Dr Pheidippides awoke to find his head vibrating and a loud clanging sound in his ears. He was not surprised. This was the fourth time he had awoken this night; and he had lost count of how many times in the last couple of weeks. He really was not adapting well to having Privates Cham and Socrates to look after. He had expected to have to clear up after them, he quite enjoyed having to spend time teaching them agency 'tricks of the trade' and he was quite prepared to increase his team's security; SHOP often targeted young agents.
What he had not expected were the peculiar quirks that Cham and Socrates brought with them. Most obvious was private Cham. It was not unusual for young agents to be boisterous, it was not even unusual for them to want to 'rough and tumble' and get into play-fights. However; private Cham was the first agent Pheidippides had ever encountered that used live ammunition (which means 'weapons that really work') while play-fighting. The first missile salvo had caught Pheidippides unaware and had blown him clean across the garage. That said; even private Cham was containable. The real problem was Socrates. Again it was not unusual for young agents to wake up at night. Usually they wanted food, or water or perhaps comforting because they had had a bad dream. The last time Socrates had called Pheidippides it was because he had had a really bright idea for solving non-linear differential equations (you don't want to know what that means) in his head and wanted to talk to someone about it. The Doctor was one of only three people ever to get an A grade in differential calculus; but even he was not up to dealing with it at three in the morning.
The Doctor began to notice that as well as the vibrating and clanging he could hear a shrill siren sounding; he wondered if this was the next stage of sleep deprivation (which means forcing someone to go without sleep). Suddenly his head began to clear; that shrill siren was not inside his head, it was the perimeter alarm. He looked grim. If this was Private Cham breaking out to go an attack the bulldog down the road again; there was going to be trouble. As his head cleared further Pheidippides heart began to pound; the clanging was not inside his head either - something heavy had impacted (which means hit) the metal garage door. Genuine perimeter breach. Andromeda was on guard duty that night; Pheidippides scrambled onto the top of his log to see what she was doing.
Of course Pheidippides didn't really need to look to see what Andromeda was doing. The response in this situation was clearly laid out in the 'Defensive Tactics Training Manual', chapter 3 subsection 1:
Upon detecting a perimeter breach whilst guarding some precious object one should immediately move to place oneself between the precious object and the said perimeter breach. Once located in that position one should immediately signal nearby units for assistance and then march towards the perimeter breach with a brisk military bearing; aiming to engage (which means 'meet') security threat as far from the precious object as possible.
As Pheiddipides watched Andromeda stopped three feet from the Baby Pen; smartly turned 90 degrees (which means a quarter of a turn) and then marched towards the garage door. A flashing light inside the Doctors shell alerted him that the message requiring assistance had arrived. Pheidippides groaned when he realized that with his whole team away, he was going to have to be the one providing assistance. The Doctor really preferred strategy and using his mind; having to do work in the field was really a waste of his talent.
The team leader did manage to smile to himself as he watched Andromeda march. Coming from a family that had nine of the ten top ranking Agency officials ever; and having been born on the battlefield, if there was one thing Andromeda could do - it was march. In fact, to be fair, Pheidippides scolded himself (which means told himself off), there was quite a lot Andromeda had been doing since the babies arrived. She had even offered to read the babies some of the more exciting parts of her 'Illustrated Guide to Minor Agency Procedures' that she had received for Christmas. It had helped Private Cham go to sleep although the Doctor suspected it might be part of the reason Socrates kept waking up.
The Doctors smile turned to astonishment as his eye moved towards the garage door to see what had caused the breach: it was a redfoot tortoise. Whilst it was true that no one breed of animal was completely Agency or completely SHOP; tortoises were nearly always Agency, at the very least they were neutral. To have a redfoot tortoise launch an attack on an Agency facility; and an Agency facility with baby redfoots!
Andromeda may have been equally shocked as she reached the redfoot; but it would be very hard to tell as the words she used were quoted out of subsection 2 of the manual:
"You have made an unauthorized breach in the perimeter of an Agency facility; please state your name and purpose."
The redfoot growled a response:
"Sherman, Deborah Sherman, Sergeant, First Mechanized Infantry. And that hole in your garage door is not unauthorized. I was told to go through the garage door, so that is what I did."
Andromeda eyed the twisted metal and bolts that had been ripped from the wall. "I suspect," she replied, "that they had meant for you to open the door before going through it."
"That isn't what they said," replied the gruff tortoise, "they told me to go through the door, so I went through the door. They also told me to go to the baby pen, so that is where I am going." The tortoise began to move forward.
Pheidippides was still reeling in shock; but he was not so shocked that he failed to hear a small click and a gentle whining noise coming from Andromeda's shell. Again he hadn't really needed to hear it; section 3 of the manual:
If an intruder appears aggressive but has not made overt (which means visible and obvious) threats then quietly bring all weapons systems to standby mode. This avoids unnecessary escalation (which means 'making things worse') and gives one the element of surprise should a battle ensue (which means 'follow')
Andromeda didn't move an inch: "I'm afraid you are not authorized to visit the Baby Pen; therefore I am refusing you access and must insist you leave at once." The redfoot raised itself on all four legs and moved two inches forward so that it was eye-to-eye with Andromeda. It growled: "I think you are missing the point. I was told to go to the baby pen, I am going to the Baby Pen, whether I go through you or past you is entirely your choice."
Pheidippides mind was racing; he was now fairly sure he knew what he was facing. He shot a high-priority message to Andromeda:
"Bolivian Redfoot, repeat Bolivian Redfoot. First Mechanized Infantry. Extreme Caution!"
Dr Pheidippides was too young ever to have met a Bolivian Redfoot and Andromeda had been born the day the First Mechanized Infantry had been disbanded (which means 'split up' or 'taken apart') and no Agency book or school course ever mentioned either of them. However, if one listened and pieced together the little bits of story that one heard whispered around camp-fires; the story was quite clear:
In the early wars between Agency and SHOP the battlefield tactics had been fairly simple. The large Spur-Thigh and Aldabran tortoises would fire huge cannonballs towards enemy ranks and then when the enemy was weak the tortoises would run towards them trying to finish the fight. Unfortunately, more often than not, the SHOP agents would have had time to recover and run away before the tortoises arrived. One evening at a feast, Hyperion was overheard to remark that the way to win would be to have a battalion of tortoises attack whilst the cannonballs were still firing. Theia had responded that whilst that would almost certainly win the battle it would breach the Agency policy that no battlefield strategy would needlessly endanger the life of an Agent. The following morning, in the middle of the battle, a hundred Bolivian redfoots broke ranks and charged into the enemy lines. The battle was won easily; and the First Mechanized Infantry was born.
At first the Mechanized Infantry was a great success; SHOP had no response to a blietzkrieg attack by Bolivian redfoots whilst being pounded by huge cannonballs. Then came the Siege of St Augustine and everything changed. Everyone agreed that the Bolivian Redfoot charge that got Andromeda and Eos out of the castle was brilliant. Most people agreed that turning around and charging back to get Colossus had probably saved his life. Unfortunately it was a breach of a direct and explicit order. For the Agency to be the Agency people had to obey the rules. The First Mechanized Infantry was disbanded and the Bolivian redfoots went away and no-one had seen or heard from the since.
For Andromeda things were rather simpler; section 4 of the manual:
If an intruder's threats become overt then deploy all weapons systems and threaten physical violence if they do not immediately withdraw.
Although Andromeda's face was completely still, she was secretly quite pleased to be deploying her weapons. Pheidippides had not seen them since she had been back to base for her upgrades; and she suspected he would be impressed. The Doctor was indeed watching as the scutes on her back silently slid to one side and the weaponry began to emerge. First came out the laser cannon from the front and rear scutes; very similar to his own, although Andromeda could carry four. Next came the side missiles. As he had suspected, the new 'SideBlaster III' ground to ground long range heat and cold seeking missiles: sweet. Finally the top scute moved and Phiedippides had to stifle a gasp. He had heard that they were developing a predator drone, literally a remote control, bomb-carrying aircraft that could be deployed from a tortoise: but even he didn't have the security clearance to know that they actually finished it.
"I repeat; you do not have authorization to visit the Baby Pen. I must warn you that if you do not withdraw immediately then I will use all my physical force to stop you: which as you can see is formidable."
Andromeda felt a little guilty about having added: 'which as you can see ...' as that was not in the manual - but she was fairly certain it would help to end this peacefully.
The sound of a large diesel engine roaring to life, a belch of black smoke coming from under Deborah's shell and an ear shattering creaking noise as the scutes on Deborah's back began to move showed that this was not going to end peacefully. One set of side scutes edged to one side and a large crow-bar appeared on the end of a metal arm. A second metal arm appeared from the other side; this one wielding (which means carrying) a chain-saw. The large top scute moved to reveal a third arm carrying a hammer that was so large it was not clear how it had ever fitted inside the tortoise.
Deborah looked over Andromeda's weapons with a bit of a snear: "yeah, nice kit. And if I was fifty feet away; it could be a problem. But from this distance I'm betting I could rip it off your back and cram it down your throat before you've finished reading the instruction manual!"
Now Andromeda's mind was racing. She had, of course, memorized the instruction manual; but Deborah was right - at very close range her weapons were useless. She was scanning all of the procedure manuals to find: "how to tackle an angry Bolivian Redfoot at close range." So far all she had found was a title in a very old book she had found in her grandfathers study: "101 - Last Ditch Survival Tactics." Idea 72 had been: "Under no circumstances allow an Angry Bolivian Redfoot within twenty feet of you."
To Pheidippides the answer was clear: time for him to take control. He stepped forward. "Ms Sherman, there is no need for hostility here. I am Colonel Pheidippides. I'm afraid Ms Titan was correct; we cannot permit you access to the baby pen, and you must now leave." The sizeable Bolivian redfoot eyed the small colonel. "I know who you are! But why would I care? Strategy and puzzle-solving is not going to help you here! One quick whack from this hammer and you will be pizza." The Bolivian reared up on her legs and swung her hammer back.
Under normal circumstances Pheidippides mind would have reeled. No Agency Colonel had ever been spoken to that rudely and no-one in their right mind would know who he was and still take him on. But then again; she had a point. At three inches and in half a second how much advantage would strategy get him?
The answer is 'not much' but enough to tell him there was only one way forward: attack and hope it gave Andromeda time to get adequate distance to bring her weapons to bear. Pheidippides lunged forward and bit Deborah on the nose. Most tortoises would retreat into their shell once bitten; Bolivian redfoots don't. Deborah screamed with rage, shook the doctor off and then open her very large mouth very wide. Pheidippides grinned as he remembered one of the few 'procedures' from the manual that he always followed: "Discover what you adversary does not want you to do; then do it." Pheidippides stuck his head in the redfoots mouth and bit her tongue.
Unfortunately, pain is not enough to stop a Bolivian fighting and the intruder was about to bite down very hard upon the Doctor when suddenly she was knocked twelve inches across the floor. Deborah and Pheidippides were both startled and looked to see what was happening. What was happening was Andromeda. Weapons all away, scutes closed, head in and every ounce of her weight bulldozing into Deborah. Pheidippides reacted quickly, he sprinted after the Bolivian bitting her feet and nose and she scrambled to get a footing under the weight of the charging Andromeda.
"Ok, Ok, I surrender! I'll go!" said Deborah. "No you won't!" said Pheidippides. Now Andromeda looked shocked. "Why not?" she asked. "First Mechanized Infantry." responded the doctor. "There are more of them. We cannot let her go back and tell of our location, strength and perimeter weaknesses. She stays here until the rest of our team returns."
The next couple of weeks was miserable for everyone. Either Andromeda or Pheidippides had to stay beside Deborah at all times. When they slept Deborah went into a log and Pheidippides and Andromeda slept at either end. Outside was a little better; they had better visibility and more space - but still she was watched at all times.
Then one Saturday afternoon Pheidippides felt the ground begin to shake and a faint trumpeting noise could be heard; he went on alert. Deborah stood up at attention and hissed to the other two: "stand to attention, now!"
Around the corner of the house marched four huge Aldabra tortoises. Pheidippides had no idea how he would fight them; fortunately he didn't have to, as just behind the giant tortoises came Snappy and Fred. Between Snappy and Fred was the largest yellowfoot tortoise that the Doctor had ever seen. Behind them came General Colossus, Hyperion, Eos and Selene.
The large yellowfoot looked at Deborah: "Well?" she asked. "As they told us ma'am, completely inpenetrable, even at close-range hand-to-hand. They wouldn't let me leave, I've been watched every hour of the day for two weeks." Andromeda looked confused, Colossus looked very happy.
Pheidippides looked angry. "A test," he said in as even a voice as he could manage. "Sorry dear boy, they insisted!" said Hyperion. "They?" inquired the small tortoise. "Allow me to introduce myself," boomed the large yellowfoot, "I am Ares; King of the Amazons. We are fighting valiantly for the cause in South America but things are not going well for us. We therefore thought it wise to find a safe location for my two daughters; and young Colossus here kindly volunteered. Naturally we wanted to check your security for ourselves. It appears to be excellent; so we will gladly leave our little darlings with you. Of course we will also leave Sergeant Sherman here to assist you."
Pheidippides tried to look pleased. "Thank you," he said. "So where are your daughters now?" "We are down here of course!" came a small but very shrill voice. Pheidippides peered down below the giant yellowfoot and there, barely visible, were two very, very tiny little tortoises.
Andromeda stepped forward: "Hello there!" she said. "My name is Miss Andromeda Titan; but you can call me Aunt Andromeda if you like," she said kindly. The slightly less tiny tortoise looked at Andromeda; "my name is Princess Hippolyta the Third, but you may address me as 'Your Majesty'" Andromeda looked a little shocked; so Pheidippides started: "My name is Colonel Dr Pheidippides, but you may address me as Colonel," he said a little harshly. The smallest tortoise looked at him and curled her lip: "My name is Princess Penthesilea, but you shall not address me unless I speak to you first," she said coldly.
Pheidippides looked at Andromeda; this was going to be a very long year.