The chaplins war, p.1
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       The Chaplin's War, p.1

           Lynn Gazis-Sax
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The Chaplin's War
lin's War

  Copyright 2016 Lynn Gazis-Sax

  “Are you with GalPax?” The Qorathi approached me at the spaceport in Trecuyama.

  He craned his long neck further out of his shell, to get a closer look at my face. I marveled that a Qorathi would be willing to join the peacekeeper force so soon after the civil war on their own home world, Lorir, had ended. I'd have expected them, once safe, to crawl back in those tough shells of theirs and stay far from any front. But perhaps he felt he owed GalPax a debt for their role in enforcing the brittle ceasefire that ended that war.

  “No,” I said, “I am doing relief work. Bringing dolls to refugee girls.”

  The Qorathi nodded, a human gesture for my benefit. “I had thought you were from GalPax from the look in your eyes.”

  He said it as if I had confirmed his suspicion. Peacekeeper, relief worker, it was all the same to him. But he thought wrong. I had lied.

  I, Vijaya Choudhary, am a Chaplin.

  I thought it best to keep that from the Qorathi. It's not that I'm anything other than proud of my work. But he and I, for the moment, were not exactly on the same side.

  Peacekeeping is an honorable job. Promises, once made, must be kept, and noble are the warriors who ensure that those promises hold, the GalPax forces who maintain the lines of ceasefires and peace settlements.

  But until that ceasefire settlement is made, you must fight like hell, to be in position to make the right deal when the time comes. And we humans have a truce with the Dilgarians on one front only. On that front, GalPax may take its proper stand. But on the front to which I was headed, no truce held.

  And I am a bard of war.

  We Chaplins take our name from the ancient Usan playwright, Charles Chaplin, who inspired the Usans and their allies to fight to victory over the Great Dictator Adenoid Hynkel. We work in the ancient Bollywood tradition of plays broken by dance routines and satirical songs.

  Most Chaplins simply produce holograms to be sent to the troops. But my troupe of players are among the few and the brave, who travel to just behind the front lines, to put on our shows and arouse the troops to action.

  As the Lord Krishna said to Arjuna, “Do not become a coward, O Arjuna, because it does not befit you. Shake off this trivial weakness of your heart and get up for the battle, O Arjuna.”

  It is my job to be Krishna to our army's Arjuna, and it is as fine a job as any peacekeeper's.

  A few days and a couple of warp jumps later, having left GalPax far behind, I arrived at the planet of Ventos, where the Sheromi swing through the trees. I held out the hand with my identity chip and was directed to the small Terran settlement. There, I have a friend in city hall.

  It was nighttime when I arrived, and so I let my computer connect with Hemant's, and find a suitable time and place for us to meet. The next day, I arrived at the outdoor cafe by the city hall, half an hour late, to find Hemant sipping his lassi.

  “What kept you?” asked Hemant.

  “I had to make an arrangement with an independent businessman,” I said.

  “Oh, him,” said Hemant, “I use him all the time. But you might have known how long it would take you to make the deal.”

  First rule about money near the front: Never change too much at once. The worlds in that area are seeing such high inflation that any excess money you exchange might as well be lost. You'll never be able to change it back for anything near what you had. Second rule of money near the front: Never use the official exchange places. Since everyone knows the currency will soon be inflated, independent businessmen will pay much better rates for our Bitcoin than any official bank ever would. Some merchants give up on the local currency altogether, and simply deal in ours when they can. But for those who don't, some money must be exchanged. And even people who work for the city government, like Hemant, go outside official channels here.

  “I can suggest another business arrangement that might interest you,” said Hemant. “A weapons shop has opened just outside the city limit.”

  “Hemant,” I said, “on the stage, I'm Queen of the high Cs. But give me a gun and I can't hit the broad side of a power plant. What would I want with a weapon shop?”

  “You're forgetting,” said Hemant, “that with the great Ubagane Empire going out of business sale, real weapons are cheaper than props. And more convincing. I'm sure someone in your troupe can disarm whatever you buy.”

  I had to admit that he was right. In the wake of its collapse, the Ubagane Empire is selling off its weapons at bargain rates, to anyone with ready cash. And my choreographer, Fei Shi, had served in the army to get his dance school scholarship. If he didn't know how to disarm the weapons himself, he would surely have a pal who could.

  And so, two days later, Fei and I found ourselves making our way to the weapon shop outside town, to speak with a man named Yossarian.

  By the edge of the Ventosian rain forest, signs in Hindustani, Mandarin Chinese, Wolof, and Sheromish pointed the way to the weapons shop. A maze of bars and rope ladders and swings wove through the shop. Sheromi swung overhead and viewed the wares from above, while humans walked and viewed them from below.

  “First, we need ten, no twelve, Ubaganian mules,” I said.

  “And a couple of rats,” added Fei.

  The six-legged mules serve as pack robots, while the eight-legged rats supply radar, and find and disarm mines.

  “You'll need to take twenty pulse rifles with those mules,” said Yossarian.

  Ubaganian mules are in high demand, but their pulse rifles are a glut on the market.

  “Some Ubaganian MREs,” said Fei, for, though Ubaganian MREs are poison to humans and most other species, they are the best looking food on stage that you can ask for.

  “For you,” said Yossarian, “five thousand Ventosaleks.”

  “Who are you kidding?” I said, “your wares aren't worth half that.”

  Several hours later, we had agreed on suitable supplies at a suitable price, and left with our ten mules, our rats, our pulse rifles, our poisonous food, our three grenade launchers, our two flame throwers, and our one anti-aircraft gun. Our hologenerator would supply the rest of our weapons, and most of our army.

  But first, it was time to meet the rest of our troupe. There are, were I should say, eight of us: me, Fei Shi, the famous griot couple Adisa Ndidi Afolayan and his wife Babirye Dalitso Afolayan, Campbell Cinaed Wallace, Rachel Abrahamovna Butowsky, Sanjeev Jayant Bachchan, and Gita Sumati Jain.

  Because of the time we had spent at the weapon shop, Fei and I were the last to arrive at the theater. Adisa and Babiriya practiced a song, while Rachel reviewed the programming of the hologenerator, and Gita applied stage makeup to Campbell. Sanjeev ran to inspect the guns.

  “Don't touch the food,” I warned him, and he laughed.

  “I know all about - “

  Sanjeev's reassurance that he wouldn't poison himself was interrupted by sirens. We headed for the bomb shelter in the basement, a tight fit, as the mules, more nimble indoors than I had expected of pack robots, chose to follow us downstairs.

  Several hours later, we emerged to the ruin of our theater. Chandeliers lay shattered on the floor, and walls were cracked. Fei and Sanjeev headed outside to examine the damage to the building, but already I could tell the structure was in no condition to house a play.

  “Never mind,” said Babirye, “I'm sure we can scout out another place to entertain the troops.”

  Sanjeev, slipping back indoors, replied, “What troops?”

  “What do you mean?” several of us replied.

  Fei entered and seconded Sanjeev's report, “Our troops have fled. We are behind enemy lines.”

  “They left us?” said Rachel.

  “Did they even know we
were here?” said Gita.

  “They should have,” said Campbell.

  “Never mind,” I said, “our troops can't be far away. We'll hide out till nightfall and make our way back. Dilgarian night vision is worse than ours.”

  But Dilgarians, knowing as well as we did the limitations of their night vision, kept up such a barrage after dark that we were pinned to the spot. Who cared if they couldn't aim? With enough pulse rays firing, one of them was bound to hit its mark. It was two days, and the poisonous Ubaganian food was beginning to look really good, before we finally found enough of a lull in the fighting to make our move.

  Fei, the only one of us with any military experience, tried to take advantage of those two days to give us weapons practice. We learned with excellent theatrical style and miserable aim. No one could play an army better, and no one at whom we might have aimed would have stood the least chance of getting hit. We hoped we would soon find ourselves back on the right side of the line, where our stage presence mattered more than our marksmanship.

  And so we set out, eight humans, twelve robotic mules, and two robotic rats. We hadn't gone half a mile before one of our mules stepped on a mine, sending scraps of our wardrobe flying in all directions. The blast knocked Campbell on his face, and Gita rushed to his side. When he didn't respond to our shouts, she checked his pulse and his breathing.

  “Still alive,” she said.

  “Is he safe to move?” I asked.

  Gita wasn't sure, so
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