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Chigger

By Sam Seal

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

The scratching was louder this time. An unfamiliar sound - of sharp claws on a bare metal floor. Followed by a long, low growl that started gut-churning fear deep in Cooper Hawkes belly. The unmistakable sounds of a predator!

And it was under his bunk.

The sound came again. Scratch, scratch... and the soft sound of ripping cloth. This was too much for Hawkes, who now knew without a doubt that his secret stash was in danger of discovery by the Unknown Bogey. He had to act.

Very slowly, the Lieutenant slid his K-bar from its sheath, rolled into a sitting position and prepared to drop from the top bunk into a crouch, tackling the would-be thief from behind. Noting the slumbering forms of his companions by the dim glow of the night-light with brief regret, Hawkes made his move.

"H'YAAA!!!" he bellowed, launching himself onto the crouching black shadow below.

"WOOF!!!" said the would-be thief - and licked him wetly on the face with what felt like a wet mossy flannel, liberally smeared with the gravy from half of a rather nice steak and kidney pie that Hawkes had been hoping to save for an emergency.

" MY PIE!!! " he cried in anguish, attempting to wrestle the small, wriggly black puppy to the deck and so retrieve the remaining half. But the dog beat him to it, whipping the soggy handful from the Lieutenants' hand and wolfing it down with many a happy whuffle of appreciation and a furiously wagging tail. "You greedy little b&$%&úd!" Cooper hissed. "I was saving that!!!" Hawkes grasped the dog firmly in an arm-lock, and was about to try prising its jaws open in a final bid at pie retrieval when dazzling light suddenly flooded the room.

"Cooper - let it go. NOW!!!"

Lieutenant Cooper Hawkes sighed resignedly and released his grip on the puppy, which promptly started licking his face all over again. It also attempted to climb onto his lap - not easy considering that the Lieutenant was still kneeling on the floor.

It seemed like a good time to get up. "It ate my pie," Hawkes explained in a small voice to the remainder of his Squadron. "The General gave me that pie - personally! It crept in here and it ate my Souvenir English Kate and Sidney Pie!"

Pandemonium.

"You had a pie?" Wang wailed. " I never had pie! I like pies!"

"How come we didn't have pies!" Vansen added, bursting to the front of the group and pointing an accusing finger at the gravy stains on the floor. "It's not fair! We risk our lives in the Thick - every day, almost, and all we got for dinner was... "

" Pies?" a bemused Colonel McQueen suggested from behind them.

Everyone became embarrassing quiet.

But not for long. After all, this was the 58th.

"Cooper - are those my new curlers under your bunk?" Vansen demanded furiously.

"Well they're not mine!"

"You didn't see PG while you were down there?" West asked, getting down on all fours and peering under Hawkes' bunk. "Maybe, you know, hiding behind your surf-board?"

"Hey! My bed-socks!" Damphousse added as she picked up a well chewed lump of something that might, once upon a time, have been a size five woolly sock. "Eurch! It's all wet!" she complained. "And not just from being chewed, either."

"My football!!!" Wang held the punctured leather ellipsoid aloft in distress.

"And my Purple Heart..."

Everyone turned to look at Hawkes.

After a couple of minutes it began to dawn on Cooper that he might just be in trouble.

"Hey!" he said, raising his hands in innocence, "Blame the dog - not me."

" It's YOUR dog!" they chorused.

After a couple more minutes Hawkes remembered that it was, indeed, his dog - given to him by General Ffortescue-Smythe (on the grounds that he'd forgotten to return it) shortly before the 58th and all the other prisoners had been rescued from the prison ship 'Chigditz' by a group of real Marines (namely Marines who obeyed orders right away and without question, Marines who didn't have shouting arguments whilst deep in the middle of Enemy territory, or go AWOL every time it suited their purpose, or have bizarre phobias about little things like blood, the dark ect. ect. ect... The kind of Marines that Colonel McQueen could only dream of).

(i.e. Real Marines.)

Colonel McQueen crouched to retrieved the metallic remains of his Purple Heart. It was bent. Most of the enamel had come off. So had Washington's nose. And the ribbon was nowhere to be seen. He winced slightly - it was also covered in dog-slobber.

Cooper sighed, regarding his puppy in the same way McQueen was apt to regard the 58th. "What am I supposed to do with you?" he said, unconsciously quoting the Colonel. " And I'm all covered in gravy," he added (definitely not quoting the Colonel. Probably).

The puppy wagged its tail hopefully, and propped both front paws on the Lieutenants' knees.

"Down!" he ordered the puppy in a hopeless voice. Suprisingly, the puppy dropped to the deck.

"Sit?" he suggested. The puppy sat.

"Lie down!" he added experimentally. It dropped to the deck, still wagging its tail for all it was worth. This was something worthy of further investigation, he decided.

"Er... roll over?" he tried. The puppy rolled.

Hawkes looked up at McQueen - about to apologise for the sad demise of the Purple Heart - and paused.

There was a thoughtful, distant look in the Colonels' eyes...


That afternoon the 58th were sitting or their bunks, reading magazines and trying to think of a suitable name for Hawkes' puppy - now collectively forgiven for all past misdemeanours by courtesy of it being Cute.

"What about... Merit!" Damphousse suggested, tying a rather ragged piece of purple and silver ribbon into a bow around the puppy's' head - just to see the effect it had on Hawkes.

"Who?" Wang asked incuriously.

"Merit," she repeated patiently. "See - it's sewn onto this ribbon. Hey - didn't she get spammed down on Boonwell?"

Wang shrugged. "Guess it must have been hers, then."

"Puppy's a boy!" Hawkes muttered, gently retrieving the dog from Damphousse's bunk before she thought to squirt it with something smelly, like deodorant or girlie perfume.

"Well then... how about... Marion," West said with an evil look in Vansen's direction.

Vansen lobbed a pillow at West. "Shut up, Nathen!" she said, good-naturedly.

Hawkes decided it was time to make a protective wall around the puppy with his arms. "I told you - puppy's a Boy!"

"John Wayne's Christian name was really Marion," Wang pointed out truthfully. "Hey! Maybe you could call him John Wayne!"

"Who?" Hawkes asked, not being au fait with Westerns - which was a pity, because he would have loved them.

"He played a Cowboy in loads of old films," Damphousse explained, patiently starting to darn what was left of her socks.

Hawkes frown thoughtfully. "So... Shane's sister named her daughter... after a Cowboy? "

Wang promptly had hysterics all over the floor. "Yeah - at least everyone'd know she was a Vansen!" he sniggered.

"And you can shut up, too! Your not so tough!" She addressed the others. "Hey guys - remember his face when he found out he was drinking Urine Recych. that time?"

"I thought it was Budwiesser..." Wang answered defensively. "And at least I stopped drinking it when I found out what it really was."

Lacking another pillow of her own, Vansen was forced to reach across and steal West's - causing him to retaliate with a cudgel made from a pair of socks - by stuffing one balled-up sock into the end of the other and swinging it with gusto from the top of his bunk.

After about ten minutes of this, Vansen, Damphousse, Wang and West realised that Hawkes hadn't been joining in the rough-housing as he normally liked to. They turned to inspect the silent Lieutenant worriedly.

"He's not moving," Vansen murmured.

"You don't think he's..' you know... dead, do you?" Wang whispered nervously. "His eyes look really glassy."

West took a step closer. "Nooo... I'm not sure, but I think he's... Thinking!"

"Awesome!" Damphousse gasped. "I mean - the thought of Coop 'Thinking' puts me in mind of... I don't know... Tectonic Plates or something..."

"What do you think he's thinking about?" Vansen asked nervously.

"Dread to think," West replied.


Meanwhile in Commodore Ross's Quarters...

"This is an important mission, Ty," Ross said from his chair, where he was currently attempting to link a 'C Minor 7' to a 'Dominant 7 a forth higher' using the most difficult fingering. "Only the best (strum) Marines in the Corps (strum) for this one, so the high-high-ups (strum) are insisting (strum) on the 58th for the job (stru-twaaannnggg!). OW!!! Dammit! " The Commodore placed his guitar carefully on the floor and turned to face McQueen. "Damn thing sounds too Dominant anyway," he grumbled.

McQueen relaxed a notch. At least there hadn't been any singing.

Or yodelling...

"Sir, about the 58th - " he started.

"Now Ty," Ross cut in gently, "I know your fond of those kids - "

"But - "

"And none of us want to place their young lives in danger - "

"Ah - "

"But they are Marines, and as such it is their Duty to fight front-line in the coming conflict down on Pantyhose - "

McQueen winced. "Patroclus, sir."

"Hmmm?" Ross was absently fishing around in one on the drawers, in search of another D string.

"The planets name is Patroclus, sir. He was a friend of Achilles. And about the Wild Cards, sir? The thing is - "

"They're going, Ty," Ross insisted, triumphantly brandishing a new D string at the Colonel and reaching for the guitar.

"They're USELESS!!! Sir." McQueen burst out. "They don't have a clue! Cooper's DOG has a better Military Instinct. And he's a damn sight easier to train, too." He raised his eyes Heaven-ward in an appeal for strength. "They are utterly hopeless..."

The Commodore eyed his friend with compassion. "Of course they are. That is why we gave them to you. If anyone could lick them into shape it would be you, Ty. Also, we thought it might help bring you out of yourself - maybe help you forget the 127th. The Top Brass have always known they were bad."

"They did? " McQueen gasped. He felt stunned. Not only stunned, but also horribly betrayed.

Ross sighed. "Uh-huh. Nevertheless, they are going," he insisted calmly. " And when they go it is up to you to see that they are fit for the purpose." Ross reached for his pitch-pipes, indicating that this particular conversation was at an end.

McQueen was far beyond mere 'stunned' by this point but - after a sudden burst of inspiration - he rapidly began functioning normally again. "Then - Permission to go with them to Patroclus, sir!" he begged, eyeing the pitch-pipes speculatively.

Ross nodding in immediate comprehension. "Permission granted, Colonel. And... you have my Express Permission to use Any Means Necessary to turn the 58th into an effective fighting force by Thursday morning."


Colonel McQueen entered the Wild Cards Bunk-rook silently, loath to break the mood. He approached Hawkes bunk, and moved slowly forward.

"Cooper," he whispered. "What are you doing?"

Hawkes blinked with infinite slowness, then turned to face the others. "I've thought of a name for my puppy," he explain distantly.

Everyone stepped back in amazement.

"I was remembering that story the Colonel was telling us - you know - about that bunch of Pilots in the Second World War who dropped those rubber bombs - "

" - Bouncing bombs - "

" - on all them Dams."

"The six-one-seven Squadron," McQueen prompted.

Hawkes nodded. "Yeah. Well, the Guy in charge of them had a dog just like mine, and when I saw him hiding under my bunk I thought for a moment that he was one, so I figured I could call my puppy - "

"Cooper!" McQueen warned him in alarm, suddenly realising that the spectre of Political Incorrectness loomed darkly.

Hawkes blinked. "No!" he said defensively. "I mean - I'm going to call him 'Chigger'...."

THE END

Copyright SamSeal

August, 1997