Liberty's Run
Part 9 Volume 2 of the Liberty Schoenhauer series

By: Walter G. Esselman

The alien–birds tried to ambush Uncle Danny and Smalls, but instead the aliens accidently trapped themselves in wet sand. It is there that Danny makes a startling discovery, that the birds are actually intelligent.

And even though Danny is supposed to run away, he finds that he cannot.

Uncle Danny ran back to the alien–birds, but stopped five feet away. The bird with the red tuft, Rakduson, watched him wearily, trapped in wet sand. The Big Mexican held up his hands to show that they were empty. Slowly, he began to move around the alien and knelt.

Immediately, Rakduson's head whipped around on their flexible neck, 180 degrees. Danny stilled for a moment. All his attention was on the razor sharp beak in front of him.

Carefully, Uncle Danny leaned down and began to move a little sand aside. Then, when the alien did not do anything, Danny started to move more.

Under Rakduson's weary eye, the Big Mexican began to dig out the alien's left wing, which was still stuck in the moist sand. He dug too hard at one point and caught some feathers—giving them a slight yank. Rak made an aggravated noise.

"Sorry! Sorry," said Danny, and he continued to dig more carefully around the wing.

At intervals, the alien–bird began to strain against the wet sand as well.

Suddenly, the left wing sprang out, which sent a spray of wet sand that pelted the Orange Tuft bird.

"Yi!" snapped Orange Tuft indignantly.

The two birds snapped their beaks at each other, but it did not appear aggressive. It was more like two friends bickering.

Brushing the sand off his pants, Uncle Danny was about to speak when the device in the back of Rakduson's head emitted a high–pitched noise.

The alien–birds shuddered and suddenly began to go crazy. They struggled at the wet sand, desperate to get out. The Blue Tuft alien whipped his head around, zeroed in on Uncle Danny and screamed bloody murder.

Rak turned and saw Uncle Danny.

"Klas du ren!" shrieked the red tufted alien.

Enraged, Rak started to struggle madly against the sand, pushing down with their freed wing.

And Uncle Danny just stood there in confusion and horror, until he heard a gunshot. He reached for his shotgun, but he suddenly realized, with a sinking feeling, that he did not have it. Then he noticed Liberty holstering her handgun.

"RUN!" cried Liberty—once again—now that she had his attention.

The Big Mexican sprinted towards the water. Behind him, he heard more screaming.

"HAJAT!" cried Rak.

As Uncle Danny reached the boat, which was still partly on the sand, he leaned down. Slamming his shoulder into the bow, he pushed the boat into the water. Liberty had to grab the side of the boat, or be flung face–first into the fiberglass.

Now afloat, Uncle Danny hoisted himself part way inside. Liberty reached over and grabbed the back of his belt. She leaned heavily to port to help him in.

As Uncle Danny fell to the bottom of the boat, Smalls started the outboard motor. The moment it was live, the Navy Engineer turned the boat around and roared back out, towards the yacht.

"What happened?" asked Liberty.

But Uncle Danny did not answer. He shrugged his shoulders in confusion. So, Liberty just crouched near him to give him some time. Turning towards the beach, she held her sniper rifle ready.

Most of the alien–birds on shore were too busy getting out of the wet sand. But Rakduson did get free, shaking their feathers. Seeing the little boat racing away, Rak gave a guttural scream and ran towards the shore.

Hearing that, Uncle Danny lifted his head and saw this.

"No, no, no, no," he muttered softly, almost as if in prayer. He glanced at his shotgun, still on the floor of the boat, but hesitated.

Liberty saw this, but did not comment. She watched the beach, in case the alien–bird took flight.

Rak started flapping their wings. But even in the little boat, they could see wet sand being flung off. Instead of taking flight, Rakduson crashed into the waves. Frustrated, the alien–bird began to beat impotently against the water.

"We're almost there," called out Smalls.

While Uncle Danny watched the aliens on shore, Liberty turned and saw that they were almost upon the boat. She turned to Smalls.

"When we reach the ship, can you head straight for the pilot's house?" asked Liberty. "I'll clear this boat, if you can get us going. And please bring your rifle."

"I was watching the boat as well," said Smalls. "I didn't see anyone flying around it." Liberty started to open her mouth, so he hastily added. "But I'll bring my rifle, just in case though."

Liberty smiled gently. "Thank you. I just…" Her voice trailed off.

"It's okay," said Smalls, and it was. They had lost one of their squad already, so he understood a little over–protectiveness.

The moment they reached the big ship, Liberty jumped on board and tied off the boat. The moment Smalls was on board, he shouldered his rifle and headed straight for the pilot's house.

Emptying the boat of the last remaining prescription meds, she put those with the others. They were spread all over the first room at the back of the ship. The engine started and she ran back to the little boat.

"Danny?" asked Liberty. "I need you to come on board."

The Big Mexican blinked, and then he looked at her with furrowed brow.

"What?" he asked.

Liberty gestured towards the big ship. "I need you to come up here. I don't trust that rope to hold onto that little boat, and I can't leave you behind."

"Oh," he said softly. He thought for a moment and then nodded more attentively. "Okay."

Liberty helped Uncle Danny up onto the ship. Once he was onboard, she jumped back into the boat for his shotgun, which he had left behind. The moment she was in the little boat, the big ship started to move and the rope between it and the little boat went taut.

Liberty looked around. The rope between her and the big ship looked like it was at its breaking point.

But it held.

Breathing out a little in relief, Liberty saw that there was only a small gap between the boat and ship.

Uncle Danny was standing a little ways off, staring towards the beach. She did not want to bother him, so she carefully climbed back on board.

Holding Uncle Danny's shotgun, she looked towards the shore, but the alien–birds were not following. Looking soaked to the bone, Rak was now facing away from them.

Still, Liberty went over to Uncle Danny and waited until the shore disappeared. Once the beach was gone from sight, the Big Mexican turned and gave a start.

"What're you doing here?" asked Uncle Danny, a little confused. His brow furrowed. "Wait? Were you guarding me?"

Liberty gave a dismissive huff. "As if you need guarding." Then she absently handed him his shotgun. "Now, let's get out of the sun."

Uncle Danny followed her. They went into a room, whose floor was almost carpeted with bottles and boxes of prescription meds. To his surprise, he found himself chuckling.

"No wonder it took you so long," said Uncle Danny.

"And a few escaped to sea," said Liberty. "But, not as much as I thought would."

"Maybe garbage bags next time," suggested Uncle Danny.

"Or maybe a tight net bag that won't break so easily," said Liberty.

"True," nodded Uncle Danny. "We don't want to have a plastic bag split in the middle of the street. Or, even a mesh bag."

"We'll have to ask. Maybe the carrier has something like that, which we can use for our hauls," said Liberty.

"Well, if we're pirates, that it would be plunder," replied Uncle Danny.

"Arrr, true matey," said Liberty in her best pirate impression, and the Big Mexican gave a bark of laughter that seemed to surprise him. She sighed dramatically. "What? I'm just trying to get into the spirit of it?"

Uncle Danny nodded diplomatically. "That's true. I shouldn't laugh. Arrr, that was a fine bit of pirating."

"Arrr," grinned Liberty, but then she looked thoughtful. "Okay, that's pretty much it for my pirate vocabulary."

"We'll have to learn more," said Uncle Danny with mock seriousness. "To be good at our jobs."

"Pirates for the Fleet," grinned Liberty.

Uncle Danny looked across the carpet of medicine, and spotted Bordereaux's body in the corner. Liberty followed his gaze and her smile drifted away.

"We should wrap him in something," said Liberty. "And, maybe also see if we got some bags on board to put these drugs in. Want to join me in the search?" She waited a moment, but he did not reply.

Trying not to step on any medicines, the Librarian moved closer to him and touched his arm gently. Uncle Danny gave a start and looked at her.

"What?" he asked in concern.

"When you're ready to talk about it, I'll be ready," said Liberty softly. "In the meantime, we need bags for the meds."

"Oh. Okay," he nodded.

They were part way through their search, when Uncle Danny stopped and gave a long sigh.

"Something happened on the beach," he said slowly.

Liberty turned and waited patiently for her friend to finish collecting his thoughts.

"They're not dumb," he said at last.

"Who? The bird–things?" asked Liberty.

"I…I don't know that I would call them 'things' anymore," said Uncle Danny. "They're definitely intelligent."

"How intelligent?" asked Liberty. "Like ant, bunny, gorilla or human?"

Uncle Danny looked at her curiously. "Bunnies are intelligent?"

"Sure, to a degree," said Liberty. "My bunny Princess—that I had when I was a little girl—got two biscuit–treats every night. She'd wait by her door, but sometimes when she got the second one, she'd run away from the door, in case I tried to pick her up. Which was a valid concern for her."

"So, you think…," he started.

"No, I know," said Liberty. "She could count to two."

"Okay then," said Uncle Danny in surprise.

"So, how intelligent are these aliens ?" asked Liberty.

The Big Mexican replied immediately. "Human."

"Really?"

"Did you notice the one with the red ruft on their head? I identified myself as Danny, and when I pointed at them, they said 'Rakduson'."

"So…they have names," muttered Liberty slowly.

"And they can say their names," said Danny. "Until…well, until whatever happened…I thought they might be very intelligent."

"But then they went crazy," said Liberty.

"I just…," started Uncle Danny, but he stopped.

Liberty stepped forward and touched his shoulder briefly. "It's going to be okay."

The Big Mexican gave a little smile and then nodded. "Okay, mija."

"Wait!" said Liberty suddenly. "Did anyone get any pictures of them?"

Uncle Danny slapped his head. "Oh no! We had one job…"

***

Rear Admiral Antony Cirilo stood at the bow of the yacht with an expression of wonder. Inwardly, Uncle Danny was distracted by the fact that somehow the Naval commander's uniform always looked clean and pressed. He was wondering if the commander did that himself, when Cirilo finally spoke.

"I mean," started the Rear Admiral. "I know you said that you had found a yacht, but I figured…"

"That we were just exaggerating?" asked Liberty. She had never seen the Rear Admiral at a loss for words. Not that she had known him all that long.

"But this is a real, honest–to–goodness, yacht," said Cirilo. "So, what are your plans for it?"

"We're not turning it over," said Liberty firmly.

"I wouldn't," chuckled the Rear Admiral.

"And, we figured that you will probably need us to do more work," added Uncle Danny.

"True," nodded Cirilo. He was about to say more, but he several sailors appeared carrying Bordeaux's body.

A shadow fell over Liberty's face.

"We didn't even know about those aliens until Bordeaux was already going down," said Liberty.

The Rear Admiral nodded. "It can happen like that. A new player, and suddenly someone is…" He stopped. "But, if he has any family in the Fleet, I'll make sure they know. And we'll make sure he gets a proper burial."

"We'd like to be there," said Liberty immediately. "When you…well, probably a burial at sea."

The Rear Admiral nodded. "I'll make sure."

Liberty looked at Uncle Danny and Smalls.

"It's only right," she said, almost defensively.

"Absolutely," agreed Uncle Danny quickly, while Smalls nodded heartily.

"Okay," said Liberty, and then she turned back to Cirilo. "Did you imply that you might have more work for us?"

"Yes," said the Rear Admiral. "One of our fishing trawlers might have spotted an entire oil tanker adrift."

"Really?" asked Smalls in surprise. "Intact?"

"Looks like it," said the Rear Admiral to the Navy engineer.

"And you need us to check it out," nodded Liberty.

"We're going to need fuel for the yacht," said Smalls to Liberty. But then he stiffened. "I mean…you're going to need more fuel to get wherever you're going."

"We can provide the fuel," interjected Rear Admiral. "And GPS coordinates."

"But the tanker might have drifted," said Smalls to Liberty. "You may have to go in a circle, until you spot it. But it's big, so you should be good."

Liberty glanced at Uncle Danny and then back at the Rear Admiral.

"Can we have a moment?" she asked.

With a nod of assent, they stepped a little ways away from Cirilo and Smalls, who almost followed, but then he remembered himself. He stood a little awkwardly beside the Rear Admiral and tried to make small talk.

"So…," murmured Smalls. "At least the weather is nice. We could be up by Alaska."

"True," agreed Cirilo, but he was— without looking directly at them— keeping an eye on Liberty and Uncle Danny, who were quietly conferring.

"Anything interesting happening on the carrier?" asked Smalls.

But Cirilo did respond.

In desperation, Smalls started whistling.

After a moment, Liberty and Uncle Danny came back.

"Is everything okay?" asked the Rear Admiral.

"There is one more thing," said Liberty.

Smalls looked out to sea, while they gave him their wish list.

"First, to take this tanker, we'll have a better chance if Smalls is with us," said Liberty.

Smalls whipped his head around in surprise.

"Plus, it'll be better if he drives this ship," added Uncle Danny. "We don't want to run it aground somewhere."

"We could do it if we had to," shrugged Liberty.

"But we don't want to mess it up," finished Uncle Danny.

"Wait? What?" asked Smalls in surprise.

"Done," said the Rear Admiral.

Smalls looked at the commander in shock. "Wait? What?"

The Rear Admiral looked at him. "You're on temporary assignment to the…" He stopped and looked at Liberty. "What's this ship called?"

"Actually, she doesn't have a name," supplied Smalls. "She must have been so new, that they didn't even name her yet."

"Okay," said the Rear Admiral, and he turned to the Navy Engineer. "You're assigned to this ship for the time being. But remember this, you are still a member of the United States Navy, and I expect you to conduct yourself as such."

"Yes sir," said Smalls, saluting smartly.

"I'll get you the GPS coordinates, though the tanker has probably drifted since then, as you said," said Cirilo.

"And any weather maps for that area over the past few days?" asked Smalls.

"Done," said Cirilo.

"I'll find her," said Smalls, and he saluted once more out of happiness.

The Rear Admiral nodded, and then turned to Liberty.

"And how many men do you need?" asked Cirilo.

"Men?" asked Liberty.

"Soldiers," said the Rear Admiral. "To take the tanker."

Surprised, Liberty looked at Uncle Danny.

Her face contorted, and he nodded in agreement. She turned back.

"No one," said Liberty.

The Rear Admiral's brow knitted. "What?"

"I don't want to risk anyone else," said Liberty.

"Yep," nodded Uncle Danny.

"I mean, if we can't handle it, we'll come back," said Liberty. "But…"

"We're going to be okay," said Uncle Danny. "We'll be careful."

"Okay," shrugged the Rear Admiral. "I'll have your fuel and GPS coordinates before nightfall. Can you leave tomorrow?"

"No problem," said Liberty.

They made some small talk with the Rear Admiral, but he soon needed to return to the Fleet.

Smalls turned to Liberty and Uncle Danny.

"Thank you," he said.

Liberty blinked. "For what?"

"Noone said 'You're killing me Smalls' at any point," said the Navy Engineer.

"What?" asked Uncle Danny this time.

Liberty looked at the Big Mexican. "It's from a movie called 'The Sandlot', which we should show to Colin, because I love it." Then she turned to Smalls. "I figured you'd already heard it."

"Still, thank you," said Smalls.

"Okay," said Liberty with a clap of her hands. "Now that we know that the Admiral is not going to fight us for this ship, we need to go over it and see what we have."

"Like an inventory?" asked Uncle Danny, rolling his eyes.

"Then we can pick our rooms," smiled Liberty, and she made a point of looking at Smalls. "All of us."

"Now you're talking!" grinned Uncle Danny.

To be continued in July's World Of Myth!

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