Swamped Chapter 15 Page 5

If Dean were here, he’d surely have some clever idea for how to deal with these pests. Probably figure out what they were, if not why they were here all of a sudden, and then he’d go on and on about how only river owls gather in such large flocks, plus fifteen other reasons why he’s sure they’re river owls. And river owls are scared off by strong heat sources. Something like that, you’ve got no idea what the exact details would be.

But since you don’t have that kind of knowledge, you’ll just have to get down to basics.

“Get me brooms and nets,” you call down. “Thick nets, not the ones for cleaning out the training pond. There should be carrying straps in the storeroom so you can get the brooms up safely. Oh, and make sure you fetch someone else so we can call down if we need anything more, it’s not safe to get back on the ladder.”

It takes a good ten minutes for your group to arrive.

“Holy hell, it really is owls!” probably-Jared exclaims, handing you a broom. “Since when are there owls in the swamp?”

“Don’t know, don’t care. We’re going to try to herd them away from the important stuff first. We use the nets as a barrier to keep areas clear once we’ve got the owls chased out.”

“Could you start with my desk?” the Postmaster asks, pointing towards it. “John Recordkeeper’s there, and I think the old fellow might appreciate having some space.”

“Right,” you sigh. “So here’s what we do: you Stilts brothers get the net ready. Greenbags, you and I will chase the owls away from the desk. Once it’s clear, secure the net. We’ll take it down after we figure out how we’re dealing with the owls.”

The plan goes smoothly. The Stilts brothers turned out to be a good choice for assistants; they’re tall enough to reach the ceiling easily, so the nets can be secured quickly without giving the owls time to fly back in.

With a little more work, you clear out the owls around the crows’ cages. This takes four nets, but once it’s done, the crows calm down.

“Okay, last spot is the ladder,” you say. “Guess we may as well help the old man out before we get it ready.”

“I’ll stay up here,” the Postmaster says. “We’ve still got crows out. I’ll just loosen the bottom of one of the nets when I need to bring them in.”

“Great. It’s not ideal, but it should help us keep things under control until we figure out what we’re doing with the damn things.”

A few minutes later, you’ve got the ladder secured, and you help old man Recordkeeper down it. He thanks you, then slaps his forehead.

“I completely forgot to get the Postmaster’s vote,” he groans. He scrawls something on a piece of paper quickly, folds it, and hands it to you. “Don’t read that. It’s confidential, for officers only.”

“No problem,” you say. Though you’re annoyed by the delay. You climb back up and hand the note to the Postmaster under the net.

Now maybe you can figure out Dean’s hidden message. You hope it’s worth the trouble.

You’re now Clancy. And things are going bad.

You were wary of this whole greatrat plan from the beginning, but then Squib caught one in the water. You figured it might be okay for a night or two, Sergeant Ash was in charge and he’d see to it you didn’t get in too much trouble.

But now the damn thing’s escaped, and Squib’s recovering in the infirmary, and so is Sergeant Ash. And the rest of the squad is out patrolling. Even that one-armed kid you helped earlier doesn’t seem to be around.

So you’re stuck with three bad options. You could try to catch it yourself – but that’s really dangerous. You could wait around and let pest control find it and take care of it, which would probably mean capturing another one – not a task you’re looking forward to. Or, you could try to figure out who you can trust to ask for help without blabbing – a tall order, given Squib Squad’s general reputation.

What the hell are you supposed to do?

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Suggestions:

Greatrats can be fast but you’ve been drugging this one to keep it under. It’s just it was Squib’s shift to dope it and that never happened. Where ever it is it’s groggy and with all the commotion tonight it’s probably hiding. (at least until the drugs wear off)

Wait, are some of the patrols coming back in? Maybe some of Squib Squad has returned…

…oh wait it’s just some Repair Squad stragglers, dang they look pretty shaken up.

Oh yikes is that one repair squad girl! Lisa, you think. She was good friends with Tom Third back when he was in charge of the squad…before…

…well even before then she didn’t have the best impression of you. You almost beat her at swamprats once by sliding some extra cards from your sleeve. She didn’t see you cheat, but she still caught you. It was…entrancing…actually, watching the intensity in her eyes as they darted from her hand to yours, putting all the pieces together. She then studied your face and, well, in that moment she gained your respect, and you lost all of hers.

You’ve done a good job of avoiding her, though you’ve seen her play a few times before, always staring with that same unrivaled intensity. But now…she seems pretty shaken up, maybe something happened out on patrol.

Go talk to her. Hear what’s gotten her shaken up. If she gives you the time of day, maybe you can help. She despises cheaters but, she’s so damn clever and Tom spoke so highly of her, it’s possible she would help.

Author’s Note:

I’m often a little unclear on the layout of places in the story, because I don’t usually have a specific layout in mind. However, I’m a little bad about this in general because sometimes I do imagine something specific but I don’t clarify it in the story.

I bring this up here because of the reference to the “ceiling” in the roost, which is supposed to be an outdoor space. I was essentially imagining it as having a few sheltered alcoves. One of them would be around the desk. I hadn’t really thought much about the others – some are probably for mail storage when there’s too much to look through immediately.