throat down.

    “You don’t think this is because of us do you?” Spigot stuttered.

    “I don’t know what to believe.” Yamul said coldly.

    “It wasn’t us.” Spigot protested, trying to hide being intimidated by his ruler. “If there had been a malfunction we would have known about it long ago.”

    “Then what do you think it is-dane?” The messenger asked.

    “It’s a meteorological fluke.” Spigot answered. “It’s a tragic fluke, but a fluke none the less. It will eventually blow over.”

    “My people can’t wait for it to ‘blow over’-dane!” The messenger yelled.

    “That’s not my problem.” Spigot turned on his heels and stormed back towards the door. “If it doesn’t concern the cloud machine, it doesn’t concern me. Now if you’ll excuse me I have duties to attend to.”

    Milro watched as Spigot left and the doors slid shut behind him. She had stood there silently as she listened to the conversations taking place. Her ears drooped over again as she thought about everything. She felt helpless in all this. The people of the Seed Kingdom were suffering and there seemed to be nothing done about it. That couldn’t be true. There had to be something they could do to help.

    “Mother,” she spoke up a very soft tone.

    “Yes Milro?” Yamul asked.

    Milro paused. She was afraid to demand of her mother, no matter how polite and inoffensive she was about it. After gathering enough courage she continued. “Mother, there has to be someway to help the people of the Seed Kingdom. If we can’t stop the rain perhaps we could help them deal with the flooding until this blows over like Mr. Spigot said.”

    Yamul nodded to herself. “Our kingdom does have technology to handle flooding. However, we will need permission from King to bring our equipment into his kingdom.” She looked at the binders she still had to go through and heaved a sigh. “However, I’m too bogged down with work.” She then looked to her daughter. “Milro, how about you go?”

    “Me?” Milro was taken aback by her mother’s question.

    “Why not?” Yamul replied. “I was about your age when I was given my first official duty. And it is your idea.”

    Milro couldn’t find words. She was surprised her mother would give her such a task.

    “Are you up to it?” Yamul asked her daughter.

    “Yes.” Milro answered.

    “We can take you there.” Auler chimed in.

    “Thank you.” Milro replied.

    **********

    Spigot marched stiffly back into the Cloud Management Room. Next to the door was a white board with a sign labeled “DAYS WITHOUT MAJOR INCIDENT” above it. The others turned to see him erase the “1,827” on the board and draw a giant zero in its place. The room suddenly filled with the din of protest.

    “SHUT UP!” Spigot yelled, bringing the room back into silence.

    “I told you this wouldn’t be good Lee.” Emily said to the aquarian youth.

    “What the hell’s going on Chief?” One of the engineers asked.

    “I’ve just learned there’s flooding in the Seed Kingdom.” Spigot answered.

    “Oh my God.” A female engineer exclaimed. “Has anyone died?”

    “I don’t know.” Spigot said. “All I know is that it’s been ongoing for at least a week.”

    “WEEK!?” Everyone blurted. “And we just here about it now?” One of them added. They all then glared at Lee.

    “What are you looking at me for?” Lee exclaimed helplessly. “I haven’t seen anything from our weather observations to suggest any of this.” He then turned back to his monitors. More specifically three dots near the border with the Seed Kingdom that read only “N/A”. “Of course it doesn’t help we’re blind from the Zubuzubu Swamp south.”

    “I know who isn’t.” Spigot growled as he made his way to his station.

    “And here we go.” Emily rolled her eyes.

    “Those jackasses in the Sunny Kingdom were supposed to keep us informed about any weather anomalies that pop up.” Spigot leapt into his chair and pressed a series of keys. The emblem of the Sunny Kingdom appeared on the largest screen.

    “I thought the Sunny Kingdom was run by Nyamals.” Lee said to Emily.

    “Close enough.” Emily replied.

    The face of a Nyamal, the feline people who lived in the Sunny Kingdom, appeared on the largest screen of Spigot’s station. He appeared to be Siamese with a dark brown mask of fur covering his face surrounded by his paler main coat. He wore a coat and hat similar to the Water Drop engineers only white with red trim.

    Spigot was expecting to see the wrinkled, gray face of Omendo, the Sunny Kingdom’s chief scientist. “Who the hell are you?”

    “My name is Kahn.” The Nyamal answered in a calm voice. He adjusted the pair of small, circular glasses perched on the bridge of his slender muzzle.

    “Where’s Omendo?” Spigot asked.

    “Omendo is out with the flu I’m afraid.” Kahn said in an even tone. “I’m running things in his stead. Can I help you?”

    “Yes.” Spigot said softly before bellowing. “WHAT IN HELL IS GOING ON IN THE SEED KINGDOM!”

    With a cat-like screech Kahn jumped onto the back of his chair, digging his claws into the upholstery. “There’s no need to yell.” He yelled back. He then returned to his calm demeanor. “We’re aware of the situation.”

    “Then why haven’t we been provided any data?” Spigot said in a calmer tone as he sat back in his chair. “I thought we had an agreement after the Crisis that you would inform us of any weather anomalies.”

    “We do.” Kahn sat back down in his chair and straightened his coat. “However, we are not positive as to whether or not this is a weather anomaly. Until we make that decision our information is classified.”

    “How can weather data be classified?” Spigot asked. “And it’s been raining there for more than a Goddamn week. In my book that’s a weather anomaly.”

    “But it’s not in ours.” Kahn said flatly.

    Spigot jumped to his feet in his chair and slammed his fur-covered palms on his station. “You’re trying to split hairs over the definition of the weather anomaly to keep us out of the loop.” He snarled through clenched teeth. “Even after everything that happened; you pricks still…” He stopped when Kahn closed the channel on his end, causing the screen to go dark. “KAAAAAHHHHHN!” He screamed at the now blank screen.

    “You know boss,” Emily spoke up to her fuming superior, “there’s an old saying that you can gather more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

    “And what’s that got to do with anything?” Spigot snapped.

    “Franklin,” Emily said to another beaver standing behind Spigot, “hold him.”

    “Okay Emily.” Franklin said in his low, dull voice.

    The slimmer and slightly taller beaver grabbed Spigot off his chair and restrained him. Spigot tried to struggle free but couldn’t. Emily hopped into Spigot’s chair and contacted the Sunny Kingdom again. As she waited she licked her hand and ran it through her hair.

    “This should be rich.” One of the engineers thought out loud.

    Kahn’s face appeared again on the screen. “What do you want now?” He said with more than a little irritation in his voice.

    “Hi sugar.” Emily said in a gentle voice. “I just wanted to apologize for our Chief’s behavior.” She was interrupted by the sound of Spigot and Franklin struggling. “I said hold him Frank!” She shouted at her colleague.

    “I’m trying but he’s slipperier than the greased eel.” Franklin whined as adjusted his grip to keep his trashing chief restrained.

    Emily turned back to Kahn. “He really hates nasty surprises early in the morning. After a cup of Joe…and about a half dozen tranquilizers…” She said the last part quietly to herself. “…he should be fine. In the meantime, could you be a dear and send us all the information about what’s going on for little old me?” She batted her eyelashes at Kahn.

    “No.” Kahn said flatly.

    “What?” Emily blurted.

    “You suck.” Lee chimed in.

    “Shut up Lee!” Emily snapped back at him.

    “Stop wasting my time.” Kahn closed the channel again.

    “I saw that coming.” Spigot finally wrenched himself out of Franklin’s grasp.

    “For a Kingdom that’s supposed to light the entire planet, the Sunny Kingdom sure likes to keep people in the dark.” Franklin thought out loud.

    “They’ve always been like that.” Spigot replied with frustration in his voice as he straightened his coat. “They refused to inform the other kingdoms when the Sun’s Blessing was dying and let us take the political fallout. Apparently nothing has changed except now they’re willing to lie as well as omit the truth.”

    An unwelcome silence fell over the spacious chamber. The engineers were at a loss. They didn’t know what to do about the situation. They didn’t even know if anything should be done.

    Lee finally asked. “Orders Fearless Leader?”

    Spigot paused to answer. “We’ll check over the cloud machine to make sure there isn’t some obscure glitch missed by the scanners.” He personally doubted that was the case. However, knowing their luck, Murphy’s Law was in full effect. “Lee,” he turned to the teen, “where’s your sister right now?”

    “She’s working on an ASOS just outside of town.” Lee answered. “Why?”

    “Tell her to come here.” Spigot said. “I need the two of you to go over our weather data with a fine toothed comb. This isn’t happening without a reason. I want to know what.”

    “I’ll get her in right away.” Lee unzipped his sleeve pocket and pulled out a small, black device.

    Spigot asked this as much out of personal curiosity as the public need. How could the Seed Kingdom be flooded out with no indication just upstream and why was the Sunny Kingdom hiding it? He hated not knowing. Fortunately he had Felix’s twin son and daughter and if there was something, anything out there that would be a clue as to the cause of this disaster they would find it.

    Another pair of chimes came from Spigot’s station. “Cloud Management Room,” Emily answered.

    “Is Spigot there?” Yamul’s voice asked.

    “I’m here.” Spigot answered dully as he walked back to his station. “What is it?”

    “I need you in my office again.” Yamul replied.

    Spigot furrowed his brow in confusion to Emily. She could only shrug in response. “I’ll be right down.” Spigot closed the channel. “I wonder what it could be now.”

    “Knowing our luck; it’s a hailstorm in the Jewelry Kingdom.” Franklin said.

    “Thank you for that brilliant ray of sunshine Frank.” Spigot said as he walked towards the door. “The next time I feel like being depressed I’ll call you.”

    “I’m glad I could help.” Franklin replied.

    “I swear.” Spigot said loudly as he left the room. “I’m up here, then I’ve got to be down there, then I’m up again and have to go down there again. I’m starting to feel like a damn yo-yo.” He yelled the last part as the doors slid shut behind him.

    Emily heaved another exasperated sigh. “And here I had such high hopes for the day.”

    **********

    “Mr. Spigot,” Yamul said as Spigot stepped back into her office, “good of you to come.”

    “What is it now?” Spigot grumbled.

    “Milro has come up with a solution for the situation in the Seed Kingdom.” Yamul explained. “We’ll send our flood control equipment down to the Seed Kingdom to alleviate the threat to their villages until the rain stops.”

    “Biba! Knock yourself out.” Spigot said unenthusiastically. “What’s that got to do with me?”

    “We’ll need permission from King to send in our equipment.” Yamul continued. “Milro will be going to the Seed Kingdom with Auler and Sophie. You’ll be going as well.”

    “I’m an engineer, not a steward.” Spigot said plainly.

    “As Chief Engineer you’re the best qualified to explain our intentions.” Yamul replied.

    “I’m not a diplomat either.” Spigot exclaimed. “I’m obnoxious and disliked. I have more enemies in the Seed Kingdom than I care to count.”

    “Then you should see this as an opportunity.” Yamul folded her hands on her desk. “It’s a chance to work on these relationships. You’re going Spigot, and that’s final.”

    Spigot was about to say something. He instead heaved a defeated sigh. “Yes Ma’am.” He saluted.

    To be continued…
    Last edited by The Big Al; 27th April 2008 at 3:25 AM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  3. #3
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    I don't think I've ever heard of this anime. Judging by your pic of Yamul in your sig, it looks like you don't want to mess with Yamul.

    Anyway, I think this is a pretty good story so far. Solid grammar and storyline. Can't wait to see what's causing the rain. Little bit of palace intrique is good. Good story so far!

    But, I am wondering about the anime. I'm gonna go look it up. Sounds interesting.

    LX
    I am the author of the webcomic, Starbolts and host of the comic review show, Comic Showcase. Please check out the action here: http://starbolts.blogspot.com

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    I'm glad you like it so far.

    Though my story is not exactly a good indication of the series. While set in the same universe, it's meant to have a much different atmosphere since it focuses are a very different segment of the Planet's culture.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

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    Chapter 2: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

    Auler’s personal zeppelin floated gracefully through the cerulean blue sky over the Water Drop Kingdom. The craft was small with a slender, open gondola suspended under a cigar shaped envelope colored indigo on top and white on the bottom. Auler usually used it as a racer in the annual balloon race between the Windmill Kingdom and the Jewelry Kingdom. However, he would also use it when it was impractical to use the Windmill Kingdom’s Flagship.

    Because the people of the Mysterious Planet lived inside the planet instead of on the surface, there was no horizon. There was instead the line of obscurity where there was so much air between the viewer and what they were looking at it was obscured in the blue haze of the sky. This is especially evident from the air where one could see for dozens of kilometers.

    Milro looked out at the landscape. The passing vista was evidence to the volatile climate of the Water Drop Kingdom. Despite it being early spring Saginaw City, the Water Drop Kingdom’s capitol, still looked like it was in winter. A blanket of white snow covered the ground and the street-like canals crisscrossing through the city were filled with chunks of ice.

    However, as the cold north wind picked up the airship and carried it south she watched the seasons change right before her eyes. The snow vanished and lakes and their interconnecting rivers that dotted the landscape shed their ice caps to reveal glistening blue water. The trees and grass that were bare and dormant became lush and green. Even the air grew milder as they traveled.

    The cotton ball-like clouds belched from the top of the castle expanded to incredible size and drifted lazily on the wind alongside them. The view was so inspiring she took out a sketch pad and pencil from her satchel and began sketching what she saw.

    “This is an amazing view.” She said to herself. “You should really see this Mr. Spigot.”

    Milro turned to see Spigot was where he was when they took off from the castle. He was still sitting in the very back of the gondola with his arms and legs crossed and glaring at the same non-existent object. She half expected a tiny storm cloud to fly up and starting raining on his head. “Is there something wrong?”

    “I was just thinking of how well things have gone the past five years.” Spigot answered, not bothering to look away from the imaginary object that had his attention. “Now it seems we got on our feet just in time to get knocked on our butt again.”

    “Are you sure you weren’t exaggerating about all the enemies you have in the Seed Kingdom.” Auler tried to make conversation as he guided their craft.

    “I wish I was.” Spigot replied. “The situation between the Water Drop Kingdom and the Seed Kingdom made the rivalry between your kingdom and the Jewelry Kingdom look like a lovers’ quarrel.” He finally looked away from that particular point in space and turned to Milro. “You should be prepared for them to refuse our help.”

    “Why?” Milro asked, taken aback by Spigot’s statement.

    “Because it’s probable the people of the Seed Kingdom would rather drown than accept our help.” Spigot said flatly.

    Before Milro could say anything Auler interrupted her. “We’re approaching the Seed Kingdom.”

    In front of them the clouds flattened out and coalesced into a wall that extended as far as the eye could to see in either direction. Under it the landscape was shrouded in shadow. The three royals took out ponchos and wrapped them around themselves. The tiny craft was an insignificant speck compared to the enormous wall of water droplets they approached.

    As they came under the cloud shield there was a sudden change. The brightness of the Sun’s Blessing vanished as everything seemed to wash out in a dreary gray. A steady rain started to pelt the envelope suspended above them. It was a cold, raw rain that seemed to suck any warmth out of the atmosphere. Milro clutched her poncho tightly around her to keep the cold, soggy wind out.

    She looked out at the landscape and thought about when she went to the Seed Kingdom for its Princess Party. She remembered staring out from the observation deck of the Aqua Beauty, the Water Drop Kingdom’s flagship, and worrying about her performance in the Best Sports Princess Party. At least the beauty of the kingdom made her feel better then. But now she couldn’t even find comfort in that this time.

    The form of the Mother Tree eventually took shape through the rain and fog in front of them. She was huge with a canopy of leaves in roughly a cone shape that rose high into the sky and a trunk that had to be at least a hundred meters in girth. The Mother Tree was the oldest plant in the Mysterious Planet and all the other plants were her descendants. There were also legends of her magical powers, but they were only legends.

    “There she is.” Auler said as he reduced their speed and altitude.

    Milro looked down and saw a gaping body of muddy water below them. “I don’t remember there being a lake here.”

    “That’s not a lake.” Spigot said dully. “That’s the river.”

    Milro gasped at this revelation. It was the same river that she remembered flowing peacefully by near the Mother Tree. The fields filled with crops were now submerged under brown, frothy water and the tiny villages, once well away from the river bank were only a few meters from being swallowed by the torrent.

    Milro began to wonder if they could help them. This all seemed so big. She had imagined it would be bad but not like this. And it had to be overwhelming to the tiny people of the Seed Kingdom. She could feel hopeless tears well in her eyes but then a comforting hand rested on her shoulder.

    “Don’t worry Milro.” Sophie said in her eternally optimistic voice. “We’ll make everything alright.”

    Sophie was like the wind. She was so free, not weighed down by worries or fear. And somehow, unless you’re Altezza, she seemed to lift the mood no matter how bleak. There were times Milro envied Sophie’s carefree attitude.

    Auler guided his zeppelin around the massive trunk of the Mother Tree and let it settle onto the drenched soil next to a door set in the massive catalpa. Spigot climbed out and planted his feet on the muddy earth.

    He looked around. They had already begun building a wall of sandbags to protect one of the closer villages from the rising water. The air reeked of musk as well. He heaved a sigh. “God, I hate flooding. It’s got to be the worst weather disaster ever imagined.”

    “It’s really that bad?” Auler asked as he stepped out of the gondola and helped Milro and Sophie.

    “It lasts the longest, covers the widest area, kills the most people, and leaves the biggest mess.” Spigot answered. “It’s the biggest pain in the butt you’ll ever face.”

    The door in the Mother Tree pulled open and the 11 Princesses of the Seed Kingdom and their brother Prince Solo ran out. The 11 were identical right down to their outfits and hair style. The only way to tell them apart was by the color of their hair.

    The baby blue haired Ichele was the leader of the Princesses and was the first to speak. “Sophie, Milro, Auler…” Then all 11 said in chorus. “…welcome to the Seed Kingdom.”

    “At least we wish we could say ‘welcome’. However,” Solo looked out at the swollen river and steady rain, “that’s something you say when times are good.”

    “That’s why we’re here.” Spigot spoke up. “We’re here to help.”

    “Oh really?” A familiar voice broke in, causing Spigot to flinch slightly.

    “Oh God no.” Spigot grumbled.

    Behind the Seed Princesses was a molmo, mole-like people that lived in the Seed Kingdom, dressed in attire similar to the seed messenger’s. Spigot recognized the gleam in his beady eyes and the swagger has he walked around the tiny Prince and Princesses to come in front of them. It was the one resident he wished he could avoid on this visit.

    “Who’s that?” Auler asked.

    “Remember when I said I had more enemies than I cared to count?” Spigot answered. “He’s the Big Kahuna of them all, Axe.”

    “Why are you here Spigot?” Axe growled. “Our skies are dark enough if you haven’t noticed.”

    “Milro came up with a plan to help your kingdom.” Sophie said cheerfully before Spigot could answer. “Everything is going to be alright. Right Milro?”

    “Uh…” Milro searched for words to say.

    “Heh, I bet.” The chocolate brown-furred molmo said in an unimpressed tone.

    “Just shut up and take us to His Royal Shortiness.” Spigot growled.

    **********

    Milro had never been inside the Mother Tree before. A network of halls and chambers had been carved through the inert wood of the tree with luminescent mushrooms providing dim light. It was cramped and she, Sophie and Auler had to duck since the ceiling was only about a meter and a half high. They finally came to the throne room and Milro could stand up straight with the ceiling well above her head.

    She felt like a giant as she stepped into the center of the chamber. At about knee height was a balcony filled with tiny denizens of the Seed Kingdom. Several other seed humans and molmos were standing on the main floor as well.

    “I can take your ponchos.” A molmo maid walked up to them.

    “Thank you,” Milro and the others took off their ponchos and handed them to her.

    Sitting on his throne was the king of the Seed Kingdom who was ironically named King. He was a short, stout man like his subjects. Sitting on his head was his signature crown which was at least as tall as he was.

    Spigot removed his hat, revealing a crew cut, and bowed. “Greetings King-sama. I am Spigot, Chief Engineer for the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    Auler also bowed and Milro and Sophie curtsied. “Greetings Your Majesty.” They said.

    “Baxter,” a female voice cried out as the messenger, apparently named Baxter, walked into the room. One of the seed maids ran up to him and hugged him affectionately.

    “I see you received our message-dane.” King stood up from his throne. “Have you come to tell me you’ll be stopping the rain-dane?”

    “Uh…no.” Spigot replaced his hat on his head. “I’m afraid we cannot stop the rain.”

    Immediately shots echoed through the hall.

    “Now hear me out.” Spigot shouted, putting the audience back into silence. “As far as we can tell this was not caused by problems with our machinery. However, we are ready, willing, and able to offer aid to the Seed Kingdom until the weather patterns shift.”

    “What kind of aid-dane?” King asked.

    “Our kingdom has technology that can divert the flood water away from your villages.” Spigot explained. “With your permission I can have our equipment and crews down here by tomorrow morning.”

    Some of the audience cheered at this news. However a shrill female voice broke through the celebration. “What about our fields?” It was a seed worker seated in the balcony. “We don’t want your charity. We want to get back to work.” She was followed by a few mumbles of agreement. “Your country makes the rain. So stop it.”

    “It’s not that simple dammit.” Spigot pleaded. “There are literally a hundred factors causing this, the vast majority of which we have no control over.”

    “Then what do you suggest we do in the meantime?” The female worker shouted.

    “She’s right.” Axe said sharply. “You honestly expect us to sit by idle? This is our kingdom.”

    “Ah, the old Seed Kingdom pride finally rears its ugly head.” Spigot said in response. “It’s the Crisis of the Sunny Kingdom all over again.”

    “This wouldn’t have happened if you just did your job.” Axe Snapped.

    “That’s it.” Spigot tackled Axe and slammed him into the wall.

    “ENOUGH-dane!” King roared, slamming the end of his staff on the floor. The room suddenly fell silent and Spigot and Axe let each other go. “I will not have this in my throne room-dane. We’re all civilized…uh…” He paused as he searched for a word. “…individuals here-dane. Let’s act like it-dane.”

    However the room quickly filled with arguments. Milro watched helplessly as the situation spiraled out of the control. Her mother had trusted her with this mission. Now it seemed to have gone all wrong.

    “Please.” She tried futilely to calm the din. “You have to understand that…” Milro again felt a hopeless feeling coming over her, bringing her almost to the point of tears. “…that there’s just nothing else we can do.”

    All of a sudden she felt a strange sensation come over her body. It was like energy of some kind washed over her, like the gentle, fine mist, off a crashing wave permeating her body. She looked up and saw that the raindrop ornament on top of Spigot’s hat was at her eye level and then above her.

    ‘Is Spigot getting taller?’ She thought to herself.

    Except it wasn’t just Spigot. The entire room was growing larger, or more accurately it was her…shrinking. She looked at Spigot again to see she was as tall as him, then smaller than he was. She was so frightened she couldn’t even scream as Spigot became humongous in front of her.

    She wondered if it would stop and how small she would be when it did. Then, finally, the shrinking stopped and the feeling subsided. She looked around and saw she was no taller than the seed people.

    “Milro…” Auler called out. He and Sophie had also been shrunk. “…What just happened?”

    “I don’t know.” Milro was at a loss.

    “Fine then,” Spigot, who now towered above them, shoved his muzzle into Axe’s snout and jabbed his chest with his index finger, “if your pride is so important to you. You can take it to your watery grave. It’s no fur off my back. But I’m not going stand here and be insulted anymore.” He then turned to where Milro was and looked up. “Milro-sama, were leaving.”

    However, there was no one there. “Huh?” He blurted. “Milro-sama? Auler-sama? Sophie-sama? Where did you go?”

    “We’re down here.” Milro called out.

    Spigot looked down to see them. “Oh. There you are. For a second I…” He stopped in mid sentence and after an awkward second of silence screamed. “OH MY GOD!”

    His eyes rolled back in his head and he began to tilt backwards. Milro screwed her eyes shut and curled her ears over as she prepared for the now massive beaver to fall. And fall Spigot did with a loud thud that caused the ground under her feet to quake.

    After the shaking stopped she slowly opened one eye and perked up the corresponding ear. Spigot was lying flat on his back fainted.

    **********

    Spigot’s first sensation of returning to consciousness was the irritation of his nose by smelling salts. He slowly opened his eyes and sat up. “Get that crap out of my face.” He grumbled as he pushed Axe’s arm and the bottle of smelling salts away.

    “Oy vey.” He rubbed the throbbing back of his head. “I had the worst nightmare. I went to the Seed Kingdom and Milro-sama had shrunk to the size of a seed person and…” He stopped when he saw Milro and the others were only ten centimeters tall. “…crap?”

    “Uh…” King rubbed the back his head. “Can we talk about this somewhere else-dane?”

    **********

    Milro never realized just how small the people of the Seed Kingdom were before. However, seeing things from their perspective gave her an idea. As she, Auler, Sophie, King, Spigot, Axe, the Seed Princesses, and Solo walked down another hall she looked about her. At her normal size they were so cramped but now they seemed absolutely grand.

    “This is why I never became a humanitarian.” Spigot grumbled as they walked along. “As my grandfather always said ‘No good deed goes unpunished’.”

    “What an enchanted world you live in.” Axe said in response.

    “Shut up.”

    Milro began to wonder if that was true. All she wanted to do was help the people of the Seed Kingdom and look what it got her.

    “Here we are.” King broke her concentration.

    King had led the group to a spiral staircase. There was also a small basket suspended from a wire. Both the winding path and the wire extended high into the trunk above them. The basket was too small for Spigot and Axe but the others piled in.

    “I have to climb this?” Spigot groaned.

    He and Axe began to walk up the staircase. The basket began to rise as it was pulled up by the rope. As they came to the same as the two workers King called out to them.

    “Try not to kill each other on the way up.” He said to them.

    “That could prove difficult.” Spigot grumbled.

    The basket continued to rise at a decent pace. Eventually the stairway that was coiled around them came to a door and disappeared likely into the outside. Soon after the basket ascended into a narrow passage and came out into a large room and stopped.

    Milro, Auler, and Sophie looked around them. The room was huge, at least at their size. The sills of the large windows were lined with potted plants. Chairs designed for normal humans were suspended from the ceiling by vines and several smaller tables and chairs for seed humans circled around the trunk of the tree.

    As they got out a full sized door in the wall opened. Spigot and Axe walked in. Axe was soaked but the water seemed to bead and run off Spigot’s hat and overcoat.

    “If I didn’t know any better I’d say there’s some discrimination at foot here.” Spigot huffed. “This better be good.”

    “Define good-dane.” King said dully. “I believe Princesses Milro, Sophie, and Prince Auler have been cursed by the Mother Tree-dane.”

    “Cursed?” All three of them asked.

    “Cursed? CURSED!?” Spigot exclaimed. “You don’t have a clue what cursing is. But I’ll gladly you give you a lesson in the next thirty seconds if they’re not returned to normal size.”

    “You don’t understand-dane.” King explained. “This confirms my worst fears-dane.”

    “What do you mean worst fears Father?” The blond-haired Harney asked.

    “Since this rain has started the Mother Tree has stopped producing seeds-dane.” King continued. “I fear she isn’t getting enough sunlight-dane.” He stared out a window at the gray drab outside.

    “Why didn’t you tell us King-sama?” Axe blurted.

    “I wasn’t sure at first-dane.” King replied in a dull tone. “However, I’m sure of it now-dane.”

    “Stratiform does have some of the highest albedo in the natural world.” Spigot thought out loud. “No doubt a large amount of the Sun’s Blessing’s energy is being reflected back out into the shell.”

    “You could divert the floodwaters away from our villages-dane.” King said gravely. “But in the end our kingdom can’t survive without the sun-dane. Since you refused to stop the rain and get rid of the clouds, the Mother Tree was angered and cursed them-dane.”

    “Then undo it.” Spigot snapped.

    “I’m afraid only the Mother Tree can lift the curse-dane.” King replied. “And if it isn’t undone by the next dawn it becomes permanent-dane.”

    Everyone gasped.

    “You mean we’ll be stuck like this forever?” Auler exclaimed.

    King nodded in response.

    “How can we convince the Mother Tree to lift the curse?” Milro pleaded.

    “You have to stop the rain and bring back the sun-dane.” King answered.

    “But we can’t do that before dawn tomorrow.” Auler said flatly.

    “There may be a way.” Spigot started.

    Everyone looked to him.

    “Back during the Crisis of the Sunny Kingdom it was proposed that we actively manipulate the weather to make it rain more.” Spigot explained. “It’s logical to assume that it could stop the rain as well.”

    “Why didn’t you say so before?” Axe cut him off. “If you could have made it stop raining why did you say you couldn’t?”

    “Because it’s insanely dangerous.” Spigot snapped back. “We abandoned it because we feared we could have made the situation even worse. The only reason I’m even considering it is because I’m desperate.”

    “It may be our only hope.” Auler said.

    “We’ll have to return to the Water Drop Kingdom for equipment and personnel.” Spigot rubbed his chin as he paced in thought. “We’re strapped for time so we’ll have to move quickly.”

    “Perhaps we should get Fine and Rein to help us.” Milro suggested.

    Spigot stopped in mid-stride. “No. Oh-ho-ho no.” He said as he turned to her, waving his hands in front of him. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting the most unprincess-like princesses in the history of the Mysterious Planet so much as touch something as delicate and dangerous as the weather.”

    **********

    Somewhere in the Sunny Kingdom Fine and Rein sneezed loudly.

    **********

    “There’s a high chance this will blow up in our face with people who know what they’re doing.” Spigot continued.

    “And if it does blow up in our face?” Axe asked.

    “Would you rather take the certainty of what happens if we do nothing?” Spigot replied. “They say fortune favors the bold. Hopefully, they’re right.”

    “Then I leave our kingdom’s fate in your hands-dane.” King said. “Don’t make me regret it-dane.”

    **********

    Spigot shoved a wooden crate towards Auler’s zeppelin. He knew this was a bad idea. He knew the people of the Seed Kingdom would be unreasonable. However, he would have never in his wildest dreams thought something like this would happen.

    “’See this as an opportunity’ she said.” He complained as he gave the crate another shove through the mud. “’It’s a chance to work on these relationships.’ It turned out just dandy now didn’t it?”

    The three reduced royals watched Spigot began to lift the crate into the gondola. Milro heaved a depressed sigh. “I shouldn’t have brought you here.”

    “Don’t blame yourself. We volunteered.” Auler replied. “How could you have known this would happen?”

    Milro looked out the landscape. As hopeless as the situation looked at normal size it seemed overwhelming now.

    Spigot gave one last heave and the crate fell into the gondola in front of the controls. “There.” He brushed his palms together.

    He hopped back on the ground and towards the shrunken prince and princesses. “Everyone hold on.” He swept Milro and Sophie up so they sat on his arm.

    “Are you sure that’s necessary?” Auler asked.

    “You think you can get in by yourself?” Spigot asked.

    Auler looked around him at his zeppelin. The gondola was the size of a liner compared to him. And it was far too high for him without climbing gear. He heaved a defeated sigh as Spigot brought his other arm under him.

    Spigot walked up one of the wings on the side of the gondola and hopped in. After he set the three down he shoved the crate into place in front of the controls. He grabbed onto the top and pulled himself up.

    “Well.” He thought out loud as he grasped the controls. “It’s been a while since I was at the controls of an aircraft.” He intertwined his fingers and cracked his knuckles. “But don’t worry you three. You’re in perfectly good hands.”

    He pressed a button and the cochlea shaped gale drive set in the back of the gondola whirled to life. The craft began to lift off the ground and pull away from the Mother Tree. He slid the throttle slider to ahead full and the small zeppelin increased in speed and altitude.

    “Everything’s under control.” Spigot said as he grasped the steering wheel. ‘Under control my furry tail.’ He thought to himself. ‘Nothing’s under control and my only answer is putting out fire with gasoline.’

    To be continued…
    Last edited by The Big Al; 21st April 2008 at 3:06 AM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  6. #6
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    Chapter 3: The Backdoor

    The Cloud Management Room, which had been relatively quiet before, was now abuzz with activity. Engineers manned every work station and several were looking over opened bulkheads in the condenser. The engineers checked over displays at the stations and some had even pulled the control panels off and were examining the circuit underneath.

    “It’s like I said,” Franklin said to Emily as they looked over a display in one of the bulkheads, “everything checks out. We’ve been over the entire machine from the seawater intake pumps to the distributor. We even checked the castle’s photovoltaic cells and power grid as well as the operating system. Everything is in working order.”

    Emily closed the bulkhead. “If it isn’t us it must be meteorological.”

    Lee and his twin sister Ophelia were sitting at the two meteorology stations. Like her brother, Ophelia was an aquarian in her mid to late-teens and her shoulder length hair was the same azure blue.

    Aquarians were much like the people of the Seed Kingdom in that they were an evolutionary branch of the human species. They had adapted to an amphibious existence, able to live as easily underwater as on dry land. Because of this and other adaptations they worked on the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom alongside the beavers who were its traditional stewards.

    She was looking over an animation of the data points across the kingdom. The wind barbs consistently pointed more or less north suggesting the cloud bearing winds were northerly. It explained why the clouds were heading to the Seed Kingdom. However, it was typical to have stiff, north winds over the kingdom that time of year.

    “Everything seems to be normal on the mesoscale.” She said to Lee. “How are the clouds themselves looking?”

    “I’m not seeing anything out of the ordinary here either.” Lee drummed the long, webbed fingers of one of his slender hands on his station. The other hand propped up his pale chin as he stared at an upper air profile. “Entrainment rates, condensation, nucleation, perceptible water, they’re all within their normal ranges.”

    A beaver-half with a flame red mullet and ice blue eyes walked up between them and planted his hands on the back of their chairs. “So Wonder Twins. How’s the Wacky World of Weather?” He asked.

    “Hey Bret,” the two said at the same time.

    “Wacky is right.” Lee stretched in his chair and wrapped his arms behind his head as he stared at his monitors. “How could an entire kingdom be inundated with flooding with no sign of it in the next kingdom upstream? Weather doesn’t go from typical to bat crap crazy just because it crosses a boarder.”

    Lee then noticed Tammy walking towards them. She was a beaver but even larger than their ruler. She stood at the height of an average human woman but had the hefty physique common to all beavers only a little more toned.

    “Don’t look now,” he said quietly to Bret, “but a rodent of unusual size is coming.”

    “Har, har Lee.” Tammy said as she came to stand behind them. “I’m a beaver, not a rodent.”

    “Beavers are rodents Tammy.” Bret corrected her.

    “That would make you half rodent then, wouldn’t it?” Tammy shot back.

    “Alright, that’s enough.” Emily cut them all off. “How’s the weather data looking?”

    “We’ve gone over all the data for the past two weeks.” Ophelia answered. “However, there’s nothing to suggest what’s happening in the Seed Kingdom.”

    “Though we only have a limited area to get data from.” Lee grumbled.

    “I wonder why the Sunny Kingdom refused to help.” A female engineer next to a bulkhead asked.

    “Perhaps this is being caused by another problem with the Sun’s Blessing.” Another thought out loud.

    “I doubt that.” Lee said in response. “The Sun’s Blessing weakening caused a drought, not a flood.”

    “Maybe the Sun’s Blessing is too strong then.” Ophelia suggested. “This castle does receive all its power from the Sun’s Blessing. If it weakening caused a shortage, an increase could be causing our system to overwork.”

    “I don’t think so.” Tammy said. “All excess power is automatically shunted into the electrolysis machines to make hydrogen for the auxiliary fuel cells.”

    “Maybe the kick-in-the-mouth winter we had this season has something to do with this.” Bret thought out loud.

    “I don’t know.” Lee sighed. “Right now we have more theories than facts.” He shifted his eyes to his sister’s main monitor and glared at the null points near the border. “I’m really starting to resent letting that scum sucker deprive us of those ASOS sites in the Zubuzubu swamp.”

    “Well, Geronita is Geronita.” Emily shrugged. “You just have to learn to live with him.”

    “As my mother always said;” Tammy added, “’a swamp rat ain’t worth the gas and aluminum it takes to blow him to hell.’”

    “He’s still a pain in the gills.” Lee grumbled. “They call him a bullfrog but I think he’s a steaming pile of bull…“ He was interrupted when electronic chimes came from his sleeve pocket.

    He pulled out his communicator and flipped the silver top up. “Cloud Management Room,” he answered, “your place for rainmaking operations, weather observations and today intelligent political conversation.”

    “I can only imagine.” Spigot said on the other end. “How’s the machine check going?”

    “We’ve gone over the machine and found no problems.” Emily answered.

    “I expected that.” Spigot said in response. “What about the weather data?”

    “As far as we can tell it should have been a normal week in the Seed Kingdom weather-wise.” Lee answered. “There’s nothing to suggest a cause for any of this.”

    “Damn.” Spigot said under his breath.

    “Excuse me?”

    “I mean good.” Spigot recovered. “Damn good. Keep up the good work.”

    “What about you Fearless Leader?” Lee asked. “How did things go in the Seed Kingdom?”

    “Uh…” Spigot quickly thought his way through his response. “…we ran into a ‘small problem’ and are returning. We’re coming in through the backdoor. Don’t tell Yamul-sama we’re back. Comprende?”

    “Si jefe.” Bret answered.

    “Spigot out.” Spigot flipped his communicator closed and replaced it in his sleeve pocket.

    “Why did you order them not to tell Mother?” Milro asked.

    “If Yamul-sama found out about this she’d kill me.” Spigot whimpered. “Or worse, fire me.”

    “What did you mean by ‘backdoor’?” Auler asked.

    “Actually, it should be around here somewhere.” Spigot answered as he looked around. He then saw a shear hillside they were passing over. “Ah. There it is.”

    “We’re not even near Saginaw City.” Auler said. He couldn’t see over the edge of the gondola but he knew they hadn’t been airborne long enough to be approaching the capitol. “How can we be approaching the castle?”

    “Who said anything about the castle?” Spigot made the airship swoop down towards the hillside.

    He pulled a small device from his side pocket. With a push of a button, the entire hillside lifted up and pulled in like a giant garage door. He then guided small craft into the dimly lit chamber beyond and settled it on the ground as the door dropped shut with a loud crash behind them.

    Spigot hopped off the crate and picked up three miniaturized royals gently. He climbed out of the airship and planted his feet on the cold, concrete floor. He then set them down.

    “What is this?” Sophie asked. Even her small voice echoed off the cement walls of whatever kind of chamber it was.

    “Come with me and you’ll see.” Spigot walked over to manhole and began descending the ladder.

    “Uh, Mr. Spigot.” Milro spoke up as he disappeared.

    “What?” He poked his head back up. He then remembered and grumbled “oh yeah”. He lowered himself so the brim of his hat was level with the floor. “Climb on and hold on tight.”

    Milro, Auler, and Sophie stepped onto his brim and grabbed onto the cone.

    “Are you ready?” Spigot asked.

    “Yes.” Milro answered.

    Spigot descended into darkness. Milro couldn’t see anything but felt Spigot step off the ladder onto a floor. It was all black except for a glowing blue dot near them. Though the distinct sent of motor oil hung in the cold, dank air. Spigot pressed it and the clunking sound of industrial circuit breakers closing echoed around them. The dot was joined by several other buttons and levers as well as a monitor and overhead lamps switched on.

    They could finally see where they were. It was a large room with a massive machine at the far end. On either side of them was a track with a car sitting on the track to their right. A metal chain came from either end of the car, wrapping around the machine that appeared to be motor and extended into tunnels the tracks traveled in.

    “This is an emergency tram.” Spigot explained. “They were meant to be used to evacuate the castle. It’s also the best way into the castle without being detected.”

    He pressed another button and the doors on the car slid open. He stepped off the platform next to the terminal and shuffled into the car. After he let Milro, Auler, and Sophie step onto one of the crudely upholstered seats he took his own opposite to them. The doors slid shut and with a lurch and the sound of straining metal the car began to roll out of the room and into a tunnel.

    The tunnel quickly turned into a transparent tube revealing they were under a river or a canal. From the straight line of the banks above it was a canal. They could see the Sun’s Blessing overhead with the shadows of ice chunks passing over them.

    “I never realized how deep the canals were.” Milro thought out loud.

    Auler groaned as he saw the sight.

    “Is something wrong?” Spigot asked.

    “Big Brother doesn’t like the water.” Sophie said before her brother could.

    “I’m an aviator, not a submariner.” He explained himself. “I just don’t like the idea of being trapped underwater in a glass bubble.”

    “Most races in the Water Drop Kingdom are either aquatic or semi-aquatic. Even seventy percent of the kingdom’s human population has evolved an aquatic physiology.” Spigot looked up through the transparent roof the car, placing his hands behind his head and crossing his legs. “So for us being under water is as natural as being hundreds of meters off the ground is to your people.”

    Auler tried to think of something to get his mind off it. “You said the relationship between the Water Drop Kingdom and the Seed Kingdom was worse than that between the Jewelry Kingdom and the Windmill Kingdom. However, I never heard of any of this.”

    “That’s because much of it took place below the level of the royal families in smoke filled rooms behind closed doors.” Spigot replied. “We kept it out of the public eye.”

    “What happened?” Auler asked.

    “As you know five years ago the Sun’s Blessing was dying because of that triple-damned Wormwood.” Spigot explained.

    “Wormwood?” Sophie asked.

    “’…and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as if it were a lamp, and it fell upon a third part of the rivers, upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the tar is called Wormwood.’” Spigot answered. “We thought it was a more poetic name than ‘Black Crystal’.”

    That name rang like a loud bell in their minds. They remembered vividly the Black Crystal and its effects on the Sun’s Blessing and the rest of the Mysterious Planet. Fortunately, before the entity was able to completely extinguish the Sun’s Blessing and all life with it, Fine and Rein were able to stop it. However, they didn’t think the Sunny Kingdom’s twin princesses would have anything to what Spigot had to say.

    “No matter what it was called,” Spigot resumed, the clicking clacking of the tram along the tracks forming a march-like background theme for him, “the energy from the Sun’s Blessing was decreasing. However, did you see people looking up and complaining how the Sun’s Blessing was growing weaker? No. More often then not they were complaining how it wasn’t raining enough.”

    The tiny princesses and prince listened as Spigot explained.

    “The machine of the Water Drop Kingdom is powered by energy from the Sun’s Blessing.” Spigot continued.

    There was the common misconception that they used heat from the Flame Kingdom. However, they were on the other side of the continent and from looking at the climate anyone could tell that wasn’t true.

    “With that energy weakened the machine didn’t make as much clouds or load the clouds we did make to produce as much rain.

    “Life can’t live exist without water. The best way to distribute that water is through the rains. Without the rains the entire planet experienced drought. Water shortages caused problems across the planet.

    “However, it was the worst in the Seed Kingdom. The Seed Kingdom needs large amounts of water for their fields and orchards. For them the drought didn’t just threaten their lives but their livelihoods.

    “We tried to explain we didn’t know why our machinery wasn’t functioning properly. However, they weren’t interested in excuses. They wanted results.

    “It didn’t take long for a union feud to break out. The Seed Kingdom workers demanded rain for their crops at any cost and the Water Drop Kingdom workers refused to take risks with their lives or the cloud machine. As union bosses, Axe and I were the main belligerents in most arguments.”

    “But the Black Crystal was stopped and everything returned to normal.” Milro said.

    “Even its defeat couldn’t erase the bad blood between our kingdoms.” Spigot sat back in his seat. “Now it’s all happening again. Only this time it’s flooding instead of drought.

    “And of course the Sunny Kingdom is taking its position as a bystander. They sat back and let us rip each other apart, keeping the state of the Sun’s Blessing and the connection to our problems secret. Now, they know what’s causing this latest weather anomaly but they’ll keep quiet once again.”

    He then noticed they were entering another tunnel. “And here we are.” He said as the car entered another room and slowed to a stop.

    The doors on the other side of the car slid open and everyone hopped off their seats. The room was much like the one on the other end with the motor and tracks. However, the monitor was on the outside wall and there was a man door on the wall and no ladder.

    As Milro, Auler, and Sophie stepped off the tram Spigot began to tug on a grate in the wall. After a couple tries it pulled off and he leaned it against the wall. Behind it was a long, narrow passageway filled with pipes, wires, and conduits.

    “Follow me.” He said as he ducked in.

    “What’s this?” Auler asked as they stepped in.

    “It’s a service crawlway.” Spigot replied. “The castle is honeycombed with them.”

    “When I think of secret passages I picture narrow, dark halls filled with cobwebs and candelabras.” Auler said.

    They came to another grate. Spigot slammed his shoulder into it and it fell out with a clang. They stepped out into a small room with several flat screen monitors and flashing controls on the walls.

    “Now where are we?” Auler asked.

    “This is a simple junction.” Spigot answered.

    He walked over to a monitor and brought up a display of the machine. Auler looked around the room. It appeared to be anything but simple to him. The monitors displayed various vitals of the machinery and the castle and he couldn’t begin to name all the function the controls were for.

    “I’ve never seen technology like this.” He thought out loud.

    “You haven’t seen anything yet.” Spigot rifled through readouts. “It looks like they’ve completed their checks. No problems found.”

    “Is that good news or bad news?” Milro asked.

    “It’s good news when we want bad news.” Spigot answered. “It would be a lot easier if solving this problem came down to some minor repairs.”

    He pulled open a hatch and Milro and others followed him into a narrow shaft.

    “Where do we go now?” Auler asked.

    “Up,” Spigot pointed up, “about fifty meters.”

    “You’ve got to be kidding.” Auler groaned as he stared up the daunting shaft. “We have to hang on your hat all that way?”

    “I don’t want to risk any of you falling off.” Spigot took his hat off and scratched his head. He then looked at the inside of the large hat. “I’ve got an idea if you’re willing to ride inside my hat.”

    “I don’t think we have much of a choice.” Milro replied.

    Spigot picked up each one of them and set them down on his head. He then replaced his hat on his head. “Is everybody comfortable?” He asked.

    “We’re fine.” Sophie answered giggling. “Your hair tickles.”

    “Alright,” Spigot looked up the shaft, “now I just got to climb this. I can do it.” He yelled “FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY!” before starting to climb.

    ***20 Minutes Later***

    Spigot forced his shaking hand to latch onto the next rung and pulled his exhausted body up through the man hole. “Oh God, what was I thinking?” He groaned as he let himself fall onto the deck plate, causing his hat and the others to fall off his head.

    “Are you okay Sophie?” Auler helped his sister up.

    “I’m fine.” Sophie replied, flicking one of her long ears behind her shoulder.

    Milro stood up and brushed off her skirt. She then looked over to Spigot who was flat on his back. “Are you alright Mr. Spigot?” She asked.

    “I just need to catch my breath,” Spigot gasped, “and getting back in shape wouldn’t hurt.” He rolled onto his belly and pointed to a grate next to them. “Just behind that bulkhead is the Cloud Management Room.”

    Everyone in the Cloud Management Room stopped what they were doing when they heard banging sounds. The grate flew off and Spigot rolled out. When he saw his subordinates staring at him he quickly recovered, grabbed his hat, and replaced it on his head.

    “Leave it to the Chief to make a dramatic entrance.” Franklin stated.

    “Did you follow my orders?” Spigot asked, regaining his typical demeanor.

    “To the letter boss.” Emily answered.

    “What’s with all the secrecy?” Ophelia asked.

    “Well,” Spigot rubbed the back of his head as he looked back. Milro, Auler, and Sophie stepped cautiously out into the room.

    Everyone gasped when they saw them. “Yet another unexpected twist.” Lee thought out loud. “Bummer.”

    To be continued…
    Last edited by The Big Al; 27th April 2008 at 3:32 AM.

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    Chapter 4: The Rough in the Diamond

    The structure of the Water Drop Kingdom’s castle was by far the most complex in the Mysterious Planet. It was a complex of white towers with blue onion top roofs with two smaller towers sat on either side of the larger main tower. The main tower actually held its own moat with the central tower surrounded by four smaller towers. This didn’t even include the network of tunnels and structures submerged under its moat crystal clear moat.

    The moat surrounding it was divided into three layers descending away from the castle. Across each moat was a bridge connected by stairs. Waterfalls allowed the water of higher moats to cascade down into the lower level. Above the central tower belched puffy white clouds that expanded over the castle before being pulled away by the wind.

    Princess Altezza of the neighboring Jewelry Kingdom strolled across the uppermost bridge. She was a girl in her early teens with her blond hair in a giant rat’s nest behind her hair. She wore a white dress adorned with gems of various shapes and bright colors that glistened in the sunlight and a huge diamond sat on the top of her head.

    The servants in the Windmill Kingdom had told her Auler had gone to the Water Drop Kingdom on business along with his sister Sophie. She could care less about the airheaded Princess of the Windmill Kingdom, but she was worried about her beloved Auler. Something told her he was in trouble.

    A cold mist from the waterfalls gently caressed her face as she approached the main tower. The entrance was guarded by two beavers who stood at ease on either side of the door. They were dressed in oceanic camouflage fatigues and caps with black nylon belts fastened around their midsection under a buckle adorned with the kingdom’s insignia. A yellow pistol with a large barrel and what looked to be a laser sight on top was attached to the belt on their right side.

    They certainly appeared formidable. That is, until one let his mouth gape open in a yawn and the other scratched his armpit. ‘Charming’ she thought to herself. The two abruptly returned to at ease as she walked up to them.

    “Hello.” She said in a polite but dispassionate tone. “I am Princess Altezza of the Jewelry Kingdom. I’m looking for Prince Auler of the Windmill Kingdom. I was told he was here on business. Can I enter?”

    “Of course Altezza-sama.” The two said. One of them then pressed a key on a pad and the doors slid open.

    Before walking in, Altezza looked up at the onion top of the main tower. She shielded her eyes from the glare of the Sun’s Blessing overhead with her hand as she looked at it. For some reason she felt that Auler was up there. Perhaps it was women’s intuition that her mother talked about from time to time.

    *********

    An awkward silence had fallen over the Cloud Management Room. The engineers were all huddled in a cluster around the three tiny royals. Milro looked up at her kingdom’s subjects. The mixture of beavers, beaver-halves, and aquairans all had the same dumbstruck expression and blank stare fixed on their face. Considering the circumstances she understood and even shared their bewilderment.

    “Alright, everyone back it up.” Spigot finally broke the silence. “Give them some room.”

    “They won’t need much.” Bret said in response which got him a slap upside the head by Tammy.

    “Milro-sama, what happened to you?” Ophelia asked.

    “When we told them we couldn’t stop the rain the Mother Tree became upset.” Milro answered. “And she did this.”

    “Oh man.” Lee whimpered. “This is not good.”

    “Perhaps we should look on the bright side?” Bret suggested.

    “There’s a bright side?” The others all asked at once.

    “Well,” Bret rubbed his chin in thought, “Pump-sama has a kid shorter than him again.”

    Everyone face faulted except for Tammy who slapped him hard enough upside the head to knock his hat off.

    “Ow,” Bret exclaimed as he rubbed his now throbbing head. “What did you do that for?”

    “You’re being an idiot again.” Tammy said in response.

    The group began to disperse back to their stations arguing amongst themselves.

    “Everybody SHUT UP!” Spigot shouted at them, returning them to silence. “This is serious. If the rain doesn’t stop by dawn over the Mother Tree tomorrow the spell becomes permanent.”

    “What?” The engineers all stopped and turned around at once.

    “I told them we could use weather manipulation to stop the rain.” Spigot explained. “We…”

    “Are you nuts?” Lee interrupted him.

    “We don’t even know what’s causing it.” Ophelia added.

    “And now we’re expected to completely change a weather pattern that has held for the past week in less than nineteen hours?”

    “It just can’t be done.”

    The two began dancing in a strange dance. It involved holding their hands out while shuffling their feet in place from side to side. Then they turned around in a circle before repeating. All the while they repeatedly chanted. “Can’t be, can’t, can be done.”

    “It must be something about twins.” An engineer said to another.

    “Why can’t you do it?” Auler asked.

    The two stopped dancing and chanting. “Weather manipulation is science, not magic.” Ophelia answered as she sat down in a nearby chair. “We can’t whip out a Sunny Rod and tell the weather what to do.”

    “Weather has several causes.” Lee added. “If we want to manipulate the weather we need to find the cause or causes we want to modify and how to get the desired effect. There are also unintended consequences that would have to be taken into consideration.”

    “That takes very precise data.” Ophelia completed their thought. “Unfortunately that’s data we don’t have.”

    “What about the weather data you were talking about earlier?” Sophie asked.

    “In recent years the Water Drop Kingdom has constructed a weather information network of our own.” Tammy answered. “However, it only covers our kingdom.”

    “Not even the whole kingdom.” Bret interjected.

    Tammy raised her hand as if to slap Bret again to make him flinch before continuing. “Whatever is causing this is beyond the range of our instruments.”

    “What about the weather data gathered by the Sunny Kingdom?” Auler asked.

    “They’ve denied us access.” Spigot grumbled. “That why we’re going to Plan H.”

    “Don’t you mean Plan B Chief?” Franklin asked.

    “No, I mean Plan H as in Hurricane.” Spigot answered.

    “What’s a hurricane?” Auler asked.

    “A large, cyclonic storm system that commonly forms over the tropical seas.” Bret answered.

    “Back during the Crisis we constructed a mobile weather lab that could travel anywhere in the Mysterious Planet and gather weather data. We used it to investigate the weather anomalies caused by the Sun’s Blessing dying.” Spigot explained. “We named it the Hurricane.”

    “I get it.” Ophelia looked to the main screen of her station. “We could use it to extend our range over the Seed Kingdom.”

    “Exactly.” Spigot said in response. “I’ll take a crew to investigate. Hopefully we’ll find the cause and we can determine how we can modify the weather to stop the rain.”

    “That sounds simple.” Sophie said cheerfully.

    “The only problem is time.” Lee said solemnly. “We’ll need hours to gather the data and work out what needs to be done. Then the modification will take time to have the desired effect. If we had another day or two…”

    “But we don’t.” Spigot cut him off. “We have no time to waste. An acquaintance of mine is keeping the Hurricane at Peanut Lake. I’m going to send him a message to prepare it for take off.”

    With that Spigot ducked back into the crawlway. Everyone watched as he disappeared down the manhole again. The Cloud Management Room returned to relative silence as the engineers returned to their stations.

    Milro used the lull to take everything in. She sat down against a bulkhead and hugged her knees against her chest. Her thoughts centered mostly on what Spigot had said about relations between the Water Drop Kingdom and the Seed Kingdom. She didn’t know there was so much animosity between the two countries until he told them. Though she was only ten at the time and had other things to worry about like the Princess Parties being held that year.

    “Is there something on your mind?” Auler asked.

    “Eh?” Milro paused before answering. “Your kingdom had a rivalry with the Jewelry Kingdom. How bad was it?”

    “You’re thinking of what Mr. Spigot said about the relations between the Water Drop Kingdom and the Seed Kingdom.” Auler replied.

    Milro nodded slightly in response.

    Auler heaved a sigh. “I don’t know if you can compare the two. Ours was a rivalry between the royal families and nobles. This sounds more like an all out feud between the workers. And it sounds to run far deeper and be bitterer.”

    “It just seems like another thing out of control in this kingdom.” She rested her chin between her knees and let her ears droop over.

    She looked up at the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom. It sat there in the center of the room, large enough to be a building in its own right. And to think it was just a small portion of the mighty mechanism that made all the clouds for the plant. She felt microscopic in its presence.

    “It’s fitting I ended up this small.” She fought back tears welling up in her eyes. “I’ve always felt insignificant and now I am.”

    “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Sophie chimed in. “Mr. Spigot and the others will pull through and make us big again.”

    “You think so?” Milro looked up to her, blinking the tears from her eyes.

    “I know so.” Sophie said with her always present cheer. “You have to have faith.”

    Unnoticed, Altezza stepped into the room. She looked around and the first thing she noticed was the whiteboard. The zero had been given a pair of bug eyes, a frown, and four crudely drawn limbs as well as a word bubble stating “I SUCK”. She ignored it as some crude outlet for one of the workers’ frustrations.

    She then looked above it and gasped in horror. Attached to the wall above the whiteboard was an image she had spent the last five and half years trying to get out of her mind. It had to be the most embarrassing moment in her life.

    The clock was in the image of a boy with caramel-colored hair and amber eyes she immediately recognized as her older brother, Prince Bright. He was dressed in the black trench coat and slacks he wore while he was under the influence of the Black Crystal. Worst of all, his legs were swinging back and forth in a pelvic thrusting motion.

    It brought back the horrifying memory of him on that stage in front of the cheering crowd hypnotized by the bird song laced into the music. It made her almost sick thinking some depraved person actually acted on a perverted notion to make a clock out of it. Worse still, someone actually bought it and put it up. She tried to put it out of her mind and looked away.

    Bret, Lee, and Ophelia were conversing at her station. They were waiting for the computer to upload the data to a flash drive inserted in one of the station’s data ports. Obviously Milro’s problem was the subject or, more precisely, how it affected them.

    “What about Yamul-sama?” Ophelia asked.

    “Ancient Sunny Kingdom proverb:” Bret answered. “What Yamul-sama doesn’t know can’t hurt us.”

    He turned around and saw two emerald green eyes glaring at him and jumped back with a yelp of surprise. However, he quickly recognized them as belonging to Princess Altezza. “Meh. It’s just the Princess of the Gaudy Kingdom.” He said in an unimpressed tone.

    “What did you say?” Altezza snapped back, startling Bret back another step.

    “Altezza-sama” Lee walked up to them, “what are you doing up here?”

    “I heard Prince Auler had come to this kingdom.” Altezza said in a calmer tone. “I’m afraid he might be in some kind of trouble.”

    Bret and Lee both gulped dryly and said “’Auler’?” gravely to one another. Altezza’s explosive temper was infamous, especially when it came to her protectiveness of those she held dear. Now they were staring right down that temper like the muzzle of a very big gun.

    “For the strangest reason I thought he might be up here.” Altezza continued. “Have either of you seen him?”

    Bret smacked Lee in the chest. “Guy meeting.” The two then tuned around.

    “Oh man.” Lee whispered to Bret. “When Altezza-sama finds out what’s happened to Auler-sama she’ll go postal.”

    “You mean if she finds out.” Bret whispered in response. “We just have to get her out of here before she finds them.”

    “Yeah, but how?”

    “Have you seen him or not?” Altezza barked.

    “No.” The two swung back around.

    “I haven’t seen him.” Bret answered. “Have you Lee?”

    “I haven’t.” Lee then turned to his sister. “What about you Ophelia?”

    “Don’t look at me.” Ophelia said in response as she slipped the slender drive into her shawl pocket.

    The room soon filled with answers of no. Altezza heaved a sigh. She guessed her women’s intuition wasn’t so keen yet. Suddenly Sophie’s voice saying “Altezza” rose through the room. Bret and Lee stiffened. The word ‘busted’ blared like a bullhorn in both their minds.

    “Sophie?” Altezza looked around. “Where are you?”

    “Look down.” Sophie’s voice said in response.

    Altezza as well as Bret and Lee looked down to see Sophie, Milro, and Auler standing next to them.

    “Hi Altezza.” Sophie said cheerfully. “How’s the weather up there?”

    Altezza snapped her head back to Lee and Bret. Lee and Bret did the same. They watched helplessly as her face become red with rage and her body tightened. It was like watching a volcano on the verge of exploding. She then shot them a sharp glare.

    “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO AULER!?” She roared.

    Lee and Bret ran behind Tammy. They peered from behind her shoulders, shivering in terror. The small princess’ face was beat red and hands were balled into tight fists. Her emerald eyes glared straight at the two of them burning with rage.

    “And I bet all of you are in on it.” She glared around the room at the dumbstruck engineers.

    “We’re screwed.” Lee said flatly.

    “Yup.” Bret concurred.

    **********

    Spigot pulled himself back up through the manhole. He hooked his arm around a rung to rest for a minute and pant for breath. Fortunately his office was only three stories down where he kept an old ham radio. However, it was still a tedious climb.

    “There’s got to be a better way to sneak around this castle.” He panted to himself as he crawled out into the room.

    “Alright,” he said, clapping his hands together loudly, “preparations are underway. I need…” He stopped when he noticed no one was at the work stations. “Where is everyone?”

    “Altezza is having fun with them.” Sophie answered.

    Altezza’s shadow spread over the engineers who were all huddled against a wall. They cowered as the enraged Princess of the Jewelry Kingdom glared at him.

    “We’re being terrorized by a fourteen-year-old girl.” One of the engineers observed.

    “I won’t tell if you won’t.” Another replied.

    “She’s p*ssed.” Lee whimpered.

    “Thank you Captain Obvious.” Bret said in response. “Have any other brilliant observations you wish to share with us?”

    “What should we do?” Ophelia thought out loud.

    “We don’t have any other choice.” Bret said, causing Lee, Ophelia, and others to look at him inquisitively. “WE MUST APPEASE HER WITH A VIRGIN SACRIFICE!” He grabbed Ophelia and lifted her over his head.

    “Bret,” Ophelia screamed, “put me down!”

    “You can’t sacrifice Ophelia.” Lee snapped. “She’s my sister.”

    “Enough!” Altezza barked causing the engineers to flinch. “I would like to know…”

    “…if you got the notion.” An engineer completed her thought.

    Altezza raised an annoyed eyebrow. “NO!”

    The engineers flinched again.

    “I would like to know who’s in charge around here.” She said.

    The engineers then noticed Spigot. They all pointed at him and shouted “he is” at once.

    “I’m what?” Spigot stopped.

    “Royally screwed, that’s what.” Lee answered.

    Altezza turned around to glare at him.

    “Please stop Altezza.” Auler called out to her. “Mr. Spigot and his people didn’t do this to us.”

    “Listen to him.” One of the engineers said.

    “Shut up!” Altezza barked.

    “Yes ma’am.” The engineers whimpered.

    “I must say you never cease to amaze me Altezza.” Sophie said. “You’re even able to scare the living daylights out of fully grown men. You’re mother must be very proud.”

    Altezza’s face reddened again as Sophie continued her airheaded rambling blissfully. She couldn’t believe it. Even at ten centimeters tall she was almost unbearably annoying. The fact she was so vulnerable seemed completely lost on the little dingbat.

    “Princess Sophie,” she said, trying to keep her annoyance from her voice, “given your current…condition…I would suggest you take a page from the Seed Princesses and be more careful with your words.”

    “What do you mean Altezza?” Sophie said wearing a naïve grin.

    Altezza took an aggressive step towards the reduced princess of the Windmill Kingdom. However, she quickly found herself lifted off the ground with Lee’s arms hooked under her armpits. “Unhand me you walking telephone pole.” She started to flail. “I’ll never get an opportunity like this.”

    “Hey, that’s enough.” Spigot shouted at them. “Ophelia, Lee, Bret, Tammy, Emily, Franklin front and center.”

    Lee let go of Altezza and the others came out of the huddled mass and stood in a line in front of their Chief Engineer.

    “I just sent a message to prepare the Hurricane for take off.” Spigot paced in front of them. “I’m choosing you six as the crew.”

    Milro looked at the six engineers. They all seemed rather young. She knew the twins were less than a year older than she was and Tammy and Bret didn’t look to be much older. Emily and Franklin looked like they were in their twenties but not by much.

    “Aren’t they a little young?” She asked.

    “They are.” Spigot said eying them. “However, I need their unique gifts and talents.”

    “Thank you sir.” Emily said.

    “Don’t thank me.” Spigot growled. He then turned to the others. “The rest of you stand by and inform the incoming shifts to await instructions. Understood?”

    “Yes sir.” The engineers said in response.

    “Then get back to work.” He yelled, throwing his thumb behind him.

    The other engineers dispersed and returned to their stations. He returned his attention to the six standing in front of him. “Split into teams of two and take different paths to the garage. That will raise less suspicion and Yamul-sama would be less likely to find out.”

    “Wait a minute.” Altezza spoke up. “What exactly is going on?”

    “How can I explain this?” Spigot asked himself as he rubbed the back of his head. He then collected his thoughts into a response. “The Seed Kingdom is being hit with flooding with apparently no cause. Milro-sama and the others dragged me to the Seed Kingdom to offer aid. However, when we told them we couldn’t stop the rain the Mother Tree got p*ssed off and shrank them. Now I have until dawn tomorrow to completely change the weather patterns and stop the rain or else they’ll be that size forever.”

    “Have you told Yamul-sama?” Altezza asked.

    “Hell no.” Spigot answered. “You have any idea what she’d do to me if she found out? Hopefully I can get this done and she’ll never know.”

    “You’ll do this behind her back?” Altezza exclaimed in shock.

    “That’s the idea.” Spigot replied.

    Altezza couldn’t believe what she had just heard. She couldn’t imagine peasants conspiring behind their ruler’s back in their own castle no less. Nothing like that would ever happen in the Jewelry Kingdom.

    “I’m coming too.” She said.

    “You can’t be serious.” Lee said in response.

    “I’m sorry Altezza-sama but I can’t let you in good conscience.” Spigot refused. “I don’t know what might happen. The risks are too high.”

    “You’re taking Auler and the others.” Altezza said in response.

    “That’s because I can’t leave them here.” Spigot replied. “I can’t take the chance of them being found by one of the castle maids or worse Yamul-sama herself.”

    “Alright,” Altezza shrugged, “I’ll return home then. But if I happen to somehow wander into Queen Yamul’s office on the way out and tell her Milro is only ten centimeters tall…” She trailed off as she walked towards the door.

    “Wait!” Spigot called out. “It’s just that it’s cold and wet and muddy in the Seed Kingdom. It’s hardly a place for princess as refined as yourself. You can wait up here in the Cloud Management Room. We’ll be calling in once we have the data and you’ll be one of the first to hear it.”

    Altezza thought for a second. She wasn’t dressed for the weather and her mother would raise questions if she came back with a cold. Waiting in relative comfort would be better. “Alright,” she finally answered, “but you had better return Auler to his normal size.”

    “Consider it done.” Spigot replied.

    “What are we waiting for then?” Ophelia spoke up. “Let’s get going.”

    The seven engineers and three reduced royals left, likely breaking into groups after the doors slid shut behind them. Altezza wondered if she could count on these workers. They certainly weren’t trustworthy if they were willing to circumvent their own monarch. However, she didn’t have much of a choice though.

    One of the remaining engineers took out a deck of cards. “Who wants to play Texas Hold ‘em until the next shift shows up?”

    Altezza’s curiosity was peeked. She was adept at card games but had never heard of that one. “I’m in.” She replied. “But what’s a texas?”

    To be continued…

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  8. #8
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    Chapter 5: The Hurricane Rides Again

    If the outward appearance of the Water Drop Kingdom’s castle was complicated, the interior was intriguing. It was actually two buildings with the castle built over the machine and its systems. This created two very different sections that seldom intertwined.

    The engineering section deep in the interior was dim with narrow corridors and small chambers. The ductwork was exposed on the metal walls and low ceilings and the floor was a metal grate. The entire spectrum of paint comprised of cobalt blue and gun metal gray adding to the dimness. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the ancient, atom-power submarines that once prowled the seas.

    In contrast the actual castle was bright and spacious. The halls were wide with high ceilings and the plaster walls were a light cream color. Floor to ceiling windows were also numerous along the outer walls allowing in sunlight. About the only thing the two sections had in common were the transparent columns and pipes through which water moved through the castle.

    Bret and Lee had taken the long way to the castle garage. Their footsteps on the green, polished marble floor made a clapping noise that echoed off the walls and ceiling.

    “How many princesses are there again?” Bret asked Lee.

    “Eleven.” Lee answered, showing all eight of his webbed fingers, two non-webbed thumbs, and bringing up his long, blue, ray-like tail for the eleventh.

    “Damn. Someone needs to tell them what makes babies.” Bret said in response.

    “Actually, Queen Flora-sama had them all at once.” Lee added.

    “Oh my God!” Bret exclaimed.

    “I know. And they call us freaks.” Lee replied. “And then they had two sons.”

    “Two sons?” Bret had heard of Prince Solo but he didn’t know they had another.

    “They had Prince Coco a few years ago.” Lee then thought out loud. “I wonder how the little tyke is doing.”

    “Thirteen kids!?” Bret practically shouted. “I like big families as much as the next guy. But after a baker’s dozen someone really needs to tell him to put it away.”

    Lee put his finger to his mouth and hushed him. “We can’t use that kind of language outside the engineering section, especially in regards to the ruler of another kingdom. Need I remind you we’re within earshot of politicians and maids? You know how weak their constitutions are.”

    “Yeah. We probably should lay off the busiest king in the Mysterious Planet.” Bret concurred. “What about our business? Do you think we can honestly change the weather by dawn tomorrow?”

    “Well,” Lee scratched his head, “the fact we can find no sign of it just upstream works in our favor. It would suggest what’s causing it is simple and on a small scale. So it should be easy to modify and the effects should appear quickly. It’s just an issue of finding it or them.”

    The two engineers continued to walk slowly down the hall and converse. They were so absorbed into their conversation that they didn’t notice they were being watched. A shadowed figure peered from around a transparent, water filled pillar behind them as they continued.

    “I wonder if we should really do this.” Lee thought out loud.

    “You’re right.” Bret replied. “Our shift is up in an hour and a half. Zeta shift should handle it.”

    “I’m not talking about that.” Lee shot back. “I’m talking about changing the weather. It stinks of playing God.”

    “Lee. We change the weather on an hourly basis.” Bret replied dismissively.

    “No!” Lee stopped and stood in front of Bret to make him stop. “We drive the weather indifferent to how it affects the planet. What we’re about to do is manipulating the weather with the expressed purpose of fulfilling our needs.”

    “It’s for a good cause.” Bret said response.

    “I still don’t like it.” Lee replied. “It’s too easy. Once you have the information it’s just cloud seeding and selective heating and BAM! You have weather made to order. That’s a power we should never have.”

    “Milro-sama needs that power.”

    The shadowy figure went into action. It leapt from its hiding place and latched onto Lee’s back as he turned away from it.

    Lee screamed when the figure grabbed onto him and started thrashing about in a vain attempt to grab it. “Get it off me!” He yelled as he tried again to grab it. “Get it off!”

    “Easy there big guy. I’ll get it.” Bret tried to get to Lee’s back. But Lee in his thrashing started pushing him back towards a floor to ceiling window. “Wait, stop, you’re…” It was too late the aquarian pushed him out a floor to ceiling window. They all screamed as they fell into the very cold moat below with a loud splash.

    **********

    After having dragged their cold, sopping wet selves out of the moat, Bret, Lee, and his assailant, the six-year-old Prince Nalro, went straight to the castle laundry to have their clothes dried. Their clothing tumbled in the driver as they shivered under blankets.

    “I need to find a better way to get company down here.” The beaver maid there said to herself.

    Bret, Lee, and Nalro sneezed in response.

    **********

    Lee grabbed a drier sheet on their way out of the laundry and started rubbing the static out of his overcoat. Nalro pulled his head through his white shirt. He looked around for something as he followed behind them.

    “Is something wrong Nalro-sama?” Lee asked.

    “I can’t find Manta-bin.” Nalro replied.

    When he was an infant, Nalro picked up the strange habit of calling his mother “Gabin” after visiting the Flame Kingdom. Best efforts were able to get him to say “Ma-bin”. However, it developed into a speech impediment of adding “bin” as an “honorific” to everyone’s name.

    “Manta?” Bret repeated. He then noticed a gray stingray plushy clinging to Lee’s back. “Here he is.”

    Bret pulled it off Lee’s back with the popping tiny static discharges and handed it to Nalro. The young prince of the Water Drop Kingdom accepted his favorite toy and hugged him affectionately.

    “You’re so warm and fluffy Manta-bin.” He said, rubbing his cheek against the plushy.

    “So why did you jump me?” Lee asked.

    “I’m sorry.” Nalro answered. “I’m looking for Big Sister-bin. I haven’t seen her since this morning. I heard you talking about her and I guess I got a little carried away.”

    The two engineers looked at one another. They couldn’t hold it. Laughs escaped their tightened lips and they collapsed on the ground laughing so hard they couldn’t get up. Nalro could stare blankly at the two hysterical engineers.

    “What’s so funny?” Nalro asked.

    “You’re looking for your big sister.” Lee laughed, smacking the floor with his one hand and grabbing his aching side with the other.

    “You’re killing us Nalro-sama, killing us.” Bret followed up before dissolving into another fit of paralyzing laughter.

    Nalro shook his head turned to leave. “The maids are right. Traffic cones are a bunch of weirdoes.”

    **********

    Auler looked up at the transparent ceiling of the garage. It was submerged under the moat and he could see the castle through the water’s surface. The Sun’s Blessing shined through the water, creating a shimmering effect on the floor and vehicles. He didn’t want to use the cliché of a sinking feeling to describe how he felt. However, it seemed to be the best way to put it.

    He tried to put it out of his mind and concentrate on the chamber itself. Like its name suggested, the garage was where vehicles were held. Most of them were identical blue and white station wagons lined up in rows.

    “What are these?” Sophie asked.

    “Aqua wagons,” Emily answered, “they’re mostly used by workers to get around the kingdom.”

    “I always thought people used gondolas to get around the city.”

    “Gondolas are great for getting around Saginaw City.” Emily replied. “However, these are for getting around all over the country where you have to deal with both water and land.”

    A frustrated grunt caught everyone’s attention. Spigot was stamping his foot as he glared a pair of doors at the end of the garage. He, Emily, Franklin, Ophelia, Tammy, Milro, Auler, and Sophie had all made it to the garage without incident. However, they had yet to see hide or hair of Bret or Lee. His patience was starting to wear thin.

    “Where are they!?” Spigot finally shouted. “I know they took the long way but this is ridiculous.”

    “I don’t know.” Tammy answered. “You can never tell with those two.”

    Spigot replied with another grunt in dissatisfaction as Ophelia walked up to them. She threw Tammy a pair of keys. “We’re ready to go.” She said. “We just have to wait for Lee and Bret.”

    “Forget them.” Spigot snapped. “We need to get going. The longer we wait here, the greater the chance we’ll be discovered.”

    “He’s got a point Ophelia.” Tammy unlocked the driver’s door of a wagon and sat down. “They can get their own wagon.”

    Ophelia felt a pang of guilt leaving her brother behind. However, Spigot was right. The point was to avoid Queen Yamul finding out. Tammy was also right. It wasn’t like there was a shortage of wagons for them.

    She kneeled down and placed her hands on the ground near Milro and the others. “Here, climb on.” She said gently.

    Milro remembered how Sophie helped the messenger. At the time she would have never thought she would need the same surface. After she, Auler, and Sophie, stepped onto Ophelia’s slender palms she lifted them gently and sat down in the navigator’s seat. She set them down on the bench seat next to her and belted in.

    Spigot, Emily, and Franklin scooted into the back seats. Tammy adjusted the steering wheel, the mirrors, and her seat before she pulled the seatbelt over her muscular torso. She then slid the key into the ignition.

    “Let’s hit the road.” She turned the key and the radio suddenly began blaring “…listening to 1350 AM WATR: Saginaw…” before Tammy could turn it off. “As I was saying,” Tammy set the wagon into drive, “let’s hit the road.”

    The electric engine whirled to life as the vehicle pulled out of its parking space. As they pulled out Bret and Lee ran into the garage. They waved and seemed to be shouting to them. However, they couldn’t be heard. Tammy saw them when she looked in the rear view mirror.

    “Sorry boys.” She said, tapping the accelerator. “But you snooze you lose.”

    The stairs connecting the lowest and middle bridge lifted up as the garage’s door to the outside. Tammy drove onto the bridge towards the main gates. The gates parted as the aqua wagon drove into Saginaw City.

    **********

    Bret and Lee could only watch as the aqua wagon disappeared from view and the door swung shut with a loud clang.

    “Dammit!” Bret threw his hat down.

    “I’ll get keys for another wagon.” Lee said.

    “We’re not taking a wagon.” Bret said in response. “Quick Lee, to the hangar.”

    **********

    Tammy drove leisurely between the white and blue roofed buildings of Saginaw. Ophelia glared at her. “You’re such a jerk Tammy. You could have waited thirty seconds for them.”

    “It’s better this way.” Tammy replied. “Emily and Frank would have had to double up and Milro-sama and the others would be sitting in your lap to make room for them.”

    Ophelia shook head and exhaled an exasperated sigh. She rested her chin in her palm as she stared out into the scenery.

    “I wonder how Altezza is doing.” Auler thought out loud.

    “She’s probably fine.” Sophie replied.

    **********

    Altezza was very familiar with poker. She frequently played with her brother and the castle servants. However, this “Texas Hold ‘em” was a very different game from the Seven Card Stud they played. Instead of having your entire hand you had only two cards and all the players had to play their cards off a common hand.

    It was different style but she had quickly learned how to play. She put the Queen of Clubs and Seven of Hearts on the table. “Does anyone beat a full house?”

    The other players looked at their cards and then threw them down in defeat.

    **********

    “You said you wanted these six for their talents.” Sophie spoke up. “What are they exactly?”

    “Together they’re probably the best team in the Mysterious Planet.” Spigot answered. “Ophelia and Lee are the twin son and daughter of Felix, my predecessor, and the chief scientist of our kingdom. Both are considered geniuses with IQ’s over 150. During the Crisis Felix trained them in the atmospheric sciences. Ophelia specializes in mesoscale analysis and Lee in Cloud Physics. It was his hope they could contribute if anything weather related should happen again.”

    “Much to the anger of our mother.” Ophelia added. "She had wanted to follow in her footsteps and become a chambermaid."

    “If the twins are the brains, Tammy here is the brawn.” Spigot turned to the larger beaver driving. “She has the strength of an Ox but the fingers of a fairy. She’s an instrument expert well acquainted with our equipment.

    “Bret is perhaps the most talented of our young pilots and has an unmatched aptitude for fixed wing aircraft. And Emily and Franklin,” he motioned to the two beavers on either side of him, “are my best mechanic and computer specialist respectively.”

    “That’s quite a team.” Auler said in response.

    “I just hope they’re good enough.” Spigot grumbled.

    Tammy turned off the road onto a ramp leading into one of the canals. The vehicle splashed into the water and bobbed a little as it began to float with the flow down the artificial river. With a push of the button Tammy switched the drive from the wheels to a pair of propellers on the back of the vehicle. The propellers churched the water into a bubbly froth as they pushed the wagon along.

    At their size, Milro and the others couldn’t see much out the windows except the cotton like clouds in the blue sky above. They only felt the vehicle bob and hear the splash.

    “What did you do?” Auler asked.

    “Aqua Wagons double as boats.” Tammy replied. “Take a look.”

    She laid her powerful, fur covered hand down. The three climbed on and she gently placed them down on the dash. Sure enough the wagon was driving its way through the waters of one of the canals.

    White buildings with blue roofs sat on either snow covered bank with bare trees scattered among them. Once the weather got warmer the canals would be filled with gondoliers guiding their boats as they transported passengers around the city. But, that early afternoon they had the canal to themselves. Only chunks of ice floated in the water, bobbing away in their wake as they forded by.

    “I wonder where Lee and Bret are.” Ophelia thought out loud, looking behind them for an identical wagon. “You would think they would be right behind us.”

    Electronic chimes then came from her shawl pocket. She pulled out her communicator and flicked it open. Bret’s voice screaming “COWABUNGA” blared from it.

    “You wouldn’t.” Tammy grumbled.

    Overhead an aircraft shaped like a giant, metal stingray with an elliptical cockpit and a propeller engine on the back of each wing was diving towards them. The craft slammed into the water ahead of them. The wave it caused splashed over the wagon.

    Tammy turned on the windshield wipers to whisk the water away. She then ripped the communicator from Ophelia’s hand. “Dick.” She yelled into the speaker.

    “I thought his name was Bret.” Sophie thought out loud.

    A second of awkward silence followed.

    “That’s what you get for leaving us behind Tammy.” Bret’s voice came over Ophelia’s communicator along with laughter from both him and Lee.

    “What is that?” Auler exclaimed.

    “That is an FS-1 Stingray.” Spigot answered.

    “Is it an aircraft?” Auler asked, tilting his head in curiosity at the craft. “Where’s its envelope?”

    “The stingray doesn’t have an envelope.” Emily answered. “It couldn’t dive with one.”

    “Dive?” Auler repeated.

    “FS stands for flying submarine.” Ophelia replied.

    Auler looked out at the craft. Sure enough it was slowly descending into the canal. Suddenly that sinking feeling came back with a vengeance.

    “A nifty idea, don’t you think Big Brother?” Sophie said.

    “Are you kidding?” Auler said dumbstruck. “That thing is a nightmare.” He felt that sinking feeling intensify as the craft disappeared below the surface. “I’ll stick to airships that don’t go underwater.”

    **********

    The trip to Peanut Lake was rather uneventful after that. Tammy pulled the wagon out of the water and the stingray surfaced in the lake. Bret pulled the stingray to a dock in where Tammy parked and slid the cockpit back.

    “Bret! You eel!” Tammy yelled as the two climbed to the top of the dock. “I’ll rip your tail off and turn it into a hand warmer.”

    Bret ducked behind Lee. “But I like my tail.” He whimpered as Tammy stormed at them.

    “We don’t have time for this.” Spigot shouted.

    Tammy stopped in front of her two colleagues. “When we’re done with this, your tail is mine.”

    Bret grabbed the long, furry, beige tail hanging out the back his coat and began to stroke it. “Don’t worry.” He said in an overly-mothering tone. “I won’t let the big bad beaver harm a hair on you.”

    “You scare me.” Lee said.

    Spigot heaved an exasperated sigh as he walked along the marina dock. If he had a choice he would not have put these six together. While he needed all their talents they came with a slew of personal and relationship issues and they were still young and undisciplined. Unfortunately beggars can’t be choosers, especially desperate beggars. Hopefully gathering weather data was enough of a milk run that their foibles wouldn’t cause too much trouble.

    Everyone looked around at the scenery as they followed Spigot along the shore. Peanut Lake got its name from its peanut shape. It was surrounded by woods of bare, deciduous trees. Luxurious houseboats lined its shore. In the center of the lake was the kingdom’s famous Floating Stage, sitting like a ship amongst the tiny waves.

    “Welcome to Peanut Lake.” Spigot said. “Most of the people living here make more money in a week than any of us do in a year.”

    “Damn.” Emily said in amazement.

    “Who is this acquaintance?” Milro asked.

    “His name is Sebastian.” Spigot answered. “You know him quite well too only as…”

    “…Esteban’s father?” Milro completed his sentence as she saw his houseboat.

    Houseship would probably be a better word. The thing was the size of a small liner. Even the actual house appeared to be more like a mansion rising from its spacious deck.

    “Holy ship” was all Franklin could say.

    “That’s his houseboat?” Tammy exclaimed. “What the hell does he do for a living?”

    “Sells drugs.” Bret answered.

    “He does not sell drugs.” Spigot shot back.

    “Isn’t Esteban the pint-sized kid that idiot chancellor of the Moon Kingdom tried to marry you to Milro-sama?” Emily asked.

    Milro’s face grew crimson in embarrassment. “Don’t remind me.” She said in a very small voice.

    “I see you finally made it.” A voice caught their attention.

    Sebastian walked up to them. He was a human midget, no taller than Spigot, with well kept brown hair and large, thick mustache showing the slightest hints of gray. He was dressed in fine clothes and adorned with enough gems to make some in the Jewelry Kingdom jealous.

    “Good to see you Sebastian.” Spigot replied.

    Sebastian gasped when he saw Ophelia and Lee. “These aren’t Felix’s kids are they?” He asked Spigot.

    “They are.” Spigot replied.

    “My God you two have grown.” Sebastian said in amazement. “Ophelia, you’ve become such a beautiful young woman.”

    “Tank you.” Ophelia blushed at the compliment.

    “And Lee, you’ve gotten…taller.”

    “The joys of being a teenaged boy.” Lee coughed.

    “How do you know him?” Bret asked Lee.

    “When Sebastian gave us a grant to repair the cloud machine we learned his company was making an experimental airship.” Spigot explained. “Their father, I, and a few others offered our expertise in exchange for making a few modifications.”

    “I remember them coming around with their father during construction.” Sebastian smiled as he thought of the fond memories. “However, I doubt you came here for nostalgia.”

    “No. We haven’t.” Spigot pointed down to the reduced royals.

    “What the hell?” Sebastian exclaimed.

    “Hello Mr. Sebastian.” Milro spoke up softly. “We need your help.”

    “Something tells me this is why you want to bring the Hurricane out of mothballs.” Sebastian said to Spigot.

    Spigot nodded in response. “As much as I would like to go into the gory details, time is of the essence.”

    “Alright,” Sebastian shrugged, “walk this way.”

    Sebastian placed his fist on his hip and let his other arm swing freely as he walked down the shore. The six younger engineers and Sophie followed, imitating his walking.

    Spigot smacked his forehead and pulled his hand down his face. “Something tells me I’m going to regret this.” He grumbled.

    **********

    Sebastian led them to a hangar not far from where his boat was docked. It sat right on the water’s edge and opened out onto the lake. He pushed on a man door that creaked as it swung open. The interior was dark as they all shuffled in. He threw a circuit breaker next to the door and overhead lamps lit up, illuminating everything within.

    Auler had found himself constantly surprised by the Water Drop Kingdom. Everyone assumed the kingdom on the peninsula was a simple country. But his situation had gotten him a rare glimpse at their operations and they revealed themselves as perhaps the most advanced kingdom in the planet. He wondered if it could possibly surprise him again.

    He was answered by what was before them. It was what he thought was a large airship but like nothing he had seen before. It lacked an envelope like the stingray Bret and Lee flew. It had a long, cylindrical fuselage with broad wings attached to it and a flat dish on top between them. On each wing was an engine with large, four-blade propellers on their front.

    The entire hull was painted in a mural of a tempest torn beach under an angry, gray sky. White waves crashed onto the shore throwing foam into the air and palm trees were torn at by the violent winds. The image was so vivid he half expected to be blown away. On the side was the word “HURRICANE” in large, blue letters followed by a flagpole flying two red flags with black squares in the center.

    “Awesome.” Bret said, giving an indulged nod at the craft. “I get to fly this thing?”

    “We went with a less conventional airplane design.” Spigot explained. “It’s faster, more maneuverable, and is less susceptible to wind turbulence than zeppelins.” He looked at the craft in front of them. “I always thought it was a little loud.”

    “Perhaps you should have used quieter engines.” Sophie suggested eagerly.

    “Well, she’s prepped for take off as requested.” Sebastian said. “I guess all that’s left is to say good luck.”

    “We’ll need it.” Spigot grumbled. “Alright, everybody get on board and prepare for take off. We leave five minutes ago.”

    They boarded the craft through the rear hatch. The interior was long and cylindrical like the exterior. There were two terminals one on either side of the door to the cockpit as well as two tables with four seats around each. There was another table with two seats opposite a wall covered in devices of some kind. The only thing on the ceiling was a blue orb with some kind of instrument inside.

    Tammy pulled one of the long, cylindrical devices out of its holder and examined it.

    “What’s that?” Auler asked.

    “It’s a dropsonde.” Tammy answered. “Once we’re airborne we’ll drop them through that chute.” She motioned with her eyes to a tube like fixture near the dropsondes. “They’ll parachute through the atmosphere, gathering data as they descend.”

    Ophelia sat down at the right terminal. She took her flash drive from her shawl pocket and inserted it in a data port. She then activated the terminal.

    “This is amazing.” She said as the monitors filled with readouts. “This ship has everything, component vector anemometers, hygrometer, barometer, Doppler radar. You didn’t spare any expense.”

    “Turn on the other terminal.” Lee said as he and Bret walked into the cockpit.

    The cockpit was fairly small and covered in instruments and controls with two chairs behind steering controls. The two sat down and began strapping in. Lee noticed a toy in the shape of a cartoonish bug with stars on its belly suspended from the center monitor.

    “I always wondered where this went.” Lee held it in his palm, causing its head to bobble.

    “What is it?” Bret asked.

    “It’s just a little executive toy my father had on his desk.” Lee let it dangle from the monitor. “I guess he brought it here for good luck.”

    “I hope it still has some to spare.” Bret set his last strap.

    Franklin opened a laptop and connected to a port.

    “I see you’re all getting comfortable.” Spigot said. “Good. Now, everyone synchronize your watches. Dawn over the Mother Tree will occur at 0306 SMT.”

    Everyone complied and began working their timepieces. Bret unbuttoned his shirt sleeve to adjust the half dozen or so watches on his forearm. Lee gave him a condescending look and shook his head.

    “What?”

    “I’m not even gonna ask.”

    The door to the hangar pulled open and segments of the runway lifted out of the water and connected in front of them. Bret shielded his eyes from the glare off the lake and Lee slipped a pair of aviator sunglasses in front of his eyes.

    A chime came from the radio. Lee unhooked and receiver and answered “yeah”.

    “We’re ready for you to take off.” Sebastian’s voice cracked over the radio.

    “Roger that.” Lee replied.

    Bret started the engines. The left propeller began to turn, followed by its twin on the right. A T-bar unhooked from its holder on the bottom of the fuselage and worked into a fixture on the hangar floor.

    “Fuels cells are good. Controls responding normally.” Bret said as he flicked a series of switches and grasped his controls. “We’re ready to go up here.”

    “All instruments recording.” Ophelia reported.

    “Onboard computer is operating normally.” Franklin glanced up at the orb attached the ceiling. “Datadigm Compressor is stable.”

    “We’ll be launching you in fifteen seconds.” Sebastian said from the control room.

    “Everybody strap in and sit back.” Spigot instructed as he strapped himself in. “The kick from the catapult can be nasty.”

    “Catapult?” Auler asked in an unsettled tone.

    “The Hurricane needs to get up to speed to take off.” Spigot explained. “With the added weight of the equipment the runway isn’t long enough. So we built a catapult to essentially fire us out of the hangar.”

    “I just remembered something.” Franklin grumbled.

    “What?” Emily asked.

    “I hate flying.” Franklin groaned.

    The thin trench in the floor under the craft belched steam and the Hurricane was propelled from the hangar. The passengers felt themselves jerk back. The initial jolt rattled their skeletons and they felt themselves press into their seats as the craft accelerated down the runway. It flew off the end and began to climb into the atmosphere.

    “What a rush!?” Bret exclaimed as he pulled back the controls. “Did we lose anyone back there?”

    “Yeah.” Franklin moaned. “My stomach and sanity are still in the hangar.”

    “Well, they’ll miss one hell of a trip.” Bret replied. “Seed Kingdom here we come.”

    To be continued…
    Last edited by The Big Al; 28th April 2008 at 11:37 AM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  9. #9
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    Sorry for the delay in replies. Been busy with some stuff. So, I have to review chapters 2-5 huh? Hmm. Seems like this story's taking an interesting turn. I looked up the anime and it seems cool. I can't really comment on the characters since I haven't watched it. But, from what I read here, I think it'd be something I can get into.

    I kinda like Lee. Not because he reminds me of the aquatic people in my story. It's just his appearance seems cool looking. I might make a homage to that. Just like an image of a proto-Aquan or something. I dunno.

    It's a shame not many other people review this piece. I find it really good. Hopefully more people will review. good grammar. I don't think I saw any mistakes.

    Well, let's go see what's going on in the Seed Kingdom! Watch out for dry-rot!

    LX
    I am the author of the webcomic, Starbolts and host of the comic review show, Comic Showcase. Please check out the action here: http://starbolts.blogspot.com

    Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cferra1227

  10. #10
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    Come on guys. I know you've been checking this story out and at least a few of you are reading it. Is a little feedback too much to ask? I don't care if it's good or bad. Just show some sign. Don't make me beg.

    Perhaps something to grab your interest. The names of our young heroes and heroines is based on a weather related gag. Do you know what it is?

    Seriously, I want your feedback.

    Chapter 6: Lee of the Heart

    The ballroom of the Jewelry Kingdom’s castle was perhaps the most majestic. Prisms split the light to bathe the floor in all the colors of the rainbow that twirled, combined, and separated. Couples dressed in their finest outfits and décor danced a graceful waltz on the slowly rotating platforms as a small orchestra played a soft, upbeat tune.

    Auler and Altezza danced gracefully along the floor. However, when he placed his foot down Auler heard the splash of water. He stopped.

    “What is it?” Altezza asked.

    They looked down to see perhaps a centimeter of water covering the floor. The other couples stopped and looked around. The music stopped, replaced by quiet mutters.

    It seemed to be coming from under the main doors. The doors suddenly burst open and a violent torrent rushed into the ballroom. People ran in terror as they were carried off by the swirling water.

    The water engulfed Altezza and Auler, throwing them in opposite directions. Auler flailed in the water as Altezza was carried farther away. “Altezza!” He yelled as the water lapped down his throat.

    “Auler!” Altezza screamed in response as she was dragged under the frothy surface.

    “Altezza!” Auler yelled once more before feeling himself being dragged under.

    **********

    Auler bolted awake into a sitting position with a cold sweat running down his face. He breathed in short gasps as he looked around him. He was in the Hurricane, sitting on the table on the left side. He was calmed by the reassuring drone of the craft’s engines. Unless it also doubled as a submarine, he was high above any water.

    “Are you alright Auler-sama?” Franklin looked away from his laptop screen.

    “Yeah,” Auler heaved a sigh to normalize his breathing, “it was just a nightmare.”

    Auler looked beside him and saw his sister sleeping peacefully. They had been awake for almost a full day. He guessed they dozed off shortly after takeoff. He smiled warmly at his sister and spread his coat over her.

    “What time is it?” He asked.

    Spigot pulled an old style chronometer from his side pocket. “I have 1235 SMT.”

    Milo was looking out the window next to the table. One of her ears perked up when Spigot read off the time. That only gave them fourteen and half hours before the spell became permanent.

    Auler walked up to her and took in the view as well. They were flying over the deserts of the Moon Kingdom. The white night sky was filled with auroras over the barren, yellow sand.

    “What are we doing over the Moon Kingdom?” He asked.

    “What we’ve been doing since take off.” Ophelia stretched in her seat. “We’ve zigzagged our way south over the Seed Kingdom, putting out dropsondes and letting the onboard instruments collect data as we go. In fact, Tammy…”

    The large beaver had been looming over Franklin, watching the screen of his laptop. She had been monitoring the airship’s instruments. She looked up when she heard Ophelia’s voice.

    “…I need another dropsonde.” Ophelia said.

    “Alright.” Tammy pulled another dropsonde from its holder. She slid it in place in the chute and closed the door. The device was sucked out of the Hurricane and plummeted to the arid landscape below. The top flew off and its small parachute opened to slow its descent.

    “That should just about do it.” Ophelia watched as the data from the dropsonde appeared on one of her monitors. “We should have all the data we need. Now we get to have fun sifting through it searching for anomalous values. It should take no more than six hours.”

    ‘That would take a lot of the time left.’ Milro thought to herself.

    She then remembered what Lee had said in the Cloud Management Room. They still had to determine how to modify the weather, actually do it, and wait for the effects. She was starting to worry that they wouldn’t have the time. While she was willing accept this fate, she couldn’t ask Auler and Sophie to suffer.

    “Do you think we’ll have time?” She asked.

    “I don’t know.” Spigot hopped out of his chair and walked towards the cockpit door. “However, I’m not taking any chances.”

    Fortunately, his worries seemed to have been put to bed since takeoff. The same engineers who looked to be five seconds away from tearing each other to shreds on the ground had attended their duties in peace. Though, that could have been because Bret and Tammy were separated.

    In the cockpit Bret and Lee were sitting behind there controls quietly. At least for now all they had to do was hold speed, course, and altitude over the sandy desert below. Spigot poked his head into the cockpit and coughed loudly to get their attention. The two tightened their grasp on their controls, staring forward stiffly.

    “Set course for the Seed Kingdom.” Spigot ordered.

    “You want to do another fly over?” Lee asked.

    “No.” Spigot said in response. “We’re landing at the Mother Tree.”

    Bret and Lee looked at each other and shrugged. “Your wish is our command Fearless Leader.” Bret tilted his controls right.

    “And stop calling me ‘Fearless Leader’.” Spigot grumbled.

    “Sure boss.”

    **********

    In the main observatory of the Sunny Kingdom Kahn stared at the circular screen of the main monitor. He watched as the strange aircraft began its lazy turn back to the north against the yellow desert plane. He removed his glasses and polished one of the lenses.

    “Damn those meddlesome rodents.” He sneered as he replaced his glasses on the bridge of his muzzle. “Why can’t they leave well enough alone?”

    He hit a key causing the image to be replaced with readouts. “Tabby,” he said to a pale furred Nymal sitting at another station, “take over here. I have business to attend to.”

    “Sure.” The young feline hopped out of his chair and walked around the holographic display of the Sunny Kingdom in the center of the room. As he past his superior he stopped. “Sir, why are we withholding our information from the Water Drop Kingdom? There is a problem in the Seed Kingdom.”

    Kahn tried his best to hide his frustration. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with Tabby’s prying. “Is it being caused by a problem with the Sun’s Blessing?”

    “No.” Tabby answered. “But it could be something else. The Water Drop Kingdom has a much more expertise in regards to cloud formation and behavior. Perhaps…”

    “We’ve spent the past six years keeping the Water Drop Kingdom off our backs.” Kahn cut him off, practically putting his pink nose to Tabby’s. “They claim they can do our job better than us. Do you want to prove them right?”

    “We should ask Omendo his opinion on the matter.” Tabby suggested, not satisfied with Kahn’s answer.

    “Omendo isn’t in command at the moment.” Kahn said sharply to his subordinate. “I am. And if you question my orders again I’ll bust your tail down to maintenance and you can sweep floors and replace fuses for a living. Do I make myself clear?”

    “Crystal.” Tabby hissed in response, furrowing his brow.

    “Good.” Kahn sidestepped around him and walked out of the door.

    Tabby glared at the door before eventually turning away. He didn’t like Kahn at all. No one did. He treated everyone terribly and had no reservations pulling rank like he just did.

    Tabby climbed into the chair usually occupied by whoever was in charge of the observatory. Unfortunately Kahn was right. He was the one in command. There was nothing to be done about him.

    **********

    Sophie blinked her eyes open. “Good morning.” She sat up and stretched. “Did I miss anything?”

    “Not really.” Ophelia answered.

    “You know. I’ve always wondered something and perhaps you can answer.” Sophie said.

    “Shoot.” Ophelia replied.

    “Why do we make the weather?” Sophie asked.

    “Well.” Ophelia thought through her answer. “Weather is basically the atmosphere attempting to correct an imbalance. Naturally this would be an imbalance of energy received from the sun. However, since the Mysterious Planet is hollow with the sun in the center the entire surface receives basically the same energy.”

    “So we have to generate the imbalance artificially.” Emily chimed in. “Along with raising the temperature to hospitable levels, the Flame Kingdom creates an imbalance in heating. That creates a convection current with warmer air rising and cooler air taking its place. Then the Windmill Kingdom accelerates it and simulates the effect of the planet’s rotation.”

    “What about your kingdom and the clouds?” Sophie asked.

    “I can answer that one.” Lee said from the cockpit. “When air rises it cools. As it cools the water vapor in it condenses to form liquid water droplets. All a cloud is a region of the atmosphere where water vapor spontaneously condenses to liquid.

    “However, for air to continue to rise it must remain warmer than the surrounding atmosphere. That rarely happens in the Mysterious Planet so clouds don’t form naturally. The Water Kingdom creates the process artificially. We pump in liquid water, boil it into steam, condense it to droplets and release it in the atmosphere. From there nature takes over.”

    “Speaking of clouds.” Bret broke in. “We’re here.”

    The northern edge of the cloud shield was a wall. It dominated the skies like a menacing fortress for water droplets. But the southern edge less defined. The clouds dissipated, separating and thinning into filaments. The filaments dissipated and separated further into eventual nothingness.

    Now they saw it in opposite order. The clouds grew denser and thicker. The sky was enveloped by gray as the Hurricane flew under the cloud shield. The cabin grew dimmer and rain began to patter against the metal hull. Below them was the same, dreary, washed out landscape Milro and the others had seen earlier that morning. A swollen, muddy river cut through the woods and cascaded down the face of a cliff.

    “This is terrible.” Ophelia said in a solemn voice, staring out at a muddy torrent out her window.

    “What a mess.” Bret thought out loud.

    “I hear you.” Lee replied. “Even after the rain stops it could take weeks for the water levels to return to normal. And that’s when they can just start to clean up.”

    The Mother Tree came into view through the gloom. Bret looked around and grumbled something under his breath. As well as needing a runway to reach takeoff speed, the Hurricane needed to slow to a stop on the ground as well. Unfortunately, in a world where zeppelins ruled, such landing strips didn’t exist.

    “Hey, Fearless…uh…Chief,” he called out to Spigot who poked his head in, “I don’t know if I can land. They didn’t exactly provide us with a landing strip.”

    Spigot climbed up to see through the windshield. “You can land this thing in that clear area between the village and the Mother Tree.” He pointed to a large, open field between a cluster of tiny mushroom-like houses and the Mother Tree.

    “Right,” Bret grumbled under his breath, “I just have to land this thing in IFR conditions on a runway that doesn’t exist. No sweat.”

    The Hurricane slowed and approached the ground. Bret leveled her off as they came within a few meters of landing. The landing gears extended from the belly and touched down on the drenched ground.

    “That went well.” Bret said.

    The massive craft then leapt back in the air and came back down hard. The occupants were jerked about as the plane bumped along the ground. Spigot staggered back to the cockpit and poked his head in again.

    “What the hell are you two doing?” He growled.

    “We aren’t getting any traction on the wet grass.” Bret explained as he wrestled with his controls.

    The Hurricane struck another imperfection in the ground. The front reared up causing Spigot to fall backwards. He rolled down the length of the cabin, hitting the rear hatch upside down.

    “Maybe I should have went with the Sunny Kingdom Princesses.” He groaned.

    The airship fell back on its forward landing gear. The impact made Bret and Lee’s teeth rattle in their jaws. The two tried to collect themselves to keep their craft under control.

    “This is not good.” Lee gripped his controls as they tried to wrench out of his webbed hands.

    “Relax.” Bret said in a laidback tone. “So it’ll take us a little longer to come to a stop. It’s not like we’ll run into anything.”

    Lee looked forward to see the Mother Tree right into front of them and closing fast. “Except for the Mother Tree!” He exclaimed.

    “What?” Bret looked forward and saw the humongous tree quickly filling his view. His body tensed and he shouted in his panicking. “Holy crap! Lee, Lee, brake, brake!”

    Lee pulled a control in his panel out. A red message light stating “EMERGENCY BRAKE ENGAGED” lit up among his controls and instruments. The wheels of the Hurricane stopped and it began to slow.

    “That was close.” The two sighed in relief.

    However, the rear of Hurricane began to swing forward, turning it sideways as it went into a skid across the wet grass. Franklin screamed the loudest as they continued like a cumbersome bird broadside first towards the Mother Tree. The landing gears finally stopped but the rest of the plane began to lean. Then, just before the tip of the struck the trunk, the Hurricane righted itself, falling back its landing gears with a loud thud.

    “I like you a lot too Frank.” Emily choked with Franklin having wrapped his limbs tightly around her. “But I can’t breathe.”

    Bret and Lee undid there straps and fell out on the floor, lying on their bellies and groaned.

    “Mr. Bret, Mr. Lee,” Milro ran up to them, “are you alright?”

    Before they could answer Sophie walked up and broke in. “That was a great landing. Mr. Spigot is comparing it to an albatross.”

    As everyone gathered themselves, they heard a distinct tick over the soft pattering of the rain. They dismissed it as nothing until they heard another. It sounded like something solid had hit the outside of the fuselage.

    “What was that?” Emily asked.

    “Probably hail.” Bret answered.

    “Hail forms in convective cells, not stratiform.” Ophelia corrected.

    A few more ticks sounded through the cabin.

    “Well something is hitting us.” Bret peered out a window.

    Outside King stood in front of scores of seed soldiers. They were standing rows with their cork guns pointed at the Hurricane. They fired another volley of corks that bounced off the hull.

    “Keep firing-dane.” King barked. “We won’t let this monster have the Mother Tree-dane.”

    “Your Majesty,” one of the soldiers spoke up, “our weapons don’t seem to have any effect on it-dane.”

    “Dammit-dane.” King growled. “Bring out Big Bertha-dane.”

    “Knock it off.” Bret snarled in disregard to the fact he couldn’t be heard from the outside. “This is a custom paintjob.”

    “Chill out Bret.” Lee said calmly. “They can’t hurt this airship with cork guns.”

    “Then how about a smoothbore?” Bret asked.

    “A smoothbore could do a bit of…” Lee stopped and screamed. “SMOOTHBORE!?”

    They both looked out. The soldiers were tugging on two lines dragging a full-sized cannon out of the Mother Tree. They slid a large, black shell into its muzzle and took aim for the Hurricane’s fuselage.

    “They’re gonna kill us.” They backed up and pressed themselves against the other side of the cabin.

    “Prepare to fire at my command-dane.” King called out.

    The rear hatch of the Hurricane suddenly dropped into the muddy soil. Spigot flew out and slid through the mud.

    “Hold your fire-dane.” King threw his hand in front of his soldiers.

    “Cease fire.” Spigot shouted. “Cease fire.”

    “Mr. Spigot,” King said as the beaver jogged over to him, “what were you doing in that monster and why you come out of its…”

    “It’s not a monster it’s an airship.” Spigot stated.

    “I’ve never seen an airship like this-dane.” King eyed the Hurricane suspiciously. “Why did it try to attack the Mother Tree-dane?”

    “We were trying to land it.” Spigot answered.

    As Spigot explained the situation, the others came out. King looked over Spigot’s shoulder at them. Spigot out of habit followed the diminutive monarch’s vision.

    “This is my team.” Spigot explained. “They’ve been collecting data on the weather plaguing your kingdom.”

    “I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing.” Axe said in response.

    “We just need more time.” Spigot pleaded. “We think we have all the information we need but we don’t know if we can stop the rain before dawn.”

    King had been looking at the team of youths Spigot had brought along with them. “They’re a bunch of children-dane.”

    “This is your answer?” Axe growled. “You’ve put our kingdom’s fate in the hands of bunch of teenagers. Then have the audacity to demand of the Mother Tree?”

    “Excuse me old man.” Emily shouted at the molmo. “I have been a teenager for more than three years.”

    Without a sound King turned to go back inside the Mother Tree with Axe behind him. Spigot followed, pleading his case to them. The others watched as the doors closed and the only sound to be heard was the steady rain.

    **********

    Unknown to them all, they were being watched. A human-shaped robot with a chrome plated body and art deco style head was hiding in a tree in the distance. A camera adjusted behind his goggle like-visor as he focused on Milro and Emily standing next to each other. His LED “eyes” turned into an intrigued expression.

    After staring at the group the automaton leapt from the tree. He called out “Copter-bot: Flight Mode” in his high-pitched, electronic voice. Suddenly a stalk extended up from a motor on his back, extending a pair of propellers that started spinning. He grabbed a pair of holders that flipped over his shoulders and flew off into the gloom.

    **********

    “Where do they get off?” Lee grumbled. “We’re hardly children.”

    “It’s a thing about old farts.” Emily replied. “They don’t trust anyone under thirty. And when they were our age they didn’t trust anyone over thirty.”

    Ophelia held up the teardrop-shaped weather sensor hanging around her neck. She pushed a button and the display filled with numbers. “Twelve degrees, ninety-two percent humidity, barometric pressure nine hundred eighty-two milibars, wind north northeast at twenty-seven kilometers an hour,” she read off the readings.

    “Which means?” Franklin asked.

    “It’s cold, wet, and breezy.” Lee replied.

    “We might as well get to work.” Tammy was about to step inside the rear hatch when screaming pierced through the soft drumming of the rain.

    “Slow it down! SLOW IT DOWN!” What sounded like a male voice screamed.

    “I’m trying but the throttle’s stuck.” A female voice panicked in response.

    “Maybe it’s because your foot’s still on the accelerator.” The male voice snapped.

    “Oops.”

    “I’M GONNA DIE!” The male voice screamed again. A purple streak burst from the clouds heading straight for the Mother Tree. “Oh my God! Watch out for that…” Whatever it was disappeared into the branches of the Mothers Tree. “…tree.”

    “HA!” Bret pointed at the others. “You all thought my landing sucked.”

    “Who cares about that?” Emily exclaimed. “Who are they and are they all right?”

    “I don’t know.” Bret said and looked to where whatever it was crashed.

    Something flew out of the Mother Tree and latched onto Bret’s head. Bret screamed. Then whatever it was screamed. Then Bret. Then it. Then Bret. Then it.

    “KNOCK IT OFF!” Tammy shouted at them.

    Both of them screamed in response.

    It was a doggel, the canine people that inhabited the Windmill Kingdom. His fur was sky blue in color with a goatee on the end of his white muzzle. He wore a purple overcoat and hat similar to the Water Drop Kingdom engineers’ but with a different style of trim and detail and a purple cyclone adorning his hat instead of the blue, curled teardrop. The canine looked down at the ground and leapt off Bret to hug it.

    “How I love you terra firma?” He started kissing the ground before he spat out a wad of mud. “You taste like dirt but I still love you.”

    “O-kay.” Tammy said as she and the others stared blankly at him.

    A shrill cry of “HELP!” pierced the air. In the Mother Tree’s branches a female doggel-half worker with a long, blond ponytail tied with a purple bow was clinging to the edge of a small airship.

    “Somebody help me!” She cried out as her hand began to slip. “I’m going to fall!”

    Her fingers slipped and she began to plummet to the ground. She screamed until she fell into a pair of arms. She slowly opened her eyes and saw that Lee was holding her.

    “Awesome catch Lee.” Bret said.

    “Are you alright?” Lee asked.

    He looked down into her aquamarine eyes as she looked back up at him. He suddenly felt as if his heart jumped into his throat and pound against the inside of his gills. His feet felt more like they were planted in the clouds above them. She was cute, no, beautiful.

    “What’s wrong with Lee?” Bret asked. “He looks like he’s in pain.”

    “He’s not in pain.” Ophelia snapped in response. “He’s fallen in love at first sight.”

    “LOVE!?” Bret exclaimed. “Lee the Weather Geek!? I’d think he wouldn’t even notice her unless she was a formation of cumulonimbus”

    Lee gently let the worker from the Windmill Kingdom down. She straightened her dress and shawl and flicked her ears behind her shoulders. “Thank you for catching me.” She said.

    “It was nothing.” Lee replied, trying to gulp his heart back down.

    “You’re face is all red.” She commented on Lee’ normally pale face flushed.

    Lee instinctively slapped his hands against his cheeks. They were unusually warm to the touch. “I’m fine. It’s just raw out.”

    “I should probably introduce myself.” The worker said in her gentle voice. “I’m Nicole, a worker for the Babardo Windmill and one of Princess Sophie-sama’s ladies in waiting. That’s Alex, one of my colleagues.”

    “Call me Al.” The doggel said in response.

    “I guess I should introduce everyone.” Lee turned to the others. “This is Tammy, Franklin, Emily, my twin sister Ophelia, my best friend Bret and I’m Lee.”

    “Hi.” The others all said at once.

    “It’s nice to meet you all.” Nicole said politely. “What are you doing in the Seed Kingdom?”

    “Just a little weather experiment.” Ophelia answered.

    “We’re scientists.” Bret added.

    “We’re the scientists.” Tammy corrected him. “You are the designated driver.”

    “What are you two doing here?” Lee asked Nicole.

    “We were sent by King Randa-sama to find Auler-sama and Sophie-sama since they haven’t returned.” Alex answered. “We were told they were currently in the Seed Kingdom. Have you guys seen them?”

    The six Water Drop Kingdom workers looked at each other. They then looked at the two Windmill Kingdom workers. “Did you bring your sense of humor?” They all asked.

    “Why?” Alex asked.

    Tammy pointed down. Nicole and Alex follow her finger to see Milro and the others.

    “Oh my God!” Alex exclaimed.

    “Hi Nicole.” Sophie waved to her lady in waiting blissfully.

    “High…Sophie…sama.” Nicole waved weakly back.

    “What happened to them?” Alex said.

    “That.” Bret pointed to the Mother Tree. “The Mother Tree got pissed and shrank them.”

    “I see.” Alex spread his long ears like wings and leapt into the air.

    “Where are you going?” Nicole asked.

    “Back to the Windmill Kingdom.” Alex answered as he flew off. “I have to break the news to King Randa-sama.”

    “DON’T!” Bret, Lee, and Ophelia all screamed as they grabbed his long, fluffy tail, bringing him back to the ground.

    “Let go of my tail!” Alex growled.

    “You don’t understand.” Bret picked Alex up by his overcoat and lifted him to his eyelevel. “If you inform Randa-sama he’ll pass the news on to Yamul-sama.”

    “You’re point is?” Alex said in an unimpressed tone.

    “When Yamul-sama finds out her daughter has been shrunk by a plant with an attitude problem it will make her angry.” Bret said in a panicked tone. “You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.”

    “We’re working on the situation right now.” Ophelia explained. “If we stop the rain the Mother Tree will make them their normal size again.”

    King, Axe, and Spigot came out of the Mother Tree. King was visibly angry as Spigot continued to appeal to him.

    “Have they been returned to their normal size-dane?” King turned around and shouted at Spigot.

    Spigot looked over to Milro and the others. “No.” He answered.

    “Then the Mother Tree is not pleased with your progress-dane.” King said flatly.

    “Let me guess.” Franklin spoke up. “The dawn deadline is still on?”

    “Yes.” Spigot said in response.

    “What happens at dawn?” Nicole asked.

    “If the spell on Milro-sama and the others isn’t lifted by dawn tomorrow it becomes permanent. Who the hell are you?” Spigot grumbled.

    “PERMANENT!” Alex and Nicole exclaimed. “You mean they’ll be that small forever?” Nicole asked.

    “That’s the idea behind permanent.” Spigot heaved an exasperated sigh. “How could this day get any worse?”

    “Your Majesty!” A seed person shouted as he ran up to the King. He stopped and braced himself on his knees as he gasped to catch his breath. After taking a gulp of air he spoke again. “Your Majesty,” he huffed, “the dam holding the Northern Reservoir has a major leak. If it breaches, it could flood the entire valley downstream.”

    “I just had to ask.” Spigot groaned.

    To be continued…
    Last edited by The Big Al; 4th May 2008 at 2:14 PM.

  11. #11
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    Chapter 7: DAM IT!

    When they heard “leak” everyone thought several small holes had formed. However, as they practically leapt from the brush into a clearing at the foot of the dam they found themselves gravely mistaken. There was one massive, violent geyser of water erupting from near the base of the earthen dam.

    “That’s more than a major leak.” Bret thought out loud.

    “More like a full blown rupture.” Lee clarified.

    A very muscular seed worker there shouted out to them over the almost deafening roar of the water. “We’ve been trying to seal the failure but the water’s too strong-dane. It’s blowing away any barrier-dane.”

    “What’s the status of the dam-dane?” King asked.

    “The entire structure is weakening-dane.” The seed worker answered. “If we don’t seal that rupture the entire thing could collapse-dane.”

    Spigot looked up at the dam. It was a wall of rocks with dirt shoved between them. He saw several smaller streams escaping through the gaps. In his engineer’s mind he created a picture of the barrier’s innards. He could see water propelled by the pressure of the overfilled reservoir forcing its way through any weaknesses unseen within it. After a week of bearing a burden it wasn’t designed for, collapse was immanent.

    “What’s the reservoir’s capacity?” He asked.

    “One hundred billion liters.” Axe answered. “Why?”

    “My God.”

    “What is it Chief?” Franklin asked.

    “If this dam gives it’ll release enough water to flood more than thirty square kilometers under as much as three meters of water.”

    Milro looked down at the villages in the valley below. Through the rain and fog she could make out roads cutting through the fields and everywhere they crossed was likely a village. Thousands would be in harms way. “You have to do something.”

    “I don’t see what we can do-dane.” The worker said in response. “We can’t seal the failure without repairing it but we can’t begin repairs until we seal it-dane.”

    King turned to one of the workers that came with them. “Run down to the villages and start evacuations-dane.” He ordered. “Tell them to get to high ground as quickly as possible-dane.”

    “Yes Your Majesty-dane.” The worker saluted and began running back down into the valley.

    “I wish there was something more we could do.” Nicole thought out loud. “But what?”

    “The pressure is just too great-dane.” The worker growled.

    Lee had been staring intently at the violent stream of white water arcing through the air. He had been thinking of how it could be stopped. When he heard “pressure” it all fell into place. He screamed. “Eureka!”

    He grabbed Ophelia’s wrist and dragged her up the hill adjacent to the dam. The others were at first taken aback by Lee’s sudden act, but they soon followed. The aquarian pulled himself to the top, dragging his bewildered sister behind him.

    “What’s gotten into you?” Ophelia exclaimed, wrenching her hand from her brother’s.

    “We have to take a little swim.” Lee leapt into the water with a splash. He then poked his head up. “Come on, we don’t have time.”

    Ophelia hesitated for a second. She didn’t know what had gotten into Lee. She decided follow him and dove in too. The two disappeared under the surface as the others ran up.

    “How can they be going for a swim at a time like this-dane?” King asked in frustration.

    Upon submerging their bodies went through a total physiological change. The pressure of the water triggered muscles that closed off their tracheas and sinuses and opened the passages to their gill slits. At the same time cells that sealed their gills unhinged allowing them undulate as they strained oxygen from the water passing through them. Nictitating membranes spread over their eyes and the webbing between their fingers extended to completely fill the space between their fingers. In a few seconds they transformed completely from land to aquatic creatures.

    Ophelia looked around her. The reservoir was like a large bowl in the ground. The shore dropped off sharply instead of sloping like the shores of a natural lake. The water was clean and crisp. It felt delightful but had that bland taste of freshwater.

    She then looked at her brother, swimming out in front of her. “What’s going on in that demented head of yours?” She demanded.

    “They can’t seal it from the outside.” Lee answered. “Then it came to me. What about sealing it from inside the reservoir?”

    “I get it.” Ophelia smacked her fist in her palm. “The pressure of the water would hold the seal like a pressure door of an airlock. Lee, you’re brilliant.”

    “I know.” Lee replied.

    She then looked at him with a sly grin. “You’re not doing this to impress Nicole are you?”

    Lee’s face suddenly turned red. “What? No.”

    “Don’t try to hide it.” Ophelia said in response. “You like her.”

    “Am I that transparent?” Lee grumbled.

    “Like crystal glass.” Ophelia answered.

    Lee’s face grew an even deeper shade of red.

    “Don’t worry.” Ophelia swam down to come beside her brother. “You’re not the first teenaged boy to fall for a pretty girl.”

    Lee smiled warmly at his sister. He then scanned the reservoir’s bottom as they swam towards it. “We need something to seal that hole with.”

    Ophelia looked around the bottom. She noticed a large boulder close to the hole. “Down there.” She said as she dove to it.

    Lee swam around it, looking over its smoothed surface. It was certainly large enough to plug the rupture. As Ophelia got near it she found herself being drawn by the powerful current of the rupture. Lee grabbed her by her wrist and pulled her behind the boulder.

    “Thanks.” Ophelia sighed in relief.

    “You’re welcome.” Lee took a deep breath. “This should work. But it’s too big for us to move by ourselves.”

    “We need Tammy’s help.” Ophelia suggested.

    “I’ll get her.” Lee leapt into an ascent towards the surface. “Hold tight ‘til we get back.”

    Ophelia looked to the violent slipstream leading to the rupture. “Trust me. I don’t plan on going anywhere.”

    **********

    On the shore everyone stared at the water. Ophelia and Lee had been down there for several minutes. The engineers had come to the same conclusion Lee had. They were just waiting for news.

    “How long can they stay down their-dane?” King asked.

    “Indefinitely.” Spigot answered. “The gill slits in their necks let them breathe water as easily as air so long as it has enough dissolved oxygen.”

    Lee’s head popped up from the surface. “Tammy,” he called out, “we need your help. We found something to block the failure. But need more muscle to move it.”

    “Alright,” Tammy rolled up the sleeves of her dress, “I’ll show you little guppies how it’s done.”

    She leapt into the water and both of them disappeared below the surface. The others stood on the shore and waited. It was then the ground under Auler gave way. He fell into the water and thrashed helplessly in the in the water.

    “Big Brother!” Sophie screamed with terror Milro had never heard in her voice before. “He can’t swim!”

    “What?” Milro exclaimed.

    Milro looked out at Auler as he disappeared below the surface. She then realized what had to be done. With a running start she dove in after him.

    “Milro-sama!” Spigot yelled after her.

    After a few seconds she broke through the surface, holding Auler’s head above water. As she swam to the shore Sophie and couple others pulled Auler out of the water. They then helped Milro out of the water and onto the wet grass.

    Milro shivered. She was soaked and her dress was cold and heavy, probably waterlogged. One of the seed workers threw his overcoat on her back she wrapped it around herself.

    “Th-thank you.” She chattered.

    Auler spat out water as he gasped for air. Sophie fell to her knees and embraced him tightly. “Big Brother,” she cried out, tears streaming from her tightly shut eyes, “I thought I had lost you.”

    “I’m alright now.” Auler coughed.

    “We’re not out of the woods yet.” Spigot looked down into the water. ‘Come on you three. You’ve got to do this.’ He thought to himself.

    **********

    Lee and Tammy reached the boulder. They and Ophelia planted heir feet firmly on the rocky bottom and started pushing on the massive stone. They all strained as they threw their full weight against it but it wouldn’t budge.

    Ophelia’s feet slipped in the mud and floated backwards. “It’s no use.” She said in a depressed tone. “It’s too heavy even with the three of us.”

    Lee turned to rest his back against the boulder and catch his breath. He then noticed a smaller rock and what looked like a tree trunk. “…but give me a lever big enough and I’ll move the world.”

    He and Tammy grabbed the rock and trunk. Lee placed the rock under the boulder, leaving enough room for Tammy to force the slender trunk between them. Tammy grabbed the free end of the trunk Lee and Ophelia leaned up against the boulder ready to push on it.

    “Alright,” Ophelia said, “on three.”

    The two said “three” and all of them started pushing. Tammy pushed down on the lever and they pushed on the stone. The boulder began moving. It was ever so slightly at first but soon it was dislodged and began rolling. Tammy let go of the lever once it had served its use and helped push the moving boulder.

    The current caught them and the boulder. The boulder bounced along the lake bed with them tumbling helplessly through the current behind. The massive stone then wedged itself in the hole, stopping the slipstream. The three regained control and swam towards the surface.

    **********

    Bret was standing on the dam watching the geyser shoot out from the wall of earth. He wanted to be the first to know if Lee and the others had succeeded. So he picked the best seat in the house.

    He looked down through the gloom at the valley below. He still found it hard to bring himself to believe it all. When he came into work he never would have thought he’d bear witness to the fates of thousands of lives. And to think all those lives were in the webbed hands of Lee, Ophelia and Tammy.

    He heard the persistent roar of the water begin to quiet. He looked down and the water stopped pouring from the rupture.

    “They did it!” He exclaimed, jumping in the air. He slipped when he came down and almost slid down the face of the dam. “The rupture’s been sealed.” He pulled himself back to the top.

    The crowd erupted into cheers. The three burst from the surface of the water and gasped for air. As they brought themselves on shore the others greeted them with clapping and cheering.

    “I knew you could do it.” Bret came up and grabbed Lee’s arm and spun him around in a circle. “You little genius you.”

    “Knock it off.” Lee pried himself out of his friend’s grasp.

    “You were great.” Nicole spoke up.

    Lee blushed. “Well,” he grabbed the back of his head, “it wasn’t just me.” He forced a loud laugh.

    “Don’t be so modest.” Ophelia smacked Lee on the back. “It was your idea.”

    “And you were the one to think of the lever.” Tammy added.

    “Quit it.” Lee’s face turned red and he tried to hide it by pulling his hat down. “You’re embarrassing me.”

    “Come on Lee.” Ophelia elbowed her brother in the side. “You wanted her to notice you.”

    “Your ingenuity has saved thousands.” Nicole said admiringly.

    “Yeah. Yeah. This all fine and good.” Axe broke in before Lee could respond. “But it solves nothing.” He directed his next words at Spigot who was facing away from him. “The rain is still falling and our kingdom is still being flooded. Granted, you’ve prevented this latest disaster but there’s nothing stopping…”

    “Axe.” Spigot cut him off.

    “What?” Axe growled.

    Spigot swung around and landed a right hook to Axe’s head. The punch was hard enough to spin Axe around and sent to the ground senseless. Other molmo surrounded him and helped him up.

    “Shut up!”

    “You enjoyed that.” Emily said condescendingly to Spigot.

    “How dare you suggest I’m capable of something so unprofessional and self serving?” Spigot exclaimed.

    Emily simply stared at him critically in response.

    “Like hell I enjoyed it.” Spigot answered loudly.

    **********

    Back at the Hurricane Ophelia, Lee, Tammy, Milro, and Auler all relaxed under a heat lamp. The warmth from the lamp helped to dry their clothes and warm them up. Milro wrung out her waterlogged skirt and Auler did the same with his coat.

    It was the first time Milro had seen her Kingdom’s workers without their iconic outerwear which were hanging from the ceiling. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary though. Lee wore a dark blue, long sleeved button down shirt and the girls wore long sleeved, pale blue dresses.

    “There’s nothing like warming yourself after a brisk dip.” Tammy leaned back and put her feet on the table.

    “They need to put one of these in the castle laundry.” Lee said, spreading out his body to absorb as much heat as possible. “It beats freezing under a blanket.”

    Milro’s ears perked up as she heard Auler cough again. “Are you alright?” She asked.

    “I’m fine.” Auler forced a cough and patted his chest with his fist. “Thanks for saving me.”

    “You’re welcome.” Milro replied.

    “I thought you weren’t the athletic type.” Auler said.

    “I’m not very good at track and field,” Milro replied, “but I’ve always been very good at swimming.”

    “If they had a Best Swimming Princess Party you would have won hands down.”

    Spigot walked up silently and switched off the lamp. The three workers sat up and began to protest.

    “It’s time to get back to work.” He cut them off. “Ophelia, Lee, start sorting through the data.”

    “We’ll get right on it.” Lee said as he stood up and grabbed his overcoat and hat.

    “I should probably make sure the landing didn’t damage anything.” Emily grabbed her toolbox and headed for the rear hatch.

    Tammy buttoned the top button of her overdress and tied her shawl over her shoulders. “I should probably do the same for the instruments.” She fastened her medallion over the not of her shawl and tied its ribbon in a bow as she followed her colleague.

    Spigot glared out one of the windows at the outside. Evening was coming and the sky was growing dimmer. The rain continued, the patter against the Hurricane’s hull almost mocking him. In his almost thirty years of service to the Water Drop Kingdom he had never seen anything like this.

    ‘What in God’s hollow Mysterious Planet is going on?’ He thought to himself.

    ********

    The Sun’s Blessing was only a tiny sliver over the Zubuzubu swamp as Copter-bot hovered overhead. Everything seemed golden in the evening light. He searched the marshy landscape as he passed over it. Then he finally saw what he was looking for. He came upon a large lake with an island in the center. The island was covered in buildings and had a long runway that extended well into the open lake and a bridge connecting it to the mainland.

    He swooped down and shouted “Copter-bot: Ground Mode” just before landing. His propeller blades stopped turning and folded in as the stalk retracted back into his motor. He planted his metallic feet on the tarmac and began running towards a derelict river boat beached on the island.

    “Lord Geronita-sama,” he called out as he entered, “Lord Geronita-sama, I have news from the Seed Kingdom.”

    He entered a large, dimly lit room filled with computers and equipment. Diminutive walruses wearing yellow tunics and small, tinted goggles over their eyes were sitting at the computers, watching monitors and adjusting controls. In the center of the room was a large table littered with maps with several reptilian gators dressed in black bomber jackets and khaki pants around it.

    In the middle of them was Geronita. The giant bullfrog was scanning over something with his bulbous eyes. He was lime green in color except for his lower jaw and bulging underbelly which were white. When Copter-bot’s shout became audible he looked up.

    “What is it?” Geronita shouted back followed by croak.

    “Princess Milro is in the Seed Kingdom.” Copter-bot reported.

    “So she is huh?” Geronita walked over to his metallic henchman.

    “Yes Lord Geronita-sama.” Copter-bot answered excitedly.

    Geronita grabbed the robot by the neck and pulled him down to his eye level. “I sent you to the Seed Kingdom to monitor the progress of the flooding,” he shouted right in Copter-bot’s face, “not the travel arrangements of the beaver’s spawn!” He threw the automaton to the floor. “You bionic boob! I should melt you down and turn you into a urinal pump.”

    “You don’t understand!” Copter-bot blubbered as he crawled backwards. “There’s something about her.”

    “What?” Geronita croaked at him.

    “You’d have to see it to believe it.” Copter-bot answered sheepishly.

    “Then show me!” Geronita pulled open Copter-bot’s mouthpiece and pulled out a red USB cable. He dragged the machine man to a computer and plugged him in.

    He scanned through Copter-bot’s visual records until he came up to his observation of Milro and Emily. “Well, well, well,” the amphibian stroked his white chin with his bony, webbed hand, “Yamul’s precious little girl is now no bigger than a seed human.”

    One of the walruses, wearing a red aloha shirt, joined them at the monitor. A peregrine falcon-like cawcaw wearing a black halter top dress also emerged from her hiding place in the shadows to see.

    “How did that happen?” The pigmy pinniped asked.

    “Who cares?” Geronita shouted as he pulled Copter-bot’s cable out of the port and twisted it around his webbed fingers as he schemed. “She’s so vulnerable and only guarded by a handful of Yamul’s flunkies.”

    “What’s that got to do with anything?” The bird woman asked.

    “My father always said ‘you can never have the deck stacked too much in your favor’.” Geronita gave a cruel chuckle. He let go of Copter-bot’s cable and let it roll right back up and smack him in the face. “With her daughter as my prisoner Yamul wouldn’t dare move against me.”

    He shifted his dome like eyes to the bird woman. “Talia?”

    “Don’t look at me.” The bird woman, apparently named Talia, answered. “It’ll be dark soon.”

    The cawcaw were a race from the Windmill Kingdom the resembled various kinds of birds. Though they had arms as well as wings and a more anthropoid posture they were very much like the birds they mirrored. That included their strict diurnal or nocturnal behavior. Though Geronita could care less with price he paid for her services.

    “I don’t know why I paid you so much.” Geronita grumbled. “Fortunately my loyal followers don’t share your species’ handicap. Major,” he croaked to one of the gators, “order one of the pilots to go down to the Seed Kingdom and capture Princess Milro.”

    “It will be done Lord Geronita-sama.” The gator smacked his powerful chest with his scaly fist.

    “And Major,” Geronita added as the reptile turned to leave, “if any of Yamul’s lackeys try to interfere, they are to be eliminated.” He pulled one his fingers like a dagger across his alabaster throat.

    To be continued…

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  12. #12
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    Chapter 8: When It Rains It Pours

    The interior of the Hurricane was quiet with only the patter of the rain outside and the clicking of keys to be heard. Ophelia and Lee were hard at work at their terminals, looking over mosaics of the data they had collected and making sense of it. Milro watched them as they worked, toggling maps and charts across their screens and scratching down terms on notepads.

    She tried to follow their work but she couldn’t bridge the gap between a bunch of numbers on the screen and what it meant to the weather. However, the two young aquarians were going through it at lightning speed. She wished she could do more than just sit there but perhaps it would be best if she left it to them.

    “Hey Al,” Lee finally broke the silence when noticed the goateed doggel glide past him, “can you tell me a little about Nicole?”

    “Well.” Alex stroked his small, white goatee. “She’s nice and actually quite bright.”

    “I bet she has every bachelor in the Windmill Kingdom beating down her door.” Lee said lowly.

    “She can also be headstrong and her curiosity can get her into trouble as well.” Alex added. “And she’s a bit eccentric which frustrates possible lovers.”

    “The stork must have dropped her on the way to the Water Drop Kingdom. Eccentricity is almost a requirement.” Tammy said as she walked into the cabin. “How goes it you two?”

    “This makes looking for a needle in a haystack seem easy.” Ophelia heaved an exasperated sigh. “I wish we knew what exactly we were looking for.”

    That was something Milro did not want to hear. The twins were their only hope and them getting frustrated did not speak well of their chances. She took her still sopping wet hat off her head and wrung it out.

    “Still trying to dry off?” Ophelia asked.

    Milro nodded. “How did you all dry off so quickly?”

    “The outerwear of our uniforms is made of an engineered fabric designed to keep water and wind out while letting air and moisture escape.” Lee explained as he turned his attention back to his screens.

    “That’s not fair.” Alex pulled on the sleeve of his overcoat. “Ours is just ordinary wool.”

    Before Ophelia turned back to her terminal she watched Milro wring out her hat again. The water was pulled out and dripped onto the table, creating a small pool at her feet. It suddenly hit her. Her eyes widened as it all fell into place in her mind.

    “I think I just figured it out.” She thought out loud. “We’ve been looking at it the wrong way.”

    The others looked to her in response.

    “We’ve been thinking this is some weather anomaly.” She explained. “However, the weather doesn’t randomly shift because it crosses a border as you said.” She directed the last part to Lee. “However, what if the weather isn’t abnormal? What if the environment over the Seed Kingdom is causing the atmosphere to wring itself out?”

    “I think I get what you’re saying.” Lee began to toggle through his readouts. “Something environmental might be the cause.”

    The Hurricane was equipped to sense almost any environmental condition. It was originally designed to gather weather data in preparation for weather manipulation. That included the local state of the environment.

    “I got it.” He stopped. “The aerosol count elevated throughout the atmosphere over the kingdom.”

    “Aerosol?” Milro asked.

    “It’s stuff in the atmosphere.” Lee explained. “Dust particles, pollen, germs, things that water droplets collect on to form raindrops. These levels would cause the clouds to literally wring out all their moisture over the Seed Kingdom.”

    “It sounds like you two just found the silver bullet.” Tammy stated.

    “Alright,” Lee held his out his hand, “high web.”

    Ophelia smacked his palm with her own. “The twins of the Water Drop Kingdom strike again.

    “All we have to do is find the source of the excess aerosols and stop it.” She said jubilantly. “That should stop the rain and the Mother Tree will return you to normal size.”

    “It’s about time we got some good news.” Lee said. “It should be smooth sailing from now on.”

    **********

    Nicole sat on a rock on the edge of the village. Night had fallen and the countryside was dark except for the candle light in the tiny windows of the mushroom houses. She shut her eyes and listened to the soft patter of the rain.

    It took her back to when she was a little girl. Whenever it rained she would go out and play on the summit surrounding the windmill she lived in. Then when her mother or a worker made her come in she would sneak into the motor room to listen to the rain patter on the roof.

    “Excuse me miss.” A voice caused her to lose her train of thought. She opened her eyes to see a molmo worker holding a lantern standing on the road in front of her. “I’d suggest you head in. This weather isn’t fit for man, beast, or combination of the two.”

    “I was just enjoying the sound of the rain.” Nicole replied.

    The molmo exhaled a laugh. “After hearing it for eight days straight you’ll be as sick of it as we are.” He continued down the road.

    Nicole heaved a sigh. A bright light suddenly flew overhead with the sound of engines. She watched as it disappeared behind a nearby tree line.

    “Huh?” She turned around. “What was that?”

    **********

    The gator pilot Geronita had sent trained the spotlight of his Stingray on the drenched landscape below. It created a small pool of light in the darkness. The light came on what he was looking for. He had spotted a large clearing to set down. The small craft glided down as its three landing gears extended from its belly. It set down on the waterlogged ground and quickly rolled to a stop.

    With a push of a button the canopy slide back and the reptilian pilot climbed out onto the wing. He reached under his seat and pulled out a rifle. It was the pale yellow with a laser sight attached to the top of the long barrel. The alligator-like reptilian then grabbed a large flashlight and a brass birdcage.

    The gator ran through his assignment through his head again. When his superior told him Yamul’s daughter was only ten centimeters tall he was bewildered at first. However, it didn’t matter to him. He leapt off the wing of his craft and walked into the dreary night, swinging the beam of his flashlight from side to side.

    **********

    Most everyone had gathered in the Hurricane. Lee and Ophelia explained there findings.

    “Aerosols?” Spigot grumbled. “All this trouble caused by things too small to be seen.”

    “So what’s the plan?” Emily asked.

    “Basically we go back up and head upwind until we find the source.” Lee answered. “Then we put a stop to it. The unaltered clouds will advect over the Seed Kingdom and rain should stop within hours.”

    “Well, let’s get going then.” Franklin clapped his hands together.

    “Uno momento.” Spigot broke in. “We seem to be missing someone.”

    Bret wasn’t there. Neither were Auler or Nicole.

    “Where’s Bret?” Tammy whined.

    “He said he had to take a leak.” Sophie answered. “Though I don’t know what leak he was talking about or how he could take it anywhere.”

    The entire cabin fell into an awkward silence.

    “Tammy,” Spigot finally said, “find Bret and make sure he’s taken care of business.”

    “With extreme prejudice.” Tammy saluted and left.

    “What about Auler-sama?” Spigot asked.

    “Earlier I offered to teach him to swim when this was all over.” Milro answered. “He got angry and left.”

    “That doesn’t sound like him.” Sophie replied.

    “Having been an eighteen year old guy I know what he’s going through. Auler’s entering that stage in his life when he believes he’s indestructible.” Franklin said in response. “Being reminded of his mortality and imperfections can be more than a little jarring.”

    “I should probably find him.” Sophie said.

    “I’ll go with you.” Milro volunteered.

    “I’ll go find Nicole.” Alex spread his ears to fly out. “You can never tell with that girl.”

    “She’s definitely your type.” Tammy said to Lee.

    Lee only blushed in response.

    **********

    Bret looked out from either side of the tree he had taken his “leak” on. He zipped up his fly and washed his hands in hollow stump. He picked up his flashlight and shined the beam ahead of him.

    “I don’t believe it.” He grumbled to himself as he walked back to the Hurricane. “Lee literally had a beautiful girl fall right in his arms. What about me? I mean, what’s not to like?”

    He stopped when he saw movement in his beam. A large group of seed people ran past him. “Run for your lives-dane.” One of them screamed. “It’s a lizard monster-dane.”

    Bret followed them with his flashlight a little way. “What?” He asked as he walked away. “Has an overgrown gecko gotten in the village?”

    He walked into something and bounced off a couple steps. “Dude, watch where you’re…” He shined is light ahead onto the dark green, scaly snout of the gator pilot.

    The gator grabbed Bret by his overcoat and lifted him off the ground to his eye level. His yellow eyes glinted in the darkness and his abundant teeth appeared in a devious grin. Bret dropped his flashlight in the mud and his ears curled over in fear.

    The gators were a powerful reptilian race resembling alligators. Their strength and attitude were infamous throughout the Water Drop Kingdom. Now Bret found himself staring down that strength, attitude, and most importantly teeth.

    “Please don’t eat me.” He whimpered.

    **********

    Milro and Sophie hid from the rain under umbrellas given to them to search for Auler. They both carried small lanterns to light their way a well. They hope he hadn’t wandered off too far.

    “I know Auler didn’t like the water.” Milro said. “But didn’t realize he couldn’t swim.”

    “He’s always avoided the water when he can.” Sophie explained. “Because there are few bodies of water in the Windmill Kingdom it was never an issue.”

    “I’m sorry.” Milro said solemnly. “I should have come alone with Spigot. You and Auler would still be big and safe in the Windmill Kingdom. You shouldn’t have to bear this burden with me.”

    “We volunteered remember.” Sophie said, a cheerful smile returning to her face. “Besides, we’re friends and friends share each other’s burdens together. It makes them seem not so bad.”

    “Even being shrunk by the Mother Tree?” Milro asked.

    Sophie nodded in response. She then noticed a glint of something out of the corner of her eye. Auler was sitting on a stone just ahead of them. He held his head in his palms and seemed to be staring sorrowfully at the ground.

    “Big Brother,” Sophie called out, “what are you doing out here?”

    Auler picked up his head as the two princesses ran towards him. He then returned to his original posture. “Thinking.” He answered dully.

    “Is it about the fact you can’t swim?” Milro asked.

    “Fish swim, I fly.” Auler grumbled. “Until today it wouldn’t have been a problem.”

    “But it’s bothering you now?”

    “What would Altezza think of me not being able to swim?” Auler answered with a question.

    “She wouldn’t think any less of you Big Brother.” Sophie answered. “You know her better than that.”

    “And we have to get back to the Hurricane.” Milro spoke up. “The twins have found what’s causing the rain.”

    “They said we’ll be back our normal sizes in no time.” Sophie added cheerfully.

    Before Auler could say something the group of seed people ran past them. “It’s a lizard monster-dane.” One of them shouted as they disappeared into the night.

    A high pitched scream echoed through the darkness. Bret flew through the air and slammed into a tree nearby. His limp body slid to the ground and slumped over it. The three thought the worst until a moan came from him.

    “What in this kingdom could do that to Bret?” Auler bolted into a standing position.

    Milro turned around and found the answer to his question towering over them. The massive gator was kneeling next to them. She screamed causing Auler and Sophie to look up as well. Suddenly they were forced together in a tight grip and rose to the reptile’s head as he stood up.

    “Let us go.” Auler strained.

    The gator didn’t say anything. He rose up the cage in his other hand. He pulled the door open with one of the fingers holding them and threw them in. He then slammed the door shut behind them and grabbed his flashlight.

    As he turned to leave he was greeted by King and his army. “Lizard monster,” he shouted, “release them or we will open fire-dane.”

    “Annoying pests.” The gator growled.

    He put down his flashlight and the cage. He then pulled his rifle off his shoulder. The blue dot of the laser sight swept over the seed soldiers and came to rest on King’s crown. He pulled a trigger and the rifle fired silently. King’s crown flew back off his head and landed skewered on a twenty centimeter long spear embedded in the mud behind him.

    The seed soldiers jumped at this. “King-sama,” one of the soldiers rubbed the muzzle of his gun in his shaky grasp, “orders-dane?”

    “As my father said ‘never pick a fight with someone whose ammunition is bigger than you are-dane’.” King then bellowed. “RETREAT-dane!”

    They all ran for it. A smug grin cracked on the gator’s toothy snout as he watched them scurry into the darkness. He slung his rifle back over his shoulder and grabbed his flashlight and the cage again.

    He turned to Bret. “Don’t get up on my account.” He said.

    Bret moaned lowly in response.

    The gator chuckled coldly as he turned to leave. This had been too easy.

    **********

    Alex glided through the gloom. He could only guess where Nicole had gotten off to. As he passed by a bush a hand reached out and pulled him in by his tail. He was about to yell when he noticed it was Nicole.

    “Nicole-sama.” He whispered. “What are you doing?”

    “I found something.” Nicole whispered. She then motioned to the stingray sitting in the clearing. “I saw it fly over.”

    The two crept silently from the brush towards it. They looked around themselves and listened for anything over the constant patter of the rain. As they came to it Alex flitted around the craft.

    “What is it?” Nicole asked.

    “I think it’s an airship of some kind.” Alex answered. He then noticed the emblem of the Water Drop Kingdom on the wing. A crude, red “X” had been spray painted over it. “I think it use to belong to the Water Drop Kingdom.” He then looked at the two large, cylindrical pods on the underside of the hull. “I wonder what these are.”

    Nicole suddenly heard footsteps sloshing in the mud. The beam of a flashlight glistened off the falling rain and the massive form of the gator emerged into the clearing. In a panic she grabbed Alex and ducked in the backseat.

    The gator swaggered up to his aircraft. Without even looking he placed the cage on what happened to be Nicole’s lap. She put her finger to her mouth before they could say anything. The reptilian climbed on the wing and jumped in the front seat.

    He flared his nostrils and audibly inhaled. He thought he could smell the pungent odor of wet dog. However, he shrugged it off as nothing.

    Paralyzed in fear Nicole and Alex realized he was the pilot. Once they had gathered themselves they got ready to jump out but the gator pressed a button that slid the canopy shut. They were trapped. The engines started and the stingray picked up speed across the clearing until it rose off the ground and took off into the night.

    The two watched helplessly as the landscape disappeared below them and then obscured by the clouds. The cockpit was enveloped by the dim fog as rain poured across the canopy. Everyone remained silent as the gator pilot remained oblivious to their presence.

    They quickly found themselves over the cloud shield. The star field filled the cockpit and the soft glow of the Full Moon provided a little illumination. The clouds outside looked like an endless silver sea around them. The Sunny Kingdom looked like an unusually bright star directly overhead as the light on the top of the castle still shined.

    Nicole looked below them and saw the cloud shield disappear behind them. They were now flying over some kind of swamp land. The gator piloted them towards the lake and aligned them with the runway. The stingray touched down on the tarmac and rolled to a stop.

    As soon the canopy slid open Nicole and Alex jumped out and ducked under the craft. It was noticeably warmer and muggier than the raw atmosphere of the Seed Kingdom. The sounds of crickets, frogs, and other creatures of the swamp melded together in an incoherent din that filled the air. From under the plane they noticed dozens of gators scattered around the island.

    “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” Alex whispered harshly.

    “I’m sorry.” Nicole whispered. “Where are we?”

    “Judging by the natives I’d say we’re in the Water Drop Kingdom.” Alex answered.

    “Perhaps I can convince them to return us to Spigot and the others.” Milro replied.

    “If what I saw on the wing is any indication I doubt your position as princess means much here.” Alex looked around. “We have to get out of here.”

    Nicole looked around. It was dark. There were lamps on the buildings with swarms of no-see-ems dancing the pools of light. She saw several craft similar to the one they were hiding under in a line on the tarmac. However, several gators surrounded them.

    She then saw an airship nearby. It’s large, red and orange envelope was in the shape of a sun attached to a bathysphere shaped gondola. Milro also saw the craft as well. It looked like the airship Fine and Rein used only much larger.

    “What’s a Helios doing here?” Alex whispered.

    “Perhaps we could take it.” Nicole replied.

    “Good idea.” Alex whispered in response. “Just don’t crash it.”

    They heard voices approaching. Kahn was walking toward the aircraft with the walrus wearing the aloha shirt. “I’m telling you Waltu,” Kahn said to the tiny pinniped apparently named Waltu, “we’re in trouble.”

    Waltu was looking over a black and white photograph of the Hurricane. “I don’t even know what I’m looking at.”

    “It’s an airship.” Kahn grabbed the photograph from his flippers. “It took off from Peanut Lake and flew a search pattern over the Seed Kingdom. They either know or will soon find out.”

    “You were supposed to keep them in the dark.” Waltu grumbled. “The only reason Lord Geronita-sama brought you into this was to keep prying eyes away.”

    “The Seed Kingdom found a way to get word to them.” Kahn said in response.

    “Impossible,” Waltu snapped, “we’ve completely cut off the border.”

    “You did a hell of a job.” Kahn sneered. “If Saginaw City has found out you’re responsible for the flooding in the Seed Kingdom, they’ll come down on you like wolves.” Panic grew his voice. “And that’s just the Water Drop Kingdom. The other nyamuls are getting curious. If they find out I had Omendo’s shots sabotaged to make him sick…”

    “Relax man.” Waltu patted his flipper on Kahn’s shoulder. “After noon tomorrow none of this will matter. We will have control of the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom and the Mysterious Planet will be ours for the taking.”

    “Oh my God.” Alex had to keep himself from shouting. “It’s them. They’re causing the flooding.”

    “What did he mean they would have control of the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom?” Sophie asked.

    “I don’t know.” Alex whispered. “But we have to get out of here and I mean now.”

    As Kahn and Waltu came to the stingray they picked up on the smell coming from it. “What the hell smells like wet dog?” Kahn shouted.

    “I don’t know.” The gator answered. “I came back to my craft and it reeked.”

    “Never mind,” Waltu said, “Lord Geronita-sama wants the princess taken to him immediately.”

    The gator turned his backseat but found it empty. He then caught Nicole and Alex running for the Sunny Kingdom airship in the corner of his eye. Waltu and Kahn noticed them as well.

    “Doggels!” Kahn exclaimed. “Get them! Don’t let them reach my ship.”

    Several gators began to chase after them. The powerful reptiles quickly overtook and grabbed Nicole. She struggled enough to throw Milro and the others to Alex.

    “Fly away Alex.” She screamed. “Find Lee and the others.”

    Alex spread his ears and took off. He barely escaped from the gators as he rose into the night. Just as he thought he had gotten away Copter-bot swooped in and ripped the cage from his hands.

    “I got them.” He called out.

    Alex looked back and didn’t notice Talia come up in front of him. He crashed into the cawcaw’s chest and bounced off. She grabbed the stunned doggel by the back of his collar.

    “Bad dog,” she wagging a scolding finger at him, “no biscuit.”

    Waltu cackled as Copter-bot and Talia landed and the gators pushed Nicole in front of him. “Excellent.” He hissed. “Take the princess and the chikuwa-eared ones to Lord Geronita-sama.”

    **********

    Tammy heaved an exasperated sigh as she came to Bret slumped over the tree. She should have expected something like this. She shook his shoulder to try to revive him.

    “Come on ma,” he groaned, “I don’t wanna go to school today.”

    Tammy heaved another sigh. She didn’t have any choice. She stomped hard on his tail. Bret jumped into a standing position with a yelp of pain. He looked back at his beaver tail which had a distinct dent in it.

    “What do you have against my tail?” He shouted at her.

    “Grow up.” Tammy sneered.

    “Do you have any idea how painful a hundred and five kilos of beaver in ballerina flats stomping on your tail is?” He asked.

    “Not nearly as much as a hundred and five kilos of beaver in ballerina shoved straight up your…”

    “Save it!” Spigot shouted as he walked up to them with Franklin and Emily following behind.

    “She started it.” Bret pointed accusingly at Tammy.

    “You,” Spigot barked at Tammy, “stop harassing Bret.”

    “Thank you sir.” Bret said in response.

    “And you stop acting like an idiot.” Spigot shot back harshly.

    “Who says he’s acting?” Tammy said in response.

    “What did he just say?”

    “I definitely should have gone with the Sunny Kingdom Princesses.” Spigot grumbled. “And now I can’t find Milro-sama and Sophie-sama.”

    “They’re gone too?” Tammy exclaimed.

    “They’ve been captured by a lizard monster-dane.” King said as he and his soldiers walked up to them.

    “WHAT!?” Spigot screamed.

    “It came in and grabbed all three of them-dane.” King growled and pointed to his crown still impaled by the spear. “He then made my crown into a kabob-dane.”

    Spigot pulled the spear out of the mud and slid King’s crown off. He immediately recognized it. “Why would a lizard monster be carrying a WM-43?”

    “A what-dane?” King asked as he looked through the holes in his crown.

    “It’s a spear rifle used by the Water Drop Kingdom.” Spigot answered as he examined the spear. “It uses compressed carbon dioxide to fire hollow aluminum spears like this.”

    “It wasn’t lizard monster.” Bret grumbled an answer. “It was probably the gator that attacked me.”

    “GATOR!?” Spigot exclaimed, dropping the spear.

    “Chief,” Ophelia huffed as she and Lee ran up to them, “we just saw a gator take off in an older model stingray.”

    “He had Milro-sama and the royals from the Windmill Kingdom in cage.” Lee added, trying to catch his breath. “I think he also had Nicole and Alex trapped in his craft.”

    “Oh no!” Spigot moaned.

    “What-dane?” King asked. “What does this all mean-dane?”

    “Gators are a reptilian race that lives in the Zubuzbu swamp of the Water Drop Kingdom. They’re loyal to a radical named Geronita.” Spigot plopped down on a rock and stared off into space blankly. “Now Milro-sama and the others are in the hands of that psychopath.” He then pounded his fist into his palm. “We have to go and rescue them.”

    He turned to the engineers. However, they weren’t standing where they were. The six were running back towards the Hurricane.

    “Quick.” Bret shouted to the others. “If we hurry we’ll be in Saginaw City before midnight.”

    Spigot smacked his forehead and pulled his hand down his face. “Daruma-san ga koronda!” He shouted after them.

    They all froze. “Where do you think you’re going?” Spigot asked as he walked leisurely up to them.

    “We’re not going to the Zubuzubu swamp if that’s what you’re thinking.” Bret answered. “Do you know Geronita’s standing orders for kingdom workers caught in his territory?”

    “The swamp’s crawling with gators and God knows what else.” Ophelia added. “And there are only seven of us.”

    “We’re engineers, not counter-insurgents.” Lee added to Ophelia’s thought. “This is a job for the kingdom militia.”

    “We don’t have time.” Spigot shouted in response. “The militia couldn’t make a move until dawn.”

    “The curse.” The twins said together.

    “The spell we have become permanent.” Ophelia said.

    “Milro-sama and the others will be ten centimeters tall forever.” Lee completed their thought.

    “We have no choice.” The two grumbled.

    There was nothing more to be said. They boarded the Hurricane and took off into the night.

    To be continued…

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  13. #13
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    Chapter 9: Geronita the Deranged

    The gators shoved Alex and Nicole into what appeared to be a hangar. It was one large chamber with harsh overhead lights glaring down on them. Their eyes had to adjust from the dimness outside. Scores of gators and small walruses were standing on either side of them with a corridor running the length the building between them.

    “Is this a private club or can anybody join?” Alex asked.

    “Silence canine.” Kahn shoved the doggel forward.

    “Tell me.” Alex turned to the nyamul. “Do you ever shut up?”

    “I should ask the same of you.” Kahn pushed him again.

    Alex pushed back. When Kahn went to shove him again Alex the doggel punched him in the face. Startled, Kahn backed away and then ran as he gave chase as the gators cheered.

    “Get back here.” Alex growled angrily.

    Kahn leapt onto a rope and began climbing up to a catwalk running the length of the hangar. He pulled himself onto the metal walkway and panted as he caught his breath. Alex glided up and came to hover in front of him.

    “Did you forget I can fly dude?” Alex said with a smug grin.

    The distinct clicking sound of rifles being prepped echoed through the hangar. Kahn looked behind Alex and cracked a grin of his own. “Did you forget my friends are heavily armed, ‘dude’?”

    Alex turned around to see more than a dozen gators with their rifles trained on him. The blue lasers danced across his body. He smiled sheepishly and forced a weak laugh. He yelped when he felt his collar being grabbed.

    Talia turned him so he faced her. “Sit down and SHUT UP!” He yelled at him.

    She threw him down towards the ground. He slammed into Nicole, knocking her over. The two residents of the Windmill Kingdom slowly sat up as the gators surrounded them.

    “ENOUGH!” A loud voice echoed through the hangar.

    The gators and walruses returned to their positions and came to attention. The faint sound of feet flapping against pavement echoed through the hangar. Geronita and his pet alligator snapping turtle walked leisurely up to the group. The amphibian grinned at them.

    “Princess Milro,” he bowed, “welcome to the Zubuzubu swamp.”

    “Why have you brought us here?” Alex growled.

    A walrus handed Waltu a clipboard. After reading over it he reported to Geronita. “Lord Geronita-sama,” he said, “the last wave of cloud seeding is ready.”

    “Tell them to launch immediately.” Geronita croaked in response.

    “Cloud seeding?” Auler asked.

    “Since none of you will leave this island alive I guess I might as well indulge you.” Geronita grinned again. “For more than a week we have been spraying silver iodide into the atmosphere over the Zubuzubu Swamp.”

    “Why are you doing that?” Sophie asked.

    “To make it rain in the Seed Kingdom.” Geronita answered.

    “That was nice of you.” Sophie said cheerfully. “Though, I think you overdid it.”

    Geronita face faulted. He then jumped back to his feet. “You little airhead. I’m making it rain to flood the Seed Kingdom.”

    The five gasped. “Why would you that?” Milro cried out. “The people of the Seed Kingdom are suffering. They’re lives are in jeopardy because of the flooding.”

    “It’s all just a little experiment.” Waltu chuckled. “The data will help us with our plans.”

    “Plans?” Alex growled. “Would that have to do with the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom?”

    “Indeed they do.” Geronita nodded slowly. “When the Mysterious Planet was first created they divided it into kingdoms.” Geronita explained as he paced in front of them. “Each was given a task to make the interior habitable for all life.”

    “Right.” Auler said.

    “WRONG!” Geronita snapped as he turned to them. “They made it habitable for mammals. However, amphibians and reptiles like us are relegated to small areas like this swamp. Well not any more.”

    “What do you intend to do?” Alex asked.

    “I intend to commandeer the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom.” Geronita answered.

    “No way!” Milro exclaimed.

    “Yes way!” Geronita said in response. “With a few modifications I’ll use it to reterraform the entire planet, turning it all into wetland. I’ll bring an end to the rule of mammals and usher in a new era of amphibian domination with me as the king of the Mysterious…or should I say…Swamp Planet.”

    “You can’t do that!” Auler shouted.

    “Oh no?” Geronita swaggered up to them. “Who’s going to stop me? Look around you.” He shouted out as he through his hands out. “I have enough might to do whatever I damn well please.”

    “What about the other people of Mysterious Planet?” Milro asked.

    “I guess they should take page from the humans of the Water Drop Kingdom and start growing gills.” Geronita laughed loudly with his followers. He then threw his finger out to one side. “Lock them in the brig with the others. And start making preparations.” He shouted. “We attack Saginaw City at dawn!”

    As she was being shoved away Nicole turned to the amphibian. “You’re positively inhuman.” She shouted at him.

    “My dear,” he replied with a chuckle, “you say that like it’s a bad thing.”

    **********

    The Hurricane passed over the Zubuzubu swamp in the night sky. Like most everything else the night sky was an artificial construct designed to recreate the condition found on terrestrial worlds. Along with the Full Moon, the stars were actually fist sized satellites that absorbed long wave radiation from the surface and emitted it as visible light.

    But the night sky was the last thing on Lee’s mind as he watched the wavering green line on his main display. Aside from the droning of the engines the Hurricane was uncomfortably quiet. Behind him the others were just sitting in their seats. Even Tammy seemed apprehensive.

    He tried to concentrate on his work to get his mind off it. Seeding clouds with aerosols was the primary method the Water Drop Kingdom intended to use increase rain production during the Crisis. So his father made sure he understood what affect they had on cloud behavior. His lessons were now running through his mind.

    Aerosols were tiny, solid, particulates floating around in the atmosphere. The microscopic water droplets that made up clouds piled on their surfaces to form raindrops. However, there was a limit. The more aerosols within the clouds the more raindrops that formed but they all had to feed off the same moisture so the resulting drops were smaller. If there were too much aerosols the drops wouldn’t be heavy enough to fall out of the cloud.

    Lee had calculated that critical value based on the available moisture. It was portrayed as a level, white line towards the top of the sliding graph. The line indicating the actual concentration was very close to that level.

    It made him wonder. This seemed too much of a coincidence. And there was more to it seemed. That gator knew Milro was in the Seed Kingdom as well as being ten centimeters tall. This all suggested a very dangerous scenario. But he was interrupted when the line dropped by half.

    “Woe!” He exclaimed.

    In the cockpit Ophelia was sitting in the co-pilot seat. She turned to Bret. He was hunched over his controls and his eyes stared forward.

    She had never seen him like this. Bret was the prankster of the shift. He was the one who usually lightened the mood. For him to be filled with such anxiety if not fear didn’t speak well for their chances.

    “You seem to know a lot about Geronita.” She said with a slight tremble in her voice. “Is he really that dangerous?”

    “I grew up in Lock Town not far from here. I heard plenty horror stories about Geronita and his followers.” Bret wrung his controls. “The guy is psychotic. Now we’re flying into the heart of his territory.”

    “Guys,” Lee poked his head in, “we just flew out of the aerosols. They’re back to normal levels.”

    Before Ophelia could reply a shadow passed over the cockpit. The Full Moon provided enough light for them to see several stingrays flying in a line above them. Bret instinctively killed all the lights. The cabin went dark as did the exterior running lights.

    Ophelia noticed they had pods under the wings like the one in the Seed Kingdom. They were releasing some kind of yellowish dust that dispersed into the atmosphere.

    “That’s the same kind of stingray we saw the gator get into.” She twisted herself around in her seat to get a better look. “But what are they spraying?”

    Spigot came into the cockpit and saw them. “It looks like silver iodide.” He answered.

    “Oh man. I was afraid of this.” Lee whimpered. “I had my suspicions and this only confirms it. Geronita is causing the rain in the Seed Kingdom.”

    **********

    The brig was a long, cement building in the compound. It was a hall with cells on either side. The cells were filled with purple-furred, skunk-like people. The gators took Alex, Nicole, and the tiny royals almost to the very end where a guard sat at a small wooden table. He grabbed the keys off the hook and lumbered to a cell.

    He unlocked the massive lock on one of the cell doors and opened it. The others shoved Nicole and Alex in. They then placed the cage with Milro-sama and the others on a hook in the cell. With a clang they shut the door.

    Alex grabbed the bars of their cell door and watched as they left. Nicole looked at the cell around them. It was a cramped box made of cement with a barred window at the far end. There was a small toilet and sink in one corner and two planks hung from chains in the wall as beds she assumed.

    Lying on the lower plank was a young male doggel dressed in a uniform like Alex’s. However, he was the size of an average human and had brown fur. A smaller female doggel wearing a dress like hers was sitting on the edge of the plank. She immediately recognized them.

    “Bonnie, Otto,” she said to them, “they got you too?”

    The two looked up at them. Otto brought himself into a sitting position. “Nicole-sama, why are you here?” He asked.

    “It’s a long story.” Alex answered.

    Bonnie then noticed Milro and the others in the cage. She rubbed her gray eyes. She thought he was seeing things. But there they were.

    “Auler-sama, Sophie-same,” she gasped, “what happened to you?”

    “That’s even longer story.” Alex said in response.

    “We’re not going anywhere.” Otto replied.

    **********

    Bret glared down at the landscape below. It was a solid canopy interrupted only by the multitude of lakes dotting the landscape. They had somehow lost the stingrays and therefore any chance of following them to their base. Now they basically had to fly around until they found something.

    “Do you see anything?” He grumbled.

    “No.” Ophelia replied, looking out her side.

    “Is it possible they went underwater?” Franklin asked in the cabin.

    “I don’t think so.” Emily stared out a window. “Those pods aren’t designed for diving. Wherever they are, they’re above water.”

    Ophelia then noticed a long clear area along the shore of a lake. “Wait. I think I might have found a landing strip.”

    “Do you think it could be Geronita’s base?” Lee poked his head in.

    “There’s only one way to find out.” Bret said in response.

    He piloted them in for a landing. The Hurricane looped back as he aligned them with the stretch of cleared land. He reduced their speed as they descended. The Hurricane touched down on the earthen runway and after some bumps came to a peaceful stop.

    “That wasn’t so hard.” Bret undid his harness.

    “I don’t see the rampaging reptilian hoards so I guess this isn’t Geronita’s base.” Lee stared out into the darkness.

    “No.” Spigot opened a panel and started handing out flashlights. “However, someone uses this landing strip. They may know where to find him.”

    “I can’t believe I’m asking this but does this thing carry weapons?” Emily asked.

    “This is a research craft, not a troop carrier.” Spigot answered. “We carried two WM-31’s each with a spare clip, a flare gun and some flares, and about a half dozen smoke grenades.”

    “We must be crazy.” Franklin grabbed his flashlight. “We’re workers in the Zubuzubu swamp, at night, practically unarmed.”

    The rear hatch opened and the seven engineers stepped gingerly out. They swept the nearby area with their flashlights. There was a path through the woods adjacent to the landing strip.

    It was warm and muggy. The air was heavy with the stench of swamp gas and decaying plant matter. The din of crickets and frogs filled the air with the occasional call of a loon.

    Ophelia held up her sensor to get a reading. “Temperature 21 degrees, humidity eighty-two percent, barometric pressure 994 milibars, winds out of the south at eleven kilometers an hour.” She read off the readings. She began to think about what significance it might hold.

    Lee’s flashlight came on a sign nailed to a tree. “Oh no.” He whimpered upon reading it.

    “What?” Ophelia asked.

    She then read the sign. In black, Olde English letters engulfed in yellow flames the sign stated “Welcome to HELL”.

    “And my confidence just went through the floor.” Bret said upon reading the sign.

    “All of you grow up.” Spigot growled. “It’s just the name of the township.”

    “Who would name a township Hell?” Lee asked.

    “Who would want to live in a township named Hell?” Bret added.

    “Save it.” Spigot snapped. “Let’s go.”

    He walked down the path into the woods. The six engineers followed in a tight group behind. They swept their flashlights ahead, not knowing who or what was ahead of them.

    **********

    Alex was still hanging onto the bars. He stared out blankly at the brig around him. The cells all looked basically alike. The only repugnant smell he could detect was that of body odor. He could understand considering none of the cells appeared to have showers.

    He then turned his attention to the other captives. The skunk-like creatures were all asleep. They appeared to be in good in health with no signs of serious sickness or injury. He had to admit he had much worse images of prison camps. However, that didn’t change the fact they were being held against their will by a bunch of crazies.

    “My cousin always said I’d end up behind bars.” He thought out loud.

    Behind him Milro and the others had explained everything that happened. Nicole and Bonnie sat on the edge of the lower plank and Otto was leaning against the far wall. He nodded in understanding at what he had just heard.

    “You do have a major problem.” He said. “Unfortunately we’re in no condition to help you.”

    “How did you two wind up here?” Nicole asked.

    “After Prince Auler-sama and Princess Sophie-sama left for the Water Drop Kingdom King Randa-sama sent us out to investigate the unusual weather.” Bonnie answered. “We decided to look at what was happening just upstream. However, we overstayed our welcome. We were shot down and led here at gunpoint.”

    “We discovered that that fiend Geronita is behind all of this.” Otto added with a growl in his voice. “All the good it does us here.”

    Alex looked at all the other prisoners. “Who are they?” He asked.

    “They’re called sukusuku.” Bonnie answered as she glided up to him. “They live here in the swamp. They’ve been at odds with Geronita and his people for a long time. However, he recently began rounding them up.”

    Auler and Sophie heard a soft sob. Milro sat in a corner of the cage. She held one of her wrists in her other hand and had he arms wrapped around her knees. Her eyes appeared watery as she fought back tears welling in them.

    “What’s wrong Milro?” Auler asked.

    “I’m useless.” Milro replied, fighting a growing lump in her throat. “Geronita is mistreating the people of my kingdom and I’m completely powerless to stop him. Now he’s going to destroy the entire planet and all I can do is sit here helplessly and watch.”

    The tears finally won out and began to stream down her face. “Some princess I am.” She heaved another sob. “After all of her hard work Mother deserves a better heir to pass her legacy on to. That’s even assuming there is a Water Drop Kingdom.”

    “You can’t talk like that Milro.” Sophie sat down beside her.

    “Sophie-sama’s right.” Alex said. “Geronita hasn’t won yet. The first imperative of a prisoner is to escape. We’ll find a way out of here and put a stop to him.”

    “Don’t count on it.” A voice came from the cell across from them. One of the sukusuku was awake and sitting on his plank. “Hey guys,” he said to the others in his cell, “it looks like they caught two more of the Purple Gang.”

    “What do you mean ‘don’t count on it’?” Nicole asked.

    “In case you didn’t notice when you were brought here we’re on an island.” The skunk-like male said. “There’s only one bridge to the mainland and it’s guarded on both sides. So, unless you can out-swim the gators or out-fly Talia and Copter-bot you’ll find yourself right back here plus a few more bruises.”

    Nicole heaved a depressed sigh and looked out the barred window at the night sky. “Perhaps Lee and the others will come and rescue us.”

    **********

    Spigot and his group had been trudging down a dirt path through the woods. Lee was the first to notice they were coming to the edge of the woods when the light from his flashlight disappeared. He wondered what would be there. For all they knew they were coming up on a camp full of bloodthirsty gators.

    As they emerged from the woods they came upon the shore of another lake. The only building was a rickety wooden shack with a corrugated roof sitting on the shore. The windows glowed yellow from light inside and the sound of conversation came from it.

    “What is it?” Ophelia asked.

    “There’s only one way to find out.” Spigot walked up to the door.

    He pushed on the door and it swung open. The room fell silent as the workers shuffled in. The air reeked of tobacco smoke and the occupants were bleary eyed and unsteady. Behind a gator standing behind the bar was a large assortment of jars and bottles.

    “We’re government employees and we’ve just stepped into a moonshiner’s shack.” Emily thought out loud.

    The reptilian behind the bar tried to smile. “What’ll it be? As long as it’s not blood.”

    “Blood?” The engineers all asked at once.

    “Yeah.” The gator replied. “The ladies’ auxiliary just cleaned me out.”

    Six mosquitoes the size of hawks flew for the door. They all wore matching purple bonnets with blue ribbons tied in a bow around them. Before the last one reached the door she belched softly.

    “Excuse me.” She said as she flew out into the night.

    The occupants of the shack returned to whatever they were doing. A very muscular gator was arm wrestling with a large bubu. The pig-like construction worker strained as the reptilian forced his arm down.

    “What now boss?” Franklin asked.

    “Find someone with the wherewithal to tell us where to find Geronita.” Spigot answered.

    A sukusuku wearing a blue hoody nearby took interest when he mentioned Geronita.

    With a thrust the gator slammed the resident of the Jewelry Kingdom’s fist on the wood table. He jumped up and declared loudly. “There ain’t a mammal in this whole damn planet that can beat me! I’m Geronita-sama’s best soldier! I dare anyone to face me!”

    Tammy turned around when she heard this. Ophelia grabbed her arm. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking.”

    “He’s thrown out a challenge.” Tammy replied. “I intend to take him up on it. Besides, he would know where Geronita is.”

    She walked up to him as he up upended a large mug into his snout. He slammed it on his table and belched loudly.

    “Hey you.” Tammy said assertively. “How about you and I arm wrestle?”

    The reptile looked up at her. “I see I have a new challenger.” He then shouted loudly so everyone heard. “I’ve been challenged by one of the Water Drop Kingdom’s fine engineers.” He fell back into his seat and slammed his elbow loudly on the table. “Let’s go.”

    “Alright,” Tammy placed her elbow next to his, “and if I win you tell me where Geronita’s base is.”

    “You’ll lose anyway so what the hell.” The gator grabbed her hand.

    The two began to strain against one another. The others gathered as they tried to force one another’s arm down.

    “Come on Tammy.” Bret shouted. “You get beat him.”

    The two continued their standoff. Their interlocked hands tightened their grips as they pushed against one other. But neither seemed to gain ground.

    “You’re pretty strong…toots.” The gator strained. “I have to give you that.”

    “You’re not that bad either.” Tammy groaned.

    Tammy felt sweat beginning to run through her fine fur. She clenched her teeth and tried to bring more weight against her opponent. He didn’t seem phased yet but his lack of sweat glands made it hard to tell.

    She was starting to feel fatigue in her arm. The gator sensed her weakening and threw a violent thrust into her. Her arm began to tilt back towards the table. She tried to fight against him but he slammed her hand down.

    “Not even Yamul’s peons can stand up to my might!” The gator screamed at the cheering crowd.

    “You tried.” Emily said softly to Tammy.

    “All the good that did.” Tammy rubbed her tired arm.

    “I’m unstoppable!” The gator shouted.

    “Then you wouldn’t mind taking me on.” Ophelia shouted back.

    The gator looked down at her and laughed loudly with the other occupants joining him. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ll snap that twig your dare call an arm in two.” He turned to her male colleagues. “Are you men so cowardly you’ll let this Saginese belle fight your battles?”

    “Just shut up and wrestle.” Ophelia shouted at him. “And the conditions are the same as my colleagues.

    “Fine.” The gator positioned his arm.

    Ophelia took his hand in her slander palm. The two began and at first the gator was forcing Ophelia down easily. But she began to push him back. Everyone gasped as she forced him back into an upright position and began forcing him back. He tried to strain against her but she slammed his hand on the table.

    Her colleagues erupted in cheers. She jumped up and threw her hands in the air. The gator smacked the table with his other hand.

    “Alright!” He growled. “I lost fair and square. If you want to know, Geronita’s base is three kilometers north of here. Now get out of my face while I’m still in a good mood.”

    “You don’t have to tell me twice.” Lee said.

    He walked as quickly as he could without breaking into a run for the door. The others followed him. The sukusuku got up and left as well.

    After they were safely away from the shack Tammy spoke up. “I know for a fact you’re not stronger than me.” She shouted Ophelia. “How did you beat him?”

    “Our people have the ability to sense electrical impulses including those created by other life forms.” Ophelia explained casually. “It also lets us know where to interfere with someone’s electric field to cause a disruption.”

    “What are you saying?”

    “She cheated.” Lee clarified for his sister with a chuckle.

    “It doesn’t matter.” Spigot broke in. “We now know where Geronita is.”

    “Excuse me.” A scratchy voice caught their attention.

    The sukusuku hobbled up to them. He pulled off his hood to reveal himself to be reasonably advanced in years. “You’re Yamul-sama’s men are you not?”

    “Yes.” Spigot answered.

    “Thank God.” The older sukusuku said relief. “I’m Terrance, the mayor of Hell.”

    “I love the title.” Bret whispered in Lee’s ear.

    “At least I was until Geronita started to round up my citizens.” Terrance growled.

    “The plot thickens.” Lee thought out loud. “What’s he up to?”

    “But now you’re here.” Terrance said to them. “Yamul-sama must have somehow found out.”

    “No she didn’t.” Spigot rubbed the back of his head. “We’re down here on other business. We don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

    Terrance looked around. “I guess out here as safe as any.

    “About ten days ago Geronita started jamming all communications out of the swamp. We tried to send messengers out of jamming range but he and the gators loyal to him captured them. Then he started rounding them up on a whim.”

    “Is he holding them on his base?” Ophelia asked.

    Terrance nodded. “There have also been aircraft started flying over the swamp, spraying something into the atmosphere.”

    “We saw that.” Lee said. “That’s why we’re here.”

    “When I heard you were searching for him I thought you could help my people.” Terrance reached into his pocket and pulled out a small jar filled with some kind of pale gray orbs. “If you find them, give them these. They’ll know what to do with them.”

    “We’ll do that.” Tammy took the jar and slid it into her skirt pocket.

    The growing sound of engines rose through the swamp. The large form of the Hurricane flew over them, causing the ground to shake as it flew past at low altitude. As quickly as it came, it had disappeared behind the trees and the sound quickly died away.

    “What was that?” Terrance shouted over the ringing in his ears.

    “Our airship.” Lee answered dully.

    “Worse.” Spigot said gravely. “There goes any chance for having the element of surprise.”

    To be continued…
    Last edited by The Big Al; 8th May 2008 at 4:22 PM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  14. #14
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    Sorry for the late review, my friend. Was kind of busy with some other stuff. I'll review thwe chapter I was going to review and edit in for the other one later. Wish more people would read this. It's pretty damn good. It's got its funny moments and the people are pretty interesting.

    Keep up the good work!

    LX
    I am the author of the webcomic, Starbolts and host of the comic review show, Comic Showcase. Please check out the action here: http://starbolts.blogspot.com

    Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cferra1227

  15. #15
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    I think people are reading it. The view count is at 350 suggesting people are at least checking it out. They're just not posting. I wish they would because I would enjoy to know people's opinions of it.

    Please people. Say something.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  16. #16
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    And I give you the longest chapter of this story.

    Chapter 10: Escape

    Queen Yamul stared at the darkness outside the bay windows of her office. During the day the panoramic view was that of the bay and ocean to the north of the castle. However, only the reflection of the brightly lit office filled them now. In the center was the reflection of her sitting in front of her desk, looking back at her with tired, worried eyes.

    She had every reason to be worried. She hadn’t heard from Milro or Spigot since they left. It couldn’t have taken them that long to get permission from King. She was afraid something had gone wrong with them.

    A pair of electronic chimes came from her desk. Her heart suddenly jumped. A part of her was hoping it was Spigot or her daughter. She turned her chair around and pressed the button. “Come.” She said, hiding her anticipation.

    The blue doors slid open. Altezza stepped in. Behind her was Marcy, the head of the castle’s maids. The older beaver-half had a scowl fixed on her face as she stood behind the princess of the Jewelry Kingdom. An aquarian worker with round, wire frame glasses in front of his silver eyes came in behind them. Altezza glanced up only momentarily from her shameful stare at the floor as the doors slid shut behind them.

    “Princess Altezza,” Yamul asked, surprised to see her “what are you doing here?”

    “She’s been hiding out with the workers in the Cloud Management Room.” The silver-haired maid crossed her arms.

    “Why?”

    “She wouldn’t say.” Marcy answered for her. “The workers have also said they’re under orders from Chief Spigot not to discuss it either.”

    Yamul began to drum her fingers on her desk. She shifted her eyes to the worker. “Engineer,” she said harshly, “what is going on?”

    The tan haired engineer gulped dryly. Spigot had given him an order not to tell Yamul about the situation with Milro. However, Yamul was at the top of the chain of command. He had to answer. “Well…” He started.

    **********

    Outside two beaver workers were staring at the door. Suddenly Yamul’s voice bellowing “WHAT!?” came from the other side.

    The two workers flinched. “Uh oh.” The male said to the female. “I think she just found out.”

    **********

    In Geronita’s brig Milro and the others were talking with the sukusuku who was named Daniel. He had explained what exactly had been going on.

    “So there you have it.” Daniel leaned back against the concrete wall.

    “That’s terrible.” Nicole said in response. “How could someone do such a thing?”

    “Why would the walruses be helping him?” Bonnie asked. “And what’s with the cawcaw and the heli-doll?”

    “The walruses have been trying to take control of Snow Mountain up in the northern parts of the Water Drop Kingdom.” Daniel answered. “However, the polar bears and penguins who also live in that region won’t have any of it. So now they’re in league with Geronita. He needs their technical skills and in return will give them control of the mountain when he’s king. From what I know Talia and Copter-bot are mercenaries Geronita hired into his cabal.”

    Milro thought this all over. Ever since the Mother Tree had shrunk her she had been learning things about her kingdom she had never even heard of. And so much of it seemed bad. How could she hope to run such a chaotic country? That’s assuming it was still around for her to become queen of.

    “I don’t understand how someone could have such a dark heart.” She thought out loud. “Especially after the Black Crystal was defeated.”

    “The Black Crystal.” Otto exhaled a laugh. “As much as the Sunny Kingdom insists to the contrary that overgrown chandelier while terrible was not the source of darkness. That’s right here.” He pointed to his heart. “Deep within the heart of everyone is the capacity for both good and evil. All the Black Crystal did was bring the darkness to the surface. However, as long as there are people out there who are willing to seek selfish ambitions at the outrageous expense of others there will always be evil.”

    “I don’t think Geronita is so much evil as stark raving mad.” Alex said in response. “I mean, turning the entire planet into a swamp. It has to take more than a few screws loose to come up with that one.”

    “Evil or insane he’s a danger to the entire planet.” Bonnie said in response. “But we can’t do anything about it while we’re locked in here.”

    Otto’s mind was on something else. He turned to Nicole. “Uh…Nicole-sama, you said something about a Lee before. Who is he?”

    “He’s an aquarian we met in the Seed Kingdom.” Alex answered. “She’s taken a liking to him.”

    “What?” Otto exclaimed.

    “He’s as caring as he is brilliant.” Nicole gushed. “He saved me from falling and then saved an entire valley using his ingenuity.”

    “But…I.”

    “Come here.” Alex motioned for his colleague to join him in the corner. The two faced away from the girls. “You were the one who dumped her. You didn’t have the patience to deal with her. She found someone who does.”

    Otto was about to say something in response but couldn’t find the words.

    “It’s not so bad.” Alex said slyly as he elbowed Otto’s side. “He’s got a cute twin sister if you’re into gills and webs.”

    “Typical guys.” Bonnie said to herself.

    **********

    Spigot and the others had made their way to the shore of the lake Terrance told them about. From the brush they surveyed the area. There were two gators standing guard near a small building on the mainland end the bridge. They allowed a jeep to get off the bridge and drive into the forest. There were also two guards on the opposite end. Through the darkness they also saw a gator wade into the lake. No doubt guards were in the water as well.

    Franklin whistled in astonishment. “I think we’d have easier time breaking into the kingdom mint.”

    The Hurricane was taxiing on the runway towards a hangar at the end.

    “To think some fat, scaly gator butt is sitting in my chair.” Bret growled. “It makes me so angry.”

    “They might have done us a favor.” Tammy said in response. “At least we don’t have run all the way back to the landing strip.”

    Above them the clouds were building in the night sky. Ophelia and Lee both watched as the towers of water droplets rose into the atmosphere. There was something going on up there. They could just feel it.

    Bret paused when he saw them gazing at the sky. “What’s up Wonder Twins?” He asked.

    “There’s something wrong.” Lee answered. “There’s upward vertical motion happening here. There shouldn’t be.”

    “I think it’s because of the airmasses surrounding us.” Ophelia replied. “It’s in the single digits up around Saginaw City and barely above ten down the Seed Kingdom. Yet it’s in the twenties here. These colder airmasses I believe are forcing the warmer, moister air here upward.”

    “I thought you said that doesn’t happen in the Mysterious Planet.” Emily said in response.

    “It doesn’t in nature.” Lee replied. “However, no one has been crazy enough to dump silver iodide in the atmosphere for a week before. My guess is the seeding has caused the nocturnal cloud cover to increase holding more heat in. That caused the increase in temperature. But now something else has happened.”

    “The real question is what it means.” Bret thought out loud.

    “I can’t say for exactly.” Ophelia replied. “We need our instruments.”

    “Well they’re just over there, give or take a few gators.” Bret said in response.

    “Chief,” Franklin spoke up, “how are we supposed to get over there?”

    “I have a plan.” Spigot motioned for them to gather around. “Emily, Frank, and I will hitch a ride on a jeep. The rest of you will swim over to the lake, avoiding any guards underwater.”

    “You make it sound so easy.” Bret broke in.

    Spigot shot a glare at him before continuing his explanation. “Ophelia, you will meet up with us and we’ll secure the Hurricane.”

    “You got it Chief.” Ophelia gave a nod.

    “Tammy, you find where Milro-sama and the others are being held along with the sukusuku and free them.”

    “You can count on me.” Tammy replied.

    “This is great and all.” Bret rubbed his chin in thought. “However, how are we going to do all this without getting our heads bitten off by the gators?”

    “They’ll be distracted.” Spigot answered.

    “With what?” Bret asked.

    “Live bait.” Spigot said in response.

    “Where are you going to get live…” Bret stopped as he noticed everyone was grinning at him and Lee. “Oh no. Oh-ho-ho-ho no. We’re not doing this.”

    “All you have to do is piss them off.” Tammy replied. “That shouldn’t be too hard for you.”

    “NO!” The two engineers exclaimed. “There’s no way in hell we’re doing it.”

    **********

    “You’re all kingdom workers right?” Daniel asked.

    “Yeah.” Alex answered, returning to his cling on the bars. “We’re from the Windmill Kingdom. Why do you ask?”

    Daniel laughed loudly in response. “I’m glad I’m not you then.” He calmed down. “Geronita’s just holding us here so we can’t talk. But he hates kingdom workers trespassing in his territory and not just those of the Water Drop Kingdom. He probably has terrible things planned for you.”

    Alex gulped dryly. “Such as?” He whimpered.

    “He’ll probably steep you in broth and make a hearty stew from you.” Daniel replied too calmly.

    “Oh no-ho-ho-ho!” Alex cried as he slid down the bars.

    “Keep it down.” Another sukusuku whispered harshly. “You’ll wake the guard.”

    “Of course that’s after he’s skinned you alive and uses your pelt to line a hood.” Daniel casually rubbed his nails against his vest. “Like I said, I’m glad I’m not you.”

    “NO!” Alex screamed. He then darted up to Bonnie and grabbed her ears. “Help me Bonnie.” He sobbed. “I don’t wanna line a hood.”

    Bonnie slapped him hard in the muzzle to make him let go. “Get a hold of yourself Al!” She snapped. “Though it would be a first.”

    “There’s got to be a way out of here.” Alex looked around him. He noticed a vent in the ceiling near the cell door. He flew up and grabbed the bars. After planting his feet on the ceiling he began yanking at it.

    “I already tried that.” Bonnie yelled at him. “It’s welded to the duct.”

    “So there’s no way out?” Alex asked.

    “You think we’d still be here if there was?” Bonnie answered with a question.

    “Then we’re doo-hoo-hoo-hoomed!” Alex sobbed as he sank to the floor.

    Nicole looked at the vent Alex was pulling on. She then looked out of their cell. The duct was exposed in the hall with an identical duct on the other side. The two came together over where the guard was before going through the wall. The guard was asleep in his chair with a mucus bubble inflating and deflating from his nostril and his rifle cradled in his arms. She looked up above the keys at another vent.

    She suddenly got an idea. She reached under her bonnet and pulled out a hairpin. “Yeah.” She whispered to herself.

    “I like a cliché as much as the next guy.” Alex said. “But you’ll need something more substantial than a hairpin to pick that clunker.” He motioned with his eyes to the large lock on their door.

    “It’s not for that lock.” Nicole bent the hairpin straight and slid the zigzagged end in the lock on the cage. “Sophie-sama and the others are small enough to slip into the duct. Then if we had some kind of line.”

    “Like this?” Alex pulled a fishing reel from his side pocket.

    “Why are you carrying a fishing reel?” Bonnie asked.

    “In case I want to go fishing of course.” Alex answered.

    “I don’t know whether to slap you because you’re an idiot or kiss you because you’re a genius.” Bonnie said in response.

    “I prefer the latter.” Alex replied. “You’ve already slapped me.”

    “You can get the line on the keys and we’ll pull it back in here.” Nicole explained. “Then we can free ourselves and the others and escape.”

    “Then how do we get off the island?” Otto asked.

    “I say we steal the Nyamul’s balloon.” Alex answered.

    With a click the door of the cage opened. Milro and the others stepped onto Bonnie’s hands and Alex handed Auler the hook end of the line. Bonnie then floated up to the vent. Auler pulled himself in first and helped Sophie and Milro in.

    “Good luck you three.” Bonnie said as they disappeared into the vent.

    ***********

    “Heave-ho let’s go!” Spigot called out as Bret, Tammy, Ophelia and Lee lugged a large hollow log onto the road leading to the lake. “That jeep we saw could come back at any minute.”

    “Log in the road.” Bret huffed as they dropped his end of the heavy log on the ground. “You can’t get anymore cliché.”

    “Hey, whatever works.” Ophelia said as she wiped the dirt off her hands.

    Lee heard the sound of a vehicle coming down the road. “They’re coming.”

    Everyone dove into the bushes as the glare of headlights crept across the road. The jeep Spigot mentioned drove slowly up to the log. It came to a stop and the two gators sitting in it got out.

    As they picked up the log and moved it out of the road, Spigot, Emily and Franklin dashed under the jeep and grabbed onto the undercarriage. The two reptiles lumbered back to their jeep and jumped in. They drove off, not aware they had picked up a few new passengers.

    The others poked their heads out from the bush. After the red glow of the taillights had disappeared around a corner they dashed across the road back to the shore. After making sure it was clear they got ready to dive in.

    “Age before beauty.” Bret said to Tammy, sweeping his arm out towards the lake.

    “I’ll take cuts anyway.” Tammy said as she waded out into the lake.

    Ophelia and Lee followed along with Bret. As he took one last breath Bret disappeared with the others under the murky surface.

    Unlike the reservoir, the lake was murky with a sandy bottom. The water felt slimy as it passed through Lee and Ophelia’s gills. Fortunately all four of them had nictitating membranes to protect their eyes from whatever was in the water.

    The lake was choked with water plants that combined with the darkness to make almost impossible to see. Bret pushed away a clump of weeds when he felt his arm being grabbed and he was yanked down. He was pulled underneath a capsized boat sitting on the sandy bottom.

    In the dimness he saw that it was Ophelia who had his arm in her webbed grip. He was about to ask what she was doing when he remembered he was holding his breath. Ophelia pointed out a hole in the hull where Bret could barely make out the form of a gator swimming past.

    After it had left Lee and Ophelia crept gingerly out of their hiding place. After looking around and surveying the area with their other senses they gave Bret and Tammy the all clear. They swam out and the four resumed their approach to the island.

    **********

    The jeep came to a stop at the gate protecting the mainland end of the bridge. One of the guards lifted the gate and the jeep drove onto the bridge. Spigot and the others looked out from under the jeep at the lake.

    The jeep jumped as it hit a pothole. Emily lost her grip on the undercarriage with one hand. Franklin grabbed her hand and helped her reach up to the handhold.

    “Thanks.” She whispered.

    **********

    Lee and Ophelia slipped through a corrugated pipe sticking out of the side of the island. Bret followed them in. The three stopped when they heard flailing. They looked back to see Tammy was stuck in the pipe.

    Lee and Bret each grabbed one of her arms and starting pulling.

    “Suck it in Tammy.” Lee strained as he gave her another yank.

    Tammy shot him a dirty look. She began to budge and after another yank flew out of the pipe taking Lee and Bret with her. Ophelia screwed her eyes shut as the three crashed into a wall.

    She slowly opened one eye. Tammy had landed on top of Lee and Bret, flattening them against the stone. She pulled herself off and the two slid down the wall stunned. After taking a couple moments to collect themselves, the engineers headed for the water’s surface.

    As they broke the water’s surface they found themselves under the tarmac. Near them was a ladder leading to a manhole. Tammy swam over to the ladder and began to climb and the others followed suit.

    As Tammy reached the top she raised the cover just enough to peer out. Gators were everywhere. However, there was a line of barrels in front of a building nearby. As a gator walked past she lifted the cover off and dashed behind the barrels as did the others.

    The gator guard stopped and looked around. They ducked under the barrels as his flashlight scanned the vicinity. Satisfied that no one was there, the gator continued on his patrol.

    **********

    Milro and the others walked through the duct. At their size it was as big as a hall as their footsteps echoed off its sheet metal walls. Auler carried the hook as the line slowly unwound off the reel back in the cell. Sophie giggled to herself.

    “What?” Milro asked.

    “It’s actually not so bad being this small.” She answered. “We could reach all those little spaces our bothers and sisters find when we play hide-and-seek.”

    “Hopefully we won’t have to get use to it.” Auler replied. “Once we escape we can go to the Seed Kingdom and explain what’s happening. Hopefully the Mother Tree will agree to return us to our normal sizes.”

    Milro and Sophie still had their lanterns to light their way. They rounded the corner as they entered the duct running the length of the brig. Sophie stopped when she thought she heard something. She lifted up her lantern in the direction away from the guard but it didn’t illuminate very far.

    “Come on Sophie.” Auler called out to her.

    “I’m coming Big Brother.” She answered as she started backing up to follow them.

    She turned around in time to walk into a spider’s web. She quickly found herself entangled. “Help.”

    Auler and Milro turned around to see her helplessly entangled in the webbing. “I’m stuck.” The princess of the Windmill Kingdom said sheepishly.

    Milro and Auler took her by the arms and tried to pull her out. “I don’t like this.” Milro said as she pulled. “Where there’s a spider’s web, there’s a spider.”

    “Don’t worry.” Auler replied. “We’re still too big for a spider to bother us.”

    There was a soft sound of something being placed down gently on the metal “floor” of the duct. In the dim light of the lanterns they saw a massive, dark brown spider come up to the web. It took all of Milro’s control to keep from screaming. She instead ducked behind Auler.

    “Unless it’s the biggest tarantula in all the Mysterious Planet.” Auler stepped back with her.

    The monstrous arachnid approached Sophie. With its long, hairy leg it tapped her shoulder.

    “Uh…Big Brother.” Sophie said helplessly.

    “Don’t worry Sophie.” Auler drew his sword from its hilt on his belt.

    He jumped between the spider and his sister. “Get back.” He shouted as he swung his sword at it.

    The tarantula reared up, exposing its sword like fangs that it rubbed together. Auler took a step back at this sight. It lunged at him but missed.

    Auler saw that there was an opening in the arachnid’s stance. One stab and he could end it right then and there. However, as he reared up his sword for the final blow he hesitated.

    Although it was threatening his sister, it was just trying to get its next meal. He couldn’t bring himself to kill it just because it was hungry. He instead sliced at its front leg.

    The spider recoiled and backed away into the darkness. The sound of its steps grew softer as it retreated. Once he was satisfied it was gone Auler sliced down the webbing holding Sophie.

    “Are you alright?” He asked as he slid his sword back in its hilt.

    Sophie replied with a nod as she picked up her lantern. She tried to pull strands of web off as her brother helped her up.

    “Auler…Sophie…” Milro called out to them.

    The two royals of the Windmill Kingdom joined her at the edge of a vent. Unfortunately being small enough to climb in meant they could also fall through. The three peered down at the cement floor far below.

    “How do we get across?” Milro asked.

    Auler took their lanterns and stepped onto the first bar on the vent. He then stepped on the next, using the lanterns to balance himself. He put one foot ahead of the other as he slowly made it to the other side.

    “Come on.” He called back to the girls.

    Sophie hesitated for a second. She then picked up her skirt and ran across them. Auler caught her as she jumped off the last bar. Milro looked down at the floor below them. She worked up all the courage she could and started jumping from bar to bar. However, she missed one and fell through.

    “MILRO!” Auler and Sophie yelled as she fell screaming.

    Milro was sure she was going to die. It was only two and half meters but at her size she might as well have fallen off a thirteen story building. She hit and surprisingly lived. Her rump was sore but other than that she was fine. She winced as she rubbed her aching rear and stood up.

    The mucus bubble in the gators nostril popped and his eyes opened slightly. Everyone gasped. If he found Milro loose. However, he closed his eyes again and went back to sleep. Everyone sighed in relief.

    “Okay.” Alex said in shock. “Why didn’t Milro-sama die?”

    “Fluid dynamics.” Otto explained. “Milro-sama is so small and light her fall was cushioned by the pressure of the air under her body.”

    “Thank God.” Auler heaved a sigh of relief. “Milro,” he called down to her, “I can use the line to pull you back up.”

    Milro dusted herself off and straightened her dress. She looked at the duct. There were at least three more vents to cross. “I should stay down here.” She replied. “I’ll only slow you down.”

    “Alright.” Auler shrugged as he and Sophie disappeared into the duct.

    Milro suddenly felt a cold breath of wind on the back of her neck and her nostrils were assaulted by the stench of rancid meat. She turned around and found herself face to face with the snapping turtle that was with Geronita.

    “He-hello.” She said timidly, taking a step back.

    The turtle took a step forward as he licked his chops. Milro knew how Sophie must have felt with the tarantula a couple minutes before. Unfortunately at ten centimeters tall, they were far from the top of the food chain.

    “You look hungry.” Milro step another step back. “But I’m not food.”

    “What do alligator snapping turtles eat?” Alex asked.

    “Just about anything smaller than themselves.” Otto answered.

    “Figures.” Alex said in response. “Run for it Milro-sama!”

    Milro didn’t need to be told. She turned and ran for it as the turtle took off after her.

    “Leave me alone.” She screamed.

    She rounded a corner as she came to the wall. The turtle followed her, knocking the chair the guard was sleeping in. The larger reptile fell hard on the floor and his rifle hit the ground butt first. The weapon misfired, shooting a spear right into the duct. Sophie and Auler were taken aback as the spear punctured the duct in front of them.

    The turtle was gaining on Milro. She turned around again back towards the table. She could feel the turtle’s breath on her neck. She had survived her fall only to be eaten.

    The turtle opened his maw, ready to devour her. He then stopped when a spear impacted the cement floor in front of them. Milro took shelter under the table.

    She leaned against the leg and tried to catch her breath. Her heart was pounding so hard it seemed ready to leap out of her chest. She peered out from around the leg at the two reptiles.

    The gator had his rifle trained on the turtle. The turtle retracted his limbs and head as the gator loomed over him.

    “Damn turtle.” The gator growled. “If you weren’t Lord Geronita-sama’s pet I’d turn you into soup.”

    He kicked the turtle and it slid like a curling stone down the hall and through a dog door in the main door. The gator lumbered back to his table and picked up his chair before slamming it back down upright and jumping onto it. He put up his legs and went back to sleep. Milro heaved a sigh of relief as she leaned back against the table leg.

    **********

    Lee, Ophelia, Tammy, and Bret looked around them from their hiding place. The tarmac was crawling with gators. There was still no sign of the jeep at first but the screeching of brakes signaled a jeep stopping.

    A jeep had pulled up to the side of the building. Peering from behind the barrels Ophelia saw Spigot and the others still clinging to the undercarriage.

    “That’s my cue.” Ophelia dashed to another hiding place closer to them.

    “I should get going as well.” Tammy got up and left. She then turned to Bret and Lee. “Don’t forget your job.”

    “We don’t need to be reminded.” Bret grumbled.

    Ophelia peered out at the jeep. The gators were standing next to it and conversing with one another. She grabbed a rock and threw it against a wall. The gators grabbed their rifles and walked towards the sound.

    She motioned to Spigot and the others. The three dropped to the ground and ran behind the barrels with her.

    “I guess we might as well go.” Lee said, counting the gators in his mind. A grave expression formed on his face as their chances of survival seemed bleak at best.

    “No we don’t.” Bret leaned back and crossed one leg over the other.

    “We’re supposed make a distraction for the others.” Lee said in response.

    “That could mean many things.” Bret replied. “It doesn’t mean we necessarily have to go out and make them chase us.”

    “I get it.” Lee ducked back behind the barrels. “We’ll wait here until they’re ready.”

    Bret peered out from behind the barrels. The Hurricane had been taxied into the hangar at the end of the runway and turned to face down the landing strip. Geronita was walking around it with a couple gators a well as Waltu and Copter-bot with him. Geronita knocked on the craft with his fist.

    “Where did you find this?” Geronita asked as he examined it.

    “It was parked on a landing strip on the township border.” One of the gators answered.

    “This is the craft Princess Milro was on.” Copter-bot added.

    “So Yamul’s flunkies are in my swamp ey?” Geronita rubbed his chin as his lips cracked into a devious grin. “No doubt they’re here to rescue their princess.”

    “Should I have my men start scouring the swamp?” One of the gators asked.

    “Why waste the energy?” Geronita said in response. “We’ll wait for them to come to us. Have the soldiers solidify the perimeter.”

    “It will be done at once.” The gator saluted and marched off.

    “You’re too late for that you fly eating slob.” Bret chuckled softly.

    “What should we do about this?” Waltu inquired about the Hurricane.

    “I guess I could use it as my flagship.” Geronita thought out loud. “However, this paintjob has to go.” He turned to a gator in grey coveralls. “I prefer a lovely shade of green.”

    “GREEN!?” Bret yelled upon hearing Geronita. “Not on my airship!” He hopped over the barrels and started running for the hangar.

    “Wait Bret.” Lee called after him. “What happened to hiding out?”

    He didn’t get a response. With an exasperated sigh he ran after him.

    Bret yelled as he ran at full speed for the hangar. The gator was attaching a hose to the paint machine. As he prepared to spray the Hurricane’s hull Bret tackled him to the ground. The two quickly got back on their feet.

    “I’m not letting you paint over this you dirty reptile.” Bret threw all of his strength into a right punch in the gator’s sternum. After an awkward second he pulled his hand away and tried to shake out the throbbing sensation that shot through his entire arm.

    The gator grabbed him by his coat. He glared and snarled at the engineer who could only smile sheepishly. “This just isn’t my night.” Bret moaned.

    “Bret,” Lee shouted as he piled a second gator guard on top of the paint machine, “watch out!”

    He shoved the machine towards them. It slammed into the gator, knocking Bret free. Bret quickly got to his feet as Lee threw him a spear rifle and slung another one over his shoulder.

    “Let’s get out of here.” Lee shouted.

    As the two ran out of the hangar lighting flashed and thunder rumbled. A hard rain suddenly developed and bombarded the island. Geronita looked up at the clouds. His wide mouth formed a scowl and he grabbed Waltu by his shirt, lifting the diminutive walrus to his eye level.

    “What the hell is going on?” He shouted at Waltu. “I want it raining in the Seed Kingdom, not here.”

    “I-I don’t know.” Waltu blubbered.

    Geronita then caught Bret and Lee out of the corner of his eyes. “What the…what are they doing here?”

    “Well, well.” Waltu chuckled as he watched them run by. “You’re not even king yet and you already have your first peasant revolt.”

    “Shut up and make yourself useful.” He dropped the pinniped. “Find out what the weather’s doing.” He then tuned to a group of gators. “What are you overgrown hand bags waiting for? An invitation?” He bellowed, pointing at Bret and Lee. “Get those endotherms!”

    The gators saluted and gave chase. From their hiding places the others watched.

    “I’m surprised.” Emily said. “I thought they would have found a place to hide. They’ve taken this bait role well.”

    **********

    In the brig Auler was guiding the hook down to the keys. Alex gave them line slowly from the cell. The sound of the rain filled the brig. However, unlike the soft pattering in the Seed Kingdom, it was a loud pounding. The hook came to the level of the keys.

    “Alright,” Bonnie said as she watched from the door, “bring it up slowly.”

    Alex began slowly winding the line back in. Auler gave the hook enough of a swing to hook the ring holding the keys. The line went taught as the keys were slowly lifted off the hook. The keys swung a little as they ascended towards the vent. Everyone’s hearts quickened as they dangled on the line.

    Suddenly lightning flashed vividly outside followed quickly by the sound of thunder cracking through the atmosphere and a deafening rumble that rattled the building. The gator’s eyes suddenly opened to see the keys dangling right in front of him. Everyone gasped. The reptile grabbed the line with his claws and yanked on it. Alex’s reel ripped from his hands and the whipping line knocked Auler and Sophie out of the vent. They fell onto the table below.

    Auler pushed himself into a sitting position. He then looked to his sister. “Are you alright?”

    She nodded in response. She then looked up and screamed causing him to look up as well. The gator was looming over them with his scaly claw descending towards them.

    Auler thought fast. He drew his sword and as the gator was about to grab them and shoved it into his palm. The gator pulled away his hand and snarled in pain. Auler grabbed Sophie’s hand and jumped off the table. Milro ran out from her hiding place with them in their dash back to the cell.

    The gator pulled out the tiny sword and grabbed his rifle. He then leapt over them and landed between them and the cell. The impact knocked them off their feet. The gator threw the mangled sword in front of them and brought his rifle to bear.

    “Leave them alone.” Nicole cried out.

    “Yeah.” Alex added. “Pick on someone your own size.”

    “Like you.” The gator growled in response.

    “Actually,” Alex pointed behind him, “I was thinking more along the lines of her.”

    The gator looked back in time to take a full force right jab from Tammy in the head. Milro and the others ran out of the way as the massive reptile landed hard on the cement.

    “Tammy,” Milro exclaimed, “you’re here!”

    “Yeah.” Tammy replied.

    The gator slowly got on his hands and knees, shaking his head out. “You just made a big mistake Tiny.” He snarled as he stood up, being head and shoulders taller than Tammy. Tammy planted her fists on her hips and glared back at him.

    Alex looked from one to the other. “This is gonna get ugly.”

    To be continued…

    Next time is the climax. Will our heroes and heroines escape Geronita's island and put a stop to his diabolical plans? Or will Geronita succeed in turning the Mysterious Planet into a giant swamp? All will be revealed whenever I get around to posting the next chapter.
    Last edited by The Big Al; 10th May 2008 at 1:19 PM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  17. #17
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    Chapter 11: Fightin’ Mets

    Bret and Lee ran through the puddles quickly forming on the tarmac with several gators chasing after them. The rain was pouring down heavily and lightning and thunder were a frequent occurrence in the angry sky above. The two gasped as they ran, their legs starting to feel like lead pipes but driven by adrenaline.

    “We’re gonna die. We’re gonna die. We’re gonna die.” Lee huffed.

    “Shut up.” Bret shouted over the sound of the deluge.

    “This is all your fault.” Lee shot back. “You had to attack that one gator. And over a paintjob of all things.”

    “I like the paintjob.” Bret replied.

    “You won’t get to see it much when we’re dead.” Lee huffed.

    Bret noticed a building ahead of them. He ran to the door and opened it shouting back to Lee. “In here quick.”

    Lee ran in and he followed, slamming the door behind him. The inside was too dark to see anything. There was some subtle noise beyond the pounding of the rain outside and the smell of body odor. However, they had no idea where it was coming from.

    “Where are we?” Bret tried to regain his breath.

    “I don’t know.” Lee felt along the wall until his hand came over the knob of a switch. “I think found a light switch.”

    “Damn this place stinks.” Bret waved his hand in front of his face in a vain attempt to bat the stench away from his nose. “It smells like a…” He stopped when Lee turned on the lights. There were rows of beds and all at once a gator in each one bolted into a sitting position and glared at them snarling. “…barracks.”

    Lee flipped the switch off, plunging them back into darkness. As the gators outside approached the two engineers burst from the door screaming their heads off. A stream of gators in t-shirts and boxer shorts ran after them.

    **********

    Milro and the royals of the Windmill Kingdom slipped through the bars into the cell just before the gator slammed Tammy into them. He then threw her on the ground. As he came near she delivered hard kicks to both his knees. Before he could recover she got to her feet and ran his head into the cement wall.

    “Come on Tammy.” Alex called out as the gator shook his head out and regained his stance. “Bite his jugular or something.”

    “I’m a beaver, not a mongoose.” Tammy exclaimed.

    The gator charged, raising his claws to slash her. However, she grabbed his wrists and braced herself to prevent him from bringing them down. He lunged with his long maw, snapping at her.

    “I can’t watch.” Nicole covered her eyes and turned away.

    The massive reptile wrenched his wrists from her grip. She ducked as he slashed at the air where she was standing. He grabbed her with his other arm and threw her to the ground.

    As he ran for her she flipped him over. He crashed upside against the cell door. Just as he got up Tammy rammed him into it and slammed her fist into his midsection. The gator balled his fist and punched her in the muzzle, causing her to stagger back, holding her mouth. As he charged her she grabbed his arm and flipped the massive reptile over her shoulder. She then kicked him while he tried to get up.

    The gator swung his tail, taking Tammy’s feet out from under her. She hit the cement floor hard. The gator grabbed her and lifted her up as he got back to his feet. Everyone watched in terror as her feet left the ground. The reptile then threw her against the cell door.

    The gator came to stand over her. Nicole separated her fingers over one of her eyes for a second. She quickly covered it again and turned away.

    “Any last words, mammal?” The gator hissed.

    “Bit me!” Tammy shot back.

    “Good idea.”

    The reptile lunged at her with his tooth lined maw gaping open. Everyone looked away from what they anticipated to be a scene of horrific gore. Tammy grabbed his jaw and snapped it shut before reaching her. He struggled and tried to roll his head out of her grasp.

    “Not so tough now.” Tammy grinned.

    She stood up, tucking the end of the gator’s snout under her arm. He tried to get free, thrashing his head from side to side. Tammy reared her foot and kicked him square in the groin. The gator’s yellow eyes bugged out on impact and he instinctively grabbed his groin area.

    “Oh-ho!” Alex grimaced and turned away. “That made mine hurt.”

    Tammy let go of his snout. She chopped him hard in the back of the neck and kissed the end of his snout before throwing him on the ground. He let out high pitched groaning as he writhed in pain on the floor. “That’s what you get for calling me ‘Tiny’ prick.” She said.

    “Remind me never to get on your bad side.” Alex laughed weakly.

    “Are you alright Tammy?” Milro asked.

    “I’ll manage.” She wiped some blood from her lip. “God, I hate reptiles.”

    **********

    Bret and Lee had done their job grabbing the gator’s attention. Spigot and the others were able to approach the hangar holding the Hurricane unopposed. However, there was one guard pacing in front of the man door beside the closed main entrance. They ducked behind some barrels and crates as the reptile paced from side to side.

    “How are we supposed to get past him?” Franklin moaned. “It’s as big as a house.”

    “I have an idea boss.” Ophelia whispered as she stood up and walked calmly towards the guard.

    “Ophelia,” Spigot whispered sharply at her.

    The young engineer ignored him as she approached the gator. He turned around to continue the other way and saw her. He shouted “halt” and took his rifle in his hands.

    “There’s no need for that.” Ophelia raised her hands to shoulder level. “I just wanted to tell you there’s a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder.”

    The gator instinctively looked at his shoulder for this creature. Ophelia reached for the other side of his neck. Much like before she used her ability to sense the reptile’s electric field to find the point to disrupt it only this time a total disruption. She placed her thumb and index finger in a particular spot on his neck and squeezed.

    She felt his electrical field fluctuate. His body seized at first but quickly went limp. The large reptile lost consciousness and fell on her. Despite her best efforts the weight of the gator tipped her over on the ground. She let out a soft grunt as she landed on the ground.

    She rolled him off and turned to the others. “Let’s go.” She called out to them.

    The three looked around for others. They then followed her through the man door. Waltu and several other walruses were gathered near a large computer in the far corner. The four engineers hid behind a landing gear to watch them.

    “I don’t understand it.” Waltu’s frustrated voice echoed through the hangar. “Why is this happening?” He punched at keys on the terminal. “The winds carried the silver iodide over the Seed Kingdom. It shouldn’t be causing rain here.”

    Lightning flashed outside and thunder rumbled. As the rumbling subsided the pounding sound of rain on the roof could be heard.

    “Could this be an unintended consequence like you and Lee were talking about?” Franklin whispered to Ophelia.

    “I don’t doubt it.” Ophelia looked at the group of pinnipeds. “It’s illogical to assume changing the weather in one location won’t have effects across the entire planet.”

    “But what have they done?” Spigot thought out loud softly. “They’ve already created a thunderstorm here. Who knows what other weather disasters they’ve created across the Water Drop Kingdom let alone the planet.”

    The four crept along the length of the fuselage. They then snuck up the open ramp and into the plane. One of the walruses turned just after they disappeared.

    “What is it?” Waltu grumbled.

    “I thought I heard something.” The walrus answered as thunder again rumbled.

    “It’s just thunder.” Waltu growled.

    In the Hurricane Ophelia turned on her terminal. “I wish we were outside.” She said as the screens filled with readouts. “The instruments don’t do us any good when the weather can’t reach them.”

    “Try the Doppler radar.” Spigot instructed. “It should make it through the hangar.”

    Ophelia typed in a series of keys. Her commands caused the radar housed in a dish on top of the Hurricane to begin sending out pulses. The pulses passed through the skin of the hangar and into the turbulent sky. A brightly colored mosaic appeared on her main screen.

    She eyed the formation. The stronger the “echo” of the radar, the more water and ice there was. The mosaic represented this by colors. Lighter rain was represented by blues and greens while heavier rain was represented by hotter yellows, oranges, reds, and even violets. A line of vivid reds and oranges were over laid on a white outline of the land formations and a black background. Surrounding them was a thicker line of yellow and a mass of greens and blues surrounded it.

    “It looks like they’ve created a squall line along where the rain-cooled air mass from the Seed Kingdom and the polar maritime air mass over the northern part of our kingdom have intersected.” Ophelia typed a couple keys. A pressure grid came up with another colorful blotch taking up most of the screen. “It looks as if we have some ice in the upper the levels. I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of this storm. We should leave as soon as possible.”

    **********

    Geronita watched as the gators chased Bret and Lee around the compound. If it wasn’t his own soldiers trying to catch two of Yamul’s men he might have found it amusing. However he could hang his head at the shameful display.

    He then shot a glare to Talia and Copter-bot. “What do I pay you two for?”

    “I’ll capture them.” Copter-bot proclaimed, smacking his fist against his chest with a distinct clang. “Captor-bot: Flight Mode.”

    He took to the air and came above the two engineers. He prepared to dive at them when blue lightning lanced down right through him. Geronita, Talia, and Kahn all looked away as he exploded and rained down in little pieces.

    The automaton’s head bounced along the ground and came to a rest near them. “’Tis merely a flesh wound.” He groaned.

    Geronita looked to Talia. “You can’t afford it.” She shoved her hand in his face before disappearing inside.

    He then looked to Kahn. “I wasn’t brought into this to fight.” The nyamul walked away.

    “Why is good help so Goddamn hard to find these days?” Geronita slapped his hand over his head and shook it in disbelief.

    **********
    Alex grinned at the gator tied up and muzzled with duck tape. The reptile squirmed on the floor of the cell he had just been stuck in. The other cells were open and the former prisoners were gathered in the hall.

    “Now what?” Daniel asked.

    “Simple,” Tammy answered, “we run like hell.”

    “But you just took one these gators to the woodshed.” One of the sukusuku exclaimed.

    “Yeah,” Tammy looked at the reptile squirming in the cell, “key word being one. There are over a hundred on this island. Discretion is the better part of valor.”

    “If only we had some smell balls.” Daniel thought out loud.

    Before Tammy could inquire what a “smell ball” was sounds of voices came from the doors to the outside. The metal doors burst open and Bret and Lee ran in. They shut the doors to lean against them, breathing heavily.

    “Lee,” Nicole exclaimed, “you’re here to rescue us too?”

    “Oh no.” Tammy slapped her forehead and pulled her hand down her face. “You’re supposed to be making a distraction.”

    “Right.” Bret huffed.

    “That’s what we’re doing.” Lee panted.

    “That means you’ve ****** off the gators.” Tammy shouted.

    “Right.” The two replied.

    “That means they’re chasing after you.”

    “Right.”

    “That means they’re going to go wherever you go.”

    “Right.”

    “And you’re here.”

    “Right.” The two then looked at each other. “Oops.”

    They turned around and braced themselves against the door. The doors swung open, slamming them against the walls behind. Dozens of gators poured in. The frightened sukusukus dashed back into their cells. Only Daniel and the workers and royals remained in the hall.

    “What should we do?” Nicole whimpered.

    She and the others looked to Tammy. She shook her hands in front of her in response. “Don’t look at me.” She stated. “I’m not kicking them all in the balls.” The proverbial light bulb suddenly went off in head. “Wait a minute, balls.”

    She reached in her pocket and thankfully found the jar was still in tact. She pulled it out and handed it to Daniel. “The old man at the bar said you would know what to do with these.”

    “Alright, smell balls.” Daniel accepted the jar. “They look to be the swamp gas special too.”

    The gators suddenly stopped. Daniel cracked a devilish grin as he unscrewed the lid. He took one of the tiny orbs and put it in his mouth and swallowed.

    “You walking suitcases know what’s coming.” He said as he turned to face his tail towards them.

    A massive, mustard yellow cloud exploded from the base of his tail. The gas spread towards the gators. After backing up a couple of steps they turned tail and ran screaming out of the brig.

    “I love the smell of musk in the morning.” Daniel inhaled a deep breath through his nostrils, taking in the noxious odor. “Smells like victory.” He then looked at the others. They all stood there dumbstruck at what they had just seen. “What?”

    The doors swung away from the wall, allowing Bret and Lee to fall out from behind. After sniffing the air Lee exclaimed. “Oh God, what died?”

    **********

    After gathering themselves everyone ran from the brig. The workers along with Milro, Auler, and Sophie ran for the hangar. The sukusuku ran for the bridge. As the guards prepared to stop them one of them chomped down on a smell ball. Seeing the noxious cloud approach the guards dove underwater.

    “That is the second most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.” Bret said as he looked back.

    “What’s the first?” Bonnie asked as she glided next to him.

    “You don’t want to know.” Bret replied as everyone continued their dash across the rain soaked island.

    Geronita gnashed his teeth at the sukusuku escaping across the bridge. He was about to order the gators to round them up when he saw the workers running the other way. More importantly, he saw Milro and others were in Bonnie and Alex’s arms.

    “Get those workers.” He bellowed as thunder again rumbled through the night. “Don’t let them get to their airship.”

    At the other end of the bridge the guards grabbed their rifles as the sukusuku approached. However, a cloud exploded from the bushes and enveloped them. They quickly dove underwater clearing the way for their escape.

    Terrance appeared from the bushes. Daniel was at the head the group. “Thanks old man.” He said as they crossed the bridge onto the mainland.

    “It was the least I could do considering how much they did.” Terrance motioned with his eyes to the island. “However, I think this weather is about to get a whole lot dirtier. I suggest we flee back to the village.”

    “You don’t have to tell me twice.” Daniel said as they all disappeared into the woods.

    **********

    Bret looked behind them to see the gators that had been chasing them were again behind him. He was beginning to wish he had the ability the sukusuku had. They were almost to the hangar and thankfully the only gator in front of them was sprawled out unconscious on the pavement.

    “We’re in the clear.” He said mostly to himself.

    Lee and Tammy ran for the main hangar door. They worked their hands between the massive wooden doors and began slowly pulling them apart. The others came in through the man door. As they got to the ramp they were confronted by Waltu and his people.

    “Going somewhere?” The pinniped’s mouth twisted into a smirk behind his stubby tusks.

    “The door’s open…” Lee stopped as he and Tammy came up.

    Something bounced down the ramp out of the aircraft with the sound of metal hitting metal. The cylindrical object then rowed along the ground into the group of walruses. Smoke suddenly exploded from one end. Seeing their chance the workers dashed up the ramp and into the plane as the pinnipeds coughed and choked helplessly in the cloud.

    Bret smacked a button causing the ramp to pull up and close. He then ran into the cockpit with Otto. As he jumped into his seat and started to strap in he turned to his latest co-pilot. The Windmill Kingdom was famous for its pilots. The kingdom was almost impassible without flying. Though, they were riding a completely different animal.

    “Have you ever flown a fixed wing aircraft?” Bret asked as he fastened his last strap.

    “No.” Otto replied as he tightened his harness.

    Behind them Lee had punched up the radar on his screen. He whistled in astonishment at the impressive line of convection. He felt a sense of dread as well. No doubt the turbulence in the atmosphere was as impressive as the radar image.

    Convective turbulence was rare in the Mysterious Planet. It was why lighter than air craft became the rule. Their susceptibility to even small amounts would have made them impractical most anywhere else. With so little turbulence in the atmosphere, their ability to land and take off anywhere without the need of runways made them the preferred choice. However, the troubled atmosphere just above them would tear the mightiest of the airships apart.

    The Hurricane was a fixed wing, heavier than air craft. It flew by creating a difference in pressure above and below the wings instead of floating using either heated air or light gases. It had been advertised as being more resilient in the presence of turbulence. It looked like they were going to test the limit of that claim.

    A part of him actually wanted to get right into the clouds. The data they could gather on these conditions could be invaluable. However, this long ago stopped being a research mission. With Milro and the royals of Windmill Kingdom in the Hurricane they had to escape both Geronita and the weather.

    He brought the radar profile up. The cross section looked just as daunting. He then punched in some of the earlier data they had taken. An air profile took from a nearby location came up. His sense of dread suddenly grew by a magnitude. The convection had punched into a layer of very cold, dry air above the warm moist air. No doubt the clouds were entraining that air, growing colder.

    “Ophelia,” he tried to keep his anxiety from his voice, “do you see what I see?”

    “I see it.” She got up from her seat and poked her head in the cockpit. “I suggest you take off now. There are big problems upstairs.”

    Bret and Otto had completed their checks and Bret was starting their engines. They knew they had to leave. Between the deteriorating weather and Geronita’s forces they were on barrowed time.

    “We’re ready to go.” Bret then looked forward. The gators that had been chasing them were now blocking their way. All Bret could say was “crap” at this latest development.

    “What do we do?” Otto asked.

    “We run them down.” Bret replied casually. This got him a nasty look from his co-pilot. “I’m kidding.” He said. “Fortunately this thing has it all. Including,” he pressed a button and suddenly the ground in front of them was bathed in blinding white light, “one million candle headlamps.”

    The gators scattered like roaches holding their eyes. Bret throttled the plane up and it pulled out into the rain. The others in the back strapped in for what was sure to be a rough ride.

    Geronita watched as the Hurricane began accelerating down the runway. “Stop that airship.” He yelled over the din of the storm.

    However, it was all futile. The Hurricane lifted off the ground and began to rise into the stormy sky. Geronita looked to one of the stingrays with missiles held in hard points on its underbelly.

    **********

    On board Lee tried to steady himself to watch his screen. His worst fear was being realized. A large red blob at the top of the storm representing rain and ice laden air was descending through the storm.

    Otto saw a pair of lights appear on the main monitor. “What’s that?”

    Bret looked up at it. Lightning flashed illuminating the stingray taking from the base. “Trouble.” He answered.

    **********

    Geronita guided the stingray as best he could. On his display a blue triangle came into a circle surrounding the Hurricane and turned red as a tone sounded. “End of the road mammals.” He cackled and croaked.

    He then happened to look up as the clouds seemed to plummet for them. He screamed as they enveloped his airship. The last the occupants of the Hurricane saw of it was it’s lights flip up and disappeared in the rapidly descending column.

    The column struck the base with merciless force. The wooden and corrugated metal structures broke apart in the powerful winds. Even the cement brig was reduced to rubble under the barrage of debris.

    It flattened against the ground and raced towards the Hurricane. However, it died out as quickly as it had formed. The massive airship flew off, buffeted by the winds.

    **********

    “YEE-HAW!” Bret screamed in the cockpit. “Let’s do that again!”

    “Let’s not and say we did.” Franklin groaned in response.

    All the occupants of the cabin heaved a huge sigh of the relief. They had escaped Geronita’s island and the wrath of the storm.

    “I guess the mystery of the Seed Kingdom’s flooding has been solved.” Lee slumped in his chair. “They weather should be returning to normal there as we speak.”

    “Not a moment too soon.” Spigot got out his chronometer. “We barely have enough time to get back to the Seed Kingdom before dawn.” He then called into the cockpit. “Bret, take us to the Seed Kingdom, best possible speed.”

    “You got it chief.” Bret replied happily.

    For the first time since being awoken by Yamul’s call Spigot felt at peace. Soon enough Milro would be her normal size and he could return to his duties. As the plane banked in a jerking fashion to head in its new course he leaned back and sighed calmly.

    To be concluded…

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  18. #18
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    Chapter 12: A New Day Dawns

    A knocking came on the door of King Truth and Queen Elsa’s darkened bed chamber. The king of the Sunny Kingdom reached over to a lamp and turned it on but dimly. “Come.” He said.

    The door opened as a female myamul stood in the doorway. “Forgive me for disturbing you Your Majesties.” She curtsied and spoke softly. “However, we just detected a violent convective event over the southern regions of the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    “Has the Water Drop Kingdom been notified?” Truth asked, wiping his midnight blue hair from his eyes.

    The feline nodded. “They said they already have a team investigating.”

    The red haired queen sat up behind her husband. “Does it have anything to do with the situation in the Seed Kingdom?”

    “As far as we can tell no.” The nyamul answered. “We will likely have information by morning.”

    “Very well.” King turned off his lamp. “You may go.”

    “Again my apologies.” The nyamul curtsied again and closed the door.

    **********

    King wasn’t mistaken. He could see patches of stars in the dark sky above him. It was a sight he hadn’t seen in so long. And he was hearing something he hadn’t in so long as well, the silence outside with no rain falling.

    “Your Majesty,” one of the molmo reported, “messengers are coming in from across the kingdom. The rains have stopped.”

    “And it appears the clouds are starting to break up too-dane.” King added. He looked back up to the sky. “Could Spigot and his men have something to do with this-dane?”

    “Your Majesty,” a seed human pointed up to a line in the sky above them, “look-dane.”

    The Hurricane was slowly descending towards the ground, its powerful landing light directed at the ground below it. The craft touched down in the muddy soil. Everyone prepared for it to swerve out of control like last time. However, it slowed to a stop without so much as a wobble. After taxiing to bring the rear hatch to face king and airship fell silent.

    A crowd of Seed Kingdom citizens gathered around. The rear hatch descended and the workers of the Water Drop Kingdom and Windmill Kingdom shuffled out. Their diminutive royals soon followed.

    “Spigot,” King worked his way to the front of the crowd, “the rains have stopped-dane. I don’t know what you did but you’ve saved our kingdom-dane.”

    “It was all in the line of duty.” Spigot replied. The truth was they hadn’t done squat to change the weather. It did blow over like he originally said it would.

    “Speaking of duty,” King looked up to Axe, “my subordinate has something he wishes to say to you-dane.”

    Axe paused before answer. He then finally spoke. “I…apologize.”

    “Go on-dane.” King insisted.

    “My actions toward you and your people were completely uncalled for.” Axe continued. “Can you find it within your heart to forgive me?”

    Spigot was taken aback by this. Even though King no doubt forced him to apologize, it was still an apology. He smiled slightly and extended his hand.

    “Only if you can forgive this stubborn, old beaver.” Spigot replied.

    It was Axe’s turned to be shocked. Spigot had never been apologetic and he had never offered him a hand shake. He took his hand and the two shook hands.

    “I never thought I’d see the day those two would shake hands.” Emily said. “It looks like this silly feud might be over.”

    “And you’ve a pretty nasty right hook.” Axe rubbed the left side of his head which still throbbed a little.

    “Just don’t make me use it again.” Spigot said in response. “But onto business.” He turned to the huge silhouette of the Mother Tree against the night sky. “King-sama told me you would return Milro-sama and the others to their original size if I stopped the rains. I held up my part of the bargain. Are you going to make a liar out of him?”

    The leaves of the Mother Tree slowly began to glow, bathing the area in a harsh, green light. Milro once again felt her body be permeated with energy and she began to slowly grow larger. After a couple seconds she was as tall as Emily and continued to enlarge. After a few more seconds she was back to her original size along with Sophie and Auler and the energy subsided.

    “We’re big again!” Sophie exclaimed.

    The workers erupted into cheers when a flash came right overhead. The first sliver of the Sun’s Blessing was coming out of eclipse through a break in the clouds. Around them pools of sunlight appeared across the drenched countryside. Lee donned his sunglasses as the engineers looked out.

    “Oh glorious sunlight” one of the seed citizens cheered, “I thought I’d never see it again.”

    “Talk about cutting it close.” Bret said as he shielded his eyes from the enlarging sun.

    One of the pools of light enveloped the Mother Tree. Suddenly clusters of white flowers burst into bloom throughout her boughs.

    “The Mother Tree has been restored-dane.” King cheered as he leapt in the air.

    “Have you ever seen such a glorious sight?” Sophie gasped in amazement.

    “No.” Milro replied in equal amazement. “I wish I brought my painting supplies. This would make such a beautiful landscape.”

    “You guys were awesome.” Solo exclaimed. “And how you saved the valley was like you were superheroes. But what to call you?”

    “How about the Weathermakers?” Harney suggested.

    “Yeah, the Weathermakers of the Mysterious Planet.” Ichele concurred with her sister.

    “I like the sound of that.” Bret cracked an indulgent grin.

    “As much as I’d like to stay and chat,” Spigot tipped his hat to King and his people, “Yamul-sama is probably worried sick. Come along everyone.”

    He turned to board the Hurricane with the others following them.

    “Have a safe journey-dane.” King called to the departing workers as he and his subjects waved them good bye.

    Bret took his seat in the pilot’s chair and began strapping himself in. As he prepared to take off Auler walked in and sat in the co-pilot’s chair. “Am I ever going to have the same co-pilot for more than one leg of this trip?” He asked.

    The engines of the Hurricane started, spinning up the propellers. The craft began to pull forward and accelerated across the soaked grass. King and the people of the Seed Kingdom watched as the craft lifted off the ground and began to climb into the brightening sky.

    **********

    They emerged above the thinning clouds. The storms Geronita caused had quickly died out as the conditions that created them disappeared. The only evidence of their existence was the orphaned anvils sitting high above. This was probably fortunate since they’d have either traveled over the Seed Kingdom or traveled further into the Water Drop Kingdom both with undesirable effects.

    Bret grabbed his shoulder which was beginning to throb along with the rest of his body. He guessed being thrown into that tree and being smashed behind the door had finally caught up with him. Though, he could think of a worse fate like being covered in spears like a bloody pincushion. Still, his entire body ached.

    Auler looked over to him. “Are you alright?” The Prince of the Windmill Kingdom asked.

    “Sure.” Bret winced as another wave of pain shot through his body. “Being squished between a steel door and a cement wall does wonders for the spine.”

    “I’m sorry we put you through all this trouble.” Auler apologized.

    “Don’t mention it.” Bret tried to ignore the throbbing of his body. “It’s our duty watch the royalty’s six. If we don’t do it, who will?”

    Lee was also starting to feel sore though his body was more resilient than Bret’s. Still, he throbbed and ached all over. Nicole was sitting behind him with Milro, Sophie, and Bonnie.

    “Are YOU alright?” She turned around and asked him.

    The aquatic engineer swiveled his chair to face her. “I’ll live.” He replied, not affected by the pain as severely as Bret.

    Tammy placed a cold pack on the side of her muzzle where the gator has punched. Like her two colleagues she hadn’t escaped the island without taking some licks, probably more than the two combined. However, she didn’t want anyone to feel sympathy for her.

    Otto sat across from her. Seeing that the large beaver was in no mood to talk about brawl with the gator he concentrated on Nicole and Lee.

    “What this Lee guy like?” He asked his tablemate.

    Tammy swiveled her chair to follow his stare. “Lee’s alright. Granted he has bouts of silliness and he hangs out with the idiot Bret but he’s for the most part a gentleman.” An amused grin came on her face. “I just never expected him fall in love at first sight like that.”

    “I’m glad she’s happy.” He sighed.

    “We’re passing Geronita’s base.” Emily shouted.

    Everyone got up and huddled around the right table, staring out of the porthole. Below them could only be described as dumbfounding. The island had been swept almost completely clean. Only the runway and maybe the bottom 30 to 40 centimeters of the brig’s cement walls remained. However, the destruction was not limited to the island. Trees on the mainland were flattened against the ground.

    “It looks like a tornado hit it.” Alex exclaimed.

    “Not exactly.” Lee spoke up. “It was a microburst.”

    “A microburst?” The others repeated.

    Lee nodded as he strolled back to his seat and sat back down. “A tornado is created by a powerful updraft.” He pointed his thumb up. “From what I saw this was a powerful downdraft.” He turned his thumb down.

    “As Geronita used silver iodide to increase nucleation in the clouds he expanded them over the swamp at night. This increased the temperature and therefore the evaporation. It also scoured out moisture in the upper levels. So there was warm, moist air in the lower atmosphere and colder, drier air in the upper atmosphere separated by a warm, dry layer called a cap.

    “When the rain-cooled air mass in the Seed Kingdom and the polar air mass over the northern Water Drop Kingdom forced the warm, moist air up,” he cupped his hands and raised them up, “it broke the cap and intruded into that cold, dry air. The cold, dry air was entrained in the cloud cooling it off. It lost buoyancy and literally fell out of the atmosphere at an incredible rate.” He threw his hands down and swept them apart imitating the motion of the winds.”

    “It’s ironic.” Ophelia returned to her seat. “Geronita wanted to control the weather but in the end it was his weather modifications that were the instrument of his demise.”

    “I think it goes to show that although we make the weather, we’re far from being its masters.” Lee added.

    **********

    Unnoticed below them, Talia watched from the branch of a standing tree. As the craft dwindled in the distance she spread her massive wings and leapt into the air.

    **********

    At the Hurricane’s speed Peanut Lake came into view within a half hour. It relieved Bret to see familiar landmarks. As he approached the lake he saw an airship sitting on the shore near the hangar. He immediately recognized the galleon hull and purple cyclone shaped envelope above it. It was the flagship of the Windmill Kingdom.

    He gulped dryly as a feeling of dread came over him. He highly doubted it ended up there randomly. “Uh…Chief”, he muttered, “I think we’ve yet to see the last of it.”

    **********

    King Randa was a doggel much like Otto only older with a duller coat and a gray mustache on the end of his muzzle. His attire was almost identical to his son’s except he wore a pair of aviator sunglasses over his eyes and his crown had grander embellishments. His wife, Queen Elena, was a doggel-half with aqua eyes and hair and her ears extended down to her waist. Her outfit was much like her daughter’s only with a slimmer skirt and a cloak coming down below her knees.

    The two monarchs of the Windmill Kingdom with Yamal and Altezza watched as the strange airship approached. Randa didn’t know whether to be amazed or insulted by the example of the Water Drop Kingdom’s superior aeronautics. The Hurricane touched down and rolled to a stop along the shore. They watched as the large craft passed by them, halting just beyond them.

    The rear hatch descended the first one to run out was Sophie. The enthusiastic princess of the Windmill Kingdom ran to her mother, wrapping her arms around her. “Mother,” she said before turned to give her father a hug, “Father.”

    “Sophie.” The two said in response.

    Auler was the next to step off. Altezza ran towards him crying out “Auler”. She practically tackled him as she hugged his slim torso. He in turn wrapped his arms around her.

    The workers shuffled off in a group. Milro followed close behind them with Spigot behind her. As the chief emerged he heard the clearing of a throat. Yamul was standing there, giving him that same glare when her first entered her office the day before. No doubt she had compelled someone to tell her about Milro and his plans.

    “I believe you have some explaining to do Chief.” Yamul said in a cold tone.

    Spigot tried to gulp a lump forming his throat down. “Yes Ma’am.” He muttered.

    **********

    In her office, Yamul listened to Spigot explain in detail what had transpired. Milro, Auler, and Sophie as well as the ten workers stood behind him. Spigot took her through the entire chain of events. After he was finished Yamul crossed her arms in front of large chest.

    “Mr. Spigot…” She said in a harsh tone.

    Spigot screwed his eyes shut like a condemned man facing a firing squad. He knew it was all over. His career was finished. He was just waiting for her to say “you’re fired” and get it over with.

    “…thank you.” Yamul said in a much softer tone.

    Spigot eyes popped open. He looked up at his ruler to see a warm smile on his face. Before he could express his shock/relief she continued.

    “If you had told me about this from the start I might have acted out of emotion and deprived Milro of an important lesson.”

    “Lesson?” Her daughter repeated.

    Yamul nodded gently. “I know you have your doubts of becoming this kingdom’s ruler. You don’t think you have the abilities. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you take away the crown, staff, title, and office, I’m just one person, as mortal and flawed as the next. Anyone can rule, but the sign of good monarch is the ability to lead.”

    “But I’m not a leader.” Milro replied.

    “You have many of the qualities of a leader.” Yamul continued. “You’re selfless, listen to others, and you stand up for what you know is right.”

    “But Geronita almost destroyed out entire planet.” Milro said in response. “And I couldn’t do anything to stop him.”

    “But he didn’t.” Yamul replied. “You were put in a position where you were totally powerless and had to depend on those behind you. A sign of a true leader is faith that their followers will do what has to be done. Each of these fine young men and women contributed their skills, abilities, and talents and created group greater than the sum of its parts.”

    “Thanks for the compliment Ma’am.” Lee spoke up. “However, Geronita defeated himself. He was doomed whether we were there or not.”

    “But if you weren’t there the sukusuku trapped in his brig along with Otto Bonnie would have perished alongside him and his followers.” Yamul said in response. “And you stopped the levy breach from flooding the valley. You saved countless lives.”

    The queen of the Water Drop Kingdom turned back to her daughter. “Needing help is not a sign of weakness. Do you understand Milro?”

    “Yes mother.” Milro did understand.

    She began to think of all those times she had come to rely on her friends. She always thought it was because she was weak. But her mother was right, despite their foibles Spigot’s young engineers did things she would have never done and seemed to complete her.

    She then smiled gently. “And I have a new found respect for the people of the Seed Kingdom. It’s hard being that small.”

    “This is great.” Lee said. “As they say, alls way that ends well.”

    **********

    Even a world as warm and welcoming as the Mysterious Planet has its foreboding regions. The Badlands of the Windmill Kingdom was one such region. It was rugged and desolate. Only the hardiest of plants and animals dared to call it home. Even the windmills were sparse.

    Below one of the lonely windmills the gators pushed the Sunny Kingdom airship into the mouth of a cave. Above them Talia swooped through another entrance into a dark cavern. She perched on a conduit and stared down below her.

    Gators, walruses, Kahn, Copter-bot, and Waltu all cowered before a chair on a raised platform. There Geronita sat, drumming his fingers on the armrest. They could only guess what was going in his mind.

    “Tickle us. Do we not laugh?” He thought out loud. “Prick us. Do we not bleed?” His wide mouth cracked into a devilish grin. “Wrong us. Do we not revenge?”

    Fin?

    And we're done. Thanks for reading.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

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