Some People Juggle Geese
"Hey, at least this planet has sun." Wash shaded his eyes as he stepped down the ramp of the Firetoad. "Y'know, the planet I grew up on had such a thick layer of clouds that you couldn't even see the sun."
"That why yer so pale." Jerryl chuckled.
Wash scowled at him. "It's possibly part of the reason."
"Jist so gorram hot. Never liked hot."
"Huh, never woulda guessed." Wash was subtly referring to Jerryl's appearance and that of those ladies he chose. The subtlety was lost. Wash rolled his eyes and followed the captain across the landing pad to the town.
The moon was small, and this township was the only real settlement. It didn't even have a real name. Only Isis, like the moon.
The people were busy about their clear little ponds doing who-knew-what. Wash made out that they raised waterfowl. He saw a small girl leading a huge swan by a piece of string 'round its neck. Behind it waddled a dozen fluffy yellow swanlings.
"Jerryl, how long you say we're here for?" Wash figured it could get all kinds of boring… but he'd find something to do.
"Till the damn mechanic can find the gorram part for the…" He trailed off, gesturing vaguely at the engine room. Definitely a boat owner who knew nothing technical. Wash allowed himself another eye roll.
"So what do we do?"
"Doncha ever shut up, pilot?" Jerryl growled, clearly annoyed, and at a loss as to how to deal with his gregarious pilot.
"No, I guess not." Wash shot back, undaunted. The other walked way without another word, leaving Wash to make his own lonely way around town.
Wash wasn't about to admit it directly, but Jerryl was right about his pallor. Wash could feel the sun frying his skin as he walked. Shade was an immediate necessity. However, it took Wash several minutes to locate a suitable place. Of course the place of choice was the local tavern. He waded through an entire flock of small brown ducks to get there. The ducks were docile and quite unperturbed by Wash's impatient steps in their midst. He did, however, receive a nasty look from their flock boy.
The interior of the tavern was cool and smoky, not unlike most taverns. Wash found a stool at the bar and glanced around at the people partaking. The room was not packed, as it was only just past midday, but there were nearly a dozen men and women lounging around out of the heat. Wash could not help but notice a large man and his wife sitting in a booth, each with a duck on either shoulder. Periodically, the man would lift his mug to them and they would dip their flat bills into the foam.
"Waste o' good beer, that." Wash nodded in their direction while looking meaningfully at the tender.
The tender in turn looked their way. "Naw." He switched gears, apparently not feeling the need to elaborate on how it was not a waste. "Where ye from, stranger?"
"Aw, here an' there." Wash answered. He was glad of a conversation, but had no legitimate answer. "Ship's down. Need a part."
"So you'll be 'round hereabouts fer awhile?" The tender brought him a fresh mug.
"Seems so. What sorta stuff d'ya have to do 'round here?" Wash sampled his new mug.
"Nothin' much. Just the birds really." The man shrugged and began to wipe down the counter.
"What about the birds?" Wash was genuinely curious.
"Off-worlders never believe me when I tell 'em. You'll have to see fer yerself."
Wash sighed. "When'll that be?"
"Come back this evenin'."
So he did. After checking in with the captain and learning that the part was being sent to Isis via Alliance post, Wash realized that they would be stuck here several weeks. So he went back to the tavern after dark. He was prepared to be amused. He was prepared to be entertained. He was prepared even to be bored out of his mind. But he was not prepared for what he would really find.
Wash entered the tavern to smoky light and raucous laughter. Nothing odd there. But when he made his way toward the front and saw what was going on, he stopped in mid-step and nearly toppled over. In front of him was the oddest sight that had ever assailed his eyes. And that was saying something, as he was prone to making faces at himself in the mirror. He stood, mouth agape, and watched the antics of three wiry young men as they entertained the crowd. Between the three of them, they kept a steady stream of yellow puffballs in the air. It was hard to tell exactly what was being juggled because of the speed at which they flew about. What gave it away was the constant squeaking quacks that were emitted.
The young men were good. They kept the dozen fluffy goslings in the air and in constant motion. The pattern changed constantly. Five back and forth between the middle man and the right hand one, three between the right and the left, three between the middle and the left and the twelfth one occasionally tossed high into the air with a despairing peep. After the initial shock, Wash clamped his jaw closed and moved a bit closer. As he watched, a grin began to spread.
"Ready then? Where's the gorram pilot?" Jerryl glanced about.
Greg, the mechanic simply shrugged, "I'm sure he's in town at the tavern, jist like always."
"Well, maybe you oughta jist go get him." Jerryl never asked. He only told. Greg straightened and headed for the tavern.
He couldn't make it through the door. The place was packed with noisy people. He shouldered his way in as far as the pack would let him then tried to shout for Wash. His voice was lost amid the myriad others shouting the same name. Yes, they all appeared to be chanting the pilot's name over and over. Greg was a shortish man and so was Wash, so there was no way he could see the pilot, but he began to realize the truth as he saw puffs of yellow fly up above the heads in front of him. After several minutes of rib-jabbing and toe-stomping, Greg was able to make his way to the front where he had a clear view of the festivities.
On the stage stood Wash, single-handedly juggling nine goslings. The grin on his face was big enough to fall right into. Greg didn't have the heart to call it off. He settled down and watched in fascination. This is what the pilot had been doing for six weeks.
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