BAXTER SQUAD

~ A Story by EgixBacon ~

Foreword

It is with great pleasure that I am able to present Baxter Squad, my first completed full-length original story. The following fourteen chapters chronicle the daring mission undertaken by a team of four anthropomorphic animal soldiers as they journey deep into occupied territory to retrieve an artefact containing immense power from the claws of the enemy.

I had originally devised the initial concept for this story while enjoying a relaxing holiday late in the summer of 2015. After my return home, I had spent the following few weeks brainstorming the characters, settings, and plot, but not a single word had actually been written down during this period.

A few months afterwards, I had had the idea of instead writing a shorter, simpler story, which would have had the same overarching theme of 'conflict between cats and dogs' but with the actual premise being rather different. Many character ideas from the original concept would have been reused with only minor changes in names and designs. Unlike the previous idea, I had indeed made an attempt at creating an initial draft but had ended up having to abandon the project as I could not find a way to continue the plot after the first two chapters.

It was at this point that I had decided that the best course of action was to revive the initial premise. During the first half of the year 2016, I continued to develop the story in my head, occasionally making notes as I went. By the summer of that year, I had begun the first attempt at writing Baxter Squad.

Halfway through the fourth chapter, I had reluctantly made the difficult decision to rewrite what I had completed up until then in order to make important changes to the plot of the first act. Once this had been achieved, I was left free to carry on for the next six months, with the first complete draft of the story being finished in March 2017.

Now that I have gone over and refined my manuscript to produce a final, publishable draft, Baxter Squad is finally available for public viewing. With that, I hope that you will enjoy reading this story as much as I did writing it.

Happy reading!

Chapter 1 - The Fall of Souriden

The sounds of intense gunfire, the ignition of rockets, and the whistling of shells rippled across the warm but dark sky of the August night, their trails crisscrossing between the full moon and the stars above. A massive division of battle tanks was prowling through the streets of the otherwise peaceful city of Muringham, causing a state of panic and terror among its rodent inhabitants. These armoured, caterpillar-tracked beasts were under escort from a large company of fierce snow leopards - these elite soldiers, who were clad in black, bulletproof suits with polycarbonate-visored helmets, spread fear into the hearts of those unfortunate enough to cross their paths.

Making up the rest of this formidable army were a cosmopolitan mix of various other cat species, or, to provide a less biologically ambiguous term, Felids. The upper ranks were composed mostly of Pantherans - a group which included tigers, lions, and leopards. Everything below them was encompassed within the subfamily Felinae, comprising lynxes, cougars, and cheetahs, as well as the genus Felis, in which one would find what are known as 'domestic cats' in the human world.

The tanks employed by the Felid Army also came in a diverse variety: the largest and heaviest of them all was given the name of the Great Tiger - a sixty-tonne monster of a vehicle armed with an immense dual-barrelled cannon possessing the power to turn any wall to rubble with a single blast. After this came the Lion, which, while not as powerful as the Tiger, was more agile and had a faster top speed. In addition, there also existed tanks equipped with flamethrowers and Tesla coils - named the Bengal and the Ocelot respectively - as well as a significantly lighter tank named the Cheetah which was used primarily for reconnaissance.

As the troops marched their way through the asphalt-paved streets, they were constantly trading fire with the legions of mice who had set up their garrisons in the upper-floor windows of the various buildings. Houses, hotels, restaurants, banks - virtually every property had something being launched from its top floor, ranging from a stream of bullets down to a measly set of porcelain cookware. However, the Felids, with their greatly superior weaponry, could hardly be checked by those who were resisting their advance. Anyone who was unfortunate enough not to have been indoors would have faced either electrocution, being burnt to a crisp, or being peppered with rifle rounds until they fell to the ground as a bloodied corpse.

By the stroke of midnight, the invading force had advanced as far as the front grounds of the royal palace in the very centre of the city. Battering down the great iron gates, the Felid Army began to flood through into the courtyard before being promptly met by a barrage of fire from the windows on the upper floors of the building. This was accompanied by a gallant charge from the Queen's Guardsmen, the bayonets of their rifles being poised to stab.

The garrisons inside the palace were being manned by a battalion of Canids: this group of animals mainly included dogs, wolves, and foxes, as well as other related species such as dholes and jackals. The centremost position was occupied by a Bernese Mountain Dog clad in a black Kevlar suit, who could be most clearly identified from the heterochromia in his eyes; his right eye was of a brown hue which was natural for his breed, whereas the one on the left had a blue iris and was surrounded by a star-shaped patch of white fur.

The window immediately to his left was taken by a red fox, whose uniform was similar to the Berner's save for being red instead of black, as well as being smaller in size. The vulpine's eyes were a piercing shade of green, with a streak of white hair sitting between his ears.

Even in the face of this fierce resistance, the Felid troops had been able to relentlessly plough their way through the battery of guardsmen, mowing down the red-coated mice like blades of grass as they pushed towards the front wall of the palace. For each cat who fell, five more would rush forward to take his place, and before long, the palace courtyard had been almost completely overrun.

Back inside, the Canids were now beginning to receive heavy fire from the enemy, which had forced many of them to duck down underneath the windowsills in order to evade the incoming streams of bullets, rockets, and grenades.

"They're starting to break in, boys!" yelled the voice of a German Shepherd Dog dressed in a beige vest and khaki leggings who was crouched down about a foot behind the Berner. "Looks like we're gonna have to fall back. I'm taking Sergeant Wilmington and Corporal Chatakar down to the throne room. Sergeant Baxter: your current objective is to relocate all other troops to the foyer. All we need to do is to hold the line until the palace is evacuated. Understood?"

"Acknowledged, lieutenant," the fox answered before turning to face his comrades. "Move, move, move!"

Taking heed of this order, the other soldiers all followed Sergeant Baxter as he led them towards the great staircase at the back of the room. The lieutenant ran alongside him while having both Wilmington and Chatakar at his six; the corporal was a dhole - a wolf-like animal with red and white fur - who wore an orange uniform.

Inside the throne room, the queen and her servants had all been silently holding their breath. They could only wait and listen as the sound of the front doors being bashed with powerful rams reverberated ominously in the walls. The ancient monarch, who sat on a grand, gilded throne, was a respectable ninety-five years of age; her immense stature, clad in a black dress decorated with frills of white lace, towered far above all of her subjects.

The servants became tense as there sounded a loud knock on the large wooden double-doors at the entrance of the room. Preparing to face whatever was on the other side, they raised their canes anxiously.

To their relief, the doors had swung open to reveal the Shepherd, the Mountain Dog, and the dhole all standing in the doorway.

"L-Lieutenant?" the chief servant stuttered, returning his cane to the floor. "Wh-whatever could be occurring?"

"The Felid Army have left us massively outnumbered," the lieutenant replied. "We don't stand a chance of keeping them out now. We're gonna have to get you all out of here."

"It is not we for whom the Felids have come," the queen explained. "It is our crown jewel which is the subject of their gaze."

The monarch slowly turned her head to the left, waving a bony hand towards a pair of servants who were carrying a maroon-coloured velvet cushion between them. Atop it sat a large, blue, diamond-cut gemstone, approximately eight inches in diameter.

"The Sapphire of Souriden," Sergeant Wilmington muttered as the two mice carefully placed the cushion in the hands of their ruler.

"C'mon, son," the lieutenant sighed. "There's no time to lose. You gonna help her up, or what?"

As Chatakar and the Shepherd began to escort everyone out of the room, however, the sergeant stayed rooted firmly to the spot. While he glared narrowly at the queen's wrinkled face, the two cushion-bearers strafed nervously past him.

"God Save the Queen."

Upon uttering those words, Wilmington reached behind himself, brandishing a heavy crossbow from the holster which was strapped to his back. Pointing the weapon squarely at the grand mouse's forehead, he proceeded to pull the trigger with absolutely no hesitation.

A wide crimson stain spread across the headrest of the throne as the queen's head was pinned to it by the long, sharp bolt. Her face was frozen in the expression of her last living moment - wide-eyed, with jaw hanging agape. Her grip on the cushion had ceased, allowing the Sapphire to fall to the floor with a loud clinking sound.

Upon hearing the shot, the corporal and the lieutenant whipped around on the spot.

"What the hell was that?" the Shepherd murmured. He too had found himself rooted in place, unable to process the situation as the sergeant grabbed the gemstone before making a frantic dash for the doors. The cushion-bearers attempted to seize him, but he had been capable of easily knocking them both down with a forceful swing of his bow. As their heads hit the rug, blood began to trickle from the sides of their skulls.

"Stop!" Chatakar yelled bluntly, not having time to say much more. "Traitor!"

Before the dhole could give chase, however, he had had to set himself down next to one of the cushion-bearers while removing a wound dressing from his belt.

"Are you all right?" he asked, to which there came no reply.

By this time, Sergeant Wilmington had nearly made it as far as the still-open entrance doors of the throne room. Just as he was about to cross the threshold, Baxter - the other sergeant - suddenly appeared in front of him.

"Where do you think you're going with that?" the fox asked, noticing that the Mountain Dog was clutching the Sapphire in his left hand.

Wilmington, giving no verbal response, put away his crossbow before withdrawing a combat knife from his belt.

"Two can play at that game, Nichollis," Baxter continued, unholstering his own knife. The two Canids then proceeded to punch, kick, and grab at each other as the vulpine tried to wrest the gemstone from the Berner's hands. Within the space of ten seconds, Baxter had managed to achieve this, but Nichollis was not yet done: in a last-ditch attempt to regain possession of the precious object, he had drawn his blade rapidly across the left thigh of his former comrade.

"Argh!" Baxter shouted in agony, only gripping the jewel more tightly as he felt the flesh on the back of his leg being split wide open. "Medic!"

Nichollis, seeing his chance, reached down towards the Sapphire once again; this time, however, the lieutenant had been prepared to intervene, striking the Berner in the face with the butt of his shotgun.

Staggering backwards, Sergeant Wilmington clasped both hands over his nose. Upon taking them away a second later, he could see that their palms were dripping with a deep red.

Upon hearing the fox's loud call, Chatakar ran immediately to his side. Kneeling down, the dhole used the dressing he was still holding to wipe away the excess blood from the gash, while at the same time taking out a pistol from the holster on his hip and pointing it in Nichollis's general direction.

"Stay back!" he snarled, his finger itching against the trigger.

"Hah!" the Mountain Dog snorted arrogantly, spraying scarlet fluid from the sides of his nostrils. "You can't tell me what to do - I'm a rank above you."

"Well, I am three ranks above you," the lieutenant snapped, "and I order you to stand down!"

"Make me, then."

The Shepherd responded to this by pointing the twin muzzles of his weapon directly towards Nichollis's chest. The treasonous sergeant, seemingly unfazed by this threat, reached out with his bloodied knife, then began to charge forward while yelling at the very top of his lungs.

Before he could reach his target, however, the right shin of his suit had been pierced by a small lead bullet, causing him to trip and collapse.

"Nice shot, corporal," the lieutenant praised. "Now let's get the hell out of here!"

Reaching down towards Sergeant Baxter, the officer quickly inspected the leg wound; the sheer amount of exposed flesh made it not a sight for the faint of heart. Lifting his injured comrade off the ground, he rolled him over on to his back, making sure not to let the Sapphire fall from his hands.

"He's losing blood quickly, Chatakar," the lieutenant remarked. "I'd suggest you place a tourniquet on him, stat."

"Yes, sir."

Before Sergeant Wilmington could get back on his feet, the Canid trio had begun to vacate the throne room via the rear doorway; by this time, all of the queen's servants had also been able to escape. As the lieutenant ran with Sergeant Baxter in his arms, Corporal Chatakar, the medic, was keeping pace with his superior while placing the tourniquet around the vulpine's thigh. Once the strap had been pulled through, he twisted the windlass until it fit as tightly as possible. To his relief, the flow of blood began to subside, after which the dhole secured the lifesaving device into place using the attached binding strap.

At the rear doors of the palace, the three soldiers had reunited with the surviving members of their troop, as well as the ensemble of servants. With some assistance from the chief servant, the company proceeded to navigate through the royal gardens, which consisted of a winding labyrinth of tall hedges and well-sculpted topiaries.

It had taken nearly five minutes before everyone had arrived at a spacious clearing in the centre of the maze, in which time the palace of Muringham had been almost completely occupied by the Felid soldiers. Inside the clearing, a pair of black twin-rotored transport helicopters had been waiting for them: preparing to receive the approaching group of dogs and mice, their rear hatches slowly whirred open.

Once everyone had piled in, the lieutenant gently lowered Baxter on to the row of seats. Chatakar sat down beside him, placing a support rest underneath his neck.

"Are you okay, Reynard?" the dhole asked.

The fox gave a deep pant, before responding, "Apart from the leg... yeah. I'll survive."

"Good on ya, son," the lieutenant smiled, allowing Reynard to pass him the Sapphire. "Go on - lay back and have a rest. You deserve it."

"Thank you, sir..."

At the conclusion of the conversation, the hatch had closed behind them. Shortly afterwards, the two helicopters took off, leaving the palace grounds far behind as they gradually lifted up into the night sky.