A/N: This is the first chapter for the origin story of the Second Strike Force, a team of commandos sent to find the ducks on what should have been a quick mission through the galaxy. What starts out as an easy intergalactic mission turns into a foreign relations disaster as they traverse the galaxy looking for the lost heroes of Puckworld, and causing mayhem in the process.
Today was a day I knew I would never forget, I just didn't know why yet. It was that sixth sense in me that screamed foul play as I breathed deep. The breaths were in perfect synchronization with my fingers as they collided with the top of a cheap oak end table, crying out for something to smash. I was sitting in silence with my three soon-to-be teammates in a dank little crap hole of a waiting room as we waited for our deaths to be written. Our idealism was just as fatal as the drakes that still clung to the hope that Puckworld could be restored after its demise. It was foolish beyond belief, and deadly to even the best trained warrior. Idealism always is, though.
As my mind wandered on our certain perils, I felt my heart racing faster, and my fingers followed suit. I didn't even realize how loud I was being until I received a sharp elbow in the side from the tan drake sitting next to me, who shot me a short, sharp glare. It wasn't enough to threaten me, just enough to annoy me and make me relieve the wood table of the beating I was giving it.
My teammate, a very serious and wise drake, sat consumed in his own thought and agony for the decision that was being made. I could see the pain in his eyes, and his fear of the outcome consumed his features, making it much older than his twenty-seven years should've allowed. I suppose that's what happens to even the youngest of hearts when a hostile race takes over your planet, though.
"What do you think is going on in there?" I asked, breaking the thick layer of ice that kept our conversation frozen in place.
"It doesn't really matter." He responded coolly, turning away from me. I knew he only did so to hide the torture that devoured his whole demeanor and turned it into an angst factory. I couldn't blame him though. Caden lost so much more than I did in the takeover, I was in no position to demonize his pain. I hated to admit, but I admired him more than I cared to ever share with him, or anyone else for that matter. His face was bold, with sharp curves and rough, sandpaper colored feathers. His beak was the better of ten inches, and was a deep pumpkin orange, expanding widely at the tip, coming from a narrow base where his frowned made it turn inward. His eyes were a beautiful chocolate brown, full of life that was lived in the understanding, the truth, that our lives were meaningless.
I finally managed to hear a drowned, mangled sigh escape his turned away face, caving into the hopelessness we secretly shared, intoxicating us both. We know what was waiting for us, for all of us. My mind paused mentally as I turned away, breaking the unrequited attraction as I leaned into to read the magazine that the stout medic sitting next to me was paging through.
McKayla was funny bird, or so I had discovered in the short time I had known her. I kind of liked her, with her hopeless attraction to being messianic and God-like simultaneously. I couldn't tell what she enjoyed more, the power of life over her patients, or actually helping them. To me, she seemed a tragic mallard caught in between the desire for control, and helping her patients realize that no matter how good of doctor she was, she was no cure for mortality.
Mortality. I didn't know why, but the word made me smile, and cringe at the same time. It was so revealing, so sharp. It made the contrast between the mundane everyday duties I carried out, and the revelation that I learned from the takeover. It challenged me to have the courage to live, no matter how pointless it was. The one thing it did not change, however, was that I was stuck, waiting for this damned general to make up his mind about our fate.
I decided to occupy myself by studying McKayla closer, to try and learn her shape, and oddly soft appearance for such a witty and cutting woman. She had a round face, which was, from what I had heard, very regular for the Vanderflock family en masse. They may have been the genius family on the army block, but that didn't seem to stop this girl from caring about her appearance. Even in the face of such dark imagery in the infirmary that had surely been part of her daily life, she still took the time and effort to be utterly feminine. Her monochromatic outfit consisted of a burnt yellow peasant blouse, complete with a golden-brown pencil skirt that fell to her knees. Completing the charming little outfit were a pair of brown ankle boots, and a smooth, chocolate-colored silk headband that tied back her shoulder-length blonde hair. I wasn't sure how to feel about such a luxurious look for someone who spent so much time around death and truth. If anyone should have known how pointless it was to waste time on appearances, it should've been her. I suppose that shows just how stubborn and resilient the nature of hope is. It shows up even when it's more of an injustice than that cheerful gung-ho spirit that's supposed to help out the heroes when they need it most. If that really were the case, we wouldn't be sitting here, still waiting on this pathetic excuse for a drake.
I was just about to break through the door to insanity when a ringing at the secretary's desk shocked me back to the reality of the small, burnt smelling office. 'Bout time. I wanted to mumble, but managed to hold it in for the sake of my comrades.
"General McMallard will see you now." The too-cheery secretary squawked before standing and leaving us in the small, burnt office, filled with hope, truth, and reality.
"I guess it's time then." My last teammate, a young fire-haired drake mumbled, dragging himself to his feet. "Time to face the music."
I don't know why I didn't pay more attention to Harland at that moment. Maybe it was because my sixth sense was kicking in, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something about him was eerily familiar. It wasn't just the family resemblance, it was something else that was bothering me, but I just couldn't put my wing on it.
"Yeah," Caden sighed, following suit, "let's hope it's not a country song for our sake."
"Our sake?" McKayla chirped, throwing down the years-old magazine. "I thought we were here for something bigger than just our own pathetic existence."
We all eyed Caden for his reaction, as his motives were purer than the rest of us who were standing in the office. He seemed collected, but I could tell he was being subtle about his true feelings. Personally I felt it was only right, though being in love with someone will make you think that. He didn't respond with anything more than just a passive sigh as he opened the door into the adjacent room. His internal strength of passivity amazed me, even if I thought it was stupid and weak. I was the last to stand and leave the bliss of hope, and enter the realm of the knowledge of our fate, as we one-by-one passed through to our new life, and the adventure that we never saw coming.
Luxury was not an affordable commodity for the healing planet they had been cursed with. The General of the Armed Forces of Puckworld (his official BS title, I always thought) had an office barely big enough to fit the handful of ducks who were all trying to inhabit the same space. We were all under thirty, excluding the General, who was probably the oldest drake in the army mostly because he was still alive even after being in countless interplanetary wars. That, and the old bastard just wouldn't die.
It amused me how young the army was, because even though our bodies might have been young, are minds sure weren't. Serenity, our supposed "leader" according to Caden, was a tender nineteen years of age. She was way too young to be leading any sort of team, but Caden put her up to it, and she was an anxious young mallard who set out to prove she could be just as infamous as her relatives.
Thinking about her made me wondered just what the girl was thinking (I couldn't call her a woman, she barely seemed developed enough to be a teenager let alone an adult) and I tossed a look over to the silver feathered mallard. Though it was ridiculous in the army, she managed to argue her way into keep her waist-length burgundy hair. It was pinned back, though it didn't matter much anyway as she had bangs that swept across her forehead that threatened to cut off her line of vision. I never found long hair to be rational at all. The maintenance for it, coupled with the hazard of it being used against you in a fight seemed more than unjustifiable. Somehow, though, this girl had managed to make the ridiculous possible. A true testament to her leadership capabilities, I'm sure.
Serenity was young, but I had to confess I had seen her in combat and in tactical decision making, and she was sharp for her age. She was wise beyond her years, but still inexperienced and prone to rookie mistakes. Even now, eye-to-eye with a commander such as the general, I could feel her hesitation thick in the air. She might be strong hearted, but leaving her to argue our purposes was probably not in our best interests. Not that Caden would listen to me about that, he was too enamored with her being the front drake, citing her enthusiasm and her own vested interest in the mission as reasoning. Still, I couldn't help but feeling we were in over our heads with this one.
"Welcome, friends. How are you all?" The general greeted blandly in his old, deep voice. He was a war-torn man in his mid-fifties with salt and pepper hair riddling the top of his peachy feathers. He looked wise, or maybe it was just smart-assish. His features always irked me, though, because he seemed to have that permanent look on his beak that was a cross between dismay for every word you said and every action you took, and a smirk that sung out his self-righteous arrogance in his decisions. I knew we were doomed, but I played along anyway.
A mixture of grunts and "oks" filled the air. I wasn't sure how he expected us to feel with the chaos that surrounded us, but I just mumbled my own words of acquiesces and folded my typical sarcasm into compliance with the other murmurs.
"Well," the General said, "I'm sure you're all anxious to hear just what Serenity and I have been chatting about for so long." He spoke so casually I felt anger rise in my being from my deepest core. Chatting. As if we're sitting around a cozy fire and sipping tea while the Saurians dragged our asses through the mud for two years. Yeah, we'll chat all right. I thought to myself, my eyes growing dark and my face growing red.
Caden beat me to the punch in telling him off, though, spouting off a quick glare and adding, "Sir, I feel that those are not words we should be using."
So polite. So Caden. I inhaled, pulling back in all the intensity and restraining it inside.
"Yes, I see why you would think so, Caden." He sighed, turning his head towards the little wooden window to his right, eyeing the fledglings playing outside his window. They pretended to beat each other with fake punches and blows, playing Saurians and mine workers. It was a common game amongst young children now. The ones that had survived, anyway.
"I guess I'm just trying to make light of this, not that's its entirely appropriate. You all know what I have already lost," His seemed to bite his own beak, passing a bleak look to Harland. "You all know how I feel about messianic missions. They're great as legends about DuCaine, but for my army, I find them to be wasteful of time and resources for what they tend to accomplish."
I could feel the hearts of every one of my would-be teammates drop like pucks through thin ice. We knew what the risk was bringing this to the attention of the general given his track record of missions like this. We had all hoped, though, that given the tenderness of the participants and his own personal involvement that he would listen to reason. I didn't think he would break, but I had to try anyway. Holding myself back was something I had trained myself to do well as a disciplined soldier. I was trained to hold back when it was optimal and speaking concisely and appropriately as a soldier. But now, given the circumstances, I couldn't hold it in any longer.
"General McMallard, how can you let go of one of your own children without a fight! I can't believe you." I hissed sharply. He merely held up his hand in response and chided me with a clicking of his tongue in between his mandarin colored beak.
"Kalina, I would think you know better. Yes, typically I do not approve of such missions. But, given the circumstances, I can see that not allowing you to go would only cause resentment from not only you all sitting here, but also many within these very halls." He turned and waved symbolically towards the wall. "We all want to find them and bring them home. I miss my daughter, just as I'm sure Caden misses his brother." He nodded knowingly to Caden, who sat passively next to me. He was still fighting off his own emotions and he turned away from the general, not being able to withstand his own broken heart.
"However, we have to be smart about this." He paused and nodded towards Serenity.
His coyness was killing me. I was a disciplined soldier, but not a patient one. "Well, spit it out then," I encouraged in an aggressive tone.
He merely shook his head at me and smiled, nodding in agreement. "Yes, well, I should be more straightforward considering my audience. I guess I've become a bit of a diplomat in my old age. I've authorized a six-avian team and three months-worth of supplies, as well as the usage of one of the Resistance's new Soar Wings. Serenity will be your team captain, and Caden will serve as her lieutenant. You will receive your exact orders when the briefing file has been put together, but for now we'll work on team placement." He nodded towards Serenity, who in returned nodded to us.
"The General has approved us under certain conditions. That being said, there's going to be a change in the line-up."
I wasn't scared of this, but I knew who was. If losing one kid wasn't bad enough, losing a second was out of the question for the general. We must have all been thinking the same as we all simultaneously glanced in worry to Harland. He swallowed hard, looking away from all of us. We could tell he was going to be upset, but how upset was the question.
"Harland," Serenity spoke softly, gently placing her hands on his shoulders. "We just can't justify bringing you with right now. The rebuilding is delicate, and you're one of the best soldiers—"
"Yeah, sure, justify it all you want," he spat, pushing his chair out and making a beeline towards the window, away from the dejecting humiliation of being thrown off the team. "You can talk all day Serenity, the point is I just don't cut it." He pushed his slight frame against the cold metal that separated his from the inclement weather. The boys had disappeared now, and a gentle snow was drifting down from the cloudy sky. Even though I knew it was probably better not to take the kid, I couldn't help but feel bad for him.
"And who's going to watch out for her, hmm?" He asked, directly to the general, facing his own father with contempt, and seeming hatred in his eyes. Even I would have been afraid of the kid under these circumstances.
"We are reassigning your position to someone more suited for the job." His father stated blankly, as if his very own son were any other soldier being reassigned.
Harland wasn't going to take it, though; his eyes were filled to the brim with anger. "Oh, and who is better suited to this than your own flesh and feathers, dad." He pointed angrily, staring him down. I felt his pain from years of resentment built inside from my own father, but I could barely stand to take this family drama anymore. This belonged on an intergalactic family play, not inside a military office. Luckily we were saved from the young drake's tirade when the door to the cramped little office opened.
Two mallards stepped into the office, one with bright red hair (clearly a McMallard) and one whose figure I knew all too well. My initial reaction was to suck in my breath and try to not think about the drake standing behind me. I prayed to DuCaine that he was a figment of my imagination, that he was either not there or I was dreaming. Stars, I hoped so. I was not about to share my glory with this little punk, this little piece of—
"Team, these are our new comrades." Serenity gestured to the ducks that had just walked in, both of whom seemed a little startled by the statement.
"Comrades?" The red head asked cautiously, eyeing the General with confusion spread across her young features. She looked even younger than Serenity, and I had a hard time believing that this kid was coming with us over Harland.
It didn't take long for Harland to recognize her, though. He took one look at her and shot his father a glare that would have killed a civilian in an instant. "What is she doing here?" He hissed.
"Amber is here to learn. She has her formal training starting soon, and I feel that this mission will be an excellent field test for her. It is highly specialized, being direct enough and well supervised by trained peers that she will perfectly safe. I trust her instincts, as she has proven herself to be an excellent soldier. She was top of her class in the academy before this whole mess started two years ago."
"Perfectly safe, yet you can't send me?" He crossed his arms in defiance, refusing to accept his father's judgment.
"That's enough Harland. I've taken enough of your criticism for today. When you run the Puckworld Armed Forces you can make that decision, but my word is final." He stood up, slamming his fists on the last word. "You are relieved of this mission, soldier. You can go rest and wait to be reassigned."
Harland finally took the hint and stepped towards the door, pausing by Amber long enough to whisper, "Be smart kid, don't get yourself killed." She smiled back, nudging him as he left the office.
While I found the sentiment touching, it was nice to finally have the drama queen gone. I wasn't so happy about the General's decision to let this kid come with us either, but she seemed capable enough of handling herself. Most kids were nowadays, and those that weren't needed to learn regardless. What I wanted to know was why my screw-up brother was standing in the doorway, disgracing our family.
Serenity sighed and went back to finish up her housekeeping. "Now that you've all met Amber, I'm sure you'd all like to know who our other friend is." She gestured to the tall, tan and built drake with a goofy smile I could never quite get out of my head. He stepped forward and nodded to us, then threw me a casual smile as if we were best friends. Like hell we were. I couldn't keep myself from rolling my eyes and shaking my head in dismay.
"Jason Lightwing reportin' for duty, ma'am." He crooned brightly, taking the seat previously inhabited by Harland.
"Thank you for that introduction, Jason." Serenity smiled approvingly. "General McMallard has asked that we bring Jason as a mechanic and general technician. The Soar Wing that we've been authorized to use is brand new technology, and could still have some glitches that may need to be worked out. Jason helped design it with the help of some of our more savvy allies, and he could be of great use to us. The general has generously offered to allow him to come with us."
"Great." I mumbled just loud enough for Caden to hear and kick the base of my chair for.
"Be nice." He whispered coolly. I knew it was probably wrong to dislike the drake so much considering his was partially my own blood, but I just couldn't get past my own mind replaying my entire childhood in my head, running through it over and over like a nightmare that kept me awake at night. Glancing at Caden, seeing the dismay laden in his eyes, I knew I should appreciate the fact that I still had a brother, but it didn't make me happy at all to have him tagging on my heels again. Birth order was enough, but him playing engineer for the mission was going to be the icing on the sibling rivalry cake.
"Alright," General McMallard stood, signaling for all of us to stand with him. "I feel that you all have a strong grasp on your mission, and now that you've met your new teammates, I suggest you get to training with them. You'll have about a week and a half to train together, and then your ship will take off on the first. You'll receive the rest of your instructions closer to your departure. Understood?"
"Yes, sir." We all chorused, and then each took turns shaking hands with the General. Serenity turned and gave him a slight nod, then led our little procession out of the office. I noticed Amber lag behind to speak with him, but didn't quite catch what they said as Caden pushed me out the door in front of him.
"Now the fun begins." He whispered to me as we exited the office, and entered our new lives as teammates, and intergalactic adventurers.