Trouble on the Home Front
Atlantic Ocean, USS George WashingtonDate:
Welcome back, soldier!
Or as Penny keeps saying, “Welcome aboard!” I suppose that makes more sense since we’re catching a ride on the USS George Washington
—that’s a big ship! It’s the US Navy’s premier nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, to be exact.
Things are moving fast, so let me debrief
you. And just in case you forgot, that’s Army-talk for “getting you up to speed on the details of the mission . . . and quickly.”
We’re 130 miles off the coast of Florida, skirting around the northern tip of the Bahamas to avoid another big storm that’s brewing. But no matter how far or how fast this ship goes, the storm still surrounds us. After a difficult mission in Texas, we were ultimately successful. We saved Daisy’s puppies and now Dagr and the Seven Pooches Gang can’t terrorize their community anymore. But we were lost at sea for three days, aimlessly floating out of the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean.
In the end, our flotilla—makeshift rafts tied together—was breaking apart and we were dangerously low on supplies. The US Coast Guard couldn’t have come at a better time.
They did such an amazing job rescuing us, and I can happily report that all Pawtriots are present and accounted for: Penny, Brick, Franny, Smithers, and Simon. Plus, we added a few recruits to our ranks: Lindy, Daisy, and even her little pups. And, of course, me, Sergeant “Rico” Ricochet, former US Army.
The Coast Guard navigated the rough seas with ease and they even had a Coast Guard dog on board to help us: a female beagle named Jet. She wears this high-speed
black-and-orange tactical vest. That’s Army-talk for “cool.”
Jet helped us board the USS George Washington
safely and explained that she will be our liaison
. A liaison is someone who helps different branches in the Armed Forces—like the Army and the Navy—work together to complete a mission. Right now, we’re just counting down the days until we arrive in Boston.
Once we dock, the mission is simple. Head south on paw as fast as we can back to the TOC—our Tactical Operations Center—to help support the rest of the Pawtriots at home.
Everything was going according to plan until earlier this morning when we received a SitRep
—that means “Situation Report” in Army-talk—from a carrier seagull. SitRep (Situation Report)
12MAR21 / 2300
Washington, DC Rico, we received your message from the Gulf of Mexico. We hold out hope that you will be rescued and return home soon.
I wish I could report that all is well here at the TOC.
But Mr. Mocoso is back! Hans and Heinz said he won’t stop until the TOC is “wiped off the map.”
RTB (Return to Base) with haste.
We’re running out of time! —-Morgan and Sawyer
Mr. Mocoso is the evil man who tried to shut down the TOC. Hans and Heinz are his henchmen, two nasty Doberman pinschers. I guess they didn’t learn their lesson. I just hope we can get home soon to help Morgan and Sawyer, our rabbit and ferret friends, before Mr. Mocoso and Hans and Heinz stir up any more trouble.
I was hoping that after our mission in Texas, the Pawtriots might enjoy some much-needed R&R
—that’s Army-talk for “rest and relaxation.” But it seems now we have to hurry home to assist the rest of our unit. And with the storm continuing to brew, it looks like it will be anything but smooth sailing.
Here comes Jet now.
“Don’t worry about the weather. The crew is working fast to make sure this ship is ready to brave the rough seas,” Jet says to us, pointing out to sea at the cloudy sky above.
I look around the ship and see hundreds of sailors at their stations, tying down ropes and securing windows. I can tell this isn’t the first time they’ve had to do this. There must be a few thousand personnel on board. I watch as they all work quickly to prepare the ship for the rapidly approaching storm.
Are you sure this ship can handle this weather?” Brick asks Jet.
“Roger that, we’ll be just fine. But if for some reason you do go overboard, fear not. I’m quite the swimmer and this vest keeps me afloat,” Jet says, pointing to her vest. “Follow me. Let’s get some cover from the rain.”
We follow her inside, past a group of sailors working quickly to tighten up some bolts on the windows.
I glance through a porthole and look outside at the cloudy sky. It’s growing darker and darker with each passing minute.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“My twin brother Jag’s room. You all can stay here with me until we get to Boston,” says Jet.
“Is he Coast Guard, too?” I ask Jet, who lets out a hearty laugh.
“He wishes! He’s Navy. Keep an eye out for him. He looks just like me, but he can be a bit of a hard-liner,” Jet says.
“What’s a ‘hard-liner
’?” Penny asks.
“It’s someone who always follows the rules,” I tell her.
“Are you sure he won’t mind that we stay in his room?” I ask Jet, but I think I know the answer.
“No, he’s definitely going to mind. He’ll say it’s a code violation or breaks some rule,” Jet says. “But hey, some rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?”
Jet’s comment about breaking rules makes Penny do the “tilt.” It’s her signature move. She turns her head so much it looks like it’s about to fall off. She “tilts” when she doesn’t like your answer or suspects something is out of the ordinary. I’m not sure how I feel about breaking the rules either, but right now the Pawtriots don’t really have any other option.
“Here we are,” says Jet as she opens the door to Jag’s room.
I turn to Brick and Penny and notice them eyeing the small room with suspicion.
“I know it’s small, but we’ll be in Boston in no time,” Jet reminds us.
“Thank you, Jet. We appreciate everything you’ve done for us,” I say. “Pawtriots, let’s file in and let her get back to work.”
I let all the Pawtriots pass by me into the tight quarters. Penny, Brick, Franny, Smithers, and Lindy pile onto one bed as Simon, Daisy, and her pups squeeze onto the other with me. Just as everyone is getting settled, I hear a loud crack of thunder.
“What was that?” Penny says to me.
I look out the porthole window.
Suddenly, the ship rocks hard to one side, sending us all crashing to the floor. “Don’t worry, that’s totally normal,” says Jet, returning to her four paws after falling down. She doesn’t look concerned so I try to remain calm, too.
That was normal?” Brick cries out.
“Happens all the time in weather like—” she starts to say, but her voice is drowned out by the loud crack of another thunderbolt.
Suddenly, the siren on the wall begins to blare and a red light flashes.
“Okay. Now that’s not normal,” Jet says. I watch as she suddenly looks concerned, and now I’m worried, too.
Then a message from the loudspeaker blares: “Hull breach! Sailors, to your stations!”
“What’s a hull breach?” Penny asks nervously.
“It means we have a leak. Hopefully it’s just a small one,” says Jet.
“You reckon they can fix it?” Daisy asks as she pulls her puppies in close to her chest.
But before Jet can answer Daisy’s question, the door swings open.
Standing before us is another beagle. He looks exactly like Jet, except he’s soaking wet and is wearing a blue tactical vest.
“What’s going on in here?” the beagle interjects. “And what are they doing in my room?”
“Our room,” says Jet.
“I’m Sergeant Rico, former US Army,” I say, extending my paw to him.
“Well, Mr. former Army, I’m current US Navy. And seeing as how you’re on my ship, under my command, I suggest you don’t speak out of order. I was asking my sister.”
“Fair enough,” I say.
“Everyone, meet my twin brother, Jag,” Jet says.
“I need everyone in this room to clear out,” Jag says.
“Why? What’s going on?” Jet asks.
“Did you not hear the message blaring over the loudspeakers? There’s a breach,” Jag says.
“So what? It’s not the first time we’ve had a leak,” says Jet.
“This isn’t just a leak. Water is pouring in . . . and fast. It could take days to fix. They want to get as many people off this ship as they can while they work on it,” says Jag.
I look around at all the Pawtriots and can’t help but feel bad. We’re all finally settling in and now we have to pick up and move out.
“Could you point us in the right direction?” I ask Jag.
“Head to the starboard-side bow. That’s the front right part of the ship for you land animals. The Coast Guard is taking all nonessential personnel to the island in their long-range interceptor. The storm’s already passed over the island so you’ll be safer there,” Jag says.
What’s an interceptor?” asks Brick.
“It’s one of the Coast Guard’s fastest ships,” says Jet.
“And since I’m looking at a room full of non-essential mutts, that means you all have your marching orders. Are you tracking, Sergeant?”
“Tracking,” I say. “But do you mind if they stay?” I ask Jag, pointing to Simon, Daisy, and her pups. I continue: “The little pups are exhausted and I’d feel better if they stayed here in this room and wait out the storm until the ship is repaired.”
“Roger that. But just them,” Jag says. “As for the rest of you? You’re coming with me.”
“Thank you,” I say. “Pawtriots, let’s clear out.”
As Jag turns away from me, I use paw signals to communicate with Simon, the marmoset who can no longer speak because Mr. Mocoso damaged his vocal chords when he squeezed him.
“Stay here and help Daisy with her pups,” I motion to Simon.
Simon gives me a thumbs-up and nods his head in agreement. I feel better knowing that Simon will be here to help Daisy once we leave the ship.
“We’ll be back soon,” I whisper to Daisy and her pups.
“Be safe, Rico,” says Daisy.
“Always,” I whisper back as I shut the door to the room behind me.
Jet begins leading us to the side of the ship where there is a small transport boat waiting to take us to the nearest island.
We load onto the boat, the motor fires up, and we make our way to the island. Jag stands up at the front of the boat and begins barking orders: “When we get to the island, I want to remind all of you mutts that even though you’re not on my ship, you’ll still be under my strict supervision, following my orders. Our mission is simple: This island has been devastated by recent storms. Might as well do some good while we’re waiting for our ship to be repaired. We’ll be bringing them some much-needed supplies. And in return, they’ll give us shelter until the ship is fixed.”
“Sounds like a plan,” says Lindy.
“And remember, we are guests, so I expect everyone to be on their best behavior. Are you all tracking?” Jag asks.
“Tracking,” all the Pawtriots say in unison.
“And that means you, too, Jet. I want eyes on you at all times. You are not to go sneaking off on your own,” Jag says.
Jet turns to me and whispers under her breath: “I told you he can be a bit of a hard-liner.”
As we make our way closer to the island, I look back to the USS George Washington
and feel a bit uneasy. The rest of the Pawtriots back in Washington, DC, are in trouble and I’ll be stuck on an island.
But there’s little I can do right now, so we might as well do some good while we can.
Copyright © 2020 by Sam Fortsch; Illustrated by Manuel Gutierrez. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.