The chaplins rescue, p.1
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       The Chaplin's Rescue, p.1
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           Lynn Gazis-Sax
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The Chaplin's Rescue
lin's Rescue

  Copyright 2016 Lynn Gazis-Sax

  “Don't die on me! Do not die on me!” Gita pounded the chest of the Sheromi youth, in a desperate attempt to start his hearts beating again.

  But the youth had already breathed his last death rattle.

  Behind me, Rachel's voice rose and fell, “... v'yam'likh mal'khutei b'chayeikhon uv'yomeikhon ...”

  The other three Sheromi youths began to yelp and howl. Gita sat back, put her head in her hands, and wept.

  He's dead, Vijaya.

  The voice in my head was Fei's. Fei, who, along with Campbell, was also now dead. Fei, who, had he been alive, would never have let the Sheromi youth run ahead of us into danger. What kind of a leader was I?

  But I was the only kind of leader our little troupe of Chaplins had. I needed to pull myself together and come up with a plan to get us to safety, back to our proper place performing behind the lines, not dodging mines and grenades in no man's land.

  “ … aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru,” Rachel came to the end of her prayer.

  I allowed her a moment of silence, then spoke.

  “Rachel, can you get a map of any nearby troops from one of the rats?”

  “And we'll know their troops from ours how, exactly?” asked Adisa.

  “Body temperature?” suggested Sanjeev. “Perhaps Rachel could program the rats' heat sensors?”

  Adisa's wife, Babirye, shook her head.

  “Are the rats' sensors that good? Humans and young Sheromi have a higher body temperature than Dilgarians. Older Sheromi have a lower body temperature. Compare a group of a few dozen Dilgarians with a group of a few dozen humans and Sheromi, and will the rats really be able to tell the difference?”

  “Heck,” Rachel said, “The rats aren't even reliably finding mines, and they're supposed to already be programmed for that.”

  “The ones swinging through the trees will be Sheromi,” the oldest Sheromi youth pointed out.

  “Right. Troops on the ground could be human or Dilgarians, so hide from them or run. Aircraft could be anyone, so hide. Troops that are treetop level are Sheromi and can be trusted. Can we program that?” I turned to Rachel.

  “Probably,” said Rachel, “but it'll take time. I didn't expect to have to know the rats' software system.”

  She gestured toward the broken hologenerator that should have been her technical forte, had it not fallen to damage from a grenade.

  “Hang onto that,” said Gita, “Maybe we can repair it, or at least use it for parts.”

  “Sure,” said Rachel, “It's not as if we're short on mules.”

  Indeed, we still had eleven six-legged robotic Ubaganian mules.

  “Or pulse rifles,” said Sanjeev. “Is there any way we can use those for parts, since we can't aim them worth a damn?”

  “Parts for what?” said Rachel, “Nothing I can use has the same parts as a pulse rifle.”

  “We don't need weapons,” I said, “We need to know where to go.”

  “Isn't that obvious?” said Gita, gesturing to the Sheromi, “We're going home. Theirs.”

  She was right. Taking the Sheromi back to their village was the only sensible course. Not only was it the only way we knew to get these youths back to someone who could protect them better than we could, but the Sheromi surely would know more than we did, new arrivals as we were, about the battle lines.

  Gently we bundled up the dead Sheromi youth, with Gita consulting with the remaining Sheromi about their funeral customs. Then we placed him on one mule, each of us again took a pulse gun or flame thrower or grenade launcher, and we bundled the remaining weapons and provisions on the other ten robotic mules.

  “What about them?” the oldest Sheromi gestured to the Dilgarian corpses.

  “Let them rot,” said the other two Sheromi, both at once.

  “It's not our job to give them a funeral,” said Gita.

  “No,” said Babirye, “but we could make use of them.”

  “Rig them with grenades,” said one of the Sheromi, “and the next Dilgarian who retrieves them can join them.”

  “Not a bad idea,” I said, “but maybe they'd be more useful as bargaining chips. Suppose we offer the Dilgarian troops their dead in return for safe passage.”

  “They might just kill us and take their dead,” Sanjeev pointed out.

  “Let's split the difference,” said Adisa, “rig some of them with grenades, and throw some on our mules to use as bargaining chips.”

  And so we did. Then we set off. We did our best to handle our weapons as if we could fire worth a damn. One rat scurried ahead of us and one trailed behind. The Sheromi youth swung in the trees a little behind the first rat.

  Twice the rats warned us of approaching troops, and twice we scrambled to hide, never learning whether we hid from friend or foe. Once we heard explosions and veered off course to avoid whatever they might portend. Once the leading rat found and disarmed a mine. Finally, after two days of travel, we stood by a ridge just short of the Sheromi village. We raised the flag of truce high, lest any frightened Sheromi fire before we got close enough for them to tell human from Dilgarian, and set out over the hill.

  Burned were their homes. Exile and death scattered the loyal Sheromi. Splintered and singed trees, heads without bodies, bodies without heads, and limbs of all kinds were strewn across a clearing where a wood should have been.

  The three Sheromi youth yelped and howled.

  “We'll kill them!” they cried, “The Dilgarians will pay for this.”

  They went for the weapons on the mules. One grabbed the anti-aircraft gun, one a grenade launcher, one a flame thrower, and each took a pulse rifle.

  I have sent a child to die in place of me. I thought. I will not lose three more.

  “Hold it,” I said, “There are more of them than you. They'll kill you.”

  All three protested at once. One borrowed a human saying, “Better to die on my feet than live on my knees.” Another asked how he could face his kin if his family wasn't avenged. The third turned on me angrily.

  “Aren't you supposed to be Krishna, urging Arjuna on to war?”

  Even Sheromi know the vow of honor we take as Chaplins.

  “I am,” I said, “and I do. But let me tell you another saying, by the great ancient Usan playwright Charles Chaplin. The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

  Babirye backed me up, “Fight smart, and live to fight another day.”

  “First we find the enemy,” I said, “and then we lay a trap. When the trap goes off, we will be far away.”

  The Sheromi bowed their heads in agreement.

  “First we mourn,” said one, “and then we will lay our trap.”

  We collected the funeral herbs that the Sheromi require, the three youths pointing us to which herbs could be used in their rites, and which saved for other purposes, medicinal or poisonous. Then we assembled the body parts as best we could into individuals, and placed each corpse, the one we had brought and the ones we had found, in a hammock to swing from tree branches, as the Sheromi do for their dead. It took several trips to bring all the dead to proper burial trees, when so many trees had been felled, and we had many songs to sing, both for the dead Sheromi and for the dead trees. Rachel worked on programming the rats while the rest of us collected herbs, then joined us for the funeral singing.

  When all the dead had been raised to the sky, we gathered around the rats.

  “I have set this rat,” said Rachel, “to scan the radio waves for battle reports, and translate from all languages into Hindustani.”

  “Who is winning?” asked Sanjeev.

  “Everyone,” said Rachel.

  She fl
ipped from one radio frequency to another.

  “Our glorious Dilgarian army has taken the city of Vorgau. The enemy scurries away, but will not escape.”

  “Our brave Sheromi troops have crushed the Dilgarians and repelled an assault on Vorgau.”

  “Terrans have the Dilgarians on the run, as they flee toward Lake Z'Pathua.”

  Not only was there no agreement on who was winning, there was no agreement whatsoever on who was where.

  “Let's head for Vorgau,” I said. “Both the Dilgarians and the Sheromi said there was a battle there.”

  “And we want to go toward a battle why, exactly?” asked Gita.

  “To join the Sheromi army!” said the youngsters.

  “To find the Sheromi army,” I said. “The Sheromi army is the only one we can rig our rats to tell from the others.”

  “Already rigged,” said Rachel. “If they're human or Dilgarian, we have no clue, but if they're Sheromi, the rats will tell us.”

  “With our luck, the Sheromi will be long gone from Vorgau by the time we get there,” grumbled Sanjeev.

  “Do you have a better plan?” I asked.

  So we set out for Vorgau. For a day and a half, we saw nothing but trees and wild animals. Some of the trees were splintered and torn, and others singed. Each time the Sheromi passed a damaged tree, they cursed the Dilgarians who had done it harm.

  On the afternoon of our second day of marching toward Vorgau, one of the rats spoke.

  “Radar suggests an army unit ahead.”

  “Sheromi or not?” Rachel asked.

  “Not Sheromi.”

  “How many?” I asked.

  “Several dozen.”

  “We'd better buy our passage,” I said,
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