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    CF-01 Zoo Stars Go!

    Cosmic Furlough

    CF-01 Zoo Stars Go
    By Darrel James Vanwinkle (Ratseye/Pouchlaw)
    Co-written by (Darquirrin)
    October 14th, 2015

    Chapter One

    :Early 20th Century; Somewhere behind enemy lines; Planet Furth:

    "Black Sniper" : Cosmo Hunter - Second Lieutenant Army Rifleman

    "Claws and Talons!" exclaimed one lion soldier. "Every time we try to get close to their bunker, they open fire! I don't see how we're going to get close enough to detonate their munitions dump, sir!" The Army moose quietly pondered the situation as his mind recalled things seen on their trip to this location. "That's it. I know how we can set off their munitions dump."

    "Come on, moose!" said one lynx soldier. "Out with it!" Cosmo looked to the lynx first. "Go back to that mineral outcropping and collect ten of those flat glass stones each no bigger than your paw." He then turned to the lion. "We need a bucket of water. It doesn't have to be drinkable. Keep in mind: we will get our paws wet, so don't fetch anything you wouldn't stick your own paws into." Then to the reindeer captain who had been watching quietly. "Dig out the sandpaper that you said was useless." The reindeer arched an eye as he complied with the request. "I don't see what new idea you came up with. But how is flat glass pucks, local water, and sandpaper going to help us set off the munitions dump?"

    "I'll need that mirror of yours, too," replied Cosmo. "The round one."While the captain was unpacking that, Cosmo began sawing off a local bamboo shoot that had the crude appearance of a cannon barrel. The lynx and lion then returned at the same time and set down the requested equipment. And then the moose got to work, as he distributed the sandpaper and said, "Sand the flat surfaces of these glass pucks until they are smooth to the touch, but make sure they have an inward curve on both sides like a slight bowl shape."

    An hour later, the sun was nearing its zenith in the sky. It was starting to get hot, but the first part was completed and Cosmo was carefully fitting the glass pucks with rubber cement into the bamboo shoot. Once the glass pucks were fitted into the bamboo barrel, he then attached the mirror on to a homemade pivoting hinge and he started to heft up the weird looking object. "Now, let's try to get a clear view of the dump but be out of their firing range." They arrived at perhaps the only usable rise in the area where they could see the munitions dump. "Okay Lieutenant Hunter," said the reindeer captain. "Whatever you have planned better work or I'll drop you into Mom's pouch peeling potatoes."

    "Guys, help me aim the top of the barrel toward the sun, while I align the mirror," replied the moose. "If this works, you will all be totally amazed." And I'll be amazed that a crazy idea like this even worked. But the way it just popped into my head... like all the other times. I can't explain it. It's like... I've seen something like this in operation before. With the barrel aimed at the sun and with some careful adjusting for pitch, the mirror was aimed and an intensely HOT beam of light immediately fired out of the weird bamboo/glass puck invention and... it struck the munitions dump... doing nothing... at first.

    "I foresee a LOT of potatoes in your future, Hunter. Why did you think some crazy thing like this-" And before he could finish his sentence, the entire munitions dump exploded, throwing the enemy asunder, a few even on fire. "-would work?" the reindeer captain was in shock.

    The other soldiers were all cheering. "YEAH!" "IT WORKED!" "TAKE THAT, RED FLAG!" "DA MOOSE IS DA FUR!" Cosmo released his breath slowly. He had been holding it as he now admired this invention that he had just created. It worked. It magnified the rays of the sun and turned it into... long distance weapon. A heat inducing weapon. I can't believe it worked.

    :Near Enemy Command Outpost, 1215 Zulu; Planet Furth:

    "Ghost" : Cel Sage - Infiltration Specialist

    "Eagle One to Tiger Actual... 76 Meters, Danger Close." The soft radio voice chimed in the dogla's ear as he raised his position a few degrees and observed the surrounding, watching the target move from a westerly to an eastern direction. He raises his paw and keys the transmitter, speaking softly, "Roger, Eagle One... Tango in sight, proceeding...wait...Eagle One, This is Tiger Actual, Tango is on the move. Weapons Free?"

    There was a long pause, before the radio crackled softly again, "Negative, Tiger. Repeat, Do not engage... Hold position." Cel gritted his teeth, growling as he glanced at his two other men and motioned the rabbit and wolf to stand down and hold. The target moved and headed inside the bunker as a few other guards came out, however just at that moment a huge explosion resounded from the northwest. Even Ghost couldn't help grinning as the loud explosion sent chaos through out the base as the enemy tried to establish what had happened at the ammo depot. The radio came to life, "Eagle One to Tiger Actual, Weapons Free, Repeat Weapons Free, Engage targets."

    "Roger, Eagle One.", Ghost grins with a cold gleam in his eye, "You heard the brass, gentlemen. We're Oscar Mike. Longshot, get to position.. Lay down sniper cover for us.. Be prepared to counter-snipe that tower if they get a bead on us... Tracker, on my six." He pulled out his pistol and slide slowly from cover, before moving into a low run among the shadows before breaking into a full sprint across the hot tarmac, grateful for his boots protecting his pawpads from it before sliding into the shadows near the bunker's door. The wolf soon joining him as he panted lightly, "They've locked down the bunker... No way we're getting in there like this."

    Ghost just grins, "Oh yeah we are. You don't think some fancy new door is gonna keep me outta there do ya?" He pulled out a few small metallic strips and a magnet. "You just keep those guys off my back." He got to work on the door locks, using the magnet to magnetize the strips and stick them across the access panel, warping the electric signals underneath. It took a few tries...and a few close bullets that Tracker quickly stopped before the door flashed green and opened.

    Ghost grinned with a purr of success then got serious as he and Tracker slipped inside. "Secure this entrance. 15 minutes." Tracker nodded, "Yessir." Ghost headed deeper into the facility, sticking to the darker areas and utilizing the maze of maintenance accesses... Soon, Ghost found what he was looking for. The two guards never saw a thing. Nor would they see anything ever again for that matter. The commander was just as unfortunate. The large equine was so focused on trying to control the chaos outside, he never noticed the danger behind him. 8 minutes, and it was done. The charges placed. It was time to leave. Ghost collected Tracker and together they beat a hasty retreat to Longshot's position. "Tiger Actual, to Eagle One. Tiger Force is ready for EVAC. Mission complete."

    "Roger, Tiger Actual... ETA 10 minutes. See ya at home, boys." From the side of the Venom Heli, Ghost silently watched as the placed charged detonated and reduced the entire compound to rumble. War really is hell. But at least today the casualties aren't on our side.

    End of Chapter One

    Chapter Two

    :21st Century Liberty, Arizona; USA; Planet Earth:

    "Are the boys still using the tabletop in the drafting shed, honey?"

    "Yes, dear. But I am glad that they have found something that actually keeps them out of trouble and is therapeutic, according to our family doctor. I am sure they won't be too much longer."

    Drafting Shed aka Mr. Hunter's Well-Furnished Study

    Cosmo hummed as he read over his planned four comic pages. "You know something, Cel? I just realized how MacGyver like I made Lt. Hunter in this. I'm definitely going to have to redo all four of these pages. I had him make a laser and all I was going for was a way to ignite something at a distance. Maybe I need to rethink this outing." He glanced over at Cel with his pages. "How is yours coming along?"

    Cel looked over, "Well I'm not too sure. I used what you told me you were gonna do but what do you think of this. Let me see what you did and maybe I can suggest something." He looked over what Cosmo had done as he let Cosmo see his... He thought about it for a moment. "Well the laser does seem a bit contrived but....You know this reminds of me what that Archimedes guy did... So it's not entirely far fetched... but what if...One of the others mentioned something along the lines of wishing they had a laser... And then that gives him the idea and they do something a little more rustic but it still works. I mean that looks almost like a super weapon. But it was a little weaker and bulkier and more 'older' lookin'... But it hit a powder keg or something... It'd still really work! What do you think?"

    Cosmo grinned. "What I think... is another trip to go see the professor and see if he's free for a pizza break / discussion. I mean, he was able to help us with a few other faucets of questions we had for Issue #1. Plus, I'm getting hungry and mom isn't fixing anything right now. Her stories are on."

    Cel grinned back. "Sounds like a plan to me... My mom could burn anything... even cereal. So I'd be glad for pizza tonight for a change!"

    Museum of History, Phoenix, Arizona; The Professor's Private Laboratory

    After letting their parents know that they were going out for pizza at the Professor's place, they packed up their gear and comic portfolio, and they caught public transit to the Museum of History in city center. The Professor, they never learned his actual name and no one else ever seemed to even mention his name when speaking to him, had a private laboratory below ground in what he called the Bunker of History. It was a private place to work for the Professor... perhaps it was the sign on his door which read Guinea Pigs Welcome! It was a great gag, but apparently a LOT of locals believed it.

    Cosmo and Cel rode the elevator down to the Bunker and when they emerged, they saw the lab door open and they heard someone in a heated tone of voice with the Professor.

    "-and if you think you are going to get another red cent out of our organization, then you are mistaken! Not unless you can show us something of yours that actually works!" And then the angry man in a business suit stormed out and passed the boys, vanishing into the elevator, the doors sliding shut behind him.

    Cosmo was surprised that anyone could be angry with the Professor. "Come on, Cel. I think the Professor might need us to calm down." And they headed inside where they saw their friend, the Professor with a half smile on his face as he looked at a business hat he was holding... in shreds.

    The Professor fully smiled when he saw the boys. "Hey! I haven't seen you guys in weeks." The Professor wasn't an old man nor did he look the cliched role of a mad scientist or crazed crackpot. He was a young adult with dark hair, dark skin, and blue eyes. "I hope you have been staying out of trouble... knock on wood."

    Cel raised a brow as the man stormed by then shook his head, "We have.... mostly... Anyway... Who was that? It sounded like he could give Ms De Ville a run for evilest money grubber." He grinned, "Maybe make him into an enemy commander in our comic.... then we could ... get rid of him for you." He giggled.

    The Professor smiled again. "That was Mr. Barbington, the head of the organization that has been providing me with funding so I could work on my projects. However, as you may have heard... he is about to cut me off unless I can hand over an invention of mine that actually works. Problem there... is that I am not entirely sure that he would have good intentions for my inventions." Cosmo asked, "Then you do have something that works?" The Professor replied, "Actually, yes... I do. I have created a portal device that can make fantasy into reality. You simply insert the resource material into the copier, the computer then does a search of the dimensions looking for identification markers that match the rules and protocols of the given resource and then... it opens a portal of sorts into that dimension. I have used it once to visit Wonderland in Through the Looking Glass. However, do to an odd side effect that I haven't ironed out yet, when you make the crossing, you appear as a local of their world and anyone locally automatically have a minor knowledge of where the new version of you came from as in locally. Thus, they can vouch for you if you are questioned. In order to return through the portal, and only you will be able to see the portal on that side... you approach the portal and touch it. Upon returned to our world, you resume your original species unharmed with full memory of what you did there. Most dimensions don't have humans, therefore you need a local form to survive without harm."

    Cosmo hummed. "Thus, theoretically... in their dimension, we, as humans, would be demons to the locals there because we didn't fit into the local species."

    The Professor nodded his head. "That assumption would be correct. So what brings you boys to me this afternoon?"

    Cel grinned. "Pizza and questions... Though... If your about to lose your funding... Maybe Cosmo and I should buy the pizza. I still have some of my allowance left over. What about you, Cosmo?" He then had another thought as he looked at the Professor. "So I have a question... If you're a local... what happens to your human body? And do the locals... think of you as a foreigner?"

    The Professor smiled. "You boys are good to offer. The funding is important, but I do have a job as a tour guide here at the Museum of History. The funding is for my lab projects. In fact, just before you came in, Mr. Barbington had the misfortune to experience my lint remover robot. It detected lint on his hat and..." He tossed the shredded remains of the hat through the air and into the trash bin. " can see what happened. I told him not to turn it on. Anyway, Pizza Palace is have a two for one sale on their medium pizzas, if you want to treat me today."

    End of Chapter Two


      Chapter Three

      The Professor then looked to Cel. "When you're a local, the others think you have been a local all of their lives. I cannot explain how that works. In fact, while you're there, I'm not sure where your human body goes. You are simply the local and interact with the normal locals in that world. I have been developing a portable portal return bracelet that you could use to return to Earth whenever you needed to. Just remember that if you are injured in the other world, when you make the crossing back to Earth, it will fix you right up, but when you return, your local body will have the battle scar where you had been hurt."

      Cosmo pulled out his wallet and said, "I still have $40 from my last two allowances. I did some extra work for a day over the weekend and earned a little more."

      Pizza Palace; Booth #9

      The two boys and the Professor were seated and ordered their two for one medium pizzas. Not bad for $6. The Professor then said, "Okay, about these questions... what part of your little comic world are you having problems with this time?"

      Cosmo said, "You recall the time frame the comic occurs in... would making a homemade laser be feasible?"

      "If you mean one without the use of electricity then perhaps. It would be weak and could only ignite something flammable, but without electricity, it's usage would be very limited. And even with electricity... being that it was the first time your characters were doing it... the chances are high that the first prototype would explode in your faces. There were many trial and error projects before people got the result they wanted. Did you know that Orville Wright actually crashed the Glider version of their plane BEFORE they attached the Model T Ford engine to the plane to make the first historic flight?"

      Cosmo shuddered. "Ugh! I didn't know that! I guess that makes my idea a little fantastic."

      The Professor grinned. "If Captain Kirk can make gunpowder and a hand cannon out of local materials... one that works the first shot, mind you... then why can't a military moose do something similar?"

      Cel nommed on his pizza happily and grinned. "That's true! I remember on Mythbusters though, they busted that he could have done it that fast but even they said it was theoretically possible. Not to mention! Professor! Tell him about that Archimedes mirror sun laser thingie that on was on the TV. How he burned ships. That'd set something on fire for sure."

      The Professor giggled. "Perhaps, but the Mythbusters busted that one too. They couldn't set a ship on fire with theirs. It just got really hot. But the mythical mirror sun laser was able to ignite and set aflame ships flawlessly. And here is how I believe it was done... their mirrors were treated with a local polishing fluid and then, they aimed their laser not at the wood nor sails of the ship, but at the hemp rope and papyrus like materials aboard the ships and those were highly flammable. Once they were burning, the rest of the ship caught flame rather easily. And ancient mariners once they saw flames would throw themselves overboard rather than attempt to put the fires out." Cosmo hummed. "That's an interesting theory. So what I had the moose do is feasible?"

      "May I see the pages?" Cosmo pulled the out and allowed the Professor to read over the scenario. "Oh, you mean this sort of laser. Yes, although fantastic, they did have magnifying glasses among the rich in that era, although they called them viewers. Sounds dull, I am sure you agree. But again, if you want to use Mythbusters as a reference, they were able to take a cube of ice and polish it enough to make it into a temporary magnifying glass to start a fire with. And if they could do it with ice, then why not the actual material. Although... sadly it isn't possible to do it in an hour's time unless you are using a machine. Either the pucks gathered were near perfect to start with or you will have to change the time frame on this to a few weeks. The rest is feasible. Let us say the lynx had a fine eye for jewels and gems, so he would only know to choose the ones that were already near perfect. Thus a little polishing would be all they needed. Then your could possibly make this in an hour or two." Cosmo smiled as he ate his pizza. "Then I just have to explain that the lynx has that skill."

      The Professor then added, "As for the mini-profile you inserted into the comic, I would not use the word Talent to describe one of the moose's interests. I would simply call it a Hobby. When you say a Talent, then you imply that his superiors make use of that Talent as often as possible and right here in your scenario you have the Captain questioning whether it would work or not. So it's not a Talent, but a Hobby." Cosmo nodded his head. "Okay, Professor. I'll make that change immediately. I simply thought it was the same thing. But I suppose Cel and I might understand our little comic world better if we had more experience with it... or within it." Subtle hint.

      Cel smiled and nodded his head. "That's true!" He smiled again. "Thanks Professor. You sure are a lot of help. My characters are.....less..... thinky I guess. So I haven't had that problem yet. Though I read a lot of historical fiction from the wars and stuff..."

      The Professor thought about it then he said, "Tell you boys what I'll do. I'll get the Portal Generator set up and primed for Friday night and you boys come over with your comic book portfolio for a sleepover and we'll see about arranging for a Tour of Duty. What do you say?"

      Cosmo grinned widely. "That sounds awesome! My parents already trust you, Professor, so I know they'd let me come over!"

      Cel grinned as well. "Really? That WOULD be awesome!!!" He laughed aloud. "My parents trust you too, Professor. Especially since you helped me get my science grades up." He munched on some more pizza before he said, "Though it's kind of weird thinking we might could see these people we created... Weird and awesome."

      "If you do encounter the people you created, just remember that they will not know who you are." The Professor then smiled. "Friday night it is then. And I assume the Tour of Duty will involve Furlough City?"

      Cosmo grinned. "Naturally. And we really appreciate it, Professor. This should help us with our comic a lot."

      Cel nodded his head. "Totally. I can't wait!" He grinned as he looked at the Professor. "and of course, we'll let you have the signed first edition for free like usual."

      The Professor replied, "You boys are really too kind to me. This Friday, I'll have the wrist portal generators ready for your trip. Also, don't go to the Museum as it will be closed. Instead, come to my house just outside of Liberty. I will give you both my address so you can find the place easily." And he proceeded to do so before finishing up their pizza dinner.

      End of Chapter Three


        Chapter Four

        :Friday Afternoon, Just outside of 21st Century Liberty, Arizona; USA; Planet Earth:

        The Professor's All-Natural Solar and Wind powered Underground Home

        Cosmo and Cel both arrived together at the Professor's lab and were greeted by the Professor who looked a little worried. "Why the long look, Professor?" Cosmo asked.

        He replied, "I was priming the main Portal Generator for your trip and... one of the readout dials had a new higher ratio showing on it. Perhaps it is nothing, but I will be monitoring it just in case. Did you bring the reference material for the computer to scan?"

        Cosmo glanced at Cel. "He packed it up himself. Of course our parents made us bring all this camp out equipment..."

        Cel giggled and started unpacking the reference material, as he said, "I got it all right here. I made sure it was the safest of the safe." He spread out the source material very carefully. "You don't know what caused the reading thing to be higher?"

        The Professor replied, "I checked all the calibrations and everything checks out. But that one gauge is simply reading higher than normal. And if I had to guess, I would say that Barbington messed with it when we were getting pizza the other day. I moved all of the equipment back to my home bunker since then and the gauge won't prevent your planned 'Tour of Duty' to Furlough City. Are you ready to scan in the data? If so, then place the documents into this bay and latch the bay closed. I will then hit the button and then... I will power up the Portal Generator and you boys can enter the booth to enter the portal."

        Cosmo smiled. "Let's do it, Cel. Do the honors." He walks over to the booth and opens the glass door in preparation. "I've been waiting for this all week."

        Cel grinned as he nodded his head. "Me too, Cosmo." He then started putting the papers down on the glass door careful to make sure each one isn't folded or crinkled or damaged in any way. "I wonder what it will be like to be a ghost!"

        The computer scanned the material, then it said, "Fantasy Location: Furlough City - located. Opening portal now." The Professor smiled as he placed the wrist portal generators on the boys' arms. "Have a good weekend, boys. The locals won't be able to interact with your wrist generators; only you will be able to use them. But remember also that time there may be different from time here. Sunday evening, I'll send you two a mental message using the computer that your visit is about up. And now, whenever you are ready, step into the booth, picture your character in your mind, then step into the portal in the back of the booth."

        Cosmo smiled and stepped inside, although he had a side thought suddenly... what would happen if he pictured himself instead of his character? But picturing his character in mind... with the side picture of himself in the same view... he then stepped into the portal and vanished. Having wandering thoughts is probably not a good thing to have roaming through your mind just before an experiment like this.

        Cel hugged the Professor as he said, "Thanks again!" Then he ran over and climbed into the booth as well. He was lightly shivering with excitement as he followed the Professor's instructions. He couldn't wait to see what his creation was really like! After all, this was a rare opportunity!

        Making the crossing was a lot like Quantum Leap. But during the crossing, the computer suddenly popped up an error message which the professor didn't see right away and the boys would soon learn what effect it had on their arrival.

        :Early 20th Century, Planet Furth:

        Freedom Plaza in Furlough City

        The arrival didn't occur like Cosmo was hoping it would as he found out all too quickly when he almost slammed into the lion fur ahead of him in the line he was apparently part of currently. "What the?" he blurted out since it felt like he had almost lost his balance.

        A reindeer captain pivoted a sharp and stern look directly at him. "Do you have something to share with the rest of your peers, cadet? If so, speak up. I am trying to explain the sign up rules here."

        Cosmo quickly replied, "Sir! No Sir!" And then the reindeer continued on his way talking to everyone in the line up. Cosmo then checked himself out briefly before noting that he was no where near his moose character nor had he become the moose; instead he looked like a teenage caribou wearing faded green army cadet clothes as he held a shoulder bag with extra clothes over one shoulder and he held his papers in his free paw. Since the reindeer wasn't looking at him currently, he chose to quickly look at the sheet to see who it said he was. Better to know your own identity than to be caught thinking you are someone else.

        The name on the paperwork said that he was Cosmic H. Liberty from the same home city that his moose character originated from. Then he glanced back down along the line he was in; not one of the others seemed like Cel since none of them were acting like he was. He chose to focus on what the reindeer captain was saying instead. Apparently this was a sign up line for boot camp and he and Cel did request a tour of duty.

        Once he reached the doctor's examination part of the line, the doctor gave him a brief physical which he seemed to pass easily then he was directed to use the toilet in another room before reporting to housing to be paired up with his unit mates. In the bathroom, Cosmo had a new experience as he had to use it as an anthro reindeer which was a new experience for him. He then cleaned himself and he went over to the sink and washed himself and his hands as he looked at the reflection of himself in the mirror. What he first thought was a caribou was actually more of a Christmas Reindeer; it was due to the size that he mistook himself for a caribou. "Since I am here, where did Cel land? He was only a few seconds behind me during the portal jump. I hope there isn't a time difference; but the professor said there might be one since his one experiment in Wonderland. Oh well... not much I can do to go find Cel without help, so maybe someone will say where he is."

        He departed the bathroom and using his mental map of the city and military base in the walled city of Furlough, he made his way to housing where he found the reindeer captain waiting on him although leaning up against one of the fences was the line up of the Zoo Stars from the comic book waiting for the captain to be done housing the new cadets. "Good of you to join us, Cosmic. Your dorm is here with the other reindeer."

        End of Chapter Four


          Chapter Five

          Unlike Cosmo's arrival, Cel's arrival didn't occur anything like what he was expecting either. The shock of the landing sent him stumbling as he had to quickly grab a concrete street barrier to keep his muzzle from meeting said barrier. The leopard/tiger hybrid had barely a second to catch his breath before he heard the sound of boots and paws running toward his location. Looking around rapidly, he managed to barely slide out of sight into a dark maintenance way before the group of furs arrived. This isn't anything like what the Professor said! I'm inside Ghost! How did this happen.... and Cel's on a mission!? What the FUCK!?? But his fear of being shot by those armed guys outside kept him from freaking out too badly as he slowly regulated his breath, making as little noise as possible. Cel closed his eyes, breathing slowly, his ears twitching to take in every sound. Relax. Cel. You are not going to be found. You are invisible. You are a Ghost. Dear gods I hope Cosmo is alright.... He slowly opened his eyes and quietly watched the guards warily return to their posts, giving him a little room relax slightly. He sighed softly, letting his head hang down, That was close.

          After a few seconds of calming down, Cel lowered himself to his haunches and sat down in the little safe zone. 'I can't take too long or I risk being found but I need to take stock of the situation before I actually do get myself killed. I don't even know what I... that is... Ghost is suppose to being on this mission. It's not one I had finished planning...'

          Cel looked down at his handpaws, rubbing them together slowly, feeling the thick pads and strong tendons. 'So strange... I made these hands...yet I never imagined they'd feel like this.' He twitched a little when one finger hit a muscle and his claw on that finger partly extended. He then tested it a little and found the muscle contraction that control the claws and experimented with them a moment. 'Weird. That feels so natural yet so odd!' Then he explored the rest of his new body slowly, starting with his broad and powerful digitigrade feet, equipped with no less impressive claws. He traced over his legs and felt his tail twitch. He pulled it around, rubbing on it softly. 'It's just like I imagined it... This is... me. The character I made I always wished I could look half as good as.' He admired the stripes where they overtook the small rosettes and blended into the dark black of the rest of his body fur. The tiger and leopard influences each very obvious but each blending smoothly to the other and the resulting dogla was exactly what Cel would call sexy and handsome.

          After a few minutes of testing the motion and movement of his body and a few more of self-admiration, Cel quickly moved on to the next phase of survival, the mission. He searched through the front pockets of his light armored vest and pulled out a map and Ghost's encoded notes on the mission. He knew Ghost always kept them hidden there and encrypted in the same code he and Cosmo had created for the 'super secrete intelligence'. Cel smiled a bit as he thought about Cosmo and their passing of notes in class, encrypted in the same code so none of the students or teachers would ever be able to figure it out and steal their ideas. He shook his head a moment and looked over the notes and map.

          'Let's see... Here's the city. And here's the front line... And the insertion point was by river into the large tributary here. So that means, I'm here. At the Centris Docks on Ten Mile Lake. That's right, they control this entire area's river way and shipping from here. It's the heart of their naval operations. The south river goes only a few miles before it empties into the bay.' Cel examined the map a bit more as he realized something else, 'I'm nearly 50 miles from the border.' He looked back at the notes, 'And under radio silence. I can't radio for any support or backup. I'm completely on my own. If I'm caught, they'll disavow all knowledge of my existence. My mission: ' Cel stands up slowly, looking at the distant horizon from his sheltered corner, 'I have to plant evidence that the local commander was sympathetic to our cause, then destroy the dock's warehouses so that it looks like he did it, setting the scene for our real traitor to claim his superior acted in treason and there by replacing him as acting commander, and finally escape the area. I have three days to escape the facility and get to the evac point where my unit and a special task force will be waiting to escort me home. I wonder if Cosmo will be there...' He looks map at the moment briefly, 'And that evac point is 20 miles away...Thankfully it appears the evidence has already been planted. That means I just need to blow up the place and escape. Without being spotted. If I'm spotted or caught, the whole plan's a wash. And I'm likely dead.'

          Cel quietly took a few glances around outside his shelter and then nods, 'All clear for the moment. The notes said there would be explosives in a cache in the main warehouse' He looks around a bit more then quickly darts to another cover, then cover. He moves as quickly and quietly as he can, working his way in a slow, winding path toward the central warehouse. Experiencing several close calls but managing to stay hidden for the time being. The huge open warehouse was both a danger and a blessing. He quickly shimmied up a shelf to a small ledge that ran along the lip of the warehouse between the arced tin roof and the reinforced concrete sides where he sat for a moment, collecting his breath. 'Batman, screw you. You make this look way too freaking easy. Wait.. there are the detonators! And that... that looks like a weapons cache. Excellent.'

          He inched his way around the side of the building silently until he was near then dropped down to the floor on all fours, absorbing the impact and sound with a trained crouch. 'Huh.. seems some of Ghost's muscle memory and training are still there. That's a plus.' He ducked out of sight and looked over the detonators and weapons. He slide the extended silenced pistol into his belt along with a few clips of ammo. Afterwards, Cel slipped a few strands of detcord out of his pouch and wove it into the charges and prepared the radio receiver on the detonation devices.

          Securing the radio transmitter in his upper left thigh pouch, the dogla spent only a few more minutes making sure everything was right before he climbed up the wall and leaped onto the thin ledge. Cel followed it around to the rear of the building and after checking for soldiers, slipped outside. The air was cool on his fur after the sun baked insides of the warehouse and he panted for a moment as he realized how heat-absorbent black fur really was! Then he turned around and pulled out a set of hollow metal claws and fitted them over his foot and hand claws. They were designed to protect his claws from artificial surfaces, making climbing easier, and they would serve as formidable weapons in their own right if needed. From the shadows between two warehouses, he slowly began making his around the northern end of the of the naval base until he came to what he was looking for. The base of the northwestern wall. He quickly began climbing it, careful to keep the building between him and the patrolling soldiers. It took him nearly an hour to reach the top and hanging precariously on the edge, Cel silently slide around the structure and climbs on top. Fastening a rope lightly to a hook and setting it on a quick release, he then rappelled rapidly down the other side and hit ground just as the quick release snapped. He winced as he fell the last two feet then again the metal hook hit him on the head. 'Ow!' He rubs his head, stowing the rope and and equipment back into his pack. 'That hurt... But I made it'. He looks around the swampy bog that led down to the north river. 'Just a few short meters down to the river... There should be patrol boats there.' He grinned, 'And I have an idea on how to get out of here. The distraction of the bomb should be purrrrfect for covering my escape.'

          Cel pulled out the detonator and pressed the charge button, holding it for a slow count to ten before pressing the other button. The concussion wave nearly knocked him off his feet as he held his ringing ears and head, 'Fuck...Fuck...FUCK... that is nothing like the movies! How can anyone cool walk away from that?!' As soon as he could get his bearings back, he shook his head and scrambled down to the river bank while all the guards rushed toward the now raging inferno that used to be the warehouses. After stowing his gear into a couple of weatherproof and waterproof bags, the dogla quickly dove into the water and swam under the patrol boats. Using one of the metal claws, he make a tiny hole in the bottom and slide a metal tube through and wraps his muzzle around the slightly rubberized end. 'Now... When the boat goes on Patrol, I can stow away here and then bail when they start to turn around. Then I can float down to the bottom of the river, wait for them to leave and then make a break for the treeline. If I can get into the canopy, I can finally rest bring this nightmarish day to an end.'

          Three hours and a lot of waiting later, Cel Sage was freezing in the cold water and finally the boats were returning to the night dock. Cel let go of his iron grip on the underside of the boat and held his breath as he pushed himself down and away from the speeding boat.

          End of Chapter Five


            Chapter Six

            Unfortunately as good as the plan was, he miscalculated on one part and the propeller, spinning at a few dozen rpm, sliced into his arm, leaving him with a nasty gash as the boat sped away. Cel grabbed his bleeding arm and knew the blood, while diluting into the water, was still enough to alert every alligator for miles there was fresh prey about and he didn't feel like wrestling with those on top of his current situation. He quickly swam for the shore and hauled his tired body out of the water, coughing and spitting out water. He knew he didn't have long though and rapidly ran for the trees, climbing the first one he could find up to the safety of the thick canopy. He jumped from tree to tree, putting the river far behind him.

            Finally he collapsed, high above the forest, perched on a huge thick branch with his back against the trunk, panting. He rubs his eyes and grinned, "Safe... For now. God that hurts..." He pulled out his bag and tiredly used some clothe to bind the cut on his arm, after spraying it down with an antiseptic that burned like hell fire. As the night begin to fall over the forest, Cel leaned his head back against the tree, stating Ghost's tag line. "War's is hell; But I'm not dying today." He sighs and closed his eyes, "Cosmo... please be safe." He was asleep before he could finish saying anything else as exhaustion claimed him.

            The reindeer captain dealt with the new reindeer cadets then he turned to the Zoo Stars and said, "Ghost completed his mission about an hour ago. We got reports of an explosion at the lake where his assignment was at. All of you are to be on the pickup rendezvous to evac our successful dogla and bring him home. When you return, have him report in and then... all six of you will have some R&R furlough at your favorite hangout in the city. Just don't forget where you live this time. Okay everyone, head out and bring the ghost home. Dismissed."

            The moose second lieutenant went with the others showing some muzzle concern for his long time friend. Aero seemed to sense something heavy was on the moose's mind, but it wasn't his place to pry since the moose outranked him. Magnus was helping the others aboard the evac helicopter. Then the helicopter lifted off and flew out of the city toward the rendezvous location. Cosmic watched the helicopter fly away and he hoped that Cel was somewhere safe and still in one piece. He knew that Ghost could do a mission like that; Cel often said as much.

            The reindeer captain escorted Cosmic into the dorm and assigned him to an available bed. "You will store your goods in that locker at the end of your bed. Once you are settled in, buddy up with the other cadets then explore the boot camp base. I will expect you to know your way around here by morning. And for the record, I am Captain Ivan O'Bellize. I am in charge of your unit while you are in training. If you do the best in this dorm, there is a Zoo Star Initiate reward where you may end up as the newest Zoo Star." The captain hugged Cosmic, then he sneaked in a muzzle lick before he departed to give the bucks time to get settled in.

            Illa Samson, 'Mom', was looked at the others as Jerum 'Nightwing' Hawk piloted the aircraft toward the rendezvous. Illa says loudly over the sound of the copter, "You all know the mission. I want it clean and I want it professional. We have one lay over at the mobile airfield on the border front for refueling. We'll be picking up Ghost's teammates there and learn more of the current situation with the enemy movements and plot our course. We have little room for error and Ghost has none."

            She looks around at the others, "The LZ is 30 miles inland from the border front. That means we have one, maybe two, shots at this. We're suppose to watch for a green and amber flare. Red flares and we abort and Ghost is assumed to be MIA unless he can walk out ... And that's suicide run through 30 miles of non-liberated territory. Enemy troops are going to be on high alert."

            Mom looks around again, "But we're not going to let that happen. We don't leave anyone behind. GOT THAT SOLDIERS?"

            Jerum replied loudly and enthusiastically, "OORAH MA'AM!"

            Cel was awake long before dawn peeked her multicolored head over the jungle. He winced as he sat up and looked around, "At least I didn't fall out of the tree.. If it wasn't for the pain in my arm and all these bruises, I'd say it was the best sleep I ever had." He quietly checked his map and grit his jaw slightly, "18 miles.. and there are going to be a lot of patrols around." He slid his gear out of the weather and water proofed bags, re-equipping himself. Then he puts the bags away and did a few stretching exercises to get the blood flowing in his extremities.

            After an hour, Cel started off through the thick forested canopy, sticking to the high branches of the trees as much as possible and moving with the wind to hide his scent. After a few hours, he had discovered a rhythm that felt quite natural and he managed excellent time while remaining completely undetectable from the ground though it was still far slower than taking a direct route and soon he had to slow down... and then stop entirely as he looked down from his perch across a wide swath of land that was being patrolled by helicopters at timed intervals and was heavily mined with anti-personnel mines. Cel face-pawed, "Well. Fuck."

            Cel murmurs quietly, "Okay Ghost. I'm putting our life in your paws and reflexes... Let's do this. I want to get home in one piece." He carefully slid down the tree and landed on the ground near the base of the trunk and waited until the helies had made their pass and carefully slunk out into the open field.Cel kept his senses sharp, each little motion of the wind against his fur, the slightest pressure of metal beneath his paws. He spread out his weigh as he moved on all fours in a spread wide position with his paws splayed as wide as possible. It hurt and make his muscles cramp after only a few minutes but he fought through it. He knew these mines would be set for fur traffic. They didn't want to waste mines on every fox or insect that went by. By spreading his weight out as much as possible, he would be able to sense and avoid a mine before he tripped it's pressure sensor.It was slow, grueling work but a part of Cel had to admit that it was actually... fun. He couldn't prevent a grin from escaping out the sides of his muzzle every now and then. He slowly inched forward, counting in his mind the minutes left before the next pass of helicopters. He was starting to run very low on time when he came ot the center of the field to a foxhole the mine layers used while they worked. After thoroughly checking it out, Cel slid inside and covered himself with a cargo netting and hid as the helies made their passes.

            After the patrol had gone, Cel freed himself and began the final part the field... His body was screaming at him and he was exhausted again already but he kept going... In all it took him over 6 hours to navigate the minefield but he managed it with only a few close calls.

            Cel threw himself under cover in the forest just as the patrols returned. He smiled, 'Made it. It's going to take more than to stop Ghost!' He whewed quietly, 'Thank you Ghost... Thank you for spending hours training your body to endure that kinda thing... I promise I'll take care of it while I'm here. For both our sakes.' He quickly consulted his map, 'We're moving into dangerous territory. I'm within the 35 mile exclusion zone of the front now. Things are going to get much harder from here on.'

            Aero focused on photography in case the top brass needed photos. Magnus slowly smoothed the fur on top of his head as the flight continued. Cosmo sighed again as he slowly glanced at Captain Illa. He actually liked her despite her tough as nails command mannerism. Even though he was personally dating the red cross fur, he personally liked the kangaroo lady. But he didn't dare get personal or it would cause problems.

            End of Chapter Six


              Chapter Seven

              So the moose chose to check his rifle, which on hindsight he probably should have just left alone; He raised the rifle and took a test sighting down through the sighting cross-hairs. His aim was somewhat shaky to anyone watching. Another indication that there was something troubling him. Again Aero wanted to say something as he frowned at the display.

              Mom noted Cosmo's agitation and jotted something down on a note and handed it to him before returning to sit in the cockpit. They were nearing their destination.The note read: I know he's your friend, Cosmo. Loosen up and relax. Keep in mind the others look at you and if your shaking, then they will as well. We'll get him back.

              It was close to midnight when the copter finally managed to make a safe landing on the mobile airstrip at the heavily engaged border. Anti-air was formidable until it suddenly went silent.

              Mom started organizing the two units and made the introduction, "This is Tiger Force of Special Operations Division. They're the ones who silenced those AAs. I suspect you boys know each other, at least in passing. Get to know each other better if you like, stow your gear and resupply anything you need, etc... We leave for the first fly by in 12 hours."

              The handsome buck rabbit grinned and nodded, "Name's David Mallory; SpecOps Sniper for Tiger Force, Call sign Tiger Two - Longshot."

              The rather gruff looking wolf just nodded, "Tiberius Wolfe; SpecOps Intelligence Specialist for Tiger Force, Call sign Tiger Three - Tracker."

              Jerum Hawk climbed down out of the cockpit and grinned, "Don't mind the Captain. She's a bit rough around the edges sometimes. I'm Jerum, aka Nightwing. You need somethin' flown and the best there is, call me."

              The moose greeted the Tiger Force, "I think you boys known me. Second Lieutenant Army Rifleman, Cosmo Hunter aka Black Sniper. I'm Ghost's friend."

              The squirrel smiled as he held his camera. "Keep it smiling, boys. Aero Kernaghan aka Snapshot. Air Force Photographer. Yeah, I'm the one who shoots the photos of the enemy camps for the top brass."

              The golden sea otter smiled at those gathered. "Magnus Xanthos aka Metallurgy. Marine Engineering Mechanic. When things need fixed, bring them to me."

              Cosmo afterward sat near the helicopter while holding a black and white photo of the male dogla he was very worried about. A report of an explosion always made him worry about Ghost.

              Longshot walked over and sat down next to Cosmo with a grin, "Worried about ole Ghost, huh? Don't you worry. He's been in tougher spots than this." He is a quiet a moment, "Though I'm worried about him to. There aren't many like him, you know? Took in us rebellious recruits and turned us into special ops and gave us a second chance. There's more to that dogla than most people see. I don't care if he is a 'hybrid'. Those stiff necked bigot purists can suck it. I'd put my life on the line for 'im any day."

              He paused then looked over at Black, "He seems to really like you though. Can't help but wonder what it is about you he likes so much. Maybe during our up coming R&R we can hang out and find out?"

              "I date a red cross fur. As for Ghost, we knew each other before we came to Furlough City. I really didn't expect to be stationed in the same war area as him, so our finding each other in the city surprised us both but we just smiled and took it in stride. I'm just concerned for his life. He's always been there for everyone."

              He then turned his gaze at Longshot. "I really hope I don't have to use my rifle during this outing. I haven't been myself since I learned Ghost was out on this mission. Between throwing up and the ride here... just thinking about him... we need to bring him home."

              Longshot blinked then nodded, "I see. He told us you had gotten together with that old flame of yours... he was almost like this then." He grins, "Couldn't be happy for being sad and couldn't be sad cause of your feelings." He leans back, "I'm sure he'll be fine, Cosmo. Cel's tough and bright. He's clever and inventive. And don't forgot hot." He grins, "Though I think you have him a bit beat in that department."

              Tracker calls over, "Longshot! Stop molesting our CO."

              Longshot laughs, "We're not even on mission right now, chill Tracker! We might be dead tomorrow." He grins at Cosmo, "Trust me. We'll be in the grave long before that cat. You can trust me on that."

              Cosmo laughed out loud. "Him inventive? Ghost? That's a gas!" remembering the creation of the heat projector. "Intuitive, yes; inventive, no." He laughed some more. "I. Am. The. Inventive. One. Period." He then started talking like a robot. "I-AM-COSMO. TAKE-ME-TO-YOUR-LEADER. I-COME-IN-PEACE. I-LOOK-AT-ILLA-PLENTY." He then resumed laughing as he rolled on the ground.

              Magnus was across the helipad near the captain and the others. "Cosmo just invented a new voice. And he's laughing. I didn't hear what he said. I hope it wasn't too dirty."

              Longshot laughed a little then ohs, "You look at Illa huh? MMm.. I wonder what Mom would say about THAT." He grins mischievously.

              Tracker rolls his eyes, "Crazy Rabbit." He got back to work with his prep for tomorrow. "Hope he's ready for the extraction."

              After letting Cosmo calm down, Longshot says, "At least your not moping around any more. Though, to hear you talk, it's like you and he are closer than I thought."

              Cosmo stands up and grabs Longshot, and escorts him out of earshot of everyone. Still within view, but at a good private distance. No eavesdropping out there.

              Longshot raises a brow, smoothing his ears back a little with one paw. "Okay... Usually the only one who does this is Ghost when he needs to blow off some steam...But I doubt that's what you want." He shrugs, "Shoot." He makes a pew sound as he 'fires' a paw-gun.

              End of Chapter Seven


                Chapter Eight

                "Longshot..." Cosmo started. "I'll make you a deal; since you think Ghost isn't hurt, this should be an easy win for you. If Ghost makes it out without a single wound, I'll kiss everyone on both teams, muzzle to muzzle. Otherwise, if he has even one, then I will introduce you to one of Captain Ivan's new boot camp recruits. He is a very cute reindeer buck and I know Ivan has been looking at him, himself. We saw him just before leaving on this mission."

                "You have a deal, although it is almost guaranteed that Ghost got injured at least once since no one is perfect. Thank you for arranging me to win one way or another."

                Cosmo smiled. "Look on the bright side, you get a new boyfriend out of the deal. And we stick it to Ivan for looking at Cadets."

                Longshot then said, "Seal this deal with a kiss and you don't have to kiss everyone at all. I know you're straight, but humor a worried rabbit this once?"

                Cosmo replied, "Don't let this go to your head." And he held the rabbit in his arms as he planted a gentle kiss on his muzzle.

                Back with the others, they could clearly see what was going on over there.

                Magnus' jaw dropped open. "What is Cosmo doing? Captain Illa...? What do you think is going on with the Lieutenant? He was all nervous until he met up with that rabbit."

                Aero landed near Tracker. "Is your friend like that all the time?"

                Illa looks over at Magnus, "He hasn't had a day off in nearly a year, he's stressed, like most of us are, and his best friend he knew from before he joined the service is out there on a solo mission that was rated as near suicidal. Sometimes, even the most hardened of us need to stretch... lest we break entirely. I admit it's odd for him. Very strange. But sometimes, we just need to go a little crazy. If he's still like this tomorrow... I may have to ground him though."

                Tracker smirks, "You mean does he always act like a rabbit in heat? No..." He looks at Aero with a dead serious expression, "I've seen him become completely emotionless... Watching a mile away as a young girl's skull split open into a cascaded of bone and blood and be unable to pull the trigger to kill the one who did it because he didn't have a clear ID. I've seen him fight tooth and nail to rescue me from a trap that cost him a chunk of his ear and that scar on his left inner thigh. No.... He's not always like that. But that's how he copes.... Instead of being gloomy about it, he makes jokes, he laughs at the macabre, and enjoys every ounce of life when he's off duty.... I wish I could be half that easy going."

                Tracker chuckles slightly, "Unfortunately, it's not in my nature. I suppose I'm more the brooding type. What about you?"

                Aero looked at the ground. "I'm just a photographer squirrel who is single. And likely to stay single. Early on I learned that no one dates a photographer, let alone a slender squirrel. In fact, the only smiles I tend to earn is from the top brass when I present them with usable photos of the enemy operations. My best skill. It's a living."

                12 hours later

                Magnus yawned as he got up and prepared for the first flight. He stopped when he saw Longshot and Black Sniper both looking chipper and already loading the helicopter. And surprisingly... Cosmo looked relaxed as opposed to yesterday. Although the two were still very near each other. The sea otter shook his head and just got busy.

                Aero flew in from where ever he had been and darted into a dark room tent quickly to develop a picture he had taken earlier. Five minutes later, he emerged and showed the picture to Mom. "...and this is what I saw the enemy doing in the direction we were slated to go, Captain."

                Tracker was up early, preparing and recounting the intelligence data gathered. When he saw Aero return he joined Mom and Aero.

                Illa hrms, "I see. This is a little disconcerting. They don't know where he is, obviously, but they're making sure no one can get in. We'll have to alter our flight plan..." She growls, looking at Aero, "Go wake that lazy pilot's ass up and get him in here."

                Aero flew off and soon returned with the local pilot and Jerum (Nightwing). "Here they are, Captain. When I took that picture, I was really hoping I was seeing wrong. But at my height and the obvious pattern of their patrols, you can see for yourself how it looks."

                Illa nods to them both and starts laying out the scenario for the two pilots as well.

                Nightwing nods, "Yeah, I see your point. With the pattern of these patrols... Without current operational load and fuel... We're going to have to go with a single run in and out. There is no way we can get in without being spotted."

                Illa sighs, "That's what I was afraid of." She grins at Nightwing and the pilot, "Think you can pull off a canopy crawl at max speed with stiff downdrafts?"

                Nightwing hrms, "Like candy from a cub."

                Illa looked back at the maps with a concerned expression, "I hope your right. For his sake. Alright everyone... Get to your stations. Dust off in t-minus 15."

                Nightwing grinned, "Ma'am, yes Ma'am!" He loves to fly and he heads off to the copter, yelling at he went, "OKAY BOYS! LET'S KICK THE TIRES AND LIGHT THE FIRES!"

                End of Chapter Eight
                End of CF-01 Zoo Stars Go

                Stay tuned for the next episode, Extraction and R+R.