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Training Mission

By Sam Seal

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

TUESDAY - 0800 HOURS...

Commodore Ross was busy at his desk, pouring over the schematics and other general paperwork pertaining to McQueen's latest Combat proposal. He was trying to look at it from a new perspective.

"I'm not entirely convinced, Colonel," he said in his most concerned tone. "I mean to say, it's not that it's an impossible plan, but - damn it! It could still go either way."

McQueen was forced to admit the strength of Ross's argument. "I agree, sir, it is ugly." He leaned back against a spare bit of wall, sighed and started to fiddle absently with the empty whiskey glass he had set on the top of the bookcase. "But we tried Diplomacy before and it got us nowhere."

Ross smiled. "The way I see it, Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie!'... 'till you can find a rock." He shook his head, bemused at their predicament. "Still, I've never had a friend I trusted more than I trust you, Ty, and I sincerely believe that if we show a united front this time, we can beat this thing together."

The Commodore then paused to reread an unrelated note he had taken delivery of that very morning. "I got another Epistle from the Romans today," he commented, passing the note across to McQueen. "The Generals are coming to monitor our latest Mission down on Pantyhose."

McQueen let it pass.

"And I am most certain that we should finish with this current 'situation' before the Generals arrive at eighteen hundred hours. With all that Top Brass on board - we sure wouldn't want this getting out!"

McQueen stood up straight, bracing himself for the difficult task ahead. "I agree, Sir." He picked up the empty glass. "So - I'll cover the left half of the room in case it makes a break for the door, while you get down off the chair and take the right half, cutting off its route to the bookcase. Ready, Sir?"

Ross nodded resignedly, picking up another empty glass and climbing cautiously down off the seat. "I suppose so. But - God help me, Ty - I am never going to like big hairy spiders as long as I live."


LATER...

Down in the Briefing room, the entire 58th Squadron were currently draping themselves around the furniture and trying to look 'tough'.

It wasn't working.

So far their Training Session had not been one hundred percent successful. In truth - to quote a famous quote - it had not even been one percent successful.

"All right," McQueen said, patiently pacing back and forth before them, "we'll go over it again! Furthermore, we will keep on going over it until you get it right. Now then - who can tell me what one blast on the whistle means? ...Anybody..?"

Vansen raised a tentative hand. "Uhh... Roll Over?"

McQueen opted not to think about that particular lost opportunity too much - but it wasn't easy. "Nooo....." he sighed. "Anyone else? Yes, West!"

"Fetch!"

"No! Wang?"

"Beg?"

"I'm afraid not. Damphousse?"

"Play Dead for the Commodore, Sir?"

"No, Lieutenant - that's three blasts. I want one blast - like this!" He gave the whistle a quick toot. "Cooper?"

Hawkes dropped his gaze, feeling hunted. Fortunately his gaze dropped onto Chigger the Faithful Hound, who had been quietly sitting by the side of his chair throughout the entire Training Exercise. The puppy suddenly lay down, wagging its tail. Cooper knew he had a fifty-fifty chance now - pretty good odds, even for an In Vitro - and though he was no Sherlock Holmes, even his power of deductive reasoning came up with the correct answer fairly quickly.

"Lay down!" Hawkes cried in relief.

"YES! GOOD! Hoo-yah! Progress at last." The Colonel returned the whistle to his pocket.

The Wild Cards relaxed.

This was a Mistake, as McQueen decided it was now time to make one of his Inspiring Speeches instead. He looked around for some furniture to knock over, but the Commodore had wisely hidden the desk and any surplus chairs securely out of harm's reach for the duration of the exercise. He had to make do with posing on a step instead. He fixed them all with a determined stare and then indicated a planet on the star chart with his pointed stick. (This was not easy, because the step was at the opposite end of the room from the map, but he managed it nevertheless.)

"OK, listen up - in less than two days we will be landing on Patroclus in order to assist in the evacuation of a group of VIP's - who have gone to the planet with the sole intention of entertaining our Troops. This is a vital mission, People, so I don't want to see any mistakes.

"During the Second World War Allied Troops were posted to some of the most far-flung, most inhospitable locations on Earth. As the War progressed, and casualties mounted, the Morale of those brave men and women understandably suffered..."

(West looked up from his {necessarily max.-zoom} photograph of PG and turned to Vansen, muttering sotto voce "Who set him off this time?" Vansen shrugged, turning her attention back to the fashion magazine concealed on her lap. Meanwhile Hawkes and Chigger had both nodded off to sleep, whilst Wang and Damphousse had begun playing round 237 of their 'Best-out-of-500' Noughts and Crosses Tournament.)

EVEN LATER...

"...both CNN and the BBC Inter-Planetary Service Networks will be filming the evacuation - the eyes of the World will be watching. More to the point, so will I. So, in conclusion, it will be vital to the entire Operation that we remain alert to all possible dangers both on the ground and in the air.... Is that clear!? "

(Chorus) "Zzzz..."



1800 HOURS +

"No, you don't do it like that. See? It's not working right..."

"How about... we put this in first, then..."

"Ouch - it's hot!"

"I think it's meant to be. Now, if I remember this right you've got to..."

"Now?"

"No - leave it a couple of minutes..."

"What about this stuff? Doesn't it have to go in first?"

"I don't know! Shane - you're Honcho, you decide!"

"O.K.... I say we put the milk in first, then pour. The Brass can add their own sugar when we get there. Right?"

" RIGHT!!!"

WEDNESDAY MORNING

The morning dawned bright and clear. This was unsurprising considering the Saratoga was currently in geo-stationary orbit around a small star in the Myrmidon system.

Colonel McQueen had ultimately decided that the best thing for everyone would be if he simply handed out a Short List of Commands (photo-copied from a book entitled Training Dogs - the Whistle Method {Grade 1}) for the 58th to learn by rote. Alas, he had not had time to look up the word 'rote' - 'memorisation through repetition' - in a Dictionary, or he would surely have noticed the addendum - 'often without understanding'.

Nevertheless, in the 58th's Quarters...

(All chorus) "One short blast means 'Lie down' - Two mean 'Sit' - Three mean 'Play Dead' ..."


WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON

(All chorus) "One long blast means 'Capture' - Two mean 'Kill' - Three mean Busy - Busy? As in...??? Eurch!"


WEDNESDAY EVENING

" Ohhhhhhh! - BURY!!!"


LIGHTS-OUT...

(All chorus) "Hand-written footnote - One short blast rapidly cut off means 'Deep Serious'..."


MISSION

THURSDAY - 1100 HOURS.

The Circus was striking camp - Big Time!

The Big Top was reduced to a crate the size of a cargo hold; the horses had ridden off into the proverbial sunset in the back of another Carrier; the Acrobats had acrobat-ed their last innings; and the Clowns weren't fooling anyone. The whole Troupe had trooped off the day before, leaving behind only a handful of stragglers.

Plus, about a dozen assorted stand-up comedians and other impresarios who were seemingly unwilling to leave until a Fat Lady Sang - it turned out to be "We'll Meet Again" for the forty-seventh time in five days.

It seemed unlikely.

The Wild Cards wandered around the Landing Zone, awe-struck. They had never seen so many famous faces all in the one place.

"Haute Couture meets the Academy Awards," Vansen murmured, ducking under the barrel of a Giant Cannon and picking her way fastidiously through all kinds of nasty footing. "Look! Isn't that Sandra Dee?"

West looked across to the woman Vansen was pointing at. "Doubt it," he said. "Those Sandra models must be well into the 'Tee Ewe Vee's by now."

Wang turned back they way they had come to indicate a black-haired, sequin-bedecked character stood next to a Carrier. "So I guess that guy by the hatch isn't Elvis then?"

"Depends who you ask."

Wang thought about it, then sighed and returned his autograph book to the relevant side pocket of his flight-suit.

Captain Vansen paused a moment in order to take an underwear-defyingly deep sniff of the air. "Smells like an AA meeting at the sewage works." she commented. "Looks like one, too - not that I've ever been to one!" she added (before anybody made any witty remarks at her expense).

"Guess Fellini must be a posthumous member then," Wang added as he dodged around a passing elephant. "Surreal! I wonder who it belongs to?"

" Us, according to this manifest!" Damphousse replied, leading them ever further away from the L.Z. "Until they're safely loaded and launched, anyway. After that, it's Air Support's problem."

West snatched the list from her hands and gave it a quick scan. "She's right - look at this! We've drawn Guard Duty for an entire Circus! It's billed as 'The Greatest Show Off Earth!' Hey - I wonder if there's an act featuring performing wood-li - "

" No, West, there isn't," the Colonel interrupted hastily. "I checked." He then double-checked their orders resignedly. "And once this Circus is finally 'Out of Town' we're to leave with the last shipment."

Vansen took a moment out from making herself even more beautiful to take in her new surrounding. Whilst Damphousse had been leading them ever deeper into Animal Country, all the Hollywood people had congregated over at the farthest side of the landing site, much to the Captain's chagrin. Indeed, the first few were already boarding a rather extravagantly decorated gold-coloured Personnel Carrier. She whipped out her long-range binoculars to get a closer look. "The ship interior's been decked out in red velvet plush!" she exclaimed. "And look! There's a Cocktail Waitress on board, too."

" And a white grand piano!" Damphousse added wistfully, peering through her own pair of bins. "Why couldn't we have drawn Duty on that Carrier?"

"With what we've been walking through?" McQueen commented, staring at Vansen's boots and wrinkling his nose edifyingly. "I doubt we'd be made very welcome."

Vansen looked down. "Oh, poo! " she sniffed in disgust.

"My point exactly," he replied. "It's not exactly razzle dazzle all over the ground around here. And no, don't bother trying to scrape it off, either. You might as well get used to it, because there'll be an awful lot of it around for the next few hours."

Wang surveyed their future charges meditatively. "Well, guess I've stepped in worse..." he sighed. "At least it isn't green."

McQueen looked knowing, but held his peace.


Back at the Giant Cannon, meanwhile, somebody had Shanghai-ed Cooper Hawkes and was currently making friends...

"Like the boots, Son?"

"Yeah!"

"There's almost your size, an' just the right colour. Kinda compliment the whole ensemble, don't they."

"And the grease paint?"

"Matches the wig just fine!"

"Guess so! And then... you put this here?"

"That's right, Lad. Just clip's on in the middle. Sorta like the Finishing Touch... Now, take a peek in the mirror here and tell me what you think. Like it?"

"Cool!" Hawkes grinned, and jumped nimbly down from his lofty perch. "What next?"

"Well now, Son... What do you say we load this thing?"

"I'd say "Let's DO it!" "

"Thought you might . . . "

"So tell me, Co-co - exactly what does ENSA stand for?"

"Every Night Something Atrocious. Now, Son - you just climb in here . . . "


The 58th had succeeded in helping load almost all the animals into their respective Carriers when the attack came. There was only one 'Act' left to deal with. They had decided to leave the worst for last...

Suddenly the air was rent with the sound of one short blast - rapidly cut off as per Instructions!

"Take cover!" Vansen yelled immediately, looking up from where she had been trying to manoeuvre the team of performing seals toward the nominated ISSCCSPCT (Civilian Circus Seal-Pool Converted Transporter). It was easy to spot the long, lean (yet remarkably flamboyant-looking) low trajectory missile heading directly toward their designated Extraction Point.

"Incoming!" Wang bellowed.

Unwilling to abandon her pinepedal charges, the Captain tried to urge the (depressingly unbiddable) seals through the quagmire of mud and assorted dung, around the last couple of packing crates and toward their Craft.

But the seals panicked and broke in all directions.

At one long blast from the whistle, the attendant members of the 58th Squadron were suddenly overcome by 'Pavlov's Dog' Syndrome and unthinkingly leapt to the task of re-acquiring them. So distracted were they that they totally failed to register the missile's impact - close behind the Carrier.

The Wild Cards were ultimately reduced to using the contents of Vansen's bucket to form a trail of fresh fish from their current untenable position to the inside of the Craft, where shiny silver trumpets awaited the first arrivals. With a cry of "Let's get the Hell out of Dodge!" the entire Squadron leapt into the Carrier after the seals, taking control of the Weapons Systems as the ship lurched rather unevenly into space.

"Nothing on LIDAR, Colonel!" West shouted above the din.

Not Surprisingly, the Wild Cards had never before attempted to engage the Enemy to the strains of 'Dixie' played on a set of plastic trumpets by a half-dozen herring-scented seals. They were finding the whole experience a little disconcerting.

(It was even stranger for McQueen. Those who knew about his Nightmares had always assumed that they were about his time in the hands of the AI's. This was a misconception that he was not about to correct. The real root of his troubles stemmed from the day he learned that Glen Ross had trained as a SEAL before transferring into the Command Structure. He had been plagued by dreams about the Commodore - playing the trumpet with his nose, balancing a large coloured ball on his tail ect. - ever since. It had done his (already-somewhat-elastic interpretation of) Sanity no good whatsoever...)

Nevertheless, Colonel McQueen decided it was time to Take Control.

"OK, People - listen up! We have a 'situation' on our hands here. Our job is to hold up this Chig Attack Fleet long enough for the rest of the Circus to make it back to the Hissarlik Worm Hole. This is going to demand maximum Weapons deployment combined with some utterly exceptional piloting. Unfortunately, I'll be at the back with the sick bags, so you'll just have to do the best you can without me." he sighed. "Wish I wasn't going with you...!"

At this point Wang turned away from his position (manning the really BIG machine-gun), raised a hand and cleared his throat in the Traditional 'attention attracting' way. "Ah, I didn't think you were going to be with us, Sir," he said nervously. "Because of all the potential G-Forces we're liable to pull in a Combat situation." The more he spoke, the more nervous he was becoming. "Aren't you supposed to be travelling with the Lion Trainers, Sir... following the, er, Dog Act?"

The Colonel fixed Wang with a basilisk stare. "No, Lieutenant, I'm not. I decided to... update that particular aspect of the manifest." He smiled a small smile. "Sometimes I guess a man just has to forge his own Destiny."

Wang looked suddenly enlightened. "Sir, yes, Sir!"

"Besides," McQueen added with a mixture of malice and relief, "How many Gee's do you think you'll be able to pull with six seals and eight tonnes of water in an open tank on board?"

Wang whipped out his pocket calculator and started tapping away dutifully. "If one kilogram of mass weighs roughly nine point eight-one kilogram's on the Earth, and there are nine hundred and seven point one-eight kilos in a ton, then that means we're now carrying, uh, seven thousand, two hundred and fifty-seven point four-four kilos - give or take a few hundred kilos for the two pilots plus the six of us - that means at two Gee's it'll weigh... fourteen thousand, five hundred and fourteen point eight-eight kilos - "

"Or sixteen tons," Damphousse pointed out logically.

Wang's face fell. "Well, uh, yeah, I suppose..."

"Oh, for God's sake - give me the damn calculator before you strain something!" the Colonel snapped, confiscating it. (He'd never really had a chance to investigate all the functions on a truly Scientific Calculator before.) "The point I was trying to make is this - if we go into a two Gee-plus turn too sharply then we'll just rip the ship to pieces. However, if we come out of a turn too quickly, we'll all be up to out knees in seal-infested waters." He turned to regard their co-habitants thoughtfully. "Now if it comes down to the wire, I'd rather take the first option..."

He then turned to inspect Hawkes' curious interpretation of standard Battle Dress. "On the other hand, I might be wrong." He eyed Hawkes up and down before enquiring solicitously "Cooper - Why is your hair smouldering?"

Hawkes shrugged nonchalantly.

McQueen frowned. "And where did you get that whistle from?"

Hawkes feigned innocence.

McQueen reversed. "You know, you don't have to stand quite so close, Lieutenant..."

Hawkes grinned.

McQueen didn't.

"Er, Cooper - what exactly are you planning to do with that Custard Pi - "

THE END

Copyright SamSeal

September, 1997