General Brackenridge was fascinated with his tour of the underground Barneyian Demolition Headquarters, buried beneath the scorching desert rock of New Mexico. His guide, General Shearson, now directed the junior officer's attention to the sanitarium, where numerous Barney-devotees and fanatics were held and treated.
The main corridor was a long, tapering hallway filled with shadows and mindless singing. Brackenridge peered into some of the padded cells and observed the behavior of dozens of Barney-cultists, sometimes referred to as Sponge-Minions. Shearson took the visitor by the arm and had him peer into a cell near the end of the hallway. Brackenridge was stunned by what he saw.
There were five people inside, three men, two women. The danced about in a circle, singing a song about visiting the zoo. A plush purple Barney doll sat in the circle, motionless. But it wasn't the minion's behavior that startled Brackenridge, but their appearance.
All five people were naked, and had shaved all of their hair off. Some of them were a solid purple coloration, others more splotchy, like birthmarks. They also wore fake plush tails, held on by a thin belt made of a glossy purple fabric. Their faces were unnaturally contorted into huge, idiotic grins, and their eyes seemed larger and more dead than normal. Everyone in the room was also obese.
"Disturbing, isn't it?" said Shearson, peering over Brackenridge's shoulder. "Those are the more fanatical cultists we've seen. More and more, Barney-worshippers are undergoing plastic surgery to take on the facial characteristics of their idol, and many are also receiving injections of dye under the skin to become purple. Pairing this with an excess of eating, they are, in a sense, trying to become Barney".
Brackenridge continued to watch the fat, naked, purple dancers in morbid astonishment. "Is there any hope for them?"
"We've got some of our best psychologists working on this ward," answered Shearson, "but we've no idea how successful we'll be with everyone. But in some areas we have made progress. Come with me".
The two men turned a corner and entered what appeared to be a nursery. Children of all ages and races danced about and played. The laughter was warm, natural, and sincere. Brackenridge immediately noticed there were no Barney dolls or other paraphernalia in the room.
"These children were once mindless Barnoid-zombies," said Shearson, his hands placed against his hips, "their parents did everything they could, but Barney had his fat fingers wrapped around these kids brains like tentacles."
"How did you save them?"
"We weaned them naturally off the Barney shows, then the toys, then the books and music. Took almost a full year for some of them. Then we had one of our boys walk around in a Barney suit, only he acted cold and distant. By the end of the first week, those kids were yelling things at him and throwing toys around. We celebrated this demonstration by letting the kids use the suit like a pinata, then we let them torch it. You never saw happier children!" Shearson chuckled warmly.
"That's all it took?" asked Brackenridge.
"Oh no," said Shearson, "we took it further than that. For the rest of the therapy we gave these kids courses in independence, self-esteem, and healthy love-objectification. Followed up by making them watch Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, Sesame Street, and the occasional episode of Ren and Stimpy. Now we've got a whole room of cheerful, perfectly happy kids who hate Barney and recognize him for the menace that he is."
"Impressive job, General Shearson," said Brackenridge. "I look forward to hearing more about your work here".
In the operating room, Aiko was listed in stable condition. He would be fully recovered within a matter of weeks. For the woman, her condition was deemed satisfactory. The Loved One embyro had been successfully removed and sent to the labs for study. As she lay in her bed, she began to mutter to herself. Brackenridge gently laid his hand upon her head.
"You're safe now," he said.
The woman did not react to his words, but mumbled loudly to herself. "....fat, evil....they're all in the dark! Children....where were they then? ....Have to escape.....those eyes, so dead....."
"She's still under the effects of the anaesthesia", said a nurse. "She'll come around in a short while".
"Any positive identification on her yet?" asked Brackenridge.
"We're doing a compu-scan on her description right now," said Shearson, sitting alongside the bed. "According to police records, there's sixteen different people she can be, all listed as missing persons from the Arizona-New Mexico region. Hopefully we'll get a more positive match".
The woman rocked her head back and forth, sweating and breathing hoarsely. "..where are the children?.....lost on the way.......Trina ......Kent.....must not find them......."
"Get the records staff on the double," said Brackenridge, "tell them to cross-reference any of those missing people with the names 'Trina' and 'Kent'. I think we have a lead here".
Back at the Barneyian compound, news-reporter Julian Griggs was upset. Any attempts he made to record the carnage of the night-attack was thwarted by the remaining detachment of troops. He called in his news team and they five of them sat inside the van.
"Steve, get a few quick shots of the compound, the bodies, and just a few of the soldiers. We're taking off tonight. "
"But Julian," said the cameraman, "General Brackenridge said this was a confidential incident, and that we weren't to report anything until Barney was captured".
"You're right, Steve, it _was confidential, until now. Those soldiers have been jerking us around at our expense and it's time we blew the lid off of this thing. We've got enough facts, all we need are some good shots of those corpses and that blown-out retreat and we're set!"
An hour later, the soldiers observed the Channel 7 NEWS ALIVE van driving off back towards the main highway. The lieutenant in command called in to inform General Brackenridge, but the signal remained silent.
Barney the Dinosaur tore the grating off the drainage ditch with relative ease. Trina and Kent Jr. watched excitedly.
"What's in there, Barney?" asked Trina, shivering in the cool evening air.
"Aside from you two, I have more friends who live in this tunnel," chuckled the Beast of Purple. "But they're a bit more shy than we are, so they're going to hide a little longer until I know its safer".
"What do you mean 'safer'?" asked Kent Jr.
"I'll explain later, Kent," replied Barney, lifting a thick, blood-stained blanket over his shoulder. "Now don't forget to say good-bye to your father!"
"Bye Dad, we love you!" yelled the children.
"It's just to bad he was just a hot-head," said Barney, emptying the blanket's contents into the tunnel, "but now he won't be mean to you anymore."
"Barney, can we see your friends sometime? They're called Loved Ones, right?"
"You are corrrrecct!" chirped the dinosaur. "I'll let you see them soon, I promise. But now, they have to take care of your father. Let's go back in and play some real fun games. Maybe then, I can call up Baby Bop and BJ, and invite them over! Wouldn't that be fun?"
"Oh yes, Barney, let's have a fun party every night!" shrieked Trina gleefully. She and Kent Jr. both hugged the fat blubbery reptile and the three of them made their way back to the farmhouse. Hand in hand, they sang a song:
I love you, you love me, we're a happy family..... With a great big hug and kiss from me to you, Won't you say you love me too?
Had the children stayed near the drainage ditch a few minutes longer, they would've seen thick, stumpy claws reach out from the shadows and drag the carcass of their father into the darkness. Seconds later, they would've heard the sounds of crunching bones and smacking lips, as the last vestiges of Kent Robison Sr. were eaten away from the skeleton.....