By Sam Seal
The Black Chrysanthemum
(Based on the characters of the series 'Space: Above and Beyond', created by Morgan and Wong.)
It was the torch-light that first caught his attention.
"Hey Coop - " Wang greeted his friend with a suitably Co-Conspiratorial whisper, "what you doing sitting in the dark, man?"
Hawkes cringed, and hurriedly sat on the magazine he had been covertly flicking through.
"Nothin'," he replied as he glanced guiltily around the otherwise unlit and empty locker-room lest anyone else be lurking in the shadows.
Wang was not convinced by this denial however, and launched himself on Hawkes in a frenzy of Insatiable Curiosity. If there was one thing Paul Wang hated (other than cockroaches, feathers, very large sedative injections ect.), it was Mysteries.
After a couple of minutes of muted struggling Hawkes decided that he'd sat on Wang long enough to remind the other man of his natural advantages in a fight - i.e. six inches in height and fifty pounds of muscle - and crawled off, allowing Wang to breath once more.
"Thanks," Wang croaked groggily. "Next time I need my shirts pressed I'll know who to call - though if you'd let take it off first it might be nice!" Finally succeeding in sitting up, he picked up the now rather crumpled magazine and took a quick glance at the cover. "Coop!" he hissed in amazement. "This isn't a . . . That is - I thought it was going to be . . . Ah. Oh." He grinned suddenly. "I was wondering what you were planning to do with that biro."
This statement was too much for Hawkes, who just looked confused. "What?"
Embarrassed silence answered.
"Uh, never mind." Wang decided to change the subject before the conversation got bogged down. "What're you thinking of sending off for this time - more CD's?"
"Don't know yet. Maybe." Hawkes scratched his head thoughtfully. "Or maybe somethin' for Chigger. Ross said I oughta get him a leash really - he ran off yesterday and got into the kitchens an' . . . " he sighed. "You know how we all had to have meatloaf for dinner again last night?"
Wang grimaced at the memory. "Too well, and it was supposed to be pepperoni piz - NO!"
"Yeah," Cooper said, looking dejected. "Worse than that, he managed to whip Ross's Prime Rib, too."
"An' then - then he got into McQueen's room and chased his cat up the - "
"Don't - Don't go on!" Wang begged. "I don't want to hear any more. I'm surprised you're still alive! " He looked suddenly serious. "But Coop - if Chigger needs a leash, why didn't you get one when we Earthside yesterday? There must have been a pet shop in Philly - "
"'Cos people won't serve IVs in shops like that," Hawkes burst out bitterly. "Like, we're not s'posed to have pets or somethin'. But, if I send for stuff through a catalogue, no-one 'ud know I was IV. I can get anything I want from the catalogue - "
Wangs' eyes instantly lit up, bright with excitement. "Anything?" he interrupted sharply, all thoughts of impending sympathy driven from his mind. "You mean . . . ANYTHING?"
Hawkes shrugged, "Yeah, I guess - "
Dark brown eyes were like saucers at this novel idea. "Wow!"
All kinds of possibilities were instantly revolving around Wang's head. Thoughts of racing bikes with forty-seven gears to ride on down the corridors of the Saratoga ; Thoughts of pocket video-games to play while on the Red-Eye Watch; Thoughts of pet tarantulas or blue-ringed octopuses; Thoughts of . . . Thoughts of . . .
One Thought in particular alighted upon his consciousness and was just too good to ignore. He grabbed Hawke's arm and tried (and failed) to haul his friend to his feet. "C'mon, Coop - we have to go visit the Library."
Hawkes was instantly on his feet - and on his guard. "Wha'?" he cried in alarm. "You turnin' weird on me or somethin'? That place is just a whole bunch of books."
Wang grinned, full of Evil Thoughts as he forcefully dragged his friend along. "Not just books, my friend, but a whole . . . World of Information."
As they reached the door, West sauntered in, saw them descending upon him and slammed himself against the wall just in time to avoid being flattened.
"Later, Nater!" Wang shouted cheerily as they stormed past at speed. Hawkes just looked bewildered - but as this was nothing new West wasn't too worried. He just gazed at their rapidly receeding figures with mild bemusement and a vague sense of unrest.
He very quickly gave up worrying about it, however. With a shrug and a sharp shake the head (as if to clear it of the vision he'd just witnessed) he continued on into the locker room for his final Woodlouse-Check of the day . . .
Well, here I am at the Recruitment Centre. 'Ana 'Alo has TWO pigs, can you believe her? Where did they come from, I'd like to know.
The journey here to Manilla was good - our little boat called at Suva, Ponape and Yap and Auntie Mele met me at the harbour here. I wish I had listened harder in Spanish class - they all talk so fast! Uncle Ernesto and the boys send their love, and guess what, there is a new baby, which makes 13! 'oku ou pehe ko e me'a lelei e fakavahavaha fanau! ╣ Also Cousin Fifita has got married to a TV Salesman. They have TV here ALL DAY!
Uncle Ernesto brought me down to the Centre this morning. The Clerk is Sr. Morillo. It cost a whole chicken to have my application processed - I hope I brought enough. The pig is eating well, though the food is a bit peculiar here.
I have to go now, we have to wait in line for something I didn't quite understand - I have to go.
Hold me in your prayers, Mamma
Your loving Angelina
x x x
╣ lit. "family planning is a good thing."
Hawkes gazed down at the computer screen in astonishment. "Hey," he said, "you really can get anything out of a catalogue. Wow!" And he continued idly browsing his way through all the brightly coloured pictures.
Meanwhile Wang had been otherwise occupied on another screen, doing some browsing of his own - through the on-line Help section mostly, plus a couple of other places that had caught his eye.
"This is going to be great!" he snickered gleefully as he surveyed all the options. "And I mean not just okay, but GREAT!!! Wanna come see?"
Hawkes scooted across the floor on his chair and took a look at Wang's screen. He shot away again in big hurry. He looked like he had just been stung by something cute and fluffy and unexpectedly nasty. "Paul - are you nuts?" he hissed. "I mean - Five hundred dollars! No way you got five hundred dollars just laying around." After a moments thought he added more practically "An' besides - McQueen ain't never gonna let you have one of those."
Wang smirked. "Ah, but my friend - there's something about all this that you've obviously failed to grasp! But that's okay. Listen up! "
Hawkes listened . . .
"I dunno this is such a good idea, Paul," he mumbled after a while. "I think maybe we should ask Shane about this or somethin'." He hunched his shoulders instinctively against the impending wrath he imagined ahead of him in his probably all too short future.
But Wang was on a roll now, and wasn't going to let Hawkes off that easily. "Cooper - " he said, chumming up to his friend and smiling reassuringly, "Wha'd'ya want to go dragging the Girls into this? We don't need them!"
"No! Think of it as a . . . - It's a Guy thing, see? You go snitching to Shane - "
"I'm no snitch!"
"Course not - see? I knew I could trust you!"
Cooper Hawkes groaned. Wang wasn't fighting fair ( - i.e. he was using his head for something more than a battering ram) and now he'd been out-manoeuvred once again. In the end there was no choice but to surrender in the face of Superior Forces.
"Okay," he sighed in resignation. "Let's do it."
"Yeeees!!!" Wang punched the air triumphantly. "Trust me Coop - " he added glibly as he attacked the Order Form with gusto, "Your doing the Right Thing!"
"Y'know what, Paul? I really hate it when you tell me that."
I hope you are well, and Seini's baby has got over the colic. Also that you have finished all those baby things you were knitting to send Francisca's latest (only a year older than me and already 6 babies. I saw them last night and I can't believe it!). I have enclosed a picture of Manilla, which I must tell you about.
Well! Now I have met kakai amelika. They are very excitable people, but I believe they are clean, and healthy. They were rushing around everywhere just because the volcano shook a little - however would they be happy living in Vav'ue? They speak very fast, but I must tell you their English is not very good - I saw a sign yesterday saying midnite (instead of midnight!).
To look at, the kakai amelika - no Americans I must call them to be correct - are all sizes and colours, and some of them have yellow hair like Reverend McIrvine. I wonder what it is like to look out of pale eyes. Is the world a different colour do you think? Some of them do speak Pidgin of a sort, but either it is strange or it is my impatience (which Reverend McIrvine says I should earnestly ask the Lord to help me overcome) but I have to explain everything, every little thing, three times before they understand. Truly, Fa'e-Mamma, I don't think they even try! But don't worry, this is what I wanted to do, and with the help of the Lord, everything will turn out fine. 'Oku vili 'a Angelina ke 'alu koe'uhi ke mali! ▓
The pig is growing fatter every day, and one of the chickens laid an egg this morning which I had for breakfast, and Oh! the fuss the Americans made about a little fire to boil and egg. I can see I shall have to educate them about "Cooking Kills Germs".
Anyway, Mamma, tomorrow I am going to America on a plane. For some reason, the Chief Clerk kept talking about metal sky birds over great water. I don't think some of these people should be out without their mothers. I am going now to Seattle which we have seen on TV. I have sold one of the chickens for $40, and when I get to America I will phone you. It will be good to hear your voice, Mamma, and by then I will have lots of exciting things to tell you about.
Give my love to everybody and pray for
Your loving Daughter,
▓ Angelina insists on going so that she can get married.
TIME PASSED . . .
Shane Vansen swung herself onto her bunk and grabbed up her pillow. With an aim honed to perfection over the last few months she lobbed it across the room at West - who was deeply engrossed in Wang's magazine about Pest Control (listing all the unexpected places a small bug could lurk unseen), and so almost had a heart attack.
"What the hell are Paul and Cooper up to?" she demanded, ignoring the dark look that West cast in her direction as folded up the magazine and tossed it back on Wang's bunk.
"I don't know, Shane," he replied defensively. "And for God's sake, would you please stop using me for Target Practice, okay?"
"Okay! Okay!" She lay back, making a pillow of her arms behind her head, now that her proper pillow was deemed Out of Bounds for the rest of the night. "It's just that I saw them both hanging around the Mail Room this morning, the pair of them looking as nervous as a couple of Green Chigs in a mine field. I'm telling you, Nathan - that is one bad meeting of minds."
"You going to do anything about it?" West inquired, suddenly recalling to mind the locker-room incident of a fortnight before.
It was an unfortunate thing to say.
"That's not fair!" Vansen snapped. "Everyone's always looking to me to solve all their problems. It's either 'Shane, there's something wriggling under my bunk'; or 'Shane - I can't find my embroidery'; or 'Shane, my bootlaces have come undone again!' Honestly, Nathan - it's time someone else got to do all the dir . . . "
The Communications Officer switched off the transmitter and . . . quietly fell asleep. When he woke again, less then a minute later, he would have no recollection of having sent a Message, no recollection of the Co-ordinates he had sent the non-existant Message to, and, most importantly, no recollection of the kitten sat on the table in front of him.
Little Pumpkin purred with satisfaction as he slipped unobtrusively out of the door, and headed for the Mail Room. He had never really enjoyed controlling the minds of Humans, but somethimes it was necessary - for their own good.
In this case the message that had been sent back to the kittens' Superiors had been vital to the War Effort. The Cats had strong evidence that The Enemy (which the Humans called'Chigs', and the Cats 'Da Ear-wiggy T'ings') had been planning a sneak attack on a poorly defended Allied Refuling Depot.
Little Pumpkins' mission had been to 'hint' to a visiting General that it might be a Good Idea if that Depot received some reinforcements p.d.q. This 'hinting' had been acheived during a particularly satisfying fussing by the General - an acknowledged Cat lover - who had come across the little kitten as he was making his way to a Tactical Briefing. The re-inforcements had duly arrived in the nick of time, roundly thrashed the attacking forces and carried the day.
Now all he had to do was wait for the Top Brass Meeting on Thalia 3 . . .
Such an outrageous thing has happened, I can hardly tell you! I had to wait Util now to write to you, and I never did get the chance to phone you as I promised. BUT
THE PIG HAS BEEN STOLEN!!!!
Listen, I will tell you how this happened.
You remember I told you that I was going on an aeroplane to Seattle in America?
Well, the Chief Clerk brought us big boxes (made of thick paper! Such as waste! Are there no Pandanus trees growing leaves just outside the Centre for making boxes out of?) So I put the chickens in one box with lots of grass and food, and they settled down to sleep straight away. I managed to get the pig into the other, but really, what a silly way to move a pig when it has four perfectly good legs of its own!
Anyway, off we went into the aeroplane, which was quite exciting (and I am trying to stay calm and serene so I can tell you all about it). We walked up to it moored on the concrete, and up steps like a gangplank, and inside. I saw my boxes go off on a truck and men loading them all into the underneath of the aeroplane which I suppose is like the hold of a big boat.
Inside it is a bit like a bus. I had a seat by the window, which was very small, and so was the seat. I overflowed! I know we have seen all this on TV but it is different when you are actually there! We all sat down and had to put straps round us, though I don't know why because you can't fall overboard - another strange Amelika way I suppose. The engine started, and the aeroplane went forward, and suddenly it was like when you hit a big wave in the canoe, and you go UP, but there's no DOWN if you see what I mean. I looked out of the window, and we really were up in the air, and I could see Manilla getting smaller and smaller, with all the houses and people like beetles, and then like ants, and then like grains of sand and the sea all blue and wrinkly.
Suddenly we went into a fog bank, and when we came out, all around was white fluffy mounds and the sun shining very bright and the sky very dark blue. It was like being in a canoe on a calm sea sailing through thick foam like you get when boiling pork, but pure white. There was a lady in charge in a blue dress and hat, who spoke a kind of English - I asked her what the white stuff was, and she said it was the tops of the clouds and we were flying about them all! Imagine, this must be what the Angels see when they look down from Heaven. I said the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 23, but I tried not to be afraid, and it was just as Reverend McIrvine said and the Angels held up the wings so we flew all the way across the world.
But I am not an Angel, Fa'e-Mamma and I was HUNGRY. The Lady in Charge brought us some American food, which did not come in a leaf or on an ordinary plate, but on a special plate with little holes in to hold the food. There was some chicken, some white beans with little yellow berries, and then some kind of fluffy white sweet pudding which looked a bit like the clouds - I expect that is why they give it to you.
Then the Lady brought pillows and for some reason blankets - I must tell you, Mamma, it is very hot and stuffy on an aeoplane and you can't open the windows - and we all went to sleep.
I've just realised this is a very long letter, Mamma, but I have so much to tell you. You are probably wondering when I will get to THE THEFT - well, I am coming to it now.
In the morning, the Lady gave us cakes to eat, and fruit juice, and some horrid brown drink as well. Then she tidied everything away, and the aeroplane started to go down. It was quite bumpy like coming through surf, and it started to rain outside - it must be the rainy season in Seattle just now. As we came down, I could see the sea, and lots of islands, and some mountains with clouds around them, and their city with all those spiky buildings we see on the TV, the sky-scrapers. But all the city is grey, and the sky is grey, and the sea is grey, but the land is very green and I should think the crops are very good.
We landed with a bump like beaching a canoe, and drove along into some (grey) buildings. The Lady told us to undo our straps, and then we walked off the aeroplane, but not down steps - into a tunnel with lights and CARPET on the floor! How silly! It must take a long time to clean properly. Everything was made of metal which just shows how rich America is.
Some cross-looking people examined our papers, and some of the people from the aeroplane went through a door to a big room, bigger than the Church, full of hundreds of people making a lot of noise. Everyone on the program had to go with more cross-looking people (perhaps their stomachs are bad because of the funny food?) into a little room with metal chairs and more carpet which was quite dirty.
A man came and called us one by one into another room - 'Ana 'Ano pushed in first and got sent back but I must not gloat.
When it was my turn, I went in, and another man, not cross this time, asked me some questions about the program and whether I understood what it was about (a bit late really since I had come halfway round the world!). He was quite nice but a bit slow I think - he had to repeat the questions several times before he understood the answers. I tried to be patient and good and remember they are foreigners with strange ways, but sometimes I do have to bit my lip and remember Psalm 41 v1-3 so as not to tell them off.
Then another cross man came in and shouted at the nice man, in American this time. The nice man asked me about my baggage, and I said TWO boxes (and held up my fingers to make sure he understood). We all went through another door, where there was a big room with all the boxes in. The nice man found my box with the chickens in (who were still asleep), and put it on a little cart, but then I saw the naughty pig had chewed his way through the box and was getting out!
Suddenly lots of cross people came and pushed us out of the way, and caught my pig and put it in a cage on wheels and took it away! I tried to stop them and explain it was my pig, but no one took any notice, and just went right on shouting at each other and the pig and me and the nice man, and before I knew what had happened they had bundled me and my box of chickens onto a green bus and we were driven away!
There! I have got quite cross again writing about it! I am sitting on the bus now, and we are going along a big road with hundreds of cars going by in the rain. There are lots of young people on this bus, all dressed the same, but none of them seem to want to talk, and nobody knows anything about my Pig! Probably it has been made into pork by now! I would have taken a chicken with me on the aeroplane if I had known you had to bribe people to get your own luggage back but I thought you didn't have to do that in America! I am so cross! Now what will I do?
But don't worry, Mamma, I will think of something - I can't arrive empty handed like a begging woman.
The bus is just coming to some high wire fences, and everyone is getting their papers out, so I will finish this now.
Sisu Kalaisi be with you, Mama,
"No matter how many times I see that, I just can't seem to get used to it," Commodore Ross commented to no-one in particular.
He stood on the Bridge watching the Cargo Transporter crash to the deck with its usual jaw-clenching clang. It then proceeded to drop down into the hanger and out of sight in the normal way.
Colonel McQueen looked up from the monitor he'd been monitoring. "Want me to have a Word with the pilots about it?"
Ross shrugged. "If you think it's worth it. We'll be hauling anchor and heading off for the Thalia System just as soon as they take off back to Earth, though. Top Brass have called an important meeting and it wouldn't do to be late." Then the Commodores' gaze drifted, involutarily, back to the scrapes left on the deck by the Transporter. He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "On the other hand these Mail Drops are costing the Military a small fortune in deck paint, so... if your heading that way?"
McQueen smiled wryly. "The way my lot have been acting the last couple of weeks? I wouldn't miss this for the World."
"Think they're up to something?"
"Aren't they always?"
Ross patted his friends arm in sympathy, and was only half-joking when he added "Well, just don't hurt 'em so bad they can't fly their crates when we need 'em to!"
This letter will come in pieces because I believe it will not be possible to post it for a few days. I am in Space! Yes, right up above the clouds, above the sky, going through the gaps between the stars. The stars which we know are like suns are all spread out really like islands, and we are going through the channels between them. Somehow I thought they would all be attached to something, but they just float about. It seems rather untidy, but I am sure God knows what he is doing. I am in another airplane, but this one is more like a cargo ship. There are lots of big sacks of letters, and some boxes (but no pig. I believe my pig is gone forever), and there are some people driving, or sailing the plane, but apart from that I am the only one here.
But it is true, Mamma, what the Scripture says, that "All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His ways". When I arrived at the airplane-port in Seattle, and then came to the camp of warriors, I knew I must do something to replace the pig. I thought I would make leis, but there are no flowers large enough here at this season, which as I mentioned is rainy. However, there are lots of small paper boxes containing thin, soft, white paper. I did not know what they were for, but when I tried to ask a lady, she gave me five boxes! So I crumpled the paper sheets together, and made a cord from sewing thread, and threaded the flowers on, to make a kind of paper-lei! I went on till all the paper was finished. Then I made a sign saying five dollars each. People came and bought them! So I had 50 dollars. Then I bought some sugar and dried coconut from a shop, and used some eggs to make little cakes (I found a shelter by a door outside, and the Americans didn't seem to mind me cooking there -at least, nobody seemed to mind), and then I sold them for five dollars for five and one free (everyone likes to have one free), and now I have a hundred dollars.....
(to be continued)
Damphousse ducked her head around the door.
"Mail Call!" she announced cheerfully. "Flight-deck fifteen." She hesitated a little before adding "Hey - Either of you two know what Paul and Cooper are waiting for in the Mail? I just watched them mow down a Major and two Orderlies in their rush to get down there."
Vansen and West exchanged glances.
"Maybe Paul got some fresh worms for Metropolis . . . " offered West, referring to Wang's Worm Farm in a hopeless tone.
someone ought to pound their heads into a wall until they
start making sense," growled Vansen, rolling off her
bunk and heading for the door, hot on Damphousse's heels.
....and also I have another fifty dollars which a lady gave me for helping her wash the floor. Then I earned another fifty dollars by carrying some packages for an elder wearing green clothes with lots of fuzzy gold trimming, and then taking a letter for him to another place in the camp. In America, Mamma, the Warriors stamp around a lot and shout, just like everywhere, but they wear strange green and brown clothes. Then I realised, of course, because it is grey and rainy, they probably don't wear their bright war dress because the feathers would get wet, just like the fuiva bird. So we find that no matter how far from home a person may travel, there is always something to learn by watching and thinking. However, I must tell you, many of the Papalangi warriors walk around without their shirts on, or the ladies in their underwear, Mamma, and it is not at all becoming....
(to be continued)
MEANWHILE, DOWN IN THE MAIL ROOM . . .
Little Pumpkin had just polished off the last of the titbit pieces of sandwich to come his way - the Mail Room was ever a haven for 'hungry' Cats - and was now happily perched on one corner of the Post Masters' desk, watching the hustle and bustle that always came with a Mail Drop.
There seemed to be rather more of it over by the window than usual, he thought with a tiny frown. Curious as only a cat can be, Little Pumpkin jumped down from the desk and wound his way inconspicuously toward the epicentre of the trouble.
"Who's going to sign for them! - that's what I want to know?" demanded the aggrieved-looking man who brandishing a clipboard around in a panic. "And how? I can't find any relevant Documentation!"
Nobody seemed to be in any hurry to help him look for it. Infact, nobody was willing to give up their place at the Flight Deck window long enough to give him a second look.
Curiouser and curiouser . . .
Little Pumpkin made himself Extra Cute by widening his eyes and mewing pitifully at the feet of a Motherly-looking woman standing at the far left of the window.
"Pick me up, Lady!" he begged in his Singular Fashion. "Oi's too liddle - Oi might get squished!" (He knew all the psychological angles, it seemed.)
As if noticing the little kitten of her own accord, the woman crouched down and swiftly gathered Pumpkin to her chest. Standing again with a maternal whisper of "Hey there, kitty, don't you go getting yourself squashed, now!" she managed to give him the view of Flight-deck fifteen that he had been angling after all along.
Little Pumpkin gazed down in wonder at the scene unfolding before his eyes.
There was the Transporter, all in order with its door wide open. And there was the huge Mail Bag, all ready hauled out of the belly of the ship and laying on the deck like an Unposed Question. (Or - less poetically but more accurately - like a big green slug.) And look - there was Paul Wang! Little Pumpkin purred down at him - Wang could always been looked upon for the odd piece of cheese when the coast was clear.
Cooper Hawkes was also there - thought there was no sign of The Dog. Little Pumpkin snorted - "Ders no accountin' fer taste, Oi s'pose" he muttered, causing the woman holding him to rub him comfortingly behind his ears.
"Bleshoo," she soothed unthinkingly.
Meanwhile it seemed that Vanessa 'Always good for a bit of chocolate' Damphousse had arrived, along with Shane 'Too busy to notice a Kitten In Need' Vansen and Nathan ('To be found armed with a torch in all sorts of odd places, but otherwise useless') West. They seemed to descend on the first two like a trio of Avenging Angels.
Speaking of whom . . ? Yes indeed - McQueen arrived, spotted the Wild Cards huddled to one side and found himself a discrete corner from which to watch the Show.
Little Pumpkin wriggled and squirmed until he was placed carefully back down on the floor by his erstwhile Observation Post, with a warning to "Be careful, now."
Little Pumpkin headed straight for storage racks behind McQueen. "Oh, de Gang's all here, all roight!" he sniggered gleefully as he trotted through the throng toward the rear of the room.
"Now dis is where id gets intrestin'. . . "
....Then a strange thing happened, Mamma. A big man, dark like someone from Fiji, came and shouted at me, and I'm afraid I did not understand anything he was saying at all. It seemed that I had to go with him, so I put the chickens back in their box, and followed him to a big room full of clothes. Then a lady gave me lots of green and brown warrior clothes, big boots, a fine steel knife, and a complicated metal gun! Praise the Lord, the pig thief must have been caught. I expect the pig was eaten by then, so obviously the King of America decided to make restitution with useful things. I am glad that America has a good King just as we do. They gave me some letters, so I got out my letter from the Project, and they sent me to a queue, and gradually everyone got onto special space airplanes, like catching buses for different villages, or boats to different islands. As I said, I seemed to be the only one to go on the boat for this place, which seems to have a lot of letters!
Now we are just sailing up to a very large thing which looks like a big metal island amongst the stars, or perhaps a very very big ship, the biggest I ever saw! There are lots of lights all over it, and lots of small airplanes all around it like canoes round a cargo boat. I must stop writing now because I let the chickens out, and I think I had better catch......
It was the Cockerel perched on the rail of the gangway that first set his mental alarm bells ringing.
That and the little brown chicken busy poking around by the Mailbag.
All is not well. McQueen frowned. All is not well and all is not well and all manner of things are NOT WELL AT ALL -
Cooper Hawkes froze in his tracks. So did Wang, who had been trying to inconspicuously creep out of the room alongside him - being on 'the Dark Side of the Coop' meant McQueen hadn't spotted him yet. Thus, whilst Hawkes was desperately trying to look Innocent, Wang was even more desperately trying to look Invisible . . .
Unfortunately they both just wound up looking as Guilty as Sin as McQueen stood in front of them, blocking their escape. He had decided to give them The Stare. It never failed to terrify.
"Chickens?" he asked coolly.
Wang quailed, caught. "Yes, Sir" he answered in a small voice.
McQueen nodded thoughtfully. "Chickens." He looked over Wang's shoulder at the Fowl Collection. He sighed. "Well . . ." he muttered under his breath, "I suppose it could have been wors - "
A small woman had just stepped out of the Transporter.
A small, beautiful woman.
A small, beautiful, very round, woman.
She wore a long sleeved, ankle-length dress. It was white, decorated about the waist with a brightly coloured sarong. There appeared to be long garlands of tropical flowers hung about her neck.
This extraordinary creature exuded such an air of calm, regal grace, such an exotic sense of There-ness about herself, that everyone around her seemed almost faded in comparison. And yet, a certain air of bemused merriment seemed to be bubbling just under the surface.
She carried a speckled hen under her left arm, and had an M590 slung over her right shoulder. There was a suitcase on the deck at her side.
In her right hand was a large white envelope. She paused at the top of the gangway and glanced around the hanger. Her eyes soon fell upon the Postmaster, who was approaching her rather rapidly.
He looked alarmed.
She looked . . . determined.
Little Pumpkin more fell than jumped off the top of the storage rack he'd been perched atop for the last couple of minutes. The confrontation between McQueen, Hawkes and Wang had turned out to be more interesting than even he had expected.
And now this! And there he'd been, thinking the flight to Thalia was going to be 'just another routine slice of Heaven' (center of attention, everyones favorite pampered pet ect...). It seemed he was mistaken.
This was going to be far more intertesting!
Now the kitten was heading for the Commodore's Quarters as fast as his little legs could carry him. He had realised as soon as he had seen The Letter change hands that Ross would be the next link in the chain, and Pumpkin definitely didn't want to miss the second part of this unfolding drama.
Being a well 'eddicated' kitten, Little Pumpkin had sometimes wondered exactly what would happen if The Unstoppable ever met The Immovable.
Going by the name written on the envelope, he had a feeling he was about to find out.
Nathen West looked at Angelina's massive suitcase. It was really rather impressive.
He looked at Angelina, standing before him with her white hen tucked neatly under one elbow like a lady's clutch-bag.
Ditto on the Impressive front, he decided.
Now Nathan West had been raised on a farm, and knew how to handle a chicken.
He had also been raised properly, and knew how to handle A Lady.
There must be a Regulation somewhere about the unauthorised introduction of live poultry aboard a United States Space Carrier, West mused as he tucked the white hen under his left elbow.
"If you would be so kind as to follow me, please, ma'am."
Wishing he had Hawkes' muscles, Nathen picked up the suitcase with his free right hand and started staggering off towards the Visitors Quarters on Deck 11 . . .
DEEP IN 'FLAG COUNTRY' . . .
Commodore Ross was at a loss. "What I want to know is - What the Hell did you think the Colonel was going to do with them all?"
McQueen (being more hardened to The Wonderful World of 'The Wild Cards') was not.
He eyed the two malefactors with the usual combination of Much-practiced Patience and Justifiable Suspicion. "I think that's rather self-evident, Sir," he remarked cryptically. Turning his attention back to Wang and Hawkes he added "What I want to know is - Where the Hell did they get five hundred dollars?"
Coopers' natural Survival Instinct warned him which way the wind was blowing on this one, and wisely kept shtumm.
Dumping his friend right in it.
"Well, Sir " Wang stammered, "Coop - I mean Lieutenant Hawkes - still had his money from the Lightbulb Incident - "
"Lightbulbs?" Ross turned to McQueen. "What's this?"
"I'll explain later, Sir," the Colonel responded, wincing inwardly at the memory. "It's . . . complicated." He returned his attention to the Lieutenant before the Commodore could probe further. "Continue."
"And I, uh, I've kinda been saving up, Sir," Wang went on.
"Saving the cash I earn from Metropolis."
"My Worm Farm, Sir."
Poor Commodore Ross had to take a moment or two in order to mentally collect himself. "Worm Farm," he repeated incredulously. "Lieutenant - you've opened a damn sight more here than a can of worms!"
"Sir?" Wang croaked, knowing this was going to be bad.
"Allow me to enlighten you, Lieutenant." The Commodore picked a sheet of paper from the desk before him. "This is a copy of the Delivery Note pertaining to the matter in hand. And I quote . . .
"Confimation of Delivery: 4 of 4.
"Item 1 - One Cockerel, aggressive.
"Item 2 - One chicken, buff.
"Item 3 - One chicken, dark brown with black speckles.
"Item 4 - One PIG?! And last but not least;
"Item 5 - One Phillippino Mail Order Bride!"
"Polynesian," McQueen interjected.
"Polynesian Mail Order Bride." McQueen seemed to be utterly engrossed in the Letter that had been stapled to the back of the Delivery Note. "From Tonga, actually" he continued, taking the papers from the Commodore and standing beneath the rooms' single, dimmed-to-standard, lightbulb as he tried to read them all more thoroughly.
Commodore Ross was getting more confused by the moment. The Colonel didn't seem to be the least bit aggrivated by the present situation. Indeed, he looked more . . . intrigued than anything else.
Ah well, one trouble at a time! Ross reminded himself sternly, and turned his attention back toThe Pair of Perpetrators standing before the desk.
Attempting to regain both his sense of outrage and his head of steam, the Commodore siezed back the incriminating Note and thrust it under the noses of the two Lieutenants as he continued the attack - "This Delivery Note which, I should say, you had the . . . temerity to address to your Commanding Officer! Have you no shame? Whoever or whatever this - female person - might be, you had no right whatsoever to intrude on the private life of - of . . . in any case!" Commodore Ross petered out, overcome by the sheer scale of the 58th impropriety. "Do you have anything to add, Colonel McQueen?" he added wearily.
"???" McQueen glanced up. "Oh, yes. Thank you. Dismissed." Quickly snatching back the Letter, Colonel McQueen rose and briskly strode from the roomin the general direction of the Flight Deck, with Little Pumpkin close on his heels.
This one, McQueen decided, was not getting away . . .
Meanwhile, Hawkes (who's attention had been drifting ever since Ross had failed to elicit any admissible evidence regarding the Lightbulb Incident and had, in truth, only just got as far as assimilating the Delivery List) finally glanced up.
"Hey - what about the pi-OW!" he finished as Wang elbowed him hard in the ribs.
Commodore Ross gave Hawkes a long, penatrating look from behind the desk. "You said something, Lieutenant?"
Hawkes gulped. "Who, Sir? Me, Sir? No, Sir!"
"Chook! Chook! Chook! Chook!"
"Here, chookie chookie chookie!"
"I've got some lovely fresh grain for you, little hen . . . "
Damphousse laughed. "I don't think three-day-old hash browns really count as fresh, Shane!" she protested. "Or grain, either, come to think of it."
Vansen reverse-crawled out from under the transporter, brushed the dust off the legs of her flightsuit, and came to stand by her friend and partner in the Great Poultry Persuit. "Well I don't know what else to do," she said in an exasperated tone.
"It's just I don't think chickens are real big fans of fried potato, that's all. Assuming this is potato . . ?"
"Army catering? God, Vanessa, it could be anything! "
"What was it the British used to say?" Damphousse asked with a wry smile. 'Horse meat in axle grease'?"
Vansen eyed the 'bait'. "Very possibly . . . " She perched herself precariously on a length of guard-rail that somebody had casually removed from its' site surrounding an empty inspection pit and propped against one side of the ISSCV, trying and failing to make herself comfortable. "Come to think of it, that would be a step up from some of the stuff they force on us!"
"Well, if there's one thing it ain't," Damphousse pointed out practically, "it's Chicken Feed!"
Vansen sighed, eyed the hen almost whistfully, and said "You know, whenever we needed chicken at home, we just used to drive down to Colonel Sanders."
"Oh don't, Shane! Your making me drooool." Damphousse leant back against the side of the ISSCV, watching as the buff hen cautiously stuck its beak out from the shadows. "Hard to think that something that looks so . . . "
Shane pointed an accusing finger at the hen. "Sinister. I mean, have you ever taken a close look at their eyes? Or - what about their feet!"
Damphousse laughed. "And there was me, going to say 'cute'."
"Your crazy! Still, she's a smart little bird, I'll give her that. I mean, I wouldn't want to eat this . . . this crap," Vansen waved the offending Hash Brown under her friends' nose, "so why should she have to suffer?" Tossing the alledged-potato-fry aside in disgust, she added "You got any better ideas?"
"Hmmm... Now let me think..." replied the other woman, as an evil smile slowly widened across her face. "I'll make you a deal," she continued to her friend as they straightened up and prepared to go into action.
Colonel McQueen, surfing the adrenalin wave, arrived back on Flight Deck at a flat out run. The wiser people aboard the Saratoga knew better than to hinder him in any way when he was in this kind of mood. Everything from tool boxes to briefcases were clutched to the chests of their relevant wall-hugging personnel as he all but torpedoed down the corridor.
Unfortunately for him, Angelina's chickens had not yet been briefed about this fact, and so, at the very moment McQueen burst onto Flight Deck, the buff hen picked this exact moment to shoot out from beneath the shelter of the ISSCV and launch her airial attack on the worms so recently 'liberated' by Damphousse from Wang's Metropolis in an act of Poetic Justice.
"Where is she?" McQueen demanded angrily from his new position of two feet above the deck and climbing, as he leapt bodily over the chicken to avoid collision. He hit the deck rolling, miraculously avoided falling down the inspection pit, and came to his knees, nose to nose with Captain Shane Vansen, who was in the very act of crawling out from beneath the ISSCV herself.
There was no mistaking whom the Colonel could possibly be talking about, and Vansen never missed a beat.
"Sir!" she reported, briskly snapping off a salute without loosing her balance. "I have instructed Lieutenant West to escort the lady from the transporter to the comfort of the Visitors Quarters on Deck elev - !"
That was all McQueen needed to hear. He staggered to his feet and headed at speed for the exit . . .
. . . closely followed by an intrigued Captain Vansen and First Lieutenant Damphousse, who was clutching the newly 're-aquired' little buff hen tightly to her chest . . .
. . . followed, in turn, by Little Pumpkin - who had arrived on the scene just in time to narrowly avoid being trampled by the speeding McQueen . . .
"And so we live to fight another day . . ." Wang broke off from whistling just long enough to comment to his companion, as they strolled along the corridor toward the canteen.
"No thanks to you!" Hawkes mumbled as he stomped along beside his erstwhile friend. "There was supposed to be a PIG!"
Wang shrugged. "Didn't think it mattered that much."
Hawkes scowled. "All that bacon . . . " he muttered glumly. "And the saussages . . . What a waste!"
"Good God, Coop!" exclaimed the other in amazement. "Don't you ever stop thinking about food?"
"Only in the Thick," Hawkes replied honestly. "But actually, actually I was thinking of Chigger. He's crazy saussages. Hey - and don't think I haven't seen you smuggling the odd piece of bacon rind to him under the table at breakfast, either! He shook his head resignedly. "He's gonna get sooo fat!"
"Fat? Hah! On our rations?" Wang mimed fainting with hunger into the arms of his startled friend. "I don't think so, matey," he added, getting up off the floor where Hawkes had so considerately dropped him. "Where is the Wonder Mutt, anyway?" he added, brushing the dust off his flightsuit.
"Ah." Hawkes pulled up sharply outside the Canteen doorway and suddenly looked incredibly shifty. "Err . . .I'm pretty sure I left him near the Canteen . . . somewhere . . . "
"Ummm . . . "
"Do you really think that was such a Brilliant Idea, Coop?"
"I'm not sure. I guess not. But maybe if I call him . . . " Suddenly Hawkes placed two fingers in his mouth and let out a shrieking whistle - which was immidiately answered by loud and enthusiastic barking from the other side door into the kitchens. Hawkes ran up and opened the door to allow his dog out. And, inevitably, along with Chigger came a string of a dozen or so freshly made saussages, hanging from his jaws.
"Chigger! You BAD dog!" Hawkes yelled impotently as he tried to catch the evasive animal. "That's my dinner your stealing!"
"Well, you wern't wrong about the saussage-thing!" Wang cried as he followed the man and his dog and the purloined saussages off down the corridor - all three fully aware of the shouts of outrage coming from the kitchen behind, shortly followed by the pounding of booted feet . . .
It had been a difficult morning, the Pastor of the Saratoga concluded to himself as he took a cautious sip of the scalding coffee he had just poured out. He had spent the time rewriting the sermon he planned to give on Sunday. Trying to make Faith interesting to a ship full of Space-jocks was never easy, he mused. They would fidget so! Or covertly read magazines at the back . . .
He sighed heavily, and took another careful mouthful from the mug.
If only something he could come up with something that would really grab thier attention. Something the crew just couldn't ignor. Perhaps, he thought daringly, something a little bit dramatic!
Glancing up from his contemplation of java, the Pastor found himself nose to nose with a near-incandescent Colonel MCQueen.
"Er, Colonel - " he started, somewhat taken aback. "Can I hel - "
It seemed the Colonel had no time for Social Niceties, however.
"You! With me! NOW!"
Angelina regarded the Visitors Quarters dismissively.
She didn't plan to stay.
By now the corridors around the canteen were starting to get congested. Little Pumpkin decided that it was time to head for higher ground. He spotted Vansen and Damphousse and decided to trip one, or preferably both, of them up.
"Oh! Heeey, Pumpkin!" Damphousse grinned when she looked down at the kitten, who was busily winding himself around her feet. "What are you doing here, huh?" She tried to bend down to pet him, but was hampered by the chicken under her arm. "Oh, hey Shane, pick him up before he gets stepped on."
"No way! Uh-huh." Vansen, hands on hips, eyed Little Pumpkin with disapproval. "He's viscious."
"He is NOT!" the other woman protested vehemently. "He's sweet!"
"Then you pick him up and take the consequences."
"Okay, I will ! "
And with that, Damphousse unceremoniously thrust the chicken into Vansens' unwilling grasp, then ducked down to scoop the kitten to safety before her Captain could either reject or protest. "Hey, baby. You stick with your Aunty Vanessa and everything's gonna be just fine!"
As it happened, Damphousse had acted just in time. Someone from up ahead on the crush shouted back "There he goes!"
And with that the Chase was on!
MEANWHILE, IN THE 'RADIO SHACK' . . .
"Speak up, dammit! Say again!"
" . . . radio transmi . . . ommodore! Looks like a riot dow . . . "
" . . . Sir, I can't - . . . "
"Repeat that! Repeat! Did you say 'A RIOT'?"
" . . . bad reception, Sir. . . . . . keep brea - "
"On myyyyyyyy ship?"
" . . . eading for deck elev . . . McQueen . . . Woman . . . the Padre , Sir! - "
"That's Colonel McQueen to you, sol - @*&%$!!!"
" . . . sssssss . . . . Say again, Sir? . . . Come back! . . . Sir?! . . . "
(Exit Commodore at speed attended by Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, other ranks, cats, nosey people, divers alarums, plagues, hails of fire and blood and Jupiter descending on a cloud bearing thunderbolts . . . )
West winced as the door slammed open behind him. If there was one thing that he had learned from his time with Kylen, it was that a door-slammer was best avoided. That idea in mind he turned, poised to make his escape.
But when he made the turn, he was staggered to find Colonel McQueen and a Cast of Thousands blocking the exit - including Vansen with the Chicken, Damphousse with a smug-looking Kitten, Hawkes with Chigger the Dog and Wang nose to nose with a man with a purple face who seemed to be wearing Chefs' Whites and brandishing a raw saussage in the air!
And right at the back, failing to make any headway through the crush - wasn't that Commodore Ross with an armed Security detatchment? Whatever they was planning, West didn't think they were going to arrive in time!
Oblivious of the Insane Host at his back, Colonel McQueen glared fixedly at Angelina.
Equally oblivious, Angelina calmly stepped toward him, placed both her hands on her hips, and gazed back.
There was a definite frission in the air.
Not known for prevarication, McQueen got straight to the point.
"You can't marry me, Madam, and you wouldn't want to," he growled. "I'm nothing but an old, scarred soldier; an In Vitro who is unable to father children - not a good choice as a Husband."
Angelina said nothing. She just gazed.
"One of my legs has been blown off at the knee," he continued brusquely, "I've no family, and most of my friends are dead. My sense of balance is less than perfect, and my eyesight isn't so good either."
This last caused Angelina to frown slightly. "Excuse me one moment, please," she said thoughtfully. She turned to her bag, from which she extracted a long white envelope. From that envelope she recovered her copy of a Letter. Slowly and carefully, she re-read the Letter. Then she returned the Letter to the envelope, and the envelope to the bag.
She returned to stand before McQueen.
"All this I was informed of in my Letter, Sir," she explained.
Thoroughly rattled by this unexpected turn of events, Colonel McQueen made one last attempt to divert her from her course. It was a hard thing for him to admit in public.
"I can't peel oranges without making a mess," he concluded bitterly.
"Ahh," Angelina replied with a gentle smile. "But I can."
So Colonel McQueen decided to Take A Chance.
"Dearly beloved - yes, Sir, I am hurrying! - we are gathered here today . . . "
So many strange and wonderful things have happened to me today, Mamma, that I barely know where I should begin . . .
SOME MONTHS LATER . . .
"Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!!! "
Colonel McQueen slammed the door shut behind him and, scowling blackly, plonked himself down on the bed. He began removing his flight-boots. "Damn!" he added for good measure as he slung his right boot across the room and into the open locker - which caused Little Pumpkin to perform a sharp exit from there to his second favourite sleeping place (at the foot of the bed, on top of McQueen's 'other' black flightsuit).
Angelina looked up from her sewing and regarded her husband curiously. "Whatever is the matter, Tamai Mahina│?" she asked, reaching across to pass him a mug of freshly brewed tea. (│Father Moon. )
"Matter?" McQueen scowled. "What do you think?"
"Oh. Them." Angelina sighed wearily and set the stuffed toy pig that she had been working on to one side, next to a dozen or so other toy pigs, sheep and chickens of a similar vein. She crossed the room and seated herself next to him. "What have they done now? "
"What haven't they done, you mean." he took a long, strengthening gulp of his drink before starting his list of the Wild Cards latest misdemeanors. "Let me see. West, you know - Nathan? - well, he's gone AWOL again. Another bogus Kylen Hunt, naturally!" He pulled a long face at the recollection. "It seems some of the British Royal Marines have been taking it in turns to hide behind doors or down empty corridors, and then wail his name in a high-pitched voice."
"That usually does the trick," his wife agreed, taking the now empty mug away from him before he threw it after the boots and broke something.
"I would have stepped in to put a stop to it," McQueen continued, picking up one of Angelina's toy sheep that had strayed from the flock and absently tossing it from hand to hand, "but then I got a call from Medical. Paul Wang's been taken in again - chronic hysteria, they said. Our Belgian Air Force detatchment were rostered to share the Canteen with the Cards at breakfast this morning, and some wag had brought a box of plastic cockroaches back with him from Leave. Three of them were flicking the damn things across the room at him with the aid of elastic bands . . . Stop smiling! It's not funny!"
"I'm sorry, tamai mahina. But, perhaps, could not Lieutenant Damphousse or your Captain Vansen have put a stop to it?"
"Under normal circumstances I could have trusted Damphousse, at least! But no! She was pinned in one corner of the Canteen by a massive tomato ketchup spill accidentally created by some of the Russians." He paused to shudder at this particularly gruesome memory. "And as for Shane Vansen? Well I suppose she could have done something - had she been there!. Unfortunately, she was trapped in the Showers. Somebody crept in and stole the lightbulb. Again! I tell you, than was not a coincidence. "He sighed heavily and set the sheep down with the rest of the toys. "I don't know . . . What with that and Hawkes being sent to the Cells for the third time this month on a charge of Illicit Bacon Procurement . . . God, but I wish I could do something else for a living!"
"Well, " said Angelina sensibly,"what would you like to do? I expect I can work out how to make it happen."
McQueen didn't doubt it - Angelina could be very Persuasive when she put her mind to it.
So he told her.
And after the War was over, she made it happen.
And they all lived happily ever after, and the 58th only came to stay four times a year, and the Colonel gradually left off reading 'The Big Book of Gloomy War Poems' and started reading 'The Sunshine Book of Happy Thoughts' - and was a lot better for it.
But Angelina never got her pig back.
If you want to know what Colonel McQueen did after the war, then just follow this link -
What's This about a Pig?
In Tonga, pigs are reserved for Royalty and famous warriors. Angelina was bringing her pig as a dowry for the great warrior Wang and Hawkes had descrbed in their mail order, which is why she was so upset when it was stolen. However, McQueen never knew this and so missed out on piglessness angst.
Later she Had Words with them about having described all McQueen's heroic exploits on the application form, and having been pretty accurate about his shortcomings but forgetting to mention the most salient point - to wit his overwhelming cuteness.
She's a tougher cookie than you think . . .