The chaplins war, p.2
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       The Chaplin's War, p.2

           Lynn Gazis-Sax
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we waited. And waited. Then the approaching gunfire convinced us that, safe to move or not, it was less safe to stay. So we slung Campbell over a mule and set out again.

  “Damn rats,” Rachel muttered, “What are you worth if you don't find the mines before we do?”

  Adisa flung Babirye to the ground. Fei crouched, gun at the ready, and the rest of us ducked, frantically looking around to see what had caught Adisa's eye, and pointing our pulse rifles every which way. Something blasted where Babirye had been standing.

  “Radar reports an army unit approaching from the southwest,” said one of the rats.

  “How many?” I asked.

  “Several dozen,” said the rat.

  “And one of us,” I said, indicating Fei.

  “More than that,” said Rachel, and pulled the hologenerator from the third mule. After a little fiddling at the controls, she supplied us with an army. Humans, Qorathi, Ubaganians.

  “Are they really going to believe that the Ubaganians have joined us?” asked Gita.

  Rachel made some adjustments, and the army became a mix of human and Sheromi, with a formidable array of guns and grenade launchers and tanks. Our new army took its stand between us and the foe.

  “That will do,” said Rachel, “until they bring out their infrared sensors and figure out that our army isn't real. We'd best run.”

  “What? Where am I?” said Campbell from his mule.

  “We'll explain later,” I said, and we ran. And ran.

  Once out of range of the foe, we trudged for hours, stopping only to refill our water. The two suns were both high in the sky when I climbed the crest of the hill and saw them. They lay from end to end of the field, corpses missing arms and legs, arms and legs missing corpses, heads separated from bodies and bodies separated from heads. I crouched, fighting nausea.

  Softly behind me came Campbell's voice, in ancient English.

  Many's the lad fought on that day,

  Well the Claymore could wield,

  When the night came, silently lay

  Dead on Culloden's field.

  He's right, I thought, we are Chaplins, and we shall honor these dead. We shall sing their praises, as the ancient English sang for their dead on Culloden's field, and we shall sing our mockery of our Dilgarian foe. I swallowed, and I stood, and I raised my head up high.

  “Dilgarian helicopters!” shouted Babirye.

  I jumped for the anti-aircraft gun, and fired it at the helicopters. Shells flew wildly nowhere near the helicopters. Fei muscled me aside and took control of the gun. Soon one of the two helicopters lurched toward the ground, while the other fled the scene.

  Fei took a pulse rifle and approached the helicopter to finish off the soldiers inside. Two of the three Dilgarians inside were dead. The third gave him that toothy Dilgarian grin that never means goodwill, and shot him straight in the heart. Then Adisa and Babirye, wisely not trusting to their aim, jumped the Dilgarian and pistol-whipped him to death.

  Gita felt for Fei's pulse.

  “He's dead, Vijaya,” she said.

  We made Fei a funeral pyre, and sang his spirit on its way. Then, after rifling the bodies of the troops for what identification we could find, we used our flame throwers to give them an honorable cremation.

  And so, minus the only one of us who could aim a gun, we set on our way again. I hoped that the hologenerator could keep the foe at bay till we made it to safety.

  We took a turn into the rain forest, and made our way through the brush. The leaves cut us, and the branches stung, but we were safer here than in the fields.

  Four Sheromi adolescents swung toward us through the trees. They carried several Dilgarian guns.

  “What are you doing with those weapons?” I cried.

  “We're – we're bringing them to you,” volunteered the oldest of the Sheromi youths.

  They couldn't possibly be worse marksmen than us.

  “Keep the weapons,” I said, “and join us.”

  The Sheromi agreed. But where were we headed? In our headlong flight, we had lost track of just where our lines might be. One of the Sheromi had heard a rumor that our troops were to the northeast. We asked the mules if they had picked up any radio. They had not, not for a day. Our troops might be near or far, but northeast was our best guess.

  By nightfall, Campbell had a headache. Gita gave him a painkiller, and we propped him on his side, in case he threw up.

  “My kingdom for a Ubaganian medikit,” said Gita. “Did we really need twenty pulse rifles?”

  “They were fresh out of medikits,” I said, “and giving pulse rifles away.”

  Campbell groaned.

  We lost him at dawn. To the dismay of the Sheromi, who dislike fire in the midst of trees, we made him a funeral pyre.

  We set out through the forest, the Sheromi swinging in the lead.

  “Radar suggests an army unit ahead,” said one of the rats.

  “Hallelujah!” said Rachel.

  “But are we sure it's ours?” asked Adisa.

  But the Sheromi youths swung ahead, eager to meet the human troops. I ran after and waved my hands in the Sheromi sign for quiet and caution.

  Several soldiers burst through the trees. They were not human. We ducked Dilgarian fire, and Rachel rushed for the controls of the hologenerator. A dozen human soldiers surrounded us, and then flickered into oblivion as the hologenerator took a hit from a grenade. We all fired on the soldiers at once, and somehow they fell. It surely couldn't have been I who hit them.

  I heard a cry, and I looked, and saw the youngest Sheromi youth writhing on the ground. Gita rushed to his side and tried to bind his wounds. But his breath rattled and ceased.

  I heard Rachel's voice behind me, “Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba.”

  O, Krishna, what have I done! I have sent a child to die in place of me.

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