A fun plot bunny to make my beta happy! Must keep betas happy!

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The firing range was only sparsely inhabited. The handful of greenshirts still out there firing rounds at targets seemed resigned. Folkson put down his rifle and grimaced, straightening his back with a wince.

"This sucks! Our scores weren't that bad. Why did LowLight order us to put so many rounds into targets today? We'll be out here all afternoon!" Folkson glared at his rifle, then sighed and picked up the empty magazines to reload them. "My fingers are sore from reloading ammo."

Mouth snorted loudly. "Shooting stuff ain't too bad! It's just these targets are boring. Now, see that bird sitting on the top of the gun range wall?" He pointed at a tiny sparrow chirping and hopping along the concrete wall.

Teryis glared at him, lifting her rifle. "You are not going to shoot that little bird."

Mouth blinked at her, arm still outstretched and pointing. "Well.. no. Thanks for thinking I'm a bird murdering monster though. Appreciate that. Anyway..." He pointed a little further towards the south end of the wall. "If you look just past where the innocent little birdy just crapped on the wall.. there's a leaf wedged right there."

They all peered up dutifully. Williams looked at the leaf and then at Mouth. "You know that Sergeant LowLight only likes us to shoot at military approved targets on the range, not at random objects, much less random objects that aren't even on the range."

Mouth gazed at him for a moment, disdain written all over his expression. "Really?" He turned towards the wall and sighted his rifle on the leaf. After a second there was the loud crack! of the rifle firing and the leaf disappeared. "Ha! Got it."

Teryis snorted. "Big deal." She lifted her rifle to her shoulder and searched the downrange wall through her scope. "Check out east wall, twelve feet from the corner, two feet down from the upper edge.. spot the dark patch on the log wall?"

Miller and Mouth both lifted rifles to use the scopes to find the stain. Miller spotted it first. "Got it."

She smiled and squeezed the trigger. CRACK! "Got it in one. That's at least two hundred and forty yards. Beat that."

Williams cleared his throat. "Sergeant major will be really angry if he finds out we're shooting non-approved targets..."

Mouth narrowed his gaze. "Well, what Sergeant major doesn't know, the Sergeant major won't be angry about. Right?"

Williams looked a little nervous. "But.."

"But nothing. No one will tell him, and he won't get angry, and that means he won't be punishing us, which means I won't be beating your ass for narking on us AGAIN. Right?" Mouth leaned menacingly over the slightly smaller Williams.

"Uhhh..."

Teryis whacked Mouth in the side of the head with her rifle butt, sending him tumbling to the concrete. He yelped loudly and scrambled to his feet... out of range of her reach. She stood next to Williams. "Don't threaten your teammate. You threaten him.. you threaten the whole team. So you were threatening me. Got it?" Her scowl made Mouth back up another foot or two, just in case.

He nodded and rubbed the side of his head. "Sorry.. geez. I was just joking. Really.. uhh.. joking. Williams and me, we're buds, right?" He nodded again. "See? Yeah.. buds." He scooted around the pair and grabbed his rifle. "Hey.. let's just find something else to shoot at."

Folkson lifted his rifle up at a sharp angle. "Look.. it's a piece of plastic.. up there floating on the wind!"

Miller jerked his rifle up to his shoulder as well, sighting in on the bit of trash caught by the desert winds. "That's mine."

Folkson snugged his gun in tighter. "Not if I hit it first." Before any of the others could sight in, there was a double crack as both rifles fired. "Ha! I got it!"

Miller frowned at him. "I hit it."

"Dude.. you're so wrong, I hit it, you missed."

"YOU missed, and I hit it!"

Teryis snorted at them. "You both hit it, I saw it jump twice. Quit arguing. We'll do a sudden death match, you miss, you're out!"

Mouth grinned. "Hey. East-southeast at about forty degrees off horizon... bit of red plastic or something, my shot, I'm calling it!"

Folkson and Williams both swung guns around immediately. Williams peered down his scope and suddenly spoke up. "Hey, I don't think that's trash.."

Mouth growled. "It's my shot, I called it."

Teryis snorted as she peered through her scope. "That's not trash.. it's a hot air balloon."

They all looked at it. Miller tilted his head. "What's a hot air balloon doing out here near the base anyway?" He looked over at Mouth. "Put your rifle down, you couldn't hit it from here anyway."

Mouth frowned at him. "I could so hit it!"

Folkson shook his head. "You're crazy, there's no way you could hit that at this distance!"

At that challenge, Mouth racked the slide on his rifle. "Yeah! Well I'll show you! Watch this, you losers!" He had the rifle up on his shoulder and sighted at the distant balloon. Before anyone could stop him, he squeezed the trigger. The loud retort made them all jump and then twist to look at the target. Mouth smirked at them. "Yeah! Hit it! See.. I told you I could hit it!" He lost the grin. "Uhh... is it.. umm.. sort of deflating a little?"

Everyone wore near identical horrified expressions. They watched the silk flutter slightly as the thing sank in the sky, gaining speed the lower it got. Williams grimaced. "Uh oh. I think we have a problem."

Miller stared at Mouth. "WE? WHAT DID YOU DO!"

Folkson slapped Mouth in the side of his head. "You IDIOT! You shot down a hot air balloon! We're all SO DEAD NOW! You shot a CIVILIAN AIRCRAFT!"

Teryis and Miller were already grabbing up their gear and taking off at a run. Mouth stared at the rapidly descending balloon, heading for the outer fenceline at what looked to be entirely too fast of a speed. "Hey.. it was a great shot!"

Miller pointed at him. "YOU! Go get Lifeline.. alert the base security, we need a patrol at the fenceline.. institute Civilian Incursion Protocol! Level... uhh.. level yellow alert! NOW! Go!"

Mouth nodded and took off at a dead run clutching his rifle. "Got it! I'm on it!" He scrambled to the motorpool and hit the intercom system. "Secure line immediately, security desk urgent urgent."

Breaker's voice came over the intercom sounding annoyed. Mouth wondered briefly if he ever left the communications center at all. "Security Center... this had better be urgent, I'm running some systems analysis..."

Mouth interrupted. "Medical emergency, Civilian NonHostile intrusion, sector... uhh.. four.. sector four. Civilian aircraft crash, send medical rescue team. Send rescue crash team. Immediately, urgent urgent!" He waited.

There was a long pause, then Breaker's voice came back up. He was all business now. "Civilian Incursion Protocol in place, all personnel on lockdown excepting Rescue team and Medical team. Private Mouth, report, who is up topside?"

Mouth took a breath. "Greenshirts Folkson, Miller, Teryis and Williams are headed for the probable crash site now."

Another pause and Flint's voice came over clearly. "What type of aircraft?"

Mouth swallowed nervously. "It's a hot air balloon, sir." He waited for the reply. When the comm stayed silent he triggered it again. "Orders sir?"

Breaker was back. "Hold your position topside, accompany rescue team."

Mouth waited nervously, somehow certain that a particular Alabama native was going to show up and eviscerate him in the next few moments.

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Miller ran alongside Teryis. "Uhh... we play stupid, yes?"

Teryis panted slightly. "What? Your balloon crashed? What happened to make you crash?" She looked over at her fellow greenshirt. "Hell yes, we play stupid." She twisted to glare at Williams who was pacing her fairly easily. "If you even look like you're gonna tattle, I swear I'll duct tape you to a bunk by some sensitive bits of your anatomy myself.. got it?"

Williams looked startled. "Yeah.. I get it. I get it." He moved slightly away. "You know they'll find out.."

Miller added his voice to hers. "But not from you.. got it!"

"Yes Corporal Miller."

When they arrived at the gate, Miller gave the situation report to the guards, and the small group of greenshirts continued outside to the crash site. "Spread out, check for crash victims, get vitals, start first aid." He rushed up to the folds of bright red fabric, pushing it aside and hunting for the passengers. "HELLO? Where are you? Anyone hurt?"

There was muffled yells and he began dragging the fabric aside, stopping only to look up when Law drove up, Dusty jumping out of the passenger seat of the APC. "I got live people under here! The basket has to be right here.."

Dusty grabbed the fabric and ran to one side, dragging it after him like a huge sheet. This uncovered the tipped over passenger basket and the yells got louder. "There we go! Hang on folks, we have some medics coming.. calm down! We're US Army, best help you could get!"

The blond woman crawling out of the basket slapped his hands away. "Don't grab me! Help Bob.. he's stuck! The basket crushed when we went down!" Dusty took her arm gently anyway, helping her to her feet. "Help Bob! Where's Katie?"

Law was already kneeling with Teryis over a prone woman. "She's unconscious.. probably got knocked out in the landing." Teryis began checking her quietly.

Miller and Folkson ended up being the ones crawling into the half destroyed basket to free the trapped man's leg. A lot of yanking and cutting and eventually they could tug him free. By then Lifeline had arrived with Sticks and a medical kit on a Jeep.

Miller helped hold Bob's leg for the medic to wrap the splint into place. Once the bandage was tied off, Law motioned him to step aside. "Yes sir." Miller hoped he didn't look too guilty, even if he knew they'd get busted sooner or later, somehow, he just wanted it to be later.. way later.

Law looked over the scene, the two rescue teams working to gather up the huge billowing fabric bag. "Alright, so tell me what happened?"

Miller took a deep breath. "Well... we.. uhh... we saw the balloon going down and we.. I mean, I sent Mouth to report in and the rest of us headed right to the crash site here to help." Law's eyes narrowed as he considered that. Luckily the arrival of a van of civilians distracted him.

The blond woman waved at them. "Guys! Over here!"

Lifeline waved Law over. "Do we have medical evac ready? Two of them are okay, 'Bob' has most likely broken his leg, and I think this one is named Katie, she's awake now. Concussion and shock."

Law radioed in to the airfield for transport, apparently too busy to continue questioning the much relieved greenshirts.

The new people from the van crowded up with the blond. "What happened, Rachel, are you guys okay? Is this a Army base? We lost sight of you, then just caught sight of you landing when we topped the rise over there!"

Rachel shook her head looking confused. "No.. that cross wind caught us and we were doing fine. But then all of a sudden, the whole envelope failed. It just dropped us out of the sky. Good thing our gondola is so sturdy! Bob has a broken leg and these Army guys are helping us.. the really nice tall one said that they'll fly us to a hospital."

They rounded on the hapless Law who looked startled. "Oh thank you! We're the chase crew.. we were so worried when we saw the balloon had crashed."

Dusty was eying Miller and Teryis rather closely but he didn't say anything. Instead he waved Williams and Law over to help move Bob onto the stretcher to prep him for the chopper ride. "We have transport inbound. Ten minutes." Dusty's infamous good nature made all the civilians relax and even Bob was smiling at his jokes when the helicopter arrived. "You're riding with one of our best pilots, he'll get you to the hospital in no time." He assisted a shaky Katie up into the aircraft where Flint buckled her into a seat.

Several minutes later, Lifeline and Flint left with the two patients. Dusty, Law and the greenshirts helped the other civilians with packing up the damaged balloon and packing it into the van.

"No no.. here." Rachel pointed. "You.. go over there and pull the envelope so it lays flat and straight. Don't just wad up the crown that way."

Folkson tugged the material across the sand. "Okaaay... what's the envelope and where's the crown? It's all a giant heap of parachute to me.."

One of the chase crew women shooed him out of her way and began straightening the fabric in some obscure way. They folded and rolled and tucked and tugged and the entire huge balloon turned into a more manageable package of fabric. "There, see? It's kind of like a parachute, but different." Her huge grin made Dusty grin back. "I just don't know what happened to cause a failure.. Rachel said the crown failed, and they went down. There's a great huge tear, but it's not on a seam, where it normally would fail. Just strange."

Dusty and Law looked at the nylon fabric folds. Law looked up in the air and then at the woman. "Could it have been.. like.. a bird? We have a lot of hawks and raptors."

She looked doubtful but shrugged. "I don't think we'll ever really figure it out. It'll be a pricy thing for Bob, but well.. I guess it's all part of flying balloons. We didn't mean to get so close to your base here.. are we going to be in big trouble?"

Law shook his head, reassuring her. "No no... you even landed outside the wire. You did encroach on closed-restricted airspace, but I don't think anything will come of it. I will need everyone's ID though." The military policeman did a great deal of paperwork while the greenshirts helped do all the heavy lifting to load the balloon and basket into the van. Mouth eyed the burner system closely.

"Wow.. I bet this puts out a lot of flame.. you could like.." He tilted the burner over a little and mimed a flame shooting out. "WHOOOOOOSH! And set everyone on fire, or something."

Rachel smiled nervously and retrieved the burner. "Yes.. well, we don't do that." She let the less homicidal-seeming Dusty load the item up for her. "Thank you. Thank you all for the help.. I've never been in a crash landing before.. it was so scary."

Dusty grinned at her. "Oh we don't consider a week done if we don't crash something or other. You get used to it after a while."

Teryis snorted at him. "Speak for yourself, I still nearly wet myself every time." Dusty laughed and Teryis shook a finger at him in mock reproof. "Anyway.. is there anything else we can do for you?"

A final check told them that everything was packed and secured. The damaged basket had caused some grief, but the brute force exerted by Law and Mouth got it loaded eventually.

The greenshirts stood together while Law handed back all the ID cards and papers. The MP waved them to the road and watched them leave. "Well.. that went better than expected."

Dusty nudged him with an elbow. "What? You expected some sort of disaster? Like what?"

Law gave him a somber look. "Oh.. I don't know. Maybe a troop of Joes coming over the hill on maneuvers, in full gear.. ninjas appearing from behind a blade of grass to terrify the innocent civilians.. errant explosives charges going off because someone forgot to sweep the area after a afternoon of landmine work... what could possibly go wrong around this crazy bunch?"

Miller gave a nervous laugh. "Umm.. yeah.. so.. can we go? We were.. umm.. just about to head inside.."

Williams spoke up quickly. "But we weren't done with our shooting practice."

His greenshirt companions all stared at him with quelling glares. Mouth spoke in a overly controlled tone. "Yes, we were done.. we were headed inside, remember Williams?"

Private Williams looked around and then just nodded. Law's eyes narrowed again. "Yes... well, I think you're done for the day. Everyone inside, I'm sure that you'll all be questioned about what you saw... or did."

Miller gulped and nodded. "Yessir... we uhh.. we should get moving... get inside before something else happens.. I mean.. anything happens.. cause.. nothing happened earlier."

Folkson and Mouth each took one of Williams' arms. Mouth smiled. "Yes.. inside.. we should get inside."

They rode the lift down into the Pit and Miller turned to Williams. "Listen up.. you keep your yap shut. I swear, even I'll kick your butt if you tattle about this." Williams ducked his head and nodded. "I mean it..if you tell Sergeant major.."

"If he tells me what?" The doors had slid open behind Miller and he froze at the sound of the annoyed voice. He turned slowly to look up at BeachHead standing there obviously waiting on the lift. "Well?"

Miller swallowed and tilted his head at Mouth who's eyes widened. "Uhh.. Private.. Private Williams.. made a awesome shot on the range.. yeah. Was at least three hundred yards."

Beach's eyebrows drew in as he scowled suspiciously. "And why exactly would you not want Williams to tell me that?"

The small group stepped off the lift, somehow they all stayed behind Miller. He struggled to come up with a legitimate reason. Suddenly Mouth whacked Williams in the shoulder.

"You jerk.. you were going to tell Sergeant major! I told you I wanted to tell him myself! I get into enough trouble.. I should get to tell him the one good thing I've done in the last month!" He shoved at the smaller man again. "You always got to take everyone's thunder."

BeachHead frowned at them. "Cut it out!" he snapped. Mouth straightened up and Williams took the opportunity to step away slightly. "Impressive shot, Mouth. Extra time at target practice is paying off." He stepped into the lift and dragged off his facemask, running a hand through his unruly hair a few times in a vain attempt to tame it. "Dang it.."

Teryis spoke up pertly. "I didn't see Corporal Covergirl in the motorpool... I think she's off duty today."

Beach stepped up close to her. His voice was dangerously quiet. "Why would ya think Ah was lookin' fer Cinderella?"

Gulping hard, she shook her head. "Uhh.. I umm... I just.. you were... were going to the motorpool.. and... uhh.. she's usually in the m-m-motorpool..."

The Ranger grunted at her and stepped back in the lift. "Ya'll stay the hell outa trouble. If'n I get called to deal with ya'll tonight, I will break every one of ya."

They all nodded at him as the doors slid shut. The instant they closed, everyone slumped with relief. Miller shushed all of them. "Okay okay.. everyone just.. shut up. And stay that way... including me."

As they hurried down the hallway, LadyJaye intercepted them. "Flint wants all of you in his office." She continued down the hallway without stopping, headed off on another errand.

The greenshirts huddled. "Okay.. so we saw the balloon, and then it went down.. we had just got done with practice.. right?" They all nodded and Miller nodded. "We're telling the truth.. just not ALL of the truth."

They filed into Flint's office where he was scribbling notes on a report. Standing nervously, they waited until he slid it aside and looked up at them with a resigned expression. "Okay.. so about this afternoon..."

Mouth blurted out quickly. "We saw the balloon go down! And.. and then we helped the people..."

Flint's eyes narrowed. "We have videotape."

Mouth clicked his mouth shut so quickly he bit his tongue. "Ow."

"Oh yes... ow." Flint leaned forward. "I know that you were all just about to confess exactly how you shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft as an ill-thought-out wager when you know better than to be shooting targets off-range." He looked over at Miller who swallowed. "However.. right now it would not be a good thing for this to come out publicly, even within the ranks of Joe. So you won't mention that part to anyone. You will be placed on the worst duties that I can find without actually punishing you and if you even consider putting in for leave in the next six months, I'll laugh in your face and then put you on latrine duty for a year. Am I clearly understood?" They all rushed to assure him. "Shut up. Today was quite possibly the stupidest thing I've EVER seen out of greenshirts. You're all lucky that Beach wasn't in the security office when the security cam caught all of this. Hawk is being advised, and agrees with my plan of action." He turned to Williams. "And if ANYONE should let anything slip accidentally or otherwise.. that person will be busted and thrown out of GI Joe."

Williams protested. "I wouldn't say anything."

"Good." Flint took a deep breath. "Now get out of here... before I decide to send you to deliver paperwork to BeachHead right now, instead of just putting it into his Inbox for tomorrow. I don't think he'd be pleased with an interruption.. and if I happen to lay eyes on any of you tonight, I might be tempted to send you into the lion's den."

"Yes Warrant Officer Flint!" They crowded out of the doorway and hustled themselves out of sight quickly.

Flint sighed and rubbed his eyes, then dragged open his desk drawer. "Now I know why Duke buys aspirin in bulk. How does Beach deal with these greenshirts?"

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End story

Just a bit of fluff for fun for my wonderful beta who listens to me ramble on and reads most of my stories to check for errors for me. A good beta is worth a few fluff fics.. and lots of cake too. They like cake.