Petpetpet Wars:Part Five
Blades of grass scratched across Finnegan's face as the Beekadoodle crashed to the ground. He was thrown clear of the saddle and impacted hard against a nearby rock.
Finnegan crumpled to the ground as the wind was knocked out of him. Unable to get to his feet, he sat and watched as the Beekadoodle straightened itself out and soared madly off into the sky once more.
Finnegan's vision was blurred and his ears were ringing, he sat on the floor moving his head as if he was dizzy.
“Sarge!” a nearby voice shouted.
Finnegan turned his head to see a Mootix pointing in his direction. A moment later, there were two others and a Larnikin surrounding him. Rage boiled up in Finnegan's mind, but he was powerless, his legs simply wouldn't move. He managed an angry mutter in their direction.
“Let me finish him Sarge, for Shorty,” the Larnikin said.
He darted forward, but a Mootix held him back.
“No, no, we need him alive,” another voice said.
“We walk back behind our lines as we are, we're deserters,” the voice explained. “If we take him with us, we're brave soldiers who captured an enemy soldier and are taking him back for interrogation. We take him with us. Make sure he's tied up though.”
One of the Mootix came forward as a fresh surge of pain shot across Finnegan's chest causing him to black out.
Finnegan came back to reality to the sounds of a crackling fire in the distance. He opened his eyes slowly and groaned as pain shot across his ribs. It was dark, the fire in the distance only dimly illuminating the clearing.
There was a Mootix stood in front of him watching him intently.
“He's awake, Sarge,” he called towards the fire as he noticed Finnegan stir.
A taller Mootix with a puffed out chest arrived from the fire. He tapped the original soldier on the shoulder.
“You're relieved, Private Spanner,” he said firmly.
The Private looked up at the officer as if he was going to protest, but thought better of it and retired back to the campfire. Finnegan noticed that he still managed to stay close enough to be in earshot though.
The officer sat down opposite Finnegan and got out a piece of paper and a quill. He licked the end, preparing to write.
“Name and Number,” he said simply.
“I'll tell you filthy scum nothing!” Finnegan spat.
The officer smiled, but without a hint of humour.
“I notice from the stripes on your uniform that you are a Captain,” the officer continued. “Officers receive good treatment as prisoners of war, but we need to be sure of your identity. You could have stolen that uniform. Fraudsters are not tolerated.”
The Mootix glanced quickly but meaningfully to the crossbow that was propped up nearby.
“Finnegan,” the Cooty replied eventually, “Captain Rip Finnegan, Serial Number 342042.”
A look of pure joy flashed over the face of the Mootix.
“Captain Finnegan, the Cooty Avenger?” he asked.
Finnegan nodded glumly.
“Well, well, well…” the Mootix mused, before turning to the troops by the fire. “Lads! You'll never guess who we've got! It's only the biggest Cooty celebrity out there!”
The other Mootix and the Larnikin were with him in seconds.
“He doesn't look at all like the posters,” a Private with remarkably shiny shoes observed.
“We'll get a commendation for bringing him in!” the Mootix that had been guarding Finnegan when he woke told the others.
“We make for Mootix territory tomorrow morning,” the officer told his troops. “Take turns watching the Captain, Private Spanner first.”
Polish sat staring at nothing in particular in the eerie quiet of the early morning. Dawn hadn't broken, and the clearing was filled only by the dim glow of the dying campfire. The others were all asleep, and Polish was on watch. Out of principle, he refused to look at the Cooty Captain.
Still, he couldn't help the occasional glance. The Captain was so different from the poster he had back by his bunk. Captain Finnegan wasn't the size of a house, for a start. He just looked like a normal Petpetpet, hardly the crazed killer that the poster claimed him to be.
Polish had seen so much since he had signed up. He understood now that his superiors were throwing troops away like they were food wrappers, and the Cootys were really no different to them. They were all fighting in the dark; no one knew what they were doing.
“Why do you hate us?” he asked eventually.
The Captain's head jerked up suddenly, he'd been on the verge of sleep.
“You took everything from me,” Finnegan snarled. “My home, my family… my friends… everyone, it's all because of you! You started it all!”
“How?” Polish asked.
“Spiky Ridge!” Finnegan shouted. “You Mootix arrived and started the war!”
“That's not true,” Kelly said quietly, sitting up by the remains of the fire. “The Cootys invaded Spiky Ridge, that's what started the war.”
“I won't listen to your lies,” Finnegan spat.
“It's not a lie,” Bad piped up firmly. “It's not exactly the truth either though.”
“Bad?” Polish questioned, turning to his friend.
“I've never told anyone, and neither has my dad… we don't like to talk about it because it brings up bad memories, but I'm from Spiky Ridge,” Bad explained, staring into the embers of the fire. “We lived there before the war, it's a village on the border between the two countries, and for a while Mootix and Cootys lived together in peace.”
“I've never heard that,” Polish pointed out.
“Of course you haven't, it's been covered up,” Bad continued. “I was young, so I don't remember exactly how it started, I heard it was a tavern fight between two Petpetpets on leave that spiraled out of control. It became a military operation, and before anyone knew anything, the entire place went up in smoke. Me and my dad barely made it out alive… my mum wasn't so lucky.”
“But… it's the entire reason we're fighting,” Kelly gasped, nervously playing with his uniform's buttons, “It's all a lie?”
“Why's your dad fighting, if he knows the truth?” Polish asked.
Bad smiled grimly, and glanced towards Captain Finnegan.
“He lost his wife, to him that was everything. All he wants is his revenge,” Bad explained.
“This stupid war… it's taken everything, and for no reason!” Kelly shouted suddenly, his eyes welling up with tears again.
Finnegan shook his head again.
“Lies!” he muttered. “You're trying to get information from me! I won't listen!”
Polish glanced at the Captain as Kelly and Bad settled back to sleep.
Sergeant Perks snored on, unaware that anything had happened.
The squad rose and began their march back to Mootix territory not long after dawn. Captain Finnegan hadn't had any sleep, but all of the Mootix had taken it in turns to catch quick naps.
The squad talked to each other, and Finnegan couldn't help but listen. Slowly, he found himself learning more about his captors.
There was Kelly, a Larnikin that had joined the army pretending to be a Mootix so that he could follow his brother, who had seemingly perished during the raid on the Cooty base. There was Bad, who seemed to have largely been forced into the army due to his father's wishes and the knowledge that with no home, he had nowhere to go. Then there was Polish, a simple young Mootix who had joined with the desire to protect his country, only to discover he wasn't a soldier.
Leading the group was Sergeant Perks, a career soldier who'd finally snapped after twenty years.
They were an unlikely group to have captured one of the finest Cooty soldiers out there, and at first Finnegan had nothing but animosity for them.
Slowly he came to learn their stories, their hopes, and their fears. They didn't seem to be the murderous Petpetpets that he had been fighting against all these years.
Was this really what everyone had been fighting for? Just to destroy the lives of these people, who were really no different from Finnegan himself?
Gradually, Finnegan felt the anger that had boiled up inside him dissipating. It was replaced instead with a sense of hopelessness. He'd lost everything… and now he'd discovered that what he was fighting for all these years was a lie.
His entire world was falling to pieces about him.
He barely even noticed as it began to rain, and heavy droplets of water turned the path they were travelling along into a muddy swamp. It wasn't long until Sergeant Perks called a halt to their march.
“We'll break for lunch, hopefully the rain will have stopped by the time we've eaten,” he announced as he took shelter under the leaf of a nearby plant.
“Sarge?” Bad questioned. “We used the last of the rations last night.”
Perks sighed, and then looked about him for anything they could eat.
“Looks like we're on reeds then, lads,” he muttered as he carefully began to strip some vegetation off a nearby plant. “Weatherly, you watch the Captain.”
Finnegan sat himself down underneath a leaf that gave him shelter from the rain, and repositioned his bound hands behind his back to make himself more comfortable. The Private with shiny boots that Finnegan had learned was called Polish came forward to guard him.
The rain beat down, amplifying the silence between the two.
“I don't hate you,” Finnegan said eventually. “I'm just angry; the war's taken everything from me.”
“I think everyone's lost something because of it,” Polish answered. “We're not letting you go though; we need you with us to make it back behind our lines. Sorry.”
“There's a letter in my pocket, could you get it out for me? I want to read it,” Finnegan asked.
Polish nodded and cautiously edged forward. He picked Tanya's letter out of the Captain's pocket and laid it out on his lap.
Finnegan hadn't read it since the first time in the bar, where the meaning of the words had been overpowered by the rage that had claimed him. Now, in his sorry state, he read the letter again and again, memories of Tanya filling his mind.
She may have been a spy, and everything she told him might have been a lie… but he refused to believe that he meant nothing to her.
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.
The words seem to float in Finnegan's mind, echoing in the voice of the Veespa songstress.
Maybe the tears will set you free.
Finnegan felt the despair well up inside him and break free like a river bursting its dam. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks, masked by the rain pouring down only meters away. The tears fell onto the letter, and began to smudge the words.
Finnegan hastily forced back the tears, keen to preserve the words of the Veespa for as long as possible. He glanced down at the letter to estimate the damage.
It wasn't a smudge…
It was a clean quill stroke; somehow a new letter had appeared on the page.
Maybe the tears will set you free.
Tanya's words echoed through Finnegan's mind with fresh hope. The Captain shuffled on his bum as best he could, moving himself out from under the cover of the leaf.
The rain engulfed him, drenching him in an instant. On his lap, the water washed over the letter, rubbing Tanya's original words from the page. New words, written in strange secret inks, appeared like magic. These words seemed untouched by the water, and they burned themselves into Finnegan's mind as his heart skipped a beat.
“Sergeant Perks!” he called out into the rain. “You have to read this!”
To be continued…