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Lukewarm in London

By Sam Seal

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

The 58th had still been recovering from the ISSCV's Standard Crash Landing when the Chigs had attacked. Five of the Wild Cards lay dead from gut-shot wounds on the ground - but fortunately they were unessential characters, not vital to the plot.

Meanwhile McQueen and The Wild Cards were Prisoners, newly transported to the Chigs most infamous Prisoner Of War camp - a massive enemy Flying Fortress known to those humans who were contained onboard as... Chigditz!

Each of the Wild Cards had been scheduled for Intensive Interrogation during the first half of that day. Being in charge, Colonel McQueen had heroically volunteered to go first. The Chigs had demanded the usual sort of information - the intended target of the Earthers' attack; all proposed military movements in the area; whether they took sugar in their tea ect...

They had failed to elicit anything of worth from him though, having opted to tickle the wrong foot.

Having released McQueen they then chose another victim - but, alas for them, they selected Cooper Hawkes to go next and, assuming that all Marines were alike, rapidly concluded that the 58th knew very little about anything at all!

LATER...

Having been considerately billeted in an area reserved for English-speakers, the Wild Cards were released into the Courtyard to mingle with some of their fellow prisoners, most of whom seemed perfectly rational. True, some of the Canadians had a nasty habit of breaking the Rule and speaking French when-ever they got over-excited, and the other Americans kept fighting over who's turn it was to use the Cooler for Pitch and Catch practise - but on the whole it was a fairly sane mix!

It wasn't until the Wild Cards encountered their first batch of English prisoners that the relevance of the 'sugar in tea' question was revealed.

"Oh yes, old boy!" General Ffortescue-Smythe of the 44th Royal Berkshire Regiment explained cheerfully to McQueen as they toured their little slice of Paradise, the rest of the 58th obediently (for a change) trailing along behind. "Absolutely HAVE to insist on sugar in ones tea - the Geneva Convention and all that. Keep old Jonney-Chig on his toes, eh what? Or... was it the Hague Convention? Who knows? Who cares! Just as long as they stick to it, that's what I say!" The General brandished his baton wildly to emphasise the point.

He led them past the queue for the British Quarters' impromptu 18 Hole Golf Course and into the British Dormitory, making sure to give the Vaulting Horse in the centre of the room a wide birth as he did so. The other British prisoners paused briefly in their activities to regard them incuriously, before returning to their Concert Party rehearsal.

"Don't mind them! Singin's damn good for moral," Ffortescue-Smythe cried above the chorus of "Pack up your Chiggy in a Body Bag and smile, smile, smile..." He waved his baton at the choir encouragingly, whilst using his right hand to put a full kettle of water on to boil atop the rooms small stove. "Plus, of course, the noise drowns out the sounds of digging!" He paused to indicate a relatively empty corner. "Now," he said, "just make yourselves at home!"

"Digging?" McQueen enquired faintly as he watched the others settle where-ever they could find a space. Taking the General at his word, Hawkes tried to perch on one of the available bunks - and promptly fell through it! The rest of the 58th gathered to inspect the damage - which turned out to be surprisingly minimal.

Ffortescue-Smythe had the grace to look abashed as he approached. "Ah, yes," he sighed. "DO try to be careful, chaps and chap-esses, most of these bunks have been stripped to their frames. Pit props, you know..."

Knowing his Military History, Colonel McQueen had been half-expecting this bizarre turn in events, and so managed to maintain a commendably straight face when the General approached him and whispered conspiratorially "We're digging an Escape Tunnel, you see... Well, three, actually! I believe they're called Ron, Mick and Gary, or something..."

He led the Colonel over to where the Vaulting Horse stood, inexplicably, in the middle of the room, where-upon he leant over to cautiously tap a special coded rhythm against one side.

After a moments muffled conversation from within, the entire structure shifted itself a couple of feet to the right to reveal two dirty, yet remarkable cheerful, faces peering up at them from ground level. Each man saluted smartly, before reaching back down to their feet and producing a couple of small sacks full of dirt. They proceeded to pass these up to their team-mates, who seemed to magically spirit them away.

"Amazing, isn't it?" the General asked the Wild Cards, his voice laced with enthusiasm as he handed around six mugs of freshly brewed and impossibly sweet tea.

"It most certainly is!" McQueen answered truthfully, speaking for all of them.

They were even more amazed to hear of the ways in which the soil was being 'lost' - the roof-space was already packed to capacity, it seemed, and dry mud was damn-near impossible to casually scatter across the floor of a star-ship and simply 'toe in' - and so the British had successfully campaigned for some space in which they might create an Allotment - ostensibly a place in which to grow their own vegetables - but in reality an excellent cover for the secret dispose of all the extra dirt.

General Ffortescue-Smythe sighed luxuriously as he took his first sip of tea. "Not quite Earl Grey," he apologised ruefully, "but a damned sight better than that stuff they served at Sandhurst, eh, Colonel? Mind you - " he continued before McQueen could formulate a repeatable answer, "if I could have ONE wish fulfilled at this moment, it would be to be back home in dear old Blighty, stood at the bar in the 'Hanging Highwayman'. And there, on the bar before me, would be a pint of Best Bitter - three inches of head and warm enough to toast a crumpet over!"

There was a collective sigh from around the room. Some of the Brits had to wipe a wistful tear from their eyes... And a couple were practically sobbing.

McQueen hastily downed his tea in a couple of gulps, grimacing at the taste of almost neat syrup, and rose to his feet decisively. It was DEFINITELY time to leave.

"Well, good luck with the Tunnels, Sir," he said smoothly as he endeavoured to chivvy the Wild Cards out of the room before the Air of Insanity began to rub off onto them - though it would be hard to make them worse than they already were, he added mentally. "But we really MUST be going!"

They had almost made it to the door before Ffortescue-Smythe intercepted them. "Ah yes! Colonel, before you go - a little dickey bird has told me your lot are pretty fair pilots. Am I right? Good!" He gushed happily, brandishing a toasting fork under McQueen's nose. "Well then, you might just be interested in a joint effort and join some of our boys up in the loft - they're attempting to build a Glider - out of toilet roll holders, don't ya know..."

THE END

Copyright SamSeal

June, 1997