Chapter Three - Loyalties
Radar saw Colonel Potter and Major Burns enter Potter's office. He knew without knowing how he knew that Burns was being called on the carpet for his letter to General Embrey. His work done four days over, the future Immortal ducked outside to continue writing to a dear, strong woman who was his mother in every way except one.
"Well, Mom, this is all on me, ya know? I coulda stopped Major Burns's report from bein' mailed, and never had him no wiser. I used to tell Colonel Blake when him and Major Houlihan would write those stupid things. But this time, I didn't tell Colonel Potter and I didn't stop it, neither. Now, I know you're askin' why, and the truth is, I just don't know. The Truth is, I don't know nothin' since Colonel Blake was killed. Was he shot down? Did that little creep who came round talkin' up kill him? Was it that not-so-crazy crazy General? Its a good thing I can read people so well. Otherwise, I might think him and Colonel Potter was one and the same fella."
Radar stopped and listened for anything from Potter to incoming wounded. Picking up nothing, he continued.
"But while the Colonel ain't the General, he ain't The Colonel, neither. That is I mean he's not Colonel Blake. But Colonel Blake was leavin', anyway. I'd miss him hard no matter what. But when I'm around Colonel Sherman T. Potter, all of a sudden I miss Colonel Blake just a little less. That makes me feel just a little worse, though. I mean, its like if I miss Colonel Blake any less by liking Colonel Potter a little bit more---I'm bein' disloyal. I am loyal to Henry Blake, Ma. But Colonel Potter is earnin' my loyalty pretty darned quick, too. So why isn't it I didn't stop Major Burns? I could've done it, easy. I know how to make the bad guy in him go away and bring out the good guy. Problem is, the good guy never sticks around, and the bad guy comes back twice as strong. Believe you me, I know exactly how that sounds."
Radar saw Sergeant Knight eating some of Klinger's salami, and thought it odd for some reason, but let the thought pass.
"Like me, he's a guy loves his Ma. But---- there's something else there. Something in his feelings for his Ma that keeps the bad guy around. And whatever this thing is, its worse than the bad guy could ever be. But he wants ta be loyal to his Ma, so.....I don't know. I'm talkin' crazy. I don't know where these thoughts come from. One time, I knocked Hawkeye's socks off when I asked him who 'Samantha' was. Turns out she doesn't even exist! She was a tomboy-type girl who was his imaginary pal when he was a kid. Kind of like that girl I used to see standing in the fields out by the edge of the farm."
Not knowing he was talking about people who were, at one time or another, quite real, Radar moved to conclude his letter.
"Things are all screwball, right now. Major Houlihan and Captain Pierce are investigating Colonel Blake's death on the QT. I just can't believe Major Burns sent that report. Even Captain Hunnicutt's a nervous wreck. He's startin to get a look like Klinger did right before that stupid hang-glider thing he pulled. I wouldna reported Trapper. Am I bein disloyal to the Colonel by not speakin up again? Or would ratting BJ out be the worse way to go? I gotta cut you off, Mom, though you know sure'n its not what I want.
Your Son, Walter."
(Writer's Note : The theme for that letter and the subplot it reveals was not my original idea. Rather, the one and only Mr. Larry Gelbart suggested it to me via a very kind e-mail. Credit where credit is due----Rob Morris)
Radar saw Nick heading for Potter's office, and stopped him.
"Sorry, Sarge. But the Colonel's raking somebody over the coals, and doesn't want any distractions while he does it. Heyyyy---ain't you supposed to not be out hardly at all in the daytime when there's sunlight goin' around?"
Nick just chuckled.
"Radar---I have no idea what you just said."
Over O'Reilly's objections, Nick walked inside. Klinger walked over and nodded.
"Yeah, you're right, Radar. I thought he wasn't supposed to be out and about, either. Weird guy. Maybe we should nickname him, 'Spooky'."
"Ah, he ain't the weirdest guy I ever met. My Dad had a cousin, still back in Ireland, and he scared the bejeezus out of me when he visited. You won't believe what it is he did for a living."
"I'm hard to surprise, kid. After all, my Mom's cousin rode shotgun on Lawrence Of Arabia's camel--and that ain't easy transport. You think those jeeps have bumps? Try Humps!"
"Yeah, well this one O'Reilly beats all that."
Radar looked around, and Klinger then looked around with him, ensuring the coast was clear. Radar whispered.
"The guy--he hunts----"
"No, ya dunce! He hunts--Vampires!"
"That kind of job can be a real pain in the neck."
"I'm gonna go and pretend like you didn't say that."
Inside, The Colonel had a vampiric stare locked on Burns's jugular. He was hoping that might clue the Major in, but in this mode, Frank was quite clueless.
"Well, Well, Major."
"Well, Well, Colonel."
"Anything you might want to tell your one and only Commanding Officer?"
"No, not at present, sir. Maybe later."
Potter was amazed at this Frank Burns, perhaps in his most ambitious, and even vicious mode. The scared, hurt, even gentle human being glimpsed on occasion was nowhere in sight. Perhaps the bizarre events surrounding Colonel Blake's death triggered this. Perhaps it was his own very sudden replacement as CO. It could have even been the warming he saw in the Cold War between his lover, Margaret, and his nemesis, Hawkeye. But the trigger did not matter, in the end. The man Potter saw before him was a stereotypical Frank, every inch the greedy, selfish, vain, nationalistic, hypocritically philandering bigot that most people sadly saw as the real Major Burns. He wanted Potter's job, and saw writing these reports as a way up. He was wrong, but he saw differently.
"Major, if for some unknown reason my XO is not with me, I might find myself very hard pressed to run this camp as I see fit, let alone do so in an efficient and effective manner."
"The Colonel--will make whatever choices he has to, and go--wherever he has to."
As self-destructive as he was frightening, a version of Frank Burns that would only be seen again at Hawkeye's court-martial hearing got up and left without being dismissed. He bumped into Nick on the way in.
"You, Sergeant, should get into the habit of knocking before even thinking of entering your Commanding Officer's Office. Let it be known--I won't tolerate such insubordination."
Nick bristled at this little man's abrasiveness.
"On that day when you are in Command, Major, Acheron will have 12 feet of snow."
"Hnnh. Makes me no never mind. I live in Fort Wayne, not Akron."
Nick turned to Potter, and the Colonel nodded.
"Before you ask, Nick--yes, he is for real, may the Good Lord above help us all."
Nick was smiling.
"Sherman, may I stand by your window?"
Potter pointed towards the window, confused by the odd request.
"Ahhh. Quite a beautiful sun out, don't you think, Sherm?"
Then, it hit the Colonel like the proverbial ton of bricks.
"Nick---Great Day In The Morning! How?"
Nick frowned. In his delight at having an appetite, and being able to walk freely during the day, he had yet to consider the source of his new freedom.
"I--don't know. But it must be something in Pierce's blood. Its all I've had for days."
Sherm nodded at this analysis, but decided on a test. He poked his finger with a pin, and pointed it at Nick.
"No. No hunger. In fact, I feel strong. Strong enough to destroy my pursuer and the harlot who first seduced me!"
Sherm was now seeing a Nick perhaps more frightening than any vampire could be.
"By pursuer, I take it you mean Lacroix. Isn't killing your master a vampire No-No? Not to mention the fact that you regard that 'harlot' Jeanette as your sister. Nick, this isn't you talking."
Nick's eyes and mouth were normal. But the man himself was quite lost.
"The HELL it isn't me! I'll make sure and keep Pierce around, in case I need more of whatever factor his blood possesses. I'll finally destroy that marauding Scotsman-- no, make that All Immortals Of The Sword. No--all the hidden races. And you--You Know What I Am--AAAGHHH!!"
"I'm sorry, Nick. But I made a promise."
As he saw the stake come through him, NIck felt Pierce's blood ooze out of him. Weakened but no longer talking genocide, NIck took Potter's hand up, and drank the proffered whole blood. He sat down, shaking.
"Your promise, Sherman. The one I made you make, in case my evil side took over. Thank you for acting, Mon Frere. Agnes would be proud of her boy. As proud as she was that horrid night."
That was still a sore point with Potter, so he moved on.
"Nick, what in Sam Hill happened there? The worst thing in Pierce's blood is that homemade hootch he brews."
Nick shook his head.
"You're wrong. In his own way, Pierce is no more human--than I am. That stuff in his blood fed on my evil and magnified it a million-fold. Funny. An alchemist I once knew said there was such a substance. A great battle was fought, and won. The Destroyer Of Eld, Tricephalos, was turned away, his rear legs severed by ShellBack and Rainbow-Wing. But his vile substance remained, and fell back to Earth. Only the strong of will survive its touch. They do not do so unchanged. I am so sorry, Sherman. Let me get back to KP duty."
Potter nodded, sad for the man he once called brother. Grabbing a blanket from Radar's bed, he covered a now-quite vulnerable Nick and took him back to the Kitchen. He also vowed to find out the secret, if any, of Pierce's blood. More, he wanted to know what Pierce and Houlihan knew about Henry Blake's death. Lastly, Nick's torment had firmed up a decision in his mind--he could no longer abide this place. He would make another call to General Embrey, and soon. Here, Sherman, felt, he was making no difference.
"Nick--I may have a way of getting you out of here--maybe even kill two bats with one stake."
Another man who questioned why he should be there was BJ Hunnicutt. He saw his new and somewhat mysterious roommate, Hawkeye Pierce, jotting down notes.
"Why are you recording the names of people with immunity and allergy problems in this region?"
"Ohh--kay. Then what other factor do they share in common, if I may ask?"
"No, you may not ask, and they share in common a snoop who broke into my footlocker to look them over."
BJ slammed down his letter-tablet.
"All Right--That's It. For the past week you've been as cold as ice, vague, and dismissive. What, is your affair with Houlihan going badly?"
Pierce looked up.
"Affair? What Affair?"
"Oh, please. You two are always traveling together, chatting. News flash--People Will Say You're In---"
"THE Major and I share a working relationship that has improved greatly of late. Y'know, just because I haven't grabbed her offerings so all can see, doesn't mean I'm doing it in private. We're working on a project--an important one--on behalf of an old friend."
"Does this have to do with Blake's death?"
Hawkeye looked right into BJ's eyes. His voice dripped sarcasm.
"Oh, come now. We All Know The Truth Is, Henry Blake died in a plane crash."
With that, Pierce walked out, angrier than ever that he had thought to trust BJ Hunnicutt. Hawkeye mumbled to himself.
"Betcha that little punk sent him. My God--I can't trust anyone."
Hawkeye was as far wrong about BJ somehow being a spy for Immunita as BJ was about the real reasons for Pierce's damned odd behavior. But a lonely BJ Hunnicutt was glad he could not possibly miss Pierce. He looked at his tablet.
"Plan 35--Find a jeep in need of heavy repair, and fix it up on the sly. By the time anyone notices, I'll be changing Erin's diaper. It---could work."
BJ sat and sobbed at the tender thought.
In Margaret's tent, Frank was flabergasted.
"Margaaaret, what's going on? I hear tell you and Pierce are investigating the 3966th."
"Frank, you heard what that snot-nosed punk said to us. He said he killed Colonel Blake. They've infected---a lot of people, in the name of their twisted agenda."
Margaret did not mention herself or Pierce as prime guinea pigs of those experiments.
"But, darling, if Immunita wants to build a better world on all our backs, who are we to say no?"
Houlihan grew indignant at this suggestion.
"I thought maybe we were the American People, Frank!"
"Oh, well...If You're Going To Go And Bring That Up...."
"Look, Frank--Pierce and I have reason to believe that Colonel Potter is really General Steele, from about a year back. He may be running this whole sick show."
"Steele----wasn't he nutsy-cuckoo?"
"He may just be."
Now, this feral version of Frank smelled blood, and images of Potter dragged off in a straightjacket danced through his head.
"Darling---I'll help all I can."
THE 3966TH--PROJECT IMMUNITA
The regal man awoke in a cage. He could smell the garlic flowers, sensed the silver overlay of the bars, which were a redundancy, and an ineffective one. He remembered looking for his son, and somehow being trapped by humans.
"Where Am I, and why am I being held?"
A voice from the next cage.
"Oh, you're the latest guinea pig round these parts. They want bloodsucker blood, ya know, for Project : Khan. And now--- SOOOEYYY-PIGGGGGG!!! GET BACK IN UNIFORM, SOLDIER!!!"
Lucien Lacroix looked over at the other man in utter amazement. Though clearly insane, and quite disheveled, his companion could only be one man. Lacroix shook his head, amazed at how far even humans could fall.
In fact, the caged crazy man was General Bartford Hamilton Steele The Third, founder of Immunita. Lacroix hoped that now, with his existence in peril, that Nicholas would act on his behalf, as a loyal son should. But as Radar had observed, nothing was quite right with the world at that moment. Loyalty, like trust, was up for grabs.