After dinner, Leigh finally siezed a moment to take stock of herself. After the long flight, and the opening formalities, and dinner, she hoped that she didn't look like how she felt - drooping. Her table companions had made polite chitchat, to which she had done well enough to contribute an honest smidgen of involvement now and then, though her roiling innards and dry mouth had killed any appetite she might have had. Better to go without, she figured, than to try choking something down only to puke it up later.
That was always the case when Leigh was in a new situation; it took several days for her to get back to a semblance of normality. This, however, tended to cause consternation with food handlers and caretakers well aware of the more delicate equilibrium of aircraft in comparison with ground vehicles. A car could miss a few meals, and be fine. A helicopter... that was a different story. For all her kind, "eating right" wasn't just a matter of bright, shiny eyes, but potentially life and death. Leigh knew that, but at these times it was difficult to get the point across to her subconscious, or her insides.
The additional caterers brought in for the occasion, specialists in aircraft needs, frowned slightly as they rolled away with her untouched plates. Attendees' nutritional needs were determined by their models, specs and expected performance envelopes, and disclosed in advance on their registration forms. The last-minute substitution of Leigh for her injured superior had been enough of a hassle for the staff; once they reached the cover of counters and kitchen equipment, they rolled their eyes.
As Leigh pulled back and they started moving the tables out of the way, people were drifting outside, mingling on the lodge's front entrance court. The Agusta mix was feeling a bit flushed, and hoped to heaven that it was just because of the warm room she was now exiting and not the onset of her monthly estrus cycle - that was SUPPOSED to be next week, but the base doctor had advised her to take some suppressants with her anyway, and it was on the orderly's packing list. First thing before retiring for the night, she'd take a pill. In the meantime, Leigh could only hope for a steady breeze that blew away from the lodge grounds. She hunched slightly, retracting her rotors over her spine as she passed the two police choppers from the northeast. The two had been loud enough all evening, but the passing hours had failed to take the edge off their abrasiveness as the RCAF captain gingerly skirted them.
"Ooh, where's SHE been hiding all night?" the NYC cop chortled. A strong scent rolled off his breath, causing Leigh to jerk back. Whatever it was, he'd had one too many. Perhaps more than one.
"Well, if she told you, she'd have to find a new place to hide." his companion guffawed raucously. With a snort and what she hoped was a withering glare, Leigh picked up her pace once she was clear of them. What she wanted now was a quiet place to loiter until an exit could be politely made. Their words still floated across the night air, "Is that an ice queen or what? Canadian girls, they think their smoke don't stink."
There was another snort, but not from Leigh's direction. This one was was like an explosion of cold steel shards, and the cops pivoted in unison, as if yanked around by their chins. They faced another pair of blue eyes that chilled them like a sudden relapse of winter. The voice that accompanied it wasn't much warmer.
"Gentlemen," the interloper hiked on his gear, narrowed his gaze and looking down his black-topped nose. "You may be a long way from the big city, but you still need to pack your manners along with your other necessities, and leave the catcalls at home."
The cops smirked, and the larger one opened his mouth. "Hey Big Red, who d'ya think you are, her old man? Better stick to giving speeches." His over-lubricated bravado drew the attention of the UTV, the skid-steer and the telehandler, and they came up beside their boss, silent but resolved.
"You're not in your own jurisdiction now." the air boss continued. "If there is still a problem, I would be happy to call up park security and you can discuss it with them. But I would rather not have to take the glow off anyone's evening, so I strongly suggest you mind your behavior from now on." He caught the eye of Andre, the concierge, as the pitty came out to investigate. Andre took immediate stock of the situation, and raised a tine to the catering staff working the bar, making a cut-off motion. They nodded.
"Hey, you're not cuttin' us off now!" the smaller one protested. "We hardly got started!"
"Well, it just ended." Another voice boomed in. The park's structural engine rolled between the disputing parties, his roof nozzle orienting on the obnoxious duo in a way they didn't appreciate at all. Blade and his team pulled back to allow him room. Pulaski's face projected both immovability and that unique look of disgust that only veteran firefighters could muster. "You two can either settle down, or you can call it a night, or we make a call back to your respective chiefs and mayors' offices. Your choice."
"That last sounds very appealing." Now it was Blade's turn to smirk. By now, Cabbie, Windlifter and Maru had alerted to the trouble and rolled up to flank their companions, and the other two smokejumpers were on their way. "Officer NYC" and "Officer Boston" were not only out of their jurisdictions, but vastly outnumbered. "I could do that right now, you know." Blade's smirk became a tight grin. "It's gotta be, what, almost eleven, eastern time? Mayors and police chiefs sure do appreciate late-night calls, don't they? But it doesn't have to be that way if you two mind your p's and q's for the rest of the weekend, and conduct yourselves like civilized adults. Don't get drunk -- and don't get inappropriate. That's all."
The eastern choppers scowled, but they knew they were beaten in this round. With muttered apologies, they retreated to the far west end of the court, where there was not so much lighting as twilight was giving way to the night. Blade's patented glare-of-doom followed them until they were well out in that quarter, and his ears heard a few profane references to himself and others. He turned to the others. "I wasn't planning for us to be here very late, but I don't want those two raising hell again, especially while the humans are on the floor in the lodge." He shifted to allow a dolly-load of stage gear by his tail boom as it was rolled to the lodge entrance.
"No worries, Blade." Maru cracked a smile. "As long as it's a concert and not a clown show."
"Especially drunk clowns." Dynamite sniffed with distaste.
Pulaski spoke up again. "Security's here." Two SUV types in park livery came up, acknowledging the firefighters with a nod before assuming positions by the doors.
"Thank you." Blade returned the nod. "Now, let's go check up on Dusty and Dipper, shall we?" It was a good excuse to wash the taste of the last five minutes out of his mouth.
Myfanwy blinked sleepily as Maeve cradled her on the steps of the support trailer. The converted gooseneck race hauler was surrounded by a small, hushed crowd of vehicles, buffered by Jammer and Pauline, the dually woman contracted to the Eightball work crew. They had informal backup from the two Coastie choppers and Rosaleen, an older Bombardier water bomber who could have passed for a larger Canadian cousin of Dipper's. Maeve was relieved that the onlookers, though curious, were quiet and co-operative, though the raised voices from the lodge entrance caused her a small bit of concern. "What's going on there?"
Pauline pivoted slightly with a drop of her right front fender as she glanced back, then flattened her sideviews and curled her lip. "Oh, I was really hoping we'd get through this thing without somebody deciding to be "that guy", but as usual, my hopes are dashed." The midnight-blue dually, though new to the humans, was finally getting comfortable enough to show her sarcastic side. Maeve wondered what Pauline would come out with when the target was really asking for it.
On the opposite side of the trailer, Jammer was listening in on his radio. "Couple of folks had a bit much to drink, and let their mouths run. Nothing security can't deal with."
"Sounds like most every other con I've been to." the voice of Maeve's better half filtered out of the trailer. "Remember the last RalphCon, when a few druggies iniltrated and some tweaker set a couch on fire? I had to give one of those jerks some carpet burn."
"I've tried to forget, my love." Maeve chuckled in rueful recollection. "RalphCon was blacklisted from every hotel in upstate NY for three years afterward."
From the crowd outside, a voice inquired. "YOU gave him carpet burn?"
Alan edged past Daryl and Sylvie to stick his head outside, over Maeve's head. "Swear to Ghod, Dusty. I was working out more at that time, and I was in the Dorsai Irregulars - volunteers who provided security at sci-fi cons. Been there, done that, got the beanie. We were going through the hotel, specifically the con floors, looking for these druggies. My patrol buddy and I had just come around a corner on the "party floor" and this guy just screamed and LUNGED at us. I just swatted him, and he went flying and skidding along the carpet, right on his face. It took enough wind out of him that we could get ahold of him for the cops, but they told me later that he'd been just FLYING on bath salts."
Dusty winced at the mental imagery. "That must've been one unhappy landing." The cropduster-type's eyes flicked momentarily to Dipper, but her attention was still taken up with the baby, to his apparent relief. "But I guess he walked away from it."
"More like "staggered away from it", but fortunately, that was about as bad as it got casualty-wise."
"Except for the burned couch, huh?"
"Yeah, that too." Alan paused for a sip from his water bottle. "You recall that song we sang at the camp party at your Cornfest last year? "Never Set the Cat on Fire?" Before that RalphCon was over, people were singing, "Never Set the Couch On Fire."
Dusty stifled a laugh. "Chug was still trying to make sense of that song three days after."
"Banned From Argo" would have befuddled him even more." Sylvie cracked from her position on the couch just inside.
"I never heard that one." Dusty perked up. "Can you sing that one tonight?"
"Maybe at the tail end when everyone's lubed up and feeling too good to care what's playing." Alan smirked.
"As long as things don't get too "happy". Bree spoke up from her position to the right and rear. The HH-65 took note of another group approaching. "There's the rest of your team."
Dipper finally looked up, realizing that she'd missed something. "Huh? Something happen at the lodge?"
"Just some alligator mouths with hummingbird tails." Blade answered as he closed the distance a body-length ahead of the others. "Not worth paying attention to."
Juno stuck her nose out from the other side of the trailer. "Some people still think their obligation to be mannerly is inversely proportional to their distance from home." Her eyes met Blade's for a beat or two, holding them for an instant as she leaned left and flicked her rotors a quarter turn. Maru, just out of Blade's field of vision, suppressed a snicker. The air boss might have wondered if he'd merely exchanged minefields, but a woman's flirtation was nothing he couldn't cope with, however long ago his "party years".
Bree felt her jaw tightening, and cut off the grimace at the pass. As long as Juno stuck to sidelong glances and no more than that, they might survive this weekend. Dawn appeared at one of the trailer windows, leaning out to see who had come up. "Looks like little Myf has some more fans."
"Yeah, she's adorable." Bree was happy to think about something else. "She's taking all the attention pretty well."
"Yeah, she's quite chill about it all." Dawn leaned out further, elbow propped on the window frame. "I'm gonna be looking after Myf while her mommy's on the stage."
"Think I'll stay with you." Bree yawned. She had already heard most of the songs already. "Been a long two days. And I'm still working through that ebook."
"Still on Gibbon's Decline and Fall?"
"Yeah. Gotta get that reading list off to Admiral Broadbow before mid-summer."
"I remember we sent him some movies at some point."
"Yeah. He especially liked All Quiet on the Western Front and... get ready for this... the old Disney cartoons. Especially the ones with Donald Duck. Wants to see some of the movies now."
"I wonder what he'd make of Snow White?"
"I think he'd get into it. He's a secret romantic. Figured out that much." She moved aside as a small streak of olive-drab buzzed past, then halted abruptly amidst the crowd. "Does anyone here have suppressors?"
"Have what?" Alan and Daryl leaned out over Maeve's head.
"It's... uh... a lady thing." the tug's face turned a deeper shade beneath his paint.
"For estrus?" Juno frowned slightly. "Afraid we haven't got any, we get shots for that."
"The captain can't take shots, because, allergies! Gotta be pills. PILLS!" he almost spun in place.
"Hey, hey, take it easy!" Tad, the Coastie tug, brought the Canadian around to face him. "You almost ran into some folks here, and there's humans about as you can see. What's the problem?"
The orderly finally found words. "I... forgot her suppressors."
"Whose?" Tad leaned in, with Bree over his fender.
"Captain Parsons." he pointed to the slender olive shadow lingering past the court. "She's coming into season early. She's already kinda edgy because she thinks those juiced-up cops were reacting to her scent. She's probably right. It's all my fault. I should've made sure everything was in the baggage. I thought it was, but I'm not used to this."
"Looking after a woman, you mean?" Juno came around from the trailer's other side. "OK, you're sure there's no place around here you could get those pills?"
"Nearest drugstore's fifteen miles from here," Maru finally broke in, "but that stuff needs a prescription. You'd have to get it phoned in, and they're closed 'til tomorrow."
The orderly seemed to shrink. "Oh, great. Just great. The major's gonna tear me apart when we get back."
Blade was listening, but he and his people were taking a wait-and-see attitude before they got further involved in this. Blade, big and bulled-out as he was, was not inclined to approach the woman in question and rattle her further. But he could already get whiffs of her scent, and it was getting stronger. It had little or no effect on the behavior of most helicopter men, aside from advertising peak fertility, but another undesirable and obnoxious side-effect of "juicing-up" was a greater susceptibility to the pheremones emitted by a female in that state. Before, the easterners had just been a loudmouthed annoyance.
Now, things could get downright explosive.
"Ten minutes." Alan called out. Maeve handed Myfanwy over to Dawn. The other three band members were ready. Pauline, assessing the situation, thought it better that they ride to the lodge in her truckbed rather than walk anywhere near the testy eastern cops. Windlifter took it on himself to shadow the dually as she ferried the performers over.
The vehicles gathered in the court parted like the Red Sea before the staff of Moses as the little convoy passed through. Only "Officer New York" was a little balky, glaring at Pauline as he took his time in making way. Windlifter snorted lightly as the cop jigged his blades and grumbled.
"Excuse us, please." the skycrane intoned, "Before the 70's pukes all over YOU."