The siren blared into life: "wooo-oooh, wooo-oooh, wooo-oooh: boundary penetration sector 14. All tortoises to sector 14: defense formation. Repeat: this is not a drill - boundary penetration sector 14 - all personnel respond immediately. Woo-ooh, wooo-ooh, woo-oooh."
In the student dormitory eighty sleepy little tortoises peered out of half-closed eyes. "This is ridiculous!" growled a small spur-thigh, "Sixteen false alarms in one night! How are we supposed to be alert for graduation tomorrow!" "They clearly have an electrical problem," responded a golden Greek, "we can just go back to sleep."
"No way!" screeched an extremely tiny redfoot with a very red head, "according to Dr Pheidippides we need to be even more vigilant when we are tired and distracted because that is when the enemy is most likely to attack!" The entire room groaned. It was bad enough having to sit through 60 minutes of Dr Pheidippides lecturing every day without having some half-pint little redfoot repeating everything he said. "This is the tortoise training academy!" retorted the spur-thigh, "probably the most secure facility in the agency, no one is going to attack!" "He has a point," said a larger redfoot, "if we were in any real danger the professors would not have left us students on guard duty while they went to a strategy meeting."
A rather slow and studious redfoot looked out of his shell and said: "nonetheless, according to Andromeda, Section 8, Subsection 12 of the Basic Facility Defense Training Manual clearly states:
Boundary penetration alarms should be considered mandatory: all able bodied tortoises should immediately move to stated defense positions independent of other considerations"
This time the groan was even louder. If there was one class that was even less popular that the Doctor's Battlefield Tactics class; it was the Procedure's Manual Memorization class. It was even less popular now that the General had handed over teaching to his daughter who insisted that everyone handed in their homework decorated with flowers.
Another spur-thigh, this one rather larger, stood in front of the door. "Look," he said, "we get it. You two believe you are going to get on Pheidippides' team. You think it is worth knocking yourselves out to get one more gold star. Well the rest of us don't; we say we stay here!"
The little red-headed tortoise marched up to the larger spur-thigh. He was standing on tip-toe to make himself look larger although he was still much smaller than the spur-thigh's head. "You're getting out the way; or I'm going through you!" snarled the little tortoise. The slower and more studious tortoise sighed. Whilst his little red-headed friend was 27th on the all-time leader board for gold-stars, he was already in third place for demerits due to fighting.
"There is no need for dispute here," said the studious tortoise, "you all can go back to sleep. We will go and investigate the false alarm. Then if anyone asks you can say that you sent us out to check and you stayed here in case it was a diversionary tactic." The large spur-thigh looked both surprised and pleased. Whilst they tended to mock the studious tortoise for being slow and sleeping so much; he did come up with some very good ideas. The spur-thigh stood to one side, the little red-headed tortoise stomped past casting the larger tortoise a very nasty look. The slow and studious tortoise lumbered behind.
"You know Chills; you really need to chill!" said the slow tortoise. "Why?" demanded the red-headed tortoise; "I could have taken that bully easily!" he continued. "Well," said the rather more sedate tortoise, "for one thing you need to stop getting demerits for fighting!" "Hmfh!" snorted the red-headed tortoise, "I don't care about demerits. And I've told you twenty times; my name is NOT Chills, it is Cham!" "I am not sure about that," said the slow moving tortoise, "doesn't Sergeant Cham mind you taking his name?" "Mind!" sniggered Cham, "it was his idea! He said he always hated the fact that even though people couldn't see him they would know he existed if they heard someone use his name. Now they can use his name and people will think it is me!" "I thought your human called you Cham?" enquired the confused larger tortoise. "Yes," said Cham happily, "Sergeant spent an hour whispering the name into the boy's ear overnight; the boy woke up convinced he had had the idea!"
The two young tortoises reached the gateway that led to sector 14. They could not see anything. Cham frowned. "Fiddlesticks!" he exclaimed, "I cannot see anyone to fight." "Perhaps," said the slightly larger tortoise, "however, Section 2 Subsection 12 of the Basic Facility Training Manual states that we should do a 20 second radar sweep 3 times at one minute intervals just to ensure no-one is hiding." Cham grinned, "you know Socrates, sometimes I think you memorized the whole manual!" The larger tortoise looked a bit shocked: "well of course, didn't everyone?"
Socrates was 17 seconds into the third sweep when a small blip appeared on his radar screen and then quickly disappeared. He looked at Cham, "I think there may have been something, but it just came and went." Cham twitched excitedly; "perhaps we should edge in that direction, the closer we are, the easier it will be for our radar to find it." Slowly and cautiously the two small tortoises crept away from the gate and towards the small blip.
Socrates set his radar sweeping again; this time at full strength. He had to stifle a gasp: "7 hostiles!" he hissed. "How big?" enquired Cham; rather looking forward to a battle. Socrates brought up his infra-red detector which could tell how big an animal was and whether it was a mammal or reptile. He looked grim. "Five mammals: four small, one medium. Two reptiles: one large, one huge. Looks like a strike force with heavy back-up." The red headed tortoise looked excited: "if we get back and tell the others - will we be able to defeat them?"
"Yes," said Socrates looking puzzled, "we have eighty tortoises including twenty spur-thighs. Why would they send a quick and fast group against us with only two heavies in back-up?" "Who cares?" asked Cham trying not to squeal, "let's go get the others and then go and kick some butt!" The little red-headed tortoise started back towards the dormitory.
"Stop!" hissed Socrates, "the passage!" Now Cham looked confused. "The Passage" was a valley that led through the mountains to the north; you could reach it from the gate but it was the complete opposite direction to the group of animals they had found. "We are nowhere near the passage!" said Cham. "Exactly!" said Socrates. Cham now looked even more confused. "Exactly what?" he asked. "It is a trap," said Socrates. "Their main force is hiding in The Passage; if we go and attack the group of 7, some will run, some will fight, and while we are distracted and scattered the main force will take the school!"
"So, we get the rest and head to the passage?" asked the small red-headed tortoise. "Yes," said Socrates and they started inching towards the gate. Suddenly Socrates stopped and hissed. Cham looked startled. Socrates looked very unhappy. "Two large blips have appeared in the passage, now three," he muttered in a low voice. "We are too late to get the rest." The cherry head asked: "so what do we do? Shoot out the boulder?" The two tortoises stared up the mountain at the entrance to the passage. There was a very large boulder resting on three wooden stakes. In an emergency the stakes could be shot away closing off the passage.
Socrates poked his head into his shell, did a few calculations and then emerged. "We are too far away!" he said. "We are tiny; with our missiles we need to be about half a mile closer to destroy the stakes. And before you ask," he continued, "if we start running in that direction the group of seven will see us; and they have 5 warm-blooded mammals that could get to us before we were close enough." Baby Chill's took a deep breath. "Then you go shoot out the stakes; I'll go fight the group of seven." he announced bravely.
Socrates chuckled softly. "Look," he said, "you are the bravest tortoise I have ever met, and for your size you are a pretty good fighter. But there is no way you can win against a group of seven animals that large." "I don't have to win! I just have to distract them long enough for you to take out the stakes," retorted the red headed tortoise. "No," said Socrates firmly, "Section 2 Subsection 1: no battle plan shall every needlessly sacrifice the life of another agent." "Ok!" shouted Cham, "then poke your head in your shell and come up with a better idea!"
Socrates head had been inside his shell for about twenty seconds when a message came through on his internet: "Not needless, need to save the school, take out the stakes. Bye. Cham." Socrates' head rocketed out of his shell as he looked towards Cham who was now running away from him and towards the group of seven. Socrates thought of calling but knew he was wasting his time; Chills wouldn't listen.
Instead Socrates started to run to where he needed to stand to shoot out the stakes. He got out of breath very quickly. Socrates didn't exercise; didn't really move unless he had to. Give him a puzzle he was happy. This wasn't a puzzle; what he had to do was clear - run, a long way and very quickly. Socrates wasn't happy. Soon the lack of breath began to affect his head. He felt giddy, his head hurt, his temples were pounding. Still he kept moving as fast as he could.
Cham had run past the group of seven and was now standing so that the group was between him and Socrates. "We are Agency tortoises! Surrender now and you will not be hurt!" he called out in his loudest and deepest voice. There was no response from the group of seven. "You cannot escape!" called out the brave little tortoise, "surrender now or we shall be forced to open fire!" Again no sound came from the group of seven. "Very well," shouted Cham. "Company, everyone fire one missile on my order ... NOW!" shouted the little red-headed tortoise firing all six of his tiny missiles in one volley.
The missiles all flew over the top of the seven animals and landed in the grass behind them. "Missed," called out a very deep voice. "No I, er we didn't" called back Cham. "You will now observe there is a wall of fire behind you; your choices are come and fight us - or burn to death! The seven animals began to move towards Cham. Cham turned around and began to run as fast as he could. He intended to fight: but he wanted the animals as far away from Socrates as possible when they found it was just him.
Socrates' head was spinning, his vision was blurry. Everything ached. He made a note that if he survived this then he would stop finding ways to avoid physical training classes. He checked his GPS, one hundred yards left to go. He had heard Cham launch his missiles and could see the flames in the grass; if Cham was going to sacrifice himself then Socrates was going to make the sacrifice worth-while. He gritted his teeth and ran forward faster.
Cham could sense the animals behind him getting closer. The noise they made was getting louder and Cham was fairly sure he could even feel the ground shaking; it had never really occurred to him before that the 'heavy hitters' really were heavy. He sighed a little; he had always looked forward to weighing a whole ounce and now it looked like that would never happen. He already had his battle strategy: attack the biggest of the heavies. He hoped that the bigger animal thrashing around would distract the other six for a few more seconds - which might give Socrates the time he needed. Cham could now feel breath on his neck - it was time. He leapt up in the air, spun around and found himself staring at a giant alligator. Cham landed on the alligator's nose and bit as hard as he could. The alligator roared in pain and rolled over knocking over the rest of the group. Cham closed his eyes, bit harder and smiled inside himself. He had done his job.
Socrates came to a halt: he was where he needed to be. The scutes opened on his shell to reveal his missile launchers. Nothing compare to the bigger tortoises but ample to take out three wooden stakes. Being a studious tortoise he did the calculations one last time, made an allowance for the wind speed and was about to shoot when he heard a loud voice: "please don't do that; it takes hours to put that boulder back in place." Socrates spun around to find himself looking eye to eye with General Colossus. "Also," continued the General, "given your parents have all travelled a very long way to see you graduate it would seem rather rude to drop a boulder on them."
"No, but sir," stammered the tortoise, "our perimeter was breached, there is an attack group, we have to defend the school!" The general smiled: "I know our perimeter was breached, I breached it, seventeen times if I remember correctly. And yes, I think we do need to sort out the attack group. Fred, Poseidon and Cham all in the same place could easily turn into a real fight if we are not careful!" The huge tortoise raised his head and bellowed: "Cease and desist! Stand down! Immediately!"
Cham open his eyes, open his mouth and fell to the ground. He was staring at a twenty foot alligator with a bloody nose. Beside Fred, trying not to laugh, was Snappy. Brownie smiled: "very good work. The fire was a very nice touch!" "Hmmm," grumbled Snappy, "I suppose I had better go and put that out," he said marching off.
"I'm confused: what is happening?" asked the little red-foot. "What is happening," responded Brownie kindly, "is that two of the agencies' newest trainies are about to graduate with honors. Congratulations."
Baby Chills stood on the stage looking out over the parents and dignitaries that had come to watch the graduation. He was happy to be graduating, delighted that his parents had been able to come down and watch, thrilled that he was going to graduate with honors: but most of all he was very, very happy that right at the back of the crowd stood a huge alligator with a very big bandage on his nose ....