Petpetpet Wars:Part Two
The weeks passed, as they had the tendency to do. The march of war continued at the same old pace, and Captain Finnegan was almost in a dream.
Each day he'd go out on patrol and shoot the Mootix scum out of the sky. He'd watch other pilots have their ballons blown to pieces, or notice as their balloons didn't return. He'd watch the new recruits arrive at the base and launch themselves into duty with almost sickening enthusiasm. He'd watch as the reality of war sunk in, and their once wide eyes became sunken and depressed.
That was war, it was Finnegan's job… but now, it seemed largely irrelevant. He didn't live for the battles anymore. He lived for something different.
Each night, he'd leave the base and enter the town. He'd make his way to the same old tavern and sit down at the bar. He'd order the usual from the bartender, and sit back as the songs of the Veespa, Tanya, washed over him.
When she was finished, they'd sit at the bar and talk until dawn's first light began to shine through the cracks in the walls. They'd talk of their pasts, theirs presents, and their dreams of the future. Finnegan found himself pouring out his heart to this mysterious singer that he'd only just met.
He lived for the nights, where he could escape the horrors of the war, and pretend he was someone else entirely.
“I've never asked you before Bad, but why did you sign up?” Polish asked as he nursed his airsick stomach.
It was flight training, and the entire squad was sat between the feathers on a Crokabek's back as it soared over the countryside.
“You need a reason? Some of us just don't have anywhere else to go,” Bad replied defensively.
Polish frowned at his friend. Bad was like an older brother to him in the unit, but as their training had progressed, Polish had slowly begun to realise that he didn't know anything about him.
They had arrived on the same day, but while Polish had focused himself on doing everything correctly and not incurring the Sergeant's wrath, Bad had gone out of his way to seek it. He never wore the correct uniform. He always answered back. Sometimes he disobeyed direct orders. There were rumours going around the unit that he'd been kicked between different squads for years due to his bad behaviour.
It seemed as though Bad didn't want to be part of the army.
“If you don't like the army, why are you here? That's all I'm asking,” Polish told him.
“My dad,” Bad replied distantly. “He's a General back at Central Command. He said the army would make a man of me. He wouldn't take no for an answer.”
“So you're trying to get kicked out?” Polish asked.
“That obvious, is it?” he smirked. “The problem is, no one wants to be the one to discharge the son of the great General Spanner, so I get kicked around the front lines. Between you and me, I think they're hoping a Cooty gets a lucky shot at me one of these days.”
Private Kelly looked up from his own thoughts, his eyes barely visible beneath the cap that seemed to be almost glued to his head.
“What would you do? If you weren't in the army?” he asked.
Bad smiled, his face becoming almost melancholy.
“Anything…” he said distantly.
“I couldn't imagine not being a soldier,” Kelly mumbled, glancing ever so slightly towards Shorty. “To fight for your country… there's no greater honour.”
“And to die for it?” Bad asked. “I've been in more units over the past few years than you can imagine. I've seen hundreds of Mootix not come back home. And for what?”
“For Spiky Ridge!” Shorty shouted patriotically.
The rest of the unit nodded in agreement. Everyone knew about Spiky Ridge, it was how the war had started. The Cootys had attacked the town there, they'd started everything.
“Spiky Ridge?” Bad snorted. “Any of you actually been there? You think it's worth the deaths of millions of Mootix? Sometimes I just think… war; what is it good for?”
“Quiet down over there!” the voice of Sergeant Perks barked as he sidled over to the troops. “We're coming up over the drop zone.”
The soldiers stood to attention, lining up behind the Sergeant.
“Now remember, once you drop, count to ten and then pull the yellow cord on your parachute. Guide yourself in on the target area using your arms,” the Sergeant explained as he hastily put on his own parachute.
“You're coming too, Sarge?” Kelly asked.
Sergeant Perks sighed.
“I'll be coming with you on the actual operation, it seems Command can't spare any soldiers… so it's only right I should be training with the rest of you,” he answered.
The Sergeant glanced over to one of the aircrew onboard the Crokabek. The Mootix nodded.
“Right, it's time. Remember, ten then pull, the rest is easy. Private Spanner, go!” he commanded, tapping Bad on the shoulder.
The Mootix ran forward, and jumped off the edge of the Crokabek. Sergeant Perks seemed to count under his breath.
“Private Kelly, go!” he shouted, tapping the next Mootix in the line.
Kelly ran forwards screaming, and disappeared over the edge.
“Private Ryan, go!”
Shorty ran forward, stumbling slightly.
“Private Weatherly, go!”
Polish felt the hand on his shoulder, and then felt the fear rise up inside of him.
“Private Weatherly! Go!” Sergeant Perks repeated, tapping him again.
Polish looked up at him commander in fear.
“It'll be fine, Weatherly. I'll be right behind you,” the Sergeant told him.
Polish nodded, and then stepped forward gingerly. He swallowed his fear, and broke out into a run, leaping off the edge of the Crokabek.
Then he was falling, faster than he knew he could. Below him, the other parachutes had already opened, and were spiraling down towards a large target that had been painted in a field for the training exercise.
The winds battered Polish's face, forcing him to close his eyes.
He'd forgotten to count.
Panic consumed his mind and he feverishly counted to ten in his mind. His hand reached for the yellow cord and fumbled. Eventually, he got hold of it and pulled tight.
He heard the parachute on his back unfold, and then he was jerked upwards with a sudden movement that felt like it broke his ribs.
It took a few moments for Polish's senses to adjust, but the rapid falling was over. Now, he seemed to be gliding gently down towards the target.
Several of the parachutes seemed to have already landed, and Polish was drifting away from the area. Moving his arms to put more weight on one side of the parachute's strings, he slowly turned in the air, back towards the target.
The ground was approaching faster than Polish had expected, and he hit it hard and at a run. The canvas of the parachute collapsed on top of him, and he had to fight his way out.
Around him, he heard shouts of joy as the adrenaline-fueled squad congratulated each other on their first successful drop.
Polish heard an impact in the ground next to him, and he emerged from under his parachute to find Sergeant Perks standing there.
“Good job, lads!” he called to the troops. “But don't get sloppy; the next time we do this it will be for real!”
The squad seemed to pause in their celebration.
“The orders have come through, Sarge?” Shorty asked.
Sergeant Perks nodded.
“We ship out tomorrow night. Our unit will be hitting a Cooty airbase on the other side of the border. We have orders to disable as many of the balloons as possible, and claim the base.”
The troops put on brave smiles. In truth, none of them were ready for war.
“Nice to see you again,” the smooth voice of Tanya the Veespa greeted Captain Finnegan.
Finnegan smiled politely, and ordered a drink for the lady. Tanya seemed to hesitate as she drank it.
“What are you doing tomorrow night?” she asked casually.
“Why?” Finnegan asked.
“Oh… no reason, I just thought I'd try a few new songs. I thought you might want to hear them,” she said quickly.
“Oh… the General's been called back to Command to make a report on the success of the new honey crossbows we've been using,” Finnegan replied. “He's asked me to go with him, so I'll be gone until tomorrow morning. I'm sorry; it looks as if I'll miss your new show.”
Finnegan had expected her to sigh, but instead a brief smile flashed across her face.
“That's a shame,” she said once it had faded.
“Is something bothering you?” Finnegan asked.
“No… no, don't worry about me,” she answered, patting his hands gently. “It's just sometimes I think it would be nice if this whole war was over.”
Finnegan smiled grimly.
“That's not likely to happen soon,” he muttered.
“If you had the chance to end it all, would you?” Tanya asked suddenly.
“Of course,” Finnegan replied.
“No matter what the cost? No matter what it involved?” she added, fixing him with her eyes.
“Yes,” Finnegan replied.
There was something in her eyes, something that she was trying to tell him. Finnegan couldn't figure out what it was. Tanya pulled away and stared at her drink.
“Me too,” she said sadly. “Me too.”
“Ready, Captain?” the General asked, still chewing a reed in the corner of his mouth.
“Yes, sir,” Finnegan replied as he approached. “Is this our transport?”
The General was perched atop a Beekadoodle that had been tied to the ground. The blue Petpet spun its head madly from side to side as if it had eaten a lot of sugar.
“Certainly is, Captain,” the General answered as he helped Finnegan up onto the Petpet's back. “No defensive measures, but I don't think we'll need them. We need to get there and back quickly, and for that there's no faster way than a Beekadoodle.”
Finnegan settled himself down between the feathers on the Petpet's back.
“Are you alright, Captain?” the General asked as the ground crew made a few last minute checks below them.
“Yes sir, why?” Finnegan asked.
“You look tired,” the General observed. “You've been spending a lot of time at that tavern in town where the Veespa sings, haven't you?”
“Yes sir, what of it?” Finnegan asked.
“You shouldn't trust Veespas,” the General told him. “They wouldn't take a side in the war. A shady lot, if you ask me. You know what they say, Loose Lips Sink Ships.”
“Yes, sir,” Finnegan said distantly.
“Right lads, let's be off!” the General called down to the ground crew.
The Cootys below nodded and loosened the ropes that bound the Petpet. At once, the Beekadoodle shot off like a speeding arrow, carrying the two passengers high into the sky.
To be continued…