The Incorrect Art of War [Episode 39] – The Christmas Star
"…and not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…"
The grizzled old man looked up from the book and into the twinkling eyes of his young great-grandson who looked back with the admiration and love of a proud 3-year old. He couldn’t help but think of his own youth, now so far in the mist that he wasn’t sure he was ever that young. But the mouse stirred something in him, and with quiet reflection he drifted from this scene back into a powerful memory. In a quiet little control room on a small island military base–
Sir! We have a situation we think you need to see.
THE MAN: Well it better be important, I’m not to disturb him (pointing over his shoulder) unless it is life or death. He likes to be alone with his cats on rainy days.
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But sir, it’s sunny outside–
THE MAN: You were saying?
Ah yes, over here if you will.
*The man rushes along to a computer screen*
We detected a missile launch from an indeterminate location in the Pacific Ocean. Early tracking from our orbital command platform is showing the trajectory almost precisely on this location! Can it be?
THE MAN: Let’s stay focused here. The moment we announce this outside of this room we lose control. Did it just launch? How long have we got?
Well, I uh didn’t notice…ummm, you see I drank a lot of tea this afternoon…had to step out…
THE MAN: Let me guess, the missile has been in the air for a while?
Actually, that is what is so strange. This missile has been aloft an unusually long time, possibly because it is an outlawed orbital trajectory weapon, which makes it nearly impossible to accurately deduce its final target. But our supercomputers are the best stolen money can buy, and we think we now have it narrowed down to 10 minutes or so before it drops out of orbit and onto THIS location.
THE MAN: (speaking almost as if in a lecture, as he is prone to do) The United States military contemplated using conventional warheads on ICBM’s back in 2009, purportedly so the US President could reach out and touch a terrorist leader literally a world away when they had high value targets they couldn’t hit by other means. Perhaps one of their spies is here right now, guiding this thing in? Does it appear to be US military? I just can’t believe anyone would use an actual nuke in this day and age…
*Unknown sir. I’ve been listening on all frequencies to see if any nation has claimed responsibility, or even if any nations have condemned the launch itself. So far, nothing.*
THE MAN: I need a straight answer. Is this missile going to strike this base, yes or no?
*Man looks at another technician who nods affirmation* Yes, we are sure sir. It is definitely going to hit in approximately 12 minutes. Nuclear or not, we MUST begin evacuations!
THE MAN: Agreed, sound the alarm. I’ll go collect the good Doctor.
*As the man walks to the black, sinister-looking door sat off the main control room, he wonders what mood he will find on the other side – and then he wonders aloud whether he would be better off just making a run for it on his own. Probably. But he is a man of duty and honor. He would protect the leader at all costs including his own life, which he was pretty confident would be required of him at some point.*
THE MAN: Sir! We have an emergency!
*The base claxon spins up as if to punctuate his own statement.*
*He begins banging on the door. Precious seconds are lost. Then a full minute goes by before the door opens.*
THE DOCTOR: Is it time for supper? I gave express orders not to be distu–
THE MAN: WE ARE UNDER NUCLEAR ATTACK. WE MUST USE THE ESCAPE VEHICLES IMMEDIATELY!
THE DOCTOR: Attack eh?
*The door slams in the man’s face. Another minute passes by… The Doctor emerges wearing a smart black coat, carrying 2 crates with precisely 2 cats.*
THE DOCTOR: Please carry my luggage. I’d like to escape with plenty of time, but not get winded doing it!
THE MAN: Of course your Imperial-ness (he would often make up regal sounding names to call his boss). The escape monorail is over this way… as instructed it is a tunneled through miles of the Earth’s crust to deposit you safely in the Azores. It is right this way!
THE DOCTOR: But the men are THIS way. I have to say goodbye.
THE MAN: Sir, with utmost respect the men should be boarding their own escape boats. There are precious minutes left.
THE DOCTOR: I will not leave without saying goodbye. It is that simple.
*Almost red with anger, but not really surprised at the request itself, he storms to the nearest intercom.*
THE MAN: Attention men! All hands please report to storage hanger B for a brief announcement from our benevolent leader before departure. DOUBLE TIME!
THE DOCTOR: Most excellent. Will there be tea served?
THE MAN: No, we are trying to escape for our lives! There will be no tea!
THE DOCTOR: Pity. Perhaps on the train?
*The two men trot along as fast as the larger one will go, the other carrying the bags but leading nonetheless. They arrive at the hangar just in time to see dozens of men rush in from all directions. Quickly a podium is placed in the middle of the floor and the Doctor is nearly pushed behind it.*
THE DOCTOR: Whoah! Hello to all. Please settle down.
*He pulls out note cards and begins reading a prepared statement. The large hangar and blaring claxon make the speech inaudible to all but the closest souls.*
THE DOCTOR: Read in the event of imminent death. Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t supposed to read that part. We are gathered here today to celebrate a life…
THE MAN: (under his breath, looking at his watch) I cannot believe we are listening to this. This place will be slag in mere minutes. (now louder) We have to leave NOW! Sir, congratulations on a fine life, if we leave now we can continue that life indefinitely!!!
THE DOCTOR: Oh alright then. Men, you may go after I leave the room…
*Men drift towards the exits, but hesitate on HIS orders before passing the thresholds.*
THE MAN: OK, here we are sir, this is your personal escape monorail. It has a luggage compartment for your bags, and as you requested the second seat was modified into an oversized cat scratching post for your two companions.
THE DOCTOR: If I’d had known I’d need this I’d have installed a 3rd seat for you General. Perhaps you can grab the next one?
THE MAN: Well this is the only one we had time to construct. Do you know how to operate it? There is only forward and backward with this lever.
THE DOCTOR: Oh yes, I’ve taken this out loads of times when I needed to smoke cigars. It helps keep the smoke away from my cats…but don’t tell them! Such a nasty habit.
*The man pretends not to hear about another cigar story.*
THE MAN: OK, there you go. You are all buckled in and ready to go. Get out now sir!
*The door is almost closed when it opens back up again.*
THE DOCTOR: You will catch the next one won’t you? I’d hate to think of how I’d get along without your tea preparation skills and your aptitude for kitty litter removal.
THE MAN: Well, I am the commanding general of your army, so I do have a few other skills that you’d likely miss – but thank you. NOW GO!
*The door closes again, and promptly opens back up.*
THE DOCTOR: Can you give me a full report on who fired the missile, and what are our plans for constructing our next island base?
THE MAN: Sir, you have mere moments now to escape. Please leave immediately. I promise to catch the next monorail! LEAVE NOW!
THE DOCTOR: Oh very well. I’ll take this time to sketch my new control room for our new base. I’m very fond of mauve today.
*The door closes again, and the man runs away to avoid giving a reason for the Doctor to talk to him again*
*He wanders back into the control room, knowing the boats have left, and that he is alone to share the island’s fate.*
THE MAN: (talking to himself) Well this is just great. You’ve saved everyone but yourself. I knew it was coming, working where I do, but still…
*He notices there is a Christmas wreath hung off one of the claxon speaker boxes. Only now does he realize it is a holiday.*
THE MAN: I should have taken the day off!
*He collapses into a chair in front of the computer screen to watch the falling blip on the screen.*
*A few minutes later he hears footsteps approaching, and someone mumbling to themselves about color schemes.*
THE MAN: Doctor! What are you still DOING here? The missile is literally right on top of us…
THE DOCTOR: I was worried you’d miss the next train, so I returned to make sure you’ve gotten on board. I’ve sent Dana and Fox ahead, and you and I will catch the next car. General you really ought to take care of yourself better! Look, you are in the control room. This isn’t anywhere NEAR the monorail station. Let me assist you…
*Incredulous, the man realizes the future Emporer of Earth is really a lost soul without him. Laughing slightly, he runs up and gives the big man a hug.*
THE DOCTOR: General! What has come over you. Get a grip! You are losing it. He uses his mechanical arm to push the General a safe distance away.
THE MAN: I know sir. I’ve truly lost it. Now, let’s watch the birth of the new Christmas star together.
*The dot descends, heralding the imminent end of the two men.*
*Mere seconds now*
THE DOCTOR: General, come have a look at this. This little mouse has found a cracking good home! He’s chewed himself a house made of old wires. Bloody brilliant!
*The man, almost feeling the missile sitting on their roof, walks over to the Doc at the back of the main targeting computer. After a few seconds of incredulous staring, he looks again at the countdown, but this time with a twinge of a smile–*
OH MY! You nearly scared me to death! Was I drifting off again?
Yes grandpa. I’ve gone and gotten a few more cookies while you were daydreaming. What were you dreaming about?
Someday I’ll tell you, when you are a bit older. You see this mouse in your story? Well I have a story involving a mouse, a gutted and defective targeting computer, and the most benevolent sinister Doctor you will ever have the pleasure of serving.
Feeling his ancient mind slipping again, he looks up to his mantle whereupon a solid gold cigar box is stationed. It is just the sort of retirement gift one would receive for years of loyal service as the right hand man in the Sinister Army.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our readers. Please visit the Incorrect Art of War HQ to view all 38 previous episodes and learn more about the two main characters in this short piece.