Chapter 6 - In A World With The Darkest Powers
Hawkeye returned, with something wrapped in a blanket. Potter had just begun his side of the story of The Boys From Golgotha.
If anyone had ever told young Sherman Potter he would be taking orders directly from 'Blackjack' Pershing, he would have pshawed and guffawed them. Yet there he was.
"Lieutenant Potter, do you know why I had you brought here?"
"I'm afraid so, Sir. The panel all judged me looney when I told them about Macleod. I just thought that my foolishness in telling what I saw was earning me a general-size boot."
"Potter, do you stand by what you said? That a British medic cut the head off of a German Officer, and Lightning was the result?"
"Not in public, sir. But here and now, yes. I saw what I saw. Eeriest dam---darned thing. I beg your pardon, sir."
Pershing let a smile form, at the edge of his face.
"I have heard the word 'Damn' before, Sherman. Usually from that foul-mouthed Captain of yours--Truman, is it?"
"Captain Harry's a tough number, sir. Begging the General's pardon, sir. But if I'm not being packed in ice for the bughouse, then why am I here?"
"Do you question your superiors often, Potter?"
Sherman was, of course, greatly frightened at the thought of offending his Supreme Commander.
"No-no-nnn-nno, No SIR!!!"
"Why not? Despite your best efforts and a sterling record, they still won't believe your account. I'd question yahoos like that. But it shows good training, Potter. A public willingness to keep secrets and a private willingness to follow orders without asking questions. In wartime, that is a MUST!! Have you ever doubted that we were at war, Lieutenant?"
Pershing seemed to like honesty, so Potter was as brutally honest as he was with his own men, after escaping from the German POW camp.
"At times, sir, this whole war seems almost cozy. I know how that sounds. I've lost pals, killed fellas my own age, and the trenches only seem to smell worse each day. But there are times this whole thing seems like a fancy-dress version of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Just my opinion, sir."
"Once, I might have agreed with you. A feud, with some days more bloody than others. Hell, all the royalty is interrelated. Sometimes more than twice over. But this is no feud anymore, Potter. If it ever was. This is now war."
"What's changed, sir?"
General Pershing pointed to a map. There were several red pins, indicating sites that enemy guns and planes had hit recently.
"You know about our policy of getting the lightly wounded back to the front, asap, after their wounds are treated?"
"Mmm-hmm. Heard we now keep the badly wounded completely away, so's those who can go back don't have to see a buddy with an arm missing."
"Correct. Up til now, its all been about morale. But Sherman--the Germans are now targeting the hospitals with the able-bodied in them. Don't know how they're finding out which is which, but they are. Usually, one tries to create more wounded than dead. Demoralizes the enemy."
"But now, Sir?"
"We've hit them hard. Their troops are beginning to desert en masse. So they are cutting down our solid numbers. Taking out the soldier with a twisted ankle, or appendicitis. We can't stop them from hitting our boys. So we have to up the ante. But not with a big bet. No, we have to have four aces up our sleeve. So far, I have a leader of men, a heavy lifter, and a wild man. But I need someone who's good at troop movement. Your CO says that's you. What do you say, 'Captain' Potter?"
"I'll do what I'm told, sir. But four men cannot break the German lines. Ain't gonna happen."
"The young man is right. But what you will do is bypass those lines. 'Operation: Cavalry' will have you taking the next step in this new, total war. They hit our recuperating--we hit their innocents--inside Germany itself. Well inside."
"Isn't that a Wartime No-No, General?"
A new, powerful voice entered the debate.
"Wartime no-no's are childish rules thought up by the side that wishes to rip off your arm, beat you up with it, then force you to thank them for their efforts and attention. Are we the side with one arm, Potter?"
"Captain, meet Major Stavros Kronopoulis. He's going to head up 'Operation : Cavalry'. Are you with him? Will you do what your country needs of you, in this dark hour, when we have to climb into the sewer just to stay alive?"
"Of course. Sirs, Yes, Sirs! But what do I do?"
Kronopoulis patted him on the shoulders.
"Each little town and village will have its own flavor. It'll be up to you to figure out how to break them, brutally and quickly. We may be only four, but we'll be like brothers. Eventually, you'll know who to send where, and at what time. The Krauts time is up--if you're in."
Potter saw something impossibly dangerous in this man, and he found it wildly intriguing.
"When do we start and how much Kraut Hiney do I get to personally Kick?!!"
M*A*S*H* 4077th, 1953
(Writer's note to archivists; The main story is set in 1953; Sorry for the errors.)
Potter looked almost nostalgic.
"For three months, we rode. We had freedom, and adventure. Always rode one heartbeat ahead of the German patrols. It was life lived as few men ever dream of it. We were legends before we knew it. Even made some later newsreels."
Winchester was disgusted.
"You, sir, are, A Doctor! Dedicated to the proposition that life should be preserved. How could you do such a thing?"
"Now, I'm a Doctor. Back then, Kronny called me 'Death's substitute'. And I was, too."
Potter saw the sullen, shaken faces of his 'family'. That he could deal with. But Cassandra Weiskopf's triumphant smirk was another story.
"Grin it up, Cass ole' girl! Have you told our studio audience why your town was gettin' set to hang you?"
"I was a thief. I stole bread in order to live."
The Colonel slammed down his fist.
"Bull! You were the local schoolmarm, and you killed two children!! Not the way we did, either. No, from what the mayor's son told us, you did it nice and slow. The boy was one of her juvenile conquests. But he and the girl are thirteen, and just up and decide to have at it. You found them, and you couldn't live with someone touching one of 'your' boys. I kept you around, cause I felt someone like me didn't deserve any better."
"You were so young then, Sherman. A boy yourself. Please, all of you. Imagine that you find someone in bed with your wife or husband."
Then, Klinger walked in. He was sweaty, and flustered.
"Guys? Sorry ta interrupt, but the rubber wagon we ordered for Miss Filth here is here here."
Cass grew afraid.
"Benjamin, please, I am not insane. I am a victim, just like the Juden in the camps."
Not ten minutes before, Cass had denied the concentration camps ever existed. Her grip on reality was loosening fast. Despite his own troubles about their past, Hawkeye held her.
"Cassandra, you need help. I do care about you. And, God help me, you are still beautiful. But you are also sick. Very sick. Lo John was your last."
As Klinger and an MP guided her out, Cass began to scream.
"My boys! DO NOT TAKE AWAY MY BOYS!!"
Outside, a beefy hand clamped over her mouth.
"Don't you worry none, Cass. The Boys are Here. Just like old times."
Upon hearing this, all rushed outside. Kronopoulis, Marner, and Okthoskvy were the truck's occupants. All held guns in hand. Margaret was the first to speak.
"Colonel, your past with them is in the past. Please show these--gentlemen--out. This is a place of life."
But Potter just shook his head.
"Maybe, if even one of you had served as much as a single day in combat, you'd understand."
Hawkeye and Max Klinger, who yet believed in Potter, just stared, dumbstruck. BJ and Winchester exchanged looks of indignant disbelief. Kitty Jarrod closed her eyes, as if to search for some deeper meaning in this absurdity. Father Mulcahy crossed himself once, and then again upon looking at Kronopoulis. Margaret's eyes teared, as the strong woman had passed her breaking point. For all this, the next event was the same. Colonel Sherman T. Potter crossed over and sat with Kronopoulis. The Boys were back in town. Sherman took Hawkeye's hand, plaintively.
"Pierce, I took an oath."
With guns still drawn, and Cassandra Weiskopf in tow, The Boys From Golgotha set forward to remake the world. Pierce stared at the piece of paper in his hand, with four numbers 3-9-6-6 written on it. Charles saw it.
"Pierce, didn't those mysterious gents from the 1701st destroy the 3966th--aka Immunita?"
"Actually, Jim--and that Picard character--did say it was only to stop it here."
Hawkeye shook his head.
"Sounds like they're back in business. Father?"
"Without violating your Watchers' oath, just who exactly is Kronopoulis?"
The Priest put his head down.
"Hawkeye, if he is..who I can't say he is, then, with the proper materials in hand---"
"He Is The End Of Time."
At the site of the destroyed biological warfare facility once called the 3966th, Kronopoulis stopped the truck. He pointed Potter towards a tarp.
"Sherm, pull er' away!"
Potter did just that, and his heart nearly stopped, when the tarp was all gone.
"Where in the name of Sweet Fanny Adams did even you get your hands on a blessed--Nuclear Missle!!?"
Kronny clapped his hands together.
"I got people, Sherm! I got people!! Now go give the big plan the once-over. After all, our Mushroom-maker is only the icing. Its the fake tanks that are the cake!"
Shaking his head in wonderment, Sherman Potter went inside the main building, and shut the door. He hurriedly found a garbage pail, which he promptly threw up in.
"Bastard's got a launcher."
Outside, Kronopoulis looked at the other two.
"Take the jeep, and go back to the 4077th. Pierce, Houlihan first. Then anybody else that strikes your fancy. Sherm's clerk used to keep rabbits. Cy, you like rabbits, right?"
"Oh, Kronny, y'know I do. Rabbits don't call you stupid."
Casper Okthoskvy merely grinned a Joker-grin, his limited power of speech having left him some time ago. He did giggle, though.
Back at the 4077th, Hawkeye inspected a pistol, which he then loaded. BJ stood aghast.
"I thought you and guns were like alien beings to one another."
Hawkeye finished by securing the safety. A grim look had overtaken him.
"I said I hated guns. I never said I didn't know how to use them. In fact, its because of how well I know them that I refuse to use them."
"O--kay, then. Why break that personal law - not to mention, your Hippocratic Oath - now?"
Pierce holstered his gun, and secured his sword. He met Margaret at the door, also bearing a sidearm.
"Beej, all I can say is---what Father Mulcahy said about Kronopoulis. Only--its not time that's coming to an end."
Bold words aside, Hawkeye offered prayers to a God he wasn't sure existed that he remembered everything Connor had taught him. He was fairly sure he didn't. Margaret shared his worry.
"Pierce, do we realistically stand a chance of stopping all this?"
"Realistically, Margaret? I Don't Think So."