CHAPTER THREE - Old School
Colonel Black bit hard on the squirming grub and frowned as he chewed. It was too sweet, he much preferred bitter bugs. He set the remainder of his meal back on his plate and scowled at the blabbering fool who sat across the desk from him.
Nothing about the grey field mouse impressed the Colonel. He was a new face, but still a stooge. One of those overdressed, under-prepared, delivery mice sent down from the General’s office. The runt smelled of cheap cologne and was rambling far too long to keep Black’s attention. He had started talking three minutes ago and the Colonel could tell they were no nearer to the real reason this mouse was even here.
“As you will see from my report, Colonel,” the young mouse boasted as he pushed a large pile of paper across the desk, “Our patrols of the southern meadows has been very productive. The tribes there seem very grateful for our presence and we’ve managed to liberate quite a few of them from the savage beasts that plague our lands. The High Council is very pleased with the results. The Colonies have grown considerably among the islands as a result.”
Black was getting impatient. He wasn't one to mince words. “By my uncle’s whiskers, would you spit it out already? I already know about the southern patrols, I haven’t got time for this nonsense, and I could care less what is in your report. I’m here to do a job, I suggest you do yours and tell me what you came here to say.”
The mouse trembled a bit and nervously wiped his brow. Black may have been a small shrew, but he never let anyone push him around. He knew this pup was only a glorified messenger, but that didn’t mean he had to make his job any easier.
“Well…Sir, General Hatchet feels that doubling the number of Elite Guards before the new moon could be just the thing we need,” said the mouse.
“Double the Elites?” the Colonel questioned. "Whatever for?"
“Elites are our most marketable assets. With more Elite squads in the field, more mice may be inspired to join our cause. After all, the General wants the largest army ever assembled ready before the first snowfall. Any mice that don't make the cut can always be re-tasked as grunts. We can always use more tails in the field, right?”
“The General is a buffoon!”
“I…beg your pardon,” the messenger said, clearly shaken by the boldness of this little shrew in expressing his opinions.
“You heard me!”
The Colonel lowered his bushy eyebrows, picked up the thick stack of papers and waved it in front of the messenger’s nose, “Tell me, son, where exactly does this magical report suggest I find enough mice capable of bearing the responsibility of these new Elite squads?”
The question caught the young officer completely off guard. He hardly knew what to say.
“That’s not really in the report, sir. Perhaps if you lowered the required Victory Points...”
The Colonel interrupted, his voice rising as his agitation with his situation grew.
“Victory Points are a joke. Not everything is about numbers you know. Do you even know what it means to be an Elite Guard?”
The messenger squirmed in his chair, but said nothing. Like a wind before a hurricane, the Colonel was just getting started.
“Our Elites are highly trained combat units, masters of stealth, fearless fighters, capable of survival in any environment. They are battle hardened, tough-tailed killers who’d rather cut off a paw than lose a mission. That’s the kind of mice I need!” The Colonel’s ears were now burning red. He took a deep breath and continued his tirade, spitting furiously as he shouted. “The mice I have are a bunch of sloppy, spineless, wannabes who rely far too much on these fancy new tech-toys the General keeps giving them to figure anything out on their own. They wouldn’t know real battle tactics if it kicked them in the tail. That’s the mice I have.”
There was a long silence as the messenger measured his next words carefully.
“Surely there must be some among them you could promote?”
Before the Colonel could respond, the communicator on his desk interrupted. A small screen lit up and the face of Mildra, Black’s secretary, appeared.
“Colonel, Commander Ziro is here to see you, sir,” she said in a decidedly drab voice.
“Make him wait,” the Colonel shouted, but Mildra didn’t disappear.
“Uh sir,” the young messenger offered, “you have to press the red…”
“I know what I’m doing, you twit,” the Colonel said. He pressed the red button and all of a sudden a second face lit up on the screen. It was his wife.
“Oh, hello Smoochie,” the shrew on the screen answered. “I wasn’t expecting you to call so…”
“Blast,” the Colonel shouted as he pressed another button. This time it was Mildra again.
“Sir…did you want me to send him in?”
“No! No…for crying out loud…NO!” He slammed his fist against the machine and her face disappeared at last. This was exactly what was wrong with the world today. Too much technology, too many contraptions. The Colonel sighed and looked back at the messenger mouse who was sitting across from him, mouth agape and eyes wide with shock. The mouse quickly regained his composure and extended an olive branch to the befuddled Colonel.
“Listen, Colonel. I’ll do my best to relay your concerns back to the General, but with the High Council’s approval already granted, I’m not sure there is anything that can be done about it. I suggest you do your best with what you’ve got and we’ll see if we can’t work something out in the meantime. Until then, I don’t care how you do it...just find more squads. Okay?”
For Black, this was the last straw. He hated being belittled, least of all by some pint-sized runt with zero field experience and a clear disregard for his elders.
“Get out of my den,” the Colonel growled.
“But sir, I…”
Black picked up the report that had started the whole ordeal and hopped down from his stool. He headed for the corner of the room, rolled it up and shoved it into the barrel of a device that looked vaguely like a bazooka. He cranked back on the spring loaded lever and shouldered the weapon, aiming it’s cross-hairs at the now frightened visitor.
“I said, get out of my den, and tell General Hatchet he can put this in his report next time!”
The mouse scrambled frantically to gather his briefcase and scurried for the door. All the while, the Colonel chuckled to himself and kept the cross-hairs steady with the well groomed stooge. Just as the messenger threw open the door the Colonel clawed the trigger and sent a massive flurry of paperwork out of the barrel and into the office and the hallway beyond.
The messenger rushed out of the den toward the reception hole where Ziro sat patiently waiting.
“That mouse is a menace. He's insane, I tell you,” he shouted at Mildra as he stormed out of the den altogether.
Satisfied with himself, the Colonel dropped his weapon, slammed his door and headed back to his desk amidst a snowfall of paper that made his office feel much like a snow globe. He sat there basking in the glory of his battle won. For a moment, it felt like the good old days when he was still in the field…still getting things done. He sighed.
“How did I ever end up here,” he said softly to himself. He let his eyes wander around the walls of his den. Every inch of it was a testament to the early days of war. Photographs of gritty battles and war-time posters hung in perfect order on his walls along with artifacts and weapons from his glory days. In many ways, his den served as a museum of memories from the age of gears and springs.
Yes, he was an Old World kind of shrew, with plenty of field duty and more than a few scars to show for it. The virtues of war were bred into his nature. It was a much a part of him as his tail. Like his great grandfather, Black had been Commander of the most decorated Elite squad in the Mech Mice guard history. The Venom squad.
Oh, they were a deadly brood. Venom could strike swiftly and silently. No one had seen them the night they infiltrated deep into enemy territory and took down the Dark Union. It was Black’s bite that had sent the dreaded Dr. Verminion, leader of the Dark Union, tumbling to his doom. Black was a war hero – a legend even. But that was long ago. Now, he was little more than a paper-pusher. A relic of war in a museum of his making.
How times had changed. Under the new leadership of General Hatchet it seemed like missions were more about meeting quotas, expanding the Colony borders and gaining popularity than it was about eradicating what remained of Verminion’s horde. Many of the battles being fought now were un-necessary distractions. Too quickly fought and too easily won. The real enemies remained in hiding, biding their time. He had been around long enough to know something was up. Why were they focusing so much energy on the southern meadows and hardly any to the north in places like Liwa? There hadn’t been a patrol sent to Liwa in at least three seasons and yet the High Council showed no concern. Add to this the sudden shortage of Liwa syrup and you had all the makings of a good old-fashioned conspiracy.
Black had his suspicions. He even had the courage to voice his concerns once before. A lot of good that did. It was what landed him in this lousy job stamping papers. If he had any hope of discovering the truth, he couldn’t do it publicly.
If only there were a way to put things right again; to prove to the council that the Colony was at risk of attack from the north. Who was he kidding? His tactics weren’t needed anymore. He had quotas to meet – General Hatchet’s orders.
He glanced down at his paper snow covered desk and spotted a single blue sheet. It was another one of those digital field reports from the battle simulator. This one was for Squad R59. As usual, the report was already graded by a central server. The recommendation was to dismantle the team and reassign them. Normally, he wouldn’t even give the report a second look – he’d call the commanding team leader in and deliver the news – but this time, something made him pause.
He half-heartedly scanned the report a second time. Surprisingly, there were a few bright spots in the report, not Elite status by a long-shot, but not horrible either. They needed a lot of work. Something they could only get with proper mentorship and real field experience, none of this simulation stuff. Then, a subtle smile crept across the snout of the shrew and he did something he had wanted to do for a long time. He made a decision on his own.
If it was numbers the General wanted, he would give it to him. He’d approve these less than perfect grunts for a little field test. Give them a shot at the big time. If they failed, he’d just be guilty of following orders. But maybe…just maybe…they’d manage to come back with something useful from the field. Liwa would be the perfect place to start. Nobody would be expecting it.
“Oh-ho-ho Augustus, you are a clever little shrew,” he said, chuckling to himself.
He depressed the red button on his desk communicator to call this Commander Ziro in for the news, but it was his wife’s face that appeared instead of Mildra’s.
“Smoochie? Is that you again,” his wife asked.
“Blast!” he cursed and slammed his fist against the device. The image went black.
He hopped down from his stool and headed for the door. He’d do this the Old School way. Commander Ziro was in for a surprise