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   Chapter 4 No.4

Prodigal Sun By Christina Engela Characters: 5573

Updated: 2018-06-30 19:01

"There isn't one – leastways not on Deanna!" Came a doddering retort from Major Willingsly (63), his paddling partner.

"Think someone's inside?" Asked Riley. "Hello?" He shouted. "Is anyone there?"

There was no reply from the pod.

"Right, that'll do!" The General shouted. "Come on men, let's take a closer look – Jordan, start paddling!"

After a commotion of paddling and much splashing, the four canoes drew up to the little floating dock that was the escape pod. It was just slightly warm by now and they tied up to it. The hatch was somewhere on top, out of sight. Wilkins reached over and grabbed a fish. It was warm and quite dead, probably partly cooked – perhaps well done even, and felt like rubber to his fingers. He smacked it against the side of the canoe a few times, just to make sure. He turned it over a few times. There were no signs of shrapnel wounds.

"Well, that's breakfast sorted then!" He muttered, satisfied, and dropped it inside the canoe.

Forrest was standing in his canoe and leaning against their anchorage, watching casually. "Think that's wise?" He asked, looking at him. "Could be radioactive, you know."

Atkins withdrew his hand as if stung and bent down to wash it in the river. There was a splash as Potential Breakfast went back overboard.

"Fine time to think about that now!" He muttered. "Damn! Couldn't you have said that sooner?"

Smythe sighed. Trouble was, this little lot were excellent at throwing grenades at cocka-snoek – if they were all pointed in the same direction – but deep thought and co-operation seemed to be something of the past. So was concentrating on anything for longer than five seconds. Quite a lot could happen in five seconds with this bunch – anything from remembering something that happened thirty years ago, arguing about what happened thirty minutes ago – in between frequent toilet breaks. Sometimes even the seemingly small task of getting them to throw grenades in the same direction was a daunting (and hazardous) experience – which is why the General regularly made certain his Will was in order – and why Jeremy Jordan was the only member of the club forbidden to handle explosives – unless they were still in their cases, and even then, only under supervision.

The main reason for this ban was the time Jordan took a dare and tried to juggle with them to amuse some tourists. 'It's amazing', Smythe had been heard to remark many times since, 'how often the only thing left of a man is a pair of smoking boots. And sometimes a hat.'

Well, he supposed, fishing was an industry – like tourism – and no industry is without industrial accidents. Why should dynamite fishing be any different? Or tourism for that matter? Game fishermen would travel to Deanna from – well, everywhere

– just to have a go at catching cocka-snoek. Most were lucky enough to go back home again, with all their bits attached and no more harm suffered than a trip to the doctor to remove bits of shrapnel from their derrière's – or to the local dentist. Their fees were modest and it was kind of fun watching the greenhorns picking bits of metal out of their supper around the campfire, while trying to act all macho about it. Especially later, when they had to take one or two of them to the Institute for the Dentally Challenged – where the Club had a special arrangement with the local dentist.

"Yes sir?" Said a perplexed and delayed Jordan from behind. "Wasn't me either, sir!"

Smythe ignored him, because suddenly there was a deep hollow 'clonk' sound from the pod.

"Watch out – it's opening up!" warned Atkins, pointing with a trembling hand. The hatch lifted, opened and fell back with a loud thud, allowing a faint light to stream out the opening like a vague searchlight. There followed the sounds of somebody enthusiastically trying to climb a ladder while possibly unsure which way was up, and probably with a bit of a concussion.

"Fire-in-the-hole!" Riley yelled.

Without warning – and before anyone was likely to even attempt to stop him – he pitched a grenade at the pod. With uncanny and wholly improbable precision, it dropped neatly through the hatch, landing inside with an echoing metallic clang, after which the climbing sounds came to an abrupt stop.

A terrified and very human-sounding scream echoed from inside, followed in short order by a muffled, distorted BANG! – and a stunned silence from the rest of the Club, who were probably trying to calculate the odds of something like that actually happening… and if it was time for the little white pills yet, thank you, Matron.

White smoke billowed from the opening went completely unnoticed, since everybody was staring at Riley in sheer disbelief. The canoes bobbed slightly as they rode the little ripples as the wake slowly moved away from the pod and passed into the darkness. Riley beamed with pride as though, frankly, he was surprised he'd managed that throw himself.

"Think we should call someone now?" Someone muttered audibly in the tense, shocked silence.

The General would've been beside himself with anger, but there was no room left in the canoe. And anyway, he had already taken a sedative – it was a necessity when hanging around with this bunch, although the pills he was taking seemed to be losing their efficacy! Slapping a hand over his eyes in a face-palm that stung his cheeks and brow, he began shaking his head slowly.

"Please, someone tell me that was a stunner?" Smythe muttered in a still, audible voice laced with roughly equal portions of dread and menace.

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