Castle Roland

Somerset Farm

by Jamie Haze

In Progress

Chapter 60

Published: 28 May 15


Jamie Haze

The Cat People evacuated the pool after a few signing motions from Carb. All wore expressions of grim determination as they ran to find their weapons and equipment belts. The Family was not far behind them. Hans, Herman and Gregor took the lead in heading back across the chamber the way they came.

Fang stopped the Family with a growl and powerful thoughts, "That way is too far, we will go the Cat way to the village." He sent an image of the hallway behind the throne which got them turned around to follow the People who were already disappearing into the passage. That is, all but the boys who had ridden someone's shoulders, they waited at the entrance to reclaim their 'mounts'.

When all the riders were comfortably seated Nip and Tuck used their heels on Pettie and Scott's chests to spur them forward. It seemed that once the two boys were acknowledged as leaders of their peer group, they planned to continue by being out in front of the Family. "Ouch, that hurt you scamp. Good thing you ain't wearin' spurs." Pettie complained. "Fair warnin' if y'all do that again, y'all are goin' by airmail to find your daddies up front somewhere."

After JC translated between giggles, Nip and Tuck both bent down around their rides' heads and began to massage their bruised pectorals in general and their nipples in particular until their efforts became sensual. Pettie batted Tuck's hand away, "Apology accepted, now leave off doin' that too right out here in public." Tuck grinned and compromised by arranging Pettie's damp hair with his fingers hoping that Pettie wouldn't notice that he was actually working paste into his scalp since he was so successful in coating his pecs.

Bani suddenly appeared alongside the Family and began walking with them, or trying to. Spot and Freckles had assumed their positions as his Cat Friends and protectors by walking with their shoulders pressed firmly against his thighs so they appeared to be herding him like sheep dogs will do with sheep instinctively. In addition, Kad and Sidi pressed the Cats' shoulders to show that they were equally protective. "Please give me more space as we are in no danger at present," he begged the twin Cats and simply pushed his human guards followed by a mighty frown.

Suddenly the Family heard a low growl in their minds accompanied by a warning, "Do as Tara Bani orders, Spot, you will walk in front at my side. Freckles, if you wish to be useful, tell the white warriors of where we are passing." Fang rumbled in everyone's mind.

Freckles immediately left Bani's side and dropped back to walk with his namesake, Doug, and his partner Buck. He walked between them and pressed Buck with his shoulder while his tail wandered Doug's freckled back at first before it settled down to wrap his waist and the tip began inspecting his cock. "Freckles, what are you doing?" Doug asked while Buck giggled.

"Counting," Freckles replied, although his tail tip acted like an independent entity and rose up to bore into his navel innocently after being caught doing something naughty. "These chambers are for resting and coupling," Freckles explained smoothly to begin his tour.

"How many?" Buck asked.

"Eleven," Freckles answered proudly.

"We've passed many more than eleven bedrooms already Freckles old chap," Medi sent.

Buck burst out laughing. "Eleven, really? I must have missed one."

"There is a very small one on the underside, close to the base." Freckles assured as his tail tip dropped to lift Doug's growing erection up against his belly helpfully. "See?" he asked Buck.

By then Buck was using Freckles' shoulders to hold himself up and laughing tears had begun to form in his eyes. Doug grabbed Freckles' busy tail tip and held it up to his mouth like a microphone. "Read my lips! Lay off my cock!" He shouted out loud and sent. By then he had come to the conclusion that a Great Cat's tail tip contained some sort of very efficient optical sensors if Freckles could use his to myopically inspect his cock to count freckles.

Once chastened, Freckles sent his tail up to caress the little boy riding Doug's shoulders and after just a few seconds, reported to Doug; "It would be a great honor if this little cub was permitted to couple with you in the same manner that Nip and Tuck coupled with Marksman Pettie."

Doug looked surprised, "How do you know what Pettie did with his little friends? Were you out there in the dark watching?"

"I touched one's mind to hear his thoughts and see his memories. I have never touched a human mind that cannot converse and did not know that it could be done but this could be useful in protecting Tara Bani and his friends at school. Any with evil thoughts will be surprised at how fast they die."

"Ah, you might discover that we have some people who are not our friends because we do not couple with females, or they desire our possessions, or some who simply do not like our appearance but these must not be killed at once. It would be a very good thing if you advised one of us or just Bani so they can be watched. Foreknowledge is a very good thing."

"What if one has a weapon and plans for its use?"

"Then I would say injure to disarm if possible. Remember dead enemies cannot be questioned."

"Yes, this Cat understands. They would be questioned as the Black Warrior did the monsters?"


The immature twin Cats and of course humans were unaware that any adult Great Cat could monitor the mental conversations of any other Cat or human if they were wearing one of the Ancient's emerald communicators. And after listening to Doug and Freckles' discussion, Fang decided that Freckles was the son who would attend school with Bani. Even he was impressed with Freckles' rapidly emerging abilities. His next problem was how to tell Spot.

"I say, I don't believe we were discussing bedrooms were we? Eleven you say?" Medi grinned at Sean, "Sean old chap, we will take our own inventory at the first opportunity."

"Over my dead body," Doug retorted.

"That extreme won't be necessary," Medi assured, "I'm certain we can find volunteers to hold you down."

Red-faced Doug changed the subject, "Meanwhile, back to the tour. Can we look in a bedroom?" he asked as he did just that. He whistled in surprise. "And I thought our bedroom was sumptuous. Maybe we should remodel when we get home." By that time everyone was becoming inured to seeing gold used as a common decorative material and precious stones used as accents.

Buck nodded in full agreement and laughed. "Yup, but then we'll have to keep old Mom out for sure, if she ever saw a playpen like this, Dad would be paying for some extensive renovations."

"This Cat's family rests in this chamber," Freckles announced proudly and with a single bound from the entry, landed on the bed to almost disappear among a pile of large pillows until only his ears, eyes and nose were visible. The bed was two over-lapping circles. Freckles was snuggled into by far the largest 'side' or circle, which could easily accommodate four adult Cats while the smaller side with scaled down pillows was still the size of two king-size human beds. The room was also circular, perhaps a hundred feet in diameter and off to one side there was a large pool whose surface emitted occasional tendrils of steam.

Doug was naturally drawn to the pool and left Buck near the bed, holding his sidearm. "Hold on Sprout," he warned the little boy sitting on his shoulders, just before he performed a Duggie Dive into the water while he held Sprout's ankles to keep him in place. Newly named 'Sprout' raised his arms and used his whole body as a substitute for Doug's arms. As usual, there was very little splash and when they surfaced, Doug became the dolphin and Sprout became a little Doug as he steered them to the opposite side of the pool and then a full circuit around the pool before he stood up panting to see everyone else was about to joint him. "Look out guys; this pool is full of paste. My whole body is tingling and while I'm going to be embarrassed by you watching; Sprout is about to get his wish."

Gregor spoke up, "We have no time now for an orgy, we must return to Sea Song," he warned.

Freckles stared vacantly at the domed ceiling for a few seconds and reported: "There is no haste necessary, this Cat believes the invaders are discussing their next course of action. Perhaps they will send a small party much later in the darkness when they think all our warriors are resting."

Before Gregor could argue further, Freckles removed choice from most of the guys by leaping with outstretched paws from behind them to carry them forward with screams of delight into the pool. The splash the mob made; was definitely not of Duggie Dive quality, but by then Doug didn't care. Sprout had him stretched out on the floor, on his back and was wiggling his whole little body down over Doug's until he reached the perfect desired position. Although Freckles had gotten him off in the big pool with his busy tail not half an hour earlier, Doug rewarded Sprout just after the eager boy got his mouth over the spout. "I'm sorry about that Sprout," Doug gasped.

The boy, newly named Sprout, slithered back up Doug's prone body to nuzzle his neck exactly the way he'd seen older Cat boys do with a warrior. Almost total silence descended in the room and when Doug thought about it he lifted his head to see everyone had left the pool and that the young Cat boys were ministering to their 'rides' in the same manner that Sprout had done to him. All except for Squeak, he was sitting close to Pettie's side like a little Indian watching his older brother intently, as Sport attempted to swallow Pettie entirely. Nip and Tuck bumped heads over Scott while the partners made out with each other shamelessly.

It seemed that when Squeak decided he'd received ample instruction, he crawled to Sport's unattended more spritely cock and imitated his brother. Sport looked back, nodded and stretched out to give Squeak better access before he went back to work on Pettie.

Meanwhile Freckles made several circuits around the pool and with his green eyes as big as saucers, he used his tail tip to watch the action more intimately and even helped induce greater climaxes if he felt a heart rate peak and breathing became more difficult. He also sent his envious brother images of everything he saw and felt since both had always been interested in the coupling habits of humans and Freckles' was the first opportunity either had to get so up close and personal.

Hans and Herman were the last two white warriors to climax almost simultaneously when Freckles lost interest in them and human coupling habits. He faced north, crouched down and snarled. "A fat canoe paddled by four invaders has just departed from the destroyer boat." He announced forcefully in everyone's mind. He added, "The invaders are not human, they are a very ugly green." He shivered with distaste.

"Infrared, are you seeing the invaders in infrared? Can you send us a picture?" John asked. Freckles blinked and a video began in everyone's mind. They could see the destroyer from overhead and a tiny green dot less than quarter of a mile away, between it and the shore, and something else, the angle of view was correct; snoopy was not directly overhead. "How can you see that there are four people in that inflatable, ah, fat canoe?" John knew what he was seeing in his mind was an overhead view from snoopy but it was impossible to believe that anyone or anything could intercept snoopy's signals. The view John held in his mind shimmered and when it cleared, he, and he assumed everyone else, could see the inflatable boat, four paddlers and a large outboard motor in the up position. The motor was not being used but the residual heat bloom indicated that it had been used or tested recently.

John impulsively hugged Freckles around his neck and then kissed his cold wet nose. "You, Freckles, are a beautiful and very brilliant Cat!"

Freckles purred in response, used his tail to pull John in closer and then sent his tail tip questing between John's legs. He clearly misunderstood John's motives. "Thank you John. You are a very beautiful young warrior and very well endowed but no Cat may ever couple with a human." Freckles returned.

The boy that had been John's rider saw what was about to happen and knelt in front of him. John's eyes rolled back, fluttered and his hips began to thrust involuntarily. JC giggled and kissed John's cheek. "I can't believe you did that in front of everyone, but it was beautiful to watch," he assured. It was then that John remembered that he should be embarrassed as his whole body flushed with red.

Hans was the first to get back to business. "Those four men are untrained; their stroke is erratic and they are even splashing. Perhaps they are going on holiday not to reconnoiter our defenses. Come; let us return to Sea Song. Do you know the way, Freckles?"

"Oh yes, I know the way but I do not know how to open the barrier to the outside."

"The door, did you mean there's a door that you can't open? Why not?" Buck asked with a grin. He thought he knew.

"Father thinks these Cats are mischievous Cats and might come to harm outside without supervision." Freckles actually winked at John. "Of course we would never do such a thing. To disobey a parent is very bad."

"So is conspiracy," Fang rumbled. "I await you at the barrier," he added.

"It is called a door, Father," Freckles corrected smugly.

"When you arrive at the DOOR," Fang returned, "arrive well hidden by all your new warrior friends."

With that subtle warning Freckles closed down further communications and while he didn't appear to be fearful, he dropped back to walk with John in the middle of the group. To 'see' he held his tail straight up with the tail tip bent to ninety degrees and seemed to use it like a periscope as he moved it a full three hundred-sixty degrees as they walked further down the beautiful hallway that began behind the golden throne.

"Turn here," Freckles instructed.

"Which way, right or left?" Marc asked without looking up.

"The side where there is a passage. It is a Cat way." Freckles answered, unsure if Marc could walk through the solid stone wall opposite the passage.

Paul shook his head. "Man, what a dip shit," he mumbled.

Further argument ended when they walked into another circular room. The room was devoid of any decoration; the walls and floor were once again glowing blue. Gregor was the first to discover that it wasn't a room; they were standing on a landing and there was a way to go either up or down using a broad ramp that spiraled away in either direction. The ramp, carved from the living rock was ribbed for improved Cat traction as they saw when Freckles scooted ahead to lead the way but with his tail tip pointed back to supervise his friend's progress. "If heights concern you, please stay against the wall," he instructed when he saw that a few were already hugging the smooth wall. There were no railings because this was a Cat way and not designed for regular human use.

Several minutes later, when they reached the top or end of the ramp, everyone was puffing slightly as they looked around the chamber that appeared to be a natural cave except they saw that there was no tunnel, no exit. Fang, Spot, Carb and Tonga waited there alone. It was apparent that all the People had exited and Fang had closed the barrier.

Freckles rushed forward to rub his head against Fang's leg and use his tail to groom his whiskers before he repeated the greeting with his brother. Fang ended the reunion by ordering; "Enough delay Freckles, open the DOOR." Freckles winced at hearing the last word but made a complete circuit of the cave sniffing and pawing at odd outcroppings along the way. He returned to his father and brother to bow before them well within paw range if he was to be punished for his earlier insolence and current failure.

"Father, I cannot cause the barrier to open," Freckles admitted.

"It is clear from this test that such knowledge has not developed within your mind as rapidly as it has in your brother. Therefore your brother will be of much more value to our Clan and the People if he remains here to further advance his knowledge of the Ancients while you will venture into the Outside to absorb all the knowledge that the scholars there can teach you and Tara Bani at his school while you protect him from all evil." Fang read delight and a degree of superiority in Spot's mind while previously humbled Freckles' eyes snapped open in surprise as his body was on the verge of betraying his joy by leaping on his brother for a celebratory wrestling match. He stopped that quickly; "DO NOT PROTEST THIS DECISION! YOU WILL OBEY!"

Freckles immediately prostrated his body including his hind legs; stretched out behind his body. Fang understood that this was not an act of contrition; Freckles did it so he would be unable to pounce on his brother from that posture. He didn't realize that his tail betrayed his joy by continually swishing back and forth to access his new white warrior friends' reactions to Fang's momentous decision. "Yes Father, to hear is to obey." The meekness of Freckles' submission brought back slapping smiles and laughter from all the watching Family. Fang would have laughed with them if that was possible. "Spot will now open the door."

A very proud young Cat pranced forward toward an area of cave wall. He blinked and a substantial section swung inward to reveal a wide longer cave with a smaller exit in the distance. This cave was also blue but barely, lit by small round discs that were equally spaced and of a uniform height ranged all along the irregular walls.

It was then that Spot gleefully pounced on Freckles, which with a hand signal from Tuck, caused all the little Cat warrior tykes to drop from everyone's shoulders to join the fray. Fang shook his huge head and summoned the Family to follow him, Tonga and Carb toward the exit to the outside.

When Pettie saw the pile of older German weapons, he pointed in surprise, "I do believe we're in the treasure cave. We didn't notice the little night lights before because we were in here with torches. Don't that beat all?"

By then the twin Cats and the children realized that they had been left behind, untangled and raced to catch up. When they succeeded, the little boys wished that they hadn't because all their fathers were waiting to intercept them as they exited the cave. Nip and Tuck fought verbally like southern lawyers to be permitted to stay the night with their white warrior friends on Sea Song but gave up in the end. As compensation the fathers grabbed and lifted them to their shoulders with frowns directed at Spencer for introducing the practice to the children when he first put Tommy on his shoulders.

In the end only Sport was permitted to stay. His brother Sprout went willingly and even opted to walk with his father because he had much to tell of his recent adventures that required the use of his hands as he held them up and apart at various distances and then pointed at individuals in the Family while he babbled in the Tongue happily. When Sport heard his new name he ducked behind Pettie and held his breath as Sprout became painfully graphic in describing his first time couple with his older brother. Their father laughed and congratulated them both, Sport as a teacher and Sprout as a student who passed his first time sexual experience with flying colors and total enjoyment. Sprout went on to list several names of other Cat teens Sport's age he planned to couple with at the first opportunity.

After Fang announced that the door into the City would remain open, he turned toward the coast and his favorite resting place high in a tree as old as the Ancients but stopped when he heard his sons whispering their farewells. Spot was to accompany him and Freckles would go with Bani to board Sea Song.

"Your time with your brother grows short and he will be gone for a great length of time. Tonight this Great Cat will watch these invaders alone while you visit with Freckles and the white warriors..." Fang paused as Spot had already disappeared from his side. He sent one parting warning, "but if fur flies, I will know and you both will be sent to the mountains to watch the highest passes until you are too old to mate!" He allowed Freckles to also 'hear' his warning.

"YES FATHER!" Was the joint reply as the two Cat brothers joyously crashed their bodies together and tumbled into the dark undergrowth along the trail seconds after Fang's warning.

Buck giggled at seeing the Cats' antics and warned Bani, "When you and Freckles return on vacation, you better give them plenty of space if this is how they react after a whole three minutes of being separated."

When the mob reached the boarding steps, Freckles and Spot sat together on the dock to watch the humans climb, they thought most inefficiently. When everyone was aboard except the Cats they lined the rail to watch the Cats climb after they realized that there were no steps in Cat City or El Dorado as the City was being called more frequently.

The two Cats looked at each other apparently in conference about how best to climb the human construction but they were actually wagering on how few bounds would be required to reach the top where their human friends waited. Spot was first to try. He walked along the dock about fifty feet from the foot of the stairway, turned and with his ears flattened, raced forward and leaped at the last second. He landed midway up to shake the whole portable contraption and then used his powerful hind legs to reach the top landing.

Spot looked down on his brother, thirty feet below him. "Two bounds!" He called openly. The Family realized suddenly that steps were no barrier to Cat's and that a contest was underway.

Instead of following Spot's footsteps, Freckles actually walked away from Sea Song's side and when he thought he was far enough away he turned to look up at the rail to the side of the landing. "Make way!" he warned just before his hind paws left the dock. He landed momentarily with all four paws balanced delicately on the four inch top rail before he dropped to the deck to sit on his haunches to groom his whiskers with his tail. "One bound! I win!" he cooed while displaying the Cat equivalent of a huge grin.

"You did not win. You did not use the human way." Spot protested.

"We did not wager that. We wagered the fewest bounds to the top," Freckles countered.

Spot didn't continue the argument, instead he turned and leaped over the rail down to the dock and was back in thirty seconds after using Freckles' route. "Now we are even," he said to dismiss the subject as he cocked his head to the side. "There are many Cat warriors and boys here coupling with many of the Sea Song boat warriors," he advised.

"Yes, all were invited but I didn't think they would come with invaders so close," Gregor answered. "Don't they have to prepare, perhaps stock El Dorado with food?"

Bani looked surprised, "The People are like the Israeli warriors in their country. We are always prepared to fight for our right to live in our lands in peace. We would die before we ran to ground like Nutria at the first sign of danger. Just now there is only a threat. Warriors are waiting all along the river to watch the fat canoe to see what the four might do."

"What's Nutria?" Marc asked.

Bani couldn't help giggling at Marc and watched him closely as he explained; "Nutria are giant rodents that abound in the swamps and marshes across the river. They are very delicious." He waited.

Marc gulped, "You guys can eat all the giant rats you want, but I think I'll pass."

Paul, Marc's brother burst out laughing. "I'll just bet you thought you were eating roast suckling pig at the feast tonight?"

Marc took on a definite green cast. "How'd you know it was a rat?"

"Because I asked," Paul laughed.

"I think I should tell the crew about our special guests," Meesha said, "before anyone gets trigger happy."

While Meesha went to a microphone, the rest of the Family took Bani, Freckles, Spot and Sport up to Evan's suite. Everyone gawked at the destroyer image on the big screen. There was a difference between the current image and the one that Freckles intercepted from snoopy earlier; the four gun turrets had been turned to point at the shore.

"The bastards!" Gregor swore as everyone fell into chairs or the sofas that were still arranged like a theater.

"The fat bastard must have bought off the Captain." John said as his fingers flew over the keyboard. "He parked a mile beyond the edge of the delta, well within the twelve mile territorial limit. Here's a replay from when they got close. I'll speed it up until we're back to real time."

"Excuse me Bani, but you Kad and Sidi need to park your asses somewhere so we can all see the screen." Pettie complained. He and Scott were sitting on a sofa in the front so Pettie could stretch out his legs. He was scrunched down so his ass was balanced on the edge of the seat cushion with his head resting on the back. He and Scott were touching thighs until Sport joined them by wiggling his little ass down between them until they moved apart far enough to give him enough space, exactly where he wanted to be.

Bani and his guards had been standing directly behind John so they could look over his shoulders. John pulled out a chair at his side, pushed the unused keyboard and mouse away and invited Bani to sit down and open his new laptop so he could follow the action and begin to learn how to use it. Bani sent Kad and Sidi away to put their weapons somewhere and then find a place to sit out of the way since there was no danger.

When everyone was settled, Freckles moved to sit just behind and between John and Bani and rested his massive head on their two closest shoulders so his whiskers touched their two cheeks. When John turned his head, he could see Freckles eye flicking between the big screen and Bani's so he turned on all the screens. "All comfy now?" John asked with a grin.

"Yes, thank you." Freckles replied and then shocked everyone. "The streams of color coming from the machine in the sky are very pretty," he added.

"Ah, what streams of color?" John asked cautiously.

Freckles blinked and the thirty-two inch screen directly in front of him blinked in response to show a beautiful kaleidoscope of ever changing colors streaming from the top to the bottom of that screen. He blinked again and the streams slowed, after a third blink they grew in size until John could see that the colors were composed of overlapping linked symbols that seemed to have infinite depth as well as shades of color.

"Man, what a screen saver," Evan observed from his chair on the other side of John's. Since Spot couldn't get close to Bani and John, he moved to rest his head on Evan's shoulder and changed the screen in front of him to duplicate the one his brother was controlling. Not to be out done by his brother, Freckles changed all the monitors to show the streams.

Meesha walked in at that moment and after a glance at the monitors commented; "Why are you playing with screen saver software? Where is the inflatable? Is there no sense of urgency here?" He seemed to be upset and spoke aloud without also using mind-speak for the benefit of the Cats.

Suddenly all the screens went black and restarted to flash green and black too fast to see exactly what the images were. Just as suddenly they stopped and the image cleared to show the inflatable and four occupants, all paddling furiously against the increasing current as they approached the mouth of the river. The unused surround sound system buzzed and everyone looked around to find the owner of a slightly metallic, strangely accented voice. "I am most sorry Chief Meesha, brother Spot is at fault, he plays jokes at inappropriate times. Give him a good cuff as payback." The words were accompanied by a barely suppressed giggle. This was followed by a growl from the accused that didn't require speakers or amplification.

"Do not start you two," Bani warned without turning his head into Freckles whiskers. He was fascinated with his new laptop. "You heard your father, any fighting and both of you are off to the mountains," he added absently, "and of course you know your father listens."

"Ah yes, and he rests in his tree at the mouth of the river. I wonder if he could be disturbed to help us." Freckles both sent and used the sound system.

"WHAT DO YOU REQUIRE?" Fang returned almost instantly. His booming bass voice filled the room.

"Could you use your great stealth to follow the invader canoe as it passes by the river trail and send these warriors any words the invaders might speak?" Freckles asked cautiously.

Fang didn't answer but soon a babble of angry Spanish filled the room. JC began to translate word for word but switched to just a synopsis. "One of them wants to turn back. He argues that the fat one would never know. He says he would have stayed in prison had he known of the actual conditions they would have to face when they were promised a life of leisure aboard an elegant yacht with all its luxuries and many prisoners at their disposal.

"This one I think just received a paddle on the side of his head as another, perhaps the leader, warned of swimming back to the destroyer. This one directs the others to the open beach they can see. I think they have beached at the canoe landing. One asks if they should destroy the canoes and then venture inland to capture some native woman and boys."

"I wish them good luck with both ventures," Bani whispered. "The canoes are made from stone wood which cannot even be scratched once the wood is dried."

Freckles agreed with a laugh that imitated Bani's perfectly. "Yes, and even newly harvested a...ah," he hesitated, "great heat is required to shape the wood." Everyone looked at each other and wondered what he almost said; what tool or devise did the Ancients possess that was capable of burning or shaping stone.

JC continued. "The leader thinks the canoe landing is too far away from where the mysterious yacht is docked and since they must pass the yacht to find a landing place above it, they will continue and hug the shore to look for a closer landing."

"There is just one place they might use but it is very small. From here it is just around the bend so they could not be seen if they landed there. There is no place upriver until they reach the service dock in front of Angus' home." Bani advised.

"Will they find the trail that Fang is using?" Herman asked.

Charlie giggled and shook his head. "No way, Bani took me along the trail along the edge of the fucking cliff and I didn't even know I was on a trail, and up there the bushes aren't as dense."

Meesha jumped to his feet and headed out the door. "I think Sea Song should appear to be sleeping," he said over his shoulder.

"And I will shut off the dock lights," JC volunteered, "it would not be good if these swine saw the treasure if the blunderers get this far." JC also detoured to accompany Meesha to advise the Cat warriors and boys onboard so there would be no mistakes. The Sea Song must appear to be unprepared for an attack due to JC's apparent supreme arrogance in his invulnerability.

When the masthead light barely came into view, the inflatable left off hugging the bank and turned sharply for the opposite shore; the occupants wanted to be as far away from Sea Song as they could possibly get and still share the same river. Fang reported that he would cross the dock to be on the upriver trail by the time the fat canoe re-crossed the river to continue looking for the perfect spot for the second patrol boat to beach and disgorge its load of invaders.

Every fifth random cabin light was allowed to shine behind closed blinds and all outside lighting had been extinguished but no crew member off dock watch was below deck anyway. They, with the Cat warriors and boys, were stretched out on every available inch of deck space on the riverside so they could see the inflatable for themselves and the Family, with the two Cats and Bani, Sidi and Kad were on the fly bridge and everyone was armed to the teeth.

Gregor was everywhere on all deck levels preaching caution and warning of dire consequences if even the tiniest movement or sound betrayed the fact that Sea Song was totally awake and ready and when he heard that Fang would cross the dock, he hurried to the foredeck first to warn those there that a Great Cat would soon be passing and that it was an ally before repeating the same message on the stern decks. This news caused a mass migration of crew from starboard to port because everyone wanted to see just how big an adult Cat actually was if a cub weighed in at five hundred pounds. The crew was rewarded with the sight of three Great Cats as they loped along and when one or more encountered an obstruction such as a stack of gold bricks or neatly arranged artifacts, they leaped over the pile in preference to simply going around. The three disappeared back into the dense seemingly impenetrable riverside growth as quickly as they appeared to await the inflatable's return to the inhabited side of the river.

Freckles and Spot were the first to see the fat canoe as it lumbered along across the river and relayed the whispered complaints of the mercenaries to JC to be repeated to the ear buds that everyone wore. Suddenly, the center monitor switched on to show a Cat view. Bani, Kad and Sidi were already giggling and commenting on the continued lack of paddling skills after nearly fifteen miles of constant practice. The Cat warriors still could not understand why their White warrior friends couldn't see in darkness as easily as they could.

"Shut off that fucking screen!" Hans hissed, "They could see a glow!" He glared at the twins who had their paws up on the bench seat so they could see over the solid bulwarks. The screen blanked with Freckles' ears flattening to show that he was the guilty party although he began to relay the mercenaries' words to JC.

While they had agreed to be extremely quiet as they neared the place where the yacht was docked, their fat leader hadn't mentioned the yacht's size; it was as big as a small cruise ship. One questioned how many sailors were required to run the huge vessel and another wondered if seventy-five men could capture it in the first place. They knew that they were attacking a supremely successful drug lord and he would never be completely defenseless. The first shot would be like stirring a hornet's nest with a stick. While those guarding the ship might be sleeping during their late night shift, they were still at their posts and fully armed. They paddled on relentlessly since there was no place else to go.

By the time the inflatable had re-crossed the river to begin looking for a second landing site, the four occupants were exhausted. They decided to save their breaths for paddling although they continually glanced back at the outboard engine with longing.

A new voice intruded in everyone's mind after the inflatable had disappeared; "Welcome home Juan Carlos, you young scamp! It appears you've done well for yourself in your absence, that's a fine boat you arrived in."

JC was surprised but overjoyed, "Angus, is that you? You can mind-speak now?"

"Aye, for a few years now, I ventured into the canyon behind me home one day and found the Cat Place and its treasures. I realized the danger of being caught there and was about to scurry home when me way was blocked by the biggest tabby cat in the world. But enough of that for now, Carb dropped off a dozen lads to guard me and appraised me of the invaders afoot in our lands. I was thinkin' that it wouldn't be good and might even be suspect if they was to get away scot free so it might be wise to give 'em some arrows in their raft and mayhap a few harmless shots in the air for good measure once they get this far."

Hans and Herman nodded eagerly. Hans giggled and added, "A very good plan and fools that they are, they might even pull the arrows out on the way back downriver."

"Pull out the arrows," Marc questioned, "what good would that do?"

Herman answered, "The arrows would be like corks, the contents cannot escape the container until removed."

"I say, that plan is positively brilliant!" Medi exclaimed. He looked at Pettie and grinned, "If I might expand on this thought, it is logical that we here on Sea Song would be alerted by gunshots even from a mile away in this quiet. Perhaps Pettie could wound one of the blighters as they pass us by a second time on their way back to the sea. Of course Pettie's shots should be masked by a few muzzle flashes and harmless splashes near them." He waved his little squirt gun with which he was a deadly marksman at close range but not so much at nearly three hundred yards across the river.

Everyone but Pettie thought Medi's was an excellent plan. Pettie looked horrified. He explained; "You guys got me all wrong, I ain't much on killin' things. The first and last animal I shot was a squirrel. I was so proud. I took that dead varmint straight to my mom and she handed it right back. She told me since I shot it, I needed to skin it, clean it and then bring it back to the kitchen and she'd show me how to cook it. I was near to tossin' my lunch the whole time. When supper rolled around there was one bowl of squirrel stew and that was set in front of me." Pettie sighed deeply, "That little critter won't never know it, but it got buried vegetables an' all with full ranch honors in our horse cemetery where we lay our old friends to rest. It would have gone bowl an' all but my momma gave me a coffee can at the last minute. I still don't like lookin' at that damn bowl."

"My daddy explained that we got a ranch covered with cows and a big supermarket not too far away. He said that if we was hungry, he'd go with me to hunt and we'd eat what we shot and thank God for His bounty, but since we ain't hungry mayhap we should just look into our freezer when we are." After Pettie finished recounting his first and last hunting experience everyone looked at everyone else and didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Marc relieved Pettie's fears or reluctance but pointing out that the dudes he would be shooting at weren't squirrels and that they would be armed and would happily kill them all if they had the chance if indeed that was the ultimate plan once they took over Sea Song and had JC's treasure.

Pettie frowned as he digested that information, "Anyone got one of them rifles with a night scope? I believe I could teach one or more of them rascals the error of their ways. But fair warnin', with them movin' around and the boat rockin' an' all, a scratch on the forehead could end up bein' one through the temple." He was offered three scope equipped rifles, many salacious ass slaps and two fondles of his manhood by a pair of dexterous, all seeing Cat tails.

Hans turned away so Pettie couldn't see his smile. He sent; "You will not be held responsible for such accidents but at least one must return to the destroyer to report that we are unprepared for any attack."

As soon as the invader reconnaissance team thought they were far enough away from slumbering Sea Song, they re-crossed the river to find that they faced what turned out to be a continuous wall of luxuriant growth that even intruded into the river in places. While Fang couldn't understand their words, he could understand that they did not accept the authority of the one who sat in the back of the boat and whose tone of voice indicated that he was the leader. They were about to start the outboard motor and give up the search for a landing when one saw a glow ahead, so they continued on to finally find the third house and a heavily built commercial dock. While the dock was unlighted, the big house was brightly lit and they could hear music coming from the open windows.

The leader thought that they had seen enough and wanted to turn back but the others were drawn closer to the sound. Apparently music, like television, tennis courts and swimming pools were not amenities available often in typical Cuban prisons. As the boat drew even with some haphazardly placed shipping crates, one man actually stood up so he could 'see' the music more clearly so he was the first to see a guard as he appeared suddenly from behind one of the crates and then there was a second who placed an arm protectively around the first. The four men gawked at the natives. They couldn't see them clearly but they were back lighted enough from the house lights to see that they were two naked boys and erections could be seen as they moved. The men ignored the strung bows and nocked arrows each boy held and they couldn't see piles of arrows neatly arranged on top of the crates. Earlier, the boys all wondered why use so many arrows when four would do and those four could be quickly recovered to see which of them would be credited with the kills, but Angus insisted that they should only kill the fat air filled canoe.

The men were mesmerized. "Why do you disturb us at this hour?" One boy asked in halting Spanish. He had been coached by Angus and those few words were his total vocabulary in that language.

The four men decided unilaterally that they would take these two boys prisoners and question them 'in depth' as they slowly drifted back to the sea in the rivers' current. There was no longer a need for haste or to suffer the noise of the engine; apparently there was no danger at all. But to capture the two nubile beauties, they would have to get closer to the dock, just close enough to grab two small tantalizing ankles and as a last resort they could always leave the boat and run down the two defenseless boys.

"Give 'em a proper show. Draw them in closer," Angus barely whispered in Tongue from his position behind the crates. To the other boys hidden along the dock he whispered; "Get ready lads, and remember shoot into the top of the canoe first and into the sides last as they get away." Long ago Angus discovered and accepted the People's extraordinary natural abilities and extreme heightened senses. They could hear a small snake slithering or a beetle climbing a plant as well as they could see the growing erections behind the tight black concealing cloth of the hapless invaders' body suits.

The two exposed boys took Angus for his word happily. They kissed and rubbed their hands over each other and began to stroke each other all using one hand each. One boy glanced to the side and reported, "The canoe is about to bump the dock. If we cannot attack soon we must couple together or waste our seed!" He managed with desperation in his voice.

"Give 'em hell lads!" Angus shouted. The men didn't understand what was happening but suddenly two boys became a dozen and the top most areas of the inflatable began to grow arrows. The boys were like automatons as they drew and released, drew and released and had the audacity to laugh or giggle while they fired. As anticipated, three invaders turned the raft in the opposite direction to expose the opposite side of the raft while they fled the hail of arrows although miraculously no one was wounded. The fourth man pulled the outboards' starter cord frantically. Paddling became difficult and then impossible as the number of arrows grew so they began pulling them out. Angus began to fire a machine pistol into the air just above the heads of the frantic crew and then used a rifle to send tracers into the night sky.

The engine finally caught and sputtered to life and then whined without effect. Angus almost screamed, "PUT THE FUCKIN' PROP IN THE WATER!" just before the leader figured out exactly what he was doing wrong and where the release was that would allow the propeller to push the boat through the water instead of fanning air. The leader was an expert in bludgeoning heads, cutting throats and frisking dying victims for valuables, not in small boat handling.

The boys grabbed all their remaining arrows and followed the boat along the dock to fire more slowly for accuracy as the range increased. Angus knew that they were holding a contest to see which of them could fire the most arrows and which would expend all their feathered ammunition first, of course accurately into the fat canoe somewhere. There was no thought of cheating as each boy tracked the trajectory of each arrow from any one of their bows unconsciously. The contest ended when one boy's arrow fell just short, meaning that the target had exceeded bow range.

The boys scampered back to Angus to accept his praise and congratulations. "Can we now go to your hut Angus?" One boy declared the winning archer asked. "This one not only has three arrows remaining, he is the one who was first to miss, so he must begin to pay his wager."

Angus didn't ask what the bet was; he thought he knew although the losing boy's perpetual grin indicated that he wasn't overly upset. "Aye lads that we will but first you have a wee job to do. There's more than a few of your arrows floatin' downstream. You might want to recover as many as you can and whilst you're in there perhaps get all nice and clean." He snapped his fingers. "But first here's a bit of a show." He pulled out a flare gun and extra flares then beckoned to the winning boy. "You have the honor lad, point it up over the river, pull the trigger an' see what happens," he instructed. The boys were breathless with wonder at seeing the bright red fire and were amazed as they watched it explode into blinding light brighter than the sun as it slowly drifted down into the river and drowned.

"Angus, that was almost as wonderful as seeing the Great Cats in their City but how does it kill?"

"It doesn't, you just sent a signal to the Sea Song boat to say that the fat canoe is fleeing. Some warriors there will fire their rifles to show that they have been alerted to drive the fiends away even faster. The fiends will tell their chiefs of what they saw and larger boats with all the fiends will return in tomorrow's darkness. Some may land between here and the Sea Song boat and when they do you lads will be there to greet them."

"With more arrows in their boats?" The boy asked.

"No lad, next time you will welcome each fiend with a killing dart."

There was no further need for silence after those on Sea Song saw the flare so Gregor and Bani used the PA system to once again warn everyone to avoid shooting the raft or its occupants while Meesha turned on the monitor to watch the inflatable as it fled down the river. When the Cat warriors heard Bani's voice booming from the ship itself, they were further convinced that he was indeed one of the Ancients reincarnated and they would obey him no matter how foolish his orders like allowing four fiends to escape them.

Suddenly the starboard Gatling gun hummed to life with its twin barrels tracking everywhere. "JOHN, GODDAMN IT!" Gregor roared. Everyone on the fly bridge laughed as the barrels slowed, turned and depressed until they pointed at Gregor as he stood behind the wheel.

"Sorry, just testing," John apologized and made the monster gun bob up and down as if it was talking to Gregor and was responsible for its own movement.

"Turn that thing away from me. If you want to do something, increase snoopy's magnification."

John swung the gun to point upriver before he answered, "Sorry, it's at max now."

Spot had been resting his head on Bani's shoulder staring at his laptop screen while Freckles was standing beside Pettie with his front paws on the bench seat. Both were occupied with looking upriver waiting for the boat to appear. Spot raised his eyes to stare at the stars vacantly. "This Cat will assist," he volunteered.

With that said all the snoopy monitors zoomed down on the inflatable and the clarity was improved so they could even see four worried blackened faces as they worked industriously to remove all the arrows they could easily reach. All except a few still stuck in the blunted prow so the boat looked like a strange beast with well starched whiskers.

"Holy shit, that view is fucking fantastic! Thank you Spot." John sent.

"You curse too much for a fucking preacher's son," Gregor criticized primly and waited for John's retort.

"You taught me every fucking thing I know!"

"Fucking right!" Kad and Sidi sang together.

"Shit, this sight ain't very much help, but here they come anyway." Pettie announced as he peered through the rifles' scope.

Freckles moved into Pettie's side and sent his tail questing for his resting cock and soon had it engorged and pointing in the same direction as Pettie's rifle. The scent of paste grew as Pettie's view of his targets improved until he could see them so clearly, it was like he was shooting at high noon. "Scotty or Sport y'all best get over here right quick! I think I'm about to fire and shoot at the same time!"

While only Scott heard Pettie's plea, Sport saw what was about to happen in the darkness and beat Scott in wiggling his supple body under Pettie's crouched form just as the rifle cracked and Pettie fired the first of three tremendous volleys. Two more reports drowned Pettie's moans along with some limited firing from Family members when they could pull their eyes away from Pettie and associates as the rapidly deflating inflatable disappeared downriver in the early morning darkness.

"Shit a goddamn," Pettie groaned, "with all the goin's on, I ain't sure I hit a damn thing."

Hans clapped Pettie's back and soothed, "Not to worry, snoopy will watch as they board the destroyer. All must now rest easy until dawn when much work begins. The real fun will occur tomorrow at about this time."

Pettie collapsed flat on his back on the padded box and closed his eyes as most of the gang filed down the spiral stairs. Scott and Sport joined Pettie, snuggled into his sides as he surrounded them with his long arms. Bani, Charlie, Kad and Sidi were sitting on the deck and had their heads together while they watched Charlie open his ever present backpack and extract a gallon jar. Either the jar or the contents glowed an iridescent blue except where hidden by a label.

Buck, the last in line to leave the fly bridge nudged Doug and pointed back to Charlie and his jar. The two forgot they were tired and joined the group admiring the jar. Doug squinted at the label. "Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise, that's my favorite but my jar never glowed like this."

"Of course not," Charlie answered Doug's unasked question, "this is Stuff. We didn't know it glowed if it was in a clear container but that could be a selling point."

Buck laughed, "That's paste, you've got a whole gallon of paste, holy shit Bat Man, why so much and where'd you get it?"

Charlie giggled at seeing the guys' amazed looks. "Well the chef gave me the empty jar and since I happen to have friends in high places around here, I gave them the jar and they got it filled. I've been trying to think up a good name other than paste, which reminds me of the stuff we used to eat in art class just to piss off the teacher." Buck and Doug both shivered as they recalled the nasty flavor. "Anyway, we even called it stuff occasionally and I can't think up a better brand name that says it all can you? This jar is just for our personal use though when we get to your school. Of course by personal I mean all of us if you lameos can't find any empty containers of your own before we leave, but if we're careful this much concentrated Stuff should last us at least five years."

The boys had been kneeling around the jar sitting on the deck when a Cat tail swooped in to hold it while the second tail unscrewed the lid. Just the scent of Stuff from such a large quantity was overpowering as it first covered the deck and then rose like invisible fog or rejuvenating miasma to engulf Pettie, Scott and Sport.

"Shit," Pettie half moaned, "an' here I thought I was done an' drained out for the night." He lifted his head high enough to see that Sport held up his renewed erection while a Cat tail swabbed it delicately with some strange glowing blue stuff, which he knew to be paste.

Freckles voice entered his mind; "You must reward Sport for his soothing couplings. He will be very honored if you couple with him properly."

"I'm a mite bigger than any of the warriors I've seen, ah, you know, down there." Pettie pointed needlessly. "I don't want to hurt him."

"He will not be hurt but perhaps will be very most pleasantly surprised." Freckles assured.

"Well okay then, but as soon as I get done, we're rollin' over so Sport can have his turn. That's only fair plus I want to watch that little dickens' fine body humpin' away on me."

"And after Sport gets done Cowboy, don't plan on movin' anywhere." Scott warned with a giggle.

It seemed the other boys were equally affected by the delicious aroma emanating from the repurposed mayo jar and were soon equally well anointed by the busy twin Cats to begin pairing up and joining up in assorted positions which depended on how much space they had around them after a Cat tail turned their cocks blue. There wasn't time, nor were they inclined to move away from friends that they could both watch and feel and be watched and touched in turn.

The Cats seemed to be everywhere among the tightly packed boys and began to use their tongues, which also turned out to be highly dexterous, in spreading tight muscular ass cheeks and/or then lapping or boring with their tongues at just the right moment to heighten and prolong their already cataclysmic orgasms and when the Cats first tasted the generous overflow from the boys they became even more industrious in making sure that no cum escaped their busy tongues.

Doug was unceremoniously flipped to his back by Freckles so Buck could mount him. He wondered if the Cats served a dual purpose. One, to be the repositories of Ancient knowledge and the other much more enjoyable to the hedonistic Ancients, to be active bed buddies, which would explain the other purpose of the unique conjoined beds they found in El Dorado, in addition to just sleeping. When he thought about it he remembered that the People and the Cats referred to resting, not sleeping in a bed and so far he hadn't seen them even resting.

As the impromptu orgy progressed, so did the unseen scent of Stuff from its jar to the deck and down to the sundeck. From there it spread out further to seep into even the tiniest cracks and once inside it quickly penetrated the entire ship and affected every guy whether sleeping or awake. If a guy was sleeping he awoke with unquenchable desire for sex, and if awake with a friend, they joined or if joined they went at each other with boundless energy.

JC and John were waiting for Buck and Doug in their suite and had even called dibs on the bed because they knew that Bani, Charlie, Kad and Sidi would also be there as well and they were missing too. The couple was making out more or less peacefully but their passions grew and John was on the verge of committing rape when the insidious Stuff swept into the nearly empty suite and JC's nostrils. He blinked and pushed John away and pulled him to his feet and out the always open doors.

"Come on my love, our friends are enjoying themselves on the fly bridge. If we wait here, we will sleep alone when we made plans not to sleep at all." JC warned John after they reached the vacant sundeck. "The odor of paste is very strong and is everywhere."

"But we haven't even opened our jar," John protested while he stumbled along.

When they reached the fly bridge, the Cats were there to greet them. Spot took JC in tow, literally, to tuck him among the boys on his back while Freckles whisked the slighter John off his feet to carry him dangling, using his tail so it appeared that John was flying. "Welcome Master of Machines," Freckles greeted John as he licked and lapped the boy in all the right places, "you are the first human in all Cat history ever to kiss one and speak of love. As a reward, you shall have special treatment this night of nights."

JC looked up to see John floating toward him with half his body painted iridescent blue. "INCOMING!" John screamed as Freckles lowered him into JC's waiting arms and even assisted him in finding JC's Stuff coated tingling sweet spot.

Half an hour before false dawn Freckles ended the orgy by replacing the lid on Charlie's Hellmann's jar. By then the rest of the Family had gradually found their way back to the fly bridge to be reunited with their missing friends and even then all were united with someone in some way and all had been coated with enough Stuff so that the deck was glowing with brighter spots of blue in a haze of drifting mist the same color. This began to dissipate as the first morning breeze began to stir from the sea as the sky lightened.

"It is bath time," Freckles announced in everyone's mind. Freckles and Spot were sitting on the padded box by the original occupants; Pettie, Scott and Sport, and it seemed while everyone was awake, or at least had their eyes open, no one responded or even moved. The two Cats commiserated briefly before Spot relocated to the bench seat. The humans appreciated Spot's power and agility but still no one moved. Freckles' tail insinuated itself under Sport's slight body and at first he grinned, pleased to receive personal attention from the Cat until Freckles grip tightened and he was flung toward Spot's waiting tail. Spot caught the wide eyed boy and whipped his tail and Sport out over the river to disappear with a joyous scream that was cut off when he entered the water far below.

Buck was next, then Bani and Charlie, all before they could get to their feet. Kad and Sidi gained their feet and ran to look over the side, concerned for Bani's safety and unknowingly within the range of Spot's tail so they soon followed in quick succession. John was next but he seemed more ready and eager as he had time to wave before he disappeared.

"Am I too big?" Doug asked as he ventured to within range of Freckles' tail. When he surfaced from a spectacular dive and was quickly joined by JC, "Apparently we aren't," he sent in answer to his own question. When he felt the muscles in his arms and shoulders protesting such abuse, he sent a warning about diving and strongly suggested entering feet first.

As each guy landed, he swam a short distance toward the stern before treading water to watch those behind them and after thirty seconds they felt the parts of their bodies that had been anointed with Stuff begin to tingle pleasantly and the water around them appeared to be boiling as Stuff turned into foam to be carried away downstream by the current. The last to leave the fly bridge were the Cat twins. While their leap was perfectly synchronized, their landings were anything but.

Everyone but Doug watched for them to surface somewhere close to where they splashed down while he looked everywhere else. He alone had ridden Freckles' back in the deep El Dorado pool and knew the Cats could swim underwater far better and faster than they could while on the surface and wasn't completely surprised when he and Bani rose up out of the water to find themselves riding to the stern aboard a Cat and trailing a huge wake of foam. The Cat heads didn't appear before they reached the low stern deck and then both sent a brief warning to his rider, "HOLD ON TIGHT!" as front paws were placed on the diamond plate and the Cats leaped up and out. Both Cats shook their bodies to shed both most of the water and both boys from their magnificent bodies. The Cat's rumbling purrs could be heard by the others as Doug and Bani hugged them to show their thanks for the unexpected but very exciting ride.

After everyone was back aboard, Cat purrs turned into rumbling stomachs to announce that the Cats were hungry. "I am very hungry too," Gregor agreed. "What food do you like? We will see if we have it."

"Fresh swine, vegetables and yellow melons?" Freckles asked hopefully.

Gregor looked to Meesha hopefully, Meesha answered quickly, "We received gifts of fresh food just after we docked, so we have everything I think. I will call the galley. How much food do you want?" He asked as he picked up the nearby intercom extension.

Freckles looked individuals over carefully until his eyes settled on Gregor just a bit hungrily. "If these Cats hunted without assistance we could bring down a swine as big as you without effort."

Gregor looked aghast. "You can eat two hundred pounds of meat at one time, EACH?" He asked.

Sport corrected Gregor's assumption, "Oh no, one quarter of you, for both of these Cats together."

Harmon giggled from the middle of the pack as they waited for someone to open the dogged hatch into the ship to race up to the dining salon and breakfast. "I think now we know where the term; 'drawn and quartered' came from. Maybe we should string Gregor up and see how much one of his hind quarters weighs?"

Doug saw that Evan, Gregor and Meesha were not amused when the comment brought back memories of Anton and decided to change the subject by asking a question of Bani and the Cats. "Hey guys, since we're standing here on the dark boat deck, maybe you can explain why our cocks are still glowing blue?"

Bani giggled and looked to the Cats for an answer. Freckles jammed his cold wet nose into Doug's crotch to sniff deeply before he answered. The rest of the family were just as interested after seeing that they also glowed after Doug pointed out the phenomena. "This Cat thinks this will dim with time but will become intense when your manhood's become excited before you couple." He looked toward Bani, who started to back away, but wasn't fast enough to avoid Freckles' tail. "I will show using Tara Bani's manhood. See how at rest there is no blue?" The tail tip lifted Bani's cock. Those not laughing too hard were able see that indeed his cock was a normal color but then as the tail tip gently massaged the flaccid organ and it began to lengthen and stiffen it rapidly turned iridescent blue.

Charlie was delighted, "Holy shit, from now on I'll be able to find out where you are and what you're doing in the dark!"

Bani pushed Freckles' tail away as he grinned like the young lecher he was. "And from now on we all will be the same. I must apologize for someone," he frowned at Spot and Freckles equally, "for opening that container without warning you first of the unusual effects the concentrate has. I will not name names but there are two bad Cats among us," he accused playfully.

Freckles stroked Doug's shoulders and back as they walked up through the ship. "There are other benefits of using Stuff as you call paste," he advised, "one is never being troubled by the Mother Sun's rays again although our freckles will remain."

"You mean I'll never need to be coated with sunblock again? Buck is always complaining about the nasty taste." Doug blushed when he realized what he said and tried to cover. "How do you know this if only Cat People have ever used Stuff before?"

"Angus has been a Cat Friend of our grandsire for a great length of time. He also has flaming hair and had unfortunate burning skin like yours. Mother took these Cats to meet him when we became old enough to receive our stones. It is he who bestows stones to all Cats."

"Is your mother out hunting?" Doug asked.

"Mother passed to the Great Beyond a short length of time ago. She was teaching these Cats to hunt in the mountains. These Cats found a brood of swine and were hunting the mother. That one thought to draw us away from her young and ran away very fast without watching her course. She ran off a cliff to be broken on the rocks below. It was a very good kill. As Mother gazed down on her kill, the top of the cliff gave way and Mother was gone with more rock falling. She was injured beyond repair.

"Our cries of mourning brought our father and other Great Cats. Our feast of mourning was a very good thing. Our father could have sent these two young Cats to join our mother as it is not a sire's purpose to teach their progeny, but these Cats served him all the mother swine's young one's as tribute and he has tolerated our presence since."

Freckles' explanation was interrupted as the Family entered the dining salon. Normally the guys would straggle in at various times and serve themselves with whatever they wanted to eat for breakfast from the loaded buffet, but that morning Freckles and Spot were there. Four stewards were lined up near the galley door and were promptly joined by the irascible Chef Chou himself. They all looked nervously at the Cats and then Meesha waiting for orders.

"Ah, um, where would you like to be served? You can join us at table or..." He looked down at the carpet covered deck and waited.

"These Cats could feast sitting upon these," Sport nudged a chair, "but cannot use these tools." His tail pushed at the neatly arranged flatware on the table.

Chef Chou took over after Meesha translated. Two stewards disappeared into the galley while the second pair stripped two place settings from the table and then patted the arms of the two chairs. "Up you go you beautiful creatures, breakfast is served and if you wish anything different or served in a different way, you have only to tell Meesha and we will make it so."

The Cat brothers eyed the high backed antique chairs, glanced at each other and then leaped over the backs to settle on the cushioned seats and strike their usual superior pose with their versatile tails curled around their paws. The vacant table space before them was quickly covered by a pair of matching sterling silver serving platters each filled with large cubes of fresh pork and assorted fresh vegetables. The whole was a very attractive presentation and even made raw pork look edible to the boys until Chef Chou sent them rushing at the buffet as the stewards removed the domed sliver cloches.

Evan took his seat at the head of the table even though he no longer owned Sea Song; he was still the Master and had given up protesting to Gregor and Meesha that an owner should sit at the head of the table. The Cats sat on Evan's right and looked to him to tell them how to proceed. "Just dig in," he told them, "eating together is as new to us as it is to you. I think we'll get used to the others' habits. Would you like something to drink?" Silver bowls of water along with smaller bowls of yellow melon were quickly placed before the Cats. The stewards of course didn't know how one served a Cat or where to place anything so they used 'best guess'. Evan was amused to see Cat tails snake up to surreptitiously move anything for their convenience and overall he thought they ate with more decorum than he remembered doing when he lived on the streets in Ft. Lauderdale.

Freckles studied the tools Evan used to eat his food and the food containers and his clear vessels which held his water and fruit juice. When he moved the silver bowl that held his water, he allowed his tail to brush Evan's short stemmed goblet. He was surprised to discover that while it was very pretty, it was made of base materials, not of diamond as one would expect a great chief of white warriors to use and the flat container that held his food looked too fragile to serve its purpose and couldn't possibly be of the slightest value. He recognized that he and Sport were served with silver containers and all the eating tools on the table were silver, but even silver was a base metal compared to other metals common to the City. Since Tara Bani should always have the best of everything, his friends should feast with him accordingly. Such containers, vessels and tools would be fitting gifts.

With breakfast finished, most of the boys migrated to Evan's suite. Everyone wanted to know what those on the destroyer were up to and to see it in broad daylight. No one was happy with what he saw. The destroyer's cannon were still pointed generally ashore although according to snoopy's calculations; if fired, the shells would land in the huge marshy area across the river about five miles east of where Sea Song was docked.

Gregor found Meesha in the newly emptied hold with the crewmen who would be responsible for moving and loading the pallets of currency. As Gregor approached, the men stacked their hands on Meesha's and shouted, "SEA SONG!" as loudly as they could. As the cry echoed, it was repeated throughout the ship by other crewmen until even the visiting Cat warriors and boys were shouting although they had no idea why.

Since the Family had been roused far earlier than the crew, JC woke them with the announcement that each and every Sea Song crew member should check their bank balances that morning because every one of them would see that they were a minimum of one million dollars richer depending on rank and involvement for their aid in loading his 'cargo' and the probable risk involved in its transportation.

Gregor and Meesha followed the forklift as it left the hold to make its way to the elevator to await the first pallet of currency. Up above, JC's forklift would move the pallets from the storeroom and place them in the elevator car. They saw that the hinged steel ramp had been secured from the wide double side hatch so the forklift would have a minimum bump as it transitioned from the dock to the ships' interior. The co-captains were planning to visit the storeroom because Gregor hadn't seen it. They got no further than the dock when most of the People began the stream down the path from the top of the cliff with Carb and Tonga in the vanguard while all the overnight native guests began running and leaping down the boarding steps to join friends and family and recount their nocturnal adventures.

"Is all in readiness?" Gregor asked Meesha before they both greeted Tonga and Carb.

"I certainly hope so. We will make adjustments as we go." Meesha began explaining the plan to Carb so he could relay it to Tonga who as Chief would get the People organized. Harmon and Spencer would lead the women and younger children including toddlers Sprout's age, in forming a line from the most distant collection of artifacts to begin with, up the steps and into the main deck suites and rooms where the treasures would be distributed as evenly as possible over all the carpeted decks. Weight distribution not value was always to be the major consideration and if spread out there would be no need to tie anything down if the ship heeled and there would be no damage if anything did move slightly.

When the mated women heard that they could be close to the exceptionally well endowed white warrior brothers, they vied with each other to work at the Sea Song end of the human conveyor system. While none of them would ever think of coupling with any male not of the People, still there was no harm in getting a closer look and with a few 'accidental' carefully placed gropes they might even see their prodigious manhood's fully erect. The Golden brothers didn't realize that they were about to be in for a very long morning.

Meanwhile Tommy and Huss with Carb were to manage the warriors and older boys in the distribution of the gold and silver throughout the crew quarters starting with actually paving each cabin deck with like-size bars and ingots and when the cabins were fully floored they would place all that remained over the passageway deck. If necessary they would also use the boat deck.

Meesha was quick to notice that while Tonga was something of a windbag giving speeches, he was a superlative administrator and manager and the treasure began to flow into Sea Song as soon as the two lines formed. Tonga's instructions ended with the caution to those working on the dock or anywhere near the hatch; that the 'Cat toothed machine' (assumed to be the forklift) always had the right-of-way, the only reason the flow of treasure could be interrupted.

The work was slow for the women, girls and children until all the off duty crew belched from the side hatch or appeared on the main deck and quickly joined that line to speed things up. Everyone in that line was delighted to have such help and more than delighted to have their own white warriors to see up close and even grope with impunity. After all, they reasoned, what could a warrior do to defend himself when both hands were occupied holding a priceless artifact?

When Meesha saw what was happening when the treasure flow slowed even further, he suggested that the crew simply replace all the People in that line. The women and girls could go and do other things and the children could have the run of the ship; they could explore anywhere.

"Are you sure you want to release this horde of fun loving mischievous boys on your Sea Song boat?" Tonga asked via Carb.

Meesha giggled with his shrug. "There is little harm in being inquisitive and all the sensitive areas are constantly attended by crewmen, ah, warriors. These men will see to it the boys come to no harm."

Both cat warrior leaders fell to laughing at Meesha's assurances of child safety. "Tonga wishes to say that you should be more concerned for the safety of this Sea Song boat and perhaps some of your more attractive warriors." Carb replied when he could. He nodded to Tonga to make the announcement and he managed about three words in Tongue before he found he was talking to crewmen.

The boys disappeared into the ship with whoops of joy and accurate bird calls while the women and girls exited with slightly more decorum in the other direction with words of thanks. The women were going back to the village to help others already there with food preparation. The two groups had already agreed that there would be no further feasts to avoid straining resources while saving time that very important day. Additionally, there was an imminent invasion to prepare for in just a few hours.

Just before the three leaders entered the ship on their way up to Evan's suite, there was a cry from the lookout to the bridge requesting instructions as his lofty post was being overwhelmed by native boys. The lookout alone had a plugin microphone and earphones for communications, which included a setting for the PA system for use in extreme emergencies. The boy posted there had obviously sent his call in error and had left the line open without being aware that the whole ship heard whatever he said.

Meesha raced away from the ship before he turned to look up at the mast so he had a better overall view. He wasn't surprised to see a swarm of boys racing up to the top; he was surprised at how they were getting there. There were wide ladders up to each level's landing and all were equipped with handrails so they were more like very steep stairways with reasonably wide treads. The boys ignored the ladders and were dangling over open space as they pulled their small bodies up hand over hand using the handrails exclusively!

The first boys who reached the second level lost interest in the climbing contest in favor of venturing out on the first and longest opposing yardarms. It seemed that they were interested in seeing what the two matching eight foot long rotating radar sweeps were all about. These four boys formed two teams and each team chose an opposing arm. Then instead of straddling the fixed arms with their legs and shinning closer, they walked out without the slightest hesitation or sign of fear. The first two boys to reach the sweeps paused to look down on the Cat warriors and boys and then called to them before turning back to the revolving sweep.

"They are not going to do what I think they're going to do are they?" Meesha asked weakly.

Carb grinned, "Oh yes, such a challenge would be imperative. Those two will gain much honor in displaying their agility before so many. Watch, they are almost ready." Movement on the entire dock stopped as everyone looked up.

It was clear from the two boys' head movements that they were gauging the speed of each revolution. Suddenly, in one synchronized movement, the two took one giant step forward and the in the wink of an eye, a single leap and another giant step away from the arm before it could knock them off the yardarm. The cheering from those watching was prolonged and the successful boys each dared a deep bow to acknowledge the accolades. "I don't suppose to other two boys are going to do that too?" Meesha asked, already assuming they would and was surprised when Carb shook his head.

"No, I think now they will play a game with that machine and it must be in the middle."

Meesha became frantic as he watched the four boys lay down on the yardarm facing the rotating arm and then pull their bodies forward until their heads were in range. The four boys timed lifting their heads precisely after an arm passed them and ducked before they would be hit as it returned. Meesha switched on his intercom to call the bridge. "PAV, ARE YOU THERE?"

"WHAT?" Pav snapped. "I am on the bridge, vainly attempting to defend my private parts from little questing hands while trying to prevent other little monsters from throwing every switch on the console while one, the most enterprising, is sitting in the fucking chair and so far has found only the way to turn and raise and lower it. You will know when he discovers the master control when you hear the engines start. By then I trust you will be here to plot a course after you cast off from the dock. Now, what is it you require?"

"Shut down power to all electronics on the mast except snoopy as fast as you can. The mast is decorated with boys much like a living yule tree! Please hurry!" Meesha ignored Pav's additional grumbles of outrage but interrupted when he had a thought; "Say Pav, I think by now they know the word, 'FOOD', say that and then lead them down to the galley. I'm sure Chef Chou will have something to eat that will keep them busy and out of mischief." Meesha breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the radar units slow and then stop. It was then that the four boys involved really looked scared. They looked all around and up into the sky. Evil spirits had caused the machine to stop.

The closed conversation between Meesha and Pavlov was suddenly over-ridden by the PA system. "Well hello there boys, you are very brave to climb so high. What are your names?" The boys' responses were unintelligible. "I am extremely sorry, my English is very poor, my country is Denmark and I cannot speak your language at all so we must call you by other names. You three remind me much of The Three Musketeers so that is what I shall call you. "You are Athos, you are Porthos, and you will be Aramis and just for fun I am d'Aragnan but my name is really Edvard Lund. Now my brothers in arms since you can't see over this armor plating I will lift you up, one at each time."

Meesha looked up to see Edvard lift one boy up to see over the top of the padded railing to one side of the canvas shrouded mini-gun. The boy used the assist by using his arms to pull himself free of Edvard's hands to stand on the railing and then sign his two friends to join him. All three laughed hysterically at looking down on Edvard's, aka, d'Aragnan's, horrified expression and pleas in English, German and as a last resort, Danish to coax them down. To grab one by the legs might cause him or all three to fall. All three jumped down to offer solace when they saw tears of frustration begin to form in Edvard's eyes when begging didn't work.

While Meesha could no longer see the three boys, he could see Edvard looking down and the whole ship could hear him clearly as the 'solace' intensified. "What are you doing? No, you should not touch me there...........No please! What is that I smell? Is that paste? It is paste......Oh no; you must not put it there! Please take your hands away at once! No, I did not mean for you to use your mouths instead of your hands. Oh nooo....."

As the entire ship laughed while they listened to Edvard, Meesha began to wonder where he came from and why he was seen in the crow's nest so frequently, or why he would be up there while they were docked. No one was ever assigned the position of lookout normally, although when Sea Song was underway the crew used a lottery to be there when off duty because it was the most thrilling place to be. Sea Song's slightest deck movement translated into a violent exciting ride; like a rollercoaster times ten and without safety harness, the lookout would be catapulted over the side particularly when Gregor had the con and playing with his favorite toy.

"Seaman Lund?" Meesha called after a period of silence, aside from some snickers and giggles.

"Ah, yes Sir. Is this Captain Meesha?" Edvard squeaked. Meesha noted that he could no longer be seen above the armor plating.

"Could you please come down from there after shutting down your microphone and bring your friends with you please."

"Now?" Edvard asked meekly. "How will I get the boys down? They are just now enjoying the view and I am somewhat entangled with, ah, the safety harness. I could ah, be delayed a few minutes."

"The delay is understandable. To get the boys down say, food, and bring them to the galley, I will meet you there." Meesha instructed. Meesha left Tonga and Carb to find their way to Evan's suite while he hurried to the control room to investigate Edvard Lund's sudden appearance.

When Nip and Tuck were released to explore the ship with the other boys, they began a search for Pettie. They became hunters and Pettie was their prey but unlike hunting in the jungle, scents were contained and tended to linger and merge together. They quickly discovered that Pettie along with the other Sea Song warrior chiefs had roamed everywhere so they had to be very discriminating in sniffing him out. They checked each room on the main deck from bow to stern before they returned to the wide curving staircase where the scent was the strongest and as they climbed the scent intensified. They were thrown off the track briefly by the smell of food and were lured by the odor to the empty dining salon. Pettie had been there recently probably for morning food, and their always rumbling stomachs argued that they should pause there to sample some of the new and wonderful smells, but they went in the opposite direction, along a wide central passage to open double doors, where they heard conversation and even the strong smell of fresh paste and Cats.

The two little hunters were halfway across the room before Pettie noticed them coming. He grinned and opened his arms as they leaped, landed on his thighs and after nose bumps, turned to settle comfortably with their legs locked around their chosen thigh with their backs resting against his body. The imps' attentions were drawn to the monitors.

John was replaying a recording of the inflatable as it returned to the destroyer that had been enhanced by helpful Freckles. It was clear that removing arrows had been a mistake as only the forward-most air chambers that still bristled with arrows still looked fully inflated while the rest were suffering varying degrees of flatness; the ruined craft was nearly awash and the outboard motor was laboring as it sank ever lower into the water.

Only one of the mercenaries was alert enough to steer while the other three were slumped down, either uncaring or unconscious but two were roused enough to climb the ladder almost without assistance while the third had to be hauled up the side with ropes. Everyone congratulated Pettie on his marksmanship but he gave all credit to Freckles' mind and busy tail although what the Cat did to help should have been a distraction.

"So you nailed three of the bastards, now that's three down and seventy-two to go tonight," Scott said as he hugged Pettie while he mashed Sport between them.

"Those remaining will not will not be so lucky. They will not see tomorrow's sunrise." Bani announced through gritted teeth.

"Now that the sun is up let us see what they are up to in real time," Herman suggested to John. Bani and Freckles both watched John's fingers carefully as they danced over his keyboard before Bani emulated John perfectly and both the big screen and Bani's laptop screen showed the sunlit destroyer at almost the same time.

The first thing they noted was that the engine had been removed from the almost flat inflatable and it had been cast adrift. The center of attention focused on the activity on the three patrol boats that had been tied to the seaward side of the destroyer where they couldn't be seen from land. Seamen had removed the fifty caliber machine gun from the stern deck of one and were attaching the heavy mounting plate to the cabin roof of another boat.

"Could that fiberglass roof possibly be reinforced?" Paul asked. "Those weapons have a lot of recoil don't they?"

Hans grinned. He was delighted, "See the ease of drilling bolt holes? I do not think there is reinforcing. If it was there, drilling metal would be slower, but we will see as the weapon is fired, the recoil and vibrations should tear it free and it and the gunner will go overboard."

Tonga looked pained when he heard Hans' opinion and spoke to Bani at length. JC and Carb laughed and Bani giggled as he relayed Tonga's problem. "Father wishes that the three small boats should remain undamaged as he would like to use them to start a navy."

"Well, we know that two will be used to land troops above us and below us. They were heard to agree that they will use the small beach to the north; to the south is anyone's guess, but probably not too far away. I would say they will try a coordinated pincher movement to board us from the dock, but to accomplish this I think they will use the third boat with the three guns to strafe Sea Song from across the river. It will be a distraction."

John used snoopy to bring up a view of the river from its mouth to the lake and added crude blinking boat shapes where Hans indicated the landings would take place and placed a third boat directly across the river from Sea Song. Freckles' eyes flicked from Bani's small laptop screen up to the largest and central monitor. "Are these the monster boats?" He asked via the sound system. It no longer seemed strange to hear his voice fill the room but easier than mind-speak. When Hans nodded he blinked and John's boat shapes were replaced with the actual images of the three patrol boats using snoopy's steep angle of view.

John was astounded. "Freckles, those graphics are beautiful!" Both John and Bani hugged the big Cat, which evoked a room-filling motorboat purr. "Can you move the boats around?" John asked.

Freckles sent the images spinning in place and even included white churned water from the stern of each boat and added warriors dressed in black, all of which appeared to be holding on to something or someone for dear life so they wouldn't be tossed overboard. The room broke up in laughter. Except for Tonga, he wasn't happy to see his new navy being destroyed by the antics of a playful Great Cat.

"No, no, I didn't mean like that. Can you put the boats at the river mouth and move them upriver. Ground one at the little beach, move one up to pass Sea Song and show it trying to ground somewhere up here." John moved his cursor over the screen and the boat images followed the dagger shape like dogs walking on a leash leaving dotted lines to show their course.

Gregor walked in at that moment. His eyes fixed on the biggest monitor and he turned gray, "Did I miss the battle? Did they dare to invade in broad daylight? Why is there no gunfire and why do you sit here laughing like fools?" He demanded.

"Relax Gregor, Freckles is providing some graphics to help us see what the patrol boats might do tonight." John advised between giggles.

"Well of course he is. I knew that." Gregor's sigh of relief betrayed his answer before he became all business. He studied the boat courses briefly before he shook his head. "I think this boat will come upriver closer to shore, not out in the middle of the channel." He pointed with his finger and Freckles moved his dotted line. "Now this fucker I think will hug the opposite shore and move slowly until the last second before it accelerates to full power to get by us and out of range before turning and ramming the mass of bushes, unfortunately, most likely at random."

Everyone watched Freckles adjust the second boat's course before it turned hard to starboard and raced across the river. They thought the boat's bow would smash through the thick growth, but Freckles made it bounce back violently.

"This is what would occur would it not?" Freckles asked the suddenly silent room.

"It sure would," Doug volunteered. "Those bushes are mangroves; they grow from a mass of roots that come right out of the water. We have a beach house and there's a fantastic seafood restaurant built out into the bay..." When he saw the guys staring, he shrugged, "anyway no puny little boat is going to get through them even going at top speed. The only thing that might happen is that everyone onboard would be pitched forward and if we were lucky, they just might go overboard." Bani agreed with Freckles' and Doug's analysis so Freckles sent the boat forward a second time and then dumped half his little black clad monsters into the bushes or the river with the remaining figures sprawled in a pile on the deck.

"I think this is correct," Herman observed. "It is hoped that the bow would be packed with enemy and the rest will be on the cabin roof ready to follow." Freckles assumed that Herman was issuing instructions and reproduced the corrected scenario on the screen with figures flying into the bushes and others splashing into the river. The shouts and whistles joined two painfully loud and accurate Macaw screeches from Nip and Tuck.

"You two birdies best warn me before you do that again right up smack in my ear drums," Pettie warned the boys. "What in God's name makes that kind of racket anyway?" After JC translated that to Tongue, both boys leaped from Pettie's lap and raced from the room. Pettie looked puzzled and asked, "Now just what got into them?"

Bani turned his attention away from his laptop, "You asked what makes that call and you are about to make two new friends." Everyone heard the call repeated from somewhere out on the deck and after a few minutes of silence, the two boys returned. Each was proudly wearing a magnificent living headdress; a pair of Scarlet Macaws whose tail feathers were so long, they brushed the carpeted deck. Wide eyed Pettie sat up but Tuck motioned him to stand. The boys babbled to their birds while the birds eyed Pettie, first with one eye and then the other before apparently deciding that his wide shoulders would make adequate perches. Two wing flaps later, Pettie found his ears being delicately nibbled before the birds began exploring his soft floppy hair. "I'm assumin' they don't bite. Are they pets?"

Freckles' ears perked up when he heard the word 'pets'. The previous evening, when the boys were adjusting to mind-speak and before they learned how to block their private conversations effectively, he 'heard' Doug ask his partner Buck, if there was a school rule concerning students keeping pets. Buck laughed and answered that there was not at present but there would be as soon as some person in authority, referred to as headmaster, saw Freckles, but by that time Freckles would be allowed because he would be a grandfather clause. While Freckles had no clue what a clause was, he knew what a grandfather or grandsire was and he knew for certain that he couldn't even think of siring progeny for at least five more sun cycles because he was physically incapable of coupling before that time.

JC answered Pettie's innocent question, "There are no pets here. These birds visit freely because they sense that they are safe. Some peoples hunt them for feathers but the People feel no need for such colorful adornments." Bani nodded and turned his attention back to the screens.

"Since we know where the first boat will beach its load of enemy, we will allow them to disappear from the boats' view before warriors..."

"And Cats," Freckles interrupted.

"and Cats will greet them," Bani continued smoothly, "with darts. There must be no sound."

"These Cats' kills may make sound," Spot observed.

"Use great care to crunch the head bones first," Freckles instructed his brother. It was easy to see that the Cats were eager to begin as their tails whipped the air to show their excitement.

"Will the one who steers the boat remain?" Tonga asked through Carb. "If this is so we will place warriors in the water to surface behind the boat to bring him down without harming my new boat."

"A good plan," Hans agreed, "now what about the second boat? They might choose to land anywhere beyond Sea Song's stern, but well before the dock where your warriors greeted the inflatable," he added with a laugh as he pictured the wealth of arrows that punctured that craft.

"Warriors AND Cats," Bani said with a nod at Freckles to avoid being corrected a second time, "will follow this boat on the river trail from the dock. Others will wait in the water spaced out all along the most likely landing place and quickly congregate to kill any in the water and the few who may remain on board."

While the warrior chiefs planned, Freckles and Sport added to and refined their vision of the two battles that would soon take place until there were more Cats than warriors at each landing site and the Cats were always pictured in the vanguard and crunching heads while the warriors watched. "Enough!" Bani barked in Freckles' ear, loud enough to cause the Cat's imagery to waver and fuzz on the screens. When the screens cleared only fourteen Cats were pictured although two were shown to be substantially larger. "I wonder who those two Great Cats are?" Bani whispered in Freckles' mind to receive a private Cat snicker in reply.

"Now for the third boat," Herman announced to bring everyone including the Cat's back on task.

Freckles made the third boat with three machine guns move up the river but stopped it long before it drew abeam of Sea Song. Before anyone could ask he advised; "This evil boat must be stopped here so that the guns of this Sea Song boat can kill it with many bullets." He then began sending multiple pulsing red lines from the two Gatling guns, and the four forward mini-guns including Marc's gun in the crow's nest, diagonally down and across the river into the enemy craft. "If it gets closer only the big gun on the fun deck place and the one in the bird's nest might properly shoot like this," he demonstrated. A few of the Family blushed when Freckles referred to the fly bride as the 'fun deck'.

Freckles moved the patrol boat up river slowly and the number of red lines decreased until they only came from Marc's mini-gun and the starboard Gatling.

"I am convinced," Gregor declared, "Please put that fucker back in the ideal killing zone. I do not want Sea Song to be injured by even one bullet, that thing must be killed there, but the question is; how do we stop it and hold it there?"

"I might have a way. Kad and this brave warrior will await its passing under this evil boat and we will rise up together with bird wire to entangle its propeller," always modest Sidi suggested.

"And I will wait on the bank with a hook and rope to catch the hand railing after it stops moving and affix the rope to a tree." Bani volunteered.

"This is my fight," JC reminded Bani, "I will handle the grapple."

Bani giggled, "You are my brother and have lived among the People for many years, you even know our Tongue and our many ways but you are not a Cat warrior. Could you swim under water across this river if necessary?"

JC frowned in answer, then brightened, "No, but I can make you my brother officially, if you and your father agree. I have been trying to think of a way to make you legal in America." He looked at John, "We need to send an addendum to our demands for reparations. We will demand one hundred blank passports. If you would bring up the list dear John, I will point out two or three individuals starting at the top. Oh, while we are demanding, please also add that we wish to lease an additional five million acres of land across the river in perpetuity, of course, including mineral rights. I fear there could be oil there and it should not be developed by outsiders, if at all."

"Reparations," someone asked, "what reparations?"

Usually dour JC giggled. "Well, when my father first negotiated the lease for these three homes and the surrounding lands, which includes the Cat lands and far more, he was required to make additional payments for protection. I still make those generous payments and now since I am faced with a foreign national warship within the limits of my lease hold and the threat of invasion, I am demanding a refund for the lack of service. Those reparations," he concluded.

"How will you get them to pay up?" Buck asked between gravelly giggles, which caused everyone to laugh. Then Freckles' attempt to imitate Buck over the speakers, made the occasion even more hilarious.

"We, my father and I, deposited monies in many accounts in banks around the world. To make those deposits, account numbers were provided." JC tapped his head for emphasis and continued, "With account numbers and names, one can make deposits, OR withdrawals, OR freeze any one OR all of them, at least temporarily. As of this moment, most are frozen; the remaining ones can be used to pay me my refunds. Even as we speak, sphincters are clenching so demands that don't cost them actual cash will be met instantly although I still expect cash refunds."

"How will I become your official brother?" Bani asked with glowing eyes.

"We will ask Buck if he could have Will and Joe generate adoption documents that would be dated soon after we first arrived here. These would show that you, Bani, were adopted by my father so you have always been Bani Escobar, my brother." Bani leaped from his chair to agree by giving JC a far more than brotherly kiss.

"And what of these two brave Cat warriors?" Sidi asked pathetically, "Shouldn't we also have proper names?"

"You two could be Sidi and Kad Cats. It is unfortunate that the People, like many natives do not use surnames. Would this be satisfactory, you would be brothers."

Charlie jumped into the conversation; "Cats for a last name is perfect only instead of spelling it C-A-T-S, we could spell it K-A-T-Z! The Cat People would all be named Katz and you'd be the only native Jewish family in South America!" Hans and Herman actually fell from their chairs laughing at Charlie's proposal.

"OH SHIT!" Pettie screeched and glared at one of the birds still sitting on his shoulders innocently.

"What's wrong?"

"Just exactly that, unless I'm mistaken, I've got a knurdle of bird shit runnin' down my back. I think I need to take a shower after I get rid of these ignorant critters out on the deck." Nip and Tuck attached themselves to Pettie's thighs and Scott followed the odd trio as they disappeared from the suite. Scott grinned as he watched the two boys as they both dug into their belt pouches with one hand to find and withdraw a small jar of paste in eager anticipation of bigger things to come after they helped Pettie clean the bird shit from his back.

As they exited, Meesha entered, sort of herding Edvard and his three little friends before him while he assured hapless Edvard that he was in no trouble and that he was sure that the Master would want to meet him while Edvard looked like a 'dead man walking'. This suite was the absolute last place that he or any other crewman wanted to enter as there were persistent stories about some people entering but not leaving and they all knew of the back door and the spiral staircase that led straight down to the boat deck.

"Evan, this is Edvard, Edvard this is Evan, our ultimate employer." He waited while the two shook hands. Evan's shake was firm, with meaning while Edvard's was less so and very moist although he did meet Evan's eyes and offer a nervous smile and neck bow. Meesha continued; "It seems that Edvard graduated University at the top of his class, majoring in computer science. He applied for a position with Falconburg and guess who interviewed him personally?"

"Since you're so pissed off, I'd say Dieter."

"Oh no, not Dieter, it was that giant dicked partner of his, Billie. Billie the treacherous cocksucker hired Edvard and even flew him back to Nassau where he boarded Sea Song. Billie instructed him to work in our control room, to learn our policies and procedures, including how to operate snoopy. Billie even provided him with all the necessary important passwords, including yours I might add and when he gained sufficient knowledge; he would be transferred back to Hamburg to both operate snoopy as time permitted and be the one to actually send and receive emails from, and to you! That was just at the time I discovered the high turnover rate in the control room, so when Edvard arrived there were no open terminals so he was temporarily assigned to the crow's nest as lookout and unfortunately apparently forgotten."

"But Sir," Edvard protested, "I was not idle; I studied from my cabin terminal and since I had all codes and passwords, encrypted communiques could be opened, but not read. I just opened them to gain experience. Really, I did no harm."

It was clear to see that Edvard was about to collapse so Evan pulled him over to his chair and pushed him down before he pulled the keyboard forward. "Relax Edvard; you are in no trouble at all. Tell me, would you like to stay aboard Sea Song or be transferred back to Hamburg to work?"

"Master, I have been at sea most of my life, the men of my family have always been fishermen but I am the second son so my brother will succeed our father in operating our boat. This was good for me because I enjoy computers and boats but not fishing so much and not the freezing cold at all. I would very much prefer to stay on Sea Song if I can be of use to you."

Evan grinned, "Edvard I would like you to meet John, Freckles and Bani, they are fellow geeks. From now on you will relieve John whenever he wants a rest. He's been stuck in here using snoopy way too long and his love life is suffering."

The Three Musketeers surrounded Edvard and their hands reached out, eager to push buttons Edvard pushed until he protested and Bani ordered them to sit on the long sitting place to await the return of Marksman Pettie and his mate who might amuse them, perhaps even take them fishing later.

While Evan leaned over one of Edvard's shoulders and they talked quietly, Spot joined them by resting his head on Edvard's other shoulder. Edvard was shocked and scared into immobility. Evan explained the Cat greeting and Edvard nervously obeyed.

"Greetings Master of Machines Edvard," Spot sent into Edvard's mind as it was repeated over the sound system while their eyes touched.

"Ah, hello, ah greetings to you Great Cat Spot," Edvard thought he returned verbally, but his greeting entered every mind-speaker's mind.

"Holy shit," Evan chortled, "are you and your brother twins by any chance?"

"Yes, but he is older by four hours. We have been told that ours was a very difficult birth or rather, mine was. How did you know to ask?"

"Because mind-speaking comes easier for twins and your ability is already very strong."

"And this will make your ability even stronger," Carb advised as he lowered a chain and emerald over Edvard's head.

Edvard crossed his eyes to glimpse the stone without touching it. "I cannot accept this, if it is real, it is priceless." He was shocked to see the stone glow while the setting sparkled as he protested. Suddenly he grinned, "These are the large fireflies I kept seeing on watch early this morning! After the incident with the inflatable, I watched you all, ah, talking and glowing with much brighter spots that I thought were a species of tropical fireflies."

Evan sent Edvard a private message; "If you watched us, you know we weren't talking very much. Did what you saw upset you?"

"Oh no, not at all except that I was tempted to abandon my post to join you, but I took measures into my own hand and was able to resist. I have not been active since I left home. When I came aboard all knew I was temporary and given a stateroom on the main deck and then the lookout post so I have been isolated. My interest in men is another reason I was pleased to leave home."

Evan waved Billy forward to introduce him to Edvard. While Billy was always with Evan and an intimate part of the Family, he had no real close friends within the Family and he wondered if the two might click as friends. It soon appeared that they would become friends when Billy promptly invited Edvard to go with him for a helicopter ride at the first opportunity as soon as they got home. While Edvard agreed, he promptly brought up snoopy's view of the anchored supertanker with two lethal looking helicopters lashed to the foredeck.

"Do you mean like one of these?" Edvard asked as he zoomed in on the Blackhawks. Spot seemed interested and zoomed snoopy in further until they could see a pilot wearing a flight suit, on a ladder, polishing a canopy. Sport then pulled snoopy back to begin an investigation of the huge tanker.

"That canoe is very large." Spot observed.

Edvard agreed and switched to the fleet status screen that showed the position of every tanker and freighter Evan owned worldwide. "As you can see, the Master owns many more of them. Each blinking red dot is a ship of some sort."

"Would you please stop calling me Master? I am Evan."

"Yes, ah Evan. May I show Spot your air freight fleet? I think they are more impressive."

Evan frowned, "I wish you could, but there is no program to show them all."

Edvard hesitated before he said, "I may have exceeded my authority, but I have been, how would you call it, tinkering, with one such that still needs more tickles because the jets travel so fast. There is still a thirty minute lag time I cannot seem to reduce..."

"Please just put it up." Evan interrupted Edvard's disclaimers impatiently and very eagerly.

"If I could show it on the big screen..." Evan nodded.

The big center screen blanked erasing Freckles' ongoing battles between hapless mercenaries and victorious Great Cats and Cat warriors. Drop down boxes appeared and disappeared too rapidly to actually read before the screen was filled with the same world map used for the ship program and then that was gradually filled with arching multicolored dotted lines with a number fixed to the head of each line. Some numbers were concentrated so they all but covered national borders and there appeared to be more numbers than dotted lines as several blinked out as they watched.

"The incomplete lines are aircraft in flight which I borrowed from the American FAA aircraft control software. I am unsure if that was legal, but if they wished to keep such information confidential, they should install superior firewalls." Edvard began and then happily continued to show Evan that by clicking on any one country's border, the country was enlarged to show airports where Falconburg planes were parked, about to land at or departing. Clicking a number provided the status information; loading, unloading, fueling, maintenance, and etc. He ended his brief tour with an apology; "I'm sorry I have not yet gotten around to including manifests for each flight, perhaps if I used a second screen for that additional information?" he mused.

Evan was so delighted with what he saw he was speechless but not immobilized. He impulsively pulled Edvard to his feet and kissed him soundly on the lips but before he could get serious, Billy yanked Edvard away to finish what Evan began until there were the usual cries of 'Get a room!'

Edvard nearly swallowed Billy's tongue when Evan slapped him on the back with force. "You are hereby promoted to be our executive assistant. That means you'll be traveling with us so wherever we go, you go." Evan's attention was diverted by Billy making sleeping motions with his hands and actually snoring over-dramatically. Evan continued between giggles, "We're very crowded in our dorm so I'm afraid you'll have to bunk in with us until you can't stand Billy's snoring anymore." Evan was already in motion, away from Billy but Billy pounced and took him down to the deck. The Three Musketeers thought it was a good time for some rough and tumble so they pounced on Edvard to land him on Billy's back. Billy obligingly quickly got a head lock around Edvard's neck which allowed the three boys time to get out their jars of paste.

Suddenly Tonga and Hans roared, "ENOUGH!" in two languages which halted all the miscreants as if they were flash frozen. Then like magic, the wrestlers found their abandoned seats or positions; Edvard even managed to slip his shoulder under Spot's furred and whiskered chin while Evan stood at his opposite shoulder to stare at his fleet of aircraft as if he hadn't moved. Only Athos spoiled the tableau by scooting to the scene of the developing crime to retrieve his dropped paste jar.

"Now we must deal with the damned destroyer," Hans said in a normal tone of voice.

JC perked up, "I have contacted the Foreign Ministry and their Admiralty or whatever they call it, to stimulate them to contact the Political Officer directly, bypassing the Captain. When one or the other makes contact, we will have the confidential frequency we need to contact him directly in his cabin or I should have said, both he and the Captain since they are friends of an intimate nature. To show my outrage I bypassed the Cuban Ambassador."

"Herman and I have also been busy," Hans began his report. "Doog is now sitting on the bottom one mile away. They were contacted as soon as we returned and when they arrived here the divers attached explosives to the destroyer's aft anchor chains. These constructed by those very clever twins. They assure us that once attached, they cannot be tampered with safely."

"You didn't use mines?" Gregor asked. "What of the forward chains, why not cast it adrift into the mass of shit called a delta?"

"If we did that the People and JC would have the rusting hulk as a landmark and reminder of what occurred, plus there would be the difficulty of evacuating the crew and even a possible attempt at salvage. It would be far better if that thing was to disappear under its own power. It was the wily twins who suggested an alternative surprise that will be found attached to the forward anchor chains."

"When you contact these swine instruct them to look aft and then have Doog detonate the charges while they watch. There should be little sound and just some water boiling briefly as the concussion reaches the surface. The stern will drift in some direction and we imagine that they will immediately make steam so that in the event that the main chains are blown, they can get underway at once."

"Also mention that you have a submarine at your disposal and that the aft explosions could just as easily have been mines attached to their hull or even torpedoes if their use became necessary. We just want them to leave these waters without any loss of life." Hans concluded.

"But what did you do to the main chains?" Gregor persisted among increasing giggles.

"The divers attached bright orange buoys on twenty foot lines at two ideal locations where explosives could have been placed." Herman happily replied.

Pettie and Scott returned at that moment with Nip and Tuck in their usual positions, clinging to Pettie's thighs. Pettie froze when he saw that their sofa had been occupied by three little boys who were busy at that moment using sign to chatter with Nip and Tuck silently. It was assumed that they were comparing notes on experiences with white warriors since they weren't bashful about pointing out parts of Pettie or Scott's anatomies.

"Oh no," Pettie moaned. "Now we got three more of the little rascals to deal with. Where'd they come from anyhow?" The Musketeers seemed to understand the question because they pointed at Edvard, who, while facing away from them knew how they answered as the back of his neck turned bright red. "How in hell's bells did three of 'em latch on to you?"

Edvard turned to look at Pettie, but couldn't seem to lift his eyes above a certain point. "I am Edvard, and, and I was at my post in the crow's nest this morning and I could not escape. They, they conspired together and with the use of paste I, I, did not molest them." He tried to stutter an explanation.

"Relax dude, I know how it happened 'cause the same thing happened to Scotty an' me, but there's two of us an' two of them; you got three to one. If history's repeated y'all are goin' to be some tuckered out by night fall when their daddies come by to yank their little asses home. By the way, I'm Pettie an' this is my partner, Scott."

"Greetings, yes, I know you, ah, somewhat. I was in the crow's nest early this morning when you were on the fly bridge, directly below me."

"The fun deck!" Freckles and Spot sang over the speakers.

"And I'm Evan," he interjected, "now could you look to see if I have any important emails please? You two can make 'appointments' to compare 'notes' later." That comment caused two red faces but it got Edvard back on task after Evan used finger quotes to mark two important words to show that he was not deceived; he and Billy also found that they were attracted to Edvard.

Apparently Edvard no longer felt intimidated by being in Evan's presence because he began to giggle and progress to laughter as he scrolled down a list of encrypted emails. "Master, you have not looked at your correspondence for days and days," he announced. This got everyone laughing while Evan attempted to look angry but could barely stifle a grin.

"First of all my name is Evan, not Master; second, I've been busy; third, I don't like de-encrypting before I can read them and fourth, most are boring reports. Oh, I just thought of another one; some are stupid questions that the senders are empowered and paid very well to answer themselves or they should ask Dieter or Billie before bothering me because I'm busy with other things. Did I mention that?"

"Yes Evan that was excuse number two. Are you finished or did you just pause to finally inhale?" Edvard asked as the monitor in front of him began to flash with drop boxes and the small dagger shaped cursor traveled and stabbed at boxes or briefly highlighted emails before they disappeared from the several days long list. When the activity ceased, Edvard leaned back with his hands clasped behind his head.

All could see that only four emails remained on the list and those were flashing red. "These are top priority. The top two are forwards. Both are requests to lease the snoopy in this sector, one from the Cuban Foreign Ministry and the second is from the same department here in Venezuela. It seems that someone here has been inundating both Ministries with demands to remove an incursion into his territory or he will remove it himself, unfortunately with a considerable loss of life and screw the resulting international repercussions. He has included a blizzard of time stamped aerial photos which are attached."

"Did you really use the word, 'screw'?" JC asked John between giggles.

"Damn right," John admitted. "If you read further you will see that you describe yourself as a poor retired businessman who wishes to live out the rest of his life in peace and tranquility but you can be pushed too far."

"What about the other two emails?" Evan asked Edvard.

"Those are from Billie; he asks how you wish him to handle the two requests and mentions that the two new potential clients are becoming increasingly impatient."

"What would you do Edvard?"

Edvard frowned in thought before he asked; "As new clients, are they familiar with our standard rates and have they arranged credit in advance?"

"No to knowing our rates and as for credit; Grandfather considered that a very dirty word. He tried extending credit at first but even with the wealthiest clients, he found that after the emergency passed, prompt payment was one hundred-twenty days; then in dealing with countries governed by dictators or military juntas; well, 'here today and gone tomorrow', as the saying goes. Always think of credit like screaming FUCK in church."

"Very good, I would respond that there is a very important client who is currently leasing the sector satellite for an extended period of time but that for some unknown reason shuts it down between say, four and six o'clock, local, each afternoon. I would say that not more than five minutes could be diverted for another's use, the bird could not be reoriented so the view would remain fixed and the only feature available would be the zoom. Will the treasure be loaded by four o'clock?" Edvard asked the room.

"Yup, I looked over the rail after we showered." Pettie advised. "All the junk was loaded and the crew guys were helpin' the People with the heavy stuff so I'd say they'll be done right after lunch or before that if they smell the food cookin'. The chef is grillin' out on the stern deck," he concluded.

"FOOD!" The five boys cried together like starving chicks, accompanied by rumbling stomachs.

Edvard spun around in his chair to stare at the Musketeers, "You three just ate enough cookies and drank enough milk to satisfy a family of ten. You cannot be hungry already."

Carb chuckled, "Our metabolisms differ I think. Think of boys this age as growing humming birds. Obviously they know the word, food." The five boys froze in place with their eyes fixed on Carb.

"Tell them to go find Chef Chou. Wherever he is they will find food." Gregor volunteered. Carb made a slight hand motion and the boys ran from the room. Not even Nip and Tuck looked back.

"How much would you charge each of these clients?" Evan asked Edvard.

"I would stress that there is much risk of discovery and there would be additional service charges for speed of setup and instant shutdown if the need arises, so I would think the sum of fifty million, US, would be a reasonable sum, in advance of course." When Evan didn't respond or react in anyway, Edvard asked cautiously, "Is that sum too high or too low? This is just a suggestion," he finished weakly.

Evan shook himself, "No, no, it's all good, it's great, send that all back as is. I just would add that full payment by one o'clock, local time here, will serve as a confirmation and that there will be no price or time negotiations, or any refunds. Oh, since Billie interviewed you and knows where you are; sign your name and use your title as Executive Assistant. The big prick will know that you've been discovered and there's no hope of getting you away from me."

"Here we go," John announced suddenly, "the Cuban Foreign Ministry just sent an ass blistering query to the onboard Political Officer demanding to know about mysterious boiler repairs, why he allowed his Captain to anchor within another country's sovereign boundaries and why it appears that the lessee is planning to invade said country and why a Cuban vessel has her guns pointed in a threatening manner at the private estate of a man who is well respected in both countries involved and threatens, if the vessel is not removed forthwith, he will obliterate it entirely with the loss of all hands. Photos are enclosed. Anyway, after all that bullshit, we have the frequencies we need. It's time to open negotiations with the two unlucky bastards; the Captain and his best bud the Political Officer."

The two men sat in the Political Officer's closed cabin. His was the only officer's cabin that was fitted with a steel door that always locked automatically. The small port was dogged and the heavy curtain was drawn closed against eavesdroppers outside so the naked unfrosted overhead light bulb contributed its share to the oppressive heat. A small oscillating ceiling fan mounted high in the corner of the small space worked noisily to circulate the superheated air of a poorly designed convection oven whose only setting was 'slow roast'. The men's uniforms were soaked with sweat.

"Could these photos be taken from the stealth helicopter?" Osvaldo, the Political Officer or officially, the First Officer asked.

"No, impossible, these are satellite images. They were taken from very high up and are in real time. See how the shadows have moved and the angle and direction are fixed? We watched the twin explosions off our stern at precisely the appointed time and when we returned here a moment later, a photo was waiting. Will you shut off that fucking printer? Shred all those photos!" Captain Vicente raged impotently.

The slight clicking stopped and the whirr of the shredder began briefly before it growled and quit in mid shred. "Fucking junk," Osvaldo mumbled with a hearty kick at the wastepaper basket mounted shredder, which sent confetti flying. "Did the diver inspecting the forward chains find two more explosive devices or just floats where they might be placed?"

"The floats only, which means that there IS a submarine lurking about as no diver could swim from shore packing heavy explosives and have the leisure to mount them and fix the floats, which could have been explosives, nor were there any small boats about. It is good that this man, Carlos Escobar, is unaware that our sonar is as antiquated as the rest of this fucking rust bucket. We, my dear Osvaldo are truly fucked."

"My latest update concerning the drug lords is that Carlos Escobar died two or more years ago and until recently, his son, Juan Carlos, was conducting his father's enterprise. Rumor has it that the son sold everything for billions in cash to a cartel once headed by the fat pig Jorge, our guest. With cash in hand, Juan Carlos then attempted to eradicate the entire cartel membership. Unfortunately, Jorge escaped to our country only to discover that the Escobar boy demolished his entire operation and most of the cartel's through the American DEA. It was all superbly executed."

"Why do you refer to him as a boy? Surely he is a masterful, experienced operator." Vicente questioned.

"I only know that there was an attempt on his life at his exclusive preparatory school located somewhere in the northeast of America, which would indicate that he is indeed young, certainly no more than a teenager. In fact the assassination attempt may have caused him to seek revenge on the cartel members."

"Well, are we agreed? We allow all of this scum to debark as they plan and young Escobar desires, and any who think to remain onboard will swim or return to the embraces of our very fine penal institutional system. We will forget our bonus was ever offered. I only regret that the fat one will escape on his speed boat," The Captain concluded with a frown.

"Speed boat, what speed boat?" Osvaldo demanded.

Vicente shrugged, "I thought you knew; it is your business to know everything. It replaced a lifeboat on the port side. I have no idea where the fat one will go, but he must have a plan of some sort."

"Could we use that information to barter some advantage from Escobar? God knows what will happen when we reach home, we could use the smallest advantage."

"We can only try. You send the query." Vicente giggled like a mad man suddenly, "Can you imagine that boy asking if we had video conferencing when he first contacted us?"

JC clapped his hands in delight after bending over John's shoulder to dictate questions and answers. It was apparent that even Freckles was excited as his tail twitching rate increased markedly. John had snoopy searching the sea to the north until it locked on a boat. Zooming down with Freckles' help showed it to be a beautiful motor yacht about one hundred-fifty feet long. "That is the bitch that I neglected to bomb months ago and now I am pleased that I didn't," he declared cryptically.

"Would you like to let us in on what's happening?" Buck asked.

"Oh, yes, sorry. Captain Vicente just advised that the whore's son has a speed boat on davits aboard the destroyer and that is his yacht which is one hundred miles away. It has been following the destroyer and I think tonight it will speed in this direction to crew Sea Song after his capture or in the event of failure; Porky will use it to escape us."

JC continued, "I have been wondering how much in liquid funds he has left. I imagine the Cubans have been merciless in charging him yet he would never risk bringing his entire horde of cash with him; if he did he would already be dead after the Cuban's greeted him at the dock. Having more cash elsewhere out of their reach is his insurance policy but if he is nearly broke, he will have to replenish before returning to Cuba so we will follow him to his stash. Once there, I will have the pit viper's head and you all can share in the rest of its body except I would like to include my guards of course."

"And Pavlov," Gregor added. "He will be Sea Song's First Officer as soon as we reach Dagger Cay. The present chap is left over from the days of the Old Master and is still reluctant to take command but he will blossom aboard one of Evan's tankers."

"Yup, all our guards too," Evan agreed, "but before we begin dividing up the man's assets we should get them in our greedy little hands first," he added.

"Just for fun, could y'all estimate what each share might be?" Pettie asked cautiously. "You guys all put together already got more money than God, but Scott and me been talkin' about buyin' a ranch next door to Scott's an' enough for a down payment sure would be nice if this was to come to pass."

JC shrugged, "Well the pig has been in business much longer than my father and he didn't trust banks either so I would estimate an equal share might range from fifty to two hundred." JC hid his grin while he watched Pettie.

"Thousand?" Pettie asked looking slightly depressed. As a pessimist he was sure that one hundred thousand dollars, their combined eventual share, would not be enough for a down payment and then invest in cattle to stock the new ranch.

"DUH, are all you Texans dense? If JC was talking about thousands we wouldn't be talking about whacking up the fat asshole's assets at all," Buck advised. "JC was estimating in millions not thousands."

Pettie and Scott both looked ill suddenly. "Dollars, ah, millions of dollars? I know I'm lovable an' all but don't get me riled or we'll be off to the local hospital to get my size fourteen foot out of an asshole." Pettie warned, still unsure of the difference in decimal places. Pettie had another thought, "But what if this fat guy gets shot in the upcomin' fracas?"

JC shrugged for the thousandth time, "So do not aim at the fat guy. I would not be concerned that he will get that close until he is assured of victory."

All planning and guesstimating ended at that point when a deep voice announced over the PA system that luncheon was served on the stern deck including all hands and any People. Carb grinned when he heard the same announcement repeated in the People's Tongue. "Angus has come to this Sea Song boat. Those are his words."

When the mass exodus ended only Edvard and Spot remained. Edvard told Spot that he couldn't leave his new post and that he would eat later. His protests ended when he felt Spot's tail wrap around his body, lift him from his chair until he was dangling in front of Spot's eyes. "NOW IS FOOD TIME!" Spot insisted in Edvard's mind and over the speakers for good measure.

"Ah, yes I agree. Please put me down if you are sure I will not get in trouble."

"You will not be troubled, you are a Master of Machines, a friend of this Cat and I am a Great Cat warrior! This Great Cat will defend you unto death!"

"Yes, but I hope it does not come to that. Wait, where are we going?" Edvard asked as Spot opened the door to the Master's private stairs, which led up or down to all the decks.

"This way is chief's way, we will find food first!" Spot declared and clamped his tail around Edvard's wrist to remove choice of the route they would take. "This Cat's brother, Freckles, does not like these many bumps in white warrior ramps. He will impede the other humans with his caution."

Spot and Edvard arrived just before the mob as Spot promised and were sniffing the long serving tables together when someone pulled Spot's tail playfully. Spot didn't look back. He jerked his tail free and used it to collect the daring offender and pull him around face to face. "Greetings Cat friend Angus," Spot said and administered a total face slurp before Angus could pull away. "These Cats have learned of paying back for jokes so be warned," he added before he and Angus greeted each other formally. That degenerated into a loving hug which included both of Spot's paws on the man's shoulders.

"You Great Kitty have grown too big to be huggin' People much anymore and I understand that you've chosen a name. Would you be Freckles or Spot?" Angus asked as he attempted to step back out of Cat tail range but forgot about the other brother. Freckles took him down and with a paw on his chest, held him there as two busy Cat tails began to tickle him unmercifully.

"The white warrior chiefs call this tickle torture. When these Cats were much younger you always won this game. Do you surrender?" Freckles asked.

Angus looked up to see that he and the Cats were surrounded by his troop of twelve boys-not-yet-warriors plus one other older white boy who was wearing a stone. To his boys he cried in Tongue between laughing fits; "What are you watchin' for, jump in here and help me!" Then to the boy wearing the stone; "You there lad, jump one of these bruisers to get him off me and all together we might prevail."

Edvard had been watching the growing scene of mayhem with his mouth hanging open. He began to wonder if the man the Cats were happily molesting was a means of actually tenderizing him before he became the main course of the Cat's luncheon when the man sent him a powerful mental plea for help. "What? Who me? You want me to jump a five hundred pound Cat? Am I to be the appetizer or dessert?"

Both Cats intercepted the transmission but Spot was closest to Edvard, too close Edvard discovered when he was pulled into the melee and buried under boys and Cats. Boys and Cats discovered together that Edvard was as ticklish as Angus as the growing pile was joined by five smaller bodies all intent on feeling up their elders indiscriminately while they had the opportunity.

Tonga pushed his way through the surrounding mob. "Angus," he called, "why do you always cause these disturbances whenever you come among the People and now you have the Cats involved and perhaps even the Master of Machines under there somewhere with you. He does not know our ways of having amusement by wrestling and there is much food to be eaten," he added as a last resort. He found that the magic word ended the rough and tumble almost instantly to leave Angus and Edvard on their backs on the deck and panting from their exertions.

Spot lifted Edvard to his feet while Freckles took care of Angus and the two introduced themselves while the Cat's studied their surroundings to pick out their eating place. While the stern deck was spacious, it was crowded because all of the People were present as well as the crew. When Marta and the women brought food for their menfolk Chef Chou invited them aboard and provided more tables for them to serve their food and then everyone could enjoy each other's company while they ate in the air conditioned comfort of the lounge or any other area of the ship.

Chef Chou planned a traditional American picnic and had six large charcoal grills set up across the stern rail. He was in the habit of making his own hotdogs and sausages so with burgers and the pizza from the galley ovens, there was plenty to eat with assorted salads, toppings and condiments and always dared the ships' bakery to run out the necessary rolls or dough. He was never disappointed because he actually did have a large, sharp, gleaming meat clever and carried it in a custom belt sheath. While he never used the edge on his helpers he was not afraid to apply a flat side like a paddle to anyone in his domain who displeased him by preparing anything less than perfect foods or malingerers.

It was inevitable that the People including the women lined up to sample and enjoy all the strange white warrior foods, while the crew and family went for the unique smoked sausages wrapped with flat bread at least to start with. Chef Chou waded through the crowded lines like a battleship at ramming speed to find the Cats silently 'talking' with Edvard and Angus as they moved toward the serving tables.

"Could you please tell these beautiful Cats that I have prepared a special treat for them? At least I hope it is, if they will just come this way?" He waved a hand toward a large round table that was so far unoccupied except for two sterling serving platters piled high with fat pale sausages and two of the massive chairs from the dining salon.

Freckles looked around until he found a faintly buzzing speaker, part of Sea Song's public address system. He looked at the nearly concealed speaker, blinked and answered Chef Chou. "These Great Cats have mastered the white warrior tongue somewhat and can converse if there is one of those things to voice our thoughts. This Cat is called Freckles and this Cat is called Spot because of a deformity on his nose."

Bani didn't even look up from the hot dogs he was preparing to inhale, "DO NOT START ANYTHING YOU TWO, REMEMBER YOUR FATHER'S WARNING." He sent into the Cats' minds before Spot had time to snarl and expose his incisors to challenge Freckles for the insult.

Freckles made believe he didn't hear Bani's warning. He sent a confidential question to Angus, "Did you not bring the yellow metal food vessels? Tara Bani must feast as the Ancients."

"I brought some, you grumpy impatient kitty, and I will bring more as soon as I borrow Cat warriors to help with the rest. This food warrior, Chef Chou, thought it best to surprise Tara Bani and these white warrior chiefs in the food place tonight by using your damn dishes for everyone."

"A surprise is a good joke?" Spot asked.

"No, a surprise is something unexpected but very pleasant." Angus didn't use the word, shocked, intentionally. He was very sure that they would be as shocked and speechless as the two brothers he found exploring the City earlier. He noted at the outset that while Harman and Spencer marveled at and admired the treasures they found, they didn't have sticky fingers and even realized that much could never leave the City to be introduced into the outside world without the certain tragedy of destroying a unique advanced civilization. The term, 'other worldly', wasn't mentioned.

Chef Chou was pleased to see his special guests lick their lips with eager anticipation. His research indicated that the Cats weren't really hungry since they had eaten a few hours before, but all wild meat eaters were opportunists and gorged on fresh kills until they could eat no more. Generally the best parts were the organs, stomach and intestines and their vegetable based contents. The Cats nodded to show that what Chef Chou said was true as they both sniffed the sausages closer.

"I par boiled, ah, that would be barely cooked or partially digested the vegetables then combined those with organ meats and ground the whole mess up mixed with meat and fat, so there you have what I hope is a well-balanced diet. I will give the Master the basic receipt, which can be varied with different meats and any vegetables."

Freckles and Spot could wait no longer, both felt that they were about to begin drooling if they didn't start eating and that might be considered rude among humans so they began to eat. In five minutes they each consumed twenty-five pounds of the special sausage along with a gallon of ice water and the ice cubes and announced that they would rest to prepare for the coming battle. The pair left the ship via the open side hatch and disappeared into the undergrowth at the end of the dock.

Doug, Buck and Meesha watched them from the main deck rail. "You know this morning the Cats took leaks using the sun deck shower drain and even kind of flushed by turning on the shower, but once we get underway tomorrow and back at school we'll have to come up with a way to handle Freckles' shit. Do you have any ideas Meesha?" Doug asked. "No one likes being watched so it would have to be some place private and then there's the problem of disposal."

"I think I will lay the problem on JC's and Bani's door step. Perhaps they could consult Angus since he's been all over El Dorado, he will know what a Cat facility looks like, and at school; Freckles will be resting with them in JC's quarters."

"Good idea, pass the buck!" Buck intoned and giggled at his cleverness.

Just then JC and John appeared from the big lounge and while crowded with seamen and People finishing lunch, it was way too quiet. As they looked around they noticed that the kids had all disappeared. "Where are the children?" Meesha asked suspiciously.

JC and John both grinned. "To keep them out of mischief I took a few to the theater. John set up the DVD player with some John Wayne movies and I explained to Sport how to operate the system. So they would not play with the buttons I told them that such behavior could call forth evil spirits from the black boxes. Word spread and the theater is packed beyond capacity with People of all ages." JC looked heavenward innocently, "Someone may have told them that the DVD's are the further adventures of the Black Warrior." He looked at Meesha hopefully. "You know I was thinking that it would be nice to convert the first house into a community center for the people, to start with, and later after a snoopy dish and receiver are installed it could also serve as the communications center. Would you consider selling the theater plasma screen and the necessary DVD electronics for now?" He asked Meesha hopefully.

Meesha nodded, "Yes indeed and even more. Anything can be replaced so we would include the DVD library and a sound system. Also, since dear Anton did not like or trust electronics of any sort, he had secondary and whenever feasible, tertiary backup systems installed. There are three snoopy systems aboard so one will not be missed. If I put the geeks to work now perhaps we could leave the People a modern communications system as well."

"Could Spot operate snoopy? If he can, he can train Carb and maybe Marta and they could teach others."

"Yes of course, he just spent the morning watching and helping Edvard of course without touching the keyboard or mouse, so he already knows the codes and passwords, plus if you didn't notice, perhaps even making improvements. I know snoopy was never programmed with those amazing graphics and both Cats can actually see radio signals and I doubt that anyone in the world has ever seen those much less be able to show them on a screen to us mere humans when asked." Meesha answered with conviction. "I'll get some guys started on dismantling everything and I think a small boat would be the easiest way to get the stuff downriver to the house."

JC called out a warning to Meesha, "Unless you have a death wish, I would not attempt to dismantle the theater just now. Perhaps wait until this evening to avoid being stuck with hundreds of darts. That would be disappointing to the People because they would be unable to figure out who would be credited with the kill." Meesha offered both middle fingers to JC in reply but did change his direction away from the theater.

"Hey guys," Pettie called, "where'd the kids go? I thought they were goin' to take us fishin' for whisker fish." He looked around before he whispered loudly, "I think whisker fish are really catfish but they're called whisker fish around these parts for obvious reasons." He found Edvard standing nearby with Angus. "You, too, new guy, find your gang. This should be fun."

Edvard said he couldn't go, that he was on watch so someone quickly found Evan, who not only gave permission, but decided that he and Billy would accompany them. JC cautiously ventured into the theater to find the five boys. They were all jammed together in one of the big leather lounge chairs where someone had found the recline button and the boys were stretched out on their bellies with their heads propped up with their hands and their elbows rested on the wide foot rest. JC knelt and signed them. They asked if they could bring help, others their age because they needed more worms to lure the fish from their dens so JC led a troop of twenty eager little boys to the boat deck. Sport and the older boys-not-yet-warriors, declined because they fully expected to learn Black Warrior ways of dealing out death using modern weapons from the amazing magical flat box.

The boys were ecstatic when they saw that they would ride on power boats up the river to the lake with many of the white warrior chiefs, Spot, Freckles, Tara Bani, Kad and Sidi. "Remember, enough for a fish fry for everyone including the People!" Chef Chou shouted down from above on the stern deck. "And clean them first!" He ordered as an important afterthought.

The boys were given turns at the wheels of all four boats and when they discovered the throttles and their purpose, the leisurely cruise became a balls out race with the miniature pilots working as tag teams with Family members standing close by to see that the boats didn't become 'bumper' boats as the boys' competitive spirits and ingrained fearless aggressiveness kicked in.

On the way, neither JC nor Bani would explain how whisker fish fishing was done. JC just made sure that everyone had a mask and snorkel. He advised that they could watch but that the little boys actually needed adult help the get the fish to the surface and the beach and added that whisker fishing was not easy.

The boys quickly had to hold each other up as they watched the Family don their masks and snorkels and some, over-size foot coverings as they attempted to walk from the narrow beach into the crystal clear lake.

The boys stopped laughing when Bani reminded them that while white warriors were great special friends and warriors in their own way; that they were not and never could become Cat warriors because they lacked the natural skills and laughing was impolite when they were observed using special devices in attempting to imitate Cat warriors.

The brief lecture was interrupted suddenly, "These Cats will assist to gather food," Fang declared. The whole mob turned to see the twelve adult Great Cats sitting in their usual pose on the beach just outside the dense tropical undergrowth that appeared to be impregnable. Spot and Freckles raced to Fang, their sire, to rub his body with theirs and groom his face with their tongues. He returned their favors and ended the greeting with two swift cuffs that would have decapitated any man. The twins rolled, gained their paws and led the way into the water.

Bani switched to mind speak in the water, which the gang realized was a very handy ability underwater. "If you look down here you will see a drop off. The wall is made of clay and is where the whisker fish make deep dens to hide. The young boys are small enough to enter the dens feet first but only the first boy goes that way, pushed in by two others. The lead boy feels for the fish and then wiggles his foot. The dumb fish bites the foot and holds on. Then the other two boys pull the boy and the fish from the den."

"This is one of the few times I can recall that I'm glad I'm too big to fit." Pettie sent and looked around, "Where's Charlie?"

"Fuck you too Pettie!" Was Charlie's instant response as he frantically swam out of reach.

"These fish have no teeth," Bani continued, "just raspy gums, which cause only small wounds. When the fish is fully exposed a warrior takes hold. The fish lets go of the foot it thought to be food and the warrior swims with the prize to the beach. This is very much fun and with these Great Cat's help for the first time, we will catch many fish and feed everyone as Chef Chou instructed."

"I'll give it try," Doug volunteered and ducked under to where he saw four small kicking feet just outside a smallish cave or den. As he watched the feet began to move faster and the boys' bodies appeared. When they were far enough out they both braced their feet on the mud wall for leverage and pulled until they could see the bait boy's outstretched arms and each grasped an arm tightly. The bait boy's head appeared next and then the rest of his body. His two helpers switched holds to his body and the boy used his arms to help extract the stubborn fish. As soon as the fish head was exposed, Doug swam in and wrapped his arms around the cool, sleek body as if he was hugging his dolphin, Rocket, only Rocket never resisted. Doug felt the fish was about the slip free of his grasp until he saw Freckles head appear over his shoulder.

"This Great Cat will assist." Freckles advised as he closed his jaws on the fish's head and swam for the surface leaving Doug with his arms surrounding water and feeling very foolish. He shot some 'birds' at the surrounding mental laughter and giggles before he and the three boys kicked to the surface.

"Want to be a team?" he asked the boys while pointing to each in turn and then at himself. The boys nodded eagerly and made waiting motions just before they dove down to another fish den. It seemed they knew that he couldn't hold his breath as long as they could and wanted him to wait and watch from the surface until he saw them pulling the next bait boy from the target den.

"And this Great Cat?" Freckles asked while he playfully ducked Doug by placing his head on top of Doug's and then swimming over him before using his tail to pull him back to the surface.

"Yup, if you stop doing that." Doug warned with a laugh. "This is fun!"

The fun continued for the next three hours and eventually the boys stopped coming up for air with the guys on their team, while the Cats took their breathing breaks when they delivered the fish to the growing piles of fish on the beach and raced each other back into the water.

"I don't know about you guys," Pettie huffed, "but I'm gettin' somewhat tuckered, although I had a blast an' I think my team of wigglers won with the most fish." Pettie's intended challenge produced the results he wanted. The guys all swam down to their teams and motioned them up to the surface. They were aided by the Cats, whose amused expressions underwater were distorted into frowns and the boys had no interest in angering a Great Cat.

The guys got the ice chests from the boats while the boys retrieved their belts and got out their small clay jars of paste. Pettie frowned at them at first until he realized that the paste was to be used to treat the many scratches and a few deeper lacerations the boys had suffered on their feet and lower legs with the bleeding noticeable after they left the water. He sat his three bait boys down, took a paste jar and began to rub the paste into each boy's legs and feet. Of course they were all ticklish and waited eagerly for their turn to have Pettie tickle their feet.

When he got to the new boy he asked Bani, "What's this little booger's name?"

Nip and Tuck seemed to understand some words and slapped their friend on his back. "Booger! Booger!" They sang clearly.

"No, wait up, no mini warrior of my acquaintance can be named after nose pickins'." Pettie protested to Bani.

"Too late," Bani answered silently with a giggle. "It seems that you keep starting new traditions among the People; first the back slap, which if Tara was not present to explain would have been a killing offence, and then the naming. Now Booger will expect you to confirm the name at some private moment as you allowed Nip and Tuck to do."

"How..." Pettie started to ask before he turned red. "If I recall, that was a lapse of good judgment and as for private, it was no way very private with their parents and half the tribe lookin' on." He glanced down at newly named Booger who had his eyes fixed on Pettie's cock while he accepted words of advice from the vastly more experienced Nip and Tuck. "Just to change the subject, how do we clean these monsters and shouldn't we reward the Cats for their help?"

At that moment, the Cats were interested in eating ice cubes from the open coolers and were joined by the boys after their wounds were treated with paste, which left their little legs and feet with a few fading red lines and purplish bruised areas. The Cats watched Kad and Sidi clean the first fish.

Since Chef Chou wanted filets for frying as 'fingers' and not the whole fish that the People would gut, stuff with herbs, tie up, then skewer and roast whole, the Katz brothers were first skinning the sides of a fish and then removing the whole filet without the need for gutting. The boys watched Kad and Sid and then with their knives out, attacked the other neat piles of fish.

Normally, when the People hunted whisker fish they left many of their catch on the beach as tribute for the Cats. The next day the fish were gone and the beach was clearly marked with numerous huge tracks to show that the Cats had been there. "What of the best part? You take only the white flesh?" Fang asked in answer to Bani's invitation to take as many fish as the Cats wanted.

Bani shrugged and looked to JC for an answer. After he explained deep frying, the Cats chose the fish carcasses, all of them. The Cats didn't begin their feast until the gang departed but they were seriously drooling as the boats were pushed off.

"What about you two?" Doug asked Freckles. "Are you planning to eat fried fish with us tonight?"

"Chef Chou questioned these Cats about food through Tara Bani. Evening food will be bones for these Cats."

"Bones?" Doug squeaked. He was not looking forward to the sound of cracking bones while everyone else enjoyed fish fingers, fries, hush puppies and slaw, all quiet foods to eat.

"Ignorant Dolt!" Buck interrupted with Meesha's favorite name for Gregor. "I think Freckles means marrow bones which are sliced in half so the marrow is easy to get at."

"Yes, that way." Freckles agreed. Then with an actual wink at Buck he added, "Ignorant Dolt!"

Without thinking of consequences, Doug pounced on Freckles and just as quickly found himself on his back, being held there with a giant paw on his chest and being tickled by Freckles' versatile tail as Buck helpfully pointed out all Doug's most sensitive places. Finally, he was unceremoniously hauled to his feet by Freckles' tail around his neck followed by a very thorough 'dusting' by the same appendage. "Do not again mess with this Great Cat at your peril." Freckles warned and then betrayed Buck's influence; "Did this Cat say this correctly?" He asked Buck hopefully.

Buck nodded and danced away from Doug's grasp as their boat nudged the open stern. "Close enough!" He shouted over his shoulder as he raced away down the boat deck.

The mini warriors had much to tell their waiting parents who were on the boat deck to catch them before they managed to disappear somewhere into Sea Song's bowels. They got no closer than about six feet as their parents held their noses, while the boys protested that they did wash plus they had just spent the afternoon in the water. On questioning from a distance it was found that they'd washed completely after paste was used to dress their wounds but before they cleaned any of the fish.

The boat deck crew was in the process of pulling, washing and returning all the boats to their assigned chocks in preparation for closing the stern door in readiness for the anticipated battle. Via pantomime and fish odor, two crewmen used their hoses on the boys after the boys happily applied more paste to each other. Meanwhile, since the boys were occupied, Pettie and Edvard managed to sneak into the ship without being noticed; no small accomplishment for Pettie, who was nearly two heads taller than the tallest warrior.

Chef Chou advised the Family members that dinner would be served at seven o'clock sharp in the dining salon and no one would be admitted before then so no one should try. He softened the formal notice and warning by sending an unbelievable number of trays, platters and bowls of finger foods and more mundane snacks where the gang was likely to gather; the fly bridge and sun deck so they were isolated from the crew and the People who would dine on the main deck alfresco or the commodious crew dining room. Of course everyone would be served the same menu, the normal ship's policy.

Rumbling stomachs drove the guys to the sun deck where they found the very few invited dinner guests. Two, in addition to Tonga, Carb and Angus were a very welcome total surprise. Even Bani was grinning ear to ear when he saw his mother, Marta, accompanied by a very beautiful and very pregnant girl, Carb's mate, Sara. Meesha announced that this dinner was to be a going away celebration for Bani, Kad and Sidi.

Tonga grinned, rolled his eyes dramatically and whispered to Carb; "This happening may be a very unfortunate precedent." For which he promptly received Marta's elbow in his ribs before he could dance away.

"And you my mate will learn to regret that comment for the full term of my pregnancy!" Marta warned playfully with a giggle to negate the threat.

"Your mother is expecting?" Doug asked Bani. "Congratulations!" he sent to Bani and Marta.

"Thank you, yes, there will be two sisters and one brother. Father wanted sons but there a Mother decides and the People have a need for more females to mate with the high number of little boys running about." No one asked the obvious questions and there was a lull in the conversation.

Buck changed the subject. "Marta, you must meet my mother! She will soon have you being served food in bed by Tonga after he builds you a huge fine new hut." Marta translated that to Tonga herself so there would be no errors.

The light hearted conversation and laughter continued until the rarely used gong sounded throughout the ship to announce dinner. No one moved to start the usual stampede until Meesha pushed Evan toward Marta with whispered instructions. As the Master he would be the host like it or not and take Marta's arm to be first in line to lead them all down to the dining salon. It was obvious that Gregor had already received his instructions as he offered his arm to Sara. She didn't hesitate except for offering an evil grin at Carb after a pointed glance at Gregor's manhood.

Before Tonga had a chance to look lost, Meesha took his arm which brought forth a radiant smile and frank close appraisal as Meesha moved them to stand behind Evan and Marta. Angus grabbed Carb's arm, Charlie took Bani's, the twin Cats braced that couple which left Kad and Sidi to take each other's arms with no choice but to follow the couple they were charged with protecting. The rest of the mob chose partners with a minimum of pushing and shoving and a frown or two from Hans and Herman.

When all was in order the odd procession began down the grand stairway. Two stewards had been posted outside the dining salon and opened the doors with a deep bow as Evan and Marta approached so there would be no delay in seating.

Meesha was ready when Evan and Marta stopped dead as they first saw the table setting. He nudged them forward. "Take your seat at the head of the table Master. Marta, yours is on Evan's right and Tonga on his left," he instructed. Then without looking back he sent; "Split up as you enter you will sit opposite your partner or wherever you want and when the table is full, the rest will be served at tables in the lounge. Ignore what you see for now, Great Cat Freckles and Angus will explain after we are seated."

Freckles and Spot's places were marked by serving platters and bowls and they took their seats as they did in the morning; by delicately leaping over the high chair backs and settling on the seat cushions to strike their usual imperious poses and they gazed down the table at the unbelievable dinner service they'd asked Angus to deliver to the ship.

Freckles began to stroke Bani's back as Angus grinned at him. "These two Great Cat's didn't think fine bone china, delicate cut lead crystal or antique sterling silver from the finest makers was adequate for Tara Bani himself to be eaten' food off of so they asked that these possessions of the Ancients be brought aboard. There is enough in differing styles so that a service can be placed wherever Tara Bani is likely to dine while he is abroad at school."

Sara and Marta both were distracted and amazed to see Evan grow taller before their eyes so his head was approximately even with most of the other warrior chiefs. "Sit on your heels that's what I always do," Evan sent to Marta, who relayed the tip to Sara and Tonga. Bani, Carb, Sidi and Kad soon followed Evan's example before they noticed that Tommy and the other shorter white chiefs had already grown taller by employing the same trick.

"You see these furnishings were not intended for use by those of us of more normal height," Medi advised with a giggle to set their guests at ease. He picked up his empty plate and turned it over.

"Nope," Spencer said suddenly, "of course no hall mark, we already looked. When the crew guys took over this morning we went down to the City to really look around. We met Angus and he gave us the billion dollar tour. There are lounges and a vast dining hall of magnificent proportions and kitchens that are even equipped with walk in coolers, and there is what appears to be cooking surfaces and ovens but no way that we could find to turn them on."

Bani developed a faraway look as Freckles massaged his back and gradually the back of his head, "I feel that this is right," he mumbled and sent, "I see the grand dining hall, but it was not like this. The tables are lower and there are no chairs like these, just lounges or divans, I think they are called, and many pillows between spaces for our Cat Friends." Harman and Spencer looked at each other and nodded to agree that Bani's description was accurate. He glanced at Spencer, "The cooking surfaces are used by first placing containers of food on or in them and willing them to become hot. I think that they would have no purpose to become hot otherwise."

"What about these pure golden dishes and serving pieces?" Angus asked as he waved a hand down the glittering table. "They test twenty-four carat but none have the proper weight; they're way too light and too strong to bend."

"The basic element was reconfigured to make the metal lighter and stronger and therefore more useful. None of this can ever be tested by a metallurgist; it would raise many questions about the source of the element and manufacturer." Bani shook himself as Freckles withdrew his tail. "Thank you for these gifts, Great Cats; all who feast with us at school will enjoy their use." Both Freckles and Spot bowed their heads toward Bani to acknowledge his praise.

More questions were derailed when the galley door swung open and was held open by Chef Chou. "Dinner is served," he announced. A double line of stewards began to emerge and didn't end until there was one steward to attend each diner. On cue, they filled gem encrusted golden water goblets from matching pitchers.

Gregor frowned and looked at Chef Chou. "Are the ice makers all broken?" He asked since there was no clunking sound of ice in contact with metal as the goblets were filled.

Chef Chou grinned, "Take a drink from your goblet," he instructed, "I discovered that each of these pieces knows what temperature is best for serving whatever the contents it holds. I think the water is somewhere under forty degrees, and while we will not serve wine this evening, those goblets also maintain a perfect higher temperate as do mugs for hot liquids like tea or coffee." Chef Chou raised a golden mug without a handle to his lips and sipped delicately before smacking his lips. He added, "So far, tea at least, indefinitely." Even the Cats were dubious as they each took a tentative lap from their golden water bowls before they enjoyed a serious drink of ice cold water.

The boys discovered together that the gobbets didn't sweat and remained cool but not cold to the touch. The appetizer was broiled prawns served on small plates which the stewards delivered without using a tea towel to protect their fingers from burning on a very hot plate, however the boys found that the rims were cool and only the food area kept the sauce bubbly and the prawns at a perfect temperature to eat without burning their mouths. The larger dinner plates also kept the fried fish, French fries and hushpuppies hot but edible and the slaw was served on small 'cold' dishes. Chef Chou apologized for such humble fare being presented on such magnificent dinnerware.

"So it is true then," Carb said to Bani after dinner, "it is as you suspected; our ancestors were the servants of the Ancients."

Bani shrugged in answer, "Perhaps, but I saw only twelve of these divans in gold as there are twelve Cats on their Council with but twelve richly furnished cushioned spaces and these are scattered among many, many other divans and Cat places, less fine but still at the feasting table." He looked at Harman and Spencer to confirm the vision that Freckles somehow provided.

Harm nodded, "Bani's right Carb, when Spence said 'vast dining hall' he wasn't kidding. The same is true with what you call resting places or bedrooms. We didn't count them on the main level but there are two lower levels. And all the beds we saw could easily hold four Cats as two mated couples or," he winked at Freckles, "a mated pair and several rambunctious progeny. Then on the human side of the bed, I would think any number of the People could rest together and have plenty of space to couple and even be joined by a Cat or two on occasion, without crowding." Everyone laughed when Freckles and Spot nodded enthusiastically and their tails went active under the table briefly.

The fun stopped when Harmon continued, "Over the millennia, there have been a few remarkably advanced civilizations; the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Egyptians and now another; the Ancients. They all have parallels; they all built pyramids and the construction material was stone. I think the Ancients were the first to arrive here, perhaps ahead of schedule. They anticipated a climate much like the one they left, but they found this world in upheaval like the Ice Age which would have been inhospitable for anyone who wore coverings as adornments for ceremonies or protection in battle like Bani's armor but otherwise not at all. All these civilizations knew about and built pyramids, they were architects, engineers and skilled artisans. They knew mathematics, all had written languages and I think calendars and of course they were artists. I think it's also obvious that they knew all about astronomy and celestial navigation since they somehow arrived here from somewhere else.

"I think the Ancients found the climate not to their liking and built their pyramid and habitat, a completely climate controlled city, including useful plants, underground, carved out of solid rock. The later groups found the climate perfect and built their pyramids and cities above ground. The surface guys cut and shaped massive blocks of stone and then moved them incredible distances to their chosen building site and stacked them up, all of them fitting perfectly without the need for mortar. All this was supposedly accomplished by native populations who were mostly farmers by then, who had no tools except those made of stone. This theory is like assuming some farmer woke up one morning and decided to collect fifty thousand of his closest friends and announced that they were going to build a pyramid. All the farmer's friends would agree but then would ask; 'What's a pyramid?' Personally I think those farmers had some very awesome help like twelve Ancients who were from somewhere else. They brought the necessary technology and equipment with them, maybe did all the work and then took it all away again when they left."

"The Egyptians built their physical civilization on the Nile River, which just happens to flow from south to north just like your river. Their pyramids are still huge although not at all useful except as tombs, monuments to the occupant. The first of them may have been Ancients from a later time period and subsequent rulers were really scammers playing at being gods. They carved temples in cliffs of living rock and even a giant sculpture with the body of a Cat and a human head who wears a headdress exactly like the ones Bani, Kad and Sidi wore last night. The Egyptians also wore a kilt similar to what you guys wore.

"Here in this hemisphere, the Maya replaced a much earlier advanced civilization and their pyramids were smaller than the Egyptians but used as temples and decorated with many carvings, sculptures and writings." Harm grinned at Freckles who seemed to be paying rapt attention. "The Maya revered the Jaguar and carved images of the Cats on their buildings and pyramids and are almost your neighbors from up in Central America."

"Were those cats Great Cats or the small kind who have no knowledge and do not converse?" Freckles asked.

Harm shrugged, "I think the small kind and I don't believe there is evidence that they were Cat Friends to the Chiefs of the Maya. Perhaps their images were used because they are very beautiful and are known to be fierce hunters."

"Yes, they are like Great Cats in those ways as these enemy warriors of the People and these Great Cats will discover as they leave their canoes in the darkness. Even now they are preparing to die."

John looked up suddenly and asked Freckles, "Are you monitoring them with snoopy?"

"Yes, Edvard watches. These Cats watch Edvard's Machine."

Evan's smile suddenly disappeared. Gregor grinned, "Perhaps the Master forgot to tell him that he no longer works watches with the crew? He used a six hour off watch to go fishing and now he is at his new post," he surmised.

"Chef Chou, could you fix a dinner tray for one to be served in my quarters?" Evan asked and waved a hand at the table, "And use the good stuff."

"At once Master," Chef Chou responded, clapped his hands once and disappeared into the galley followed by the stewards while Evan led the migration out of the dining salon.

They found Edvard kicked back, with his feet on the desk and his keyboard in his lap with the mouse on the edge of the desk while classical music played on the sound system. The big screen was focused on the destroyer generally while the one Edvard watched was a close up of the seaward side; the three patrol boats and one new addition not yet in the water; the narrow hulled speed boat still on its davits which had been uncovered and swung out, ready to be lowered.

Edvard realized he was no longer alone when the tip of Spot's tail bored gently into his ear and stiff whiskers tickled his cheek. "Greetings Master of Machines, this Cat sees you have brought more light to see the enemy clearly."

"Greetings Great Cat Spot, yes, I used the key sequence you provided, the view is almost daylight. Thank you." Edvard answered without looking away from the scene of black clad enemy as they laboriously climbed down a rope ladder to a waiting boat.

"No wonder they started loading early, at the rate they're moving, any later and some might have missed the party," Evan observed from just behind Edvard's back. Edvard would have tipped over backward as he tried to assume a more alert posture if Spot wasn't ready to save him. Evan giggled at seeing Edvard's response. "Relax Edvard; I think I forgot to tell you that you are no longer a part of Sea Song's crew and in the future you are one of us, which means no more watches. We are guests when aboard Sea Song and you just missed dinner. Oh, by the way the enormous charges you levied on two governments were paid without comment so you'll receive a ten percent commission on these two deals and any others you happen to run across."

"Gang way!" Meesha called out.

The gang dispersed to their usual seats as two stewards arrived carrying a small table. Four more followed lugging one of the very heavy arm chairs from the dining salon. The parade continued with snowy linen, a fresh flower arrangement, a golden branched candelabrum enhanced with sparkling diamond tears, cutlery and finally cloche covered platters of food. Edvard blinked when a steward lit the tapers by flicking his thumb nail at the tip of each one because he didn't know about the arrow plant and its many uses. He was still trying to digest Evan's news about the commission schedule.

"Dinner is served," one steward announced and looked at Edvard while two more pulled the chair back in readiness for him to be seated. He hesitated until Evan raised an eyebrow and pointed to the table.

"If you wish to review the two five minute segments the Cubans and Venezuelans looked at it is waiting on my monitor," Edvard advised as he began to eat and realized that he was very hungry.

"They accepted your outrageous terms; Grandfather would have loved you too." Evan chortled happily while he took Edvard's place and started the recording. The first thing common to both was the destroyer. Miraculously, the four gun turrets had been returned to their dormant fore and aft positions and smoke rose from the ships' stacks to indicate that it was preparing to weigh anchor and get underway. The three patrol boats were tied up innocently to the destroyer's side and there was almost no human activity to be seen on any of the decks of the four boats.

"They are all enjoying siesta," JC explained with a giggle. "After they told me about the Pig's escape boat, I told them about a possible fly over at four o'clock and suggested that there should be no signs of aggressive behavior from above. I also promised to get the Captain, the First Officer and their families out over time if it appeared that there was no emergency. We see that they cooperated and now I shall follow through."

Both countries were most interested in Sea Song since both wasted the balance of their time periods on scanning his decks where there was obviously a party in progress since all the decks clearly swarmed with moving people although at snoopy's normal maximum magnification, the view was too far away to see the crew mixed with People. Both studied Sea Song's main foredeck. There they could see the raised barrel of the transformed antique cannon clearly aimed toward the sea along with what were obviously three deadly projectiles resting on the deck nearby.

Everyone stared at JC with their mouths open. He offered one of his classic shrugs. "I threatened to obliterate that boat if something wasn't done immediately. Now they know that I do not make idol threats." He added, "I think now that this country's military will keep clear of this area as well and the People and Cats are safe from further incursions since they will wonder if there are not also similar shore batteries."

"I am sorry, I have no more," Edvard said in the silence. Everyone laughed to see Edvard braced by two Cats and both had been begging food -- successfully. Evan cocked his head at a highly amused steward which sent him flying from the room to get Edvard a Cat size second helping.

"You both just ate," Evan accused.

"But we're growing boys," both Cat's argued via the speakers in two part harmony.

"Buck, you need to stop coaching them," Doug warned using close mind-speak when he noted that the Cat's used a contraction for 'we are'.

"I'm not doing anything!" Buck countered aloud. He was the picture of innocence.

"What is coaching?" Freckles asked the room.

"BUSTED!" Doug sang.

Vicente and Osvaldo were ashen faced as they studied the pile of blown up photos that belched from the printer, sent directly from the office of the Foreign Minister. First they had to tape a series together before they realized the mysterious yacht's size and were able to estimate the probable number of crew aboard in addition to those that they could see on the many decks along with natives most of which were armed with a rifle. Most telling was the single extreme grainy blowup of three missiles ready to be loaded into a nearby launcher that appeared to be pointed directly at them.

"How does this fool expect to take over THAT with only seventy-five untrained cut throats?" Osvaldo asked rhetorically. "Even if his pincher attack was a surprise at first, his men would take at least a day or more to travel the half mile from the landings to the dock through that dense riverside vegetation while avoiding the natives who must be as thick as fleas on shore. The Escobar boy must carry his balls around in a wheel barrow."

"On the contrary, I think the wheel barrow would be useful to carry his brain. Look at our orders; they are very clear. We are to deposit our GUEST and all his ENTOURAGE in HIS THREE BOATS at this destination. Those were almost the Escobar kid's demands of us exactly. We are then to return to our home port after a successful 'training cruise'. I assume this will mean that there will be no inquiries or courts martial?" Vicente asked hopefully.

"No nothing, if the Leader ever discovered that certain of his top advisors such as the Foreign Minister, were involved in this lease agreement without consultation or sharing in the profits he might very well take umbrage and that would result in sudden vacancies in those positions. Do you think the boy will keep his word to assist us and our families to emigrate?"

"I believe he will. He advised us of a four o'clock satellite fly over so we could rest our weapons and he volunteered his assistance after we told him of the speedboat when all he had to do was to allow us to live until we got home to the mercies of our superiors. Now it appears that this all was a nonevent. Now let us see that our guests are safely away. We will up anchor as soon as the bloated pig's speedboat touches water. Have four armed men standing by to make sure no one has a change of heart."

"Already done, except I may have exceeded my authority; I ordered ten men to be armed and ready," Osvaldo answered with a relieved giggle and a peck on Vicente's cheek before he unlocked the cabin door.

Jorge occupied most of the contoured back seat of his speed boat and was unconcerned when he saw the destroyer's anchors being hauled, he'd already ordered his yacht to approach at maximum speed, but his troop of convict hired thugs, without exception, was outraged when they realized that they were to be abandoned in the middle of nowhere. The three overloaded patrol boats circled Jorge's as the men screamed pleas to call the warship back and on one of the circling boats, threats, since the men were finally given ammunition for their weapons, one man, the loudest, actually pointed his weapon.

Jorge smiled and nodded at the loudest complainer, the only one if he recalled, who returned from the reconnaissance mission uninjured. It was he who reported that they had found a cruise ship docked on the river, not a yacht. He whispered to his pilot and trusted guard that he was to get closer to the threatening fool and when close enough, Jorge raised a .44 caliber magnum revolver and shot the man in the chest. The dead man was thrown back into one of his fellows and they both went down to the deck. The powerful bullet passed through the first and was finally stopped by the second.

The gang watching the Freckles-enhanced incident on Evan's monitors couldn't quite believe their eyes as the first two casualties were thrown overboard and Jorge waved his gun all around and pointed at the shore. They were amazed to see the three patrol boats sort themselves out and head for the river with Jorge's boat following.

"How could he see to kill that man?" someone asked.

"The eyes become adjusted to near darkness; there is always some light from the stars and the new moon. He may have seen the man's outline and he certainly heard his arguments. Perhaps he fired at the mouth, whatever, it worked, here they come. Is all in readiness?" Gregor asked JC, who had been coordinating Cat warrior forces.

"I believe so, if John will give us a tour?"

John was fiddling with a joy stick while he watched a small screen. He didn't look up. "No can do, I'm exercising the Four Horsemen. Edvard will manage snoopy from now on." Edvard moved snoopy to the area centered on the small beach.

Meesha giggled, "Dare we ask whom the Four Horseman are?"

"Sure, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, my Gatling's, those four, you guys are always naming things so why can't I?" John argued defensively. He looked up at the big monitor. "Check out the ring of fire Tonga and the Great Cats have waiting for those sorry mother fuckers. Don't worry about us, we're locked and loaded. I even had the bulbs replaced in the spot lights. I told Bani and the boys what to expect when the beams come on; their night vision will be wasted but they plan to be underwater by then."

Attention shifted to the 'ring of fire' that John referred to. As Edvard zoomed down on the mob of warriors and Cats, they could see that the beach was surrounded by at least a hundred warriors and eight Cats on land and a dozen more warriors in three groups of four warriors in and actually under the water about fifty feet out. These warrior seal teams were actually sitting on the bottom Indian fashion and appeared to be holding conversations by signing with each other. As the boys watched one warrior from each team would surface, look around, probably inhale and then return to their team to report. Of course they all could hear the sound of the boat engine when it approached.

On land, six Great Cats lay patiently scattered among the warriors while two smaller Cat's; Spot and Freckles were seen to be almost flowing through the dense undergrowth, around and among the warriors and to and from the beach in constant motion. JC giggled, "I think they are both very excited about getting their first human kills. Did you hear them clicking their claws on the teak as they raced to join Fang?"

"Hear them?" Pettie nodded and laughed, "Did you guys see those claws? I wonder if they give their victims a choice of how they die; six inch teeth or eight inch claws although this time I think our big kitties decided to crunch head bones because of the need for silence."

"Do these adult Great Cats have human kills?" Evan asked JC.

"Bani said they do. The government still sends out patrols to explore new territories. I think all countries in South America do. There are still isolated tribes of natives about who are happy with the way they live until the government civilizes them; they move to the cities to die of diseases or starvation. He told me that the Great Cats and the People are mutually protective and when the Cats discover a government patrol they are all armed soldiers; hence modern invaders. The Cats want no signs of the warriors' involvement like arrows, darts or especially bullets, so they wipe out these patrols themselves. The scene is left with all weapons, torn and shredded packs and tooth marks on broken bones to explain how they died if they are ever found. By now you would think the government would get the message but still they come. Now with mind-speak maybe the Cats and the People can work together to just scare future patrols away. If they can't manage that then I was thinking that they could declare their independence."

When JC noted all the stares he got, he explained; "We thought the weapons that Kad and Sidi were holding in the City were javelins, but they weren't, they were Ancient weapons. Fang personally warned the boys not to touch any buttons on the hand grips, which is the only reason they didn't. Bani mentioned that the antique armor could even protect against rays and then they started to explain about how canoes were made but stopped suddenly. Then there's the matter of how the Ancients carved the City from solid rock. I am sure there are weapons down there somewhere or tools that could be adapted for use as weapons."

"There's an arsenal on the lowest level," Spencer volunteered, "Angus told us about it but we never got down there. I think he told us as a kind of warning of what could happen if the People and Cats were exposed. Maybe after us Outsiders leave, Angus and the Cats will take Carb and Tonga down there and the Cats will do a show and tell. Personally, I wouldn't want a tool capable of reducing a million cubic yards of solid rock to dust pointed at me, or even my country for that matter. I think the Cats already told Angus but he wasn't about to tell us much of anything really important."

"If it wasn't for the Cats, none of those dishes would have ever seen daylight. In fact they need to be counted regularly, if just one piece is analyzed, be prepared to explain away the discovery of a completely new element and how it was discovered in a manufactured dish." Harm added to his brother's view. He looked at the big monitor and suggested, "Let's check out Bani's little band of pirates."

Edvard moved snoopy across the river and further south, upriver to diagonally across from Sea Song's bow. Bani and two warriors were chatting verbally on the bare riverbank while Bani twirled the treble hook grapple negligently with one hand. The young warriors continually played with the line attached to the grapple, attempting to garrote each other.

The grapple and a spare were hurriedly manufactured in Sea Song's machine shop. There was the treble hook made from high carbon steel rod stock. The first part of the line was six feet of fine aircraft cable so it couldn't be cut with a knife if discovered. The last part, the longest, was two hundred feet of yacht braid, a highly flexible; almost tangle free and very strong line, a mainstay of any sailboat rigging.

"Where are Kad and Sidi?" Medi asked.

Edvard moved snoopy's lens slightly and two wrestling figures could be seen just off the river bank in ten or more feet of water. Medi answered his own question with a giggle; "I say, nothing like a good couple before going to war!" He glanced at Sean, "We will have to try that with scuba when we get back to Dagger Cay."

Edvard finally moved snoopy further south after Kad and Sidi separated. He began to scan from the end of the dock at Sea Song's stern. Pairs of warriors waited in the water spaced out along the overgrown riverbank, no closer than a hundred yards apart while on land larger groups waited spread out as well. It was obvious that there was a trail along the river as the other six adult Great Cats were seen to be moving constantly between the groups of warriors. Angus could be seen with his twelve boys-not-yet-warriors because he had them positioned at one particular spot. He was so sure of his choice he even had three boys in trees stretched out on overhanging branches where they could rain darts down on the invaders before they had the opportunity to leave or be ejected from their boat as it smashed into the resilient upright mangrove stalks.

Satisfied, Hans ordered all of the Family to their firing positions including the three teams who were to man the aft facing mini-guns fixed on the chopper pad facing upriver and Medi with his gang on the bridge ready to fire a missile even though it was improbable that any of them would have the chance to fire. "Remember to take out the gunners first as soon as the Gatling beams come on and they are blinded. Then the two loaders manning each of the weapons and last anyone on deck or in the cabin. Try to avoid the hull as Tonga still wants this boat for his navy but understands that there might be some significant damage if there is unexpected resistance." He stopped suddenly and looked around the room. "Where is Marc?"

Paul rolled his eyes, grinned and pointed up. "Where do you think? He and Alex disappeared right after dinner. By now they should be finished coupling in as many positions as the confines of the crow's nest allows and about ready to get to work. They refer to fucking around as calming each other down. Don't worry, he loves that gun as much as he loves Alex, in fact I think he'd make love to it if he could figure out how. He's still pissed off about not taking pictures but he understands the reasons after meeting the People and seeing El Dorado, just one photograph could bring this civilization down."

JC and Gregor circulated among the seamen and warriors positioned shoulder to shoulder on every deck and in every port that could be opened on the starboard side where every rifle was pointed diagonally across the river. Their message was the same in two languages even though Tonga warned his warriors and Gregor had already warned the crew, Gregor added that if anyone fired early, the individual would meet the same fate the spy suffered just a few days earlier. Since he wasn't smiling the crew understood he wasn't joking and those who actually witnessed the gruesome execution shivered.

Tonga, with Carb's assistance positioned their warriors so that all but three were concentrated to the south; the direction the evil fiends were to go to reach the dock and Sea Song. They hoped the fiends knew where south was. The last three waited across the trail to the north in the event that some realized their fellows were dying in a trap and attempted to flee in that direction since there was no other way to go with the river to the east and the cliff on the west. Freckles and Spot opted to lay in wait with the three lonely warriors where it was less crowded and there was a good chance that one or two might try to gain the safety of the boat or even swim away. All the warriors were completely painted in classic camouflage colors and could allow the enemies to get close enough without being seen to stab them with darts but that wasn't sporting.

All of the fiends were allowed off the boat to disappear well into the lush undergrowth. To get even that far, they needed both hands free so all their rifles were slung diagonally over their backs where they would be useless in a sudden firefight. The first fiend to encounter a warrior pushed against what he thought to be brush but it was warm and solid. He looked down and while he couldn't see it the muzzle of a blow gun was looking straight up into one of his eyes. The man stumbled and fell, pushed forward by his comrades who also quickly joined the first until they began to stack up like cordwood.

The last six fiends including the troop commander realized that something was horribly wrong when they began to trip over lifeless legs and feet. They ran as expected, in the opposite direction, except for the commander; he ran for the boat. When he got to within range of Freckles' tail it curled around his neck like a whip to pull him off his feet to flat on his back. Freckles ignored the small black box that flew from the man's hand as he closed his jaws on the human face. The only sound was that of a yellow melon that had been dropped on a rock from some height.

Freckles sneezed violently and then padded to the water to take a small drink in an attempt to clear the metallic-salty taste from his mouth when he noted a movement on the nose of the invader boat. He leapt for the kill from twenty feet and just had time to retract his claws as he landed, barely avoiding the painted warrior who was just then removing his trophy dart from the bow gunner's neck. Freckles bowed by way of apology before he stepped to the cabin roof to peer down on the other eleven warriors as they removed their eleven darts from the invader boat pilot's neck and the back of his head. A kill shared by eleven warriors was not much of a kill. Then since the young Great Cat and now blooded warrior was at the highest place on the invader boat he sat to strike his most imperious Great Cat pose while he surveyed the scene of the silent battle. That was when the small forgotten black box began to speak in the language that Tara spoke and understood.

He relayed the unknown words to Tara back on Sea Song. "Could this be some sort of primitive communicator?" Freckles asked as he carried the box to Carb so Carb could say Tara's words in answer to the shouted words from the box.

"What did I say?" Carb asked JC after he duplicated the Spanish retort to Jorge.

"You said, 'Keep your pants on you fat fuck, this brush is very thick and we are doing the best that we can. We will get to the dock but it will take longer.'" JC laughed while he replied.

They watched Jorge sitting in the back of his boat which was positioned in the middle of river opposite the site of the first battle. He had his machete out and was busy chopping up a seat cushion in response to Carb's imitation of his recently deceased commander.

Freckles raced into the room holding the black box high in his tail and presented the prize to JC proudly then they listened to Jorge order the mission to go forward as planned. Edvard zoomed snoopy down on the second boat overloaded with troops. The fiends packed the bow, crowded the cabin roof and filled the deck space so that it must have been difficult for the pilot to see to steer but he hugged the opposite shore so closely, Bani and his small force were sorely tempted to fire all their darts as the boat passed them in the interest of reducing the overcrowding.

As the boat crept by them it accelerated because they could see Sea Song's masthead anchor light and make out his size and general outline. The invaders on this boat were still snickering about their employer being called a 'fat fuck' by one of their own number and they began to wonder why, after they succeeded in capturing this yacht, they couldn't keep it and its treasures for themselves. They reasoned that with their numbers and ammunition for their rifles, that they could easily overwhelm the fat fuck's few bodyguards and then dispatch the fat fuck in payment for all the deprivations they'd suffered in recent days. Their dreaming was interrupted by the two machine gunners fore and aft as they stomped body parts and bumped heads as they swung their guns toward the giant yacht as they passed.

Jorge reasoned that this boat would get by Sea Song unchallenged because there must be some small boat traffic on a river this size and his boat would be ignored. He was right, there was some traffic but it was limited to canoes fitted with outriggers used by other small local tribes, collectively called the Sea People, who were all fishermen who lived along the nearby coast. The People traded meats, flour, and fresh produce for fish and shellfish with them regularly and even encouraged these People to seek the bounties of the almost un-fished lake. But, the sudden presence of a powerboat of any size would indeed be noticed.

One boy who rested on a low tree branch that reached out over the water called down to Angus; "If this is not the landing place as you think, when will you pay off your wager?"

"You imps need to think of other things besides coupling. I will pay as usual, as soon as possible, but if I'm wrong about this place you will get no kills, think of that. And if I'm right young scamp, when will you pay up? Either way I'll still keep my promise to take you to a resting place of the Ancients in the City and as a special treat Great Cat Spot may join us so you'll need a great deal of paste. Now you three up there just stop humpin' those branches, I believe I hear them comin'."

Angus chose the place because it was a small cove, an indentation in the foliage really but he hoped it would appear to be much darker than the rest of the shoreline from out on the river. He was betting that the invaders might choose to land there as an easier way to get to shore faster and as the sound of the boat engine grew it appeared that he was right. The warriors spread out along the trail thought so too as they appeared from both directions. Several signed him to say that the warriors in the river were also converging so there would be no escape for any of the fiends.

JC agreed as well. He sent Angus, "Get ready Angus, the boat is coming in straight at you."

Angus and the surrounding warriors couldn't see the boat collide with the resilient mangrove stalks but the force shook the massive water-loving shrubs for many feet in both directions from the contact point. Angus imagined the scene would be like an auto accident where the car was stopped suddenly but the passengers kept traveling forward at the same rate of speed. He imagined correctly.

The stern gunner flew into and onto the backs of the mob that had been standing on the deck. They in turn were thrown into the forward bulkhead and the pilot who was immobilized and unable to shut down the roaring engine or shift to neutral so the prop kept churning water which held the boat in place. The fiends on the cabin roof joined those on the bow in flying into the bushes or the river on either side of the bow. Three flew up somehow to land on the weakest branches. The weight of their bodies spread the stronger stalks until they were trapped like three tasty morsels held by chopsticks. Weapons, once held at the ready flew or were thrown aside and inflicted some damage when they connected with a soft body. There were screams and curses but fortunately no gun shots, which would have carried down the river to Jorge and the renovated gunboat.

When the onshore warriors realized that they would get no kills unless they joined their brothers in the river they appeared to Angus to be like magicians disappearing into a solid wall. He frowned on seeing some additional movement from the corner of his eye. He thought at first that they were additional warriors who were late to the party and were crouched over to sneak in unnoticed, but there was no reason to crouch, no reason for stealth. He looked closer to see that the bodies weren't crouched; they were the six youngsters who Pettie and the new boy, Edvard, had named; Nip, Tuck, Booger and the three others who called themselves the Three Musketeers. He laughed and waved them forward and when they waved back, he saw that each held their smaller but no less lethal blowguns.

Angus followed the six mini-warriors much more slowly since he wasn't a Cat warrior and had just pulled himself from the shallow water into the boat when someone put the thing in neutral and shut off the engine. He giggled when he saw that it was one of the little boys who had used the pile of dead bodies as steps to reach the controls. The other five boys were lined up facing four fathers and one older brother and as he watched one of his twelve boys-not-yet-warriors dropped into the boat from his perch in the overhanging tree to join in scolding the boys for joining the battle as they were considered far too young. Amid the scoldings and finger shaking a dead fiend moved his leg in rictus. The boys saw the movement while their elders had their backs to the pile. Instantly, the six acted as one body to raise and fire their blowguns. Six darts blossomed in the leg.

Their elders laughed because boys-not-yet-warriors who got kills that day or shared kills would be made full warriors, but killing an enemy who was already dead certainly did not qualify and since there were no more living fiends the six would have to wait for the next invasion or whenever they turned fifteen.

Nip cautiously asked, "Do you mean that if we six shared a kill we would be made full warriors?"

The four fathers and two brothers nodded and agreed that, yes that was so. Little Booger, the newest edition to the growing troop grinned evilly. "Then let the day of celebration begin!" he cried as all six ran to a cleat fixed to the back of the boat and began pulling in a length of rawhide that trailed into the water. A bald head surfaced first and the rest of the black clad body followed. The surprised warriors pulled the corpse to the deck. All saw at once that the fiend's forehead displayed six neatly spaced darts and the boys were quick to offer a dart each to show that the colored ring patterns matched one of the dead fiend's newly acquired darts.

"I'll be double damned little warriors. Just how did you come by this kill?" Angus asked as he slapped each on the back.

"We had just come through the plants and saw this fiend," Booger explained while he and his friends acted out the incident dramatically with Nip acting the part of the fiend. "We thought him dead at first but then as we were about to boost our force up into this boat, we saw that he seemed to very carefully, keep his large nose above the water. We have never seen a dead human before but know of no dead food animal that still needs to take in air after it is deceased so Porthos stuck the fiend's leg with his knife. He sat up with a frown from being disturbed so we aimed at a wrinkle in his forehead. We tied a thong around his neck and pushed him in deeper water. We were very brave and showed no fear at all." Booger couldn't resist a back pat of his own.

The warriors worked quickly to retrieve all expended darts and return them to their rightful owners as they removed the dead bodies from the boat, the water and the surrounding bushes. The bodies were stacked neatly in the shallows and would be removed the next day.

Angus held the boys back when the other warriors made haste down the trail toward Sea Song. They all wanted to watch the final battle with the third monster boat and the boys, all newly minted warriors, looked at Angus anxiously. "There's no need to hurry lads, I think we should deliver this new war boat to Chief Tonga don't you? That is, if there was a warrior or six about who knew how to drive it?" He didn't need to say any more, just keep out of the way.

Jorge had his boat idling close to the gunboat. He'd been contacted by the second troop. The scum had reached land, but like the first troop the way was extremely difficult and reaching their assigned end of the dock was going to take longer than planned. He'd planned carefully; all of the hired mercenaries were safely on land and while they were out of his reach, he was safely out of theirs. The gunboat was crewed by all his bodyguards except for the two in his boat and he looked forward to ordering his men to open fire on the prison scum the Cubans had insisted were experienced mercenaries, after this conflict was concluded successfully.

JC alternated looking at snoopy and his watch nervously. All the warriors had rejoined their families up in his house and on the terrace. Every window and door was open and occupied by People. Food and drink was already being served and a holiday atmosphere prevailed. From that height the People had a view like they were in a stadium, and sitting in the cheapest seats of the nosebleed section, but their view was augmented by their superior sight and incredible night vision. Some in the highest windows could even see the enemy gunboat and the speedboat.

Finally JC sent two messages from the captured radio. The first was belligerent; "What the fuck are you waiting for blimp? These bugs are eating us alive. The boat is dark, everyone is asleep. Let's get moving together or we'll start it on our own." The second was more servile; "We are ready at the south end of the dock and will advance when we hear the shooting start." JC kept clicking the send button as if there was a malfunction or difficulty with the signals but the messages were clear enough to make Jorge grin and stop chopping the boats' upholstery.

Jorge gave his men final instructions. "Strafe all the upper deck windows; draw them out to this side of the boat. Kill anything that moves. I want their attention diverted from the dock so the scum can get aboard! I want that yacht captured!" He paused to frown at his men but the effect was lost on them since they couldn't see it or much of anything else. "Well, what the fuck are you waiting for, daylight? Get going at full speed NOW!" he raged when his commanding frown failed.

It was apparent that Jorge didn't realize how far sound carried over open water. Of course he didn't know that Bani was quite close, had Cat hearing or that he spoke Spanish. "Get ready, here they come!" he sent via mind-speak. He glanced down into the water downstream to see that Kad and Sidi stood on the river bottom fifty feet apart, the length of a bird wire roll. Both waited to kick to the surface as soon as the boat began to pass over them. The two warriors behind him stood ready to help him pull in the excess grapple line and wrap it around a tree after the propeller stopped driving the boat forward at which time they would pull it to the bank and tie it off as its forward momentum ceased.

JC, Evan, Hans and Herman with Freckles ran from Evan's suite to the fly bridge before the shooting started. Freckles planned to assist Marksman Pettie once again and the two boys and two men were commanding the operation. Edvard remained behind with Spot to control snoopy as needed after Edvard retrieved a wet towel the clean Spots' blood encrusted face and whiskers. John sat in his usual seat to control and fire his beloved Gatling guns with snoopy's help in tracking and aiming but not actually firing the awesome automatic weapons.

Snoopy's prime directive was to eliminate anything its masters decided was a threat and it would use any weapon it was given control of. In this case it would kill any living beings with one pair of guns while the second pair worked to first incapacitate the craft and then sink it. So since the basic boat was wanted, John would work to kill all enemy on board wherever they were hiding, if they had time to seek shelter, if there was any shelter.

As the gunboat got under way, the aft gunner noticed that his loader hadn't brought any extra ammunition to their gun and sent the lazy fool into the cabin to fetch at least two more of the heavy steel boxes that contained thousand round belts. When Jorge was about, the man acted sadistic and vicious as one would expect of a bodyguard but with his peers he was rebellious and belligerent or indolent. In the cabin he found a seat, sat down and lit a cigarette even though he knew the cabin was packed with ammunition. He even leaned back against the boxes that had been stacked against the inside of the hull. "Fuck them all," he thought, "no more ammo will be needed and for their size the fucking boxes are heavy."

The boat seemed slow and heavy to the pilot. He knew the reason was there was too much ammunition aboard but no one else cared, they just wanted this mission to be over so they would share in the promised rich spoils. Sidi and Kad saw the bow of the boat plowing the water slowly toward them and didn't know the reason but appreciated the extra time to kick up toward the surface and pull the wire mesh taut so it dragged along the hull as it passed between them, barely submerged. They congratulated each other on their skill and daring as the fencing was pulled from their hands to be quickly wound around the spinning propeller, which slowed and ground to a stop.

The pilot looked back at the stern when the boats' forward momentum dropped just before the engines' torque snapped the propeller shaft. With no resistance from the prop the engine began to whine until he shut it down. Everyone ran to the stern to stare down into the black quiet water where there was a white wake just moments earlier. They all wondered what they hit or ran over. The man in the cabin stretched his neck to look aft. He wasn't a mechanic so he allowed his mates to fix the problem; meanwhile he thought to enjoy another cigarette. He was the only one who heard the grapples' clink on the portside rail but he assumed it was just one of his asshole compatriots doing something to get them moving again.

There were three small splashes just a few feet from where the six men leaned over the stern railing. One imagined that he heard tiny giggles. Then they thought fish jumping was the cause until one suggested that it could be a crocodile or several, entering the water after being disturbed by their passing. One wondered if crocodiles could climb and they backed away from the railing as fast as possible as their communal imaginations kicked into gear. Everyone already felt the soft thunk as the hull bumped the riverbank but that was a good thing. They wouldn't drift downstream and perhaps meet Jorge's boat and his revolver or pass it in the pitch black night and drift out to sea to die slowly of starvation or thirst since no one thought about bringing any food or water aboard.

It was the pilot who suggested that they all return to their posts since their mission had just changed from offensive to defensive. They would have to watch for climbing crocs until dawn and then wait for their crippled boat to be noticed by Jorge's adversary and his men across the river. None wished to think about what the outcome of that meeting might be.

The bow gunner and his helper ran along the cabin on the port side and used a hand on the railing so they wouldn't stumble. The gunner stopped suddenly when his hand encountered something that hadn't been there just a bit earlier. He felt along the horizontal shaft to the cable that was stretched tight and apparently ran to the riverbank and into the trees. The man was temporarily stunned into immobility.

The aft gunner, the man closest to the water and the most vulnerable to a crocodile attack turned his weapon to the rear and discovered that he couldn't depress the muzzle far enough to blast the monsters as they climbed to the open deck so he drew his sidearm and squatted down so the incoming crocs wouldn't see him. He also abandoned his primary weapon, the machine gun, the only really effective weapon with which he might defend himself briefly from imminent incoming hailstorm of copper jacketed lead.

"TRAP!" the forward gunner shouted as he came to his senses and ran for his weapon. He turned the muzzle into the nearby trees while the gun crew on the cabin sole or roof looked down on the man foolishly; they thought he'd gone crazy.

That was the exact moment that John turned on his Gatling guns' high intensity beams. One pair pinpointed the forward gun and gunner while the second set pinned the weapon and gunner on top the cabin. The four beams combined, generally bracketed the entire forty foot boat. It was suddenly high noon bright and the one sided showdown began with the loud chatter of the Gatlings, the signal for everyone with a weapon to commence firing.

The gunner on the bow was facing away from the river and seemed to be somewhat supported by his weapon and its thick pipe stanchion so his body was first cut in half, then the head disappeared as the pieces fell to the deck. His loader was standing without support so he simply flew into the marsh as a bloody pile of mush. The stern gunner; already crouched down, just rolled through the blasted lower safety railing cables to join the mythical crocodiles in the river or more accurately, become food for always-hungry whisker fish. The force of the rounds slamming into the standing cabin top crew sent them flying to the riverbank more or less intact although unrecognizable. And still the rounds arrived by the thousands.

With no more living targets, the fixed weapons became fair game. Tracers proved accuracy as the aft gun already made useless junk, began to spin around until a spoil sport started to peck away at the stanchion. The weapon toppled over the side amid both cheers and boos dependent on where the marksmen were aiming.

Shooting stopped suddenly when rounds punctured the full ammo can that was mounted on the bow guns' right side and the can exploded sending a hail of rounds in all directions. Everyone except warriors ducked while the People on the terrace just stared in wonder at seeing such a beautiful, although brief fireworks display.

One mother with her toddler in a second story window watched an incoming tracer round. The mother barely had time to pull the little boy's hand down as he attempted to catch it. "Squeak, no, and do not do that again! You could have caught it but it would hurt very badly and would have caused you tears." The mother knew the threat of Squeak crying was the most telling. Boys like him just older than age three did not cry.

"Look mother, see my friends with Angus and his twelve, upriver, there in that enemy boat?" He frowned at his mother, "I could have joined them had you been less attentive like their mothers," he accused. Squeak's mother looked out and up the river. She saw an enemy boat just like the one that the warriors of both races were intent on decimating. Taller boys already stood behind the two fixed guns and it was clear that they were imagining that they too were engaged in the fire fight.

"They won the fight, it would seem," she guessed.

"Well of course they did and if I was allowed to be there, we would surely have won much faster!" Squeak declared just like any other self-depreciating, modest warrior of the Cat People.

Firing after the explosion was sporadic. There were no more living targets and just a few concentrated shots directed at the base, toppled the useless gun that had been added to the cabin roof. Surprise of surprises the boat was or appeared to be relatively undamaged just as Chief Tonga desired. Suddenly Edvard sent in mind-speak and reinforced over the PA system; "There is one yet alive in the cabin. He was motionless on the deck and I thought him dead but now he is on his knees and he has a rifle preparing to fire through the broken cabin window."

"Where in the cabin?" Pettie asked, "We'll just drill a hole through that fiberglass and plug his silly ass a thousand times. The hole will be somewhat above the water line an' can be patched."

"I am sorry but you cannot do that," Edvard rushed to answer, "the cabin is packed with ammunition boxes. They are stacked like bricks against the hull on both sides. If one box was ignited I think they all might explode."

"Yeah, that would be dangerous," Pettie agreed, "ole Gregor would really get bent out of shape if Sea Song took any more holes after that first can went. Maybe we could flush him out o' there by bringin' down the roof; we could cut the upright supports."

Marc joined the mental conversation, "I can't help, I'm too high, and the angle is too steep. If I tried the uprights, my rounds would end up in the boxes on the opposite side."

"Do you mean the port side?" Innocent Edvard asked.

Marc giggled, "Is that left? Like there?" he asked as his mini-gun stuttered and tracer rounds sent fiberglass flying from the roof just at the forward port upright.

"Yes exactly, that side is port. And that worked nicely, the man is back in the prone position with his hands covering his head."

This third battle was so one sided and brief, that everyone manning automatic weapons had loads of ammo left in their first cans, so it became a game to see how fast they could make the cabin roof collapse on the soul surviving enemy. Tonga watched as the third gunboat in his new armada was reduced to trash but still hoped that the huge supply of .50 caliber ammunition could be saved.

When the shooting began and intensified, Jorge first smiled, and then he began to laugh which caused his whole gross body to jiggle. When he noted an intense glow above the screening trees, he assumed that his men had the foresight to bring portable spotlights to make the machineguns more efficient. He was so happy; he ordered his boat to move closer so he could witness the beginning of his archenemy's destruction. That was until his boat actually rounded the river bend far enough to see his grounded gunboat. The lights were coming from the yacht and tracer rounds by the thousands were going in the wrong direction. The three machineguns were gone and the cabin roof collapsed into the cabin as he watched with unblinking disbelief. As he watched a black clad figure, one of his men, suddenly appeared to make a jump to the river bank and a hailstorm of bullets drove his body into the trees.

"North and south teams, how is your attack progressing? What decks have you occupied?" Jorge demanded of his silent radio since his diversion was a failure.

His radio crackled to life with laughter that he'd heard before. "Do you wish the bodies of your men shipped to your villa in Cuba?" JC asked smugly combined with his annoying giggles. "I would highly recommend air freight as some are beginning to spoil in this tropical heat. Ice will be an additional charge." He continued, "Oh, perhaps you would rather they went to the supreme leader there since I believe they are his property. Shall I call dear Fidel in advance to advise him of the shipping charges?" JC kept the transmit button depressed so Jorge couldn't retort. "I trust your small speed boat has full gas tanks. You will need every drop to get home to Cuba," he added so Jorge would remain unaware that JC knew about the fast approaching yacht.

When Jorge found that he couldn't answer with impotent invective, he impulsively threw his radio into the black water. He realized after it sank that he'd just tossed away his only means of communication with his yacht. He ordered his pilot to head down river at full speed and resumed chopping the defenseless upholstery. He ordered his two remaining men to look for lights on the northern horizon. Plans had changed; he couldn't return to Cuba until he had more cash money in hand so once again he would need to visit his private bank.

JC picked up the PA system microphone from the console to announce that everyone, People, Family and the entire crew were invited to a victory celebration at his home up on top of the cliff. While all the doors and windows had been thrown open on his arrival, and everyone had been invited to check it out, use the facilities or even sleep onshore there, no one did. Not even Harman or Spencer, both professional snoops, always on the hunt for old and beautiful things, had even looked in a window on the way to El Dorado that morning. Both realized that if they had, they wouldn't have gotten any further.

When the Golden brothers returned from a brief (if two hours was brief) self-guided tour, the party was roaring. Although it was nearly dawn, they pulled JC aside, "Do you know exactly what you have here?" Harmon asked JC.

"Ah, my home?" JC ventured.

"No, well yes, your home, but we mean the contents, the furnishings," Spencer explained.

"Oh, the furnishings," JC grinned, "well my father and Angus added all of the most beautiful antiquities they bought from natives over the years. But they all stay when I get around to disposing of the treasures down below, so put your eyes back in your heads."

"Not those furnishings JC, the tables and the cabinets they're displayed on and in, the chairs, the sculptures, the fucking carpets and every single painting and tapestry, those furnishings."

JC was visibly relieved, "Oh, all of that was already here when we moved in. I assume the Germans imported the stuff from Europe after the war when things calmed down over there. My mother treasured every stick and my father was happy that he didn't have to buy anything, just add clothing and some personal things."

Harm giggled, "I'm sure the Germans did import it all. Would it surprise you to know that we think it's all stolen? The Germans cleaned out all the best stuff from every museum in Europe for 'safe keeping'," he used finger quotes, "and after the war there was a lot that was never recovered. The Nazi pricks must have had this stored in some warehouse over there until the coast was clear. I recognize a few of the paintings and I doubt your Nazis were into reproductions."

JC frowned as he looked around his grand salon. "Do you think I should give it all back?"

The brothers Golden grinned evilly, "No way," Harm whispered over the laughter, "but since you're known to be reclusive, just never allow any photo shoots or have any open houses where cameras or anyone knowledgeable is allowed."

JC laughed, slapped both on the back and steered them to the makeshift bar. "That was such a great answer," he congratulated them, "I'd like you to be in charge of furnishing my new homes. I was thinking of asking Doug about building on Dagger Cay, then building or buying something in New Jersey near the new school and the guys."

Their conversation was interrupted by an armed invasion of six official new mini-warriors and thirteen older boys just out of puberty along with Freckles and Spot. Each boy held a modern rifle, side arms and was carrying a heavy satchel of boxed ammunition to match. The boys were followed by Angus, Pettie, Scott and Edvard who all appeared to be exhausted for some reason. Although they all wore grins and reeked of Stuff.

"The party's almost over. Where the hell have you guys been?" Evan wondered.

Pettie studied the ceiling while he searched for an answer. "Well, since these boys are all now certified official Cat warriors, we thought that they should be properly outfitted so with Meesha and Gregor's permission, we took them shopping in the armory. It took the most time to search out a weapon that wouldn't knock these little guys on their asses every time they pulled the trigger." He looked at Evan and asked, "Did y'all know you had a dozen of these nice new Smith and Wesson .22's down there? They got a twenty-five round clip an' only weigh a little over five pounds an' of course at first glance they look just like the heavier caliber one's all the bigger warriors carry. But these little guys won't even have to carry them." When he saw questioning looks he laughed tiredly and continued.

"When Tonga saw them dockin' the captured gunboat, he made them all drivers since they did it as well as him, an' these older guys are fixin' to be gunners, an' by the way," Pettie slapped Angus on the back, which drove the smaller man forward two steps, "meet Admiral Angus! He's got charge of the whole People's Navy since all he did was watch 'em so he's qualified."

"And how did that take nearly three hours?" Evan persisted.

"Well, somehow we got into a discussion of Stuff; you know the chemical properties, an' what it does, how it works, you know. Then there was a mite of demonstration. That might have took the longest."

"Is that the story you are wishing to be sticking with?" Gregor asked before he couldn't contain his laughter any longer.

"Yup, that's the one for now."

Sea Song began to stir the next morning about eight o'clock. The first thing everyone did was look across the river, but the wreck was gone, there was no sign of a firefight. The whole ship was becoming aware that when the People said that they rested, not sleep, that was exactly what they did and then perhaps only for an hour or two out of a twenty-four hour day if there was nothing better to do.

The morning quiet was shattered by sirens wailing in the distance, somewhere up river so everyone was on deck lining the rails when the two gunboats appeared and everyone began to laugh. Freckles and Spot rode the bow of each boat in classic Great Cat poses and looked like gigantic hood ornaments mounted on matching floating pimpmobiles. Tonga's boat followed with Tonga, Carb, and Angus as passengers with Sport at the wheel. The four gunboats were fully manned by three little pilots and three taller boys stood proudly by each of the four machineguns.

When Tonga went to supervise the removal of the ammunition stored in the cabin of the derelict gunboat he found that the weapon on the cabin roof while toppled over was undamaged except for scratches caused by ricochets so he had it reinstalled where it belonged. Then it was used to collect all the dead enemy and towed out to sea for disposal by live fire practice using the machineguns.

"Will someone open the stern please?" Angus shouted and sent between siren blasts. He switched to Tongue suddenly and shouted using cupped hands at the idling gunboats, "The next warrior to press that fuckin' button is beached!"

Everyone saw that the reason the Cats sat on the bows and the guns were manned was because there was no room on either deck; the spaces were filled with stacked stone wood chests. Meesha frowned down on the boats as the stern door was slowly lowered. "Angus, we don't need any more dishes!" He shouted in the sudden silence.

"These ain't dishes. I'll just let Master Freckles Katz explain." Angus replied while he continued to glare at the six little warrior pilots collectively, watching to see the owner of the next finger that dared to press the newly discovered siren buttons.

Freckles looked up at the mob. "Tara Bani and this Great Cat warrior need some walking around pin currency while we are at school." All eyes in his immediate vicinity fell on Buck. "Did this Great Cat say it correctly?" Freckles asked hopefully.

"Busted again!" Doug sang.

Buck ignored Doug and his elbow. "Almost, we'll work on that later. Are all those chests full of MONEY?" he emphasized for instructional purposes.

Angus interrupted, "What the big kitty means is that the chests in yonder boat are all the Nazi cash that didn't get burned in the funeral pyre so many years ago. It all appears to be large denominations and from as many countries as the pricks took over an' some neutral. Some may be valueless now but there're a lot of British pounds, Swiss francs and American dollars, and it's all pre-war. Then in the other boat, those chests are a few from the Cat Place that I believe were put there for the People's use. The stones are all cut and polished and many of the chests are full of semi-precious stones so while somewhat less valuable they will be easier to convert to cash money so the boys will have some PIN MONEY, WALKING AROUND MONEY or POCKET CHANGE while away at school."

As Freckles leaped to the lowered stern he eyed a speaker before protesting, "But that is what this Great Cat said." His voice boomed throughout the ship.

No one laughed at the war of words because everyone's attention turned to the dock. Fang sat peering down at Freckles while the other eleven members of the Cat Clan Council were arrayed around him and more startling; as many as forty more Great Cats of all ages, from cubs carried in their mother's mouths to white whiskered elders all came to bid Freckles farewell. Spot joined Freckles as they leapt to the dock. There was no rough and tumble or any playful swats, father and son greeted each other formally, rubbed each other and groomed each other ritually before Freckles moved around the dock to greet each member of the clan. He even gave cubs playful licks. Then, as suddenly as they appeared they drifted into the nearby undergrowth or attended Fang as he loped up the walkway to the top.

The Cats had just gone when the People, the whole tribe, assembled on the dock to wish Bani farewell. He moved among them slowly to have a few words with every one of them. Squeak went missing but his brother, Sport, sniffed him out hiding under a bed. After that, warriors guarded the dock lines so there would be no more stowaways.

Freckles sat by where Angus stood watching the additional treasure chests on the boat deck as his boys and some crew did the actual work. "This Great Cat was born to be an Admiral." Freckles sent to Angus.

"Oh, how so?" Angus asked while hiding his grin.

"This Great Cat can sit and watch others work for a greater length of time than other Admirals," Freckles returned.

It was clear that Freckles was baiting Angus and he was not about to begin a rough and tumble. Instead Angus hugged Freckles' neck suddenly. "I will miss you too Great Cat Freckles."

"A word of advice," Angus continued, "while you are at school; you should always be the Admiral there. Your presence in Bani's classroom would be a distraction for him and the other students. You should allow Kad and Sidi to always be at his side while you remain seldom seen. Use your powers to monitor the minds of the teachers and other students and of course you will have the snoopy machine to watch over him. You can even talk with many of these lads and they will be pleased to talk with you by mind-speak. Advise the human guards of a problem and allow them to solve it first. You will be the Admiral and your sudden appearance if necessary should be enough to send enemies running. To act with violence personally should always be a last resort and then you must always think of witnesses before you act."

Freckles' tail wrapped around Angus' body to hold him in place while he received a very thorough grooming, which the Cats did to each other to show affection and respect. "This Cat will do as you suggest, I will be the Admiral at school." Freckles allowed Angus his freedom when the engines roared to life. "This Sea Song boat is pleased to awaken. This Cat will guide him through the water barrier!" With that, Freckles ran for the open hatch into the ship.

On the dock, Angus just had time to bid Bani and JC farewell with handshakes and hugs before the boys ran for the side hatch. The boarding stairs had already been lifted, folded and stored. Warriors threw the dock lines as Pavlov engaged the side thrusters to push Sea Song out into the following river current.

When Pav engaged the jet drives Freckles could be seen with his front paws placed on the bow rails exactly over the dagger point so he could see both forward and down and as they approached the treacherous delta, Freckles sent; "Do not be concerned Great Sea Song boat, this Cat will open the barrier so you will come to no harm."

The Family was mustered on the fly bridge as usual. They looked at each other and then forward. Two hundred yards ahead they could see the water and muck boiling furiously and the phenomena continued to move forward with Sea Song on a perfectly straight course directly to blue water. "Is he talking to Sea Song?" Gregor asked, "Or more importantly is Sea Song answering?"

Pav came online to say, "Not exactly answering but I just attempted to alter course slightly and Sea Song is not answering the helm so it appears that he is obeying Freckles not me. Freckles has the con and Sea Song is increasing speed."

By the time Sea Song exited the temporary channel he was knifing the water at cruising speed; forty knots. Freckles remained in his position on the bow and seemed to be enjoying the wind ruffling his fir. His ears were flat and his tail streamed out behind his body until it chanced to look up to see the entire Family on the fly bridge and it waved before the entire Cat turned and ran into the ship.

"We thought you didn't know how to open barriers," Doug accused with a giggle after Freckles was comfortably seated on the padded box, once again facing forward.

The speakers crackled, "That was a small deception. You saw brother Spot's joy in discovering that he could do a task that this Great Cat could not. Now both these Cats are well pleased with our new positions." Freckles changed the subject. "When will this Great Sea Song boat reach school Chief Gregor?"

"We are going to a small island first to unload all of JC's currency and then to a smaller island where you all will leave Sea Song to board an airplane. It will fly you to school. Sea Song will then go to wherever directed to unload all your treasure for safekeeping until it can be sold to provide the People with currency, ah more pin money. But first we must detour to find and kill our last enemy invader."

The gang watched Freckles scan the horizon in all directions before he looked up. "The snoopy sky machine and this Cat see three boats, one is the underwater friend called Doog. Doog is near a slow fat boat that tows ten small boats and the third boat is in Sea Song boat's shape but smaller. This boat contains the human who is in the shape of a swine. Is this the enemy we seek? Master of Machines Edvard has them captured on the snoopy screens."

Evan rolled his eyes as he led the way down to his suite. "Edvard still doesn't understand that he doesn't serve watches anymore."

John and Edvard were both at their posts and both were kicked back with their feet up, sipping cups of coffee. Smaller screens showed images of Doog, Jorge's yacht and the third boat, which appeared to be a mother ship or floating fish processing plant that was towing ten small fishing boats in two strings of five. The main screen held the image of Dagger Cay with an inset box showing close ups of a group of boys on the beach courtesy of Freckles and Spot's improved snoopy software.

"Gotcha, you two perverts!" Charlie accused.

John shrugged, "Hey, remember that they're my friends too, I was a student there so I'm an alumnus. I was just giving Edvard a tour." He looked at Buck, "Oh, your dad wants you to call him. He said he found a place to store all the People's junk."

Bani, Kad and Sidi frowned and then brightened. Bani said, "We are pleased to see that you were joking about the need to wear clothing and the ice cube weather."

The three Cat warriors were less pleased when John changed the view to the school that they would actually be attending. The school was closed for the holiday so there were no people but the landscape was brown and the trees leafless except for some scattered evergreens. Sidi and Kad hugged each other and shivered somewhat overly dramatically.

Bani's attention was suddenly drawn to the screen showing the 'slow fat boat', as Freckles described it. "Could they be the fish stealers?" he wondered aloud.

Kad and Sidi forgot their cold act and looked closer. Freckles moved the image to the big monitor and zoomed snoopy in for a closer look.

"What are fish stealers?" Edvard asked. "That appears to be a floating processing plant with ten smaller boats actually used to catch the fish." He moved snoopy for a look at the smaller boats and frowned.

"What do you see wrong? The small boats have what could be large fixed boxes for storing their catch. They look normal to me," Gregor observed.

"Yes they do," Edvard agreed, "Except I see no fishing equipment of any sort; no nets, no long line reels and wenches or even any booms or rigging that would support nets if the nets were stored aboard the mother ship. That is most strange," he concluded before he moved snoopy back to the mother ship. "Well whatever they fish for, they have been successful; the mother ship carries a full load. See the low water line? I think they must be going in to port somewhere to unload."

Bani closed his eyes. Freckles' tail went to Bani's head and Bani placed his hand on Freckles head. As Kad and Sidi watched their eyes widened before they began to giggle together. Bani sighed and laughed with them. Whatever happened ended in thirty seconds and everyone watching the strange mental exchange, waited for some sort of explanation.

"The Great Cats who range to coast say that this mother boat is the fish stealers. At times they come quite close to shore. The small boats visit the coastal villages of the Sea People regularly and take the best of every catch. These men have rifles and side arms while the fishermen have only bows and fish spears. This has been occurring for so many years that the poor fishermen just sort their catch. This boat is now only ten miles from the coast heading east, just off the mouth of our river. Admiral Angus, his new gunboats, Father, his boat and all of Tara's boats loaded with warriors are on the way to intercept them. There will be no more stealing along our coast." Bani declared happily.

"And you got all that accomplished in thirty seconds?" Evan asked with a look of amazement to match everyone else's.

"I would say that mind-speak is a very good thing."

John interrupted before Bani could say more. "Will is calling; I'll put it on the big screen."

Will's smiling face appeared. "Hi guys! I see the gang's all there. I'm at the office." There was considerable small talk; return greetings, local news and introductions before Will was able to get to the reason for his call. "Say JC, we just received a package by special courier," he looked to the side off camera, "oops, check that, three packages by three couriers from the Venezuelan Consulate. I now have three hundred Venezuelan passports; all blank. What am I supposed to do with them?"

JC looked confused while John laughed and reminded him, that he'd sent three identical demands for passports, so instead of the one hundred demanded, they got three hundred. After JC explained the mix up, it was Will's turn to laugh and asked for photos along with vital statistics for the four passports that were actually needed immediately. This sent Marc off to get a camera. Will blinked when he looked at Freckles who appeared to be a sitting statue or some giant stuffed souvenir until he moved as JC introduced him as the fourth individual who would need a passport.

They heard a gravelly voice in the background ask, "Are you talking to my kid?" Bucky asked as he stepped behind Will to look at Will's monitor. Bucky touched eyes with Freckles and instead of going speechless like Will; he smiled, "Is this a Great Cat I've been hearing about?"

Freckles answered using the room's speakers, "Greetings Great Chief, this Great Cat is Freckles Katz, Friend and Protector of Tara Bani Escobar," he announced with a bow.

"Ah, hello Great Cat, I am Bucky Trenton. My friends call me Bucky. My son," Bucky cocked his head, "who I believe is hiding behind Doug, didn't tell me that you could speak out loud. I look forward to meeting you when you arrive."

Will quickly explained the problem of a passport and entry through Customs, which the boys obviously hadn't considered or the certain difficulties with exotic animal quarantines and permits.

Bucky agreed. He looked at Freckles, "I'm sorry Great Cat, but Will is right we could make out all three hundred passports in your name but you still wouldn't get into this country by the normal route. We'll send a smaller plane to Dagger Cay to pick you up. Buck and Doug, David and Noah, will accompany you and you'll be here before the rest of the mob without any trouble."

"This Cat uses speaking things to say words with friends. Thank you Bucky, this Cat is Freckles." Freckles' tail lashed out to pull Buck forward and hold him by the neck in front of the video lens. "Here is your progeny; he is very mischievous. If you wish, this Cat will give him a good cuff as my sire does to his sons on rare occasions."

"Rare occasions, RIGHT, like every time you get within range of his paw! Put me down please." Buck tried to appear that he was choking but was laughing too hard. After Freckles released him he rubbed his neck, "Why do you always use our necks as handles?" he complained.

Freckles' head dropped and his eyes fixed on Buck's package, "There are other human handles this Cat could use," he warned.

After more joking and introductions where the Cat warriors bowed deeply to the camera, Buck had Freckles stand in profile briefly so his father could see his actual overall size. Bucky promised to send the Citation instead of any smaller jet where the growing Cat would be cramped for his flight. Bucky gave Gregor the coordinates for a pier in Port Newark, where there was a secure warehouse and anything could be moved from or to a ship in total privacy.

When the image returned to Jorge's yacht Bani continued to stare vacantly. "What's wrong Bani?" Buck asked, "You look like you've seen a ghost or evil spirit."

"Oh no, it is your father, he is a very Great Chief in America as Chief Evan is in Europe. I have much to learn from both if I am to be successful in leading the People and Cats into the next century."

"Don't worry about Dad; he'll be happy to answer any questions you might have; although some questions should be asked very confidentially if you expect a truthful useful answer." Buck assured and warned.

"Gotcha, you mindless swine," JC sang. "The fool is returning to Columbia; he just turned from west to more southerly. Can snoopy project a more exact course?" Freckles slinked to Edvard's shoulder to help and Edvard welcomed him by snuggling his shoulder into the warm soft fur under Freckles' chin.

A minute later, after several screen flashes, the image of Jorge's yacht appeared on a sector nautical chart with a blinking dotted line that led to a fair sized cove in an isolated area of the Columbian coast. The image zoomed down on the cove and there the line ended in the ideal anchorage. The image switched to real time. It included the placid empty cove and Castle Falconburg.

JC frowned, "We have scanned that entire structure down to bedrock. There is no concealed storage area or snoopy would have found it early on."

"What do we look for?" Freckles asked without moving his head from Edvard's shoulder.

"A vault, a storeroom or even something like the People's treasure cave; somewhere where a great amount of currency might be hidden," JC explained.

Snoopy's mode changed to infrared to pierce the castle foundations. It found that the generators located along the secret tunnel Jorge used to escape JC the first time were still functioning. There was a large fuel barge tied to the tiny dock at the foot of the escarpment. Both geeks; human and Cat, tensed as they noted a power line that ran from the generators, out into the cove underwater across the cove to a short but strongly built pier.

JC had always ignored the area in previous investigations because it looked abandoned. He assumed that it was used to bring in construction materials as there was a crude road up through a break in the cliff, along the bluff to the castle. There was even what appeared to be an abandoned rusting construction barge still tied to the pier.

Gregor observed that the dock lines had been tripled to safeguard the barge against any hurricane. The geeks followed a power line from the pier into the engine room and glowing batteries that indicated that they were warm from being charged. Clearly, the barge was not a derelict that was abandoned after the castle construction was completed. The power line also traveled under the pier directly to and into the sheer cliff face behind stacked shipping crates.

Snoopy couldn't 'see' the contents of the large rectangular air-conditioned space but the air conditioning units just behind the vault door were warm and functioning well enough to outline the space clearly.

"Shall I blow the door when we are in range?" Medi asked excitedly. "We could get in there and loaded before that yacht even gets close."

"We are already loaded," Meesha reminded Medi.

JC countered that with the suggestion that they allow the yacht to anchor and load up, before Sea Song swept in the cove with all weapons loaded and ready to foil the smallest resistance. He wished that there was some way to separate crewmen who might wish they had another employer from Jorge's henchmen who were loyal to Jorge as long as they were highly paid.

Freckles changed the image to the yacht and with narrowed eyes, sent snoopy questing deck by deck down through the yacht. Snoopy paused to peer closely at each individual on each deck. Ten minutes later Freckles reported to the silent room. "Of the humans on that pretty boat, there are twenty who have evil intent in their minds and are minions of the swine shaped human. Of the other fifty this Cat sees fear and hatred. This Cat will color the bad ones so you will know them in battle."

Two figures on the bridge turned red before snoopy penetrated the next lower deck. Freckles highlighted Jorge with a black halo and then turned the other figures in the salon red. Two more smoked on the deck just outside the salon hatch. All the red figures appeared to be armed. Suddenly the rest of the figures, the majority, turned green as Freckles plunged snoopy down through the decks once again. "Was this Cat of assistance?"

Everyone was present to watch the yacht as she swung into the wind after being anchored in the cove under the looming presence of Castle Falconburg, or rather, a close reproduction. They thought that Jorge would launch everything that would float to transport his men to shore and the pier, but only the much abused speed boat was lowered. Two men and Jorge went ashore and after the two managed to get the fat man back on his feet on the pier, he sent his men to ready the barge while he disappeared behind the false stack of crates to open the vault without being observed. Jorge was unaware that snoopy looked over his shoulder to track the path of one pudgy finger on the hidden key pad.

When Jorge reappeared he held his revolver in one hand and his machete in the other and waved both weapons around as he gesticulated to the yacht. Everyone watching was pleased to see that the entire fifty man crew had been locked in their quarters and only one red figure remained onboard while nineteen motored to the pier on the barge. When what everyone assumed were bales of currency, began to appear they were delighted to see that the bales were the size of a typical corrugated cardboard file box and easy to carry or even toss from the pier to the barge to be neatly stacked for transport to the waiting yacht. As the sun rose higher, first shirts, then weapons were abandoned on the pier. All but two men rode on top the bales back to the yacht so unloading the barge could proceed quickly.

"Too bad we can't disable their electronics," Gregor said wistfully, "we could bring Sea Song in to just behind the higher headland and pounce at the moment all the fiends are on the barge when we think the yacht is almost fully loaded."

"Disable means stop? Electronics means power?" Freckles asked without looking away from the monitor in front of him and Edvard. He sent snoopy to the yacht's engine room to investigate the generators closely. "Will this power be required in the future?" He asked before anyone had time to answer his first two questions.

"Yes, to all your questions. Can you use snoopy to disable the generators? You will need to prevent the engines from starting as well," Gregor cautioned, almost beside himself with joy and amazement.

Freckles' eyes turned into slits as he stared at the blank wall just above the monitor. Those watching knew that something happened when the lone red figure left on the yacht ran to the bridge to begin throwing switches and pushing buttons. When nothing happened he raced below decks to the crew quarters. He ushered eight green figures down to the engine room where he waved his arms frantically.

"Snoopy shouldn't be able to act aggressively on its own," Evan declared while he grinned.

"Snoopy cannot hurt living things unless provided with killing weapons but he can now do battle with other machines," Freckles corrected Evan. "He is a very brave warrior, a friend to this Cat and to humans if he is permitted."

Evan shrugged, "Who are we to deny friendship to a proven machine warrior? Snoopy is now a male and his name is Snoopy. Can you show John and Edvard how to ask him to do things?"

Pav moved Sea Song to the cove entrance as soon as the yacht's power failed. The barge had just been unloaded when the remaining red figure jumped aboard for the trip back to the pier. It seemed that Snoopy and Freckles also stopped the hand held radios so the man needed to report to Jorge personally. The Family saw that greed was an overwhelming force as Jorge directed his men to load the barge for the very last time even though the yacht was without any power and they were all stranded miles from anywhere and had no way to call for assistance and no one to call anyway.

When the barge was loaded all the men scrambled aboard, relieved to be far away from Jorge's glittering very sharp machete that he swung about with increasing frustrated violence. Jorge waited until the barge was a hundred feet away before he rushed in a slow waddle to the vault to seal the door for the last time. The men on the distant barge became concerned when they saw Jorge sort of fall into the back of the speed boat and it moved away from the pier toward them. Their weapons remained stacked on the pier! They were defenseless until someone could return to get them.

The fiends all looked at each other when the powerful barge engine died suddenly. Jorge's boat caught up, or was allowed to catch up to the barge before its engine also sputtered. The two enemy boats were two hundred yards from shore and two hundred from the imagined safety of the yacht when Tommy managed to blow Sea Song's air horns as Pav adroitly guided Sea Song alongside the yacht with bumpers bumping the hulls gently to form a raft. Some Family and crew jumped to the yacht's deck with Bani and two crewmen who spoke Spanish in the lead, and Medi, Sean, Sam and Jack in hot pursuit.

While the Family waited for the yacht to be loaded, Medi expressed an interest in owning the beautiful vessel, of course after it was unloaded at a bank on Grand Cayman. Buck assured the little Arab that it was his after he saw all Family heads bobbing. It could be moored at Dagger Cay until the name and home port were changed on the stern and new documentation could be generated to replace existing files.

The yacht's generators came to life as the very frightened crewmen were assembled in the elegant empty lounge, which the engineers were pleased about as the air-conditioner cooled the space. Bani introduced the new owner and was ready to translate for Medi until he lurched off in a speech of welcome about a new beginning for everyone in perfect almost unaccented Spanish. He ended his speech by announcing that henceforth the crew should feel free to enjoy all the yacht's amenities whether he was aboard alone or with guests. He only asked that everyone attend their regular watches and that whatever they saw aboard, he hoped would remain confidential and in return all wages were tripled.

Medi hoped to at least get a smile or two after he announced the salary increase but he received uniformly blank stares. "Are they mute?" Sam asked Medi in very proper English. All eyes fell on him with the first smiles.

One man stepped forward, "We are not mute, we are all British subjects. A condition of our employment was that we could not speak or read Spanish. I am the Captain although I and my officers were closely supervised by two close associates of the man who is or was our former employer."

Medi quickly repeated himself. The second time around he received three resounding cheers. With the language barrier gone the two groups talked excitedly and were invited to board Sea Song after temporary ladders were rigged between the two main decks. While they waited, the yacht's crew stared more openly until one young man whispered to the Captain, who whispered the question to Medi.

Medi laughed, "Nudity is a question I failed to explain," he began; "henceforth, clothing is optional except in port. As you can see everyone on Sea Song, crew and guests have opted out and many of us are extremely good friends," he said and put his arm over Sean's shoulders to clarify his meaning. "If anyone finds homosexuality distasteful or too objectionable they are free to seek other employment at the first port of call. I should emphasize that no one will ever be coerced; that would be grounds for instant dismissal at the very least." He was pleased to see his new crew had shed their shorts and shirts by the time the ladders were ready.

Meanwhile, the barge and speed boat had been towed to Sea Song's open stern deck and Jorge had been forced to board the barge to help his men relocate the last load of bales to be stacked against the forward bulkhead since there wasn't room inside the ship proper.

Jorge fell to his back when he bent to pick up the first bale. He demanded help from his men in regaining his feet but after a questioning glance at the armed men surrounding them, his men ignored his plight except for hateful stares. Finally after the last bale was stored, the prisoners were herded back aboard the barge and given cases of bottled water and some dried and canned foods. JC, standing nearby by saw glimmers of hope cross the faces of a few of the men.

Jorge spoiled the moment. "Where is Escobar? I demand to see him. I will negotiate; I will give him the combination to the vault. If there is tampering it will explode and all inside will be lost."

JC spoke for the first time by reciting the nine digit code provided by Snoopy and company. JC then handed down a claymore mine with dangling wires. "I believe this would have killed the thief, there are no other explosives. Do you have anything else to negotiate with?"

"YOU," Jorge exclaimed, as he renewed his efforts to regain his feet. His legs barely moved and his flailing arms were no help at all. "You are just a boy!"

"Yes, a boy who I recall once warned you of the need to lose some weight. Now a diet will be enforced by your men while you proceed due north for a minimum of fifty miles. If you deviate from this course I will know and something very bad will happen."

Jorge sputtered while his men nodded eagerly. They were anxious to get underway to save themselves. They ignored Jorge's pleadings concerning a stealth helicopter. No helicopter could stay in the air so long or remain invisible even when sitting on the giant yacht's helipad. They still had one bale of currency left behind by the careless guards. They formed a plan; they would proceed due north as ordered until they were just over the horizon beyond the sight of land before they turned west for some safe distance and then south to the nearest port city. They would divide the bale of currency evenly, find the airport and disperse to anywhere they wanted to go. As for Jorge, they would leave him his barge with any unused food and water. Of course they also agreed to leave him helpless on his back.

Their plan was flawless until they were five miles along the westward leg of their journey. Only Jorge, still on his back, was looking up to note a mysterious contrail that seemed to grow in size before there was a tremendous explosion that was heard by no one and only watched closely by Snoopy.

I would like to thank my editor, Tim, who came through brilliantly even after we discovered that our differing word processing software programs are not entirely compatible. Tim actually sent me an email listing his edits within a few hours of discovering the problem so this chapter is free of my usual blunders and goofs.



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