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Chicken Hell

By Sam Seal

(Based on the characters of the series 'Space: Above and Beyond', created by Morgan and Wong.)

Colonel McQueen could stand the screaming no longer. He slowly lowered his coffee mug, drummed his fingers on the table top thoughtfully, before picking up his side-arm and checking that it was loaded. Reassured that it was, he rose from his chair, crossed the room and carefully opened the door from his Quarters.

Nothing. But the sounds of screaming were louder now. He tilted his head, trying to get a fix on the source of all the noise. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the Dormitory which was situated, for everyone's safety, at the end of the dead-end corridor. Which made McQueen's room The Last Bastion Of Sanity on the entire ship before any unsuspecting Crew-member were to encounter...

The Fifty-Eighth Squadron!

Their Actions were the Stuff of Legend throughout the Fleet. Their Name alone cause the Strongest Marine to tremble. Wherever they went, their Reputation preceded them. Friend and Foe alike knew to get out of their way - before there was Trouble...

And Colonel McQueen was their Leader. He used to think this was something of a Mixed Blessing - but he'd been wrong. He knew now that it hadn't been a Blessing at all.

He approached the entrance warily, un-holstering his weapon as he moved. Even though the door was closed, it was unable to muffle the shrieks of agony, the bellows or rage and Wang's uncontrolled screaming.

McQueen suddenly threw open the door, ready of anything.

Anything, that was, except feathers. He withdrew back into the corridor and gazed, horrified, at the vision before him. It was a scene from Hell. Dante could not have done better!

The room resembled the aftermath of an explosion in a Chicken Factory. Only with more noise and no yellow scaly feet - at least none in evidence at this time. He thought he could vaguely distinguish some figures moving around in the midst of the blizzard. Vansen stood poised for battle centre stage, whilst West lay sprawled on his stomach across the floor. Meanwhile, Wang stood transfixed in one corner, having Hysterics and trying to fight off Damphousse, who was frantically attempting to shut him up by stuffing one of Hawkes' dirty bed-socks into his mouth.

The Colonel re-holstered his side-arm, regretfully. "What the HELL is going ON here!" he demanded furiously.

Vansen climbed over West and battled her way over to him. She pulled herself up to her full height and snapped off a smart salute.

"Sir! Pillow Fight, Sir!"

Well, McQueen thought, that at least explains most the feathers and some of the noise... He sighed, supposing that he really ought to try getting to the bottom of it all.

"The reason for which was..?" he asked apprehensively.

Vansen took a moment to consider, before answering truthfully "Sir! West drank all the lemonade at our..." she hesitated, "...at our Midnight Feast, Sir!"

"I see," McQueen replied, not really seeing at all, but damned if he was going to let them know it. "So you all jumped West, using your pillows to bludgeon him to the deck?"

Vansen looked taken aback. "Sir, no, Sir! Only until he cried 'Uncle', Sir!"

"And did he, Captain?"

"Sir, yes, Sir!"

"Then tell me, please, why IS he laying on the floor, Vansen?"

Vansen failed to look McQueen in the eyes and she answered "He's... Sir! The Lieutenant is looking for... something, Sir!" She was obviously unwilling to expand on the matter.

But McQueen wasn't about to let her off the hook quite so easily. He regarded her levelly, and raised an inquiring eyebrow. "This being...?"

The Captain started to sweat. "Permission to Take the Fifth, Sir?" she begged feebly.

McQueen smiled with satisfaction. "Permission granted, Vansen. Besides, I want to hear his excuse for myself. Now, go fetch a vacuum cleaner and start clearing up some of this mess."

The Colonel sighed heavily. Oh God, he thought, do I really want to dig any deeper into this? Well, Duty Calls, I suppose... He brushed passed the near-bolting Vansen, clambered across to where West was laying, and prodded the prone form experimentally with one foot. "WEST!"

First Lieutenant Nathan West scrambled unceremoniously to his feet and sketched a salute with one hand, whilst trying in vain to brush the worst of the feathers off his shirt with the other. "Sir!"

McQueen regarded the Lieutenant bleakly. "Do you have ANY idea what you look like, West?" he asked critically.

West shuffled his feet. "The floor was dusty, Sir," he explained at a far more reasonable volume than Vansen's full-blooded bellow, whilst simultaneously trying to work out why none of the feathers seemed to have settled on the Colonel...

"Well, West," the immaculate C.O. suggested laconically, "after Vansen has finished with the vacuuming, YOU can... personally... wash the floor!"

If there was one thing McQueen really enjoyed, it was Poetic Justice.

"Noooooo!!!" Nathan West wailed Wang-ishly, wringing his hands and looking agonised.

The Colonel blinked. He hadn't expect West's reaction to be quite that violent. "Damn it! West - I wanted you to clean the damn floor - not audition for the role of Lady Mcbeth!"

"But Sir! You don't understand! She's GONE!" West cried, brandishing an empty match-box under the Colonel's nose. "And if Vansen uses the Hoover - she might be KILLED!"

Colonel McQueen took a moment to mentally review West's last statement. He didn't THINK West had been referring to Vansen as the Potential Victim - the Saratoga's complement of Domestic Appliances had never featured highly in its Military Arsenal. Which sort of implied...

"WHO might be killed, Nathen?" he asked gently.

West sniffed forlornly. "PG, Sir."

"PG..?" he repeated, bemused. "Now, Nathan, I know I'm probably going to regret asking this, but... exactly WHO is PG?"

"She's my... pet, Sir. I keep her in this match-box." He indicated the empty box that hung from his neck, next to his ID tag. "She's a wood louse, Sir," he whispered confidentially, "and she eats dust," he added. "Except, her box got tipped onto the floor during the fighting and now she's gone. But - I have faith. I WILL find her..."

The Colonel watched West wander off to inspect the underside of the wash-basin anxiously. Where had he heard THAT particular tale before, he mused.

Rubbing his face wearily with one hand, McQueen progressed steadily through Chicken Hell until he reached Damphousse and Wang at the back of the room. (He was perfectly well aware that these were not, in fact, chicken feathers at all, but most likely goose feathers - but the 'Exploding Chicken' imagery was far too deeply ingrained in his sub-conscious for him to worry about it now...)

Wang was still attempting to scream around a mouthful of Norwegian Double- Knit. Damphousse had finally succeeded in wrestling her friend to the floor, and was currently kneeling on his chest, slapping his face lightly and telling him to Shut-The-Hell-Up!

McQueen regarded Damphousse with some fondness. She was generally the least rowdy and aggressive member of the 58th, whilst still managing to make a good Marine. She'd never gone AWOL, never answered back, never got into drugs or drink, never played the Fool. She was also practical, had a healthy dose of Common Sense, and mean Right Hook...

Plus, she could always be relied upon to provide him with the odd piece of chocolate when the craving got too much...

"Let him up," he ordered mildly, helping Damphousse to her feet. Then they both had to help Wang up and un-bung himself, at which point he threatened to start getting hysterical all over again, until Damphousse elbowed him hard in the ribs. McQueen decided to give him a minute to pull himself together.

"Now," he asked patiently, "what's YOUR problem?"

Wang glanced about nervously. He was still on the edge of panic even now. "It's all these feathers, Colonel," he babbled. "When I was a kid, back in that Hell Hole, I used to wake up and find them in my bed, on my clothes, even on my FACE. I HATE FEATHERS!!! I'm NEVER going back there - d'you hear me? NEVER!!!"

"Oh," McQueen replied, enlightened. "Well, if you feel THAT strongly about it, DON'T go back! Personally, I thought Chicago was OK for an Industrial City, what with its attractive lake-front location, excellent Transportation Network and interesting variety of Cultural Centres, including the Alder Planetarium and the Chicago Historical Society - famous for its material on the American Civil War. Not to mention the Lyric Opera, which has revived the city's tradition of having its own opera company, which was established after the successful merging of two other companies early in the Twentieth Century. Plus the high percentage of employment, the low crime rate and excellent housing facilities initiated at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century. But if its really a problem for you..." he called out through the haze to Wang's rapidly receding back.

He bent and retrieved the less soggy of the two socks cast so casually to the floor. "And speaking of Problems..." he added, glancing around thoughtfully. "Where's Hawkes?"

Damphousse shrugged non-committally. "He said he was going surfing, Sir."

McQueen resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands and walk out. "I hate to be the one to break this to you, Lieutenant," he said, "but The Saratoga's currently twelve light years away from any single body of water big enough to float a boat on, let alone sur - "

He was rendered speechless by the remarkable appearance of the previously unaccounted for Lieutenant Cooper Hawkes. Remarkable in as much as the fact that he was wielding a surf board whilst wearing nothing but a pair of Board Shorts and a garland of bright hibiscus flowers.

"Aloha!" Hawkes said cheerfully, and proceeded to stow the board beneath his bunk. Then he turned to slowly gaze around the room, awe-struck. "Hey guys," he complained in a hurt voice, "why didn't anyone tell me it was going to snow..."

THE END

Copyright SamSeal

June, 1997