“Do you need a list?” Captain Rivitir asked as I gazed apprehensively at the control panel in front of me. Must be a hundred gauges, switches, and dials, I thought.
“Uh, a list?” I muttered trying to decipher what I was seeing.
“Yeah, you know, a list of all this stuff and what it means,” she answered waving casually at the control panel.
I looked at her, “Well, uh if that's okay. Yeah, yeah, I would. I mean I know most of it, no problem,” I lied, nodding reassuringly, “but there is some stuff here that I'm not too sure about.” I was trying to appear knowledgeable, seasoned as they say, give the impression that I was a competent and well-trained co-pilot who would already know that panel inside and out and more but in fact I was in way over my head and I knew it.
“No problem,” she shrugged, and with a smile handed me the pamphlet she was holding. “Everybody needs a refresher when it comes to these old rigs,” she stated, walking away. Then she stopped and turned, “Oh, and if you're feeling in over your head, don't worry, you are.” Continuing on she whispered, “We all are.” I wasn't sure if I was meant to hear that last part or not. I saw the navigator giving me a worried look as I opened the pamphlet.
I was able to gain a working knowledge of my job with that very useful pamphlet. I could tell that several hands had already thumbed through it and I paid extra attention to the sections that someone had underlined or circled. This was a top secret mission I was told, national security and strictly need to know, so I wanted to give a good showing despite my inexperience. I wondered why they'd chosen this old airplane. And me.
“Here we go!” Captain Rivitir yelled above the engine noise which suddenly became much louder. Then we were taxiing down the runway. All my gauges seemed fine and I settled back. This is actually pretty cool, I thought as we became airborne and began our ascent. What a view from up here! I was thrilled until one of my gauges crawled up into the red. I quickly thumbed through the pamphlet until I found it. The passage was underlined and I recalled its urgency as I found and flipped the switches it assured me must be flipped. Nothing happened for a few heart wrenching moments then slowly, wonderfully, the gauge settled back into its proper position. I glanced over at Captain Rivitir who smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I blushed, nodding with a weak smile as I returned the thumbs up.
My only experience was flying a little single engine antique around the towns the Blarney Bailey Circus was visiting, flying a banner with Blarney Bailey Circus! emblazoned on it. It's pretty hard to fly that rickety old crate with a giant banner dragging along behind. Dimitri, one of the Flying Dangle Brothers, would set the banner firmly between two poles where I could swoop down and hook onto it. He'd make sure the banner wasn't tangled as I took to the skies.
Since it was my plane, inherited from my Uncle Flete who used to do crop dusting, they were glad to pay me without checking my license or anything, which was good because I didn't have one. Always meant to do the studying and flight hours and get one but I never did and they just assumed, since I had a plane and all, that I had one, and well, here I am, where I could just fly and no one questioned anything. I also did odd jobs around the circus, helping pitch tents and set up bleachers, that sort of thing. I worked ticket booths most evenings. I thought I was good for another decade or so until a black government vehicle pulled up.
I was parking my plane after flying circles for the last couple hours, and I watched the vehicle warily. Two men in dark suits got out and began strolling toward me, easy, unconcerned. They both wore dark glasses and before I even noticed they were on either side firmly gripping my arms and walking me toward their vehicle.
“Ma'am, you need to come with us and it'd be better if you didn't make any resistance,” one of them hissed as they pulled me along.
“Wait! What . . .?” I sputtered
“National Security,” the other barked.
Then I was in the back seat beside one man as the other got behind the wheel and hurried us away. Neither spoke, despite my demands for answers, as we sped to an airport where I was put on a giant, I mean bigger than what you're imagining now, way bigger, airplane with four huge propeller engines mounted on the wings.
I'm helping drive that plane right now. Co-pilot. I've found the pamphlet given to me by Captain Rivitir to be very helpful and I was even beginning to feel optimistic until the navigator handed out three large tan envelopes marked TOP SECRET in bright red letters, one to each of us. I opened mine and read.
TOP SECRET for Lillow G and no one else, or else!
Lillow! You are the co-pilot on a secret mission and you have no idea what you are doing. That's perfect. No one does. Captain Rivitir is actually the skipper of a tugboat and Rokkie Maikdue, your navigator, is a taxi driver in a large city. Listen: No one knows what they are doing. The reason is because you are going to fly through the Arches of Chaos, something no capable, reasoning pilot and crew could ever hope to accomplish. Your current chaos is just what's called for. You'll make it through, pretty sure. Once on the other side you'll be inside the Space Manifolds. One is plugged so you need to unplug it then return here. The Universe depends on you! Good Luck!
The navigator looked at me, “Wow. So you're the only one who's ever actually flown before.” I looked back unable to speak.
“Explains why you picked it up so quick,” Captain Rivitir said, beaming at me.
We kept our current course, each of us checking our pamphlets from time to time. Soon we entered the Arches of Chaos, sooner than we expected, though we really didn't know it at the time, and all my gauges started spinning or bouncing around. I noticed our tail was now in front and loud claxons began blaring from all sides. I opened my pamphlet but only found the funny pages, in color. I looked over and watched as Captain Rivitir pulled the overhead horn again and again, emitting an enormous foghorn bellow each time that was barely heard over the claxons. Now the entire cockpit was flashing red, blue, and green and screaming was heard from somewhere far off. The tail was no longer in front, rather we were spinning madly, tilting back and forth, and shaking. Suddenly everything stopped and we sat in silence, except for the navigator who took a moment longer to stop screaming.
We were staring into blackness but not starry blackness, just blackness. Then we slowly began to make out massive portals in the gloom leading to who knows where. Very dim but we could see one of the portals was blocked with something.
Captain Rivitir steered us over to it. Steering was easy, almost like a car, but stopping was not. Captain Rivitir was frantically flipping through her pamphlet when we bumped right into that big thing that was blocking the portal. We stuck there for a moment then, with a massive, slow, sucking whoosh it fell through and the portal was open. Captain Riviter dropped the pamphlet and pulled the steering wheel hard right and held it. We circled around and returned to the Arches of Chaos, something we were used to so we slipped through easily, I think.
When we got back, we splashed down in a big lake since none of us knew how to land big planes. The plane was so big it floated and soon we were picked up. We're national heroes, as I'm sure you already know. Saved the Universe.
What? You didn't know? Surely, you've heard of Rokkie Maikdue, famous explorer? Really? So how about Lillow G, the daredevil pilot? Gosh. Well, you've certainly heard of Rosy the Riviter, huh? Remember the 'We Can Do It' posters back in the 40s? You know them. Yeah, that's right, that Rosy! So there you go, a famous story.
Relish The Thought
Stanford Yurofome was the leader of the pack, near as anyone could tell. He was a strange guy anyway, very strange but this was too much. Whenever they, Stan's pack that is, would come screaming out of the blue and raze another part of the realm, dropping gigantic pickles like bombs, everyone, especially our meager law community, would search the sky carefully trying to determine just who was riding with Stan, himself identifiable by his flaming red hair that billowed above like a cloud, and, even more pressing, they'd try to figure out where the pack came from or to where it was going. Yet despite careful observation by these professionals as well as the copious scrutinizing of the hoi polloi, no one has yet been able to determine either location, or even any of the other members of the pack.
That's when I was called in. I'm SDCI Whatley, assigned to the Weird, Odd or Shocking Investigative Division of the Elvenstead Lawkeepers. We've had Yurofome in our sights for quite some time now since his shocking red hair was hard to miss. We, WOSHI as we're known, didn't like the guy, not sure why, we just didn't, not one of us, so when we heard he was leading a pack of pickle bombers we weren't surprised.
Detective Inspector Hare Standfast, who along with Detective Seedy Grimmsee and myself comprised the entire division. D Standfast accompanied me on my initial investigation while Seedy stayed behind at our secret spot to provide back-up. A recent attack on Kattsop, a village nearby, was where we'd begin. We'd be able to investigate the aftermath of a high speed pickle bombardment firsthand, a prospect we did not relish but knew we had to do.
We marched forcefully into the main square which had taken the brunt of the attack. Pickle remains were strewn everywhere and the village's mayor, Mayor Hattrack, was standing in the midst of it shaking his fist at the sky and pronouncing various curses upon Stan's pack.
I interrupted his rant, “Hello! Mayor?”
He stopped and looked at me, “Yes. Who're you?” I could easily tell he was in a bad mood.
“I'm SDCI Whatley and this is DI Standfast come to investigate this hideous crime.”
“About time!” he barked. “Stan must be stopped!”
We nodded a somber agreement. “So you saw this attack?” I asked.
“Yeah, through my office window,” he pointed up at some broad windows overlooking the square. “It was horrible, that pack swooping down at super-fast speed then the shwack, shwack, shwack of giant pickles hitting and exploding.” He looked at me with a horrified expression. “Blendin, over there sweeping,” he pointed at a nearby sweeper, “was out here, right here in the square when it happened and he seen it all.”
I nodded curtly at the mayor, “Don't leave town,” I told him as we turned and approached Blendin.
“Mister Blendin?” I asked.
“Yes, ma'am,” he answered, “Blendin Runjump, Towne Sweeper. You investigating this bombing?”
“Yes, we are Mister uh, Runjump. I was told you saw it, that you were right out here when it happened. What'dya see?”
“Yessum, I was. Din't see much,” he said with a frown. “I was doing like I'm doing now only then it was leaves and stuff and now . . .” he pushed a pile of pickle remains forward, “well, you see what it is now.” I nodded. “Well, I was sweeping when I heard this loud squealing noise and suddenly, quicker than you'd think, really a lot quicker, they came screaming over, flying low and fast with the eerie, siren wail of pickle bombs falling, making awful splats all around.”
“It must have been horrible,” DI Standfast murmured.
“Yessir and uh, ma'am, it was. Horrible!”
“Which way did they go?” I asked calmly.
“Dunno,” he answered with a confused look. “Thought it was thataway,” he pointed, “then I saw something flying way off over thataway,” he pointed in the opposite direction, “so I just ent sure.” He shrugged.
“Hmmm,” I thought, thinking. “Let us know if you remember anything else. Let's go Standfast. Nothing else to find here.” We returned to our cubby in city hall, next to the newsstand where we've received millions of handy tips and suggestions. I'd given Moredom, the proprietor, a secret signal in case he ever got something I should know about and I looked over, discreetly making eye contact.
“Hey detective!” he yelled, apparently forgetting our secret signal. “I gotta clue!” I gestured him to be quiet and wait until I could come around to the side. “Yeah,” he continued loudly, “I gotta clue about your pickle bombing case.”
“Be quiet!” I hissed from the side. “Now what you got?”
Finally realizing the need for discretion he whispered, “This guy come around, couldn't see him too clear through his crazy red hair, anyway he said, 'You tell that detective to look for a ring.'”
“Huh?” I said.
“That's just what I said,” he said smiling proudly, “Same exact word.”
“Yeah,” I said with a scowl, “so what'd he say?”
“Nuttin. He was just gone.” I started to speak and he cut me off, “Din't see where. He was gone too quick, quicker 'an you'd think.”
I nodded thanks. Back in our cubby I asked Standfast what he thought Moredom had meant by 'look for a ring,' but he had no ideas. We sat glumly.
Then D Grimmsee spoke, “Say, I been thinking, boss,” I raised my eyebrows. “Well, I thought maybe a map of the attacks might help. You know, show us where they been happening.”
I shrugged, “Why not. We got no other clues.”
We pinned a big map of the area to our cubby wall and began methodically plotting the spots where the attacks had occurred. It took some time but when we were done, we backed up to look. Slowly what we were seeing became clear and we all gasped. The attacks were in a giant circle. A huge 'ring'!
“I think we've found the ring,” I said, “but now what?”
“Dunno,” D Grimmsee muttered, staring at the map.
“Say, what's that in the center?” DI Standfast asked. “Look there. See?”
We all bent over to see, and there, right in the center was written in small letters, 'Stan's Pickles.' Well we hustled right on over and when we got there, staring at this big pickle factory, we were attacked by Stan's Pack, a full on pickle attack. We ran for cover inside and found the factory was empty, deserted. Shocked and dismayed we returned to our cubby.
“Couldn't tell a thing about the attack, could you?” I asked.
“No ma'am, they was too fast,” D Grimmsee moaned, wiping pickle juice off his new suit. The one that his wife, Tamolly bought him to celebrate his promotion to detective. It was a big deal and he looked good in it. Very professional. Except for the pickle stain. And the smell. I felt bad for him.
DI Standfast had an idea, a crazy idea but an idea nonetheless, and we sure didn't have anything else. He said, “Maybe a big net? Something with fine netting so's you can't see it, but strong, you know?” I was noncommittal but Grimmsee nodded, like it was maybe okay. “If we put a couple up high,” he continued, “both north and west then we'd be sure to nab 'em, either coming or going.” Grimmsee and I both thought he was probably nuts but we didn't say it and since we didn't have a better plan we went ahead and did it. We put up them big nets in the villages that hadn't been hit yet, then we sat back and waited.
Sure enough, we nabbed the miscreants the very next day, just like I said we would. They got tangled in a net right as they were attacking and we got 'em all. Turns out they were aliens from outer space, and everyone of 'em had shocking big red hair. That's how you can tell 'em. We rounded 'em up and threw them in jail for a hundred years or more. They hoped to conquer us with vicious pickle attacks but we were too smart and thwarted their evil scheme. We sure never thought we'd end up saving the earth from an alien invasion.