7.Burpleson Air Force Base, General Ripper’s Office.
“Mandrake,” General Ripper asked quietly, “were you ever a prisoner of war?”
“Well, Jack, the time's running…very...what?” Mandrake was totally taken by surprise by the sudden change in topic.
“Were you ever a prisoner of war?” the General asked again; outside everything had gone ominously quiet.
“Ah yes I was,” Mandrake replied uncertainly wondering where the General’s mind would take them this time.
“Did they torture you?” General Ripper gazed unseeingly across his wrecked office.
“Well, ah, yes, they did.” Mandrake explained; he’d been shot down during the First Gulf War and captured, “I was tortured by the Iraqis, Jack, if you must know. Not a pretty story.”
“Well, what happened?” The General shifted his gaze to look at Mandrake.
“Oh...well...I don't know, Jack,” Mandrake didn’t like talking about the incident he didn’t consider it one of his ‘Finest Hours’, “Difficult to think under these conditions.”
“No,” The General shook his head, “I mean when they tortured you, did you talk?”
“Ah, oh no, I ah, I don't think they wanted me to talk, really,” Mandrake ran his hand through his hair removing a piece of ceiling tile as he did so, “I don't think they wanted me to say anything,” he shrugged, “it was just their way of having a bit of fun, the swines…”
“You know those clowns outside are gonna give me a pretty good going over in a few minutes, for the code.” General Ripper said slowly the cigar clamped between his teeth forgotten.
“Yes,” Mandrake frowned; was the General showing a weakness he could exploit? “Yes, you may have quite a point there, Jack.”
“I don't know how well I could stand up under torture,” the General confessed.
“Well of course the answer to that is, old boy, no one ever does.” At last, thought Mandrake, the General was showing a fear that he might be able to use to get him to hand over the recall codes, “My advice to you, Jack, is to give me the codes now,” Mandrake suggested conspiratorially, “and if those devils come in here and try any rough stuff, we'll fight them together, old boy,” Mandrake laughed in a comradely way, “like we did just now, on the floor, eh? You with the old gun, and me with the belt and the ammo,” Mandrake was now wondering where the hell the relieving forces where, they should be breaking down the door about now, “Feed me, you said, and I was feeding you, Jack.”
Standing up slowly, General Ripper walked across the room and patted Mandrake on the shoulder.
“No, Mandrake,” Ripper sighed as if he was very tired, “I happen to believe in a life after this one, and I know I'll have to answer for what I've done, and I think I can.”
“Yes, well of course you can, Jack,” oh god, thought Mandrake, the blithering looney was coming over all religious now, he tried to sound reassuring, “of course you can. I'm a religious man, myself,” he lied, “I believe in all that sort of thing,” perhaps by playing on the deluded man’s beliefs he could still avert Armageddon, “I'm hoping, Jack,” Mandrake followed Ripper as he moved around the room, dropping his M60 and taking off his uniform jacket as he did so. “You dropped your gun, Jack!” Mandrake bent to pick up the weapon. “You know what I'm hoping, Jack?” Mandrake asked desperately, “I'm hoping you're going to give me the codes, old boy. That's what I'm hoping…”
Standing there still clutching the machine gun and wondering when the door was going to be kicked in, Mandrake watched as General Ripper entered his private bathroom.
“Oh, you're going have a little wash and brush up, are you?” Mandrake said hopefully, “What a good idea, always did wonders for a man, that, Jack.” Mandrake had a horrible feeling he knew what was going to happen next, “A little wash and brush up, water on the back of the neck, makes you feel marvellous.” He watched the General close the door firmly behind him. “That's what we need, Jack, water on the back of the neck and the code. Now…!”
Even though he’d been half expecting it the shot from the bathroom still came as a surprise, Mandrake dropped the M60 and rushed to the door. Putting his shoulder against the door he managed to open it just wide enough to get his head into the bathroom and confirm his worst suspicions.
“Oh, bloody hell!” Mandrake sighed as he saw the general’s body sprawled on the floor and his brains decorating the ceiling.
Leaving the door, Mandrake looked around what remained of the office, momentarily at a loss as to what to do next. However, within seconds, years of military training kicked in and he started to move with a purpose. His reasoning was the General Ripper might have left some sort of clue as to what the recall code was, he had to find it in the next few minutes. Glancing at his watch, he calculated that although the bombers would be over enemy territory by now, with luck none of them would have dropped their payloads.
Finding himself behind the General’s desk, Mandrake looked down to see a large note pad sitting crookedly on the desk in amongst the pieces of ceiling tile and other junk. Looking at it Mandrake saw that the General had been using the pad to doodle on. In amongst the little pictures of bombers and nuclear explosions were two phrases repeated over and over again; Peace on Earth and Purity of Essence.
“My god!” Mandrake gasped his heart filling with hope, “P-O-E! That must be it!”
Just as he was reaching for the phone two shots rang out blasting the door lock off and forcing the door to bang open. Into the room burst a short soldier who pointed his weapon at Mandrake’s chest.
“Who the hell are you!?” Demanded Mandrake hoping to overawe the soldier thus allowing him time to get on with his call to SAC Headquarters.
“Chief Lehane,” Faith snapped back, “US Army Rangers, who the hell are you and where’s General Ripper?”
“Bloody hell, you’re a woman!” Mandrake stared at Faith for a moment before saying, “General Ripper’s dead…shot himself in the bathroom…”
Still keeping her rifle pointed at Mandrake, Faith edged over to the bathroom door and looked inside.
“Crap!” Faith let the muzzle of her rifle drop a little, “Looks like I’m not gonna be able to arrest him now.”
“Arrest him?” Mandrake frowned as he put down the phone, the line had been disconnected. “You were sent to arrest him, surely you’re a little short to be doing that sort of thing. I mean the General was over six feet tall!”
“Hey!” Faith felt a little put out at being referred to as short, “Ya never been told that the best things come in small packages?”
“Well yes,” Mandrake admitted, “there is that I suppose,” he picked up another phone only to find the cable connecting the handset to the cradle had been shot away, “Oh damn,” he sighed before looking directly at Faith who was still pointing her rifle in his general direction. “Look, Chief,” Mandrake started to explain, “I’m Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, General Ripper’s Executive Officer, I think…I hope, that I’ve found the recall codes for the bombers. If I can call SAC we may yet be in time to stop a catastrophe from happening.”
Using her ‘supervision’, Faith took in the details of Mandrakes uniform, she particularly noted the pilot’s wings with the little ‘RAF’ embroidered in the centre. In the couple of seconds it took her to check the officer out, Faith felt as if the entire weight of the world was pressing down on her shoulders. What she said or did in the next few seconds would mean that millions possibly billions of people would live or die. Suddenly it occurred to her that it didn’t really matter what she said as long as she let Mandrake use the phone. If the guy was telling the truth the bombers would turn around, if he was lying they wouldn’t and they’d be no worse off than they were now.
“Okay, Group Captain,” Faith lowered her rifle all the way, “what d’ya need?”
“A working landline,” Mandrake replied as hope returned to his heart, obviously not all Americans were insane.
“Would a telephone booth do?” Faith asked, she’d seen one just down the corridor from the office.
“Good god yes!” Mandrake cried urgently.
“Follow me!” Faith headed for the door with Mandrake following hard behind her.
Running down the corridor outside, Faith skidded around a corner and came to a halt.
“HERE!” She called triumphantly, pointing to the booth.
“Oh thank god!” Mandrake hurried towards the booth, he glanced at Faith, “Just pray that it works.”
Lifting up the receiver, Mandrake almost fainted when he heard a dialling tone.
“Thank god,” he gasped as he searched his pockets for change; his eyes went wide as he realised his pockets were empty, he looked desperately at Faith, “No change!”
“Ain’t ya got a credit card?” Faith demanded as she searched her own pockets and came up with nothing.
“Damn-it!” Mandrake patted himself down once again, his wallet wasn’t in his jacket where it should be, “No!”
Just when it looked as if the world was about to end for want of a handful of loose change, Faith’s eyes fell on a soft drinks machine a few feet away down the passageway.
“Hold on!” Faith rushed over to the machine and punched it just where the cash box should be, a cascade of loose change tinkled onto the floor.; Scooping up a handful of coins she ran back to Mandrake, “This enough?”
Taking coins from Faith’s cupped hands, Mandrake fed the phone and made his call.0=0=0=0
“Were we in time?” Faith asked hopefully several minutes later.
“I think so,” Mandrake sighed with relief and slumped against the side of the booth as the stress of the last few hours caught up with him. “We’ll have to wait for all the confirmations to come in, but I think we were in time,” he laughed quietly, “a perfect example of Anglo-American co-operation, wouldn’t you say, Chief?”
“If ya say so,” Faith smiled before adding, “gotta say, Group Captain, ya look like crap.”
“Hmmm?” Mandrake rubbed his chin and felt the stubble beneath his fingers, “I dare say you’re right.”
“Hey,” Faith gestured to where National Guardsmen were escorting some Air Force personnel along the corridor behind them, “let’s get outta here before someone tries to take ya away.”
“Oh god,” Mandrake groaned, “I’m going to get such a roasting for this.”
“Roasting?” Faith looked at Mandrake questioningly as they walked along the corridor towards the stairs.
“Get into trouble,” Mandrake explained.
“Why?” Faith shrugged, “Ya weren’t in on the General’s plot were ya?”
“No,” Mandrake shook his head.
“Ya didn’t help him, did ya?” Faith started down the stairs, “And ya found the recall code, right?”
“I suppose,” Mandrake agreed reluctantly.
“Well, what ya got to worry about?” Faith bounced down the steps to the ground floor.
“You know, Chief,” Mandrake followed Faith down the steps more slowly, “just watching you makes me feel tired.”
“HA!” Faith laughed as she burst out into the mid morning sunshine, “Ya know in all the excitement I forgot breakfast, how’d you like to…HEY!”
Faith rushed over to grab hold of Mandrake’s arm as he staggered down the steps outside the block.
“Oh dear,” Mandrake recovered himself, “I think the shock has just set in,” his face had gone deathly pale, “mind if I…?”
“Yeah, sure,” Faith helped Mandrake sit down on the step as Guardsmen rushed in and out of the building, she sat down next to him, pulling her canteen from its pouch and handing it to Mandrake.
“Thanks,” Mandrake took the bottle in hands that trembled, “just look at me will you? Acting like my silly maiden aunt.”
“Hey, Sir,” Faith replied quietly, “Don’t sweat it, you did good.”0=0=0=0Wolfram and Hart, Regional Office, New York.
Looking up at the sound of the knock on his office door the department head saw one of his associates standing nervously in the doorway.
“Stop dithering like some nervous ninny,” snapped the executive, “come in and shut the door,” he watched as the associate shut the door and crossed the expanse of his richly appointed office, “this better be important.”
“Bad news from Burpleson Air Force Base, Sir,” the associate replied as he stood trembling in front of his boss.
“What’s gone wrong?” the senior man demanded; he’d not approved of the attempt to start a nuclear war, however it was what the client wanted and the Senior Partners hadn’t objected.
“We’ve lost contact with our asset, Colonel Reed,” the associate fiddled nervously with the papers in his hand as he spoke. “the National Guard retook the Air Base and reports suggest that the bombers have been turned back.”
“Damn!” the executive banged his fist on his desk top, the Senior Partners and the client would not be pleased, a lot of time and resources had been expended on this project. Someone would be skinned alive for this and he was going to make sure that it wasn’t him. “Alright,” he sighed, this would take some damage control to fix, “leave it with me, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Ah, Sir?” The associate seemed rooted to the spot, “there is this,” he handed an eight by eleven photograph to his boss, “Maybe, if we…?”
“Hmmm,” mused the executive as he took the photo and studied it for a moment, “a slayer?”
“Yes, Sir,” the associate nodded hopefully, “I thought as she’s quite important in the scheme of things…”
“You’re not paid to think,” snapped the senior man, “but…” he smiled evilly, “…you did well to bring this to my attention.” Plans went rapidly through his mind; if he could show the Senior Partners that the project wasn’t a complete failure perhaps the death and destruct rained down on his department wouldn’t be too devastating and he would literally save his own hide. “What assets do we have still in place?”
“There’s a Covert Action Team on site that hasn’t been compromised yet,” the associate explained eagerly.
“Good,” the executive smiled and looked up at the associate, “I want to talk to them right now!”0=0=0=0Burpleson Air Force Base.
“Phew,” Mandrake passed Faith’s water bottle back to her, “thank-you I feel much better now,” he smiled, “you said something about breakfast?”
“Yeah,” Faith put away her water bottle before slinging her rifle over her shoulder, “ya sure ya feeling okay?”
“Never better,” Mandrake lied as they walked towards the road in front of the block together, “fit as a fiddle!”
“Yeah, right,” Faith wasn’t so sure, she’d seen cases of shock before and people didn’t recover ‘just like that’.
Letting it go, Faith led the way towards the road, she watched all the action around her for a moment. Guardsmen ran in and out of the buildings as others led away the sullen and confused Air Force personnel. Military vehicles sped along the road as they helped evacuate the wounded of both sides, there were even some civilian ambulances in the mix.
“Hey, Sir,” Faith said as she stood watching and Mandrake came to stand next to her, “I don’t think…!”
Suddenly Faith felt as if she’d been hit in the chest by a jackhammer, she sensed herself being blown off her feet and flying through the air. Hitting the ground hard she lay there staring at the sky; trying to form words she attempted to speak but her lungs felt as if they were on fire. All around her she could hear people yelling, ‘Medic!’ and ‘Sniper!’, it was only then that she realised she’d been shot…again.
“Chief!” Looking over to her left slightly Faith saw Group Captain Mandrake kneeling by her side, she wondered why he was pressing down on her chest with his hands, “Stay with me, old girl,” he told her urgently, “the medics will be here in a moment,” he gave a false laugh, “you’re not getting out of our breakfast date.” He turned his head away from her and yelled at someone she couldn’t see, “WHERE ARE THOSE BLOODY MEDICS!?”
Looking to her right Faith saw a man with a red-cross armband bending over her, she noticed all the blood on Mandrake’s hands as he moved back allowing the medic to work on her.
“Stay with me Chief,” the medic said calmly as he started to pull open Faith’s body armour.
Oh fuck, not another Purple Heart, Faith thought as she felt the medic start to work on her; she was getting a little pissed at people shooting holes in her. Oh well, she told herself, at least this time it didn’t hurt so much; she laughed coughing up blood, maybe she was getting used to being shot. The burning sensation in her chest had subsided as the medic continued to work on her. Vaguely aware of Mandrake standing by her side as she was lifted onto a stretcher and carried towards a waiting ambulance, she actually felt sort of warm and comfortably numb. Feeling tired she started to close her eyes, she’d been up all night, she’d fought her way into the base and saved the world; no wonder she felt tired. Lying back on the stretcher, she could hear the medic talking into a radio as the ambulance started to move. Focusing her eyes she saw Group Captain Mandrake looking down at her, he had blood on his face, had he been hit too?
“Now you listen to me, Chief Lehane,” he said in his clipped British accent, “I’m ordering you not to die, you’ve still got to buy me breakfast…this isn’t h-how the story is supposed to end…I-I mean what will the chaps in the Mess say if you went and died on me, eh?”
Smiling dreamily, Faith lay there as the medic stuck something in her arm; she wasn’t afraid to die, she was just so bone tired with it all, maybe she’d take a nap. Yes, that’s what she’d do, just shut her eyes and sleep for a while.
“Quite a ride,” Faith murmured as she closed her eyes.0=0=0=0Cape Vincent Hotel, Cape Vincent, New York State, a little later.
Heading down stairs for a late breakfast, Willow glanced at her watch. Was it really nine hours since Faith had left her and climbed aboard that army chopper? The memory of seeing Faith climb aboard the aircraft made her pause and think for a moment; what ever mission Faith had gone on must be really important for them to send a helicopter for her.
Before she’d left, Faith had promised Willow that she’d call as soon as she could to tell her when she’d be back. However, she’d added that if Willow hadn’t heard from her by midday on Saturday (today) she was to go home and not waste time at the hotel. Willow was used to this, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt every time their plans were spoilt. But, what did she expect dating a big important soldier like Faith Lehane?
Sitting at a table by the window, Willow placed her cellphone on the table next to her. Although the time was creeping towards midday she still hoped for that call. The buzzing of her cell made Willow jump a little, eagerly she picked up the phone to answer it.
“Faith?” she asked hopefully, listening to a familiar voice at the other end of the connection, Willow’s face fell a little. “Oh, hi Buffy,” Willow smiled, so it wasn’t Faith but it was always nice to hear from Buffy. “I was expecting Faith to call,” Willow noticed that Buffy didn’t sound very happy, “hey, is everything okay?”
As she listened to Buffy’s voice all traces of happiness left Willow’s face as she grew more frightened and concerned.
“But…” Willow started to say something but the words caught in her throat, “No Buffy…” Willow slumped in her chair as the tears started to roll down her face and her shoulders shook with her sobs, “…not again…I-I can’t…not Faith too!”
Eventually words failed Willow and she closed up her cell and put it away, sitting in her chair with tears streaming down her face she stared out over the cold, grey waters of Lake Ontario.We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again
Some sunny day.
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do,
'Til the blue skies
Drive the dark clouds far away.*THE END.
*"We'll Meet Again" is a 1939 song made famous by Vera Lynn with music and lyrics composed and written by Ross Parker and Hugh Charles; it was played over the end titles of ‘Dr Strangelove’.Author’s Note.
Okay, this is sort of the mid-season hiatus, now hands up all those who think Faith’s dead? Right…let’s see…one, two, three… Right fair enough, well all I’m going to say is; the message is in the song.
The next two, ‘Faith in the Army’ fics will be ‘Freaktown’ and ‘True Faith and Allegiance’ both of which are prequels and will be posted in a few weeks time.
Thanks for reading.