Finally, I figured out Part 6. It feels like there’s going to be one more part, all in all seven, and then I can start writing the chapters. I believe Part 6 will definitely grab your attention.
- Sangor looked across the table at the Rat. He had never seen an adult Rat in his life, only Rat children. Even though they were both sitting, it was obvious that the Rat would tower over him, standing up, though Sangor was not considered short by any means. Small head, long neck, lanky muscular body and arms, dark blue skin, blue eyes, and blue hair. He looked like he’d come straight from the mine his father had worked in, that had eventually killed him. That Rat would be invisible in the mine if he’d strip off his clothes and close his eyes. Sangor calculated the odds in his head: there was just him and that Rat. Maybe Sangor could take him. Maybe not. Anyway he wasn’t sure how he’d find his way back to the river. His best bet was to check out the lay of the land. Funny how they had no maps of this part of the world. He wondered about that. Sangor should try to find out what he could and then, when the time was ripe…
- “Where are my friends?” Sangor asked Lem testily. Lem responded after a moment, “Are you feeling any better now?” Sangor said cautiously, “I suppose so. What about my friends, the other captives?” “They are facing the same dilemma you are facing at different tables in different parts of the forest,” Lem answered. “What dilemma is that?” Sangor demanded to know. “Whether your time line ends abruptly or extends into a future that you cannot imagine,” Lem answered. “What do you mean?” Sangor asked his captor. “Whether you choose death or life,” Lem explained patiently, “but you’ve already chosen, haven’t you?”
- Sangor had already chosen life. He had concluded from his captor that the Rat army was vastly superior to the Sap army and, one on one, they seemed quite formidable. It was also clear that the Rats knew the Uncharted Areas far better than his friends and he could hope to know. The smart thing to do would be to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to present itself. As it turned out, the choice was not so obvious. More than half the captives chose death; well, they didn’t actually choose death per se. They decided they’d be damned if they were going to play nice with the stinking Rat sitting across the table from them. They’d overcome the Rat and make a break for it or die trying. Almost before the Sap captives thought about lunging across the table at their captor or running away from him, the Rats reached across and snapped their time lines, almost as easily as snapping their necks, and all the Rats were Lem.
- Lem stands up from the table and tells Sangor to walk with him. Lem brings Sangor out of the forest to a cliff overlooking a fertile valley, dappled by sun and clouds. Beneath the clouds were sheets of rain that seemed to disappear after a few moments. The terraced hills on either side of the valley appeared to be pocked with holes. Sangor saw people, Rats, entering and leaving the holes. Lem led Sangor down the narrow path descending from the cliff into the valley.
- Lem brings Sangor into his home, one of the caves Sangor saw from the cliff. Yani offers Lem and Sangor a cup of water and a plate of fresh fruit. They sit down opposite each other. Lem says to Sangor, “You don’t remember me, do you?” Sangor looks at the Rat with genuine curiosity. He struggles for a moment with his rebellious memories and gives up the effort. “No,” he answers. “Should I?” Lem says to him, “No, I suppose not” and then, “You and I were children in the same day care facility in Sector 87. I built a fortress of wooden blocks and you knocked it down.” Sangor started to remember images and feelings from his childhood. After all, he had not encountered many Rat children in his life. He remembered one or two, but not much else; certainly no interactions with them. “Now, do you remember?” Lem asked Sangor. Sangor was confused. Suddenly he saw and felt what he saw and felt that day when Lem’s mother had brought him to the day care facility and the Rat child had built a fortress of wooden blocks. Sangor had been envious of the Rat’s ability to construct something so tall and was so frustrated when the Rat was able to avoid his blows so easily. The old hatred came back to him. “How are your parents, Javid and Dorka?” Lem brought Sangor back to the present. “Hmm?” Sangor responded. “My father died a few years ago. My mother is in good health, as far as I know… Why did you spare me? … I would have killed you if I’d had the chance.” Lem answered, “It was not necessary to kill you at that time.” “Will it be necessary for you to kill me at another time?” Sangor asked defensively. Lem told Sangor that he would not understand the answer to his question.
- Lem bids good night to Sangor after showing him to his room for the night. Lem tells Sangor they will have breakfast together in the morning and talk.
- The next morning Lem shows Sangor around the cultivated fields and the cave village. Sangor asks many questions. He asks about his friends. Lem tells him he is welcome to visit them and takes Sangor to the captive compound. Sangor tells Lem his place is with his friends. Lem tells Sangor he may stay with his friends if he wants.
- His friends plot to break out of the compound and make a run for the river.
- The escaped captives run up the paths they remember descending and into the thick forests. After several days they reach a clearing. Looking through the clearing, they see the fields of the Rats and their caves. They realized with sinking hearts that they had come full circle. They ran in another direction following a new path, careful to run straight as an arrow. After two days and nights of running and scarcely resting, they arrived haggard at the same cliff overlooking the Rat fields and caves. Disheveled, disheartened, and weak with thirst and starvation, they descended the narrow path to their cave and gratefully wolfed down the food that had been set on the tables inside the cave.
- Sangor asks to see Lem. Sangor says that he does not want to return to the Saps. He would like to cast his lot with the Rats. Lem said that would be a very difficult decision for Sangor and he would be lonely and depressed for the rest of his days. Sangor said it’s what he wanted more than anything. The problem was that Sangor had to go home to fetch his wife and bring her back with him. Lem said that would be very dangerous for them both. If his friends or countrymen found out what he intended, they would certainly kill them both. Sangor said that he was prepared to take that chance. Lem told Sangor that he must betray the Rats. It was the only way his compatriots would trust him and let him live long enough to escape with his wife. Sangor said to Lem that he would not betray the Rats, even if his life depended on doing so. Lem told Sangor he must do so, if he wished to survive. The Saps would learn all you know about us. They would plan an attack to overwhelm us at our weakest point. The attack will not succeed, you may be assured.
- One of the Rats leads those of the captives who wished to return home to the river where it could be forded. When they reached the river bank, three of the captives turned on the Rat to turn the tables on him. They had planned in secret to overpower him and take him captive or kill him, but he was nowhere to be found. They looked everywhere within a radius of 30 steps, careful not to lose a line of sight to the rest of the group. Frustrated, once again, they climbed into a flat boat that had been tethered to one of the trees overhanging the river and paddled to the opposite shore.
- Sangor arrives home in Sector 84 and reports to the governor. The army sector commander was called. Sangor reported everything he could remember since falling captive to the Rats. Sangor is awarded a medal for his cunning and bravery. He goes home to his proud wife. The sector commander calls a staff meeting and comes up with a plan of attack.
- Sangor tells his wife what really happened with the Rats and that he wants her to go back with him to start a new life there. She resists at first but finally agrees to go with him wherever he goes.
- The plan is to fly over the Uncharted Areas with manned balloons. Commandos would fly under the balloons in metal baskets. When they found the fields and caves they would drop cyanide gas bombs that would kill every living thing in a three-day radius.
- The sector commander orders Sangor to lead the commando unit back to the point where he crossed the river from the Uncharted Areas. Sangor asked to bring his wife with him. Sangor’s unit commander tells him to leave his wife at home. The battle field is no place for a woman. Sangor asked permission to say good-bye to his wife. He tells his wife she must follow the unit and keep an eye out for Sangor to come fetch her. He planned to lead the unit to the wrong point along the river, break away from them, and come fetch her. He had stolen an STU and pressed it into her hands. He said she was not to speak into it, only to listen. He would click the transmit button twice to indicate he had escaped and was on his way to fetch her. She would count to ten in her head and click thrice to acknowledge. Then once a minute she would click four times to indicate her position. He would try to triangulate her position with his STU. When he found her, he would take her to the correct point along the river. When they crossed to the other side, Sangor was sure that Lem or one of his friends would find them and bring them safely to the village. Sangor kissed his wife long and hard, and rushed back to his unit.
- The unit sets out with a wagon train pulled by a team of dracs. Three wagons were filled with mounds of folded cloth and coiled rope. Three wagons contained light-weight braided metal baskets and air-burner frames. The last three wagons were loaded with large heavy disarmed cyanide canisters. Some of the commandos rode on top of the wagons and some walked along side. They made good time marching through the sector, much to Sangor’s consternation. He hoped and prayed his wife would be able to keep up with the unit, without being spotted.
- Sangor’s wife has no trouble keeping up with the unit. She had sold their home and bought the first drac-drawn cart she could find. She followed the column of dust the commandos and dracs kicked up on the long march, at a half-day distance, parallel to the dust column on the other side of the valley. When they stopped she would stop. She listened to the military chatter on her STU, careful not to brush against the transmit button. She did not allow herself to sleep. She worried about Sangor and their future. What had happened to their whole world? Sangor had come home from the Rat wars a decorated hero. The high commanders praised him. Their neighbors talked about him admiringly. Then Sangor came home and the world turned on its head. He told her the Rats were good and our people were evil. He said the Rats were strong and smart, and they would win the war against us. He said our government would lead us into catastrophe and extinction. The Rats knew how to rise from the ashes. The Rats did not hate us. They were only defending themselves. They would help us survive. Sangor had asked his wife whether she knew how many Rats fought against our army. Just one, Lem, he said without waiting for her to answer. They can control the weather. They can appear suddenly and just as suddenly disappear. They can be many places at the same time. They see the future like we look across a field. She did not know what to believe. Maybe Sangor had been brainwashed while he was in captivity. She had heard of such things. He certainly was talking crazily. She felt sure the things he said about the Rats could not be true, but she knew many of the things he said about our army and our government might very well be true. What was a person to do? A voice from the STU gave the command to move. She snapped the whip over the inert drac’s back and started to lurch forward.
- By the end of the week, they entered Sector 127. Sangor scanned the hills around them with his monocular for signs of his wife. He saw none. He could not decide whether to worry that she had gotten lost or worse, or be pleased that she had kept herself well hidden. The skies looked ominous, dark and heavy. There were lightning bolts splitting the sky in the direction of the river. Heavy drops of rain began to fall. Sangor feared for his wife. His finger itched to press the transmit button of the STU under his poncho but he withstood the temptation. The commander ordered the commandos to move out.
- The commandos reached the river bank by mid-morning the next day. They were being pummeled by hail the size of rocks banging down on their dented helmets. Sangor hoped the weather was better where his wife was. The fog moved inland from the river making it difficult to see more than two steps in any direction. Now, he thought! Now was the time to escape. He walked through the fog to the edge of the clearing, behind a clump of skag trees, opened his pants, and relieved himself in a long arching stream. Sangor closed his pants, ducked down, and moved as quietly as he could through the fog into the thick forest, pelted on his back by the hail. The sounds behind him began to die away. He looked back in the direction from which he’d come. He couldn’t see anyone. He ran up a hill and down into a ravine. Sangor heard his name called in the distance. He did not answer. Again he heard his name. Again he did not answer. He pulled his STU out from under his poncho and clicked the transmit button twice. Nothing. He heard nothing. Then he heard three clicks. His heart raced with joy. He rushed head-long up the slope to the top of the wooded ridge. He listened to his STU and was not sure whether he heard clicks or static. Then he heard his name spit out harshly on the STU. Why hadn’t he thought about selecting a private frequency after the first two clicks and the three-click acknowledgement? Now they’d have to share their frequency with the commandos. Sangor heard his name again on his STU. The unit commander ordered some scouts to look for Sangor. There wasn’t much time left before they’d find him. Sangor was desperate. He shouted into his STU “switch frequencies — Sangor’s compromised this one!”
- It worked! Sangor could not believe his luck. The frequency had gone quiet all of a sudden. Then the silence was overwhelming. Where was his wife? Click Sirka! For God’s sake click, he thought. He heard four unmistakable clicks, weaker though than the three clicks of acknowledgement he’d heard before. My God! I’m moving away from her. He looked back in the direction from which he’d escaped. Sangor would have to run around the commandos who were widening their circle in their search for him. He ran along the ridge, just below it on the far side to avoid being seen by the commandos, until he thought he had outflanked them, and ran back down the slope into the ravine and back up the next slope to the top of the hill. He waited for a minute and heard four clicks, stronger this time. He continued running in the same direction, stopping to listen, and running again. The clicks were louder now. Sangor had a sharp pain in his rib cage from running but he continued breaking through the dense skag growth until he found a drac path. He ran up the slope and over the ridge. He slid down the loose rocks between the trees that parted into an open field. Sangor’s blood ran cold. His wife’s naked white body hung upside down, her ankles coiled by rope to a thick branch of a tree on the other side of the clearing next to a boulder patch. Blood trickled down from a gash in her side. He dropped to his knees in the dry grass. He heard four clicks behind his back and everything went black.
- The commandos carefully loaded the cyanide gas canisters into the balloon baskets. They ignited the air-burners and the heavy cloth patchwork began to unfold and fill up with hot air. When the balloons were perfectly round, two commandos jumped into each of the three balloons, and the balloons started to lift slowly off the ground. The balloons tugged at their anchor ropes. Three of the remaining commandos hacked through the three anchor ropes and the three balloons rose slowly in the air. When the balloons were two barn-heights above the unit commander’s head, the airborne commandos picked up a strong headwind blowing across the river. The balloons moved smoothly over the rushing river torrent and then they seemed to stop in mid-flight. The airborne commandos increased the flame in their air-burners in an attempt to rise up in the air and possibly catch a stronger headwind blowing them toward the Uncharted Areas, but the winds kept blowing their balloons backwards toward their comrades. When the balloons reached a point high above and directly over their comrades and commander, three lightning bolts split the grey sky, exploding the balloons, which dropped like rocks to ground. The baskets hit the ground hard killing the commandos inside instantly. The canisters also hit hard. The commander and the rest of the commandos near the crash site looked in horror at the bursting canisters as a scent of bitter almonds wafted through the air. The commander frantically fingered the button on his STU and shouted into it, “Commander, the mission is …”
Incidentally, I’d love to read some comments. I’ve seen a flurry of hits the last few days but the well of comments is as dry as a scorpion’s throat. Please don’t be bashful or lazy.
Mike Stone, Ra’anana Israel