"General Brackenridge, this is Mayfly from Outpost Delta. Come in, over".
The radio hissed static and spat. The receiver remained silent.
"General Brackenridge, this is Mayfly from Outpost Delta. How do you copy? Over".
Again there was silence.
Private Haddenford cursed the static and slammed the phone against the radio-board. "We've tried reaching him for four hours and there's still no damn answer. What the hell's going on?"
Lieutenant Garret fiddled with the controls in exasperation. "The radio appears fine. Something's blocking the signal." He sat back in the decoy vehicle and tried to find answers. Since the initial raid, over three miles worth of tunnels and passageways had been discovered. Various firefights with Sponge-Minions and Loved Ones had erupted in some, but no Barney-disciples had been captured alive yet. Most chose to fight or die for their All-Loving Master, and it frustrated the young Lieutenant. He rose to his feet and addressed his unit.
"I want everyone to screen out within a mile and a half radius from this compound. Take your radios with you, check for any fluctuations or static discharges in your area. When you do, return here immediately. If you radio in, you risk giving your position away to who knows what. Proceed!"
Immediately, the two dozen soldiers set off in opposite directions, radios spattering noise and weapons armed and ready. The unit walked off into the dwindling night of the desert sky.
General Brackenridge was upset. No communications were coming out of the compound. While there had been a call for radio silence, he knew under certain conditions they could still call out, changing frequencies between messages. But since he left, there had been no messages of any kind. He listened to the silence with a grim face.
The clock ticked 7:00 pm. The General had consumed six cups of black coffee. He could have returned to his camp at anytime, but he wanted to see if the young woman they recovered from the catacombs, impregnated with a hideous Loved One infant, could reveal any worthwhile information. But she had only babbled aimlessly since her operation, the only tangible words being two names: Trina and Kent. There was a cross-reference check being made for her among sixteen listed missing persons in the region. Hopefully one would turn up.
Brackenridge had other puzzles as well. Barney had left his highly successful TV show mid-season to retreat here to New Mexico. He spent $15 million to purchase outdated Soviet plans for a failed satellite, and was transporting several tons of soil somewhere south. Before he left his Dallas lair, he had been watching Howard Hughes' epic film, "The Conqueror" over and over again. What did it all mean? The bristle-haired man scrunched his brow and leaned back in exhaustion.
An electric door hummed as a doctor's assistant came in. "General Shearson, we did the cross-reference check for a missing person with the names of Trina and Kent. The list turned up...nothing".
Trina and Kent Jr. stared in awe. The living room was filled with all kinds of people and creatures. Many were squat, gurgling creatures who scampered about clad in loose-fitting robes. Others appeared human, only they were large, obese people with no hair and purplish skin. Their faces were pulled back into a wide, toothy grin and some sported fake tails hung from belts. Then there was the creature known as Baby Bop, who spastically giggled and flitted about the house, clutching her "blankie" and waving at the two children. She had been accompanied by a tall, yellow creature named BJ, who was supposedly her brother. He had tried to initiate a game of soccer with the children, but both Trina and Kent Jr. were too awestruck to really follow up on his offer.
Amidst this bizarre gathering stood the tall, omnipotent form of the Purple One. Barney seemed especially pleased tonight, and sauntered in and out of the crowd, giving hugs and the occasional kiss to his minions. Trina and Kent Jr. could not help but feel they were witnessing something magical, even historical.
"Barney," said Trina, clutching his arm as he passed, "are all of these people and animals your friends?"
"Why of course they are, Trina," chirped Barney, "and don't forget, they're your special friends too! What do you say we all play a suuupper-deee-dduper game of `the number limbo'?"
The rest of the visitors heard this suggestion and went into an immediate orgy of excitement and glee. BJ produced a limbo-rack and pole, and instantly everyone broke into song:
We love to do the number limbo, we love to do the number limbo, When the pole's a number, we all go under, this time to number....3!
The house was filled with happy laughter, singing, and merriment. The minions in the house, including BJ and Baby Bop, probably numbered close to fifty. Following the "number limbo," more games were suggested and played. However, as the clock neared 9:00 pm, Barney quieted the crowd down with a wave of his stocky paws and spoke to Trina and Kent Jr.
"Well kids, we've all had such a stuuuppenndousss time with you, but it's getting late. I fear that it's your bedtime!"
"Oh Barney," whined Kent Jr., do we have to?"
"I'm afraid so," replied the fat, wobbling reptile. "But me and Baby Bop will tuck you both in and sing you bedtime lullabies, how's that?"
"OOOoooooooo, I just LOVE singing BEDtime lullabies!" screeched Baby Bop, who then began cooing and giggling. "Let's take you kids upstairs, I'll even share my BLANKIE with you!"
The children giggled, and ran upstairs, followed closely by the two dinosaurs. What the children failed to notice were the gunshot wounds and scars some of the Loved Ones and Sponge-Minions were sporting, testimony to a tremendous gunfight rendered some days before.
"My name...is Cheryl Robison....I have a husband named Kent.....and two children....Trina and Kent Jr."
General Brackenridge rested his hands upon the dazed woman's shoulders as she lay prone in the hosptial bed. "Cheryl, I need answers. Where is your family? How close are they to the Guadalupe Mountains? Everyone, especially your children, may be in great danger!"
The nurse tried to restrain the general. "Sir, she really needs time to recuperate."
"Damn it, we don't have all that much time!" barked Brackenrdige, his whole body locked in tension, "something can be going on right this minute. Tell the landing bay crew to get my chopper ready, I'm flying out tonight!"
General Shearson walked into the room. "Your troops may be but a few of your worries, Brackenridge. " The older officer pulled a videotape out of his pocket. "Our station crew taped this program earlier today." He slid the tape into a VCR attached to the overhead terminal and pushed the play button. The screen turned a solid blue, then...
"This is Julian Griggs of NEWS ALIVE. Last Tuesday night a tremendous fight between U.S. soldiers and Barney the Dinosaur occurred here at this compound in New Mexico, just a few miles shy of Carlsbad. It appears that in addition to one human, twelve grotesque creatures were killed, at the loss of three soldiers."
"I'll kill that slimy bastard!" screamed Brackenridge, "I'll kill him!"
"Since that was broadcast earlier today, protest groups of angry parents and children have risen all over the country," muttered Shearson. "The Pentagon is denying all knowledge of your actions and whereabouts. The public outrage is...indescribable".
"We were so close, so close to sealing the lid on that purple fascist! Doesn't anyone out there understand what this monster is up to?" Brackenridge pulled on his field jacket and stalked out of the room. "Shearson, send any back-up units out if Cheryl Robison reveals her family's location. My radio will be locked onto frequency channel 2 at all times. I'm going back out to my troops".
Shearson followed after the enraged general. "Brackenridge, be careful. You don't know what's out there!"
Minutes later the Cobra chopper lifted out of the secret hangar and screamed into the engulfing darkness, sinking out of sight.
Trina lay happily in her bed, clutching the brand-new Barney doll she was given that night. She was so happy to have met Barney, Baby Bop, BJ, and all of their friends. Since their father had been taken away, she and her brother felt safe and loved for the first time in months. No more screaming, no more drunken fits of rage. All was bliss.
She looked at the clock. It was five past midnight. Surely, everyone else must have gone to sleep. She rose out of bed to get herself a drink of water. She passed by her brother's room, she could hear him snoring contentedly. As she neared the stairwell, she thought she heard noises coming from the front lawn. She stealthily walked over to a nearby window and peered into the darkness.
Shapes, several dozen of them, wandered clumsily through the yard, single file. Trina had trouble making out details, but she knew the larger forms were Barney, Baby Bop, and BJ. The rest had to be either Sponge-Minions or Loved Ones. Why were they up so late, and where were they going? She looked on in puzzlement, and then realized the horde was returning to the drainage ditch where she had discovered Barney earlier before.
Suddenly, Trina heard a gurgling noise coming from the end of the stairwell. A Loved One must have been left behind to watch over the children. In the dark, she saw it's cloaked, hobbling shape wobble over to her.
"I-I was thirsty, so I-"
The creature hissed and shook its taloned hands in a bestial fit of rage. Terrified, Trina ran back to her bed and pulled the sheets over her head. The door slammed loudly behind her.
Julian Griggs flew with his crew in the NEWS ALIVE 7 helicopter, they wanted to get back to the compound before any other rival news teams got there in the morning. The outrage his initial report provoked sent his adrenaline rushing, he was on the verge of one of the hottest stories of the year. Now that it was out, there could be no more military intervention without the viewing public reacting strongly. He sipped his coffee and laughed out loud, much to the annoyance of his crew.
"Mr. Griggs, we should be reaching the compound within 45 minutes," reported the pilot.
"Take them down! They're all around us!"
"Meyers and Brickman are down, send back-up, send back-up!"
"I don't know where they came from sir, but they're heavily armed and have us pinned down! Call in for help!"
Lieutenant Garret listened in on his radio. The frantic calls were coming in from everywhere. The Lieutenant and his squad were having problems too. The compound was being fired on from all directions, and two soldiers were severely wounded.
"Keep low, conserve your ammo," he ordered, just as another hailstorm of fire hit the building. Garret retained the receiver and sent out a broadcast: "All units retreat back to the compound area, exercise extreme caution. Enemy is all around. I repeat, all units retreat back to the compound area!"
"Sir, I think they're trying to recapture the compound," yelled a private from her corner.
"Or else they're trying to capture us," added Garret, sliding a fresh magazine into his automatic. "Let's show them a thing or two".
On the lieutenant's signal, the squad spontaneously fired bullets and grenades against a high standing dune off to the north. The ensuing explosions had a satisfying effect, as high-pitched squeals of wounded Loved Ones filled the air. The smoke and flame obscured the compound for a few moments, and all fell silent.
Off in the distance, the sound of whipping blades and rotors could be heard. It was a helicopter, headed directly for the compound.
"Good God, that's Brackenridge," said Garret, trying to wave away the smoke, "we gotta cover his landing".
The helicopter loomed low in the black sky, and it slowly began centering itself upon a flat area just beyond the compound. Suddenly there was a barrage of stinging lights and cracks, and sparks flew off the edges of the doomed aircraft. As the horrific melee continued, the chopper spun wildly, as the cockpit burst into flames. The next instant the tail section hit the ground and the entire craft was shaken to pieces. Debris and fire flew in all directions, as the night sky was instantly lit by the dazzling fireball which plummetted and rolled like a firecracker.
"Return fire!" yelled Garret. Out from behind the dune, a shrieking, gurgling Loved One ran into the fray, trailing wires and cords. Garret immediately realized what was happening. It was making a suicide run. He instantly trained his sights upon the charged, bloated monster and fired away. The Loved One exploded just several yards shy of the compound. Gore and metal were flung against the walls. "Booby-trapped," he muttered.
The lieutenant counted his troops. There were five of them, protecting the building. No one could get out to the flaming wreck of the chopper. Then, off in the distance, he heard the sound of approaching gunfire. He smiled. It was his units, making a hasty retreat back to the compound. The Sponge-Minions would have to retreat or risk being trapped. The enemy shelling and firing ceased instantly. The minions of Barney had been beaten back.
Within the hour, all units had returned. The strike force, consisting originally of twenty-four soldiers, had now been stripped down to fifteen. Most had been lost in the opening attacks, while a few had been killed guarding the compound. There was a spirit of anger, yet determination among the force. The worst loss of all had been the death of General Brackenridge.
Garret stared at the smoldering hulk of metal. He sent a few of his troops over to recover the remains. From here on, it would be harder than ever imagined. He sat back on a crate of spent munitions and tried to regain his focus. This was interupted when the sound of an encroaching aircraft was heard in the distance. Another helicopter.
As it loomed into view, Garret saw it was a military craft, but he was confused. It had the identical markings of Brackenridge's ship. He was even more perplexed when General Brackenridge stepped out of the helicopter and walked over towards the confused lieutenant.
"Quite a fight you must've had here," said Brackenridge, eyeing the debris. "God man, they even got one of our gunships".
"I thought that was you, sir," said Garret, looking as perplexed as the rest of the strike force.
"No sir, I'm pretty much here far as I can tell," replied the general, who then began poking through the smoky remains. He found one of the helicopter's panels and read it aloud.
"NEWS ALIVE 7, it says", he remarked. "Looks like our reporter friend chose a bad time to come back" The general didn't appear overtly sympathetic. "Lieutenant, whatever was blocking our signal has stopped. Radio into the Barney Demolition Headquarters and inform them to blockade all roads within a hundred miles of our location. In addition, tell them to send in any available info they have on Russian satellites, and the movie, `The Conqueror'."
"Just do it, lieutenant, they'll understand. And I'll go tell our troops to settle in for the rest of the night, I think we all can stand a little sleep right about now".
Morning came upon the Robison farm. Trina awoke and went to her brother's room. The Loved One was no longer in the hallway. She told Kent Jr. what she had seen during the night, and he was also puzzled by the incident. After brushing their teeth and getting dressed, the two went downstairs.
The entire house looked like a hospital.
Sprawled on the floor, the tables, the sofa, and the easy chairs, lay Loved Ones and Barney-Minions. Many were wrapped up in crude bandages made of towels and linen. BJ lay against the corner, his soiled bandages peeling off of his shoulder. Baby Bop stared out of the patio window, quietly muttering angry little curses, while wrapping her chubby green arm in a pillow case. Her "blankie" was speckled with frothy green blood.
The only one who appeared unhurt and in good spirits was Barney the Dinosaur. Upon seeing the children, he burst out giggling and wandered over to them. After giving a tender hug to Trina and Kent Jr., he took them to the kitchen for a "healthy snack".
"Barney, what's going on?" asked Trina.
"Oh, hoo-hoo, we were all out playing, but we forgot our safety tips! Don't worry, I'm sure we're all going to be supperr-deee-duuper in just a matter of days!"
"Is that why you were up so late?" asked Kent Jr.
The dinosaur paused, turning a vibrant shade of crimson momentarily. Finally he answered, "Why that's corrrrect! I hope we didn't wake you up! Now, please excuse me for a second". Barney gestured towards the Loved One who had previously been guarding the two children during the night. The Loved One's eyes bulged, as if in fright, but it rose to its stocky feet and went outside towards the stables.
"Your scrumptious toast will be done in just seconds," chuckled the fat Beast of Purple, "I'll be back right away!"
Trina and Kent Jr. smiled, and began getting the table set for breakfast.
Out in the stables, the two ponies and old tan mare were frightened at the unusual spectacle before their eyes.
Barney flung the Loved One hard against the back wall, splintering wood and shaking dust from the rafters. "You were supposed to keep those worthless rugrats in bed!" hissed the dinosaur, who proceeded to shake the chubby little creature wildly. "You failed us! One more time like that, and I'll rip your guts out and shove them down your throat, worthless pile of filth!"
Barney flung the hapless beast upon the ground, who whimpered and cried in pain. Satisfied, the Purple Demon put on a happy smile and sauntered jollily back towards the kitchen. "Hi kids, have I told you lately how much I love you?"