NOTE: This is derived from the "Swept Away" RP continuity which started in 2007 and has continued in various forms and spinoffs ever since, first on the old Hillbilly Hell forum and presently in Wingnut City. I'm sure it's not the first or only "Humans in the Carsverse" thing that ever came up, but boy, has it had staying power. By the in-RP timeline, the events of Planes 2 would be taking place perhaps 6 years after the humans' arrival.
Disclaimer: Don't own no canon characters. They belong to Disney. Weesa be makin' no money offa dis!
Mii crouched just short of the forest's edge, eyes narrowed as she studied the well-lit lodge and its environs. She was still rubbing pine needles over her clothes as a last-minute scent cover. Nick's mote hovered nearby, flaring momentarily as he caught sight of a certain bright-white SUV swanning about the outer promenade. A train whistle sounded as a steam engine hauled in another load of guests. "Already way too many peeps there." Nick grumbled. "Maker forbid there's a fire, such fun they'd have evacuating everybody." He paused as he observed a structural engine following the superintendant. "And that guy knows it, too."
True enough, there was an underlying tint of disgust on the yellow fire engine's otherwise stolid features, which crept to the border of "profound contempt" when the boss wasn't looking in his direction. "He must regret taking this job by now." Mii'auww sniffed as she did a final check of her person, making sure that everything she wore was secure, and there was nothing that could rattle, catch, come loose or fall out of her pockets. Looking up again, she saw the white SUV greet another, older off-road type who had just come off the train. By the gladhanding body language on Spinner's part, this visitor was someone of much higher rank. "Now, that one looks like he MIGHT have a brain in him."
Nick's spark rose a few inches. "Think that's the Secretary of the Interior. Don't know much about him, but he looks like a reasonable guy. Hope he can see through all the BS Cad's throwing at him."
Mii gave herself one final pat-down. "OK. Ready as I'll ever be." She scanned the clear space, looking for the path most shadowed, and stepped onto the grass. Once she was out in the open, she had to keep moving. Her course was a bit windy owing to the lighting conditions that could change any moment, due to headlights, but finally she tucked herself in behind a shrub while studying the front entrance. The breeze was blowing towards her and into the woods, not blasting her scent into the crowd zone. So far, so good. Between her and the doorway was a big executive jet, just lounging there. But his body provided more convenient shadows and she slipped into them, waiting for an opportunity. That arose in a minute's time, when an older RV couple approached, oblivious to everything but what was ahead of their noses. Their bodies screened the girl quite effectively as she finally stole into the building and crept behind several well-laden luggage carts. Mii still kept moving, however, and did not rest until she came to a draped table. Nick stayed in close to her, tamping his sparklight down to "Dust Fleck" level.
"Just in time. There's Dusty." Nick intoned. "Fortunately, his "girl fiend" will keep his mind off of any scents he could catch."
"Hope so." Mii'auww took note of the others in Dusty's party, especially the big green skycrane. "That one is HUGE."
"Aw, damn.." Nick's voice seemed to be rolling its eyes. "Spinner pulled out all the stops for this one. Celebrities??? OK, that Reynolds guy, he did a guest spot on our show once. He seemed to be a pretty good sort, but I hope he doesn't hang around too long, for his own sake."
"I see your point." Mii frowned. Nothing could be worse, she figured, than to be a boat stuck on a trailer if things went sideways. But she couldn't let the novelty of the situation distract her. Her eyes went to a long counter that stood kitty-corner from her present position. That, she realized, was the coffee shop. Getting there would be... tricky. Lots of customers, not to mention the baristas moving about. Way too much open space between here and there. Then, a car woman emerged from the spa area, and a cloud of steam wafted out with her. Mii siezed the chance, weaving through it until she found a service cart that was also draped, and scuttled beneath the immaculate, pleated linen. Presently, she noticed the little gold-plated things scuttling about, collecting dirt. The Mountain now had a few such creatures, though not nearly so fancy. Harmless little things, she reckoned, with varying degrees of personality.
Glancing back towards Dusty, Mii'auww could see that air tanker girl still had him good and cornered as she cooed over an ice sculpture in the farther part of the lobby. It was almost laughable, if not for the RESCUE-ME look that crept into the cropduster-type's face. Off in another corner, there was a THWAAACK! as a cutout of the superintendant, for people to have their picture taken with, fell over for the third time. Nick growled, on guard. "Slag. That's Wally. He won't do too much in here, but he definitely knows something's up. Good thing he hates Cad more than he gives a #$% about us."
"Let's hope he keeps hating on Cad." Mii took a wary peek outside, and contemplated how she was going to negotiate the last open area to the coffee shop counter. But just then, one of the staff pitties came up and yanked at the cart handle. Mii'auww tucked into a tight foetal position as the cart, with a load of champagne flutes up top, was wheeled across the lobby in a meandering course, its handler doling out beverages to the party guests. Her heart went in her mouth as it veered towards Dusty and his "escort", but he declined the offer of champagne with a distracted shake of his nose. The cart was pushed onward, and Mii realized that it was actually bringing her closer to the coffee bar. She contemplated her next move, and hoped the baristas would be too slammed to notice anything else going on. So this was what their society was like, and it was... not TOO different from that of humans, in many ways. Except for the spectacle of a big green helicopter trying on sunglasses at the gift shop. He flipped them on and off his nose in a suprisingly facile manner, like a dog snatching a biscuit that had been balanced on its nose. Well, when one had no appendages, one had to make do. Some better than others.
Casting an eye back in Dusty's direction, Mii saw him drawn into conversation with the old RV couple, the same ones who had unwittingly screened her entry earlier. As she observed them, the first adjectives that popped into her head were English ones, "cute" and "adorable" being among them. Her people had words for "appealling" and "pleasant", but nothing analogous to "cute" to describe any person beyond childhood. That was one of the Mountain peoples' cultural concepts that had wormed its way into her brain. Not that it was a bad thing, they seemed like quite nice people.
Then, some raucous laughter drew her attention back to the area before the cafe. Several young cars - exotic types - milled about as they looked for distractions in a gathering of mostly adults. Mii gritted her teeth as they whooped it up just feet away from her. "Bored rich kids." Nick muttered crossly. "Nothing worse than trust fund babies with nothing to do." Sure enough, one of them argued with the champagne server because she wouldn't give them any; they were all underage. With empty threats and curses, the young sports cars retreated back towards the cafe, but then something else caught their eyes... a flash of gold.
One of the floor-sweepers was busy scooping up dust and shredded packet remnants from the floor around the tables. One of the exotics, a Ferrari in signature red, grinned evilly and put out a tire ahead of the little creature, stopping it in its tracks. It promptly spun about and tried to move off, but the teenager's foretire lifted and swatted it hard, sending the cleaner scooting across the floor like a hockey puck. The other two kids joined in, batting the poor little thing about as a cat would toy with its prey, until it finally struck a table pedastal and spun off, and rebounded into the counter. It sat there, stunned, for a beat or two, then moved away slowly, as if limping. It had sustained a small but visible dent in its side.
"Oh, slag!" Nick groaned. "That little guy's gonna end up scrapped if Cad sees him now." Mii was now quite glad she hadn't had anything to eat lately; the whole scene had left her with bile in her mouth. She balled up further as the youngsters were confronted by the air attack team's mechanic, who served up his opinion of their conduct with a side order of invective distinctly four-lettered and Anglo-Saxon in origin. This drew the attention of both Cad and Dusty, who, with tight, awkward smiles, separated the arguing parties, with the latter suggesting that the mechanic join him and the others outside on the patio with the RV couple. As for the sports cars, Cad placated them with free coffee and gift shop coupons before moving on back to the VIPs.
"They're lucky it was only Maru." Nick snorted. "Blade... would've eviscerated'em, and he woulda been a complete bastard about it, too. Assuming, of course, that he'd be caught anywhere near this place of his own free will."
"Uh-oh." Mii looked down. The sweeper had taken a turn in their direction, whimpering as it burrowed under the cart, which was once again stationary and against the wall beside the cafe. The noise it was making would surely draw someone's attention.
Slowly, almost against her better judgement, Mii extended a hand through the gap on the wall side. She'd had some contact with the sweepers at the Mountain, and knew that they responded to gentle handling, not unlike pets. This one had never known humans, but maybe it would settle down if touched.
"There, there." she subvocalized, running her fingers along the sweeper's outer rim. The creature shuddered and froze for a beat or two, then leaned into it. "It's all right, little one. Those nasty kids can't get you here."
Nick sighed "Oh great, we might end up with another mouth to feed."
"Spoiled brats." Mii'auww peered through the tiny gap in the drapery, as the young exotics continued to mouth off, to each other and no one in particular, to the annoyance of every other partygoer within earshot. Depending on the type of vehicle, the range of "earshot" could vary. No wonder the aircraft had gravitated to the outside patio! In a perverse way, they might have done Mii and Nick a favor, now that there were only the blunter senses of road vehicles to deal with. Her eyes went back to the space behind the coffee counter, and the ingredients it contained. She knew what cinnamon looked and smelt like. There were clear, euro-styled glass canisters of seasonings lined up on a shelf against the back wall. The one second from right contained something definitely of that look and texture. Now, she only had to wait for an opportunity to present itself.
WHAM! Cad's cutout once again hit the floor, and Nick would have been amused if not for the accompanying air movements that felt not so much like a breeze as a slow-rolling shockwave moving through the lobby like an invisble tsunami, though the guests just took it for the night air rolling in. It was enough to stir the cart's linen cover, exposing its occupant for a fleeting but heart-stopping second. If Nick had still been among the living, his mouth would have gone dry in that instant. Damn. Wally's here. Shoulda known he couldn't resist crashing Cad's "I LOVE ME" party.
Mii, however, had more to be concerned about. The SUV towing one of the party's celebrity guests pulled to a stop just three feet away, placing his charge almost within touching distance. The cabin cruiser in the trailer looked to be a thirty-footer at least, and was apparently taking a momentary break from his public facade. "Dan, did you hear what that old ranger said? About the conditions?"
"He said it was one of the driest seasons in ten years, Mr. Reynolds." The SUV answered. "Our charter jet just texted me, Dee's smelling dry wood and grass and a few whiffs of smoke from the north, and she's getting twitchy. She's all fueled and ready to go, just as soon as this thing is over."
"Smart girl." The yacht glanced back towards his host, who was again schmoozing his way about the room. "Let her know it'll be another hour before we can get away. It'll probably take that long to make the "goodbye round."
"OK." the tower nodded. "She just texted in again to say the earlier the better, because if those quote-unquote "playboy gits" go out as low as they came in, their wash might spread some sparks around. They've also been hitting on her all night, and there's one Brazilian guy in particular who just won't leave her alone."
"Gits". Reynolds chortled, "I like that word. Brits have the best insults." His eyes snapped smartly to port. "Oh, here HE comes again."
"Is this joint hoppin' tonight? YES IT IS!" the SUV man clapped Reynolds' hull a little over-enthusiastically with his right foretire; the powerboat just managed to stifle a wince. "I've got a fantastic photo op lined up for ya - you and Dusty Crop-HOPPAHHH! He'll be here just as soon as Andre rustles him up from wherever he's gone off to, shouldn't take a minute."
"Sure, Mr. Spinner." the yacht smiled politely.
Behind the trolley's drapes, Mii recoiled. This was WAY too close for safety.
"At least he got the poor bastard's last name right this time." Nick noted sourly. "Just stay as still as you can. Movement spreads scent, remember?"
Mii'auww nodded, gulping. Hopefully the pine needles she'd rubbed all over would be enough of a mask. Hopefully all the other scents would be too much for a plane's sensitive nose to pick out a single one. She didn't have much time to speculate; in a beat or two the concierge showed up, with apologetic resignation apparent in his otherwise flawless continental manner. Slightly behind and to his right, Dusty followed awkwardly, as if interrupted in the middle of something. Dipper was directly on his tail, showing a trace of annoyance. When Spinner wasn't looking in the air tanker's direction, her expression hardened noticeably - no loveloss there. Dusty, for his part, was trying hard to keep his prop still and the WANNA-GET-OUTTA-HERE off his face, though the twitching of his rudder and elevators was betraying his reticence.
Mii froze in a fetal position, praying that the slight breeze she was feeling would keep her scent from blowing further into the great lobby. Bad enough with Dusty there, let alone all the other aircraft in the room.
"Scrap." Nick muttered in her mind. "That's not the AC blowing, that's Wally. Just advertising his presence."
All we need now, Mii's eyes went to the half-inch gap in the drapes. Dusty was backing up slightly as the photographer's flash made him blink. The powerboat smiled tolerantly. "It won't get any easier, son. You just learn to deal with it better." The plane seemed almost relieved as Dipper glommed onto him again and pulled him back outside, though the twin-engine woman couldn't resist the opportunity to shoot one more stinkeye in the direction of Cad Spinner's rear end.
Almost unconsciously, Mii'auww reached down again, feeling for the sweeper and finding it still cowering there. The loud young exotics were still present, but farther away now. Suddenly one jumped, as if feeling a kick. The Ferrari shied to one side, bumping into an old, bespectacled biplane woman who gave him a withering stare. His companions had started in on each other, each convinced that the other had shoved at him. Their rising voices finally drew the attention of the security team , who herded them to a quieter corner of the lobby to cool down.
Mii dared a longer look as the space beside the cafe counter finally cleared again. The baristas were still dealing with customers, and quite distracted. One of them reached for the canister of cinnamon sticks, drawing out two and then placing the container back on the shelf.
She hadn't noticed that a third had fallen to the floor... but the sweeper did.
As if by instinctive compulsion, the little machine limped out from under the trolley, its dent now visible. Hugging the back baseboard, it advanced slowly, haltingly, until it reached the cinnamon stick, and sucked it up inside. Mii looked on, eyes wide, heart racing. The sweeper then seemed set by indecision as to its next direction, but then Mii'auww pushed the linen aside and extended a hand, beckoning. The sweeper froze for one long second... then began a return journey. It seemed like another year passed, but finally the little thing came back to her hand.
"Good boy." she dared to whisper, even though it was impossible to tell whether "boy" or "girl". "C'mere." It was then that some staffer took hold of the trolley, shoving it further down a hallway. Mii gritted her teeth, but soon enough the pitty was clear and she put out her hand again, coaxing the little thing further down the hall with her. After another minute, it finally came up against her palm, rubbing like a cat.
"OK, what to do now?" Nick's mote skittered about the hall as Mii secured the sweeper. "Should be a back service door around here somewhere. Mii, you know anything about sweepers?"
"I know where the dust goes," Mii stroked the quivering creature. "Easy now, this won't hurt a bit. Just settle down..." her hand sought the release mechanism for the collector tray, finally locating it. The tray popped out, and she grimaced as her fingers worked through dust and grime before locating the cinnamon stick. She smelled it to verify, then stuffed it in her sash bag before replacing the tray. "Good boy. Thank you." She patted it on the crest of its "head". "Now don't let that nasty Cad see you." The little thing purred as she set it back on the floor.
Immediately, the sweeper retreated back under the cart. Speak of the devil...
Cad, however, was distracted as he stopped between the cart and a garbage disposal. He was yammering away on his cell system, his tone growing terse as he spoke. "I don't give a $%## if it's the Maker Himself coming down trailing pink clouds of glory. If there's gonna be any kind of audit, I want the figures to look right!" He stamped a tire for emphasis. "I don't care how we have to fudge it. We screw this up, we're looking at a possible change of venue to downtown Death Valley without the benefit of coolant. Just cook it until it looks right, and send me a copy, but use my personal email. Just remember, if this gets out... Am I hanging for this alone? No I'm NOT!" with that, he terminated the call. It was a good minute until he cooled down and rolled off.
"Well, well." Nick intoned as the SUV disappeared into an elevator. "Not enough for him that he was sucking all the available money into his pet project, that cabron was doing some creative accounting as well."
"Illegal?" Mii dared to stick her head out, finally.
"Creative accounting is always kinda-sorta illegal." Nick's spark drifted around a corner. "Oh, here it is. Sometimes the kitchen people are out here on break, but not now. Time to hustle!"
Mii gave the sweeper one last pat. "Be careful now." She slipped out from the trolley, and crept the fifteen feet to the service doors. It was wide open. She padded out of the light, and the shadows, thankfully, swallowed her.
Dusty and Dipper returned to the firepit where their companions were still in conversation, the former apologizing profusely for the interruption, even though it hadn't been his doing. The others - Maru, Windlifter, and the old RV couple, were eager to get back to the point of the conversation where the SEAT trainee had been asked away, as it gotten around to something exotic, something that of the six gathered there, only one had encountered directly...
"So how did you come to see them?" Winnie, the female half of the couple, inquired of Dusty.
"Well, uh... I wasn't really intending to that day." Dusty lifted his eyes as he recollected. "My old boss had sent me to Flagstaff on an errand, getting some forms and papers for something, he HATES filling in forms online. So I'm about three-quarters of the way there, when I catch scent on the headwind, a little strange, but I'm not thinking too much about it until I hear an alert about a human getting lost, a very old lady, not all there in the head. So I'm passing right over that area, and it's the middle of spring, kinda wet and blustery. A human caught out there without proper gear could die of hypothermia if they don't get back to shelter soon enough. So, this scent gets stronger, I get down to 4000, and see something moving down there, like I've NEVER seen before in my life. Whatever it was, it was heading towards some steep bluffs, and I figured, maybe that's the one they were talking about? If it was, she was gonna be in a lot of danger."
"What did you do then?" Harvey, the man of the couple, leaned in.
"There was an old stretch of road nearby." Dusty paused for a sip of his drink. "I landed there, and rolled about half a mile to get to her - that wasn't easy. I saw her, she was this tiny, stooped over little thing, looked so fragile, it boggled my mind that she'd gotten so far out. So I call out to her, just to get her back from the edge of those bluffs. I get her to turn around and come over to me, and apparently she's not only got dementia, she's near-blind as well. She thought it was another human talking to her. It'd just rained, and she was wet and shivering. I don't think she even had any idea what world she was living in now. I talked her into sitting down, and sent out a call for help, because I knew her people were monitoring freqs. Well, somebody showed up. Wasn't quite what I'd expected."
"How could it get much wierder than that?" Maru finished off his coffee, and frowned at the empty cup.
"It was... a kid." Dusty nosed up for emphasis, prop jerking. "Not really little, but still a kid. A girl, on a horse. Very...uh... uh.. rustic-looking. She had a radio that scanned aviation bands, so she'd heard my call. Her name sounded like "Meow" or something like that. This girl, she just took her horse's saddle blanket and wrapped it around the old lady while we waited for other people to arrive, and they were there soon enough, other humans on horses and a couple of locals. Didn't expect to see a Harrier there either, but there she was. Quite the beauty, too. I was almost speechless" He grinned tightly as Dipper hmmph'd and Maru snickered behind his tine. Windlifter whuffled slightly, but said nothing. "I went back with them and stayed a little while, they wanted to be sure I hadn't done myself any damage going over all that uneven ground. Very nice people, but almost overwhelming, that first time."
"Do they still live in that mountain, like they showed on National Geographic?" Winnie asked.
"Some of them were still there." Dusty nodded. "But others had moved out and built houses close by. Not everybody wants to live in caves, no matter how nice it is inside."
"I can understand." Harvey nodded. "Living under all that rock? I'd be a wee bit claustrophobic myself."
"Some of them don't even like houses." Dusty added. "There's several distinct groups, and the nomads are the people who live in tents out in the open. They came in later than the others, so the little girl told me."
"In tents? All year around?" Dipper blinked. "That must be a really hard life for them."
"Yeah, it would be." Dusty nodded. "But apparently it's what they've been doing for thousands of years before they came to our world. The funniest thing is, I was thinking about that kid, just about now. Dunno why, but she just sorta popped into my head."
"Eh, that happens." Maru chuckled. "I just thought of the lady down the street in the neighborhood I grew up in. She was always yelling at us to stay off her lawn -- all ten parched and weed-choked square feet of it." He looked up at the great skycrane. "What's on your mind right now, Wind?"
The helicopter paused a beat or two before he answered, "Spirits. Here now."
"Besides the ones that come in bottles?" Maru cracked a lopsided grin. "OK, we have a few gate crashers. No worries. Maybe old Wally came down from beyond the falls. If he'd haunt you-know-who right out of the park, I'd be eternally grateful."
Dusty stiffened. "One of the guys on the wall?"
Dipper nodded. "Yeah. The big Orion. I didn't know him. Maru and Windy did. And Blade."
"He crashed just beyond Whitewall Falls." Maru's voice went down to a whisper. "People say, his ghost is still hangin' out here."
"Maru." Dipper smiled awkwardly. "I think that's a bit much for our present company. And Dusty." She nudged Dusty, who still seemed distracted. "Are you OK, Dustmuffin?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." the newbie SEAT snapped back to reality. "For some reason that kid... was... still in my head and I could almost smell her, dunno why." he sniffed indifferently at what remained of his drink. Dusty had more urgent matters at hand than memories of a brief encounter, three years in the past.