Rupert's First Mission
Rupert the Mootix stood in a very long line of prim soldiers, feeling very nervous indeed.
You see, this was his very first day in the force, and already he was being called into service for a highly important mission into enemy territory. Lots of fighting, they had said, when the recruiters came to the doors of his and his parents’ little farm house, located on a quiet area of a fluffy white Babaa. Like a fool, he’d accepted their offer, and before he knew it, he was kitting himself out in paratrooper gear in preparation for this, the mission itself.
Wide-eyed, he watched as the commander - a very intimidating figure with a moustache so large it could almost have been an independent being itself - strode up and down the line, barking something insulting at nearly everyone. He had been told by a friend of his down at the training camp that this was all just protocol to make them feel tougher, but at the moment it was having the opposite effect on Rupert; namely, shaking legs and a sweaty brow. He would have killed at that very moment just to get back on the ground, to snuggle up on his leaf bed and swear to himself never to go into the services again.
Sadly, that was for later. What he had to worry about in the present time was the present time.
“Tuck your shirt in, young ‘un! Was your father, or your father’s father, or your father’s father before him ever so ignorant? I don’t think so!”
The Mootix in front of Rupert shook his head sadly and looked at the corrugated iron floor of the blimp, highly embarrassed. “No sir, I don’t think they would have.”
The commander growled and walked on to the next unfortunate in the line, his heavy boots banging noisily against the floor. “Imbecile!” he roared, without the slightest bit of warning. Rupert shrunk into himself. That meant him. “Who do you think you are, soldier, coming in here with the slightest bit of heed for presentation? Your helmet is lopsided, your boots are caked with mud, and part of your harness is not properly secured. You’re not working on the farm anymore, sonny; this is war! War, I tell you!”
His fellow Mootix all gave him sympathetic glances, but, truthfully, they were just glad it was him and not them being humiliated.
“Come out here, you!” ordered the commander, evidently not satisfied with his efforts at emotionally scarring his subject for life. Slowly, Rupert stepped out of line, and stood as high as he could beside the angry commander. Sadly, his efforts were not enough, and he ended up slumping down low. This only added to his embarrassment.
“This,” barked the commander, pointing an accusing finger at poor, mortified Rupert, “is what we elder lemons in the army call an ‘ignoramus’. Do any of you idiots know what that means?”
The assembled line of soldiers stared at each other, searching for an action that would appease the commander. If they laughed, they would be called boot-lickers. If they cried, they would be called sissies. If they gave the wrong answer, they would be called stupid. If the gave the correct answer, they would be told that they were know-it-alls and a disgrace to the good, simple army; in the end, most just settled for smiling cheerily and saying nothing.
“No one?” asked the commander, waving his hand around the room to invite latecomers to step forward and speak. Predictably, no-one did. “Very well then, I shall explain. An ‘ignoramus’, as we say in the army, is someone who is too stupid to do anything, let alone serve as a paratrooper, where quick thinking is constantly required. Indeed, ignoramuses find it hard to even secure their harness properly!” the commander said.
At this point, the soldiers roundly decided the commander’s latest comment was meant to be a joke of some kind, and so began churning out belly-laughs, the sort a servant of Dr. Sloth would use in a similar situation.
“Disgrace!” barked the commander, allowing him a little smile at his own oh-so-dry-and-witty quip. “March yourself over to that bench and fix your harness. There’s a war to fight here, and we have no room for your utter stupidity!”
Rupert’s nose shook slightly at this abuse, and he felt as if he was going to cry, but with a monumental effort he held it all back. What would the commander say if he broke into tears now? Holding his head up high, the Petpetpet walked all the way to the very corner of the small metal room they were assembled in, where a little bench laid waiting for him. Dutifully, he sat down, secured his harness firmly, fixed his helmet and rubbed his shoes a little. Finally, he was ready to go, and the sooner that moment came the better.
“Now!” barked the commander, clapping his hands twice for silence. Immediately, there was a deathly lack of noise from all present. “As I am sure you are aware, I have only covered the basic details of our mission so far. Now I will go into exactly what we have to do. You, the very last of the line, get me that board!”
An uncommonly small Mootix (the very first to be insulted by the commander) wordlessly stepped out of place and laid a hand on a wheeled blackboard, which lay in the opposite corner of the room to the one where Rupert was sitting. Gritting his teeth, he dug his heels into the ground and inched forward the object, a positive behemoth in comparison to him. Struggling to keep himself from laughing, the commander strode forward and took it from him as he was halfway across the room. Clearly, this was another one of the commander’s petty cruelties.
“Now!” repeated the moustachioed Mootix, the word a little phrase of his. Deliberately, he adjusted the board in such a way as Rupert could not see the face of it. Rupert had to move up his bench to catch even the most uncomfortably-earned glimpse. Smiling at his trouble, the commander took a long piece of orange chalk up into his hands and began to draw a series of complicated lines and circles, at once confounding and complex. “Does anyone know what this is?”
Presented with the same situation as they had encountered a few minutes before, the soldiers just smiled cheerily and nodded idiotically.
“This,” said the commander, not bothering to give them a second chance to answer this time round, “is how you are going to get onto that Puppyblew down below us, dodge the constant fire of the Cooties as you glide gracefully to our target and deal with the hostility of the Blechies already inhabiting the area. This, my men, is what will keep you safe and sound for the next twenty minutes or so while you carry out your mission. If you do not follow this guide, you will fail.”
“Oh, well, that makes me feel much better,” someone said.
The commander eyed the row of soldiers, trying to pick out the culprit, but without much success. Eventually, he gave up and resumed the lesson. In messy, scrawled handwriting, he chalked out four words: ‘You are the dots’.
“You are the dots!” he read, tapping each word with the orange chalk so that four more useless dots appeared on the board. “If there’s one thing you remember going into the later career in the army, it is this. If you do not remember that you are the dots, then you will not succeed in your mission. If you do not succeed in your mission, then you will be disgraced. Do I make myself clear?”
There was silence, until for some reason one of the Mootix near the middle of the line raised his hand. From what most could gather, he was the mootix who had made the earlier remark.
“Yes?” snapped the commander. “What is it?”
“What if you don’t wants to be a dot?” the paratrooper drawled. “What if you wants to be a Mootix instead?” Several of his friends, who were congregated around him, began to chortle at this, and nudge him in the sides. However, everyone else in the line knew for sure that it had been a very bad idea indeed.
“Right,” ordered the commander, pointing his chalk at a nearby, soon-to-be-opened hatch. “Out you go.”
“Wot?” said the foolish Mootix, almost choking on his own sniggers.
“I said out. You are to be an example for your colleagues. Let’s see how well you do without your parachute.”
The commander came over to the shocked Petpetpet and dragged him to the hatch, maintaining a firm grip despite his struggling. Expertly, he turned the wheel to unlock the door with just one hand, opened it, and laid a hand on the paratrooper’s back. Then, with just one firm push, he was sent over the edge by his commander, and went spinning wildly downward toward the Puppyblew below. There was a distant cry of “Aaaaagh!”, the sound of arrows being loosed and, finally, complete silence.
The commander watched for a moment and then sealed the door shut once more. Turning around, he discovered that all his troops were staring, horrified, at him, so he coughed before walking back to the blackboard, just to break the silence. “These dots,” he intoned, “are you, each one a company of ten.... oops, silly me. It’s nine in the case of company three. Anyway, these lines basically represent the movements of each company. Of course, if there’s anything blocking your way, you are free to make a little change to your specified path. Otherwise, you must follow it exactly. I’ll give you ten minutes to study.”
The commander left then, through a wooden door into the cockpit of the blimp, located behind the line of soldiers. As he departed, everyone breathed a terrified sigh of relief and began to study the diagram. The occasion, however, was somewhat soured by what they had just witnessed, and there was a tangible air of bitterness and terror in the air.
On the bench, Rupert began to take notes in a tiny white notepad. The likelihood was that his drawings wouldn’t be any use, yet they still gave him a warm feeling of reassurance. When he took the leap (in company five, according to the briefing he had received on the ground before leaving), he could at least be safe in the knowledge that he was reasonably organised before risking his life... plus, it took his mind completely off that poor Mootix, probably eaten by Blechies by now. Slowly, he pencilled in the last dot, and sat their waiting for the tyrant commander to come back through the door. By this point, he had memorised that his company was to go pretty much straight down, flanked by company two and company four. Companies one and three were to depart soon after, spinning in erratic circles as they went down. The assumption was that if anything happened to the first three companies while still in the air, their Cooty enemies would still be reloading before the last two came down.
“Okay!” ordered the commander, coming back through the door, after an elapsed period of considerably less than ten minutes. “Show’s over, stop studying!”
All eyes turned back to the moustache-on-legs, afraid of what he might do to anyone not paying attention.
“I’ve informed pilots of this thing that you will be departing shortly. Please make sure your harnesses are on securely, your heart in the right place... and so on and so forth; now for the real action. Would companies five, four and two please step forward?”
Twenty-nine Mootix -- excluding Rupert, who was still to arrive in his place due to the long length from his bench in the corner to the other end of the room -- advanced toward the commander officiously, arranged themselves into orderly squares and saluted. Inside each of them was a nervous heart and suspicious mind, afraid that what had happened to that cheeky Mootix earlier was now going to happen to them.
“All parties ready to depart!” barked the commander, and began turning the wheel to open the door.
“Wait!” cried Rupert, and rushed into the fray, only keeping from knocking his entire company over by a few inches. Stares were delivered all around him, and his cheeks glowed red.
The commander sighed and repeated the order. Once again, the paratroopers stood to attention and saluted.
“All soldiers ready to depart!” repeated the commander, and this time it worked. The door was twisted slowly open, and the three companies filed out, one after the other.
The wind hit Rupert’s face like a fast punch from an angry Skeith, slapping him face hither and thither, sending him unexpectedly off course. Like one cast into a great pool of water, Rupert flung his face to one side, and then to another, his eyes scrunched tight closed. He could have done this forever, but he knew that he was drifting dangerously off course, even though his eyes were shut. Tentatively, he drew open one eyelid, but it was buffered by the wind, and so he closed it again.
We’ll be passing by the Cooties soon, he thought. If I don’t regain my composure by then, I’m doomed.
Gritting his teeth, Rupert threw open both eyes at once, but was immediately greeted by a rather large patchwork of old material, heading straight for him. With horror, he realised what this thing was: the top of a Cooty hot air balloon! Instinctively, he closed his eyes and began to pray for a miracle, images of his past life flashing before his eyes...
...And then it came; a freak gust of wind, blowing from the west. With its help, Rupert was on course within a second, leaving a very angry Cooty, brandishing a crossbow, in his wake. Laughing, Rupert craned his head around and winked at his enemy slyly. Once that was done, he turned his gaze back down to find the fur of the Puppyblew fast approaching.
Wait a minute... looking down? He was looking down! Finally he’d conquered the stinging of the whipping wind, and it was the best feeling he’d ever had!
Soaring on his own happiness, the Mootix was confidently able to join the rest of his company and wait for that moment when they would have to release their parachutes...
Down below, he fancied he could see that Mootix, the one who’d been pushed out of the blimp earlier, being chased by a pack of Blechies, although maybe it was just his imagination playing tricks on him.
...One Mootix pulled the lever on his parachute pack, and an intricately made scrap of canvas came billowing outward. This was followed by the Mootix beside him, and the Mootix beside him... It all went in sequence, until eventually it came to Rupert’s turn. Shyly, he fingered the lever, until he was totally sure of it, and then pulled in with all his force.
As the parachute was released, Rupert felt a weight lift off his legs, and suddenly he was drifting down to the Puppyblew’s fur, the final frontier. Closer and closer it came, and for a moment the Mootix was afraid that it might hit him hard when he landed, but when the moment eventually came, he found it as soft as thistledown, and the fall was over.
Above him, the other members of his party and the others came down from the sky like green rain, landing one by one close by. As they hit blue fur, similar smiles to that of Rupert's lit up their collective faces. They had done it... yet the hardest part was still to come.
As if in answer to this musing, the towering strands of hair around them rustled as if blown by a breeze, and several squinty eyes appeared through the darkness, surveying their targets. The Blechies were here.
Instinctively, Rupert began to round up his fellow Mootix and order them into lines, like they had been ordered to down at the training camp. In a spurt of emotion that surprised even him, Rupert felt steely and determined. For the first time in his life, it became apparent to him that he was a true leader. “Remove weapons!” he ordered, and several miniscule vials of Pest-B-Gone, toxic to every sort of Petpetpet, were removed from their respective holsters. As far as Rupert knew, they had been stolen from a big bottle somewhere, in a specialised mission.
Rupert held up his hand, pausing for the signal, and then cast it downwards, and a flurry of vials made their way into the undergrowth a split-second later. There were several poisoned coughs form the Blechies, and then complete silence.
“Is it over, sir?” asked an inquisitive Mootix, over Rupert’s shoulder.
Rupert beamed, a stream of pride rushing through him at the utterance of the word ‘sir’. A particularly big Blechy slimed forward from the undergrowth, and then lay down, still. “It is over.”
There were resounding cheers from all five companies, and more than a little cheering and singing, for they had done it. They day was theirs, and they were heroes.
* * *
General Harry, one of the most prominent paratroopers in Mootix history, shook his head and beamed at young Rupert, who had just been rewarded his very first shiny gold medal. “You know,” he said, shaking his head once more, “mootix as heroic as the likes of you don’t come very often, I should know, but when they do they are often badly rewarded. To change that, I’m going to grant you one wish, any wish at all. You can have anything you want, as long as I can find it within my limitations to do it.”
Rupert considered this for a minute, before a smile lit up his little green face. “Well, there is one thing.”
* * *
“But I don’t understand,” protested the old moustachioed commander. “Why am I being ordered to join the colony? Mootix like me are valuable in the army!”
“Trust us,” said Rupert, as he and his comrades guided their old friend to the hatch of the self-same blimp they had dived off a week ago, hovering over the self-same Puppyblew they had made free for colonisation that fateful day. “It’s for the good of us all.”
“The good of us all?” squealed the commander, trying without much success to dig his heels into the slippery corrugated iron floor. “What about me? I mean, I can’t even use a parachute!”
“Don’t worry,” said the Mootix who had been pushed out of the blimp on his own by the commander a week ago, patting his Commander’s shoulder reassuringly. Somehow, he had survived the fall, and was now Lieutenant Xavier. “It’s as easy as pie. Just you remember, you are a dot, and all will prevail if you remains a dot... however, if you wants to be a Mootix instead, then that’s fine by me.”
The wheel on the heavy door was turned, and the sky was presented the Commander and his facial hair.
“Safe journey!” said Lieutenant Xavier, and tapped the Commander on the back. He wobbled dangerously, lost his balance and began his fall to the blue tufts of springy hair on the Puppyblew. Like a drop of water disappearing down a well, he got smaller and smaller until he was nothing more than the dot he had once told them everything was.
“Wait a moment,” said Rupert, and held his hand to his mouth in mock-shock. “Did anyone remember to tell him it was that Puppyblew’s bath day?”
And then they laughed.