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Just Old Al
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Location: Wilderness of Massachusetts

Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Thu Dec 21, 2017 3:36 am

Chapter 20 – Outreach And Reply.

The next morning Al rose early, stretched and headed for the kitchen. Sleeping in the chair was becoming easier, however his spine and extremities were less than fond of the idea. The ottoman Sterling had found made it much more comfortable, but needs must, and she still needed him.

As he puttered among the coffee things, he mused to himself.

She’s definitely getting better. Other than the night she had the breakdown her sleeping patterns have lengthened, and her general condition and energy levels are improving. I am cautiously optimistic – by the time we have her caravan cleaned up she should be able to fly without me.

He briefly considered the thought of being on the road as a team, then shook his head. This was her wanderjahr, not his – and she needed to find her own tranquility.

Still, it would be fun. However, duty calls after this, and disappearing for a month or more would try the patience of even my dam. Being pursued cross-country by an angry dam with a long-range rifle would put a damper on even the lightest lark.

Grinning, he made himself a press coffee, then stepped outside to let Sterling rest.

Enjoying the dawn as was his way, it occurred to him that the barren patch in the woods was just intolerable. That is just not on. These lands are so well-tended both physically and magically that that blight is just horrid.

Thankfully…I think I know who can fix it.

Settling himself into a chair in the cutting garden, he composed himself, concentrated and called into the distance EMERAULD! EME, LUV! It’s AL!”

He called a second then a third time. After the third a mental voice, sleep-fogged and not completely coherent answered. This had best be important, friend Al. Do you have any idea what time it is here?

Chagrined, Al replied No, I don’t. I sincerely apologize for waking you, but…your sister needs you.

The voice snapped immediately to attention. What is the situation, and what is the enemy? I will be right there – let me fetch Safyr-

To’ryll, be at peace. There is no enemy, or to speak truly, the enemy is long defeated but his harm has been left behind. She does not need your or Uuthli’s warrior skills, but your skills as a warden of the Green.

Do tell. My sister is not unskillful – why does she need me?

In a few sentences, mindful of his fading power, Al detailed the problem, and the condition of the blighted spot.

Right now your sister suffers from the ill humors I did a few years back, and needs to travel as I did. I am assisting her here in her place to prepare her vehicles for her travels, and then I will send her off to rest.

However, the condition of her lands, and the damage done by the vermin will wear on her. If you could at least begin the recovery and invite life back to the land – it would do well for her mind.

Friend Al, you speak truly. As your mind grew well on your travels, hers will as well. I know not if I can help her lands recover, but I can but try.

When you come – not now – go back to sleep! – speak to me in this manner and I will meet you there. I do not want to raise your sister’s hopes unless something can be done.

Understood. I come today.
With no ceremony the contact was broken, and Al sagged in his chair, badly spent. my own damn fault – should have centered and charged before I did that. Damn fool.

Feeling a headache starting, he left his chair, kneeled to the earth in the garden, and grounded and centered, restoring his balance before Sterling detected it. Then, cup in hand, he sat back and enjoyed the early Indiana morning.

However, his tranquility was short-lived. With a flutter of wings the assault began, as usual with no warning and less concern for his personal dignity.

*Whack! Whack!*

Al threw his hands up in reflex, stalling the blows.

"'Geroff Ialin! What'd I do now!"

"Let go. No, really. Let go! Oh, well done Ailean!"

Ialin was stuck in place mid-whack with her scowl still frozen on her tiny face, reminding him of a humourous book he had read about pressed faeries. With a squeaking noise straight from a cartoon she slid downward as though sliding down a pane of glass, ending up in his lap. Just before she landed she straightened, and stood properly on his thigh, applauding.

"Wretched pixie. What did I do or not do this time? If you're angry I didn't call, 'twas because I take far too many liberties of your good nature, and tried to work it out on my own.

If it's because I woke Emerauld up, I've apologised to her, and shall do so in a better manner with a proper cuppa when I see her next."

"Lastly, sorry about that. That one is still on a hair trigger, so a bit overdone. I assure you that's on my practice list. All all right?"

“Very much so. I’m impressed you managed to catch me off-guard with that bit of magic – a mortal would have had no chance against it. Not all that hair-trigger, actually, if you’re going to react with that you need it quick.”

Al was unmollified by the compliments. “All well and good, but I’ll not be able to use it on you again, I suspect, by that dramatic end you put to it.”

"You've leaps and bounds. Keep trying – you may surprise me again.”

“Are you planning on answering my question as to the subject of the assault, or are you in for a chin-wag? Either way I can easily generate another cup of coffee for you – your choice.”

“The former, and thank you but no on the coffee.” Ialin grew more serious. “Of course, Eme didn’t go back to sleep – she called to me. We discussed the problem here. I can feel it, even from this distance – the poisoning was terrible, and the damage it did to the trees and littles is not trivial.

Eme may be able to handle it, but please…don’t hesitate to call on me should you wish. There are many willows here, and coming to aid Sterling would be an honor.”

Al pondered her words gravely. “I will happily ask for your help if Eme feels the need. I can feel the problem, but I can’t fathom what it will take to bring a start to the healing. This is far beyond my pay grade and power level, and always will be.

“I will leave this in Eme’s hands. She is the expert here, not I.”

Ialin looked at him. “That sounds like a plan. I am more than willing to assist, but Eme has the talent to do this. I await your call, Sir.”

“Don’t call me that you miserable pigeon…”

With that, she faded from view, the scent of the forest lingering in the air.

Smiling, Al finished his coffee, then headed indoors to prepare more. Laying out the makings of breakfast he prepared a cup of Kona for Sterling and wandered back into her room, setting it on the nightstand. Sure it would soon work its magic he headed back to the kitchen and poured himself another cup, sitting at the table.

Well, with the vermin out of the way the road ahead is open. The new soft furnishings are being made at the RE prototype shop, and with Olaidh back on her feet the only thing to do here is the caravan – and that will be a pleasure, now.

Within minutes Sterling stirred, and Al heard the sounds of doors opening and closing and water running. Soon she appeared, still sleepy-eyed but gaining fast as the mug of strong Kona worked its magic.

“Good morning. How did you sleep, ducks?”

“Very well. No dreams, no restlessness, no tossing and turning. Between the house being lightened and my brave knight” she squeezed his hand and smiled at him “my night was likely far better than yours.

“Al, you need to get a proper night of sleep somewhere here along the line. Being my mother hen is all well and good, but ye need yer rest.”

Al clucked somewhat indignantly. “My condition is entirely adequate, miss.”

“Don’t call me that, ye lackwitted…” She stopped, and began to chuckle. “Nicely deflected. So, what is on the agenda now that my tenants are gone?”

“Oh, none of that, now. First things first is a solid breakfast, then we can discuss the day. I suspect that beginning the repairs to the caravan will be ‘in the cards’. We’ve nowt to do but wait for the soft furnishings, so the rest of it needs to be dealt with.” With that, Al got up from his place and turned on the stove burners, heating pans. He turned back to the table, setting a small bowl of muesli and a milk pitcher in front of Sterling. “Eat yer groats, and I’ll have a fryup for ye in a minute.”

“Yes, Mum.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Fri Dec 22, 2017 9:22 am

Chapter 21- Renewal And Revival

“I need to nip back to RE for an hour or two – just got a call from your mate Ari that she requires my presence for a bit.”

“Very well – can you bring back the spraygun and items needed to finish rust treating the underside of Olaidh? Might as well get that on and let it harden up now that she is on her wheels.”

“If I can, I will. Not sure what that wretched parakeet wants – I may have to play owner for a bit. Barring that, I’ll go back for it when I do not have duties to perform.”

“Very well. Slacker.” She grinned, taking the sting from her words. Al left the barn and walked to the centre of the yard. With a handwave and a mutter the mossy green and brown of his portal opened and he stepped through.

He’d hated to lie to Sterling, but this was something she simply did not need to know about in her condition. Al had contacted Emerauld and Ialin had contacted him, and now was the time that the plan would be pulled together.

Al sat in lotus on the ground, near but not too near the blighted area. He cleared his mind and called out Eme, I’m here. Please join me. Then another call went out Ialin, love, please join me where I am. The willows need you. Finally, a third call, farther away but paradoxically easier to reach.

Aurum! Aurum, lad – can you spare an hour to help yer cousin? The answer returned almost instantaneously, Of course, Al. Where are you?

At the blighted area on her farm – I have help coming in from the Other Realm and my own domain – and they will need help that I can’t stay to give. Can you help me?

Aye, not a problem. On my way!

Moments later Aurum arrived, his portal much like Al’s. He stepped through and Al barely had time to greet him when a breeze smelling of virgin forest tickled his ear and a familiar pressure landed on his shoulder.

“Finally decided to let me in on the party, eh?” She sat, swinging her legs against his pectoral muscle, her wings brushing his hat as she balanced.

“Was there ever any doubt? Ialin, meet Aurum – Sterling’s cousin and the Earth Mage that was one of my instructors. Aurum, lad, this is Ialin – the dryad that’s taken up residence in the forests at my home.”

Aurum bowed deeply, right fist in left palm, and said “It is always an honour to meet one of the ladies of the Green.” Ialin giggled and said “This one has NICE manners – unlike you!” She stood on Al’s shoulder and curtsied – a beautiful movement for one dressed in elven leathers and boots.

“Eme should be along any moment now- and here she is.” Stepping from behind a tree at the border of the blighted area came Emerauld, dressed in her usual patchwork leathers with a frown on her face.

“Why so glum, Eme?” Al hurriedly thought What did I do this time? Other Realm types are hard to understand…

“You did nothing wrong, friend Al – but someone certainly did.” She gestured toward the area, and Al knew she could feel its lifelessness. The sere brown grass, the yellowish leaves of the trees and foremost the mental pall that dimmed even the bright sunlight of the day were impossible to miss for one sensitive to them.

“Yes, and that is why I asked you all to come here. Sterling – your sister – had an intruder that dumped poisons here, killing everything but the trees. It would have done for those as well had she not detected the sickness. She and Fergus managed to clear away the poisons, but there was nothing they could do for the death.” He gestured toward the space.

“The littles are gone, the worms, the microorganisms – all gone. The trees do not do well as there is no food for them in the sterile ground.

“I know I ask much, but is there any way to bring life back to the space? It’s a little under a hectare, all told – the wretch was thorough in his ministrations.

Can we do anything? It would go far to help your sister in her healing.”

Eme looked at Ialin, and a wordless consultation took place. Al looked at Aurum, who shrugged as if to say “Don’t ask me – I just work here.”

Consultation completed, Emerauld looked back at Al, saddened.

“There is nothing we can do here of a magical nature to restore this. Magic has many powers, but restoring dead things to life comes at an awful cost – and is not anything that should be meddled with.

“Life and death are a cycle, even if the life is cut short due to evil or misadventure. We cannot magically restore life here.”

Al turned away, saddened, and the elf could feel his pain. “Thank you all. I had hoped to help this along, but life will, as you say, have to return without assistance.”

“Now, Al, she didn’t say that we couldn’t help!” Ialin said, a mischievous grin on her face. Emerauld smiled as well, her little deception revealed. “While there’s nothing we can or should do magically, there are other ways to hurry this along. It’s going to take some work, but we can accelerate the return of life and save the trees.”

“Well – get on with it!” Al said, relieved and happy that at least something could be done.

“We will – but this is not trivial. To bring back life we need life – organic material to bring the tiny life back to the soil with it. This will then work on the dead plants still here and make the soil welcoming to new life. At the same time we can seed the area with plants that require little – this will be pushed aside by the local species when the time comes, but it will give the soil a hold lest it be washed or blown away.”

“What will it take?”

Emerauld frowned. “It will take a donation of life. We need organic material, compost to work into the soil and much of it. Sterling has some here, but we require more – much more. Where could we possibly get such things?” She looked at Al slyly and grinned a predatory grin.

Al saw the point immediately. “If you are looking for such I suggest Alexander House’s compost heap could be a source. It’s quite large, and say, 2/3rds of it could be spared for a worthy endeavor.”

Emerauld’s canny grin then shifted to Aurum. “I suspect that Athair’s garden bins would be a good source as well. He’ll be angry wi’ me till I tell him what it went to, but he’ll settle down after that.“

“Ladies, gentleman – I hate to have to run, but I’m afraid I can’t stay and help. Yon mage will be expecting me back, and I need to make a stop at my business on the way. Can you three handle this?”

“Far be it for us to say you’re unnecessary – but get out of here so we can get to work!” Ialin grinned and lifted off his shoulder, hovering as Al hurried off.

With the old man gone, the three turned to each other, the other two looking to Emerauld for guidance.

“What is it ye wish us to do, Miss Emerauld?” Aurum asked, deferential and polite as always.

Eme thought, then nodded. “First things first, we must bring the matter here. Aurum, can you do so without harm to yourself?”

“Aye, I believe I can. Let me try at least.” Walking away from the blighted area he bent to the earth, charging till glutted. Returning, he focused on a large clear space in the brown dead grass until there was a FLUMP, and a truly noxious aroma hit the air.

Emerauld sniffed, and Ialin remarked “Centaur. Yes, this is very definitely centaur. This will do well. Can you manage the pile from home?”

“Aye. I grabbed the one I knew not well first as that requires more energy for Sight. Athair’s compost heap I know far TOO well – and being rid of most of it will do my heart good.” Again he focused, and another FLUMP took place, then a third from Sterling’s compost heap.

Emerauld sniffed again, slightly disdainfully. “This is all good, but it…needs something. Walking behind a tree, suddenly a sack popped out from the spot. Another, and another – ten in all.

Ialin cringed. “Oh, no. Is that…what I think it is?” As the sacks had arrived, the scent from them had wafted over on the air currents – and that smell gave Aurum a sincere wish to bury his face in the nice clean compost he’d just materialized in.

Emerauld, returning, answered Ialin’s question. “If you think it is good, clean fire drake dung you are QUITE right. It is wonderfully rich in the foods plants need, and the sulfur in it does little if properly dispersed. If it is not dispersed properly…then the sulfur becomes a nuisance.”

“Yes, by blowing up! How are we going to do that?”

“Leave it to me.”

Hoisting a bag, Emerauld waded out into the stinking mass of compost and opened it. Using a wooden pitchfork she worked the coal-black dried contents of the bag into the top layer of normal compost, spading it in till it disappeared.

Over and over again till the ten sacks were gone she worked, and the top layer of the compost had taken on a much darker hue.

“Aurum, this needs to be mixed further and then dispersed. Can you do so?”

“Aye, I can – but I’ll need to recharge first.” Going off again he performed his forms, grounding and centering the by-products of the transport and refilling with the warm energy of the leylines.

Returning, he concentrated, flipping half of the pile over on the other half, then shaking the bottom. Again and again he did this, dispersing the drake dung and mixing the rich products of the three heaps until the mixture was a deep, dark uniform brown.

He rested a moment, materializing a bottle of water and downing it, then doing his forms yet again to prepare for the third part of his task.

Speaking to Aurum, Emerauld said “Nothing against him, but I am glad friend Al asked you to be here. He would have taken much longer at this.” With that Ialin flew up and slapped Emerauld behind the head, speaking angrily.

“Al does the best he can in everything he does. You, of all people should know this as you’ve known him the longest. Do you remember him when you first met? He’s changed much – and you need to remember that.”

“Perhaps I spoke too hastily”, she said, chastened. “You are quite right – I forget who and what he was when I see him now.”

Aurum stood aside, watching the antics of the other two. Politely he cleared his throat and asked “What do you want me to do now?”

“Please disperse the material evenly across the space. We will deal with it from there.”

Concentrating again Aurum mentally scooped sections of the mass, disappearing from one spot and reappearing as a dark coat over the dead earth. Again and again he did this, till the mass was no longer a mass but a dark blanket hiding the blighted grass.

Emerauld and Ialin then went off, each to a section of the area. Whispering, they spoke to the small groups of trees, which began to move. Their wide-spread roots began to move, slowly, then quicker as they churned the humus into the earth. Moving from place to place they did it again, and again, begging the trees’ forgiveness for disturbing them but hoping they’d understand it was for the good of the land.

Finally, exhausted themselves, they returned and looked out on a very different scene. Among the trees the soil was churned as if freshly tilled, the signs of the blight turned under. There were patches where there were no roots, however, and the humus still lay as a blanket.

Aurum began to charge again, and Emerauld stopped him. “Rest your powers. In this I think a living hand might be better.” Reaching behind a tree she pulled forth another tool – a long-handled pitchfork of metal. Another appeared, and another.

“And as there are three of them I expect that you want me – ME, of all people to assist you in this dirt-grubbing? ME, one of the elemental powers of the forest?” Ialin said, haughtily.

Emerauld snickered. “Yes, you can share in the blisters that this young man and I will have. Now change, and let us finish it.”

“Oh, very well.” In a twinkling Ialin changed into her dryad form, glamouring herself into a near copy of Emerauld herself. Aurum goggled – this, while not unknown, was not expected.

Picking up the tools, the three headed off. Where patches had not been turned they did so, working the organic matter deep into the sterility and turning the dead grass mat under to be consumed as nitrogen.

Soon, they were done with the periphery, and returned to the centre, each picking a side and working inward. Finally, even that was done, and they slumped on a fallen timber, satisfied in their work.

Aurum, always curious, manifested his earth sense and looked at the leylines. Where once ruddy and dim they were changed. The ruddiness was gone, and while they were still very weak and thready, the pulse of gold-green life was returning, and they were slightly closer than previously, having moved far from the blight and gone sickly.

“Aye, we’ve done a good day’s work here. The leylines show a change. What happens now?”

“A good question. I have the answer… here.” Standing again she reached behind the tree and pulled forth a sack. Ialin and Aurum, expecting another olfactory assault, cringed, but nothing was forthcoming.

“What’s…in the sack?” Ialin asked, suspiciously.

“Seeds, that is what is in the sack. Seeds of grass, seeds of flowers, loam and spores of mushrooms, mould, mosses and things to break down death into food for life. Many more than the ground will need, but they will not go to waste.” In a twinkling she disappeared, and Ialin and Aurum could see her flitting over the ground, with a gentle brown spray always preceding her.

Moments later she was back, empty sack in her hands folded for reuse.

“This will do well. It will rain tonight, and moisten the loose soil. The seeds will start to take root, and they will hold the earth and give the tiny life a place to live. The birds will come attracted by the seed, and make their contribution to the circle. The circle of life will come back from this.”

At that Aurum stood and bowed to the women. “Ladies, much as I would love to sit and chat with ye all day, I must return to my tasks – and to the earful Athair is going to give me for pinching his compost pile. Be well, and feel free to call on me again if you have need.” He bowed, deeply, hands held in front in greeting. Then with a CRACK and Snap a portal was opened and he stepped through and was gone.

“What a wonderful, polite lad. Fergus has done well with that one – and Maura.”

“Yes, they have.” Now silently, the two sat, enjoying the sunshine that was no longer dimmed, and the pungent smell of the fresh earth. 
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Fri Dec 22, 2017 9:23 am

Chapter 22 – One Down, One To Go.

The shed was light. Even with the dim electric bulbs in the old holders and the dirty windows the shed was still light, now with the sluagh and the oppressive psychic stench gone. With that lightness went the mood of the shed’s occupants, busy at their tasks.

On the bench a powered speaker played tunes from Al’s tablet, also there with its keyboard for reference or simply entertainment.

The caravan had been set on jacks at the corners, the old wheels, tyres and hubs removed. With them out of the way Sterling lay underneath in a disposable overall, hair in a painter’s cap as she painted the floor, chassis and wheel wells with coats of rustproofing paint. The attachments and underpinnings of the caravan were piled to the side – water tank, propane cylinder rack and bottles and the other accessories, each awaiting their cleaning and reinstallation

Inside Al was contentedly singing along with the Who, much to Sterling’s amusement.

“Ye miserable git, can ye at least stay in TUNE!”

“In tune? You of all people should say little of tune, considering the massacre you committed to the last Katy Perry tune that Pandora picked. I thought someone was torturing a goat until I realized the howling had words.”

Sterling chuckled – the subject of music had been an ongoing one while they’d been working.

“How’s it going in there?”

“It could be better. There’s no voltage on the circuits even with the charging plug energized. Did you disconnect anything when you stopped using this?”

Sterling replied, regret in her voice. “Nay, I did not. My own fault this is – my life was busy then with me career taking off, so the poor thing got pushed into dry cover and left.”

Al replied nonchalantly, trying to defuse the regret. “This is not a problem. The battery would never have survived the storage in any case, and it may be the reason the power systems are not coming up – shorted cells could be overdrawing the supply and causing it to shut down. I take it the supply is in the base of the front closet?”

“Aye, that it is. Haven’t had the cover off that in a while – be careful of tiny livestock.”

Al chuckled. “It is they that need to fear – I’ve not had elevenses yet. Onward and upward.”

Al opened the closet door and efficiently knocked out the hinge pins, detaching the door and laying it down on a bunk frame. Removing the shelves was the work of a moment, then he hung an area lamp on the pegboard inside of the closet and switched it on.

Little did he know a predator hung above, watching his every move.

Kneeling on a scrap of foam, he unscrewed and removed the floor of the closet, exposing the efficient electrical ‘engine room’ of the caravan.

To the left was an ancient analog power supply, wired to the bulkhead connector that protruded through the front wall of the caravan. Next to it at centre was an efficient, colour coded set of barrier strips and a multiple fuse block, each labeled clearly as to function on a diagram pasted and shellacked to the underside of the closet bottom.

Finally, to the right was the battery – a bank of motorcycle cells held in a bitumen-painted metal tray, each with its drain run out through the caravan floor.

Nodding approvingly, Al disconnected the battery bank and metered it, clucking quietly at the nearly shorted condition of the cells.

“I can feel the disapproval – what did you find?” Sterling spoke matter-of-factly, as both of them had become comfortable with each other’s presence.

“The batteries are trash – I expected this given the description of the problem. There are small lead-acid cells of the same type as we’ve installed in Olaidh – more capacity and we can do away with the tray and the drains as they’re sealedAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

Above there was a loud crash and the caravan shook. Sterling rolled out from underneath and sprinted to the door, looking in and expecting almost anything – and she was not disappointed.

Al lay on his back scrabbling toward the door, white as a sheet. Concerned, Sterling asked, “What in the seven levels of Hell happened to you?”

“Spi-Spi-Spider. I HATE arachnids.” The ruddiness was returning to his face as he realized that the arachnid in question had not killed and devoured him, and that he’d escaped unscathed other than his dignity.

“Oh, DO tell what happened.” Sterling was making a mighty effort to keep her face placid, but Al had no doubt as to her impression of the scene.

“I was bent over the electrical locker, and was evaluating the condition of the battery cells. Something – an air current, a feeling – made me look up and the sod dropped down out of the overhead onto my face. There it is, now.”

“OOOoooOOO. Pretty!” A spider the size of a dinner plate (or so it appeared to Al) had crawled up out of the electrical locker and was leisurely making its way up the side of the closet, as if with a multi-faceted eye to building a web where the old two-legs was not.

“Pass me a scrap of something, will you, luv? I am going to make this short and sweet, then we can get back to work.” Al very obviously wanted the arachnid OUT so he could get back to work – and a frontal assault was definitely in the cards.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Consider that arachnid and her ancestors the reason that this thing is not bug-infested. You’ve remarked on how clean this thing is – and she and her kin are why. Now suck it up and take her outdoors – we can find her a suitable home in the woodshed. Anyway, the Lord and Lady would NOT approve of wanton destruction of one of Their children, would they?”

“I strongly dislike arachnids. Would you do the honours?” Completely unapologetic Al asked, and just as unapologetic Sterling declined.

“Nope. Your arachnid, your problem. I suggest corralling it in something while it’s in the open, and just walking it over to the woodshed.”

“Oh, VERY well. Man asks for a simple favour regarding JUST ONE arachnid, and he’s refused. You’re a cruel, cruel woman.”

Sterling chuckled. “Oh, suck it up and deal with the bug. Get on with ye, then.”

Al stood, removed his cap, and muttering “Deposit anything in my hat and you WILL regret it” he gently guided the spider from her path onto the brim of his cap, then into the inside. Moving swiftly, he made his way out of the caravan and off toward the woodshed, shielding the cap from the rays of the sun. Once there he gently shooed the spider from his hat to one of the posts, and watched for a moment as it headed for the shade of the interior, already festooned with other webs.

Returning, he was greeted by Sterling who asked “How did it go, O Great White Hunter?”

“Arachnid gone, problem solved. Now let’s get back to work.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sat Dec 23, 2017 11:31 am

Chapter 23 – Systematic Improvement

“OOOOoooo…shiny.” My, those are bright – where did you get them?” Sterling marveled at the lights – bright white in the previously dim interior of the caravan.

“Had my people source them when they got me the new AGM cells to replace the motorcycle batteries. You can thank your cohort Arania for these – she’s the one who found them.”

Al had been in and out that day – shuttling between RE and the secluded farm chasing assemblies and manufacturing small bits of harness. What Sterling saw now was the result – the caravan’s electrical system was back up and running, and the lighting was blindingly white.

“Warhorse, I’m as fond of a tan as the next Scottish lass – as in not at all – but the lights are just a BIT too bright, wouldn’t you say?”

“Would you prefer I install the old fittings? Those had one – repeat one, each 1156 taillight bulb in them. Light it was, but inefficient and dim.”

“I prefer the term atmospheric. However, I’ve worked in art studios that had dimmer lighting than this. Not to complain, but they’re a bit much.”

Al chuckled, as he’d been expecting this. Reaching to the tiny sink drainboard, he picked up a remote, and a few pushes of a button dimmed the lights to a less-numbing level. Another changed the colour of the light, rendering it more amber, then a few more pushes changed it to red, then blue. Finally the golden-amber light returned at a comfortable level.

Sterling applauded. “Bravo! Bravo! What’s that all about?”

“A gift from your feathered friend back at AHI. She spotted the lights and controller as a set, and realized that remote lighting would be a simple addition – and it was.

“The controller is in the bottom of the cabinet – it’s a tiny box that takes in 12 volts and puts out power and control signals to the lights. It spliced right into the current harness and took me mere minutes to install.

“Ari’s thought was that even after your holiday that the caravan would be a perfect little portable art studio with the right lighting and the addition of a drawing table and storage on one of the bunk frames. That can come in time, but for now you have the light if you choose to draw or sketch on your holiday.

Sterling applauded again. “Show me!”

Al stepped aside and sat on the bunk platform, motioning Sterling to sit to the other side.

“The repairs were simple – after the attack of the killer arachnid” Sterling snickered but Al kept moving “I disconnected the old batteries – which were woefully shorted. Those were replaced, and the charger adjusted to keep the new cells in peak form.” Al waved a light into the bottom of the closet and Sterling saw the new cells – featureless grey blocks in the place of the old cells, harnessed with military-grade wiring.

“There’s the controller, and as you can see there were few changes other than that. I did do you the favour of adding these, though.” Al pointed to the side of the closet, at table height by the front wall. There, two 12-volt power points protruded, and Al pointed out two more inside the closet.

“You have charging points for any and all mobile devices you might use, and external points for a Peltier cooler of the type I have in Clara. You don’t have room for a permanent installation, but a portable will suit you well.”

“Those are high power, aren’t they? How can I keep the batteries up on the road?”

“Simple, you don’t. When you’re moving the cooler is strapped down in Olaidh’s cargo area, and it’s plugged in there. When you’re set up, it comes in here and runs off the shore supply and the batteries. You could run it in here for several hours, but better to just use all that extra capacity Olaidh has.”

“Brilliant! I hate ice boxes. No matter where I go I’m set.”

Al looked up at her. “Speaking of that – any plans?”

Sterling looked at the old man, and the play of emotions would have been obvious even without Al’s heightened empathic sense.

She replied slowly, carefully. “Nothing yet. When we began this I didn’t have the energy or the headspace to think ahead more than to the day’s tasks. Now that I’ve gotten some rest – real rest, for the first time in a long time – I’m starting to think ahead, but drawing a blank.”

“Dice throw? Darts and a map?”

Sterling stirred restlessly but did not rise. “I don’t know. My focus has been restoring Olaidh and the caravan to usable condition, and I have given no thought to what to do with it.” She shook her head back and forth. “Still not thinking straight.”

Al took her hands. This mood had to be dealt with, and quickly. Her peace of mind was still too fragile to allow this to continue.

“Sterling, ducks, it will come in time. We’re well along now, and there’s little yet to do on the caravan. We’ve that dent in the roof to sort if we can, and refitting the water systems and the new pumps. Another coat of paint on the underside and the old girl can come off the jacks and onto her new tyres, and from there it’s all nickels and dimes.

This will come. Everything else has. Hang on, ducks, we’ll get you there.”

The rest of the day went much the same. As Sterling painted out the underside again Al, too was under the caravan, fitting the new water tanks and their ancillaries.

Sliding over, Sterling inspected the installation. “Tidy. Like it. Like the addition of the grey-water tank – hooking up the old external one was a right pain in the arse every time. Draining that going to be a problem, is it?”

Al pointed to the fittings, tucked neatly along the underside and nearly invisible. “No, hardly. The tank is fitted with an outlet, and as you can see I’ve fitted it with a tube along the bottom, secured to the mounting. A pull on the quarter-turn valve and it will drain nicely, especially if you make sure the sink bung isn’t in. Much easier than dealing with the portable and dumping that in a loo somewhere – and on your shoes. Clara’s set up much the same way, except her tank is in a fuel can locker on her side. Both tanks – white and grey-water – and all the plumbing, nicely concealed and away from knocks from the road.”

Sterling looked on admiringly. “Tidy – good-on, Warhorse. What are we doing for pumping? The old spigot was well past its sell-by date.”

“Simples, meduck. The caravan’s much like a small cruiser or sailboat – many of the systems are identical. I could have taken a page from some American road cruiser and fitted an electric pump, but that seemed overkill. Instead, you’ve a foot pump in the kick panel under the sink. Spigot above is just that – no valve – and for water you merely press with your toe. Makes washing-up ever so much easier. I’d have done the same with Clara, but she really didn’t have a good spot for the pump, so electric it was.”

“Again, perfect. I prefer quiet, so the foot pump is perfect. Wastes less water, anyway, and infinitely preferable.”

They continued to work. Plumbing in, gas plumbing in and checked with pressure, and the floor painted they finished for the day and returned to the house, well satisfied with the work done.

Sterling went off to clean up and Al began dinner, peeling potatoes and slicing them for chips. As he did he hummed a small tune, well-content and lost for the moment in his tasks.

Pan of oil on the burner and potatoes salted and drying off in a colander, he withdrew a flabby packet from the refrigerator and began to shape hamburgers, pressing the meat neatly into rounds. Sterling returned, damp from the shower, and Al headed off to clean up as well.

“Any chance you could cook a bit of bacon for the burgers? That, and there’s a Vidalia onion in the root bin begging to be on a burger – few slices of that would go well.”

“Aye. Not a problem. Go on with ye, then – you’re stinking up the kitchen.”

“Indeed….such a base canard. I will return momentarily. If the oil begins to smoke, just turn it down.”

She snapped a towel at him, to no visible reaction. Behave or I will spank you, you rambunctious mage.

She smiled at him, a predatory grin. Two falls out of three, old man.

Humph. No respect for an old warrior.
He left, returning a few minutes later, hair slicked back and an odour of myrrh, cardamom and amber from his shaving soap in the air.

“Got it. Get yourself a cold drink and make yourself comfortable, I’ll have dinner for us in two shakes.” Returning to the stove he heaped the now-dry potatoes into the oil, giving rise to a cloud of steam and a gratifying rush of sound. The burgers went to a flat griddle and began their own sizzling counter point.

Sterling, sitting at the table, spoke, her tone almost vague. “Been thinking about the whole traveling thing – more the point of a direction.”

“And?” Al didn’t turn, having his hands full with the meat and potatoes. “Any decisions or even clues?”

“A few – but not as to direction more than on intent.

“There’s a book in this or I’m not an author. I think the subject ‘Not all who wander are lost’ might be the name of the tune.”

Al turned from the stove, his charges momentarily tractable. “While I admire the idea, is this going to get in the way of your primary purpose? Far be it for me to discourage your creative impulses, but the point of this wanderjahr is for you to recharge your creative batteries, not deplete them by justifying the travelling with a project.”

“Been thinking about that. Not sure I can do what you did, and just wander to and from a goal location. Nothing against you, there Warhorse, but that takes a discipline I don’t have.”

Al nodded. “It takes a lot of work to do nothing, sometimes. I just worry that you’re not going to have a pixie aboard to throttle you into relaxing when you need to, and that you’ll go powering along and rest not at all.” He selected a spider and ladled crisp chips from the oil onto a rack, then laid bacon and cheese onto the nearly-done burgers. A minute or two later and the salted chips and burgers arrived at table, with a tray of condiments and additions.

Selecting a plate Sterling piled it high with chips, adding onion and mustard to her burger and two wedges of dill pickle to her plate. “Damn, Warhorse. You do know what you’re doing. This is good.”

“Your local grocery has a butcher that knows his business. Good mix on the beef and not too lean, and the flavor is quite good. Salting and drying the potatoes helps them to cook properly. Had I felt like truly proper chips I’d have done them once, pulled and drained them, and then crisped them with a second cooking. However, that’s a bit too much work even for me.”

He looked at his dinner companion, waiting till she had taken a healthy bite of her burger before he spoke. “While I admire your creative impulses, I do fear you will not rest. Sincerely, I strongly suggest that you not consider your travel’s primary focus to be the production of a book. Please, yes – sketch, photograph, enjoy the creative process but don’t do things on the choice of what will and won’t work on the coffee table.”

She started to speak, stopped, chewed and swallowed – a delay Al had intended to force her to think rather than respond immediately (the sergeant-major in his gunroom chuckled quietly). She began to speak, stopped again, and popped a chip in her mouth, chewing meditatively.

“I…see your point. This leaves me with a dilemma, then. How do I travel without a focus?”

Al took a bite from his dinner, chewing and thinking furiously. “Plans – one plan for emergencies only. Nothing else, other than a destination and a duration – anything in between is a decision for the day.

“Go when you wish, stop when you wish. LOOK around you. Enjoy the dawn, enjoy the sunset. Enjoy the stars in the sky.
“Enjoy the rain on the roof at night, Enjoy the warmth of coffee on a cool morning, and the freshness of the air on a plain. Have you ever spent time at the ocean?”

The non sequitur caught her off-guard. “No, actually. Never have. Seen oceans, of course, been to the beach at them, but never spent more than a few hours. Why?”

“Miss Water Mage, it seems to me that time sent quietly near the ocean would befit you. If you felt up to the journey I’d suggest you see my friends in Nova Scotia – they’d welcome you with open arms.

“Barring that, you could head South – the Gulf Coast is beautiful, but the attitudes to women in the Southern states might be a bit much for your tranquility. There’s West, as well – the Pacific Northwest is beautiful – and Greg would be the one to advise. Just something to think on.”

“I will. Something to think on, indeed.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sat Dec 23, 2017 11:33 am

Chapter 24 – Conversation And Consternation.

As they ate their meal the subject tacitly changed away from futures and to the now.

“So, what do you think of our progress?” Sterling mumbled around her burger. Al paused and a chip disappeared from his plate. Chewing thoughtfully he swallowed and answered.

“Other than that caved-in bit on the roof we’re good. That and refitting the soft furnishings is all that’s left. The old boy is ready to go a thousand miles – or a hundred thousand, really.

“The chassis and floor’s well preserved thanks to you, and the hubs and wheels. Electrically it’s been updated, and all of the external lights test perfectly.

“Externally, seems to me we’ve just the one job left, and repaint that area once it’s fixed, Thankfully it’s not going to be too visible. Once that’s done, you’re for the road.”

Sterling nodded, deep in thought. “I would like us to plan a small day outing. Rather have you along for it, simply for an extra set of eyes. You game?”

Taking a sip from his Moxie, Al nodded. “Certainly. I can’t come with you on your wanderjahr much as I’d like to. Rosalynd is understanding, but that might be a bit too much.“

Sterling reached over and patted his hand. “Don’t worry, Warhorse. I would never do anything to get between you and that gorgeous redhead you’re married to.” She stood from the table and began to gather her dishes. “Now, be a good boy and finish your dinner. You wash and I’ll wipe and we will deal with the scullery, then rest and relax for the evening. Fancy a game of cribbage?”

The rest of the evening passed with cold drinks, hot tea and friendship over cards and discussion. The subjects ranged over much terrain – Al reminiscing fondly of places he’d been, favourite old cars and telling stories of the madness at RE since Sterling had finished up on the Pink Rover project.

Sterling reminisced as well – a development the old man found heartening. Since the house cleansing and the smudging of the caravan and outbuildings her mind had been much more tranquil, and she’d been able to look back on things without the emotional backlash that had happened before.

“He was a lovely man – a great leader and a truly compassionate human being. He did a lot to hold us together on a day to day basis. I still don’t understand what pushed him to do what he did.”

“How do you feel about it now?” The old man pushed, gently. There had been many conversations like this, mostly after her breakdown in the car’s barn.

“I don’t know, still – but the crushing guilt isn’t there anymore. Fifteen two, fifteen four, and eight is twelve.” She set her cards down and moved her pegs on the board, and Al gathered them and shuffled for the next hand.

“That’s an interesting development. Why do you think it’s that way?” Al dealt the hands of six cards with an economy of motion showing this was hardly an unfamiliar action. “I am not by any stretch complaining, but I’d like to know your take on it.”


“And seven. Fifteen two.”

“Twenty-one for three.” Sterling laid a six on the table and took her points.” Not positive, but I know our talks have been part of it. Getting it out, hashing it over, figuring out what happened and how with someone who’s been there – it helped.

“The smudging helped as well – the load coming off let me think – really think – about what you were saying, and that helped as well. Other than that I think it’s just the catharsis – letting it all out so it’s not bottled up.”

“You are still going on holiday, though?” Al nudged gently as they played out the hand.

“Actually, I’m debating that – glad you brought it up. I was thinking of delaying it a while-“

“Sterling.” Al looked directly at the young woman, having set the deck down.

“Al, I’m fine. Really. This time has done me a world of good. I really have no NEED of a holiday.”

Al sighed, sat back and sipped from his mug. “A long time ago a cheeky young mage told me “Never try to bullshit a mage.” Said young mage was helping an old man over a rocky patch and saw through his lies and self-deceptions, and pointed him to the core of his issues as part of his Emergence.

“NOW” he added, spearing her with a direct stare “this same young woman is trying to ‘bullshit a mage’ – specifically one that is almost as big an Empath as she is. This is NOT going to fly, as she should realize.”

“But, Al-“

“Bullshit I said, and bullshit it is. I can see your aura. I’ve spent every night by your bedside, and feeling your dreams though I can’t see them. Much better you are, but well – no, you’re not.

“You’re going.”

Sterling sighed, and chuckled a bit. “Busted. Somehow I thought that was going to be your exact reaction. So, yes, Mother…I will go.”

Al shoved his chair back from the table. “Not sure about you, but it’s coming up on this old man’s bedtime.”

“Agreed. It’s been a long day.”

A bit later, Al knocked at Sterling’s door. She was already in bed, settled down and relaxing. The old man took up his post in the wing chair, and settled back, feet up on the ottoman.

“Al, promise me something. After I’m asleep you need to get to bed and have a proper night’s sleep. You need it – you’ve been sleeping sitting up in the chair since you got here, and frankly this is not doing your legs and feet any good – or your back muscles.”

“Yes, Mother. I will do so. It has been a bit difficult, though well worth it. If you’ve a problem tell me – I will know if you try to ‘I’m fine’ me, as you’ve found out.”

“I will. You need at least one decent night’s sleep.”

“I will not contest your evaluation. A solid night horizontal and undisturbed would be a luxury to these old bones. I will do so – but only after I’m assured that you’re asleep – and as I said I can tell. Now settle down, and I will do the same, and both of us can get some rest.”

Sterling rolled over and settled in, covers tucked to her chin, silver hair faintly luminous in the moonlight leaking in. Soon her breathing settled to a soft, slow susurrus, and Al could feel the even tenor of her emotions, childlike and secure in sleep.

Settling down in the chair with a warm quilt, Al thought to himself. She’s right – these old bones could do with an uninterrupted horizontal night. Might actually get one, as she’s settling down nicely. Another few minutes, then I’ll catfoot off to my bunk…

The morning sun shone though the blinds, and tickled Sterling’s nose. She rolled over lazily, stretched, contemplated drifting off for another half-hour and thought to herself Wonder if Warhorse slept this well?

Opening her eyes, she looked over toward the wing chair and was gratified to find it empty. Strangely, the side of the quilt was hanging..down…and then she looked up.

Tranquil in sleep, Al drifted a scant foot from the high ceiling in the old farmhouse. Snoring quietly and arranged on his back, the quilt that covered him hung down on both sides, giving a creditable appearance of a magician’s levitation trick. In repose the air currents in the room had carried him away from his chair and ottoman and over the rug in the center of the room, where he presented a most incongruous picture.

However, this was no trick – this was real.

Stifling a bellow of laughter Sterling slipped out of bed, padding quickly to her studio for her camera. Coming back she primed the camera for continuous fire, after materializing the futon from her sun porch on the spot underneath the drifting old man.


With the first bright flash of light the old man woke – and the spell was broken. Tumbling, screaming, THUDding to the floor was the work of a moment – all lovingly recorded by Sterling and her camera.

Thoroughly flustered, Al sat up and inquired in a barely-controlled voice, “Was there some peverse logic to your hurling me eight feet in the air then dropping me to the floor, you LUNATIC?”

Having dropped the camera to the surface of the bed Sterling was lying against it clutching her sides in pain from the laughter. Al merely stared stonily at her till she ran down, his ire growing more pointed and less gentlemanly by the moment.

“Aye, ‘twas nae me, Warhorse. Ye did that all on yer own, ye did…” which set her off in gales of laughter again. Staring at her stonily Al rose from the futon, found nothing broken and padded off to the kitchen, sparing a less-than-gentle kick in the arse for the mage still sprawled helpless in giggles against the side of the bed. “Unless you plan to flinging me into the air again, I am going to go and make coffee…and raid my baggage for ibuprofen I am quite sure I will need in an hour or two.”

Still giggling helplessly she waved him away and went back to hyperventilating.
Out in the kitchen Al primed the Aeropress and set the kettle in motion, preparing a pot of coffee. A few minutes later he heard doors opening and closing and running water and knew his oft-annoying companion was preparing for her day – and likely still stifling mirth from the as-yet-unexplained levitation and subsequent tumble.

Digging into the refrigerator he pulled out milk, bread and eggs along with the everpresent bacon and began to prepare French toast. As the battered bread struck the pan a warm, comfortable smell wafted through the air.

“Smells good. Warhorse, I’m going to lose the ability to take care of myself if you keep taking care of me like this.” She inhaled deeply, of the scents of vanilla and cinnamon in the air.

“Oh, I hardly think that meduck. As I said before, I am merely enjoying taking care of someone – it’s a rare thing in my life of late.” With economy of motion he dealt the slices of French toast to the cutting board, divided them and arranged them on plates, adding a dusting of powdered sugar over the rows of triangles. They along with the plate of bacon went to the table with warmed syrup and butter, and the two turned to their meal.

After the initial rush of appreciation was over and the pace slowed a bit Al asked, “Do explain to me what happened in there. While I will confess to a great urge to throttle you I accept your plea of innocence to flinging me into the air and down again. If you did not, then who did?”

Sterling sipped her coffee, thought a moment and then replied. “Ailean, that was none but yourself doing it. Tell me, what were your last thought when we settled down?”

Al pondered. “Simple, actually. I was waiting for you to settle down – I could hear your emotions were still a bit busy – and I was thinking that getting horizontal for the night was a wonderful idea. Soon as you settled I was going to tiptoe off to my bunk…and that was really all.”

She chuckled, munching a strip of the thick bacon she liked. “There is the answer – and another growth point. You wanted to be horizontal and comfortable – and your magic arranged for it.”

Al looked puzzled. “Assume you’re lecturing a small child here and relay that information in words of one syllable, please.” With that he returned to his plate, still attuned to what she would say.

Sterling finished a slice of toast, thinking as she dipped it in syrup and consumed it. “Simple enough, really. What that says is that you have finally subconsciously accepted your Power as a part of you, rather than as an external thing that you control.”

Al sipped his coffee, mulled on her words and asked “Please continue. I think I understand what you mean, but do continue.”

“Think of it this way. Up till recently you have had no conscious connection to the Power – even though from what you told me my sisters told you of it back when Emerauld built you Chryso.

Now, you have that connection firmly ingrained in you, but it is an external connection – you control it like a machine by mentally twiddling knobs.”

“I will grant you the mechanical analogy – I confess to using it myself to understand things. Do go on.”

“Now, the machine and controls are gone – there is merely the Power and your mind. You no longer reach out to control it – you just perform the action. Catch!” She picked the sugar jar from the table and pegged it at him.

Al dropped his fork and with a quick motion of his hand the jar stopped in midair, issuing a tiny trickle of sugar from its spout till he rotated it upright. With a few slight motions the jar settled back to the table, the sugar finding its way from the tablecloth back into the spout.

Sterling laughed, delighted at the display she’d just witnessed. “See? A few months ago that would have either been a duck response and it would have sailed by, or you‘d have caught it with your hand. Now, you use your Power.”

Al looked at her sourly. “Dangerous, that is. With my level of control that is a hazardous reaction – I could hurt or kill, especially with my – our reactions.”

“Not so hazardous. You could have deflected that and sent it toward the wall. Instead, you correctly evaluated the threat and dealt with it in the most efficient manner possible – by catching it. Bravo!”

“What, if anything, does this have to do with that levitation act this morning?”

“Everything. You wanted to sleep flat, to be comfortable. Your mind flipped through the card catalogue of possibilities and hit that card – and made it happen. Speaking of that, when we go to work in the shed you need to go off and perform your forms and recharge. I do not need you getting a hangover from overextension.”

“Yes, Mother.” With that Al grinned, forked up the rest of his French toast and popped it into his mouth.” Your wish is my command. Do you want to wash or wipe this morning? I’ve lost track of whose task is which this morning.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sat Dec 23, 2017 12:17 pm

And...a bonus chapter. Story finishes up tomorrow, and Part III will come some time in the new year when my creative juices and Dinky's re-establish themselves.

Chapter 25 – Accidents Happen.

“Fine then. Pull up on it while I shove it in.”

“Think you might want to buy me dinner first?”

“Very funny. How droll. NEVER joke like that around Rosalynd.”

The two worked on the caravan’s roof, attempting to wedge out a large dent in the upper edge.

“How did this happen again?”

“Wind storm. Old tree. Tree go boom and clock the caravan with a branch on the way down. Any more questions?”

“Snippy. Okay, let’s try this a different way.” Al shifted the battens, rotating the lever being used to pull on the dent in its attachment to the pulling stud. “This should do. We were pulling the wrong way on it – I thought this was a lateral hit when it was a vertical. We’re going to start up by you and ease it out – less filler – then we can tap out the rest.”

“See your point.”

Lever shifted, Sterling stood on all fours on the pulling guard – a wooden frame held to the roof by her weight. Al climbed to the top of the ladder and leaned into the lever, pulling it back. The dent began to rise, the pulling stud welded to the metal taking the stress evenly…until it snapped free.

The pulling lever flew, and Al overbalanced outward, flailing for a grip. Sterling reached for him, but his hand found a grip first at the back of her T-shirt. The untucked shirt slipped till his grip caught something springy, which caught him for a second till it, too, yielded.

Down went the old Brit, cursing fluently as the ladder pivoted him outward rather like a woomera fires a spear. He hit the ground with a WHUFF! ,landing on his back and raising a cloud of dust from the shed floor.


Groaning slightly, Al sat up on the floor, mentally appraising his condition. Finding nothing damaged beyond his pride and the cleanliness of his work clothes he answered “Sterling, dear lady, be at peace. I am fine, though I did take a bit of a knock to the head when I hit the pavement.

I think this is an auspicious time for a cuppa…why are you lying down on the top of the caravan?”

Sterling, lying down flat on the roof, snarled an unprintable epithet, then followed that with “Look in yer left hand ye useless git. Ye’ve pinched me clothes. No small wonder you were single if ye were that slick with all the girlies, y’ idjit.”

Al looked at the contents of his left hand – containing a T-shirt and a very damaged brassiere. At that, his face immediately began to colour and he stammered “Sterling, dear lady, I DO apologize! I had NO intention of doing so – I merely grabbed for support-“

“And ripped off me T-shirt in the process! Damn good thing the strap parted, or ye’d have dragged me off the roof on top of you! How would ye have explained the broken ribs when ye got home, Eh?” She held both hands up and made quote marks, carefully keeping her torso to the roof. “Yes, dear, Sterling fell on top of me. Of course, she was NAKED FROM THE WAIST UP at the time…No, dear, put the Maxi-14 away… Ye IDJIT!”

Right about this point Al began to laugh. First a slight chuckle, then mutating rapidly to a full throated bellow of laughter. He flopped back onto his back, still roaring in laughter.

Sterling, seeing this, began to chuckle herself, then started to roar herself, still staying carefully modest against the roof of the caravan.

Finally, the laughter subsided, and Sterling mock-severely said “me tender parts are gettin’ very uncomfortable against the roof, here Warhorse. Toss me shirt up here and get to the house – I’ll meet ye there in a minute.”

“In a moment. I must find my phone – a picture of this-“

“YE WILL NOT DO THAT I AM NOT A TROLLOP TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED BUCK NAKED-“ then she subsided, realizing Al had never gone anywhere near his phone. Instead, he had removed her brassiere from the T-shirt and bundled the T-shirt so she could slip her arms and head into it.

She reached her arms down and scooped the T-shirt onto them, working it back over her head and below, restoring her modesty. As she did she rose slightly and Al exclaimed “Piercings! I never would have figured you for-“

She started to bellow again, then realized that his gaze was chastely directed at the wall of the caravan and nowhere else, and let out the breath. “Warhorse, ye’re a horrid, horrid man…ripping women’s clothes off and all. Now, go on to the house and put the kettle on. I’ll be right there.”

“Yes, ma’am.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sun Dec 24, 2017 7:12 am

Chapter 26 – Out And About

“Are we ready?”

“Ready as we’ll ever be. Olaidh’s had several runs out and has not shown any issues, and the caravan’s been checked and rechecked. It’s time to test them.”

Sitting at breakfast the conversation flew thick and fast – questions, answers, ‘what abouts’ and all. Yesterday had seen the end of the caravan refurbishment, with coats of insulating and reflective paint applied to the roof and the repair.

The water tank had been filled, a Peltier cooler shipped in and tested with the caravan’s electrical system, and the gas plumbing tested simply by moving all brewups out to the caravan and using its kettle.

The soft furnishings done in brown tweed had arrived from AHI and been installed, with curtains to match. The linens for them and for personal use had all arrived and been ensconced in the cabinet, along with pots, pans and the all-important teapot. Crockery, dishes and cutlery had been replaced, the originals having been soiled by the vermin.

Clothes and food aboard and Sterling was ready to roll – or so it seemed.

Today was the test.

Sterling left the table for a minute, returning with Al’s tablet. “Sorry, yours was closer – mine is in the studio and likely the battery’s not healthy.”

“Please do help yourself. I take it this is in regard to a location for our little wanderjahr?” He sipped his coffee and forked in another bit of pancake drenched in butter, listening attentively.

“I’d been doing some research on somewhere we could have a day out – nothing too far but nothing too near, either. I picked a few places – varying distances. I was going to let you choose between them figuring yer instincts on what Olaidh and the caravan need to prove themselves.” She tapped and swiped in the browser, bringing up a list. “Here – have a look at the list – they have been sorted by distance from here. I took no notice of costs – given the amount that Olaidh and the caravan have had entry fees are a triviality.”

Al dragged the keyboard around and swiped up another bit of pancake and bacon as he read.

“Lake Of The Woods” in Valparaiso. About an hour away – not bad, but I’d prefer something a bit further. Lovely photos of the scenery, but…oh dear. The lady on the sailfish is nude. Perhaps…Oh, dear. Clothing optional. I am sure that Sterling did NOT notice that!

He clicked on the next in line. ”Sun Aura Resort”…oh, dear. Another clothing optional resort. While I live with centaurs and nudity is an everyday occurrence I suspect that Sterling is not quite prepared for this.

Again and again he clicked down through the list. “Sunshower Country Club”, “Drakes Ridge Nudist Retreat”….oh, dear oh my.

Looking at his face Sterling noted the look of concern and finally consternation. “Warhorse, are you all right? Seems to me we have a good choice of destinations there – nothing close enough, or nothing far enough? I figured a day out would be enough.”

Looking up, Al nervously asked, “Did you…actually look at the web sites of the places you chose?” hoping desperately that the answer was no.

“Sure, why? I figured a day on the beach would be perfect – we have been in the darkness of the sheds and barn for two weeks, and I figured a day at a lake would be the perfect outing. Nothing there you like?”

Nervously Al took another pull at his coffee, striving to delay the inevitable. “While I credit your research for finding what look like wonderful places, I do wonder if you’ve noted that your research turned up sites that are…clothing optional?”

Sterling guffawed, startling Al into silence. “Whatever could be the matter, Warhorse – gone bashful in your old age? Living with centaurs I would NEVER think you a prude!”

Laughing again, she stood and threw back her shoulders. “Do you honestly think I would be afraid to sport a thong and a smile? Aye, the wee Sassenach is afraid of a wee bit of skin, he is! Just think of the game of ‘find the tan lines’ you can play with Rosalynd!"

Al, utterly consternated, stammered “Well, while I do live with centaurs…I’m just not sure that…” Too late, he realized that the picture of grey-eyed innocence staring across the table was backed by a bubbling pot of mirth – and the scene collapsed as did Sterling’s ability to hold a straight face.

“BBBWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHHAAAAAA! GOT YOU!” she bellowed, falling back into her chair accompanied by an unquenchable set of giggles.

“Well, indeed! I don’t see why assaulting a man’s sense of modesty is the reason for such mirth…” he trailed off, as her mirth became infectious. He began to chuckle, eventually bellowing in laughter.

It turned into a high-feedback loop – each time one looked at the other the laughter would begin again.

Finally, exhausted, she smiled, wiped the tears from her eyes and snickered. “You brought this on yourself, you realize. The fact that you were such an utter gentleman yesterday after the T-shirt incident” she began to snicker a bit, then deliberately quashed it “made me think of this.

“I knew you – you’d be horrified by the thought of running about in the altogether in front of a bunch of strangers despite your being comfortable with it at home. In any case, I had to get back at you after that ‘Piercings!’ comment you made.”

“Well played, dear lady – well played. However, where ARE we going today?”

"I have just the thing", she said, tapping the screen and removing the offending search history. "Here."

Al looked at the garish picture from the government website and muttered under his breath about how they needed to fire the web designer. “What an abysmal mess. This site is thoroughly mired in the late 1990s. Then again, most government web sites are like this.”

He read aloud, pointedly ignoring the design idiocies of the page. “Potato Creek. I always preferred them in hot oil with salt and vinegar, but I guess a creek will do.”

Sterling slapped him in the back of the head and pointed toward the screen of the tablet. “Nitwitted Sassenach. T’is nae yer jokes I want to hear but yer thoughts on the site.”

“That was quite unnecessary.” He handed her his coffee cup. “If you would make yourself useful by refilling this and adulterating it properly I would appreciate it. This would give me a moment to examine the locale in question.”

“Cheeky git.” However, she did as bidden, taking his cup to the counter and refilling it, then adding cream and Demarara sugar as he liked it. At the same time she picked up the empty breakfast plates and stacked them in the sink in preparation for washing. Returning the cup to its owner she then began washing the dishes, allowing him uninterrupted focus.

He navigated the site, cursing developers who took no notice of mobile devices and their needs. After taking the ‘interactive tour’ he looked up, took a healthy draught of his coffee, and nodded.

“It isn’t quite as far as I would have liked, but perhaps we can wander about and not arrow straight there. Lovely place. I’ll just need to nip home and pick up my bathing trunks, some sandals and a towel.”

“Aye, and make sure ye bring a hat and a shirt to wear at the beach. I’ll not have ye getting sunstroke.”

Al chuckled. “Yes, Mother. Back in a few moments.” With that he downed his coffee and left the room, preferring to port outdoors. Sterling yelled after him “Make sure you charge, damnit!”, which was answered by another chuckle. With a CRACK and a SNAP he was gone, returning some minutes later with a small canvas satchel slung over his shoulder. His khakis, normally immaculate, were rumpled, and he himself showed a few traces of wiped-off lipstick.

"It seems, dear Sterling, that I am not permitted to go to any clothing-optional resorts with you. As I was just informed, 'if anyone is going to a clothing-optional resort with you it is going to be ME!' "

"And what has that to do with your scandalous condition?"

"It seems my dam was rather...stimulated at the thought of going about in the nearly-altogether in human form - and expressed it."

“Scandalous. Utter heathen behaviour, telling the poor woman of this. Shall we go, then?”

“Certainly.” In the meantime Sterling had tidied the kitchen and packed a hamper with non-perishable food items. The perishable items were in a sack, ready to be put into the Peltier cooler with the soft drinks and water.

Lugging their burdens to the caravan they filled the food locker with the contents of the hamper, filled and plugged in the Peltier cooler and made everything fast for towing.

Backing in the Range Rover Al hitched it up, plugging in the electricals. Then he and Sterling checked the lights, with Sterling pulling the caravan from its home of many years.

Al climbed into the front seat, settling down in the conditioned leather and fastening his belt. Pointing out the windscreen he said, “Let’s be off, then.”

“Let us do that very thing.” Sterling put the car in gear and the Rover, encumbered with the caravan, rolled out of the drive to the road.

Pulling onto the road the Range Rover seemed to brighten, almost enjoying the freedom of the highways for the first time in a long while. Sterling, an experienced tow driver, kept the initial speeds low, wiggling the wheel a bit to check the tracking of the caravan.

Al, experienced as he was with test flights, reclined bonelessly in the passenger seat enjoying the ride but with every sense paying attention to the Rover’s systems. Now and again he’d roll his window all the way down and listen to the wind noise and the sound of the car and caravan.

With the sunroof open and windows at half-mast the interior of the car was a sunny, breezy place. After a few miles Sterling turned on the audio system and found her favourite classical radio station. With the strains of Vivaldi echoing in the interior she cruised down the road, easily controlling the big car and its companion.

On the third or fourth check Al called, “Stop when you can.” Nodding, Sterling pulled over to the side, turning on the hazard flashers on the top of the steering column.


“Perhaps. I am hearing something slightly odd from the caravan that seems to be speed-related.” With that he stepped out and to the caravan, rocking it on its springs and listening. He then went to the back of the Range Rover and fished out a torque wrench and socket from a tool bag.

“Lugs?” Sterling called back from the driver’s seat.

“I believe so – either that or wheel bearings. A quick check of the lug torques will tell much.” With economy of motion he bent to each wheel, checking the torque of the five lugs that held each wheel in place. Once complete he tossed the wrench back into the satchel and closed the gates.

“It was the lugs. I should have removed the paint from the lug bosses on the wheels – it flaked away and allowed the lugs to loosen. Should be fine now – I rocked each of them before setting it in place.”

“Good catch – and good ears. We ready to go?”

Al tugged at the front of his shirt, pointed forward and said “Engage.” Grinning, Sterling put the big car back in gear and pulled away, switching off the hazard lights.

The pair wandered the roads of the county for nearly an hour before the gate of the state park came into view. Paying their entry at the booth Sterling rolled the combination onto the grounds. They slowly motored along the park road, circling the west end of Worster Lake and passing over the dam until they reached the parking lot at the bathhouse, finding a parking space at the back of the busy lot for the combined car and caravan.

Shutting it down she stepped out and stretched. “I forgot how much concentration towing requires. An hour on the road and my back is stiff.” Putting hands to kidneys she arched backwards, luxuriating in the freedom to move after the confines of the car.

Al stepped out of the passenger door, all business and intent on his tasks. Bending to each wheel he checked the hubs for temperature and glanced at the braking surfaces on the disks. Peering underneath showed no leaks or fluid drips, and a study of the tyres themselves showed pressures to be perfect.

“I need to inspect Olaidh under the bonnet – would you inspect the interior of the caravan and see what chaos Indiana’s roads have committed to the contents?”

Sterling nodded, and moved to the back door, unlocking it with the key on her keyring. Al reached into the passenger compartment and opened the bonnet, propping it on its rod. A paper towel was produced from a holder under the bonnet, and a quick check of the fluids accomplished to satisfactory results.

In the meantime Sterling had been performing an inspection of the caravan. Checking the cabinets showed some settling from the movement but nothing catastrophic. The larder still held the contents of the picnic hamper, and the lights burned cheerily.
Exiting and relocking the door she joined Al, who had closed the bonnet and was standing staring at the Rover.

“Any problems?”

“Not a one. Olaidh is settling back into activity like the trouper she is. And the caravan?”

“Nothing at all out of place. Everything perfect.”

“Bravo. What do you say we enjoy the facilities, then? After the past weeks confined in the sheds I for one could do with a proper hike.”

Sterling nodded, as the old man had echoed her thoughts precisely. “Sounds like an idea. We can go for a proper hike – or as good as it gets here – and then have some lunch and an afternoon at the beach. Sound palatable?”

“Eminently. An afternoon of laying in the sun and coming to a slow roast sounds quite attractive despite tan lines.” At this, Sterling had the grace to blush.

“I am never going to hear the end of that, am I?”

“Likely not, meduck, likely not. However, that’s not for the moment more than a good hike is. Is the caravan open?”

“No – here.” She tossed the keys over and Al walked to the back with his shoulder bag. Emerging a moment later he said “I raided the hamper for hand foods and bottles of water. We’re set, now. Incidentally, the Peltier cooler is doing a fine job of keeping things cold. This will be a good test for the caravan’s electrical system and the batteries, as well.”

Sterling smiled, but her eyes were a bit distant. “Old habits die hard, it seems. Had you not done that I would have.”

Al nodded. “Far better to lug it a few miles and not want it, than to want it and not have it. Dehydration is not at all one of my favourite companions for a stroll. Shall we be off, then?”

Wordlessly Sterling turned to the trail along the back of the beach and together they strolled along.

The beach was busy. Mothers with children, vacationers, teenagers running and whooping and the inevitable games of volleyball and tetherball produced a joyous racket perfect for a summer’s day. As they left the end near the parking lot and bathhouse the scene quieted a bit, with more couples stretched out on towels enjoying the warm sunshine and considerably less activity.

Soon they left the beach area and meandered through the trees, following the well-marked trail. Rather than the billiard table flat area near the beach, here the trail rose and fell with the terrain. As they walked they caught glimpses of the other folk enjoying the park – mountain bikers on their own trail, and nearby the paved bicycle path, also wending its way through the woods.

On they hiked, stopping twice for water and a snack from Al’s bag. They reached the end of the trail where it met another – this one marked ‘rugged’.

“Fancy a challenge, Sterling?” Al said. Sterling shook her head smiling. “No, I think not. I will leave challenges and long hikes for another day – today I hear the warm sand calling me and the lure of lunch. Shall we continue?”


With that they continued through the dappled sunlight. Occasionally the trail opened out into broad expanses of preserved prairie, with the trail meandering along. Soon enough, they reached the end of the trail, then branched onto another through the campsites.

“Lovely here. I might well attempt this myself with Clara sometime. It’s a nice quiet place.” Al spoke sincerely – both his Sight and empathy said volumes as to the peacefulness here despite its long use as a holiday destination.

Sterling agreed. “Been here before, and knew how it was. Figured both of us could use the tranquility. Care for some lunch now, then the beach or beach, then lunch, then beach again?”

“The latter seems an excellent idea. I could do with a drowse in the sun after that walk, and it’s still a bit early for lunch. As a matter of fact, I propose we have lunch at one or another of the concessions rather than having to do the washing-up. Opinions?”

Sterling chuckled. “Lazy old man. However, I do agree – this does not feel like a washing-up day to me. Now, why not go and change in the caravan, then I will.”

“As you wish.” Taking the keys again Al walked to the caravan and passed out a bag with a blanket and towels along with necessities like sunblock. That done he ducked into the caravan and emerged soon after in his ‘Papa Hemingway outfit’ as he called it. Khaki swim trunks, boat shoes and a linen shirt, topped with an aviator’s ball cap to complete the outfit.

As he emerged Sterling began to clap and whistle. “No wonder Daisy adores you – a fine figure of a man, indeed!” Blushing, Al said “Enough of that now – go and change.”

“No peeking!” she jibed, and Al merely smiled. “Keep lollygagging and the sun will be down before you get to it!’ he said, prompting more laughter till the door clicked closed.

When she emerged shortly after Al was stunned. Gone was his earthy, grounded companion of the shop, and in her place was a beauty from the Riviera in finer days.

Rather than a bikini or simple maillot, she wore a conservative one-piece bathing suit in black, with white polka dots. The snug material hugged her curves and turned into a tight skirt at the bottom, coming a short distance down her hips. This was topped by a white sun jacket, short-sleeved, barely covering her to her waist but providing good coverage against sunburn.

With this she wore white sandals, lacing up her calves in the Grecian fashion, and a large white straw hat with a jaunty black ribbon to hold it in place against stray breezes. Completing the outfit was a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses in the faux-woodgrain frame pattern popular long ago.

Al began to clap, slowly, amazed at the classic beauty that had emerged from the old caravan.

Sterling stopped, pirouetted in place and uncertainly said “How do I look?”

Al answered sincerely. “Stunning. Absolutely stunning.” They gathered the beach paraphernalia and Al offered his arm. Together they strolled to the quieter end of the beach, away from the concessions and the children’s areas, and staked out their spot.

Sterling slipped off her jacket and undid the laces on her sandals, kicking them off to bury her feet in the warm sand. She handed Al the bottle of suntan lotion and said “Shoulders and back please?”

As he rubbed on the lotion he noticed her scar. His pace inadvertently slowed as he studied it, and Sterling noticed his gaze.

“You heard me – back then” she said making an oblique reference to the flashback when the car misfired. “This was collateral damage – an RPG hit something nearby and I got hit with shrapnel from the RPG and from everything between me and it.

“Glass, wood, steel, fiberglass and all came through a gap in the revetment I was in and got me. Thankfully little of it got through, or that would have been it for me.”

“I’ve seen damage like that repaired surgically. Why didn’t you have it grafted over?”

She looked at it dispassionately. “Part of it was knowing that no matter what they did I wouldn’t have it back the way it was. Another part was the difficulty they had healing it to begin with. It got infected and they ended up brushing it out with surgical soap on a few occasions before the tissue grew back healthy. Finally, it’s just – a memory. I see it and I remember those who the shrapnel didn’t miss.”

Al began to speak, then stopped. There was little to say to that, and nothing he hadn’t said countless times in the past few weeks. Lofting a prayer to his Gods that this burden be lifted from his friend he finished rubbing in the suntan lotion, and she performed the same favour for him.

Lazing, sipping water and enjoying the sunshine they lay there. The play of the children was a murmur in the background, and thankfully the rules prevented loud music or alcohol consumption so the crowd was sedate. As they reclined they talked – the conversation of old friends who had long since stopped worrying about each other and relaxed.

Conversation there was plenty, but neither remembered much of it. Subjects ranging from music, to art (Sterling was scornful of most of it), world events, travels were all grist for the mill – then the stories began.

Almost wistful, both of them reminisced about their military careers, careful even after the intervening years to stay within the bounds of Security. Al spoke of his times after his transfer from 1 Para, working with the REME as an artificer sergeant-major in command of maintenance shops.

“There was this one chap – I was amazed he’d actually managed to finish basic training. Scoggins, his name was, and they’d assigned him to me simply because they had no idea what to do with him.”

“What DID you do with him?” Sterling asked, lifting the tanning goggles off her eyes and looking over at Al.

“I was determined to teach him something, so he got assigned to lubricant work. Anything that came in due for fluid changes became Scoggins’ job. By the time a month or two went by he’d become quite adept at oil, filter and lubricant changes on everything from Land-Rovers to tanks and staff cars. After that he got more complex tasks, and actually became an adequate mechanic by the time he rotated out. He wasn’t stupid, really, just never been exposed to anything useful.

I’ve often wondered what happened to him.”

Sterling chuckled, redonning her tanning goggles and laying back on the blanket. “I had one of those as well. Nicest girl you would ever want to meet – obedient, respectful – and the biggest disaster to ever happen to crypto gear. Guaranteed if Bernice touched a piece of gear it would – not might, mind you but WOULD – fail.

“She had been transferred to us because of a medical evac we had – needed someone to fill in for someone who got sick. I despaired at keeping the equipment going until the Captain and I figured out that things happened to the gear because Bernice got nervous. When she was relaxed all was fine, but so much had happened she was wound up all the time – and then the accidents happened.”

“I take it you found a solution?”

“Aye, I did. We parked her in front of the worst, nastiest gear we had and told her we EXPECTED her to break it – we wanted to get rid of it. With that stated she relaxed – whatever happened was not her fault as we had told her we wanted the gear broken. Of course, as she was relaxed nothing at all happened, and after a few weeks on the junk she could rotate in anywhere. Got her confidence, she did, and never looked back.”

“Kudos to you and the Captain – the bad mojo cases are often the hardest to beat. Good for both of you.”

Tiring of talk they swam, then ate from the stands lining the shore by the parking lot. Al being the trencherman he was went for burgers and chips, while Sterling, mindful of her figure despite her exercise regimen, opted for lighter fare.

Back to lazing they spoke again, this time of the present and those they loved. Sterling told stories of growing up with her extended family, and of her mother’s ‘hippie friends’, now known to be her elven half-sisters.

Al spoke too, of his time now as a member of a wonderful, vital family. His dam, her children, those around him, friends and loves all. He grew a bit misty talking of them, and stopped lest his voice betray him.

“You miss them, don’t you?” Sterling asked, gently, as Al remembered too late that she was an Empath and a powerful one.

“Yes, I do. No mistake I have loved the time I’ve been here with you and working on the caravan and Olaidh, but soon I must go home. My heart calls me there, though till recently I never knew what a home was.”

She rolled to her side and slid over to him and held his hand. His eyes misted up and he squeezed back, his voice at the moment uncertain.

“Poor Warhorse. I do appreciate what you’ve done for me, I really do. Thanks to you I have a chance to go and refresh myself, and ‘grow young again’ as your friend Ialin would say.

‘Now, time to pack up. Time for a trip back to the farm, put the caravan and Olaidh away and make a good dinner.”

“Agreed. Sterling, I-“

She stopped him. “I understand, believe me. Soon I will go on my holiday and you will return to your loves – all of them.” She pecked him on the cheek. “Now, time to go.”
Last edited by Just Old Al on Sun Dec 24, 2017 1:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sun Dec 24, 2017 7:21 am

Chapter 27 – Decisions, Decisions.

Returning to the car, packing their carried gear and starting back was the work of moments. Rather than changing Sterling hopped behind the wheel in her swimsuit, tossing the hat to the back seat. Al was struck by the rightness of it all – the classic car driven by a classic beauty from a fashion magazine. There was a certain timelessness to it – nothing dated, nothing pointing to a moment in time, just the beauty of the woman against the leather and walnut of the classic car.

The trip back to the farm was quicker than the trip from it – Sterling was wasting no time, and having again gotten confident with the caravan and truck combination rolled right along. Soon the entry to the farm was in view, and the Rover tiptoed into it.

A bit of judicious backing and shuffling had the caravan into its nest in the shed, and Olaidh was soon back in her spot in the barn, none the worse for wear. Perishables cleared from the caravan and the electrical system shut down, the pair went to shower and change before preparing dinner.

Back in his khakis Al donned his chef’s jacket. Pulling large potatoes from the root bin he washed them, pricked them and set them to cooking in the microwave. Next, a flat pan had butter melted in it, with cinnamon, nutmeg, demarara sugar and a touch of molasses added. Baby carrots were then spread in this and the pan filled with water and the carrots set to cook.

Satisfied, he then went out to the yard. The charcoal grill squatted there and Al addressed it, lifting the lid, removing the grates and opening a bag of lump charcoal. He poured a portion of the sack onto the grates, coning it for optimum airflow.

Closing the bag he set it aside, then reached for his lighter. A thought stopped him, and he slid the lighter back into his pants pocket. Kneeling to the ground he centered and charged from the lands, taking energy from the leylines.

Standing again, he focused on the charcoal, willing its temperature to rise. He sensed the change and accelerated it, willing the carbon to oxidize, the temperature to rise, till…there!

A point of flame erupted and grew at the base of the cone, spreading quickly to the charcoal above it. Al blew out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, watching the flame grow among the piled lumps of charcoal. He turned away to return to the kitchen…

…to run into Sterling, standing at the door and watching him. His work friend had returned, clad in shorts and a T-shirt, hair slicked back and feet clad in battered tennis shoes.

“Neatly done. Fergus would approve.”

“Thank you. It occurred to me that it was not a bad idea – give myself a bit of a practice at magic not my own. Never tell him this but Flash has good teaching instincts.”

She snickered, knowing well the tempestuous relationship between her cousin and the old engineer. “Your secret is safe with me, as long as you get the steaks on. I am starving – that concession stand food did not stay with me.”

“I agree – I am not sure that so-called cheeseburger I had actually had any meat in with its soy filler. Dinner will be up in two shakes. Why don’t you pour yourself a drink and relax? I know you haven’t been indulging as I don’t, but this deserves a bit of a celebration.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” She returned shortly with what to Al’s eye looked like a very watered whiskey on the rocks and sat at the patio table.

In the meantime Al had again been to the kitchen, pulling out two steaks he’d had marinating in soy, wine, Worcestershire and spices. These were patted dry and flipped over the now-distributed coals, sizzling as they hit the preheated oiled racks.

A quick trip to check the carrots and a return with tongs showed the steaks cooking nicely over the orange nimbus of the coals. He resisted the temptation to poke at them, knowing the meat best cooked is that left alone. He sat at the table with Sterling, trusting his nose would tell him when it was time to interfere.

Sterling toyed with her drink on the table, fidgeting slightly. She then asked, “So, opinions on today?”

“Lovely place, lovely beach, lovely company. Olaidh showed her breeding by behaving well, and the caravan did what it needed to. I call it a net success.”

Sterling pursed her lips, thinking. Al as an Empath could feel her emotions – a tangle of eagerness, fear, uncertainty and just plain doubt. Al tolerated the silence as long as needed and a few seconds more, then he spoke.

“All right. What is making you so mixed on this?” He looked up and caught her eye, not trying to force a response but to hold engagement.

“All this…has been theoretical. Yes, we got Olaidh running again, and the caravan is itself again and more – those mattresses are lovely! – but it’s all been theoretical.

“Now, staring down departure and…I have no wish to. I love it here. Even when I am alone it is comforting here. The lands have a tranquility around them thanks to you and my family. Why would I want to leave?”

Al sighed and stood. Getting up to flip the steaks he walked back behind Sterling and hugged her from behind, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. He could feel the tension there, and felt them slump slightly as he applied a bit of downward pressure.

She reached up and held his arms and they held the pose for a minute, just enjoying each other’s presence. Then, nose warning him of imminent loss of dinner Al released Sterling, went over and flipped the steaks onto a platter, covering the grill to let the remaining coals burn off the residue on the grates.

“Let’s go and eat. Bring your drink – you’re not going to offend me!”

Together they sat at the kitchen table as Al prepared two plates, then doffed his jacket and sat at his plate.

Rare steak, horseradish, baked potato with condiments and glazed carrots is a fine meal if properly done – and Al and Sterling tucked in with gusto. Once the initial pace slowed Al looked at his dinner partner, who’d been looking at her plate and deliberately not making eye contact.

“Sterling, I completely understand what you’re saying. This is your home, and now that it’s been properly cleaned it’s perfect. Why go anywhere?”

Sterling looked up, a bit startled. Obviously I just interrupted thoughts exactly matching what I just said. The Sergeant-Major in his gunroom chuckled quietly, agreeing with Al’s thought.

“Have I ever told you what I did the day before I left on my walkabout?” Al asked, and Sterling shook her head as she forked up another bite of rare steak.

“I was feeling exactly as you are. While tired and burned out, I’d seen Clara rebuilt as new, cleaned – thank you for that! – and home and hearth tranquil and serene. Simply, why leave?

“I was standingand staring at Clara and Ialin settled to my shoulder. I’d never seen her before other than in dreams – it was a shock. She told me why I needed to go – and I’m going to tell you the same.

“You need to go and tilt at windmills that won’t tilt back. You need to adventure where life and death are NOT on the line. We of the Band Of Brothers treat life like a life and death challenge every minute of every day – and that doesn’t promote tranquility.”

Sterling looked up and spoke. “”But why do I have to leave here to do that? I don’t want to leave – I love it here.”

Al spoke again and Sterling listened, but was confused at the complete ignoring of her question. “After Ialin imparted her wisdom, I went into town. Went to Mucho Mocha, had a coffee and a talk with Greg, then headed out at random. No idea where I was going – I just wandered.

“After a bit, I found myself on a little back street, and pulled into a parking area that fronted an empty lot. That empty lot…was my life.”

Sterling looked at the old man, feeling the bleakness of his emotions at that moment. Al continued, seeing but not seeing the cozy kitchen he sat in.

“I walked there among the ruins of my old life – the shop where I’d spent so many lonely days. I realized then that going wasn’t leaving my loves and new life behind – it was recharging so I could be everything I could for them – and for myself.

Al took her hand, steak and vegetables forgotten at the moment. “You, luv, need to do the same. Your world will be here when you get back, your life will be here, your work, your loves…all of them. And when you DO get back you’ll be able to be everything you can’t be now because you’re tired.”

He left the table abruptly, and Sterling looked after him, then began to pick at her food again. Returning, Al laid a small leather pouch on the table.

“For you. I was going to hide it in the caravan so you’d find it on the road, but…here.”

She stopped eating, picked up the slim sack, and opened it, decanting its contents into her hand.

Crystals, one of amethyst, one of clear quartz, and one of a brilliant olive-green stone slid from the silk-lined pouch into her hand.

“They’re beautiful. Are they what I think they are?”

“Yes. Amethyst for regaining balance, and the green is peridot – we had it cut specially for you. Peridot is a wounded healer’s aid – it’s a stone that helps amplify the aid a healer can give one who has suffered as he has. I thought it appropriate.”

“And the clear?”

“Beacon. You need me, snap it and I am there, day or night. Call it Mage AAA – and you’re a lifetime member.” Al grinned. “So, where are you going?”

Setting the crystals back in their pouch she looked across the table at her dinner companion.

“Any suggestions?”

Al, having returned his attentions to his now-tepid plate, pondered a moment as he forked up another mouthful of beef. Chewing, he thought, then swallowed and answered.

“As I mentioned before I think the ocean would be the place for you. As a water mage you have a natural affinity for it, and I personally find it tremendously tranquil even though that is not the way my affinities lie.

“Sitting in an Adirondack chair by the water is tremendously relaxing. The random noise of the water movement, the clean, uncluttered horizon, the occasional views of ships or other watercraft…it’s quite therapeutic.

“At this time of the year I’d stay North – attempting the Gulf Coast would have you melting into your tennis shoes – as well as regularly thumping morons who don’t understand courtesy. Opinions?”

Sterling pondered, her dinner demolished. Standing, she primed the kettle and the Aeropress for after-dinner coffee and sat back down.

“I…think you may be right. The time we spent near the lake today, and the bond to it relaxed me nicely. Swimming is definitely on my list of favorite exercises. So, where?”

“I would head East, were it me. While the far West is beautiful as well, having Olaidh haul the caravan through the mountains would be a strain, as would be driving her. East also has more of interest – museums, art, regions to visit and so on – and that’s as important as the journey itself – or do you remember what I said about enjoying the trip?”

Sterling smiled. “Yes, Mother – I do remember. It may not have appeared so, but I WAS listening!” She grinned, stress fading as the decision had been made.

“Should you get that far, I will give you a letter to my friends in Lockeharbour, Nova Scotia. I doubt you’ll make it that far, but should you do, merely go to the general store and introduce yourself to M’Sieur Le Maire.” Al pronounced it in the proper French and Sterling chuckled, remembering his stories.

“The Maine coast is beautiful, as is all of New England, actually. I’d avoid the worst of the tourist traps were I you, and definitely with your grace and beauty keep a supply of sharp and shiny objects to hand. If you are not planning on entering Canada bring a friend, but be aware that Canada frowns on people smuggling arms to the tune of jail time.”

“I will heed your advice, and Olaidh has locking storage. Should I decide to go into Canada I will hunt up a gunsmith in Maine and have my weapon stored there against my return, so that is feasible.”

“I think we have a winner – East it is.”
Last edited by Just Old Al on Sun Dec 24, 2017 1:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sun Dec 24, 2017 7:25 am

Chapter 28 – Over And Out.

The Rover sat in the yard in the early morning. Hitched to its back end was the caravan – an odd but somehow cozy pair.

Two days had passed since the successful run out – busy ones.

Sterling had been occupied organizing her personal goods in the caravan, packing things into the available storage. Like before, she managed nicely to avoid packing bags, everything from shoes to suits, outerwear to hats finding a spot in the lockers or the underbed storage.

Kitchen gear was aboard, water tanks filled, and Al had been over Olaidh and the caravan’s systems with a fine tooth comb, as well as equipping the caravan with ample supplies of perishable and non-perishable provisions for whatever suited Sterling’s tastes for meals.

The barn and storage shed were again empty – the carts of equipment, supplies and tools all returned to RE between Sterling and an increasingly overtaxed Al.

The house was clean – kitchen empty of everything but staples, perishables composted or packed aboard for use. The rooms were swept, beds made and the wards checked for protection. The only detritus left was in the pans on the stove and the plates on the table – and Al would tend to those before he left.

Sterling shoveled in a forkful of eggs, swallowed, and continued talking. “Now, after I leave all I need from you is to stop by every few days if you would. Red and Skitty will be fine while Olaidh and I are away, but if you could start them every week or so to make certain their batteries are all right that would be lovely.”

Al, shoveling pancakes onto her plate to go with the eggs and bacon, nodded. Starting pancakes for himself he added “I am aware of what’s needed, dear. Relax – your homestead will be here happily awaiting you when you return. Red and Skitty will be here as well. Worse to worst if I’m called away on business – unlikely but possible with the MIB prats or some customer emergency – I’ll contact Fergus and Maura or yer mum and have them drop by.

“Do you have your crystals and beacons?”

Sterling smiled, addressing the pancakes with a knife and fork as she answered. “Yes, I do. They’re in my bag, and will be in my pockets on the road. I’ve the ones I always carry, and your gifts you lovely man.”

“Not just mine – my dear dam was involved up to her adorable nose in their creation.” He sat down, buttered and syruped the pancakes and turned to in a businesslike manner.

Thank her for me, then – as I hope you will.” She stopped and took Al’s hand, looking him straight in the eyes. “Old man, I owe you more than I can repay. Can you forgive me for that?”

He extracted his hand and patted hers, hoping to dispel the mood. “You owe me NOTHING. Not for this, not for the work on Olaidh, not for the work on the caravan – nothing. Put it from your mind.”

"I DO owe you for things that I can repay. The spend on Olaidh and the caravan was substantial, and your presence here for two weeks will not be inexpensive added to the shop time for refurbishment of components at RE-"

"NONE of which we are going to discuss till you return." The steel was in his words, and Sterling realized quickly that arguing with him was pointless. "That is not for today. I have kept track of things as you asked me to, and we will deal with it at a later date. Understood?"

He paused, then spoke again. “There is one thing you can do for me, though.”

He got up, snagged a flat bag from the table beside the door, and sat again. Handing her the bag, he said “Try and write in this. I don’t want to read it, and don’t think anyone will. This is a place to keep your thoughts, have arguments with yourself and distill the days onto paper. If you wish, think of it as an adjunct to your camera and sketch pad – it will help you remember the days for the book you’re NOT GOING TO WORK ON, RIGHT?”

She chuckled, then opened the package.

In her hands was a diary, bound in leather with hand-marbled end leaves. On the spine was nothing but the number 1, applied in hot-stamped gold leaf between the ribbing. The pages, when she flipped through them, were undated, merely lined sheets of fine archival paper awaiting sketches, notes or anything she chose to apply to them. She sucked in her breath.

“Warhorse…this is beautiful. I cannot write in this - it would be sinful.”

“If you don’t I will be most disappointed. I have nearly a shelf of volumes much like this one, going back decades. What you are holding is my spare – I always have one on the shelf for when the one I am currently using is full. As that won’t be for some time yet I deed it to you and have ordered a replacement – and hope you will find it in your heart to commit the ‘sin’ of using it.

“Like all good Englishmen I was looking forward to writing my memoirs in my dotage – but instead I find myself living a whole new life instead. It may yet happen, but not for many years. You, Miss Mage, may wish to think about it as well. With the number of books you’ve written a memoir would be most welcome to your public when the time comes.” He gestured at her plate, forgotten for the moment. “Now eat up. You have miles to go, and I have dishes to do.”

An hour later breakfast was done, the kitchen tidied and the scraps and waste added to the compost heap or bagged for Warhorse to take to the landfill. The house was tidied and locked up, the wards ready to protect it from evil.

Olaidh was idling, coming back to temperature. Al stood, hand pressed to her bonnet, feeling the thrum of the finely-tuned V8 under the bonnet, and silently praying to the Lord and Lady for a successful outcome to the trip for his friend.

Sterling stood next to him. “I…am going through with this, right?”

Al smiled. “You most certainly are. I did NOT go to all of this effort for you to get cold feet and decide to stay home.” The smile belied the harshness of the words, but Sterling heard an echo of the Sergeant-Major in them. Full in intent and half in jest. Seems I am being thrown out to go adventuring. Thank you, old man – for everything .

They hugged, deeply, rocking together. As they separated their hands held until they finally slipped apart.

Sterling climbed in behind the wheel after personally inspecting the connections between caravan and truck and settled in, buckling her harness.

Taking a deep breath she put the truck in gear, and slowly rolled down the driveway. After twenty feet or so she stopped, leaned out the window and shouted, “Are you coming? Only for today, mind – I am NOT sharing the caravan with you – you snore!”

“Snore, indeed. Very well, but only for today – I am expected home and honestly need to be there.” He walked to the passenger’s seat, climbed in and sat, buckling his harness.

“Let us be off, then.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sun Dec 24, 2017 7:26 am

And from Dinky Inky and your humble scrivener Merry Christmas and Blessed Yule.

- Just Old Al.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by DinkyInky » Sun Dec 24, 2017 8:17 pm

Happy Christmas, and may the season bring you joy to last until the next.

Yanno how some people have Angels/Devils for a conscience? I have a Dark Elf ShadowKnight and a Half Elf Ranger for mine. The really bad part is when they agree on something.

Aphyon chu kissa whol l'jaed.
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Atomic » Sun Dec 24, 2017 11:27 pm

Happy Merry and a Seasonal Greetings to you all!
Don't let other peoples limitations become your constraints!

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