Petpetpet Wars:Part Three
The Crokabek soared through the night sky, the black feathers camouflaging it against the endless dark above. Dozens of Mootix squadrons were nestled between the feathers.
“Over thirty squads, just on this Crokabek!” Shorty told the others excitedly.
“There were at least a dozen Crokabeks loading up at the airbase when we left,” Kelly added. “There's no telling how many airbases are launching tonight either, this could be the biggest Mootix force ever fielded!”
“It'll need to be,” Bad told them skeptically. “Half of us won’t be here come morning.”
“There's no need for such talk Private Spanner! That's Cooty sympathiser talk if ever I heard it!” Sergeant Perks barked from nearby.
“You think this'll work, Sarge?” Bad snorted. “You know just as well as me that command is throwing troops at the Cootys and hoping for the best! This isn't a battle plan! Most of the troops aren't even combat trained! Those that are will be shot down protecting the others!”
The Sergeant didn't reply for a second, but then a thin, forced smile spread across his face.
“Don't be so sure, Private,” he told Bad. “News came through just before we left… the Veespa have joined us.”
Gasps rang out from the squad.
“Turns out that command have been in negotiations with them for months, and the Veespa have slowly been collecting information on the enemy,” Sergeant Perks continued. “They've given us everything, from the locations of the Cooty bases to information on their armaments and numbers. Combined with this operation, the Cooty scum will face a war on two fronts. It'll be hard for them to put up a fight.”
The Sergeant seemed to sigh slightly as he finished, and then left the squad to its own conversation.
“The Veespa…” Bad muttered.
“They say they have really advanced technology,” Kelly told them. “Houses made of rock instead of reeds.”
“They say a lot of things,” Bad replied. “No one's been behind Veespa lines since the war began. They call it the Cardboard Curtain, no information gets through it. No matter what reinforcements we have, it isn’t going to go well for us.”
Kelly's face, which had been filled with confidence and enthusiasm, seemed to falter slightly.
“Is that true?” he asked, his voice becoming a touch higher and panicked.
Shorty caught his eye.
“We'll be fine,” he told his friend.
The two stared at each other, as if some other message was being spoken between them.
Polish had been listening to the conversation, but chose that point to get up and stretch. He wandered off, leaving Kelly and Shorty to their theories about the Veespa.
Polish found Sergeant Perks crouched by behind a feather not far away. He held a letter in his hand, and his face was etched with agony.
“Sarge? Are you alright?” Polish asked.
Perks jumped to his feet, hastily stuffing the letter away in the pocket of his uniform.
“Fine, Private Weatherly, just fine,” he said dismissively.
“It is true, what Bad was saying, sir?” Polish asked.
Perks bit his lip.
“I'll look after you, I'll look after you all, don't worry,” he told the Private.
Polish glanced down at the standard issue honey crossbow he'd been given.
“I'm not sure I can do this, Sarge,” he admitted.
Perks put his hand on the Private's shoulder.
“No one ever is, Weatherly,” he said reassuringly. “If it's too much for you, go for the balloons, ignore the enemy troops.”
Polish nodded. A rustling from nearby interrupted the two, and a new Mootix arrived.
“Sergeant Perks?” he asked. “It's time. You'll be dropping with K and F squadrons.”
“What about extraction?” he asked.
“Orders regarding extraction will follow after the operation. You are to hold the base for as long as possible,” the Mootix replied.
Polish noticed as the Sergeant's nostrils flared.
“No extraction?” Perks questioned, barely bothering to disguise his anger. “You're sending three squads of rookies down there and you aren't even giving us an extraction!?”
“Orders are orders, Sergeant,” the Mootix said simply. “Gather your unit and report to the tail section.”
The Mootix saluted and left. Perks stood in silence for a while.
“Twenty years…” Perks muttered eventually. “Twenty years… and this is my retirement?”
“Sarge?” Polish asked.
Perks shook his head, dispelling whatever thoughts had been running through it.
“Let's get the troops,” he said, marching off back to the others.
Polish was falling again, silently counting to ten in his mind. Parachutes were already opening below him, and above he heard the screams of other new recruits as they leapt from the Crokabek's tail feathers.
The airbase was dark below them; a few guard lamps illuminated the matchstick barracks. Most of the Cooty troops were either asleep or out on night patrols, the base looked almost deserted.
Polish finished his count and pulled the yellow cord. His parachute unfolded behind him, and he was yanked upwards once again. As his gentle descent continued, he clutched his crossbow close to his chest and began to load it. The first parachutes had landed on the airfields, and sirens were blaring in the barracks. Search lights that reflected off shards of broken mirrors attempted to locate the intruders in the grass. Polish could see Cootys emerging from their barracks, hastily readying their own weapons. He was still some distance away, but they didn't look at all like the posters. They weren't the size of houses; they just looked like normal Petpetpets.
The ground was fast approaching, so Polish braced himself. The impact was hard and sent Polish sprawling on the floor. His carefully loaded crossbow fired accidentally, launching a bolt of rock hard honey up into the night air. The parachute smothered the young Mootix, temporarily shutting out the noise of the battle that was beginning nearby.
He frantically struggled to reload his crossbow as the canvas of the parachute was lifted away. Bad was standing there, his hand outstretched. Polish took it, and he was pulled to his feet.
“Are you alright?” Bad asked above the noise of the sirens and the war cries of both Mootix and Cooty.
“It fired when I touched down, that's all, I'm alright,” Polish replied bravely as he finally succeeded in loading his weapon.
The two Mootix turned to observe the battle. The other two squads were already engaging the Cootys, and the barracks was on fire.
Polish glanced at Bad. From this distance, they were safe, but if they went any closer, they'd be in range of their weapons. Neither one wanted to be the first to run forward.
“No one wants to be here,” Bad muttered.
“Sarge said we could just focus on the balloons,” Polish said hopefully, noticing that most of the Cooty balloons were positioned far away from the current fighting.
Bad nodded, but a Mootix running past him caused him to flick his head back. The Mootix screamed, holding his crossbow out and firing wildly as he headed towards the battle.
“Shorty!” Bad called. “Shorty, no!”
Shorty didn't turn around; he kept running and screaming instead.
“He's going to get himself killed!” Bad shouted, and broke into a run after his friend.
“Bad! Wait!” Polish called after him.
Polish was left alone. With no other choice, he ran after his friends, into the battle.
A bolt of honey flew past Polish's ear, causing him to stumble onto the floor. He couldn't see where the shot had come from, so he fired wildly into the dark. He stopped on the floor, trying to reload his weapon by jamming his boot into the spring to stretch it. As he finished, he stood up to find a Cooty in his way.
Like a flash, Polish lifted the crossbow and pointed it at the enemy. His finger paused on the trigger as he noticed that the Cooty had not fired. He had a crossbow pointed at Polish, but he too had hesitated. His eyes were full of fear, just like Polish's own. His hands were shaking, unwilling and unable to fire.
There was a dull thump, and the Cooty fell forward, revealing the figure of Sergeant Perks stood behind with the butt of his crossbow in his hands.
“I promised I'd look after you,” he said simply.
Polish felt the crossbow fall from his hands.
“I couldn't do it!” he cried.
Perks nodded, nonchalantly firing his own crossbow off into a distant crowd of Cootys.
“Then it's time you weren't here,” Perks said simply.
He scooped up the crossbow of the fallen Cooty.
“Spanner and Kelly are waiting by the balloons,” he told Polish. “We're going to join them, and then we are going to perform what is officially termed as a 'forced extraction'.”
Polish looked up in confusion. Perks fired another crossbow bolt.
“We're deserting?” he gasped.
“Forced extraction,” Perks growled. “Follow me.”
Polish picked up his crossbow and followed haplessly in the Sergeant's wake. His superior picked a route through the battle, challenging and besting the few Cootys that they encountered directly.
Out near the balloons, Bad and Kelly were waiting. They had pierced most of them, making them inoperable.
“What about Shorty?” Bad asked as they approached.
“Private Ryan isn't joining us,” Perks muttered.
“We have to save him!” Kelly shouted.
“I ordered him to follow, but he ran off into the Cooty barracks,” Perks informed them.
Behind them, there was a large explosion from the barracks that caused everyone to flinch aside from the Sergeant.
“We have to go back!” Kelly protested, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Better some of us get out than none at all,” Perks said sadly, patting Kelly on the shoulder.
“Sarge? We're really deserting?” Polish asked.
Perks glanced back to Polish.
“Twenty years, I've been part of the army. It's been my life, and they send me here, to die, now? No, I'm not letting that happen. We're leaving, now,” he snapped.
The Sergeant stalked off into the grass jungle that bordered the airfield. Kelly turned to Bad and Polish.
“We can't just leave him!” he begged.
“He had a choice, he chose to fight,” Bad said simply.
“Please, Polish!” Kelly begged, tears streaming down his face.
“With any luck he'll survive, and we can meet up with him once this is all over,” Polish told him reassuringly.
“No!” Kelly shouted, attempting to run back towards the battle.
Bad and Polish had to hold him back, and gradually dragged him kicking and screaming into the jungle after the Sergeant.
Captain Finnegan leaned on the railing and breathed in the fresh air. Central Command was far away from any of the front lines, deep within Cooty territory. Aside from the occasional air raid, it was mostly untouched by the war.
Below him in the pebble-lined streets, Cootys went about their daily business like nothing was different. It was if they didn't even know about the Petpetpets that were laying down their lives in distant jungles.
And the Commanders were even worse. They'd sat in comfortable armchairs talking vaguely about troop numbers while Finnegan had made his report on the new crossbows.
They didn't know anything about real war, they didn't understand a thing.
Someone coughed behind Finnegan, and he turned to see the General emerging onto the balcony.
“They seemed very impressed with our report,” the General announced, thoughtfully chewing a reed.
“Can we go back to the front lines now then?” Finnegan asked.
In truth, it was the tavern and the Veespa that he wanted to see. The war was of secondary concern.
The General seemed to hesitate, lazily rolling the reed from one corner of his mouth to the other.
“We won't be heading back to the airbase just yet,” he said eventually.
“Why not?” Finnegan questioned.
“The Veespa made their intentions clear this morning, they have allied with the Mootix,” the General explained. “Spurred on by their new allies, the Mootix horde launched a series of attacks on our front lines during the early hours of this morning. Our base was one of the targets.”
Finnegan had to grab the railing to steady himself.
“The base was taken?” he asked.
“Preliminary reports suggest that there were no survivors. There is the possibility that some troops performed a strategic retreat though,” the General replied.
“The town?” Finnegan pressed.
“I haven't received any reports about the town yet,” the General explained. “For now, we will wait here until a squadron is assigned to retake the base. When that happens, we'll tag along and see what's left.”
“No,” Finnegan said, a bitter taste filling his mouth, “No.”
He pushed past the stunned General, and rushed back inside. A few minutes later there was a shrill squawk from the roof of the building, and a Beekadoodle soared off to the south.
Finnegan had to get back to the airbase, he had to save Tanya.
To be continued…