E-Mail: Alyson Terry
Copyright. The Walt Disney Corporation, 1990-91. TaleSpin and all of it's characters are the property of the Walt Disney Company and I'm sure if one of the brilliant creators of the greatest cartoon series of all time were to read this they would curse me and my disillusioned brain for mutating their beloved creation in so abstract a way. Oh well, artistic interpretation, get over it.
Any and all thanks for this fic goes to my TaleSpin pals out there who have supported me always and have been of the greatest assistance in helping me to come up with any ideas and encouraging me in my writing. I can't thank you guys enough. This one's for all of you. Dan, Lys, Laura, Susie, Phoebe, Kristof, Greg, Dave, Staci, Ricia, Joseph, Charles....gasp. All of you, you know who you are, and my thanks to you forever.
Special thanks goes out to Kathleen VanCampen, my RL best friend, support and amateur therapist. She listens to all of my ideas and helped me a great deal in moving this one along through the rough patches and Jim Kellogg for providing me with a great deal of the technical information in Pt. 2 and for the great chats about everything from history and aviation to the best animated series to ever come along.
Why do we enjoy and love what we do? Who knows. I only know you cannot study the devastating effects of WWI, without tying it into WWII. They are basically one and the same. A long, drawn-out conflict that affected and is still affecting a world, and marked the twentieth century as one of the worst in regards to violence and loss of life. I hope you enjoy this fic. A great deal of research went into it. I hope with all of my heart that something can be learned from it. That was my main purpose. -Aly
In Flander's Fields
In Flander's fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead, Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flander's fields. Take up your quarrel with the foe; To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high, If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flander's fields.
Same airport, same island.....same everything. Unless, of course, one counted the passage of time, or how many times the sun had risen and set through the years.
Day upon day, each following the other until the actors were ready and the stage was set to have all of civilization it seemed, come tumbling down with the briefness of a few, catastrophic events.
And indeed, even now, at the crossroads of a great precipice, a great upheaval in the lives of all who had the experienced the incidents that had triggered pain, loss.....and war, there was a familiarity of these things.
For all of this had come before and all would come again, in some other form, in some distant future, and who knew if it would ever be avoided?
Who knew what the loss for everyone would be? This time, next time, every time......the answer belonged to no one, never would.
It could only be found in the peace that followed the storm, and in the healing process that earth and those who lived on it's surface would surely and inevitably go through.
But....memories existed, and weakness, hate, together with mistrust can slowly destroy if one clings to them like a treasure. This is what such things will become.....the one who holds them is the one to give them power, or worth.....or release them to find the path to freedom.
It is the lesson that this city, and all places like it, destroyed and rebuilt through centuries, or this conflict could teach, and that was to let go...and move on.
For the innocent, for the guilty, for those whose war raged inside, for those who fought it all around them. All had the power, all had to live, breath and know the influence each possessed within their own existences. Each had to learn from the past.....for the future.
Kit had always been intrigued by the capital city of Anglia, even though the damage that had been inflicted on the ancient location was horrendous, especially when the young pilot could remember the beauty of it's architecture and the fascination he had held for it's secrets.
Nearly all had physically been destroyed under the fury of Alemanian firepower. The only glimmer of hope that the city had possessed for quite some time was it's ability to endure, and it's pride along with an utmost refusal to give in to tyranny, brutality and aggression. And that meant severe punishment, to the point that not a single brick would have been left in place as the once beautiful capital was reduced to dust with the power of modern machinery.
Kit understood about hope, certainly. If there was one thing he could understand.....that was it. He had clung to it throughout most of his life, as tightly as he now clung to his khaki uniform and papers, tucked neatly under one arm.
Surprisingly, he needed both not to go into combat.....but to aid the populations of the occupied, liberated, and even enemy nations that were now suffering under the many circumstances that war was liable to give.
Starvation, disease.....people and governments, still so fragile, could and were collapsing as the Alemanian war-machine slowly and painfully retreated.
So, the hope of this city was contagious to the young man who, with all of his gifts, had singled out and brought forward the trait of optimism which had always been there to hold him up when he needed it.
For he was standing here, ready to be shipped off to the continent, to aid in ending something....even better, to aid in beginning something else. And this ancient city was still standing, the raids that had plagued it falling no more.
Hope was a funny thing, in all of it's forms and all that managed to come from it. Kit was grateful, both for the emotion and for the ones who had helped him find it in the first place.~
January 4, 1945
Sunlight streamed in through the open window. Shadows danced on the opposite wall. The scent of the tropical breeze brushed past a young man's cheek. He knew it well, he would always remember it. He would carry it with him. It was mid-afternoon in the city known as Cape Suzette.
Kit Cloudkicker keep his gaze fixated on the blue harbor before him. Flashes of memory intruded into his thoughts. ~Remember where my heart is, and you'll always have a home....~ ~Hey, we're buddies, pals! From now on, we're a team...~ ~This is your home, Kit...~ ~ I love ya, Li'l Britches~
Always, in these memories, someone's warm embrace held him and he was safe, in those two arms. If he wanted to he could stay there, forever.
The one's he loved the most deeply, the one's who wished for him to stay with them, would always welcome him here, support him.
But it was not who he was.
He had seen so much, experienced _too_ much in his short life. It was astounding that the strength of his character had kept his ideals in place, even in the world the boy found himself in now.
To see injustices anywhere, to not fight them and to not fight for what he believed in was against everything that made Kit who he was... He couldn't turn away from them.
So, despite being turned down again and again for military service, which he had applied for since he was 18, despite the unspoken, pleading question in his father's eyes, Kit was leaving. He would use his talents elsewhere in Eporue.
Baloo felt torn apart. Thank God the main bulk of the fighting was over, but to let this boy go...this boy who had too quickly grown into a man, was torture.
Baloo was fighting a war himself, deep inside. The agony of seeing Kit hurt or....worse, was something the large pilot could not face...ever.
Not after watching Kit grow, protecting him, guarding the boy with his life if necessary. How could he possibly let him go?
On the same token...if he truly loved the boy, how could he not? It was simply a part of who Kit was, to fight and to give unselfishly. Could Baloo really ever ask him to change? It would kill the pilot to see his former navigator try to be something other than what he was...the boy whom the large bear had let inside of his heart so many years ago.
Kit turned as Baloo placed two large hands on his shoulders. The large gray bear looked at the boy tenderly...he would always be a little boy to Baloo, even if the navigator...no, _pilot_ now, was quite a bit taller than he was. He would always stay the same skinny waif of a bear cub who had suddenly appeared in his life, with all of his remarkable talents and skills, all of his emotions and heart. He was the gray bear's navigator, forever, showing the way to places deep inside of Baloo, places the pilot would have never thought existed.
Yes, now Kit was a pilot. There had never been any doubt in Baloo's mind that the boy would be an ace. He was going overseas to aid in the air-lift that would drop supplies to the needy civilians in the war-ravaged areas.
They had wanted the best....
As Baloo gazed at his son, he knew from experience that those waiting wouldn't be disappointed. Kit excelled at whatever he put his mind to, his flying being no exception.
But the gray bear felt as though he was being torn in half.
Rebecca sat at her desk, attempting to sort papers and keep herself from weeping. She was failing miserably at both.
"I'll write" Kit's voice, no longer that of a little boy but that of a young man, deepened through the years, finally spoke up.
Baloo felt his composure crumbling. "Kit" the young man looked at the pilot. "Er..um, please be careful, don't be taking any unnecessary chances, 'kay?"
"I-I'll miss ya...Li'l Britches" Baloo's voice broke as he held his former navigator close to him. Kit wrapped his arms around Baloo and hugged him back.
Rebecca was sobbing as she watched the two. She quietly stood up to stand behind them. "I love you Papa Bear..." "I'll be back before you know it, I promise"
Baloo nodded vigorously, tears streaming. He didn't want to let the boy go. Kit looked past Baloo's shoulder to gaze at Rebecca, who attempted to smile at him but managed only to reach out and grasp his hand.
The connection between the three had never been stronger. Kit felt something inside give way.
How could he leave them? This was the only home he'd ever known, could he really leave it behind him?
He picked up his small duffel bag, after finally escaping from Baloo's vice-like embrace.
He headed towards the door, but hesitated when he saw a young girl standing on the stairs. She had both her mom's good looks and wit, but neither was helping her as tears streamed down her face.
Kit walked over and quickly hugged her. "G-bye Pig-tails....take care of things, okay?" Kit tipped the girl's chin to allow her eyes to meet his. The boy's heart melted as her large brown eyes overflowed with tears. He wished he could think of something more that he could tell her that wouldn't sound insincere and out of place.
"O-Okay Kit...don't be gone too long!" she said sternly, her tone at odds with the unsteadiness of her voice.
"I won't" He quickly hugged her again and turned, not trusting himself to look at her face.
Rebecca embraced him, not an easy task as the little boy she had once known was now a full head and shoulders taller than her.
"Bye sweetie. Please...come back to us."
"I'll miss you, Miz Cunningham" Both smiled at Kit's former title for the businesslady.
"Bye" Kit felt unsteady, he felt as though there was a dead weight resting on his chest, causing intolerable pain and impeding his ability to breathe.
He had to force himself to stare straight ahead as he walked out the door. Only Baloo followed, as Rebecca attempted to comfort her sobbing daughter, a difficult task as she gave herself over to tears as well.
Wildcat hopped down off of the Blue Eagle. "She's all ready man..." the lion seemed a bit more somber than usual.
"Bye WC" Kit extended out a hand. Wildcat, in turn, caught the much taller bear in a hug.
"Bye Kit...hey, I-I'll miss ya man"
Kit's surprise registered on his face. "Thanks Wildcat" he said softly as the mechanic turned to walk inside of his shed. He didn't turn around for a second look.
Kit stared long and hard at the wooden building of Higher for Hire...his home.
Him, Kit Cloudkicker. Look how far he'd come. All thanks to the people both inside of that building and standing next to him.
All of them had come very far. The relationships between them had remained stable, deepening and growing. They were close, very different true, but close, bound together.
Kit would feel the ties that bound him to these individuals, to this place. They could stretch, almost to breaking point, especially in that far-off place he was going, but they could never break.
There was no place he could go that could tear him away from these people. Before Kit climbed into his plane, ready to go, he turned to gaze at Baloo one more time.
Pausing, he looked intently at the pilot. Baloo hadn't changed much from the day Kit had first...er, ran into him at Louie's. He hadn't changed much outwardly that is.
Inside, the bear had more depth, more feeling, seemingly, more soul. He now knew what it was to care for someone else more than yourself. He now knew what it was to love someone enough to let them go.
The large bear gently reached up and touched the side of Kit's face with one massive hand. Nothing more had to be said.
The two held each other fiercely, tightly. Nothing could ever break them apart. But, for now, they had to say goodbye.
It was the hardest thing Baloo had ever done, releasing the boy to let him go to a place where the large bear could no longer protect him.
Kit wanted to stay there, with the only father he'd ever known, for as long as he could. But he had responsibilities elsewhere. And he couldn't ignore them.
Kit climbed into his plane and started the engines. Baloo stood very still as Kit's plane slowly gained altitude and vanished through the cliffs.
"Good luck, Li'l Britches..."~
"Cloudkicker!!" The harsh voice shattered Kit's concentration with one word.
The young man quickly brought his head up. "What?" Kit blinked and quickly looked around, still not used to his unfamiliar surroundings. He felt a hand clap down on his shoulder.
"Hey kid, that was some drop-off, loveliest flying this 'ol ace has ever seen." Kit smiled at the old racoon who grinned back sheepishly, unintentionally bringing the young man out of his daydream. "Thanks Eric....still kinda new at this I guess."
"No troubles lad, it takes some getting used to...nothin' like working under the gun....'course, there are worse things." A faint shadow crossed the racoon's face. Kit frowned at it and began to follow the older officer into the barracks. Something stopped him.....the young bear thought he would have gotten used to the constant sound of distant booming coming from miles away.
Silently Kit stared at the pillars of smoke and occasional bursts of debris and gravel that came into view with each new noise. The pilot found himself fascinated by the distant explosions, even though he had flown over it mere hours before.
Kit knew the real fighting was over, or as good as over.....the explosions he was seeing were just precautions against the mine fields set months before by the Alemanians to combat the oncoming invasion.
The young man instinctively reached up to grab his navigator's cap, worn with few exceptions every day for the past seven years. Again, his distracted mind seemed surprised when he grabbed something else....his uniform's cap bearing the logo, "Usland Airlift Division".
A simple name, if only the tasks that Kit performed under it were as much so.
Looking up at the sky....blue, clear, beautiful, the young pilot could almost feel himself drift away from this place, home as always in the clouds.
It was so beautiful up there. It caused Kit's heart to ache, the strange feelings he had experienced for as long as he could coming to the surface once again to bring him the comfort that few knew.
In this far-off land, with it's ravaged appearance and the scars of years of warfare once again causing upheaval in it's people's lives, Kit felt another sort of pang........homesickness, again.
Nowhere did he feel more at home, yet here in this situation more alone, than in the air, high above solid earth. But every time he took off, every time he reached out to touch the place which had no borders, had no territories, he missed the one who had first given him the opportunity to become all that he was.
Every time he landed, felt his feet touch the ground, he missed the ones who had been there to greet him, to offer him a home.
The young pilot crushed his hat in his hand, feeling soft and weak in this harsh environment. He let his mind wander, as it was opt to do.
~It was late and another of the boy's nightmares had come to haunt him. He had been falling again.....it was too soon after Karnage had dropped him off of the Iron Vulture, with the waters of Cape Suzette harbor rushing up to meet him with terrifying speed......he had kicked and struggled, only to find himself gently being shaken awake by two strong hands.
The large bear held Kit's shoulders until the cub realized where he was, in the Sea Duck....they should reach Higher for Hire in a matter of hours, but it was still very late, so Kit had dozed off. But he was safe here, in this plane, he always felt that way here, no matter what. He was safe once again, thanks to Baloo.
Nothing was said for awhile. Kit almost felt ashamed for again allowing his own demons to rob him of sleep one more time. But Baloo didn't seem to mind. He only took his seat beside his navigator and patted the boy's shoulder until slowly, Kit relaxed once again.
The sun's faintest rays were beginning to peek into the city of Cape Suzette when the yellow sea-plane docked at Higher for Hire. Kit tiredly began following the large pilot inside the building for a day of much needed rest.
The navigator stumbled, unsteady on his feet, the dock just didn't seem to want to hold still. He felt himself being picked up and carried inside, in spite of his exhausted protests.
Baloo pulled the shade in the bedroom and set Kit down softly on the bed. The boy watched the large bear sit down on his own bed with a sigh and lay back.
"Baloo?" came a soft-spoken word from across the darkened room.
"Yeah kiddo?" Baloo turned to stare intently at the cub.
"Um...why did you answer my distress call if you thought I'd double-crossed you?"
Baloo blinked, startled by the strange question. A far-off look came into his eyes.
"Well, Kit-boy....I, well....I guess it was 'cause I wanted to believe so bad that you didn't mean everythin' that you'd been saying to Karnage. A-About using me an' stuff. It....er...you're my navigator, I'm the pilot. An' I'm tellin' ya right now, we're gonna probably go through a lot worse stuff than whatever 'ol Karny and his gang threw at us before. But we're in it together. An' I trust ya.....from now on, that means forever Li'l Britches"
"Yeah...um, thanks Bal-..uh, Papa Bear"
The gray bear smiled at the boy who felt a crushing wave of gratitude. He wanted to remember this for as long as he could.....~
"Kit!" Again, the young bear came back to the present with the sound of the officer's voice. He met Lieutenant Baggett's worried gaze sheepishly.
"What's gotten into you boy?"
"Just Eric like I told you. Come on inside lad, have to plan for tomorrow"
As Kit followed the older racoon into the barracks he caught the strange glances two soldiers gave the young pilot and the lieutenant.
The young bear had to smile in spite of himself. He wasn't sure by what chance or twist of fate he had ended up here in this particular division, but he felt exceedingly grateful.
The Airlift Division was like an effective, well-oiled machine, a team that was already working wonders in the war-torn, isolated areas which were in desperate need of food and supplies.
Maybe it was the casual atmosphere and friendships here that was helping the young pilot in this environment. That, and a great deal of respect for Lieutenant Baggett. Kit couldn't explain his feelings of regard towards the elderly officer, but the racoon
had something about him, a different attitude, a different mind-set about this war.
Maybe someday the young pilot could ask him what it was that pushed him forward, that drove him so relentlessly....or, on the same note....held him back.
He didn't understand.
June 29, 1916
Like a creeping phantom, the memory haunted Eric. The call went out, terrifying in it's urgency.
"Put on your masks! Gas warning, put on your masks!!"
And, like something out of a nightmare, the visible poison crept silently along where no civilized creature could walk and survive for long.
Through the barbed wire, drifting in and out of the shells that two years of constant bombardment had left, creeping over the vast space, endless.....yet actually consisting of only a few feet. No Man's Land.
Eric almost envied it's freedom as it came drifting over to their trenches, leaving only destruction to prove it's power. It came quickly....it always came too quickly.
Three privates at the far end of the trench who had been too busy hooting and calling out insults to the far-off enemy lines had failed to hear the warning.
Eric watched with detached interest as the soldiers began scrambling for their masks, coughing and becoming very ill before even getting the opportunity to put them on.
The Sergeant of Division 12 rushed over, cursing and barking orders, then cursing again as one young private went from gray to the tell-tale blue that said more than any medic.
"Bloody fools! Listen to the warnings when they're issued! Bloody....." on and on he went, damning the poor fools to hell one moment then struggling urgently to carry them out the next, yelling for some medical assistance.
Eric heard the Sergeant, saw his fellow soldiers gradually learning the terrible lesson he had already learned in the few months he had been here.
Terrible how he felt no stirrings of sympathy deep within him. Three more lessons learned.....harder for them then for him....
What had the girl from Seines told him? The cynical young girl who had spit on the trains of soldiers that left the station full of boys about to be awakened as no one should...and return men.
"We've heard about you, you think you're safe....Anglians, best soldiers in the world...bah!" She was so derisive. Eric despised her and loved her at the same time, as one does to all who open our eyes to our own foolishness.
"When the battle is over..." her finger pointed at him, her eyes full of the fire of hatred, Eric could see her still in the dark silence of the trenches, hearing only his own breathing as the gas slowly dissipated.
"When your _great_ battle is over, it will be like before, in the north....at Vernun. You fight and fight....be you what you are or what we are and when the last Anglian soldier is left on the field, the last one standing is worth nothing in our eyes...for all that we have lost...if one of you remains, he won't remain for long at our hands!"
She was older than Eric's nineteen years, he was a little in awe of her, of the black armband she wore, of her unquenchable pain. Someone she loved was gone.......
And now three others had joined this shadowy figure whom Eric would never meet, yet who still had influenced this moment, this day so much. They weren't yet casualties of war.....the only thing really gone was what lay inside the boy in the trenches who thought of them.
And the real fighting had not even begun. The grizzled veterans cackled and taunted the new recruits, Eric had been no exception.
"You think a gas attack is bad?! Why lads, this be in broad sight! You should be a-fearing the ones you'll never see, the ones that creep inside of the trenches in the unholy hours of the night....no warning, no sound. But it's real lads, it's real And then there's the bombardments. No reprieve there. Big Beartha and the Alemanians don't have no sympathy for the saps that be gettin' in their way, no sir. All day, all night, no rest.....nothing. The bugle sounds, the signal be given and we go over the top. Lads, have you ever been over the top......?!!"
Eric ceased listening. Old wives tales, that's all. Besides, this war was almost over. After two years, their leaders had assured them that the end was in sight.
Just one more push, one more huge offensive and the Alemanians would go scurrying home with their tails tucked between their legs.
Just one more, the biggest, then this horrendous war would be over. It was time to show all of these continent dwellers what the Anglians could do! Two days and his division would attack.
The Alemanians wouldn't know what hit them. Just two days, with the constant bombardment into enemy trenches already well under way. At the river they would break through and end this madness.
At the Solme.
The plane came to life under Kit's skillful fingers. He had learned under the best, and the knowledge he possessed was not just the basic techniques and understandings of the aircraft he sat in.
It was knowing the freedom it brought, a freedom different than what Kit Cloudkicker had once thought he wanted. A freedom without loneliness......
He should have felt better being here, but any thought of home, however vague, brought a lump to Kit's throat and a twisting of his stomach.
Another drop, another day.....it was madness, what people could do.
All of Kit's studies and all of his preparations could never prepare him for this. He had seen little except ravaged countryside, bombed-out buildings and bleak expressions of hopelessness from the refugees that continued to pour in from every corner of Eporue, either to escape or to return to the places that had once been their homes. To find that nothing remained, nothing was left, it was barren......
With an incredibly smooth takeoff and a set scowl on his face, Kit turned to his co-pilot, who was going over coordinates and instructions one more time.
Smiling briefly, the young pilot let his thoughts wander for a moment, feeling the same sweeping emotion that always accompanied his high-mindedness.
Those people, the ones whose faces appeared so empty. Well, that's what they were there for, to help.
Still, there was so much destroyed and even more to rebuild. And there were so many who were in need. Kit shook the cobwebs out of his head, these runs could too easily become routine and he could too easily become distracted with his own soul-searching and his own memories.
It was a trap he fell into rather often. Perhaps it was the desolation and horror that surrounded them, perhaps it was seeing the fragile ties that bound loved ones together, or shattered with the strain of war. Or maybe it was all of these things that made Kit constantly think back to home, to Baloo and Rebecca and the warm memories that resided there.....
~Li'l Britches, yer gonna be late unless you hold still an' let me fix this!" Sighing impatiently Kit stood very still and let Baloo adjust the cap on his head.
The boy remembered another time when the large pilot had had to help him with that, and the image....no, more so what the memory signified, caused a warm sensation, pleasantly familiar, to wash over the cub.
Hardly a cub anymore. The tall, thin, soon to be official pilot had grown by leaps and bounds in a few short years.
Now, the 18 year old stood eye to eye with Baloo, who stared at his former navigator as though seeing him for the first time. It was as if the bear couldn't quite believe that Kit was no longer a little boy, but a young man.
The pilot felt near to bursting with pride as he watched Kit, who looked so grown-up....almost, like an adult in his graduation robes.
Baloo gently let his large hand rest on the young man's head. How could he possibly express his pride, or his thankfulness at having been a part of this boy's life? Kit...always so full of potential, always having the ability to go so far. His opportunities were limitless, even with the pain and struggles of his past, but still the gray bear felt a wave of sadness confront him.
It had been too quick, the years that had passed. Not for the first time Baloo felt a surge of regret at having only had the chance to participate in Kit's life for a relatively small number of years, as compared to other parents who had managed, through their own foresight, to share a lifetime.
Kit, as he always had since the day he'd met the large bear, quickly caught on to Baloo's train of thought and gave him a wistful smile, his eyes meeting the older pilot's and remaining there.
The strength and power of the emotions that connected the two was astounding....and unbroken, even here at another crossroad in Kit's life. One of many.
A small cough from the far end of the office that was officially known as Higher for Hire brought the two fly-boys attention back to the present and the events about to take place this night.
Ms. Cunningham, insistently Rebecca, but most of the time known as Becky, watched the pair. She was continually amazed at the depth of feeling and the near tangible connection between the ace pilot and erstwhile navigator. She was even more amazed at how often such things had the power to move her.
Baloo looked over at his boss and grinned suddenly as he stared at her. Kit also let his eyes rest on the two adults, seeing something the two objects of his attention still refused to.....and grinning pretty widely himself.
Baloo absently studied the businesslady, a fairly common habit that he had gotten used to, especially these last few years. She wasn't exactly his idea of a knockout, certainly, but the gray bear had known and counted on Rebecca for too many years for him to deny the fact that there was....something.....that caught his eye about her.
Again, he was glad she and Molly, looking glum and stiffly starched in her dress, were here to share this with him.
"Well Kit-boy, that should do it" Baloo tightly grasped Kit's shoulder as he turned to stare at himself critically in the mirror.
"Next time I guess it'll be a uniform......" the young bear muttered to himself, adjusting his robes and missing completely the flash of worry that passed over Baloo's, then Rebecca's face.
1943.....Kit's graduation year, with most of Eporue still under Alemanian occupation, and most of the world embroiled in a tense and drawn out conflict. One that both Kit's legal guardian, Kit's boss and many of the boy's closest friends had prayed would end before the former navigator became old enough to enlist.
A selfish emotion, but too strong to be denied and with the alternative being too terrifying for them to fathom.
"Okay, I guess I'm ready Ms. Cunningham" Kit stood, stiff and formal, as Rebecca held her camera up, prepared to capture this moment for the years to come, no matter how uncertain that subject seemed tonight against the futility of a family's struggle with war.
Kit looked so grown-up. Rebecca's thoughts unconsciously mirrored Baloo's. The woman felt her heart tug sharply. She felt...old, standing here remembering the boy that was.
And always with those memories came.....
"Baloo, put your arm around Kit's shoulders, and Molly sweetie, quit moping and stand over there....on the other side."
The girl, previously holding her chin in her hands with a sour expression and impatiently fidgeting on the stairs, jumped up and stepped over to stand on the opposite side of the former navigator, playfully elbowing him in the ribs for good measure.
"Hold it Beckers" Baloo interrupted the businesslady as she held the camera up once more. "You too, fix that whacha-call it and git over here."
Smiling briefly, Rebecca complied and stepped over to be squeezed into the small, yet tightly knit group. Baloo casually placed an arm around her shoulders and here, with the lights of Cape Suzette harbor and the sweet smell of the tropics welcomed through the open window, the woman felt....right, secure.
Perhaps it was because of the brighter, stronger light that the inhabitants of this place would forever associate with it. It wouldn't fade with time, or that particular night's passing with the dawn. It wouldn't even fade with the absence of one member, who would think back to the four smiling faces, the younger man and girl and his surrogate parents, with joy.~
"Naw....his head's still in the clouds, literally" Blinking, Kit looked over to see his co-pilot, Gary, a young cat...still a year older than Kit, grinning at the bear knowingly.
"Huh?" Kit was momentarily distracted.
"While you were taking a long trip into.....well, wherever it is you go when you get all glassy-eyed, we just made the drop-off......boy, guess this is _really_ becoming routine, huh Kit? Same old, same old...so much for the excitement of going behind enemy lines."
Kit grinned back sheepishly. *Enemy lines my foot* "So Max and Ron are.....?" He raised his eyebrows questioningly and motioned towards the cargo hold.
"They were just checking to see if you were still with us......of course I told 'em no."
The erstwhle navigator chuckled and gazed back out of the window as Gary tapped his headphones, still conversing with the other two occupants of the plane.
Silence ensued for a while after as Kit strained his eyes, not really expecting to see anything of import. Gary wasn't kidding when he talked about routine. A course was mapped out, the goods delivered, and no other excitement had been encountered in all of their runs.
Of course, it wasn't exactly as though they were blazing a trail into enemy airspace. The remainder of what was left of Alemanian artillery and their once numerous squadrons now only seemed to have one purpose.....taking down Usland bombers and fighter planes wreaking havoc on the cities to the east. Cities, territory, never mind the civilians....that the Alemanian leadership seemed bound and determined to hold onto.
Unfortunately, _strategic_ bombing sites also happened to be populated.....and the relief supplies that Kit remained convinced were making a difference to the ones that were suffering, weren't able to reach everyone who really needed them.
Thinking of the nature of exactly what existed out there, what had taken place, and what could still be happening, scattered the young pilot's thought like dry leaves caught in a wind gust. No longer an uncommon occurence, his ability to disappear into his own mind, his own ponderings. Under different circumstances, it might have been pleasant.
Gary's solemn voice broke through the bear's second distraction, a now-familiar interruption. Kit was glad for it today. Whenever his thoughts went in an unwanted direction, Kit found the accompanying emotions almost overpowering.
The helplessness and sheer frustration of not being able to aid...or at least prevent all that he knew was going on, even all that he encountered, however distantly was excruciating to the young pilot's sensitive nature and prominent idealism. But he was patient, biding his time with disappointments of the past and the realization of countless of missed opportunities. He had wanted a chance, here he was...but he would have to wait a little more to see what his efforts could actually do, or how their small division's progress could be measured. It could be that he just cared too much without knowing why.
Perhaps it was even more significant with his own past. His own painful memories of hunger and suffering. Or perhaps it was his personal stake with the people who were suffering most...more than the Alemanian populace, more than the populations of the surrounding and occupied nations.
Kit shut his eyes, but not before easing the huge aircraft onto the landing strip with skillful ease.
Personal stake.....a strong and painful understatement.
The lieutenant of this casual division strolled up to the four-man crew as Kit cut the engines and clambered out slowly.
"Well lads, ready to have another go at it?" Eric folded his arms, oblivious to the groaning that quickly accompanied his chipper announcement.
Gary met Kit's gaze and rolled his eyes, the latter could only manage a weak half-smile in return. The young bear still felt disconnected, far-off.
"Hey......;you chaps were certainly knowing what you were gettin' yourself into. Just be happy that you're not walking right into the hot spots that most of these other fly-boys are foolish enougth to risk flyin' into. Sure happens to be worse things than a little dull work....so let's load up, refuel, time to pull chocks now"
The racoon smirked at the four young men before letting his eyes rest on Kit. "Cloudkicker, you up to this flight?"
Kit started, then nodded vigorously, sweating under the intense stares of the lieutenant and his co-pilot.
"Lookin' rather pale lad. What's the problem?" The raccoon's sharp eyes turned hard in a flash, a strange mix of inquiry and suspicion in them.
It was though the elderly officer could read Kit's mind, and had no regard for the weakness of emotion he found there. A sharp contrast, certainly, from what Kit was used to recieving from the older man. The former navigator blinked in surprise.
Quickly the hardness passed to be replaced by the same mild expression that was usually to be found on the racoon's countenance. "No sir.....just a bit distracted, that's all"
Reflexively the young man rubbed at his cap, a habit he had gotten into long ago, under different, less complicated circumstances.
Gary lightly punched Kit's shoulder. "Daydreaming.....bet I can guess what about!" Kit raised a disdainful eyebrow as the three other young men cracked up.
Rolling his eyes the pilot shook his head ruefully. "Sure, whatever floats your boat, well, you heard the man....ready for another go at this?"
Another round of groans followed Kit's question and accompanying, toothy grin.
"Ever feel as though we're just hitting the same spots? I mean., there are a lot of people out there who could use this stuff....." Max's blunt statement and direct voicing of Kit's former doubts froze the bear in his tracks, even as the other two members of the small unit shrugged and continued preparations, nearly ready to take off once more.
Kit met Max's gaze uncertainly. "I kind of got that impression too......weird huh? I....uh....guess I just thought that, well....that those are the places were the stuff's needed right now....."
The reasoning sounded feeble even to Kit's own ears. Max, a dark-brown, short of stature dog lightly shook his head before walking off, leaving Kit with a new addition to his already overflowing doubts and growing discontent.
Someone else felt that something was amiss, or at least that something more could be done. So......why wasn't it happening?
July 3, 1916
Dust filled his mouth and eyes, blinding him, choking him, making him cough. The shrill scream of another shell coming dangerously close to his position barely penetrated through the fog of terror and self-preservation that Eric felt overwhelming him.
A scream to his left, two more explosions. If there was a hell promised to the young soldier, this was it. The bombardment was a study in the might of modern weaponry, and the weaknesses and carelessness of the men who used it. It was truly a great strain against the fragile resolve which could not be classifiied, either by those who possessed it, or by those who fought against it.
Grinding, shrieking, over and over, no end, no rest. Dirt came flying everywhere as the ground shook with the impact of shell after shell, the murderous fire had gone on for days at a time.
Haze, smoke, the groans of the ones who weren't as lucky as Eric. The young racoon felt a trickle of sweat move down his back, followed by another.
He was trapped, paralyzed. There were craters all around him, not even a step away......it may has well had been a mile. And he was alone. But he wasn't stupid. He wasn't going out there again, no sir.
The soldier grasped his canteen, steeling himself to hold it steady amidst the continuing din of shells, shrapnel and destruction. He needed the water to make it back if an enemy's bullet didn't find him first.
They were so accurate, and the grim resignation of those so young, his mates, who had fallen all around him was a testimony to the callousness of man vs. machine.
Attrition, no forgiveness. Eric felt dirty, and it wasn't just from the clouds of dust all around him that never seemed to settle. He had something on his hands....and he could never wash them clean again.
Gasping, trying desperately to breathe, Eric strained his eyes to peek over the edge of the hole he was pinned in. Other than the deafening roar of the ongoing bombardment, any sign or sound of life was lost.
Straining his neck even more, Eric tried again, letting his guard slip just a bit. As if in response to his silent question, a single sniper shot rang out......incredible that he'd been able to hear it amidst the horrendous noise.
The bullet kicked up some dirt and other unrecognizable filth inches away from the racoon's face. With a lightning reflex, Eric flattened himself against the jagged surface that made up the floor of this hovel.
Darkness was only a few hours away, he could feel it, and when it's cover came he could attempt to cross back over to his home trench, never would he welcome it as he would this day.
This sun faded, as did everything else in this senseless waste. Eric slowly and carefully crawled out of his prison.....he couldn't allow himself to feel anything particularly harsh towards it. In the past few hours of agony, it's shelter had guarded his life.
Amazing....the bombardment, the endless explosions that reaped so much devastation, didn't touch the young soldier as he crawled back, the few feet that had cost so much....and here he was going back. Ironic, the bombardment was actually coming from _his_ side...but it's destruction was just as terrible as if it had been fired from enemy guns.
With one last heave, he pulled himself into the closest trench....no, it wasn't his, certainly it wasn't the one he had come out of anyway. But he was safe here.
Three surprised soldiers crowded around him, their faces said everything, nothing else could have been heard under the constant firing of shells. They let him rest, let him shut his eyes and catch his breath, the unasked questions hanging between them. Eric would never again feel the desire to answer.
"Boy! Can you hear me?! I asked you something!!" Eric slowly made eye-contact with an officer, previously unnoticed. A sergeant, from the looks of his stripes. The racoon shook his head in bewilderment, the words of the sergeant barely penetrating.
"The Captain wants to hear about what progress has been made.....where's the rest?"
"The rest.....?" Eric barely managed to answer, his tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth.
"Yes lad! The rest!! Come now, how far did they get? They reached the far trench didn't they.....why, I'll bet those bastards are runnin' for their bloody hides at this point."
The Sergeant's idiotic grin, along with his clapping and shaking of Eric's shoulder seemed a distant nightmare. Could this really be happening? Was this person actually serious? How......how could _anything_ be left?
"No sir, most didn't make it. The one's tha' arrived half-way are certainly gone, sir" Eric's cold and deadly voice slowly wiped the wide, hapless smile off of the other officer's face.
"Surely you're not serious.....we had to have broken through somewhere.....!!"
"No where! There's nothing left!! Tell that to your precious Captain. May he burn..... You fool, there's nothing left! Too many times! I swear that you have done this too many times and it's over!! If I live through this night, every day after that I draw breath I'll never see this happen again! These chaps deserve better, and I'll make sure they get it......you mark my words!"
The Sergeant stood slack-jawed. Eric felt better than he had in months. Maybe now he could forget. Maybe now he could sleep without the nightmares that haunted him.
If he had a purpose, if there _was_ a purpose....maybe he could go on.
The events seemed familiar, even though the atmosphere was foggy and distant.
Rebecca's apartment was spotless and the glittering, warm lights of Cape Suzette twinkled at Kit, speaking to him of memories, of friends.
The early evening light created a contrast....the pink clouds, the sparkling stars, the dark rolling hills, and the peaceful sound of a man-made waterfall, a welcome sound which the navigator would forever associate with his boss' apartment.
Even more welcome was the sound of familiar voices, blending together to form something tangible, something Kit could almost see and touch.
Rebecca's voice was softly talking to Molly, in that distinct tone reserved for the little girl and the young boy whose lives she was grateful to be able to participate in.
Baloo's deep baritone carried over her words and a strong, but gentle hand touched Kit's shoulder.
The large pilot smiled at his navigator, looking rather unfamiliar in his more formal clothing and lopsided tie.
*He'll never get that thing right....* Kit smiled back.
"Should be back in a few hours kiddo. Remember..._any_ trouble..." Baloo didn't have to finish.
Kit's second time babysitting, the cub was pretty sure that nothing could be quite as hair-raising as that first experience.
"No worries Papa Bear, what are the chances of another ice-cream happy squid causin' trouble?" Kit giggled a bit at his own joke, and more at the memory. He tried unsuccessfully to stop...and failed as Baloo merely raised an eyebrow at him, grimacing.
"Uh....Kit-boy, maybe we should post-pone this..."
"Oh Baloo! I _am_ 12 years old, and I can handle this! Didn't I handle it before?"
Baloo wearily ran a hand over his face. "All I'm sayin' is any sign o' trouble, well....you know, but don't ferget!"
"I know, I know, the phone...I've memorized it's location" Kit grinned widely at the large pilot, who stared back at the boy for a moment before chuckling and rubbing the top of the cub's head.
Maybe it was the persistent, gut-wrenching flashback of Kit hanging from Rebecca's apartment window, tightly clinging to Molly's hand and a huge....squid-like creature just a few feet away.
Unconsciously, the bear pulled Kit to him and held the boy loosely. Kit, never one to take a hug for granted, smiled to himself and wrapped his small arms around the larger pilot as best he could.
"Well Baloo, think we should be going?" Rebecca approached the duo, holding her daughter who was obviously a bit excited. Kit could feel exhaustion overtaking him already.
He knew that glint in the little girl's eyes.
Kit watched Ms. Cunningham almost admiringly. She always seemed to look....nice. And it looked right somehow, seeing her in her dress, standing next to Baloo, whose height complimented, rather than took away from the two's appearance.
"Kit, you have the instructions?" To her credit, the businesslady only looked slightly ill-at-ease leaving the boy in charge. Kit felt a flash of happiness....Ms. Cunningham's trust was not something he took lightly.
"Sure Ms. Cunningham....um, we won't go anywhere this time" The navigator looked down at his feet sheepishly, shifting them and very aware of a prominent sense of deja vu.
"Oh, that's fine Kit, I'm sure you'll do...... fine" The boy looked up quickly as Rebecca smiled at him......and herself before setting Molly down and rested her hands on Kit's shoulders.
Baloo felt something tug at his heart as he watched the cub's expression. It meant so much to the navigator....that simple phrase, the meaning behind it.
Rebecca knew it, and the large pilot was grateful.
"Well, we'll be back soon" the woman said brightly, "Molly.....?"
Rebecca looked at her daughter sharply, who in turn seemed happily oblivious to her reputation.
"Okay Mommy! I'll be real good!"
Baloo winked at Kit as the gray bear headed out the door behind Rebecca. The friendly guesture didn't do much to relieve the cub's mind, especially when he glanced at Molly.....or rather, he glanced at where Molly was supposed to have been, seeing only empty space.
Momentary panic set in until the boy spotted a flash of yellow dart around the corner and into the hallway. He really didn't need to see much else, as he recognized further the high-pitched giggling that gave away the little girl's location.
Rolling his eyes dramatically, Kit managed a small half-smile, deciding to play along.
In mock bewilderment the navigator began searching the spacious living room in the most...ah, obvious places. Under couch cushions, in drawers, underneath and between the smallest spaces and cracks of the comfortable furniture found throughout the room.
The squealing and giggling continued and Kit's sharp ears kept track of the child as she rather awkwardly attempted to stay out of sight.
Slowly and deliberately the boy began edging towards a dark corner, keeping his eyes averted. He heard a slight movement before he whirled around to grab the little girl, who was nearly helpless with laughter.
"Ah-ha! Thought you'd get away with it, huh? Hmmm..." Kit's stern tone didn't quite reach his eyes as Molly grinned expectantly.
"What should I do with you? Any suggestions? It has to be the _worst_ punishment ever thought of...no, no, ever dreamed of...No! Better yet, it has to be so bad, no one would ever dare think of something like it until this very moment!!"
Kit held his arms out wide as though to emphasize his point and leaned over Molly who tried to look and behave as any subdued prisoner awaiting sentencing normally would.
Her constant fits of giggling made such behavior rather difficult.
"What does the convicted have to say for herself?" Kit folded his arms and glared at the yellow cub, who appeared deep in thought.
"Sorry? Sorry?!! Boy, and I thought you were in trouble before!"
Molly wrapped her arms around Kit's knees, who was now, in turn, laughing hysterically.
"No, no! Please.... I'm sorry, I'm _so_ sorry!"
"Well, so am I....but you have been sentenced to....hmm, a solid minute of tickling"
Kit shook his head sadly as Molly shrieked and attempted to dart around the taller navigator whose reflexes were, as usual, much quicker.
"Oh come on...she who does the crime has to do the time..." The two children were by now laughing too hard to do much of anything except roll around on the carpet.
When some small semblence of order had returned to the scene, Molly jumped up once again and flopped down on the couch.
Kit propped himself up on one elbow after rearranging his cap, previously hanging precauriously over one ear.
"Yeah Pigtails?" Still catching his breath the cub paused before looking up at the child.
"You're my best friend"
He hadn't been expecting that. The room was silent for a moment before a small smile, which grew slowly but without any sign of stopping showed on the navigator's face.
"Aw shucks Molly...my ears are turning red. Well, you're pretty special yourself"
The words may have sounded casual, even off-handed, but they came from the boy's heart.
"Kit, you won't forget about me will you? When you grow up?" The little girl's face was, as always, completely open...with her heart on her sleeve.
Kit felt a warm emotion begin to creep into his chest...and grow. "No way kid. Sorry to say that you're stuck with me, guess we'll have to stay friends"
Kit met the child's gaze strait-forwardly and nodded, still smiling. "I promise..."
Molly smiled back, the simple happiness with nothing attached coming quickly and easily to her....and the simple but strongly felt friendship between the two cubs strengthening.
Kit wondered suddenly what the strange noise was....the persistent ringing that had filled the apartment.
The walls suddenly looked very hazy, before the place disappeared once again, retreating back to the young pilot's memories.
With a groan Kit turned over nad slapped his alarm clock viciously.
"Just five more minutes...gimme five more minutes Baloo"
With a start Kit jerked awake, brought back with the sound of the familiar, yet still out of place sound of Gary's voice.
The pilot ran a hand over his face, glaring at the florescent lights that suddenly appeared, with their tell-tale hum and even more annoying brightness.
The young cat's head appeared as well as he leaned over the edge of the top bunk directly above Kit.
The young bear attempted to return Gary's lopsided grin....and failed, his exhausted body and frequently distracted mind still refusing to connect. Especially at this time in the morning.
"Let me know again why it is we have to get up at this time?" The former navigator muttered, pulling himself out bed with only a great exertion of will.
"Ah...ain't it great?! The joys of enlisting"
Kit rolled his eyes. Joys....some forms of happiness he could do without.
"Could be worse" Max joined the pair's conversation suddenly, his typical seriousness unaffected by the early morning hours, or the darkness which seemed to be the only thing visible from the window.
"How so?" Gary grumbled, scratching his head distractedly.
"Well, Eric's a big softie sometimes....all he had to do was complain to the quote, unquote headquarters to give you mama's boys an extra hour of shut-eye. His _ace_ pilots shouldn't be experiencing any kind of discomfort now should they?"
Smirking, the dog brushed past his crew-mates.
"And you can just stuff it in..."
"Easy Gary, he's got a point, hate to admit it...but you can't argue"
Rolling his eyes vigorously Kit followed the other two out, shaking his head.
He did have a point.....although how and why Eric came to have so much sway with most of the _higher_ authorites was a mystery to the young bear.
The elderly racoon held a rather prominent rank, true....but he wasn't exactly a four-star general, Kit had thought it was merely due to formalities.
And their job technically couldn't even be categorized as being under military control.
So....why did the older officer have so much say in different matters? When the lieutenant spoke, most people listened....or when he chose to keep to himself, then in turn, he was left to himself.
The young pilot's keen sense of observation kept picking up....irregularities.
He liked Eric, but the racoon had gradually instilled a sense of uneasiness in Kit.
In spite of himself, the bear let his nagging doubts creep in. And those drops...why did their division continue to get special treatment when other did not?
And why did he feel like they were stuck in such a rut in regards to the routes they continued to follow, or in regards to the actual number of supplies they dropped?
It didn't....add up. Kit's deeply imbedded sense of fairness, even his own guilt or self-berating tactics seemed to want to take over, to find out the causes, to find a solution, to....at least just to think about the situation and not to simply justify whatever it was that was going on!!
Should he ask? Maybe....he was almost there, to that point...almost.
But after being shut out and facing rejections time after time, he was a little less willing to begin a confrontation. On the other hand, how could he not?
Isn't that why he was here in the first place? The morning cold was cold, nearly frigid, with the bitter wind causing a great deal of discomfort amongst the individual members of the division.
With a brisk step that belied his appearance, Eric Baggett scanned his own personal team. Was it just him or did these boy's seem to get younger and younger? What in God's name were they doing here, in this hell-hole?
At least they weren't thrown in the meat grinder, the battle fields that chewed men up and spit them out without care or punishment.
There was just no justice....never would be.
"Well lads, you know the drill!" With a slight waving of his hand, the officer stepped aside.
Kit's brow creased, a larger shipment, the same drop. Just....exactly what was happening?
The young pilot loitered behind. "Hey...uh, Eric....sir"
The racoon raised his eyebrows.
"I mean, just Eric, hey...I was wondering. Do you ever get a chance t-to see....or at least have some kind of an idea of our progress out there?"
"Progress? Afraid I don't follow you lad"
"Y'know..." to his dismay, Kit felt his determination crumbling at the sudden, awkward atmosphere. He tried again.
"Progress, as in shouldn't we be expanding our perimeter a bit? I...uh, kind of get the impression of being stuck in a rut"
There, he had said it. The young pilot braced himself.
"Well my boy, don't try to apply common sense to orders. It'll only get you in trouble."
Kit blinked at the cryptic reply. *What kind of answer was that?*
The coldness, the shadows and darkness in the racoon's eyes send chills over the bear.
The former navigator suddenly got the impression that he had been brushed off, rather tactlessly if you got right down to it.
Blatant disregard to his inquiry. Kit stood rooted to the ground.
Eric's composure didn't falter in the least.
"Best to get a move on Kit" The addressed individual scowled, the faintest, not to mention the first, tinges of mistrust appearing between him and the older officer.
"You worry too much lad. As long as you don't come head to head with those Alemanian warmongers, then just.....follow suite, and don't push your luck"
Kit felt a flash of anger. He had every right to ask and every right to know exactly what kind of head-way or improvement they had brought to the situation.
That was why he was here, why he had left home in the first place. Kit couldn't ignore the feeling that not enough was being done.
When he had first arrived here, he had felt a comraderie among the division. It wasn't exactly a military operation, it was...well, for humanitarian purposes.
Gradually Kit felt the empowerment he'd first experienced upon arriving here fade away to be replaced by the sensation and knowledge of becoming alienated and isolated.
He didn't know why. True, Max felt the same doubts, but without the necessary emotion that Kit felt so strongly.
An intrusive grain of thought formed a sentence in Kit's mind as he made his way to the boxes to help in the routine process of loading the huge aircraft.
*Why haven't I ever deviated from the course a bit?* The pilot didn't doubt his ability to do it, he had the skills to pull it off.
But at this point...he just didn't feel ready. He couldn't endanger the rest of the crew that way anyway. And he really had no idea of where they could drop off the supplies without encountering the enemy, or wasting what they had by dropping it where it was even less helpful than where the cargo was being delivered now.
Eric planned most of the routes, and if he didn't then he recieved them from elsewhere.
Kit sighed. There were more crates than what he remembered for the last drop. Something was up.
With a new found determination and a sharpening of his senses, Kit glared and started the engines before Gary could inquire into the normally easy-going young man's stormy mood.
"Let's get this over with...I'm sure they're all waiting with bated breath"
The cynical tone and almost bitter remark grated against the other pilot's nerves.
*Wonder what's gotten into him?* Gary peered at his co-pilot intensely for a second, then shrugged his irritation off.
Everyone got a little bored and restless if they felt as though they weren't going anywere...or doing anything constructive. But Gary didn't doubt their efforts, he didn't have to. All of the progress he needed was right here, in the fact that he did his job, no question.
October 12, 1917
Mud. Rain, cold, misery, all compounded into one word....and that word was mud.
Two years of bombardments, a month of rain, casualties, pain, the livid terror of being trapped in a small trench no bigger than an arm's width, with the walls slowly and surely sliding down, closing in, making the small group trapped within this prison of their own making nearly frantic withe the sense of suffocating claustrophobia.
And still the rains came, freezing Eric to the marrow of his bones, and the mud grew thicker, deeper, more impossible, more depressing, all the more useless to try and fight against.
Trench against trench, soldier against soldier, snipers and artillery, fear and discontent, but even more noticeable than all of these, and far more real than this dreamscape of craters and tree stumps that Eric inhabited.....was the mud.
It clung to everything, making the filthy surroundings and sheer helpless desire to be clean and leave this wallowing mess behind, all the more prevalent.
The absolute misery was shared by all, bringing them together more effectively than any treaty, armistice, or sheer depletion of resources, ever could.
Eric sat with his back against the slippery mass of filth that was once a trench wall. He could not move, nor did he have any desire to do so.
Roll call, God.....the ghastly and mocking scenario that had been roll call this morning.
He had thought he had seen it all, lived through the horrors and come through the fire at the Solme. Charging through a cloud of certain doom......over the top.....wave after wave of waste. And in the end, when the sun set and their glorious cause was seen for what it truly was? What was left?
Inches.....mere inches......and nothing more.
So, here at Pachendaele, in the all-encompassing, lurking depression and hopelessness that swallowed everything, buried it in the mud, what had he learned?
Another stalemate, another look into the terror of denial and oblivion as his captain urged, "One more try lads! Let's have a go at this just one more.....then we'll have those devils. We'll make them pay, I swear. Just one more, up and over....and it'll be won, it will be ours!"
No one believed it anymore, the emptiness and incredulousness that showed in the men's eyes spoke of years of lies and frustration. They no longer believed in much of anything. Not when they picked their weighed down bodies up to face an unkown fate, over the embankment did they know.
No one knew.....no one.
And it terrified Eric, more then the eyes that fell upon him when his division was called to step forward, identify themselves.....and there he stood, hours after the skirmish, alone.
If no one understood, why were they fighting.....the same burning question refused to let Eric go. What was it all for?
This wasn't the glory he'd envisioned. Here there was only phantoms that would not release him and clung to him as persistently as the everlasting mud.
The bleaknesses on these faces, the exhaustion so thick it could be felt, seen, everywhere.
Who was his enemy, who was his friend? Who knew anymore.....
Storage Shed 11. Located a short distance away from the barracks. It was cold, this night....cold and beautiful. Also empty, with the vast, bombed-out landscape bearing witness to all that had taken place here....war that had lasted for nearly thirty years and was only now beginning to change, to evolve into something deeper.
Something imminently and decisively more frightening. It never seemed to end. One conflict giving way, or paving the road to another, and another and another...until everyone, every generation...all they could remember was what existed here today.
In the battlefields, in the empty shells and leveled horizons once called cities and towns. In the vast emptiness of being caught in a downward spiral and seeing no way out of it.
The stars looked down on the small airfield, unmoved and unconcerned by all they had witnessed before, or would witness in the years to come.
Kit felt the pressing silence in Shed 11 weighing down on him. He whistled softly to distract himself from the cold, oppresive atmosphere.
It did little to help....but that didn't particularly bother him this night. There she was...gleaming in the far corner of the darkened shed. The Blue Eagle.
Kit felt a rush of pride fill his heart. He self-consciously twisted and smoothed out the small rag in his hand as he made his way to the plane.
She shone in the dim light. Kit lightly brushed the rag over the hull, wiping away some non-existent spots on the bright surface.
He would never give Baloo grief about babying the Sea Duck again....okay, maybe just a little.
Kit smiled briefly and shook his head, his eyes far away. It just made sense...his behavior at times, especially in regard to his beloved plane.
Just one of the many traits Baloo had managed to pass onto him.~
The clouds, barely visible, vapor beneath Kit's feet, provided an amazingly stable surface as the boy shifted, manuevered, and somehow always managed to keep his feet planted firmly on the smooth, metal board holding him up.
A strange, crescent-shaped contraption, unlike anything any traveler, pilot, or casual observer had ever seen before.
Kit could barely contain himself as he skillfully maintained both his balance and his grip on the tow rope handle, occasionally adjusting his cap planted stubbornly, if not too securely on his head.
Kit finally grasped the bill of the baseball cap and tucked it under his arm as he swayed, turned and twisted with remarkable ease, helped by the aptly named air-foil directly under him.
Occasionally he would give a slight wave to the sole occupant of the yellow sea-plane. Always, a large, burly arm waved back enthusiastically.
Kit didn't know how long he'd been out here, but as long as Baloo didn't decide to haul him back inside the cargo hold, with or without Kit's permission, it was possible to enjoy himself as he could nowhere else, without anything solid to hold him back, tie him down.
The boy felt as if he'd belonged here always, in the vast freedom he associated with the sky, the clouds. And indeed, he had belonged here, for as long as he could remember.
It was just.....who he was. Out here he felt that little had changed in his short life, especially himself.
It was only the occasional glimpse of Baloo's head as the large bear turned to check on the cub regularly, that reminded Kit of everything that had transpired, even changed dramatically in these few short years.
His existence was now shared with someone else, for better or for worse, and all of the responsibility, pain and guilt....not to mention joy, that came with the territory was his to account for as well.
Kit let his worries, his burdens, his childish, yet mature doubts and fears go as he connected with the openness, the sheer bliss of what existed around him.
A bit too much....the boy paid no heed to the frequent gusts of wind, each one stronger than the last, that tried harder and harder to knock the small navigator off of the intriguing contraption he stood on.
Kit wiped some sweat off of his forehead. He didn't look around him to see the dark, angry clouds forming, nor did he notice the frantic waving of the gray bear sitting in the cockpit, nervously eyeing the sky and even more nervously watching Kit falter and re-gain his balance once, twice, until finally having to shift his position to avoid being caught in a hazardous gust, and having to face losing his position and safety net altogether.
A fierce, shrill sounding blast of wind twisted the stick Baloo clung to. Experiencing a sharp jab of complete panic, the gray bear peered out of the window to see Kit still grasping the tow rope, a determined scowl on his face, all the while shifting his feet in a losing battle with the surrounding elements.
That did it for the pilot. Barely conscious of what he was doing as his eyes never left the boy dangling precariously outside of the Duck, Baloo flicked the switch controlling the outside rope, bringing the cub back inside.
The bear shook his head tiredly upon hearing the familiar whir of the rope being drawn in. Too risky....time and time again he had to go through this
He loved Kit too much to face the look of dissappointment on his navigator's face whenever he nearly refused to let the boy go out. And....that was probably every time.
On the same token, he loved the cub too much to see him in that dangerous of a situation.
It was about trusting Kit or being willing to see the cub hurt...possibly...
Gripping the stick tightly and wincing at the sudden pain caused by the resulting tension, Baloo looked at the empty navigator's seat beside him.
No.....it was about trusting Kit. But who could have told the gray bear exactly what he was getting himself into when he had seen the chance? The bear knew about the personal gamble it involved...and had moved ahead anyway.
Gamble, calculated risk...the object of the bear's ponderings was taking his own at that very moment.
Kit was now more than a little uneasy and didn't protest when he felt the tow rope tug sharply in his grasp.
Time to come in anyway...this wind was growing increasingly dangerous.
As if in answer to the boy's thoughts, another gust nearly tipped him over.
Kit, not expecting it, concentrating only on the open cargo hatch and safety that lay inside of it, flailed for one moment.
He managed to hold on, the cap, still under his arm, wasn't so lucky.
It flipped out suddenly. Kit, in an unconsciously frantic movement, reached out, barely managing to grasp it with the tips of his fingers before the angry sky swallowed it up......and in the process sacrificed his hold on the tow rope.
Disconnected from his life-line, but still amazingly close to the Sea Duck, and even more amazingly upright on his board and in one piece, Kit watched the cargo doors shut with a sickening clang. Baloo waited in his seat for a minute, fully expecting the cub to still be attached to his plane.
It had to be that the boy had been born under a lucky star, or possessed a guardian angel who happened to be working overtime this day. Either way a second, equally powerful gust of wind pushed the cub up and over the top of the sea-plane.
Kit took the one opportunity probably left to him and jumped off, landing easily on the dry, but still hazardous surface of the Duck. He held onto his airfoil, tucking it underneath his sweater and focusing all of his concentration on hanging on.
His small fingers gripped the featureless metal surface that made up the main bulk of the plane. Crawling flat on his stomach, Kit finally reached his destination and pulled himself through the window on his side of the cockpit, thankfully still open.
The cub then collapsed on the navigator's chair, exceedingly shaken up and frightened....disturbed at just how close he'd come this time.
Glancing up, Kit frowned. He knew Baloo's flying wasn't as unsteady as the turbulence he was now experiencing.
The autopilot was on. The gray bear was nowhere to be found.
The tight knot of fear, along with the powerful afteraffects of adrenaline made Kit dizzy, shaky, and basically aware of an overall sense of exhaustion.
The navigator nevertheless made his way to the cargo hold. Baloo stood in the middle of it, his back towards the boy.
The bear was absolutely still, he was holding onto the handle of the tow rope that Kit knew very well....knew even better after this little incident, to be honest.
No sound was heard except the shrill gusts that encircled the plane. Baloo's fingers clasped and unclasped the handle.
Kit could feel the tension, it was close to smothering.
"Uh...Baloo? Shouldn't you be flying?"
Kit caught only a glimpse of the expression of stark horror on Baloo's face as that individual whirled around in shock.
The boy didn't wait for the bear...he needed comforting right now as much as Baloo did, in spite of the growing storm.
Kit flung his arms around the large pilot's neck as Baloo squeezed him as tightly as possible, occassionally brushing back Kit's hair and lightly rubbing his back.
Neither said anything. Baloo was far too busy attemting to convince himself that his worst nightmare had not actually happened, and that Kit was right here, in his arms.
The boy felt his previous terror seep away in the bear's comforting embrace. Maybe he shouldn't take for granted that there would be other times he could actually do this.
"Kit...are you all right?" Baloo met his navigator's gaze intensely.
Attempting to smile, Kit unpleasantly grimaced instead and nodded, nearly chocking on his emotions....too embarrassed to cry over what had just happened, too wound-up not to.
"Thank God" Baloo put so much into those two words, his arms still tightly holding Kit.
Picking the shaking cub up, the pilot started for the cockpit. He sat down in the pilot's seat, almost refusing to let Kit go, one arm around the boy and the other expertly manuevering the plane out of the approaching thunderclouds.
Kit rested his head on the large bear's shoulder, too spent to do much else before he remembered something.
Reaching up anxiously, a flash of relief hit Kit as he touched his navigator's cap. Today, it had shown him exactly what the bond between him and Baloo was....even if Kit didn't want to be shown ever again in such a manner.
A strange thing....it was forever reminding Kit that he shared his life with someone else. Being reminded was sometimes pleasant...Kit shuddered remembering how he had felt watching those doors shut, while still being on the outside of them. Sometimes less so.
Baloo squeezed Kit with the one arm still holding his navigator, still saying nothing, only grateful that the cub was there.
Kit's breathing steadied out, his terrifying struggle which Baloo could only begin to imagine, having exhausted him to the point of complete fatigue.
The cliffs of Cape Suzette looked particularly beautiful as the sun set nearby, the vivid colors more memorable than any painter's easel. The Sea Duck docked with it's usual grace, and the pilot of the plane carefully eased himself out, trying very hard to avoid waking the boy he carried.
Tucking Kit into his small bed, Baloo set the cub's airfoil on the dresser, so the navigator would be sure to see it when he woke up. Sometimes the pilot hated that thing.
But it meant everything to Kit...as if there was one thing Baloo understood, that was it. It meant everything....even when the bear felt torn apart with trying to keep the balance...and continually trying to convince himself that the events of today would never happen again.
He didn't believe it...and it terrified him. Resting a large hand on Kit's back, Baloo's arm moved with the boy's deep breathing. But he trusted the navigator, certainly. At whatever risk to himself.~
Kit's hand remained frozen on the rag. He stared back at his own troubled expression, with it's sad eyes.
Baloo, years later had told him how he had felt seeing that empty cargo hold, having to face that blinding, searing pain of those terrible moments. The pilot had thought he would never see Kit again, never have the chance to tell how much he meant to the large bear......never again have the chance to hold him or tell him that he loved him.
Kit swallowed hard remembering how aged Baloo had seemed re-telling the story. The guilt that had coursed through the cub when he'd seen the pain of the recollection on the large pilot's face left a sour taste in his mouth. It came with the territory. Baloo would never ask Kit to give up something that meant so much to him, it was one of the reasons Kit loved him so much. The large bear had never tried to change the boy, merely accepting him for what he was, whatever the cost.
But at times it was such a source of tension between the two. Born from concern and worry on the one side, fierce independence and talent on the other.
The airfoil was back at Higher for Hire. Kit had given it to Baloo, perhaps to ease the large bear's mind. The young pilot had almost grown too tall for it anyway. Recalling that day, Kit felt a flash of sadness. He missed something. Not the board, no. Baloo, he missed the pilot, for the hundredth time since arriving here. Strange how things changed, priorities with them.
Strange that the orphan always associated that small business with images of home. The place where he had shared countless moments such as this. Of sacrifice, of forgiveness, of caring. Higher for Hire.
But....the large bear should never have worried about missed chances. Kit remembered his young voice, young but oddly old with the wisdom his words carried.
"Papa Bear.....I-I know, I always knew. No matter what happens"
Kit wiped his eyes furiously, glaring at his reflection once again, still moved by the memory of how safe he had always felt with Baloo's arms around him, supporting him.
The young pilot suddenly felt very lonely in this cold shed. The stabbing feeling of guilt that always accompanied Kit's recollections of those back home, washed over him once more.
Baloo, Rebecca, all of them......the bear was fooling himself if he thought they weren't worried about him. He knew they were......and he felt saddened for being the cause of their pain, regardless of light it made him feel to know they cared.
He would have to write to them tonight, even though he didn't have anything new to tell them. Same route, there wasn't even a pretence of occassionally making a drop elsewhere, there was only the run Kit had embedded in his brain. Same thing, every time, all of the time.
The deep feelings of resentment simmered inside of Kit, he didn't try to stem them.
This wasn't why he was here. Kit almost felt like a.......a failure. He had let not only himself down but everyone else who had believed in him, supported him, as well. These thoughts, if not exactly accurate would not let Kit be.
He had an obligation to help. And he wasn't fulfilling it. But how could he get out of this situation? He alone seemed to have such feelings of restlessness, this burning sense of right and wrong which had always carried such strength with the former navigator. It was like a vital part of his personality was being forced to remain inactive.
It was a dark tunnel of his own making, but he had no proof that anything was amiss. He had only suspicions, faint but undeniably present.
Kit could not find any means to confirm that something was wrong, there was no one to give him a straight answer, no one who cared.
It was as if Kit's original thoughts concerning the efforts of this operation and suffering it was supposedly relieving, was simply a cover-up.
For what, the young man didn't know. But he certainly knew how to read a map, he still possessed his unerring sense of direction, if he could simply get a hold of the information he needed.....
Kit's sense of altruism, his conscience which propelled him forward and had such a strong impact on his decisions, yet always, always clouded his judgement and his sense of self-preservation, not to mention created havoc in the lives of the one's to whom the young man's safety meant the most, came forward, pushing nearly everything else out of the pilot's mind.
Well, almost everything else out. The young man's quick mind raced over possibilities quickly. He was lucky, he still had his own plane, though flying through either Usland or Alemaninan held airspace could be a complicated matter for an unmarked, neutral plane.
But it certainly lessened the chances of being shot down. Kit knew this plane, know he could fly her through the worst possible scenarios that could be imagined. But he couldn't exactly take these supplies without a justifiable reason, could he? He would only be adding to his problems....and who would drop them while he piloted?
There were too many uncertainties and Kit wasn't convinced enough to go through with it. Besides.....he'd given his word that he wouldn't take any unnecessary chances. He had promised.
Gritting his teeth, Kit turned and stomped out of the shed, frustrated by his own inability to move forward, to make any kind of a difference.
It always came down to this.....wanting to obey the wishes of those who had his best interests in mind, or following his heart, feeling the sense of fulfillment that came from seeing an impact in someone else's life. And he never wanted to put boundaries on that.
But here he was, frustrated at his casual acceptance of the very thing he had always tried to avoid. The brisk wind blew Kit's jacket loosely around him.
It was cold out. Matched the young pilot's mood perfectly. Kit rubbed his arms as he headed to the barracks. The bright lights of the airfield were merely an affirmation to the bear's plaguing thoughts.
Several of the huge cargo planes stood empty, their size admittedly amazing, even to someone like the former navigator, someone who had made a tremendous effort to know everything there was to know about every type of plane that had ever existed.
But these new models with everything they could do and all of the technology that went into their creation......truly, it seemed ironic that nothing was really being done to help those who needed it most.
This system, every aspect of this entire system was mired down with technicalities, apathy, and stalemate. Kit suddenly became aware of another person's presence.
He peered around the huge cargo hold to see another individual staring silently at the enourmous plane which had regulated both of their lives over the past few weeks.
"Max! Bit cold to just be standing around outside, huh?"
The dog didn't turn to look at Kit, there was only a half-smile that let the bear know that his presence had also been felt.
"Just thinking. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you Cloudkicker?"
The typical abrasive tone and serious demeanor no longer fooled Kit, who found himself liking the dog in spite of, or maybe because of his unusual personality quirks, sarcastic remarks and strange stance of always appearing to know more than what he let on.
Kit chuckled and slapped Max on the back.
"Yeah, couldn't sleep. Gonna pay for it tomorrow I guess"
"Nah, you can just catch up on your beauty rest on tomorrow's run"
Both stared at each other for a minute, the meaning behind the words not lost on Kit.
"You too, huh?"
"Me too what?"
"You've noticed too? I'm....well, I'm wondering exactly what it is that's going on"
Max merely raised an eyebrow. Kit felt his cheeks turn red at voicing his doubts. Maybe he _was_ simply interpreting too much out of all of this.
"You think that we're dropping more'n flour and sugar?"
Kit flushed even more. He felt stupid, and was disgusted at his inability to describe why. "Well, the people who are gettin' it are either multiplying like rabbits so we keep feeding them more and more or someone's hording this stuff."
Max stared intently at the young pilot. "Why?" he bluntly inquired.
Why? Kit certainly didn't know the answer to that. He just knew that something was definitely up.
"W-Why would somebody want to horde any of this?"
"Yeah, it's not like it's a valuable investment to stock up on baking supplies."
The dog had a point. Kit felt like a royal idiot. He often did whenever he made the mistake of slipping up in front of the other man.
Kit shook his head fiercely and turned to continue walking to the barracks, not bothering to say goodbye to the dog.
"Cloudkicker" Max's voice called out.
Not answering, the young bear turned around, one fist clenched.
"You notice that there were five extra crates than there were a few days ago?"
"But no changes to the route" Kit summed up, confused at the sudden change in the dog's attitude.
"You wanna check it out?" Max looked completely serious. Kit had rarely seen him otherwise.
"Can we do that?"
"No! Of course not, you _are_ wet behind the ears, ain't ya? But who says anyone else has gotta know? They wanna keep their little secrets from the guys who are delivering this stuff....well, they gotta acknowledge that after a while a bit of harmless curiousity is gonna build up."
Kit felt increasingly uneasy in spite of his almost all consuming desire to find out exactly what was going on. "Maybe we shouldn't, we could get kicked out...."
Max rolled his eyes at the younger pilot. "For what? Checking up on supplies? For crying out loud, they're the ones who owe us an explanation!"
"I, uh, I thought you didn't care" Kit had already begun following the brown dog into the large, darkened shed close by.
"Your words, Cloudkicker, not mine. I'm just curious, that's all. They could be deliverin' gold bars as far as I care. Besides, if I didn't find out tonight, then someone else was gonna beat me to the punch, right?"
Kit didn't answer. *Sometimes that guy thinks too much* But the erstwhile navigator couldn't deny that he had been close to the same actions himself. Max just snickered and looked at the young bear knowingly as both silently crept into the freezing shed.
Without thinking Kit flicked on the light switch, enveloping the entire shed with harsh, glaring light.
Max turned on him, furious. "Idiot!! Shut that off! You act like you _want_ to get caught!"
"Sorry!" Quickly the young pilot flicked the switch to off, as the darkness surrounded the pair once more. "How are we supposed to see then?"
"Relax" The dog fumbled in his pocket for a moment before taking out a small flashlight. "And make sure you keep it down! You may have your little guilt trips, but I sure don't wanna be drummed outta here on account of your carelessness!"
Opening his mouth to retort, the bear yelped in pain instead as he stubbed his toe on one of the many crates stored here for the drop the next day.
"Oh for hell's.....just sit over there until I can open up one of these things. Jeez, do I hafta baby sit ya?
Kit glared furiously at the dog while Max fumbled around with his tiny flashlight, struggling to hold the light and open the tightly sealed crate at the same time.
"Hey, c'mere. Make yourself useful and hold this"
Kit, now too excited to answer back with any type of smart remark, held the flashlight over the top of the dog and the smaller crate which stubbornly remained nailed shut.
"Need a little help there, _Max_?"
"Oh shut up, if you think you can do any better....." A loud cracking interrupted the young man as the top suddenly gave way noisily.
With a painful sounding ummph, Max fell over, still holding the lid and blinked. Kit, not bothering to wait for his fellow conspirator, tossed aside the burlap covering to inspect the contents.
Max quickly joined the young bear, staring over the crate with an incredulous expression.
"Well I'll be.....I thought I was confused before."
"It's nothing but....well, like you said, flour, sugar, food supplies. What is this!!?" Kit was beyond feeling exasperated. He had been expecting, um....he really didn't know what he was expecting. Certainly not this.
"This, Cloudkicker, is exactly what should be in here"
"Do you think they're all like that?"
"Considerin' that these are some of the newest additions to our lovely cargo, I'm guessin', um...yeah"
"But, that doesn't make sense!!" Frustrated, Kit flung his hat on the dusty ground as Max looked on with a tolerantly amused expression.
"Temper, temper. I would think you'd be glad"
"No! Why?! Why would we be deliverin' all of this stuff to the same spot? I mean, how much can one small area need? This needs to be somewhere else, _anywhere_ else! It's just....aw...I don't know what the hell it is."
Max began chuckling, quietly at first, then louder and louder. Kit couldn't quite see the humor of the situation. He had been ready to charge into battle if he found contraband, or at least found out that they were delivering something illegal. He was now simply more confused than ever.
"Better clean this up, Max" The bear growled angrily as he stomped out of the shed, breathing hard.
"Aw come on Kit.....learn to relax. It's just a job...an' it's just cargo!!"
The dog called out after the younger pilot, obviously forgetting his former instructions regarding getting caught.
Kit no longer wanted to return to the barracks. He was infuriated, and the fact that he had no reason to be only made it worse. Nobody cared, it was a just a big joke, or all fun and games. Well, it wasn't to him. He had come here to make a difference. And somehow or another he would.
War does not ennoble men. It makes them dogs.- The Thin Red Line
April 4, 1918
What had once stood supreme was now ravaged beyond recognition. Blackened, broken, dead. The forest seemed a bleak symbol of the war, the men who fought it....and Eric's ideals.
Destroyed, reduced to kindling. It was to this land, this foreign place that he had sacrificed his youth, his peace of mind....his future to.
The barb-wire and holes filled with memories....terrible images from which there could be no reconciliation.
Eric could see them, wave after wave, each pointing, accusing. The fact that he had made it this far was a miracle, but Eric felt no joy....and even less gratitude.
The prevailing sense of guilt would not leave him, it would not let him carry on. He had made it, there was still a chance of his surviving another year of this chaos.
Another year.....with the countless hordes who were gone, with all who would never again see their homes, their country.
With these countless rows of white crosses....each a different dream, different love, different reason to stay, to go on.
He alone, remained. Eric felt betrayed. Betrayed by everyone and everything he had once believed in, by his family with their starry-eyed sacrifice and resignation as they fed him to the wolves.
By his friends, who could never have known how lonely the young soldier could be, how hollow he felt with his new-found bitterness, without them to share it with.
They could never have known......it was now certain that they never would.
But most of all, he felt betrayed by the deep-rooted sense that,somehow, it had all been worth it, by the idealism that had weakened and died more painfully and surely than any other casualty that had occurred here.
He had been used by the cold-hearted bastards who had been content to sit idlly by and allow this waste...this incredible loss of innocence and life and lie to those who suffered, lie to their enemies, lie to their allies....lie to everyone, especially themselves, and expect to never have to face the consequences.
He had trusted them, fought for them, if necessary died for them....and it had all been for nothing.
The empty, shattered men that all of this deceit and hatred could never heal again. Those would would never again awaken to the same world, changed forever through fire and pain.
The callous brutality that existed here, the discontent, the fury at having lost so much to those who cared little, if not at all....and certainly could have prevented even less.
It would all give birth to something ultimately more terrible. And Eric would be ready.
Never again would he sit blindly by and accept other's word for law. Never again.....
If he had to become what he despised and wished to destroy, so be it. He would never again allow his actions to be dictated by such weak and frivolous emotions as love, pity or kindness.
He knew where they led.....and here he was in this cesspool as a result. If the war had taught him nothing else, it had taught him that only the ruthless, the hard are able to survive unscathed.
Pity those poor fools who had yet to learn this lesson, now, tomorrow....forever.
Eric could no longer allow the pain around him to have any affect. He didn't trust himself to care. Nothing changes. Not life, not people, not war...nothing.
The young soldier felt an empty victory. The terrible price he had and would pay for his knowledge, his hardened soul.
Feeling a sharp pain in his hand, Eric looked down, surprised to see several reddened crescent marks....blood drawn to the surface on the palm of his hand.
The forest remained silent, the ash-streaked stumps revealing nothing but sad memories of what had existed before.....and what existed now.
Eric's new division, hell....he'd lost count as to how many he had gone through, was silent, exhausted having slept, fought, ate....and gone into battle as a unit. The last being the final thing.
Dirty, disheveled faces full of fear and haunted by far-off ghosts. *Poor lads* the racoon could not have realized his resemblance to them.
The soldier beside Eric was sick. The racoon didn't bother to look at him to know. He didn't know the boy anyway, didn't care.
The other individual's hacking cough made the pressing silence all the more nerve-racking by comparison, his eyes were full of mute suffering, his face was a ghastly white, the eyes, nose, and mouth a vivid, uncomfortable shade of red.
Staring at the opposite wall of the trench, dirt, cracked bits of wood protruding awkwardly from the man-made shelter, Eric unconsciously placed a hand on the arm of the bony, shivering young soldier.
He, in turn, relaxed his shoulders temporarily before another painful round of coughing doubled him over.
The racoon squeezed the other's shoulder and the young man glanced at Eric in gratitude. Eric wasn't looking, his eyes were averted, his young face with it's pinched expression seemed thousands of miles away, his thoughts in actuality were even farther.
Strange, a guesture of compassion.....one that Eric this day or in the years to come would never remember doing.
The sun sank slowly, it's departure bringing a dazzling array of color, but no warmth to the damp, chilled earth the division remained huddled in.
Each shared the other's discomfort, there were few boundaries here.
"Hey...." a whisper carried through the darkness. The owner of the voice was safely anonymous in the shadows.
"Go to sleep" another voice, harsh and edgy, barked out.
Silence. It came again. "Hey....you chaps scared?"
Scared? What was fear to Eric now? He'd faced things that could never be given a rightful name and stood strong. His only fear came from looking into the deep abyss of his memories, his resentment....his darkest emotions.
"Nah......war'll be over afore they be sendin' us in again...."
The war will be over, Eric had heard that one before. Fools.
"Heard the Sarge talkin'.....sounded just like a scared kid. Somethin' about a huge Alemanian offensive...."
"Hush up! Do you see any shells? I don't hear any kind of dust-up comin' from their trenches, for pity's sake let it be. Whelps, all of ya, with that type 'o thinkin'"
Each voice belonged to someone, yet became a seperate entity in the oppressiveness darkness.
"All I'm sayin' lads is that this is what I heard from the top. Something's comin'. Could even be a breakthrough somewhere."
More rumors, more lies, more ignorance. How many lessons before they learned?
"Get some rest!" Another voice, a sterner order.
If there was to be another offensive, the Alemanians were downright crazy for trying it.
Guess they'd never learn either. And the possibility of a breakthrough was slim, if not completely impossible. They'd never learn, even if Eric had....each terrible time. And he didn't forget.
Through a badly-lit hallway, it's floor smelling of wax and polish, past an unmarked door, inside a dim office that had always and would always remain stark, spartan and spotless, Eric Baggett sat, his desk empty of the usual files, folders and excess papers.
It shone with good old-fashioned elbow grease.
Eric didn't like dirt and disorder. He liked systems, cold and exact. He'd lived in filth and squalor far too long for it not to have had some kind of lasting affect.
The sun had already set, the young crew should be coming back from their drop......
Perhaps at one time, far away and long since forgotten....in the seperate world that Eric associated with his past, he would have gladly participated in such weak, soft emotions as guilt or compassion.
He wasn't stupid surely. He knew what war was....and what it did. He _knew_ people were starving! Didn't he know what it was like to go hungry? Didn't he?!
It was all part of the experience. War destroys.....and any sap who believed they could escape from the black hole of hunger and desolation that would gradually pull all of these people in, would be forced to learn a painful lesson soon enough.
The sooner they learned, the easier it would be for them to forget that there had once been a time when things had been different.
They were all changed now, all of them. And nothing, in turn, could change that. There was no pity for those who looked back.
All had to suffer at some time or another. All, that is, except the rich. The one's smart enough to horde their assets for a time such as this.
And his contacts knew just where the market was for the huge amount of supplies that came through.
They paid well, all of the participants in this little circle, and they were also aptly rewarded.
The ones above him, who looked the other way as long as an occassional bottle of wine or other such fine, expensive, hard to come by item unavoidably came their way.
Eric practically reigned supreme over his small existence. Whatever he said was heard and nearly always his every order was followed to the letter.
By the stars it felt wonderful to no longer have to answer to someone. He ran things, and was getting rather rich besides.
It _was_ the rich who made it in this world, they were the one's who really knew how to survive.
Another lesson learned from the past. The racoon made it a point not to forget.
Every dollar, his growing power....both were like balm to his bitterness, almost like a material apology for everything that had happened to him, for all he had been forced to miss out on during his life.
A wife, children...a family. His sweetheart.....astounding that even now he couldn't think of her without pain.
But that weak emotion was quickly pushed aside by the Lieutenant. There was no room for it here.
And with time all of these boys, these chaps whose actions didn't have to be dictated by fate, would learn all that they needed to know.
All of them.....even the one's who still foolishly clung to their ideals, their high-mindedness.
Bloody whelps, believing they could change the world themselves.
It was a sad thing how quickly and easily such good intentions died.
Eric felt rather content tonight, in spite of it all. By the time the war ended he would be a very wealthy man. And his market could only expand when Alemany was divided up like a roast at supper.
The Alemanians....speaking of those who would never learn....
He didn't even have to request information anymore concerning where the supplies should be dropped off, then sold to the highest bidder. One less hassle, one less obstacle....it was almost frightening how easy it all was becoming.
Hunger and cold made for good business, and even the most tight-fisted skin-flint would gladly open his wallet for a simple piece of bread.
No one asked questions, everyone seemed content to let the others do their own thing.
Life was becoming a pleasant routine. And Eric's bank accounts were quickly growing with every drop made.
Life was good. He didn't care about the ones who couldn't afford to feed their children, he didn't care about the stories he'd heard of exactly what the Alemanians had done in many of these countries.
He would never again have a reason to believe anything like that. Lies, fabrications. He didn't care. Period.
The doorknob winked at him across the darkened room. ~*Never be clean....never*~
Shaking off the recollection viciously the racoon flicked a piece of imagined dust from the surface of the immaculate desk.
He _was_ clean. There was order all around him and he was in control and comfortable. And he didn't care, no matter the memories....no matter the accusations. He _did not_ care.
The doorknob turned suddenly. The door opened with a great deal of energy. A flushed young bear came tromping in, uninvited.
There were circles under his eyes, all the more noticable when one could see the strong, harsh light in the former navigator's gaze.
Kit Cloudkicker stood over the desk, chest heaving, fists clenched.
For one eerie moment Eric was taken back. How many young men had he seen just like this?
Young, idealistic, full of fire and possessed of a knowledge that they actually had the ability to change the suffering they saw all around them.
Idealism had no place in a war....._any_ war.
And Eric had seen hundreds like Kit fade away with senseless, overwhelming rapidness.
"Kit?!" Blinking his eyes quickly, fighting the unwelcome flashback, the Lieutenant watched Kit in surprise.
"What can I do fo-"
"I have to ask you something" The statement was harsh and angry.
Eric narrowed his eyes, irritated at being interrupted.
"All right. Ask."
Folding his arms on the table Eric looked on as Kit struggled to find the right words for his emotions.
"You want to know what's going on...for the twentieth time"
Not answering, Kit instead nodded his head, his eyes still full of anger.
"Why son? What difference would it make? You're here to fly this stuff out...be grateful your neck's not on the line like some o' those other poor blokes that get shot down every day"
"That is _not_ the only reason why I'm here!" Kit blurted out, another wave of fury hitting him full-force.
"Then why are you? You got nowhere else to be? Maybe you should just pack it in and head home...don't you know the news lad? War's almost over" Eric laughed unpleasantly. It sent cold chills down Kit's back.
"War's almost been over for five damn years now....oh, but I believe it, absolutely"
Kit was taken aback for a moment. "But...but I don't want to be sent home! You're kicking me out for asking a simple question?"
"I didn't say that, but it's pretty obvious that you're not happy. And there's no place for trouble-makers here. If you can't do your job and be satisfied then I suggest you get out..."
Eric returned his attention to his desk, still very much aware of the young man in front of him struggling to keep control of his emotions.
"I think you're hiding something." The expression on the young pilot's face was twisted in anger.
"You're probably right....but it's not your place to be sayin' anything, is it? Go ahead, make your decision....stay or leave, really doesn't matter.
Doesn't matter. Kit felt as if he'd been kicked in the gut.
"Where do you get off being so condenscending? Don't you care about anything? People are starving......some are dying. And you act like this is just business as usual. I thought we were supposed to be helping!!"
Kit's voice was by now a rather tactless yell.
Eric finally met his gaze again. His eyes were like ice, beyond them there was nothing......
Involuntarily Kit took a step back.
"Cloudkicker, whether or not you believe it, I'm actually doin' you a favor....learn from this. Don't be forgettin' it. You are hereby dismissed. Pack up your things. Safe journey"
Kit felt sickened. Blind apathy.....it frightened him. It was all it took to help him make up his mind.
"This isn't over...."
"Idle threats. There are some things you don't understand lad."
"I suppose you do?!"
Again, that frigid stare that almost knocked Kit over.
"Hope you never have to find out boy."
The whole time, the racoon's voice had never gone up a decibal. His calm, icy exterior completely infuriated Kit. And he was intimidating. The young pilot readily admitted it. Something about him.....
But that wasn't going to stop Kit now. He simply had one more reason to do what he'd planned. With a little help he could show this cold, emotion-less individual that he was wrong.
And the Lieutenant couldn't stop Kit. Not with his strange, choppy words, his dimissal or his precious well-laid plans.
Being resourceful was something Kit had always excelled at.
With a bone-jarring slam, the young bear was gone.
"Tell me again why I'm helpin' you do this?"
Kit grinned widely as Max heaved another crate into the small useful cargo hold of the Blue Eagle.
"Oh come on. Haven't you ever wanted to show the big boys at the top that they can't boss us around forever?"
The dog shook his head pessimistically. "That ain't why you're doin' this." Kit didn't trust himself to look at Max, who glared fearlessly at the pilot, eyes narrowed. "Y'know, if you wanna get the better of the Lieutenant, there are easier ways than getting shot out of the sky."
"I'm just doing what I came here to do." The young pilot's mumbled answer wasn't exactly satisfactory to his friend.
"Yeah? An' what's that? Everybody's gonna think you're crazy. Are you just gonna tilt the plane and watch all of your precious cargo go spilling out? Good plan, that........I'll know who to thank when this war drags on for another year with a few more divisions of healthy, well-fed Alemanian troops."
Kit frowned. He had a point....._again_ he had one. It was just downright irritating how right the dog could be sometimes.
"Guess I'll have to land...."
"Yeah, do you think it could be?" The sarcastic reply didn't faze Kit too much. If he didn't know any better he would almost think that the dog was....worried. His sharp replies were much worse today. The young bear couldn't help but be grateful.
And despite all of Max's grumbling, here he was helping him do......well, whatever it was Kit decided to do.
All four men in his unit now agreed that something really rotten was going on. Especially taking into account Kit's argument with Eric and his resulting dismissal. His friends were admittedly sorry to see him go.
Kit had other plans.
With a little bit of help. The others didn't understand Kit's reasoning behind his actions. It was just a job, and it was a sight better than being in military action, even when it was obvious who the victors of this mess would be.
The former navigator knew that the others believed that he was only doing this to get back at Eric. To prove a point. Maybe he was.......but it wasn't the only reason.
When the bear set out to do something, he did it. Period.
He couldn't look himself in the mirror, or go back to Cape Suzette and face Baloo and Rebecca knowing he'd been party to someone else's suffering. It twisted his stomach horribly. He wanted to help these people.
How and where was another story.
Another individual joined the two, silently placing a few more crates in Kit's plane.
Gary ran a hand over the side of the plane, looking on in admiration.
"Too bad ya gotta fly 'er through that hell-hole to the east, Cloudkicker. She might get some pretty bad damage before you get where you're going. You remember exactly where it is _that_ you're goin?"
"What do you know about it?" Max glared at the cat fiercely. "Are you his mother?"
"I know that there's a refugee camp, big one in that direction. People from all over the place. Sad really, they're in pretty bad shape."
Kit nodded. This wasn't breaking news. The discussion the four had had two nights ago had settled on a plan, even if the other three had repeatedly tried to talk the young pilot out of it.
The bear had asked Gary to get some information, seeing as how the easy-going pilot could strike up a conversation with just about anybody, anwhere, about anything.
The exact location of the camp was something his other friend was getting for him. Hopefully right at this moment. Max had walked out before the conversation had ended.
"Think they can use this stuff?" The bear grinned at the other two again, feeling better than he had in weeks.
The others simply stared at him. "You're crazy Kit. The routes we had were specifically designated to keep us from being shot to pieces. You don't know anything about what it's gonna take to get there!" Gary didn't have any new argument for the young pilot. Kit wasn't listening anyway.
"Hope you're planning on leavin' soon. Nothing like flying through territory like what you're gonna be crossin' at night"
"Ron should be here any time......" There was still no sign of the other crew member.
"If he's smart he'll conveniently forget about getting you anything but a doctor to examine your head" Max snorted. Nobody had to tell him that what the younger pilot was doing was downright stupid. But if Kit insisted, then who was he to protest? The dog threw the last crate in forcefully. Stupid tenderfoot......
"I got it!" A tall yet heavily built lynx can running up to the other three. Kit rushed over to his friend.
"Okay, this has got everything you need to get there......" Ron hesitated.
"But?" Max prompted, eyebrow raised.
"Not exactly the easiest route.....in fact, I don't envy you Kit. I know bombers who have got it easier than this...."
"You're kidding" Gary grabbed the map out of the lynx's hand viciously before Kit could take a look.
A low whistle contrasted with the silence. The cat looked at Kit almost contemptiously.
"All right Cloudkicker. Go home.....forget your save the world tendencies and go home......right now. I don't think you're suicidal...."
"Gimme that!" Kit stared at the coordinates, then the map, but mostly at the large patches of red that indicated airspace still forcefully held by the Alemanians. He would have to fly about a third of the run through just such an environment.
A low voice directly behind him startled the bear back to reality.
"Y'know the average bomber in the middle of all of this crap was given around six weeks before he was shot down, probably killed. And here you wanna go and play Santa Clause when it's not even your job anymore! An' so help me if you give me any of your 'it's all worth it' garbage, I'm unloading all of this stuff, turning you in and making sure you get the hell outta here before you have another chance to try and get yourself blown out of existence."
"Thanks for your help guys" Kit didn't answer Max. He didn't know exactly what he'd say. He wasn't able to explain why he felt he had to do this, no matter the risk. Risks were nothing fun, true. But the alternative was ten times worse in the young pilot's mind.
Max clapped Kit on the shoulder before turning his eyes to his fellow crew members.
"I hope you gents have figured out what you're gonna tell Eric about some, um...missing cargo? He ain't gonna be happy"
"We'll think of something." Gary glared back at the dog. The two had never really liked each other.
"Least he thinks I've already gone." Kit turned around one last time before climbing into the cockpit. "Later guys!"
"You're nuts Cloudkicker!!" Max yelled one more time for emphasis before the three stepped away to let the Blue Eagle take off.
The remaining members of the unit, quiet and serious, stared at the slowly vanishing plane.
"So....who wants to be the one to tell his family?"
Neither Gary nor Ron could answer.
April 11, 1945
The smooth music drifted out of one corner of the open, sunny bar. Tiki masks on the walls, rickety architecture. Man...it was beautiful.
At least that was what Baloo thought as he leaned back in his chair, letting the warm, tropical breeze brush over him, welcoming him back, always.
Louie's helpers, (were they the same ones? The large bear didn't recall the orangutan ever hiring anyone new) were wiping tables, conveniently ignoring the pilot who had gradually become part of the atmosphere here in the club.
Baloo took a sip of his drink, things were almost perfect. Almost......
Except he was alone. Several months, quite a few letters from the boy, but it had still been several months since Baloo had last seen him.
It frightened the big pilot, how much he depended on Kit. He missed the kid so much it felt like a hole had been ripped in him. And despite everything, he worried. Night and day. He just couldn't help it, even though he know what his former navigator would say if he had any idea.
Baloo didn't care, as long as he could see the boy again. The large bear still stubbornly refused to think of Kit as anything else but a kid. Made him feel less old.
Chuckling, the bear put his arms behind his head. As soon as this blasted war was over. Guess he should have been grateful. He'd knew people.....and Rebecca had friends who had lost someone. Terrible.
But Kit had been right. And Baloo could see it. It wasn't like before. It was worse.
He was very lucky. Very lucky......
"Hey Fuzzy, dont'cha got anything better ta do than hang around here? Should start chargin' ya rent."
"Hey Louie" The bear grinned at his oldest friend's good natured teasing. "How're things?"
"Same old....can't complain" The red ape hopped lithely over the bar and plopped his regular hat on his head.
"Nothing new to tell?" Baloo looked directly at the bartender, not quite able to keep the tell-tale smirk off of his face.
Silence. Louie had never been very good at effectively ignoring the pilot. "She's fine too.....jeez, can't a joe get any privacy 'round here?!" Glaring with mock ferocity, the orangutan turned his back on the gray bear, who began laughing uproariously.
"Ohhhh, _she's_ fine too? And in just what way?"
"Put a sock in it, Baloo. Just wait 'till you get bitten"
Throwing his head back the bear slapped the bar with one hand. "Still waitin' Inn-keeper. Besides, after watchin' you think I'd be better off stearing clear of anything like that."
"Your loss, cuz. Your loss. How's shortstop?"
"Sounded fine in his last letter. Been keepin' his nose clean." Baloo grinned widely, always ready to talk about his favorite subject.
"Yeah, he's a good kid. Hell of a mess they got goin' on. Papers are sayin' it should be straightenin' itself out in no time."
"Can't come soon enough pal. Heard a lot of stuff. Sad, real sad."
An uncharacteristic expression of seriousness crossed the large bear's face. Louie didn't need to be reminded. He knew exactly what the pilot was talking about.
"Could be worse, Big Daddy"
"Could always be worse. Only good thing is that when it's over Kit'll be comin' home."
"An' doin' what? Surprised that kid hasn't got himself a girl right here waitin' for him"
"It's not like he hasn't had the chance Louie" Baloo glared, ready to defend his son even against his oldest friend.
"Easy! Simmer down, that ain't what I meant."
"Yeah, I know...." The bear looked down at the bar, the silence saying more than the two friends ever could.
Louie, true to form, understood exactly what Baloo mean, or rather, how he felt concerning the kid. "Guess it's gotcha worried, huh?"
"You guessed right" The pilot didn't look up, his voice barely above a whisper.
"No worries, Baloo. Kit's sharp as a tack. He knows how to keep himself outta trouble."
"Can't help it,buddy. All comes with the territory. Guess I won't be myself until he gets back here safe an' sound"
The radio crackled suddenly, startling the two. "Hold that thought, Baloo"
Louie flipped the switch. "Louie's place, you know the drill"
"Louie.....where's Baloo? I need to talk to him. It's urgent so for pity's sake don't give me any of your excuses!!"
The two friends looked at each other in surprise.
"He's right here Rebecca"
The bartender handed the mike over with some apprehension. The near desperate tone in the woman's voice brought all activity in the large room to a screeching halt.
Baloo suddenly didn't feel very well. More than just a bad feeling, there came a terrible certainty that something was very wrong.
"Becky....it's Kit isn't it?" No other words were spoken. There would only be one reason Rebecca would sound like that, and he certainly knew that Molly wasn't in the same situation as the other individual who had so much power over the businesslady's emotions.
The woman's voice was so shaky, she sounded as if she would break into tears at any time. "I think you need to see this....."
To be continued.....