Tag Archives: Sangor

Chapter 43: Assessment

The doctors examined the recovered bodies two weeks later. They were badly decomposed. The six burnt corpses were balloon pilots. They had been killed apparently when their balloons exploded on them. The burnt holes in each of the balloon skins were probably caused by lightning. The rest of the commandos, all present and accounted for, except for one, were blue from cyanide poisoning, probably from the cyanide gas canisters that had burst open on the rocks when the balloons had crashed. The missing commando was Sangor. So was the male corpse found hanging from the skag tree. The woman was his wife, Sirka.

Sangor had been a captive of the Rats. Maybe they turned him. Maybe his wife had persuaded him to betray his species.

The sector commander ordered a unit to round up Sangor’s neighbors for questioning, along with his fellow captives. The former captives confirmed that Sangor had spent a lot of time with one of the Rats and had not seemed to share their enthusiasm when the men had talked about escaping. Several of the men said the Rats were quick and devious, and smarter than most of us all put together. The Rats seemed pretty sure of themselves. They said the Rats were able to control the weather, that they were deadly accurate with lightning bolts. They said the Rats had some pretty advanced technologies, like that glass wall at the entrance to the cave they were kept in. The men had not seen any Rat soldiers or war materiel, except for that head Rat. It had been impossible to get any idea of what kind of forces our people were up against.

Some of what the former captives said was probably just ignorant speculation, but some rang true as a bell in a church tower. The picture of defeat and betrayal was becoming clear to the commander. Maybe the Rats had left a minimum contingent to defend their homeland and were preparing to launch an attack on us, the likes of which we could scarcely imagine. Maybe they had crossed Dead River and were already in Sector 127.

The Sector 84 Commander requested an urgent meeting with the president.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 39: Click Sirka!

By the end of the week, they reached Sector 127. Sangor scanned the hills around them with his monocular for signs of his wife. He saw none. He did not know whether to worry that she had gotten lost or worse, or be pleased that she had kept herself so 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 or that she had some protection from the elements. 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 in back of 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.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 38: Cyan Skies

The plan was 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 of the Rat enclave they would drop cyanide gas bombs killing every living thing in a three-day radius.

The sector commander ordered Sangor to lead the commando unit back to the point where he had crossed the river between Sector 127 and the Uncharted Areas.

Sangor’s heart sank in his chest. Everything was happening too quickly. He would not have time to prepare their escape. He could not leave Sirka at home alone to face the hatred of their countrymen when he betrayed them, as he surely intended to do. They would lynch her after they raped and tortured her. No, he would rather die, saving his wife.

Sangor asked permission from his commander to say good-bye to his wife. He swore on his honor that he would be back within the hour. The commander thought it was a small request from a war hero who was willing to risk his life a second time for his country and he assented.

Sangor ran home. Out of breath, he told his wife that she must follow the unit at a safe distance through Sectors 87, 84, and 127, almost to the river and keep an eye out for Sangor to come fetch her at the last moment before they crossed the river. He planned to lead the unit to the wrong point along the river, break away from them while they were organizing for the crossing, and come fetch her. Sangor had stolen an STU from the governor’s stores 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. As soon as he found her, he would take her to the correct crossing point along the river. After they reached 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 ran back to his unit, arriving just in time to answer his commander’s question “where the hell is Sangor, goddammit”.

By morning, supplies, materiel, and transport were battle-ready. The unit set 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 alongside them. The unit 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. Please, God, not too close and not too far.

Sangor’s wife had no trouble keeping up with the unit. Sirka hitched their drac to their cart, after hastily loading it with food and water, supplies, and blankets. 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.

Sirka listened to the military chatter on her STU, careful not to brush her cheek 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 had 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.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 37: Sangor Comes Marching Home

Sangor and his fellow captives crossed Sector 127 diagonally in just under four days. A few of the men, the silent man among them, left the main group along the way to make their separate ways home in the northern part of the sector. Sangor and the rest of the men kept moving northwest towards the Sector 87. Once they crossed the border, the men cut due west over the vast flats, tasting dust and grit, but also tasting home on the horizon.

They lost several men to the hearth fires of Village 437 and 435. The remaining men made the border of Sector 84 in another three days.

Sangor reached his home base and reported to the governor. After Sangor told the governor who he was and where he had been the last few weeks, the governor told him to wait in the outer office while he closed the door and called the army sector commander on his STU.

The commander arrived at the governor’s office within two hours, passing Sangor sitting on an ornate chair in the outer office. The governor told the commander about Sangor. The commander called Sangor into the governor’s inner office and began the debriefing under the governor’s watchful eyes.

Sangor reported everything he could remember since falling captive to the Rats. He told the commander and the governor about the march to the river, looking for a place to ford the river, wading across, setting up camp on the far side, and being captured. Sangor told them about being forced to run blindly, chained to the others, about being released, and being allowed to wash himself and eat. He told them about staying with the leader of the Rats, but did not mention that he had known the Rat when they were children. He told them about asking to be with the other prisoners and about the aborted escape attempt. He told them about the Rat’s surprising decision to release them all, but he did not mention that he swore he’d never betray the Rats to his human commanders. Finally he told them how the Rat child had led the freed captives to the river where there was a boat to take them all across. Sangor told the commander and the governor how the child had disappeared just when the men planned to capture the child and bring him back to headquarters.

Sangor was awarded a medal of honor for his cunning and bravery. After the modest ceremony, he went home to his proud wife.

The sector commander called for a staff meeting and came up with a plan of attack that was certain to succeed this time.

Once home, Sangor told his wife, Sirka, what had really happened with the Rats. He told her everything he had left out of the debriefing.

“I want you to go back with me,” Sangor told Sirka as he held her in his arms, “to start a new life there.”

Sirka tensed her body in his arms. “You traitor!” she hissed. “You’ve betrayed your people and me! I don’t know what I should …” She looked away from Sangor, away from his beseeching eyes.

Sirka resisted but finally agreed to go with him wherever he went. Sangor was the only people Sirka had, the only country to which she owed her allegiance.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 36: Down by the River

Sangor returned alone to the compound. His friends were surprised to see him alive, standing on his own legs. One of the men jeered, “What’s the matter, Sangor, didn’t they have room for you in Paradise?” The men around him smirked or chortled.

Sangor stared at the man and the men around him until the sounds died. Some of the men wondered what had happened to Sangor.

When he finally spoke, Sangor spoke so softly that the men had to strain their ears to hear him. “They’ve decided to let us return home,” he said. Nobody else said anything for a long moment. “Those of us who want to leave are free to do so.”

Still nobody spoke. A voice from the back of the cave asked, “What’s the catch?” Another said, “They’ll shoot us in the back as soon as we leave this compound!” A third man who had been part of the aborted escape attempt said, “So what, we’ll never find our way out of this god-damned hell hole to the river. We tried before and see where it got us!”

Sangor waited until the other men had run out of words and silence once again began to fill the cave. “A Rat will come in one hour to lead those of you who wish to leave to the river,” he said. “Anyone who wants to stay here can stay.”

“What are you going to do?” the silent man who had led the aborted escape asked.

“What do you think?” Sangor answered coldly.

 

An hour later, nobody noticed that a Rat child had appeared in the captive compound. “Hey look!” a voice said and all heads turned in the child’s direction.

“Follow me,” the child said. “I will take you to the river, to the point where it may be forded.”

The men stood up, testing and stretching their legs, after sitting or lying so long on the hard stone floor. They began to file after the child across the threshold where the glass wall had been and into the sunlight.

Many of the men, including Sangor, looked around themselves at the caves and fields, but mainly at the cloudless cobalt sky that stretched from one horizon to another.

The child led the men up the winding narrow path to the plateau from which they could view the green valley. The men kept their eyes on the child’s back, especially those who had attempted to escape on their own and kept returning to the same point.

The child went through a gap between the trees and disappeared from the view of some of the stragglers. They hurried their pace and latched their fingers into the collars or the pants of the men in front of them to make sure they weren’t left behind. The men up front disappeared through the gap between the trees, followed by a millipede of men holding onto each other for dear life, until the last straggler had made it through.

They walked along a forest path with a meandering creek running along between the trees off to the right of them. The water lapping the rocks gave them hope that they might actually make it to the river.

Three of the captives, one of whom was the silent man, plotted to overpower the Rat child as soon as they were in sight of the river. They’d take him captive or they’d kill him.

The men could hear the rushing torrent of the river. The child had fallen back, as some of the men hurried forward to see with their own eyes what their ears promised them. The man next to the silent man grinned to himself. This was going to be almost too easy.

When they reached the river bank, the three men turned on the Rat who had no place to run to, 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 caught sight of a flat boat tethered to one of the trees overhanging the river. The men filed down the embankment to the boat and climbed onto it. One man untied the rope, letting it fall from the tree, and while the rope slid along the bank towards the water, the man jumped onto the boat grasped by the outstretched hands of his countrymen.

The men paddled the flat boat with great difficulty to the opposite shore and stepped gratefully onto the far shores of Sector 127.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 35: Betrayal

Sangor asked to see Lem. Actually he just thought about seeing Lem. When Lem came to the compound to get Sangor, he came with shackles and chains. Lem was sufficiently intimidating that none of the other prisoners rose to block him or to interfere with whatever he intended to do. A few of Sangor’s friends felt sorry for what they thought the Rats were going to do to Sangor for trying to escape. They also thought they might be next in line to get whatever was going to be done to Sangor. Sangor walked glumly past Lem toward the glass wall. Lem turned around and walked after him, scanning the closed faces of the prisoners on either side of him with threat in his eyes.

After they had left the compound and were out of sight of the prisoners, Lem told Sangor to halt. He removed the shackles from Sangor’s wrists and ankles. Sangor rubbed his wrists and then his ankles where the edges of the metal rings had bitten into his flesh.

“Why did you want to see me,” Lem asked, knowing the answer, but also knowing that Saps had to say a thought out loud in order to be persuaded by it, even if it was their own thought.

Sangor said, “I do not want to return to my countrymen… I would rather cast my lot with you and your people.

Lem was silent for a long moment. Finally he said, “That is a very difficult decision for you… You would be lonely and depressed for the rest of your days.”

Sangor said, “It’s what I want more than anything, but first I must return home to fetch my wife and bring her back with me.”

Lem said, “That would be very dangerous for you both. If your friends or countrymen found out what you intended, they would certainly kill you both.”

“I am prepared to take that chance,” Sangor said.

Lem told Sangor, “You must betray us. It is the only way your compatriots will trust you and let you live long enough to escape with your wife.”

Sangor looked Lem squarely in his eyes and said, “I will never betray the Rats, even if my life depends on doing so.”

Lem answered Sangor softly saying, “You must do so, if you wish to survive. The Saps will learn all you know about us. They will plan an attack to overwhelm us at our weakest point… The attack will not succeed, you may be assured.”

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 34: All Paths Lead to

The silent man told Sangor the compound was unguarded at night. Sangor asked whether anyone had checked if the glass wall at the entrance to the compound was active.

“Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t,” one of the men said.

“How long is it inactive?” Sangor asked.

The man answered, “I don’t think anyone knows for sure.”

Sangor asked him, “Don’t you have any idea whether it’s inactive for a long time or a short time?”

“Not really,” he said. “Sometimes I walk by the entrance and see my reflection in the glass and sometimes I don’t. That’s when I realize it’s not active.”

“You should make a finger print or smudge of dirt on the glass,” Sangor suggested. “Then it might be easier to tell from a distance whether the glass is up or down.”

“Yeah, I thought so too,” the man answered, “but every time the glass comes together again, it’s clear as though it had never been touched.”

Sangor felt queasy in his stomach. “Any chance the glass might come together when somebody’s right where it’s supposed to be?”

The men looked around at each other. The silent man spoke up. “No one knows what would happen. Don’t make no difference though… We have to take our chance and make a dash to the river. And it will have to be tonight!”

“I’m not sure it’s such a good idea,” Sangor said, unsure of himself or the chances of their success.

“Then you shouldn’t have listened to our idea,” the silent man said threateningly. “I ain’t leaving anyone who’s heard our plan here to tell it to the Rats… It’s your decision. Either you go with us tonight or you go to your Maker. It’s up to you.”

The silent man told a couple of the men to keep an eye on Sangor. Sangor had a foreboding sense about the whole situation and a sinking feeling that maybe he should not have cast his lot in with his friends.

That night in the darkness one of the men went from one man to the next, covering his mouth with one hand and shaking his shoulder with the other hand. Silently they rose, one by one, and moved towards the entrance. Nobody went through until all of them were present and accounted for.

Sangor was standing between two burly men. He could feel the cool night breeze from outside the cave on his face.

The silent man gestured to one of the men to test the glass wall. The man raised his hand to the glass and it went through. He looked back at the silent man and waved his hand where the glass wall should have been.

The silent man made another gesture. The men started moving through the entrance into the night. The men at the front looked cautiously left and right for any sign of the Rats, but did not see any.

The men moved stealthily, single file, past the caves until they reached the path ascending to the cliff. The captives ran up the paths they remembered descending into the thick forests from which they’d come. Sangor ran between the two men. He had a knife-like pain in his side from running but his mind attempted to ignore the pain. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe they’d make it to the river. Maybe they’d make it across.

After several days they reached a clearing. Looking through the clearing, they saw the fields of the Rats and the caves. The men realized with sinking hearts that they had come full circle.

The captives ran in another direction, this time following a new path, careful to run straight as an arrow flies. 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 compound and gratefully wolfed down the food that had been set on the tables.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 33: Break

Lem stood up from the table and told Sangor to walk with him. He brought 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 a narrow path descending from the cliff into the valley.

Lem guided Sangor to his home, one of the caves Sangor had seen from the cliff. When they reached the third cave, Lem stopped and put his hand on the glass wall. The glass wall dissolved. They passed through the entrance into the cave, after which the glass reformed. Lem pointed to a sofa and told Sangor to make himself comfortable. Lem sat down on a chair opposite Sangor.

Yani offered Lem and Sangor a cup of water and a plate of fresh fruit. Sangor raised his cup and sniffed at the water suspiciously. Lem laughed, switched the cups, and drank from Sangor’s cup. Sangor raised Lem’s cup to his lips and drank down the cool thirst-quenching liquid in a few gulps. Sangor eyed the fruit with a combination of desire and suspicion. Lem smiled, reached over to the plate, picked up a prange, and popped it into his mouth. “You really should try the prange,” Lem said amiably with his mouth full of the tart pulp, “it’s fresh from our garden. My wife picked it just before you arrived.” Sangor picked up a prange from the plate and bit off the tip of the fruit. The tangy taste seemed to explode in his mouth. He ate the rest of it and reached for another piece of fruit.

Lem asked Sangor, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Sangor looked at the Rat with genuine curiosity. He struggled for a moment with his rebellious memories but eventually gave up the effort. “No,” he answered. “Should I?”

Lem said to him, “No, I suppose not” and then, “You and I were children at 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 Lem to the day care facility and that 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 some other time?” Sangor asked defensively.

Lem told Sangor he would not understand the answer to his question.

Lem bade good night to Sangor after showing him to his room for the night. Lem told Sangor they would have breakfast together in the morning and talk some more.

The next morning Lem told Sangor he wanted to show him around the cultivated fields and the cave village. Sangor understood that he was a captive audience and so he assented.

They passed two other caves on the way to the path leading down to the valley. Sangor glanced into the caves as they passed. The caves were similarly protected by a glass wall. Sangor put his hand on one of the glass walls but it did not dissolve. He saw a small Rat child on the other side of the glass wall sitting on the cave floor under a table playing with a multi-colored cube. The child raised his blue eyes to Sangor and waved to him. Embarrassed, Sangor dropped his hand from the glass and averted his gaze.

Lem and Sangor descended the path to the valley floor. They walked through fields of tall waving stalks, of low clinging vines around green and orange tubers, orchards of plump yellow fruits Sangor had never seen before, and flowers of every imaginable color growing from trees whose trunks looked like tea kettles. Sangor had seen farm country in Sector 87 but he had never seen anything like this.

Sangor asked many questions, first about the different kinds of fruit, trees, and flowers he saw, and then about the seeding and the harvest. He asked what the weather in these parts was like. He wanted to know what kind of price the farmers got for their produce. Lem answered each of Sangor’s questions patiently, but Lem’s answers did not make any sense to him. It couldn’t be like that. It just couldn’t be.

Sangor was silent for a while. He looked up at Lem and asked, “What about my friends? Where are you holding them? How are you treating them?”

Lem said “You are welcome to visit them and see for yourself.”

Sangor nodded and said he’d like that.

Lem took Sangor to the captive compound. “I have some things to attend to,” Lem told him. “You may come back to my cave whenever you want.”

Sangor looked Lem in the eyes and said morosely, “My place is with my friends.”

“You may stay with your friends,” Lem told Sangor, “if that is what you want.” He turned back and left Sangor at the entrance to the compound.

When Sangor walked inside, the buzz of Sap conversation went silent. Heads turned in his direction. A voice in the back of the room called out, “Is that you, Sangor?” Another voice snorted “Look at him, all clean and hair wet and slick… Where’d they take you? To the governor’s wife’s own bath house?”

“You can jeer all you like,” Sangor answered huskily, “but I’m a prisoner here just like you.”

“You don’t look like us,” one of the men said testily.

Sangor asked him, “Didn’t the Rats offer you to bathe in the river and wear clean clothes?”

The man shot back, “Sure they did, but I refused… Wouldn’t take nothin’ from no Rat.”

“Did you eat the food they offered you?” Sangor asked him with a wave of shame undulating in his belly.

“And let them poison me?” the gaunt man said, defiantly proud of his own hunger.

Someone else spoke out, “How do we know we can trust this Sap?”

Sangor reached over the heads of some men who were sitting cross-legged on the floor, grabbed the man who had just spoken by his shirt collar, and dragged him through the line of sitting men. “How do I know I can trust you, Worm-Meat?” Sangor hissed at the man. “I marched along next to you and I saved your sorry ass when you nigh fell into the river rapids. Many of you have known me since I was a child. Maybe I did accept their clothes and food, and maybe I just bided my time til the time was right to break them or to break away from them…”

“Hey man,” the man hanging inside the shirt whose collar Sangor clenched in his fist wined. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it … I was just sayin’, ya know?”

One of the other men said, “Sangor’s all right. I’ll vouch for him.”

“Hey Sangor,” a man who had been silent up to that point said in a voice that carried above the others, “why don’t you come and sit down with us? Some of the guys have an interesting idea you might want to hear, if you don’t have other plans this evening…”

The interesting idea his friends had was a plot to break out of the compound and make a run for the river.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Part 6: Choice; Chapter 32: Some Chose Death

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, the mine that had eventually killed him. This Rat would have been invisible in the mine if he’d have stripped off his clothes and closed his eyes.

Sangor calculated the odds in his head: there was just him and this 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 ever 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.

All the Rats were Lem.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 31: Follow that Butterfly

“Remove the bag from your head,” the voice said.

“I can’t,” Sangor answered, “my hands are tied behind my back.”

“No, they aren’t,” the voice said. “Try to place your hands on your head.” Sangor moved his hands apart from behind his back slowly, achingly, and lifted them up tentatively to the bag on his head. He grabbed the material of the bag in both fists and slowly lifted the bag over his mouth, his nose, his eyes, and then up entirely. He lowered his arms slowly in front of him, as though the bag weighed a great deal. His fingers released the bag and it fell lightly to the ground. He looked around himself and saw no one, nothing but thick trees, leaves whispering gently in the breeze, grasses undulating softly, and bright flowers, blue, red, and yellow. Sangor looked up and saw a patch of cobalt blue sky between the tall tree tops. He spun around but saw no one, nothing but the trees, the grasses, and the flowers.

A pale yellow butterfly flitted past Sangor. He heard the gentle lapping of water between the trees. “You stink,” the voice said gently. “Go down to the creek, remove your soiled clothes, and wash yourself thoroughly. After you have done so, you will find clean clothes hanging on the tree by the creek. Put them on and where you saw the butterfly.”

Sangor walked slowly, suspiciously, between the trees, down the sloping path to the creek. He kneeled down with both hands planted in the soft mud of the creek bank and drank thirstily from the clear cold water flowing by his hands. He drank long the sweet water for all the days he’d gone without drinking. Sangor removed his clothes that stank from urine and feces and treaded carefully into the cold stream, up to his waist. He submerged himself in the water and opened his eyes underwater. There were only smoothed rocks and pebbles, swaying grasses, and silvery fish darting past. He stood up and pushed his wet hair back behind his ears. Sangor looked around but did not see anybody watching him. He bent down and picked up a porous grey stone. He scrubbed himself hard with it to remove the filth and excrement that had accumulated on his skin. Sangor scooped up dripping handfuls of fresh water and splashed it on his face, his neck, under his armpits, and on his private parts. He looked around again but saw nobody.

He noticed some white clothes; it looked like a shirt and pair of pants hanging from a branch of a tree on the bank of the creek. He walked toward the bank, picking his way among the smooth underwater pebbles.

Once again, he stopped and looked around but saw nobody. Sangor slipped the white trousers over his wet legs, pulled them up, and closed the waist snap. He reached for the white shirt and pulled it over his head and arms. The clothes were damp from his bathing, but the dampness soon evaporated in the dappled sunlight and breeze.

He walked back up the sloping path to the tree line and peeked out to see whether anyone was there. There was no one.

Sangor saw a table set with a diamond shaped cloth. There were bowls of fruit, loaves of bread, and a carafe of clear liquid, possibly water. There were two chairs beside the table, both empty. Sangor sat down in one of the chairs and tore into the bread and fruit, stuffing it into his mouth until he choked. He swallowed big gulps of water and stuffed more fruit and bread into his mouth. The urge to vomit hit him. He spun around and heaved his stomach contents into the bushes. Sangor had a bitter taste in his mouth and drank some more water to wash it away. He felt better now and he ate more slowly than before.

He looked up and noticed Lem sitting in the chair opposite him for the first time. Of course Sangor did not know it was Lem.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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