A little over two years ago, I started a weekly series of vignettes starring The L Squad that take place prior to The L Squad. I finished four. I’ve now decided they will be an annual event. This isn’t nearly good enough to call an event or even to be an annual occurrence. Maybe it will be a whenever-I-feel-like-it thingamabob. Just take it, read it, enjoy it, and share it like maskless people share COVID.
Episode Five: Firefighters
It was a dark and stormy night.
“What are you doing?” asked Abby.
“Writing about our adventures,” said Charlie.
“You can’t do that,” said Abby.
“Why not?” asked Charlie. “That bloke, Nobbinmaug, does it.”
“You can write about our adventures just not in that way,” said Abby.
“What’s wrong with my writing?” asked Charlie.
“‘It was a dark and stormy night’ is beyond cliché and trope,” said Abby. “Even starting with that then mocking and correcting it has become cliché and trope. Try this…”
Lightning sparked, cracking the blackened sky and lending the trees and mountains a preternatural glow. The limited interval allowed by the following rumble of the echoing thunder told the community’s inhabitants the lightning was close.
“Abberonia Smeltfeeld Starmonious, will you be my ghostwriter?” asked Charlie.
“What’s a ghostwriter?” Abby asked in return.
“It’s when someone copies something a dead person wrote,” said Charlie.
A note from Nobbinmaug: What Charlie described is plagiarism, and it doesn’t matter if the original author is dead or alive. A ghostwriter is one who gets paid to write for someone else. The party who pays gets the credit while the writer only gets the fee paid.
“I’m not dead,” said Abby.
“Fudge dang it,” said Charlie.
“I’m so sorry to disappoint you,” said Abby.
“No… I… That’s not…” Charlie stuttered. “You know what I mean. I love you. May I have a treat?”
“No. You don’t get a treat for saying you love me,” said Abby.
“What if I shake?”
“No. Come on. We have a story to write.”
“After we finish the story, may I have a treat?”
“Yay! Move over. Let’s write this bad dog.”
“What story are you planning to tell?” asked Abby.
Charlie’s eyes got big, and her ears drooped. “The fires.”
California has five seasons, winter, spring, summer, autumn, and fire season. Fire season overlaps with the height of summer and the beginning of autumn, Abby typed with her smelly butt, Charlie typed after Abby thought the story was complete.
This year, the fires’ potential for danger and destruction exceeded any seen prior. Defying logic, it’s common for lightning to start a brush fire during a storm. One might think the rain would extinguish a fire prior to its commencement, but that’s not always the case. If it’s been a dry, hot summer, brush can remain dry enough to burn even in a rainstorm. Often, the top layer of branches and leaves will keep the layers beneath it dry. Once a fire starts, things such as dead trees, dry branches and leaves, pine needles, pine cones, logs, and deer farts can act as fuel for the fire. In that case, a fire can grow to a blaze before the rain, or humans could extinguish it. When that happens in multiple places, as seems to happen in California every year, it can be a strain on firefighting resources, making it difficult for the state’s firefighters to fight multiple fires at once. There are also dry thunderstorms, which means thunder and lightning aren’t accompanied by rain. Those are far worse. These fires were threatening major cities such as San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Cleone. In the spirit of helping humanity and trying to get them to like us, Captain Grek sent out his best squad to fight the fires.
“Hitch’s squad is more proficient at starting fires than putting them out,” said Maxter. “Remember the cereal incident?”
Abby and Charlie weren’t privy to Captain Grek’s private meeting with his advisors, so I’ll handle this part. We’ll get back to them after our stop into Grekquarters.
“I know, but this is a scarce opportunity,” said Captain Grek. “We have a chance to put them into a situation where they can get extra training, learn to work as a squad, and be helpful in a scenario where they can’t do any more damage.”
“That’s brilliant, Captain,” said Maxter. “I still have a feeling they’ll find a way to mess this up.”
Now, back to Abby and Charlie.
The captain deployed us to fire duty, which one should not confuse with its excruciating homophone fire doodie.
“Wow, those fires look far worse in person,” said Kip.
“Where are we supposed to report, Cap?” asked George.
“I don’t know,” said Hitch. “Some bloke named Captain Fireman.”
“Hitch did not say, ‘bloke,’” interrupted Abby. “You’re the only one who says, ‘bloke.’”
“Who’s telling this story?” Charlie asked.
“We both are,” said Abby. “If you want me to help you, we’re going to stick to the facts.”
“Ah, blimey,” said Charlie. “All right. What did he say then?”
Hitch said, “Some guy named Captain Fireman.”
“Oh, my fudge dang farts!” said Charlie. “We had to stop the story for that.”
“The details are important,” said Abby.
“Two treats,” said Charlie. “I get two treats.”
“Anyway…” Abby said, determined to ignore Charlie’s distractions and get on with the story.
“His name isn’t Captain Fireman,” I said. I mean, Abby said. “His name is Captain Tannille.”
“Not to be confused with Captain & Tennille,” Charlie chimed in, earning her a collection of confused stares.
“He’s the captain of the firemen,” Abby continued, ignoring Charlie’s horrible pun.
“There are no bad puns, only bad people,” Charlie said, again interrupting the story, “except punishment. That’s a horrible pun. Captain & Tennille were a musical duo in the ‘70s. My breeders listened to them all the dang time. They are quite awful. If I hear another one of their songs, I’m liable to go rabid and bite somebody.”
Abby continued typing, ignoring Charlie’s ever-worsening puns.
“Whatever his name is, we have to find him and convince him to stop this destruction,” said Hitch.
“The firemen are trying to stop this destruction,” said Abby.
“What?” asked Hitch. “I thought the firemen were the ones causing the destruction.”
“They’re trying to put out the fires,” Abby said.
“I think you’re confused, Abbs,” said Hitch. “We’re on a diplomatic mission. We have to convince the captain of the fire people to stop eating California.”
“I don’t think that’s right, Cap,” said Kip.
“It might be,” said George. “There’s a civilization of fire folk on Iceru.”
“Earth doesn’t have people comprised of fire,” said Charlie. “A fire-person, or firefighter, here is one who fights and, hopefully, puts out fires.”
“Don’t you pay any attention during our briefings?” Abby asked Hitch.
“Of course,” said Hitch. “Captain Grek said, ‘Hitch, you’re the best captain with the best squad in the entire R.A.D. because you’re their captain.’ Then, something about neutralizing the captain of the fire people.”
Abby slapped her forehead with her palm.
“I think what Abby’s trying to say is you missed a lot,” said Kip. “We’re supposed to help the firefighters put out this fire, which is not sentient. Our priority is to find the captain firefighter and ask him how we can best assist.”
“Kip heard better than you, and Kip doesn’t even have ears,” said Charlie.
“There’s no time for that nonsense,” said Hitch. “We know what we have to do, put out the fires.”
“It’s not that simple,” said Abby.
“Yes, it is,” said Hitch.
“How do you plan on putting out the fires?” asked Abby.
“We’ll blow it out,” said Hitch, “like a candle.”
“What?” asked Abby.
“How are we supposed to do that?” asked Kip.
“We fly down there and rev the thrusters,” said Hitch. “The engines will blow out a bunch of air that will blow out the fires.”
“That won’t work,” said Abby. “Let’s go talk to Captain Tannille.”
“George,” said Hitch.
“Uh… Yeah, Cap?” said George.
“Let’s blow out this candle,” said Hitch.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said George.
“Come on, Georgy,” said Hitch. “Haven’t you ever blown out a candle?”
“Yeah, but…” said George.
“All right,” said Hitch. “Let’s do it.”
George tensed as he stared at the controls.
“It’s not going to work, George,” said Herman.
“I know, but those are the captain’s orders,” said George.
George flew the R.A.S. MacGuffin down to the side of a mountain, turned the ship around, and paused.
“Are you sure about this, Cap?” asked George.
“It’s going to be like farting on a match,” said Charlie.
“Yes. Go,” said Hitch.
George fired the thrusters. The exhaust from the engines accelerated the fire’s progress up and over the mountain.
“It’s not working,” George said.
“Blow harder,” said Hitch.
“No! Stop!” said Abby.
George cut the thrusters. “We’re making it worse, Hitch.”
“May we go talk to the firefighters now?” Abby asked.
“No. We can do this,” said Hitch. “We have to prove we’re the best squad in the R.A.D. What else puts out fire?”
“Water,” said Kip.
“George, to the water,” said Hitch.
“What water?” asked George.
“The water,” said Hitch.
“There are lakes, the ocean, and the firefighters have tankers full of water,” said George. “To which do you want me to go?”
“Which is the biggest?” asked Hitch.
“The ocean,” Abby grumbled, “but we should coordinate…”
“To the ocean,” Hitch proclaimed, cutting off Abby’s protest.
The R.A.S. MacGuffin completed a round trip to the ocean in approximately a minute and a half. They spent most of that time sucking up the water. The Mac’s tractor beam could transport roughly an acre-foot of water per trip.
Hitch ordered the water released upon arriving at the cusp of the fire.
“I don’t think we’re in the right place,” said Abby.
“Release,” commanded Hitch.
“But,” Abby tried again.
“Release,” Hitch commanded again, in a firmer timbre.
George cut the tractor beam, releasing the water. The 325,850 gallons of water, which, let’s be honest, contained more than a few fish, splashed on an edge of the fire that was working its way down a mountain. The water extinguished the edge of the fire and created a mini tsunami. At the bottom of the mountain, the firefighters were creating a dozer line.
A dozer line, also called a fireline, is a line usually scraped to the mineral soil by a bulldozer. Dragging the line removes the inflammable materials and leaves only the soil, which can’t burn. It creates a barrier firefighters hope will contain the fire.
The mini tsunami descended on the firefighters, washing them away along with the bulldozers and the homes they were trying to protect. At the point of impact, the fire split and veered off around the wave through the areas that remained dry.
“Did we get it?” asked Hitch.
“No, we took out the firefighters and the houses they were protecting,” said George.
“Burned biscuits!” said Hitch. “How hard is it to put out a little fire?”
“It’s not a little fire,” said Abby. “It’s a raging forest fire.”
“O.K.,” said Hitch. “We need to drop water and blow on it at the same time.”
“We need to go coordinate with the firefighters,” said Abby.
“With a few trips to get water, I could have this fire out in minutes,” said George.
“What if we use the tractor beam to suck up the fire?” asked Hitch.
“That’s a horrible idea,” said Kip. “We would burn ourselves up.”
“I think I deserve a treat,” said Charlie. “I’ve been a splendid girl this whole time. This is a long ride, and I haven’t even gotten to get out.”
While they were arguing and bickering, Captain Gremenski Fhart and Captain Batimus’s squads flew in, found Captain Tannille, and worked out a firefighting strategy. The reinforcements had the fire out in 12 minutes. Both squads were back at headquarters while Hitch’s squad was still hovering and in-fighting. They only realized what was happening when Captain Grek called them to return to base.
“You know,” said Abby, “that was far from our finest moment. Why are we writing about this?”
“I don’t know. Somebody has to chronicle our adventures. Nobbinmaug’s been too busy with that Norman Normalson bloke,” said Charlie. “I thought I could make us look better than he always does.”
“Hmm…” said Abby. “It would take a multitude of tweaks to give a positive twist to those early missions.”
“Yeah,” said Charlie. “Maybe we’ll leave the storytelling to Nobbinmaug. We should do what we do best, have treats.”