Chapter 32 - The Classic Approach
Private Biggs of the Ronisgald Security Force stood at attention at the very edge of camp. Private Wedge stood beside him, not so much at attention as at casual awareness.
"I heard he's a sentient." Private Biggs said, his eyes scanning the woods for any sign of trouble.
Reclining against the tree with his energy rifle hanging from a low branch, Wedge asked, "Who?"
Biggs flashed an irritated glance at his brother. "You know who! Triumvate Fairchilde's new confidant."
Wedge considered this for a moment before shaking his head. "Nah, I don't think so."
"Me either." Biggs agreed. "I've been around birds before, and the feeling I get from him is different."
"Different as in?"
Biggs looked around nervously. "We shouldn't be talking about this. If Sarge catches us goofing off again-"
Wedge slapped his friend on the shoulder. "Hey, you started this! Besides, Sarge hates the guy as much as you do. Come on, how is he different?"
"Well, he feels … darker. I don't know how else to describe it, but that man makes me feel uneasy."
Wedge nodded in agreement. "I know the feeling, buddy. Still, if Triumvate Fairchilde trusts him, he must be loyal to the cause."
Biggs shook his head. "Reminds me of Glenda. No matter how innocent she acts, you can tell just lookin' in her eyes that she's up to something."
"Yeah." Wedge agreed after a few moments. "I got that too. Man's definitely up to something."
The sound of a twig snapping nearby made them both jump and fumble with their weapons. They breathed a collective sigh of relief as a squirrel darted out of the bush. It looked at them curiously a moment before scampering away.
Leaning back against the tree, Wedge asked, "What do you think about our 'guests'?"
"Frankly, the birds make me nervous, but the cyborg seems to be in high spirits. He understands the situation and hasn't given us any trouble. Personally, I'm more worried about those two slamm players; have you seen the Muonsol Marauders in action?" He shook his head. "Glad we're not guarding them."
Wedge asked with a knowing grin, "Whatcha think about the ladies?"
Biggs lowered his rifle, considering. "The one we just picked up? She's a beauty. 'Course, I've never seen an idestan girl who wasn't. Personally, I like the Rimstakken. She's unusually quiet for her kind, but absentminded as anything. She's really a pleasure to talk to though. Pretty too."
"You can say that again. It's a shame she shot me down, but this probably wasn't the best time to ask her out on a date. Speaking of which, I heard there was a problem with one of our 'allies' around our guests."
"Yeah. Good thing Sarge was there, or we'd have a war on our hands." Biggs shook his head. "Those guys are trouble. I can't believe we're even allied with-"
Another snap made both of the guards jump again. When nothing was forthcoming, they started to ease up, but the sound of a small crash from behind the bushes followed muffled swearing prompted Biggs to shine his searchlight at the bush.
"Who goes there?" He called out.
There was no response other than the continued chirping of crickets.
Wedge started forward, but Biggs held him back, saying, "I got this one. Keep the light on the bushes there, okay?"
"It's all yours, bro." Wedge took the searchlight and aimed it at the bush.
As Biggs approached the bushes, the light disappeared. He called back, "What's the deal, Wedge? Do I look tigreth? Turn the light back on!"
The light came back on a moment later.
Biggs nodded and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light. Once he could see clearly, he pushed aside the brush with one hand, his rifle raised and ready to fire. As he moved the branches a small winged bunny looked back up at him with wide, curious eyes.
Chuckling to himself, Biggs told the startled fiona, "Oh. Well, you can go about your business." As he turned, he was nearly blinded by the searchlight.
Shielding his eyes, Biggs called out, "We're clear!"
The light didn't move. As he approached, he shouted, "Turn off the damn light already!"
A few moments later, the light blinked out. Biggs breathed a sigh of relief, and rubbed his eyes.
As the spots started fading from his vision, Biggs resumed his post. "I don't know. This whole assignment is trouble, and I bet those hotheads and their psycho boss are behind everything."
"I wouldn't worry about them." replied Mikaen, standing where Wedge had previously stood guard.
Biggs stared at Mikaen uncomprehendingly for a few moments, which gave Mikaen more than enough time to blow a puff of pink dust into the startled guard's face. Biggs hit the ground a moment later, already snoring.
As Jeronem exited the brush, Mikaen asked, "Nice. What is this stuff?"
"Dream dust. They're going to take a nap for the next few hours."
"Dream dust, huh?" Mikaen peered into the small vial. "Where'd you learn to make it?"
Jeronem shrugged. "I went through a warlock phase before I decided to be a spell-shaper. You shoulda seen how relieved mom was when I threw out all my potion ingredients."
Biggs's uniform was a surprisingly good fit after Mikaen pulled out the armor pads sewn inside the cloth. The helmet had a heads-up display equipped with night-vision and thermal sensors. It covered most of his head as well, making it a perfect disguise.
"Nice." he said, pausing a moment to watch the heat signature of the fiona scamper through the woods.
Sliding Truth and Justice into some of the many pockets of the uniform, Mikaen glanced down at the prone forms of Biggs and Wedge. They were both sleeping soundly clad in nothing but their boxer shorts.
"They look Galden," he commented, "and this is definitely some kind of military uniform. I wonder if ... Jeronem?"
Mikaen nearly burst out laughing at the sight of Jeronem draped in one of the Galden uniforms, holding up his pants while his tail wiggled over the waistline. Interestingly enough, his helmet's display identified Jeronem as being Wedge; Mikaen suspected some sort of imbedded suit protocol.
Careful to keep a straight face, Mikaen put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I don't think the uniform's gonna work with you."
"Aww!" Jeronem's pout abruptly changed to a look of surprise. "Mikaen! Look out!"
Mikaen didn't have enough time to turn. Two dark shapes leapt from the low branches of a nearby tree and tackled both of them to the ground.
"Say nothing, or you're both dead!" Mikaen's assailant hissed, her claws at his throat.
Mikaen's eyes flew open. "Tirinia?"
"Mikaen?" Tirinia's jaw dropped. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, you know, I just thought I'd go for a walk in the middle of the forest in a stolen uniform so I can infiltrate the secret camp and rescue Princess Rydiana. You?"
"Er … same thing. Except for the uniform."
Smiling, Mikaen pulled his helmet up so his mouth was exposed and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "Can I get up now?"
Blushing, Tirinia helped Mikaen to his feet.
Out of the corner of his eye, Mikaen saw Teria yank off Jeronem's helmet. "Jeronem Thistlethorn. Why am I not surprised? "
"Saw the princess sneaking out, thought I'd follow. You?"
"We were supposed to be watching the princess."
"Good job on that." Jeronem snatched the helmet from Teria and jammed it on his head.
"Hang on, your helmet's crooked. Let me help you with that." She gave Jeronem's helmet a good smack with her fist. As Jeronem shrieked, his hands clutching the side of his helmeted head, Teria turned to Mikaen. "I suppose you were planning on infiltrating the camp?"
"Well, we were," Mikaen replied, "but Jeronem's not gonna fool anybody in that uniform."
Jeronem begrudgingly pulled off his helmet and uniform and tossed them to the ground. "I suppose I could cast an invisibility spell or something."
"So who wears the second suit?" Mikaen asked, looking at Teria and Tirinia.
A few minutes later, Mikaen and Teria were walking straight through the center of camp in full disguise as Privates Biggs and Wedge. The camp as a whole seemed to be settling down for the evening save for a few patrolling guards, who merely nodded as they passed. Tirinia and Jeronem followed behind, keeping to the shadows whenever soldiers drew near.
The disguise worked well, but the way Teria was constantly tugging at the top of her uniform seemed awfully conspicuous to Mikaen.
He whispered, "Quit fidgeting! Someone's going to notice."
"Easy for you to say; you don't have boobs … and don't even get me started about my tail."
Tirinia and Jeronem had to stifle their giggles.
Feeling his face grow hot beneath his mask, Mikaen muttered, "Sorry."
"Not as sorry as I am for having to wear this Galden trash."
"About that; this uniform-"
"Galden Security Force. You wouldn't have seen it before."
"I think it looks great on you, Teria." Tirinia commented, unable to repress a smirk.
Teria glared at her. "Oh, like you wouldn't have a problem; you're easily two cup sizes bigger than me!"
Mikaen could see Tirinia blush even in the low light. She crossed her arms over her bosom self-consciously.
Sighing, Teria gave up trying to adjust her uniform. "Ugh. Let's just get this over with as quickly as possible."
"Say," said Tirinia, glancing at a nearby tent as a soldier went inside, "Should we be checking the tents as we go? I mean, we may have already passed them."
"Not necessary. Take a look at that." Mikaen pointed at a large tent with a guard posted at each corner.
The group took cover behind the tent they had just passed. After making sure no one was listening, Mikaen whispered, "It's a safe bet to say that's where our missing people are being kept. Any ideas on … wait, where's Jeronem?"
About that time, a voice from behind Mikaen said, "If it isn't the Atkins boys! Oh, who's your friend, Biggs?"
Mikaen spun around to see a plump woman holding two heavy looking trays. There was no sign of Jeronem.
Smiling warmly at Tirinia, the woman said, "You're certainly a pretty young thing."
Tirinia turned bright red. "T-thanks, ma'am."
Turning back to Mikaen, the lady asked, "Your girlfriend?"
Quickly improvising, Mikaen rubbed the back of his helmet; saying in what he hoped was a close approximation of Biggs' voice, "I know she shouldn't be in the camp but-"
The woman shook her head, smiling. "Don't worry hon. I won't tell anyone. Say, could you boys do me a favor?"
Mikaen nodded, saying, "Of course."
The woman handed Mikaen and Teria each a tray, saying, "Could you bring these to our new friends? It's been such a harsh day for them, and I wanted to make them feel a little better with a warm, home-cooked meal."
Mikaen traded glances with Teria, saying, "We'd be glad to help right, Wedge?"
Teria gave him a thumb up. Mikaen couldn't see her expression through the face mask, but he was pretty sure that she was finding this amusing.
The woman laughed. "You two are still quite the team, aren't you? You always were such troublemakers back home."
She shook her head. "Well, I'd better get back. We've got to make food for all of these soldiers' breakfast tomorrow morning. Oh, is there anything you'd like me to tell your mother?"
Mikaen replied dryly, "Tell her I wish I was back home."
The woman smiled and turned to Wedge expectantly. "Anything you'd like to say Wedge?"
"Uh, no." said Teria, sounding as though she were trying to make her voice deeper.
The woman laughed. "Fair enough. Good night you two."
Passing by Tirinia, she whispered, "Make sure they stay out of trouble."
Her cheeks pink, Tirinia nodded respectfully.
After the lady was out of sight, Jeronem stepped out from behind a nearby tent. "That was close … and that was a lousy imitation of a guy's voice, Teria."
Teria scowled. "Bite me, monkey-boy."
Mikaen looked at the tray in his hands. "Deus ex machina."
Jeronem, Teria, and Tirinia looked at him curiously.
He opened his mouth to explain, but thought better of it. "I'll tell you later."