Special Delivery

The Linden Clan attempts to buy planes, but it ends in unexpected ways.

It was an ordinary day at the Linden Clan's new base. The leader of the clan, a tank who went by the name Sable, was currently enjoying a cool can of fuel, sitting in his garage while flipping through a newspaper.   His clan mates were busy scrubbing the paint off a hangar on the other side of the base's center. The task consisted mainly of getting rid of the insignia of the base's previous owner. Unfortunately, said insignia was huge and very resilient; Sable had watched no less than three tanks spending the past two hours trying to get rid of it.   As it was, the Linden Clan had no real use for this hangar. The other clan had commanded a small wing of planes that had lived in it. These planes were now scrap metal. One of their propellers decorated the back wall of Sable's garage.   Letting the newspaper sink for a moment, Sable looked at the structure thoughtfully. Maybe a storage space? A workshop? He'd have to make a decision at some point, but for now he didn't have any concrete ideas.   He looked at the newspaper again, turning the page. Below the zodiac section, there was a big ad. It consisted of an illustration and some text - the illustration was a rather intricate drawing of planes flying in formation and what looked like fleeing tanks underneath. The text simply read "CERTAIN VICTORY HAS A PRICE TAG".   Sable couldn't help but have a sudden daydream about the hangar being inhabited by planes that listened to his command. Despite the victory against the other clan in the recent battle, their planes had been a great nuisance. To be frank, if it hadn't been necessary to kill them during the battle, Sable wouldn't have minded adding them to his clan. One could say what they wanted about planes, they were strong allies.   The ad stated a telephone number also. The clan leader pensively scratched his mantlet. Just giving whatever trader who put the ad there a call wouldn't hurt, would it? Just to ask for details.   "Let's see what they're all about," Sable murmured to himself and tossed the newspaper onto a shelf after memorizing the number. He dialed up the radio frequency of his clan officer and girl Friday.   "Kimber, is the landline installed by now?" he asked. The reply followed almost immediately.   «Yes, Sir! I took care of it earlier today.»   Sable hummed contently and drove out of his garage, towards the administration building. It was a small, square building that contained all the devices needed for communication and various items that the clan possessed that weren't valuable enough to keep them locked away, or needed often. Documents were also kept here. It had been Kimber's task during the last couple days to transfer all this stuff from their previous headquarters to this building.   Entering the building, Sable drove up to the telephone system. He dialed the number from the ad - and was greeted by a queue. He tapped his claws on the side of his hull as he waited. The automated message on the other end explained that he was calling 'NACS' - whatever that was supposed to mean - and that the call was important to them. Sable was about to hang up because he didn't feel like wasting time because of something that was just a fleeting idea anyway, but then someone picked up on the other end.   Sable introduced himself and stated that he had seen the ad and wanted to know more about the planes.   The next ten minutes were spent with listening to a friendly voice explaining that he had called the right place and how aircraft were in high demand and how his clan would definitely profit from them and by the end of it, Sable found himself agreeing to a shipment of 5 fighter planes.   The friendly voice wished him a good day and hung up. Sable's mind was spinning a little from all the grand visions and exciting outlook of commanding his own wing of lethal elite soldiers that the voice had hyped him up for.   He drove out of the building and almost crashed into someone. That someone was Kimber, who wouldn't have managed to avoid the collision if Sable hadn't stopped at the last moment.   Kimber just stared, his turret tilted. Sable backed up a bit and gesticulated at the nearby hangar.   "Get that ready for inhabitants. In two weeks, we've got planes moving in," he said, his voice a bit flustered.   "Planes?" Kimber asked, looking and sounding dumbfounded.   "Yes, yes. I just ordered five of them."   "Oh, uhm..." Kimber hummed, "... ordered?"   Sable got impatient with the weird thick-wittedness.   "Yes? They'll be delivered in two-"   "Does that mean you paid for them...?"   "No- No not yet."   "Sir, if I may,..."   "Huh?"   Kimber shuffled about on his tracks sheepishly.   "How much will this cost?" he asked.   Sable wanted to reply, but then realized that he hadn't even asked for the price. The friendly voice hadn't mentioned it either, at least he couldn't recall it. Only as he thought about it harder, he diffusely remembered a random number that had been stated during the call.   "Five-hundred dollars," he said confidently.   Kimber gave him a skeptical look but didn't openly question the number.   "That's going to eat up the majority of our savings," was the only thing he stated.   "Yeah, but-" Sable said, "it's for the bright future of our clan." He found the lack of enthusiasm from his officer irritating.   As Kimber didn't say anything else, Sable drove past him and went to return to his garage.   "The bill will be delivered via mail, so let me know when it arrives," he said back over his fender. Kimber replied with a hesitant "Yessir".  

***
  Sure enough, two days later, Kimber knocked on Sable's garage door. The officer was holding a newspaper and something that looked like a letter.   Sable grabbed both.   "What's with that look?" he asked the other tank - Kimber was wearing a strange frown. It was explained the moment Sable's gaze fell on the letter. It was an invoice from 'NACS'. If he had been able to, Sable would have gone very pale the moment he saw the due amount stated on it.   "Five-hundred...." he mumbled.   "...-thousand," Kimber added deadpan.   Sable felt his ventilation pick up pace.   "That-... must be an error," he said in a choked tone. "I'll. I'll go call them right away."   He stormed out of his garage and to the admin building, typed in the trader's number again frantically. This time there was no queue, and as he stated his business, Sable was forwarded to a voice that didn't sound nearly as friendly as the last one.   Sable quickly and agitatedly explained the perceived issue with the invoice he had received. Kimber had followed him apparently and entered the building as well while Sable was still busy explaining.   "....am sure that there's just an error-" Sable said, but the telephone voice interrupted him. Kimber could observe his leader be silent for a few moments and then hang up abruptly.   The two tanks stood silently, then Sable burst out into angry yelling.   "Fuck these guys!! That's just not fair! How dare they get my hopes up like that and then ask for five-hundred-THOUSAND dollars?!"   Kimber cleared his vents awkwardly. Sable yelled on.   "There's no one on EARTH who could afford that! It's a rip-off!"   With another clearing of his vents, Kimber tried to get a word in.   "Sir, we should probably cancel the order," he said cautiously.   Sable stopped his rant for a moment to stare at the officer. As he replied, his voice was still in a shouting tone, but now almost whiny.   "But we need those planes!" he insisted.   "I can try to call again and ask for a different deal...?" Kimber said, still in a cautious tone.   Sable let out a disgruntled grumble, but nodded. He watched with a stern look as Kimber rolled over to the telephone system and pressed the redial button. He picked up the receiver and took it into his hull.   "Hello?" Kimber said tentatively. "Yes, hello. It's... uh... the Linden Clan again. Yes, sorry, there was a problem with the telephone. No, I'm the officer."   Sable watched as the other tank proceeded to try and get an affordable deal out of the trader. For the first minute however, it didn't seem to be going anywhere. After what seemed like an eternity of back and forth, Kimber finally signed some sort of new deal.   "Three planes is alright," he said in a defeated tone. Sable heckled an exasperated "No it's not!!". Kimber only gesticulated at him to be quiet, which Sable found offensive; but he let it slide that time.   Kimber finally hung up and turned to his leader, who returned his collected look with a sour frown.   "They changed the order. We'll get three planes for five-hundred dollars. A new invoice will be sent," Kimber summarized his call.   "Hmph... What model will those be?"   "Spitfires."   Sable narrowed his optics skeptically.   "I can't imagine Spitfires being that cheap. I heard they're powerful planes," he grumbled.   "Well, they're surrogate Spitfires."   "...Surrogate?"   Kimber shrugged.   "I'm not sure what they meant by that. I'm guessing... factory seconds of some sort?"   "What, did you buy planes with one wing or something?!" Sable shouted, his temper flaring up again.   Kimber raised his arms to placate the other tank.   "I'm sure they're just a little quirky. We'll see once they're here. Let's give them a chance, yes?"   "...Alright," Sable huffed.  
***
  It took three days this time for the new bill to arrive. Sable had been anxiously waiting for it; he happened to be near the gates when the mail arrived and immediately yanked the bundle out of the courier's hands.   On the way back to his garage, he opened the letter from NACS first. The invoice inside looked as expected this time: Five-hundred dollars for three 'surrogate' Spitfires. Curiously, it also had a note stating that three trucks were required for transport of the goods.   Sable looked up and spotted his officer strolling about with a fuel can nearby.   "Kimber! Come here," he called.   The addressed tank immediately hurried to Sable's side.   "Yes?" Kimber asked with a salute.   Sable showed the invoice to him.   "Prepare the money. Send a convoy with three trucks to the payment address."   "Three trucks, Sir...?" Kimber replied with a tilted cannon.   Sable gesticulated dismissively.   "It says so on there. I guess the planes come with equipment."   "Understood," Kimber said with another salute. He took the invoice and went about gathering the supplies and the convoy.   Sable went to check the hangar. The old insignia had been thoroughly removed, though this had left behind a bald spot on the wall. On the inside, it was clean and tidy, ready for its new inhabitants. Kimber had done a decent job preparing it. Sable decided that he'd invite him over for a can of high-octane fuel in the evening for a job well done.  
***
  Another two days later, Sable was in the middle of a strategic briefing with his scouts when the guard announced the returning convoy. Sable excused himself from the briefing and promised to finish it later. Right then he was too excited for the delivery of his planes to continue it.   He left the building and hurried to the gates. On the way, he radioed Kimber, telling him to come there too.   Arriving at the entrance of the base at about the same time, the two tanks looked at the opening gates curiously.   The convoy entered - it consisted of the same three trucks and two guards that Kimber had sent to the traders. Something important was very obviously missing: the planes.   Sable frowned and approached one of the guards.   "Where are the planes?" he asked, getting straight to the point. The guard returned the frown.   "You'll see in a moment," she replied.   Before Sable could start making any assumptions where the planes could be hiding, the trucks started unloading cargo. Sable watched with growing confusion as they unloaded weird piles of fabric.   "What are these?" he asked the guard.   "Your planes," she said dryly.   Sable inhaled sharply. No, this... this couldn't be. Those weren't planes... Those were... what were they, actually? He drove over to one of the piles and poked it. His optics fell on something that looked like a valve of sorts and was labelled "AIR IN". It finally dawned on Sable what they had ordered. Those were actually planes, but... inflatable ones.   He turned around and looked at Kimber, who was standing a short way off and appearing vaguely terrified. Sable set himself into motion and drove over to the officer.   "Kimber, my dear officer,..." Sable said in a voice that was a cross between his official leader voice and an overly patient one.   "Y-Yes, Sir...?"   "Tell me,..."   "....."   "What am I looking at?"   "The... planes we ordered..."   "We?"   Kimber shuffled about on his tracks.   "I did. I ordered them."   "Curious. What did you pay for them?"   "Five-hundred dollars, Sir..."   "Which amounts to?"   "...?"   "I believe someone told me it was nearly our entire savings."   "Sir, I..."   Sable didn't reply, but his features grew into a glare. Kimber seemed to shrink on his tracks and spoke on pleadingly.   "I'm sorry...! How... How can I make up for this??"   "You know where the tyre pump is," Sable replied deadpan.   Kimber only stared at first, but then quickly saluted and hurried off to the storages.


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