Petpetpet Wars:Part Four
Captain Finnegan saw the smoke on the horizon long before the airbase came into view. The remains of the barracks and the air control tower smoldered in the early afternoon sun.
Finnegan brought the Beekadoodle in low down the airstrip. The Petpet scrabbled madly across the grass and Finnegan leapt off, struggling to tether it to the ground before it shot off into the sky once more.
Leaving the Beekadoodle twitching madly on the airstrip, Finnegan looked around the airbase. He kept his crossbow ready at his side, but the airbase seemed deserted. In the distance, he could see that the balloons had been deflated and lay crumpled in the grass.
The Cootys had lost the airbase… but where were the Mootix?
Finnegan's hand tightened around the trigger of his crossbow. So many of his friends were gone… he'd have his vengeance for this.
A separate plume of smoke caught Finnegan's eyes. It was coming from the town, set away from the airbase.
Panic flashed through Finnegan's mind. Thoughts of the Veespa in danger sent his head reeling. His feet took over on autopilot, and before he knew it he was running towards the smoke.
Finnegan pushed open the door to the tavern carefully, pointing his crossbow inside first. Tables had been turned over and behind the bar tiny bottles had been smashed. Finnegan's boots stuck to the floor, caked in spilt nectar, as he made his way inside.
The piano lay smashed on the stage, the entire place seemed deserted. It was eerie, like a ghost town.
A click from behind the bar alerted Finnegan to sudden movement. He wheeled round with his crossbow ready.
The bartender was stood behind the bar, looking down the scope of a rudimentary crossbow. It took a moment for him to realise who had entered, but when he did he sighed deeply and set his weapon down.
“Captain Finnegan!” he said with relief. “I thought everyone was gone. Most people in town ran for the grass forest as soon as the fighting started.”
“There have been no other survivors from the base?” Finnegan asked.
“No,” the bartender shook his head. “Our lads signaled a retreat. The Mootix left not long after, back into their own territory. I couldn't leave my bar though, it's my livelihood.”
“…Tanya?” Finnegan asked, glancing towards the piano.
“Gone, sir,” the bartender replied. “She packed up and left yesterday evening, said she was heading back to Veespa territory, behind the Cardboard Curtain. News came through about the Veespa joining forces with the Mootix not long after… between you and me, sir; I think she was a spy.”
Finnegan felt his legs go numb. He fell backwards into one of the surviving chairs.
“A spy? The entire time…” he mumbled.
“You know what the posters say, sir, 'Keep Mum, She's Not So Dumb',” the bartender said wisely as he emerged from behind the bar. “No one wants to think that one of their friends is the enemy, but this is war, Captain. For her part, she left me this with instructions to give it to you if I saw you again.”
The bartender fumbled in his pocket for a crumpled piece of paper, and handed it over. Finnegan unfolded it like an eager child. As he read the writing on the page, Tanya's perfume, woven into the paper, began to wash over him.
I'm sorry, I really am. I wish I could have been assigned anywhere else, but like I said, I want the war to end quickly. This way fewer Petpetpets die, I hope you understand that.
Keep this letter with you always, and never forget me. I don't want to see you cry, but maybe the tears will set you free.
When the war's over, I hope I can see you again. In the meantime, here's looking at you, kid.
Finnegan read the letter back to himself a few times, and let the words sink in.
“Is everything alright, Captain?” the bartender asked.
Finnegan glanced up, a distant look in his eyes.
“No, nothing's alright,” he growled. “The base, this tavern, Tanya, my whole stupid life, it's all gone! And why? Because of them! It's all their fault!”
Finnegan clenched his fists, crumpling up the note.
“I'm going to stop them,” he said quietly.
Before the bartender had time to ask the Captain what he meant, Finnegan had rushed out of the door and down the street. A few minutes later there was a high pitched caw from the direction of the airbase, and a Beekadoodle soared overhead.
Captain Finnegan was taking the fight to the Mootix. Rage and despair had clouded his mind. It didn't matter that he was hopelessly outnumbered, with no chance of survival against the entire Mootix army. He had lost everything, it no longer mattered.
Kelly stared hopelessly into the fire, slowly turning the last of the emergency rations on the end of a stick. He hadn't said a word since he'd been dragged away from the battlefield.
Bad and Polish watched him in silence. Kelly and Shorty had always been close, but he seemed to have taken the loss of their comrade a little harder than they had expected.
“You'd better go and get Perks,” Bad whispered to Polish as he removed some cooked food from the fire.
Polish nodded, and headed off into the grass to find the Sergeant. It didn't take long to find him; the old Mootix was propped up against a nearby grass blade. He held a letter in his hand, and was staring down at it with a pained expression.
Perks jumped up, attempting to make himself look normal. As he noticed Polish wasn't buying his act, his frame sagged.
“This arrived from command the morning we shipped out,” he said, waving the letter. “It says that despite my exemplary record, they are choosing not to promote me to Captain.”
He slumped back down against the grass blade.
“Oh… sorry, Sarge…” Polish mumbled, unsure how to comfort a superior officer. “Does that mean they are assigning us a new Captain?”
Perks smiled faintly, and then shook his head.
“Command feels that it isn't the right time for a new soldier to take command of the unit,” he replied.
“What does that mean?” Polish asked.
“It means they didn't expect us to see through the night,” Perks spat.
“Sarge?” Polish gasped.
“Private Spanner is right, Weatherly,” Perks replied, staring at the ground. “They are just throwing troops at the Cootys now. Command couldn't come up with a decent battle plan if it killed them.”
Polish sat down next to the Sergeant in stunned silence.
“They sent so many to overwhelm the Cootys, knowing full well that most of us will die,” Polish said to himself. “But they hope the damage we cause, coupled with the threat of Veespa invasion, will cause the Cootys to surrender?”
“You know how long I've been in the army, Weatherly?” he asked.
Polish shook his head.
“Twenty years, man and boy,” the Sergeant continued. “Twenty years of my life poured into the army, and they couldn't even see fit to give me an extra stripe on the day I die. My mum and dad both died the year before I signed up, the army's the only family I've ever really had… and now the army wants to send me to my death.”
“But we're deserters now, Sarge,” Polish observed.
Perks half smiled.
“We'll be alright, we head back in to Mootix territory claiming we get lost in the battle and they might give us an honourable discharge,” the Sergeant explained. “We've got Spanner with us anyway, his dad's a General, so there's no way they'll arrest us.”
“Kelly's in a bad way, sir,” Polish said after a while.
“I'll have a talk to him. Is the food ready?” Perks asked, attempting to brighten up.
The two found their way back to the campfire, where Bad handed out the food. The four of them sat in silence for a while.
“Kelly…” Perks began, attempting to console the Private.
“Don't,” Kelly snapped, the first word he had said since they had left the Cooty airbase. “Just don't. I know we couldn't have gone back for him, I know he's gone.”
“It's always difficult to loose a comrade,” Perks observed.
“It's more than that,” Kelly replied. “I joined up because of Shorty. I was following him, all this time. He was always so set on joining the army, and I didn't want to lose him, so I signed up. He was annoyed at first, but we were together, and that was all that mattered.”
“Kelly?” Polish questioned, having difficulty following what he was saying.
Kelly bit his lip, and then reached up to his hat. Kelly had never once taken it off in all the time Polish had known him, but now he ripped it off his head.
Two Larnikin antennae sprouted from his head. The troops watched as he smudged the carefully applied green and yellow paint, revealing the natural red of a Larnikin below. Reaching under his uniform, he snapped the elastic bands holding his frame in place, and his full Larnikin weight fell forward.
Perks chuckled grimly.
“Private Daniel Kelly?” he asked mockingly.
“Daniel Ryan,” he replied, in a higher voice than usual. “Shorty is my older brother. I changed my name so that we'd be able to serve in the same unit. Everyone knows the Larnikins didn't want a part in the war, but Shorty was determined to join up, so he disguised himself as a Mootix and joined up. I couldn't let him do it alone.”
“All this time, and no one noticed!” Perks laughed.
Polish was stunned. Now, with the skin, and the weight, it was so obvious. But before Kelly had fit right in, he'd been one of the lads the entire time.
“I was an actor before I joined up, if it makes you feel better. I couldn't let Shorty go to war alone, and they don't let Larnikins in the Mootix army. This was the only option I had left. You're not mad, Sarge?” Kelly asked.
“No, of course not,” Perks replied, shaking his head. “You're sat around a campfire with a commanding officer that ordered his troops to desert, one Private that can't bring himself to fight, and another who is only here because his dad thinks he should be. We're quite the collection, really.”
“We won't tell anyone,” Bad reassured him.
“Thanks,” Kelly said quietly, carefully combing back his antennae.
All four of them looked up to the sky as a high pitched screech filled the air. Above them, a Beekadoodle was spiralling in the air.
From the horizon they heard the explosions of Mootix cannons launching mortars. Flour bombs exploded on all sides of the Beekadoodle, causing it to panic and soar down towards the ground.
One explosion clipped a wing, causing the Petpet to overcompensate and hit the ground. It kicked up the grass as it impacted.
“Snuff out the fire, let's go,” Perks ordered, crossbow already in his arms.
To be continued…