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Posted on Jan 12, 2006 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features, TIAOW

The Incorrect Art of War [Episode 14] – Now you Tree Me, Now You Don’t

By A J Summersgill and Jim H Moreno

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Starring:

Doctor Sinister

Doctor Sinister. An evil Supervillain with an insane lust for power. From his secret island base, the Doctor plans to become future Emperor and Warlord of the planet Earth. Enjoys the company of cats and cloned genetically modified Dinosaurs.

And featuring:

General Menace. Graduated from West Point Military Academy with honours, served for twenty-five years in the US Army, reaching level of 2-star General in command of training facilities before being recruited by Doctor Sinister to command his New Model Army of World Domination. Has a penchant for cigars.

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EPISODE 14 – "Now You Tree Me, Now You Don’t"

The sun shines brightly through the ubiquitous chemical haze hovering over the Sinister Imperial Command Complex as the gigantic stretched Humvee of General Menace slowly pulls up to the entrance of the mountain headquarters. Emerging wearily from the rear of the chauffeur-driven vehicle, the General is disturbed to note that there are no guards present beside the massive steel-plated doorway leading to the interior.

Briskly striding the steps, the General cannot help but see two enormous oak trees either side of the doorway where the guards should be. Shaking his head in disbelief, the General is about to proceed inside when his eye is caught by the odd presence of the Sinister-issue plasma assault rifles casually slung on the branches of each of the trees. As he leans in for a closer look, one of the trees gives a slight, almost imperceptible shudder. Making a mental note to discuss this with his master, the General proceeds inside the base, pausing only to step over the large pile of leaves and dead tree branches littering the floor.

Five root-stricken minutes later, in the War Room…

Doctor Sinister: Welcome General! And how goes the day?

General: Well, to be frank, not too good Sir, three entire Squads of troops appear to have gone AWOL and we’re trying to track them down. It’s as if the forests just swallowed them up.

(Grinning) Ah…

Yes, it’s a major worry right now. Personally, I can’t understand how they would have gotten off the island, security here is absolute. And besides, it’s not like they would be able to get all that far – not since you released the Nuclear Plesiosaurs…

Actually I think your missing troops might be down to me General.

Sorry my Lord? You helped them get away? I don’t understand…

(The General is suddenly struck by the looming presence of several dozen large coniferous trees at the far end of the War Room)

Erm…your Majesty, a small wood appears to have sprouted near the main viewscreen.

Yes I know. Very impressive aren’t they General?

Well, they are large trees to be sure.

I’m glad you think so, it is, after all, my entire reason for bringing you here.

And I think I can hear birds…

Yes, they sort of flew in and built nests, most inconvenient.

(Rubs his brow) I must confess I’m very confused by all of this my Lord, all the way here I had to step over dead leaves, roots, branches, and I met a bunch of Gardeners near the refectory….

Not Gardeners General – Tree Surgeons!

Well, whatever, one of them attacked me with a pair of pruning shears.

They can be a little enthusiastic.

I had to disable him.

I’m sure he’ll live.

He might not, I broke his arm.

Well, he’s got another one…

And his neck.

These things happen.

Sir, my Lord, your Excellency, I just don’t understand why there are Tree Surgeons here at all. Are we opening an Arboretum?

No.

Oh good, for a moment there…

Why, do you think we should?

Sagacity, no, that’s not what I’m saying…

Well why not? Or we could open a Garden Centre…

Because…

(Looks off into the distance, deep in thought) Could be an interesting sideline…we could sell genetically modified Venus Flytraps that eat people. Must make a note of that one…

(Mutters) Just what we need, our own little shop of horrors… (Loudly) Can’t we just talk about the trees my Lord? I’d really like to get back to finding the deserters…

Oh, don’t trouble yourself General; you’ll give yourself dry rot. Perhaps a glass of water would help?

Yes please, it is rather warm in here.

Here you go… (Doctor Sinister hands the General a small plastic watering can with a long spout)

Erm, thanks.

No problem. Come this way…

(Doctor Sinister guides the General over to the trees)

Take a good look General.

Yes. Very nice.

General, I must confess that I am the one responsible for your men going missing. I meant to drop you a memo’ in the mail, but I just got so tied up with everything. Anyway, you need look no longer for your troops, because I’m afraid I, erm, "transplanted" them.

You mean you borrowed them? What for? I mean, it’s no problem at all, of course it’s not, but why do you need three entire Squads? Some kind of security alert?

Well, you remember we had that little talk about camouflage?

Yes, how could I forget my Lord…

And you went on at great length about how orange was a really bad colour for the troops’ uniforms?

Yes…

And about how the invisibility aerosol never works?

Well it doesn’t, if you’ll excuse me for saying so, it’s rubbish. Half the time we can’t find our equipment, the rest of the time it just brings the men out in a rash. You should have the designer thrown to the Dinosaurs…

I already did.

Oh good…

Yes, but unfortunately they couldn’t see him and we think he got away. Anyway, I had a bit of a rethink and came up with the idea of camouflaging the men.

Always a good idea my Lord. I am gratified to see that you are learning the correct art of war…

Thanks – I knew you’d be impressed. So what do you think?

Erm…of what my Lord?

The men of course.

The men?

Yes, your men. They are stood right in front of you.

They are?

(General Menace looks at the trees, totally nonplussed. Moving closer, he peers through the foliage to see if he can see anyone hidden within the depths of the small forest)

I, erm, I can’t see anyone. Your Excellency, have you been taking those purple pills again?

(Chuckles) No General, only the blue ones. Look a little bit closer…

(The General moves in amongst the trees and sees that each one has its own Sinister-issue plasma assault rifle hanging from the branches. As he moves amongst the trees, he sees that some of them are swaying ever so slightly…he thinks back to the trees at the main door…)

Oh no…

(Gleeful) Oh yes!

You couldn’t have…

I could!

You didn’t…

Oh yes I did!

The trees…

Are your men! Aha! You see? I fooled even you General! Oh this is fantastic! I can’t imagine why no-one has thought of this before…

Because, with the greatest of respect my Lord, it’s a really bad idea.

It is?

(General Menace looks on with alarm as a Siamese cat wanders into the War Room and stops at the sight of the trees. Its ears prick up as it hears the startled birdsong and it heads straight for the nearest tree whereupon it stands on its hind legs, sniffing the air, trying to see where the birds are hiding. Apparently frustrated, the cat instead begins raking its claws down the trunk. There is an anguished muffled scream from the tree and it collapses to the floor, flailing in agony as the startled cat runs away)

Hmmm… So how did you do it? Rubber suits with real wooden branches woven into them?

To start with, yes, but I already have the laboratory boys working on a serum which will physically alter the men and change them into trees.

Trees with plasma rifles?

Yes, I figure we’ll need several hundred thousand and then we can paradrop them all over the world – a mass invasion by trees, perfectly camouflaged.

I don’t see this working my Lord, what happens when we give the order for these men to fire?

(At the mention of ‘fire’, the entire grove gives a nervous shudder, throwing leaves and birds in all directions. General Menace walks over to the nearest tree)

You OK in there? (There is a muffled squeak and a rustling as the tree desperately tries to throw a salute) Can you breathe? (The tree nods) Can you walk? (The tree shuffles forward, and then falls noisily to the floor in a shower of leaves) You see my Lord? This man, erm, tree, can hardly move, let alone fight.

He’ll get used to it.

I don’t think he will. That’s two trees incapacitated in as many minutes, one by a cat. Where did you get this idea anyway?

(Doctor Sinister activates a viewscreen, and flicks through a sequence of camouflage patterns, including a picture of a late 20th century soldier wearing combat gear with twigs and leaves woven into his helmet webbing)

I just took this and developed the idea to its logical conclusion.

(The viewscreen displays more pictures, the last one of which an illustration of a gang of gigantic walking trees besieging a dark tower)

Is that the March of the Ents from the Lord of the Rings?

I don’t know, I just thought an army of walking trees looked rather interesting.

(Sighs) I’m afraid this is taking things a step too far my Lord. Camouflage is all about deception and disguise, it’s not about turning your men into trees, it’s about making them blend in with their surroundings so they can’t be seen.

Yes but…

No my Lord, I’m afraid the world is not ready for your idea, as brilliant as it is.

But you said…

I know what I said, but perhaps I overstressed the point. Even dressing your men in orange would be better than crippling them as oak trees. I mean, after all, it was only about a hundred and fifty or so years ago, in 1857 if I recall, that the men of the British Army changed their uniforms from bright colours to khaki to fight in India.

They wore orange before that?

No, they wore bright red. But they were taking heavy losses and so dyed their clothes to more neutral colours. It took another 45 years before the entire British Army standardised on the khaki colour to fight the Second Boer War, with the US following suit in the same year, 1902.

Did they wear orange?

I don’t believe so. The point is that the military use of camouflage became an art in itself. Most of the major world powers switched to earthy, natural colours around the same time, and later on patterns were introduced to help the wearer blend into the surroundings ever more. For example, during the Vietnam War, the VC gave no end of trouble to American soldiers due to their uncanny use of camouflage, cover, and concealment.. And if you really want to learn about the art of camouflage, just study the development of the sniper in warfare. But never once did anyone ever contemplate turning their troops into trees.

I just thought…

I know my Lord. Perhaps one day the planet will be ready for your genius.

I do have some other ideas in my inner sanctum.

Very well, Sir. Might you also have any cigars there?

Oh no, I cancelled the delivery, the last transport was full of Tree Surgeons.

(Exasperated, General Menace walks over to the nearest tree-soldier and rips off a few leaves, paying no mind to the muffled cry from behind the fake bark)

Perhaps I could dry these out and make my own, then…

(As the two men leave the War Room, there is a thunderous crash as three dozen trees collapse to the floor)

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A J Summersgill and Jim H. Moreno

andrew@armchairgeneral.com

jim@armchairgeneral.com

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