Dr Pheidippides awoke to hear a frantic scrabbling at the garage door. He frowned; why would an enemy make their presence quite so obvious? But if it was his team why didn't they let themselves in? He called out: "who is there?" A small voice squealed back: "Sorry sir, it's me, sir, and I'm being chased sir, help!" Pheidippides didn't need to hear any more. He pressed the button that opened the garage door and raised his top scute preparing the laser cannon to repel (which means 'push back') an assault. A small brown rabbit bounded towards Pheidippides pen. Several larger grey rabbits were racing up the driveway and approaching the garage door although a few well placed laser blasts dissuaded them from coming any closer. Beating up a messenger rabbit was one thing; taking on a battle-ready tortoise was something else.
Brownie sat scrunched up in a ball in the corner of the tortoise's pen shivering. At first, the Doctor could not get him to talk; Andromeda even offered one of her secret supply of carrots to help cheer him up. Eventually the quivering rabbit stammered out, "The boys ... they have gone to Orlando ... to Sea World." Pheidippides looked shocked. With all the enemy activity of late the last thing he needed was to hear that his charges were three hundred miles away walking through territory that could easily be littered with SHOP agents. "When?" he demanded. "Last night, sir! Sorry, sir! I came as quick as I could sir; but GRUR were all over the place! I had to keep tunneling in different directions to try to throw them off the scent. Sorry, Sir," rattled the poor little rabbit.
"You did what you could. Good job!" said Pheidippides seeking to calm the rabbit a little. "However, this is serious, very serious. Andromeda; button time!" said the Doctor. Whilst she knew how serious the situation was, Andromeda loved her Pink Emergency Button and couldn't resist a small twirl as she daintily stamped on it with her back foot. Any jollity and friendliness that might have existed in the assembled team quickly vanished when they saw the look on the leaders face. He commenced: "we have all four of our human children, unprotected, deep in enemy territory!"
All of the team looked shell-shocked. Winston was the first to recover: "Road Trip!" he said. "Well," replied Pheidippides, "Obviously we have to get there somehow; but it may not be as easy as you think. Brownie took eighteen hours to travel twelve miles trying to avoid GRUR and even then he was only a few yards ahead of them when he got to the garage. I think we may be facing opposition. Winston, Cham I need you to go around the neighborhood and see what enemy agents are about."
Snappy sneaked over to Andromeda and whispered: "by the way; who is GRUR?" Dr Pheidippides, whose hearing was excellent, replied: "Grey Rabbit Underground Resistance. Most animal types are separated into Agency and non-Agency; those that like humans and those that don't. Rabbits are unusual in that they form into two groups: the pet rabbits and the food rabbits. The food rabbits, usually grey, formed themselves into an alliance to steal human food. This was the start of GRUR." "I see," said Snappy, "I guess the alligators are the same now we have Fred!" Dr Pheidippides laughed. "One alligator versus every other alligator on the planet is hardly an even split!" said the Doctor. "Try fighting him!" responded Snappy cheekily.
If possible the two looked even more miserable upon their return than they had when they left. Cham started: "they are getting wise to the rockets. I spotted two air-borne squadrons overhead. One of falcons and one of vultures; they have speed and muscle. Winston might be able to avoid them; but the rest of us would be meat." Then Winston continued: "we are also surrounded by GRUR; I don't think we can get out of here underground." "I was fast enough to beat them last time," said Brownie, "I could dig another tunnel and you could follow!" "Unfortunately; Andromeda and I would not be quick enough to follow you," replied the doctor. "Well, I don't think we can go by water either," said Cham, "I went to the exit from our lake to the river system; there were 16 alligators circling and waiting." "Hmmm..." said Snappy marching over to the tool chest to get a file to sharpen his teeth, "my record is twelve alligators in one go; but I don't mind trying."
The team sat around looking pensive (which means 'worried and waiting') while Dr Pheidippides head was inside his shell. Sometimes he needed a little privacy when he was hatching his more complicated plans. Andromeda was just thinking she should go off and prepare a snack when his head emerged again with a big grin all over his face. "Team, I have a plan, but it will take us all working together to make it work." The Doctor signaled to Brownie who looked very scared and very unhappy but still nodded obediently before scampering off. Next Snappy was summoned; he nodded very happily and marched out of the garage flexing his muscles and putting some finishing touches to his teeth sharpening. "Winston," said Pheidippides, "I need you to go to Aristotle and get a hand-grenade and some brown paint. The rest of you," said the small tortoise, "come with me."
Brownie was frantically digging as fast as he could. He had now dug for several miles and his paws were sore. He had had to divert (which means 'change direction') several times when GRUR had found his tunnels. Even now he could hear scratching beneath him which suggested they were getting close again. He started heading upwards; he fancied the ground was getting a little softer and damper. That would help his digging and also suggested he was getting near to his destination. Suddenly he heard a crash behind him and saw the roof of his tunnel collapse as five grey rabbits came spilling out of the roof. He dug even faster. Water began to trickle into the burrow and the trickle turned into a flood. Suddenly Brownie's head was above ground and in the air as he turned his head to look around the swamp that was slowly draining into the tunnel Brownie had emerged from. In the background he heard the gasps as the GRUR tunnels filled with water. Brownie felt quite relieved until he turned around to see a huge mouth surrounded by two very long rows of teeth coming towards him.
Snappy popped out of the pipe that led from his lake to the main river. At first he saw nothing, but then as he swam forward a little he noticed the water was rather dirtier than normal. Soon he heard a voice: "well, well what have we here?" Snappy turned to see the contented smile of a rather large alligator. From the triangular shaped marks on the alligators body Snappy suspected he had seen this alligator before. "We have met before," said the alligator without humor, "and more recently I believe you met my son." Snappy looked at the three and a half foot long alligator beside the rather larger one and could not prevent a grin from crossing his face. "I remember him." said Snappy happily. "Yes, well, by my count there are seventeen alligators here today," said the alligator, "so I rather think it is time to wipe that smile off your face."
The senior falcon circling over Pheidippides' home smiled a smile of grim satisfaction when he saw Winston bring the rocket to the launch-pad. He had suspected that the rabbit and the turtle had just been decoys (a decoy is something designed to distract you from what is really going on). There was no way an Agency Colonel was going to allow four of his wards to go into enemy territory and not handle the matter personally. The falcon watched very carefully. He could just faintly see a slight movement in the grass around the rocket; probably Cham up to something. Then at the base of the rocket for a fraction of a second he saw a flash of a parachute and a bumpy brown shell. The falcon almost shrieked with delight. "Thought I would miss that did you!" he said to no-one in particular. Suddenly he saw a shadow appear by the edge of the house closest to the launch pad.
The chief falcon called the other birds to him. "Let this be a lesson to you!" he said pompously, "you see the launch pad, we know it has the colonel inside. What should we do?" "Easy!" cried a vulture, "Attack!" "Which is exactly what they want," said the lead falcon importantly, "you see that shadow by the house; what do you think it is?" "Don't know," replied the vulture. "That, is the shadow of a fully prepared, missile-carrying battle-tortoise. We all dive-down in attack formation at several hundred miles an hour and find missiles coming up at us at the same speed. We all scramble to protect ourselves and the rocket launches and we have to chase it all the way up. By the time we get there we are exhausted and we find it deployed and Pheidippides happily shooting at us with a laser cannon."
The falcon continued: "unfortunately for them; they have come up against rather smarter opposition than they are used to. In fact I am going to use a tactic that we found when they carelessly left a part of their training manual lying around! I want you all to fly up very high; the rocket should deploy at about 5000ft. I want you to be ready to catch the colonel as soon as he comes out of the rocket. I am going to perform a dive just on the other side of the rocket from the battle-tortoise. As soon as I hear the missiles and the rocket launch I will swoop around the rocket towards the tortoise. The heat seeking missiles will not be able to find me through the heat trail of the rocket and the tortoise will not have had time to re-load her missile launchers. She will be easy prey."
As the large falcon dropped into a dive he checked his instruments. 230mph; not his fastest, but plenty fast enough to be convincing and still slow enough for him to be able to swerve around the rocket to attack the tortoise. 800ft, 700ft, 600ft, he had hoped they would launch sooner; but he should have known he was up against professionals. 500ft, 450ft, whoosh, he heard the soft hiss of a missile launching and the deeper roar of the rocket engine surging into life. Just in time he altered his wing pattern and dodged a missile and hurtled around the rocket and slowed himself almost to a halt ready to attack Andromeda.
So: what was Dr Pheidippides plan? And was it still going to work?
The falcon looked at the ground to see Andromeda chewing a berry and smiling up at him. "That was a very nice dive and swoop maneuver; just like Daddy wrote in the training manual," she said. "Of course," she continued, "Daddy had to tear that part out and throw it away; because there is such an easy counter-maneuver." "Oh yeah! Like what!" snarled the falcon, "you're bluffing!" Andromeda smiled again and tilted her head slightly towards her left-side missile launcher that still had a missile in it. She closed her eyes and recited from memory:
"Section 12, Subsection 42: In the event that the enemy attempts a dive and swoop maneuver; simply release one missile rather than the customary two. Then when they have slowed sufficiently to attempt a ground attack release the second missile ...."
She opened her eyes again to see a horrified falcon frantically flapping to try to get away. This time the dull hiss of a missile launching was rapidly followed by a loud explosion and even louder squawk. From 5000ft the other birds looked down and shook their heads sadly. "It was too much to hope we could get both of them," suggested a younger falcon, "let's make sure we get this one!" The rocket was now in the middle of them and had almost reached apogee when the cone popped off and a brown, bumpy, round object appeared. "That is a weird looking tortoise!" said a vulture in surprise "it's almost like it has two shells stuck together." "A weird looking tortoise," said the young falcon miserably, "or a hand-grenade that has been painted brown."
Snappy and the assembled alligators looked up when they heard the bang and saw the cloud of features begin to fall. Snappy smiled and looked down at the alligators. The alligators sneered back: "Your friends might have won; but there is no-way that even you can fight seventeen alligators." "Are you sure there are seventeen, and not sixteen?" inquired the turtle. "Yes," said the alligator, "but what difference does it make." "Actually," replied Snappy, "it makes a world of difference; because if you have seventeen it means that Fred got my message!" "Yeah," said the largest alligator which was circling with the rest. "But next time you send a message try ter make it look a bi' less like dinna. I 'ad almost swallowed 'im when I remembered I weren't allowed ter ea' the brown ones. I 'ad ter spit 'im out!" complained the huge alligator.
Dr Pheidippides and the team were waiting when Snappy and Fred emerged from the lake; they were arguing. "I told you to take out three!" bellowed the turtle "if you had taken out three, there would have been thirteen left for me and I could have beaten my record! All that work for eleven alligators!" "Sorry," replied Fred, "bu' you know my countin' gets a bi' wobbly after two. And I didn't know the lit'le ones counted." "Enough!" commanded Pheidippides, "we have no time to lose. Mount up everyone."
It was a very odd sight that swam out of the lake. On Fred's nose was Pheidippides with the map and cannon at the ready. Then lined along Fred's back was Winston, Cham and a quivering Brownie. Finally came a huge bag of strawberries and Andromeda; missiles all armed and ready. Swimming around, looking for trouble; was Snappy. But there was no trouble that fancied getting even close to that team: at least, not today.