Tag Archives: war

Innocence Wounded

Nineteen years ago this week, Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel at the time, was assassinated by another Jew, Yigal Amir.

Rabin was a soldier of peace. He was not a dove, as most people think of dovish politicians. He had been to war and excelled at it. He was as familiar with the ways of war as I am with the way to my office which, incidentally, is only ten minutes from home. Rabin was not afraid of war but he knew war well enough not to be enamored of it. He was not a visionary like his foreign minister and partner in peace, Shimon Peres. Peres was the theoretician. Rabin was the practical one. Together they set into motion an historical process that may have led to a lasting peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors. May have. Might have. It’s too early to tell. On the night of November 4th, 1995, just after a large rally demonstrating support for the peace process, surrounded by his protection detail and thousands of fresh young faces expressing their love, Yitzhak Rabin was shot down by a lone Jew who took advantage of the trusting assumption that a Jew would never kill a Jewish leader. Israel has always been like a sabra, the fruit of a cactus, prickly and hard on the outside but soft on the inside. It was that softness on the inside that allowed Yitzhak to be assassinated by his own countryman.

Although Yigal Amir had served in the Israeli Defense Forces in a religious unit of the Golani Brigade, I doubt he saw any real action. It’s doubtful also that he knew the measure of war, so that he probably couldn’t understand the value of peace. After Amir completed his army service, he went to Bar Ilan University to study law. He believed that Rabin would betray Israel by making concessions, involving giving up pieces of our land to our enemies in his pursuit of peace.

Yigal Amir certainly stood on the cusp of a chaotic event similar to Gavril Princip who assassinated the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, with “the bullet that started World War I”. I have no desire to glorify with faint damnation a petty misguided young man who committed the most banal of acts, thus proving only that a great soul living in a human body can be brought down by a small soul brandishing a weapon and a poisonous hatred. It may be, and I hope it so, that the soul of the soldier of peace managed to jump ship before his body sunk to the ground he loved, and was rescued and cultivated by those who loved and respected his purpose.

But something happened that night besides the murder of one of the last of the true leaders of Israel. I suppose it is possible to divide up this country in many ways to prove many points, just like a diamond cutter cleaves a rough diamond into different sorts of gems. I would suggest that Israeli society was divided that night into four groups of people. Two groups of singletons, black holes, as it were: the group of people with great ideas who were murdered before they could complete their implementation, one member, Yitzhak Rabin, and the group of people without an idea but in possession of a great hatred who murdered a great leader before he could fully implement his great idea, one member, Yigal Amir. And the other two groups for the rest of us: the beautiful souls and the … well, I’ll get to that later.

The beautiful souls (pronounced yafeh nefesh in Hebrew, יפה נפש): in Israel this term is usually spat out distastefully as a curse, something like the term “bleeding hearts” used by the privileged classes or by persons of conservative or right-leaning political bent to describe others of more liberal or left-leaning bent. This term includes infants, young children, people who still have their innocence, hopes, and bright futures ahead of them, who believe in the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth, who flow with the feeling, who feel what it’s like to be other people and feel what other people feel, who give peace a chance when there is a chance for peace, who sing songs and read poems that aspire to more than what is allotted to us and insult no one. On the night that Yitzhak Rabin, soldier of peace, was shot down, these beautiful souls were wounded, innocence itself was wounded, wounded but not mortally, because it is the nature of innocence to lick its wounds, to rise from the ashes, and to refresh itself.

It is the last group who gave the previous group its name. These are the people who spit out the curse of beautiful souls at those liberal left-leaning Pollyannas, older children, young adults old before their time, and old dried up people who have lost their innocence, hopes, and futures so long ago that they have forgotten that they ever had them, who believe only in their beliefs, who would destroy beauty because they can’t create it, who block the flow of feeling, can’t feel what anyone else feels, are afraid to give peace a chance, would rather maintain the status quo of war and stalemate, who sing songs and chant slogans that glorify the bitterness that is allotted to us and insult the other who is not us. These are the people who called Rabin a traitor, who prefer war to peace, status quo to something better, people who hide behind the fact that they did not pull the trigger but don’t understand what’s so terrible about the man who did. I would say that the most appropriate name for such people would be “the ugly souls”, not spat out as a curse, but said in irony and sadness.

I suppose it is possible to kill hope, but I think it will take a lot more than the murder of one man to do so.

To which group do you belong?

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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The Third Scenario

The Hamas are a group of terrorists. They are not a government of any sort. Not like Israel, not like Egypt or Jordan, and not like the US or the UK. They only know how to create terror. They don’t know how to do anything else. If they were somehow to find themselves at peace, they wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it. They are as much a terror to their own people in Gaza as they are to their neighbors, Egypt and Israel. The people of Gaza deserve better, even though Gazans freely voted Hamas into power. One of the weaknesses of democracy is that you can vote to end your democracy.

However, this blog post is not about the current war between Israel and Hamas, or the events leading up to the war, but about the future immediately following the war.

Either one of two scenarios will play out: either Israel will remain in Gaza until she has destroyed the last tunnel, the last missile launcher, and captured or killed the last Hamas commander, or a consortium of world powers will force Israel to stop and save Hamas so that they can fight again another day, in a year or two or ten.

There is a third scenario, rendering the first scenario unnecessary from the standpoint of Israel and the second scenario improbable for the Hamas. It is simply this: the oil rich Arab states, Muslim countries around the world, European countries, Australia and New Zealand, South America, Canada and the USA, whose collective hearts justifiably go out to the dead and wounded Gazans – the same day they force Israel to roll back from Gaza, the world puts its money where its mouth is. On that day, the world enters Gaza, clears away the wreckage, buries the dead, cares for the injured, builds hospitals, homes, madrassas (schools), mosques, roads, traffic lights, basic infrastructure, banks, government, police, judges, hotels, tourist infrastructure, more hotels, a sea port, an airport, taller hotels – you get the idea. You give the Gazans (and the rest of the world) something to lose, so that they are fully invested in peace. You don’t ask Hamas for permission to do this. You don’t give Hamas a cent of the money, not even baksheesh (bribery) or protection money. You make sure you protect your investment and Gaza blooms until hatred, revenge, and war are forgotten.

I can guarantee you that Israel would be in there, rolling up its sleeves, rebuilding, and investing in Gaza with the rest of the world, as soon as the Gazans let them, because that is our nature.

The Palestinians have more in common with the Jews than just the small patch of land they both occupy. I remember when I took an evening course on modern Israeli culture at Ohio State University when Assaf was only three years old, a couple of years before we immigrated to Israel. There was a Jordanian army officer in the same class with me. He came up to me one evening and told me he was Bedouin, like the rest of the elite in the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. Then he spoke deprecatingly of the Palestinians. He said the Arab countries shunned them. He called them “the Jews of the Arabs”. He also said the Palestinians were smarter and more educated than the rest of the Arabs.

So you see, we do have something else in common besides the land.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Sometimes It’s the Situation that Is Evil

Human beings love structures. Give them a routine, a structured situation, any kind of behavioral pattern in which the outcome is known in advance, and they will embrace it with open arms. Dr. Eric Berne wrote all about it in his best-selling book, “Games People Play” (http://www.ericberne.com/games-people-play/).  Games may be frivolous or they may be deadly serious. Games are essentially patterns of behavior, called transactions, involving two or more roles that are usually filled by people. People who play a role in a game, who decide they don’t want to play the role or game anymore, often bring down upon themselves the wrath of the remaining role players. Psychologists and psychiatrists who subscribe to the principles of Berne’s Game Theory sometimes call themselves Transaction Analysts. Only Transaction Analysts are qualified to call a game that people are playing a game and to give it a name. Anybody else who dares to do so is called a “game caller”, which is the name of another game (a variant of “Oneupmanship”). The highest level of existence to which one may aspire, and which is mostly occupied by Transaction Analysts, is called a game-free existence. This describes a person who doesn’t play games, who does not engage in hidden or ulterior transactions.

Claude Steiner (http://www.claudesteiner.com/spl.htm) took the idea of game theory and developed it into life-spanning stories and scripts people followed. A person would choose (or somebody else would choose it for him or her) a story that would define the meaning and arc of that person’s existence from birth to death. Of course these stories were well-known, they had roles, and each role had a script to be followed. Many of the stories were tragedies and many were comedies, but I believe that even the comedies were tragedies. All the tragedies were Greek tragedies. Everyone knows how they turn out in the end. Stories are long-running complicated games and scripts are long-running complicated transactions.

In this vein I propose to analyze another pattern or structure called a “situation.” Like games, they are repetitious, have roles, and if not necessarily well-known, they usually are amenable to analysis. When people find themselves in a situation, they usually find themselves cast into a particular role in that situation. People usually follow the scripts that are available for their role. If they don’t, then they will be booed off the stage and somebody else will be solicited or drafted for the role. When they are released from their roles, people quickly enter other roles and play them according to the scripts available for those roles. Just like people, situations may be good or evil, or neither good nor evil. Josef Stalin was a good father who loved his daughter Svetlana more than anything, yet Josef Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 20 million of his comrades. When he played the role of father, he was a good man and he played his role well. When he played the role of dictator, he was an evil man and he played that role well too. How was that possible?

Several countries in this region are currently at war. A war is a tricky situation in which all sides struggle to gain some kind of advantage over the other sides while minimizing their own disadvantages. The situation of war has its roles and scripts, and endless variations on a few well-known themes. The only problem is that you can’t always tell who’s playing which role. The roles include government officials and clerks, combatant soldiers and non-combatant soldiers, non-combatant civilians and combatant civilians, heroes and cowards, aggressors and defenders, terrorists and those who finance them, hide them, and transport them, religionists who whip up the masses saying God is on their side, people who just want to work to support their families, people who are sick or wounded and need to get to a hospital, mothers with babies, husbands and wives, grandparents, lovers, poets, tourists, pilgrims,  doctors, policemen, prostitutes, criminals, ah yes – and “neutral” observers. As long as we are at war, and we will be at war as long as not all sides want peace, we will need soldiers to protect us. If we didn’t have soldiers to protect us or the soldiers didn’t protect us very well, some of us would become terrorists, if not now then at some time in the future. That’s what happens when one side maintains a consistent advantage over the other side but doesn’t eliminate their capacity to rise up against the victor. So we have a situation in which one side has a military advantage against the other sides, but the other sides still have the ability to shoot missiles into the “winning” side’s homeland and to blowup buses, stab civilians, and kidnap non-combatants. A poet is drafted into the role of soldier. He dons a uniform, is given a rifle, and is sent to guard some barricade between them and us. That’s his new role. The old role of poet has been folded up and stuffed in his pocket. He has a new script to learn now. A couple of burly young guys approach the soldier from the other side. They know the role he is playing, but he doesn’t know the roles they play. They don’t stop when he tells them to stop. They shout at him. One pushes him. The soldier points his rifle at them. A television camera records the scene. The soldier is relieved of duty and jailed. After being released, he goes back to his role as poet. He is not under any pressure to learn that script. It is already well-known to him, and it’s not a matter of life and death. On a TV set on the other side of the world, a news report of a soldier pointing his rifle at three young boys is presented by a respectable looking anchorman. People’s beliefs are confirmed by the news report.

Sometimes a child is forced by his peers to pick up rocks and throw them at the soldiers patrolling their streets. The child’s parents may be forced by social pressures to send their children out to throw rocks at the soldiers. They are forced into roles of rock throwers and supporters of the resistance. A young man may be pressured into a role of suicide bomber. Then again, he may just be a doctor or teacher.

Sometimes it’s the situation that is evil, and not the people trapped in the roles they have to play. Then again, there are evil people who consistently seek out roles that allow them to express their evil predilections.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 29: Fallback

Just before dawn, the last-watch guard entered the downriver commander’s tent and fired his shot-blaster into the commander’s snoring face. One of the other guards dragged the commander’s corpse through the mud to the river bank, waded in until he was chest-deep and the corpse floated in the current, and released it to float downstream.

The other men began to wake up, one by one, and tended to their personal needs. They ate in silence after which they started to move upriver and homeward.

The STU beside the downriver commander’s cot squawked in high pitched tones to the emptiness of the tent.

The upriver commander called his commanding general on his STU to report that his troops had sustained a 75% loss of personnel and materiel against superior Rat forces deployed along the river bordering the Uncharted Areas. The commander surmised that the Rats had superior technology, including the ability to control the local weather to their advantage and to use lightning as an accurate and effective weapon. He recommended to his superior officer massive reinforcements to overcome the enemy and make them rue the day they were born. The commanding general explained there were no more troops available. It would take months to draft and train them.

“Sir, in that case,” the upriver commander said to his superior, “I recommend falling back with our remaining forces to defend our home sectors from an expected Rat counter attack.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 21: The Refuge

Evanor and Lem lived quietly together in that cabin for the next twelve months. They tended a small patch, growing enough vegetables and fruit for their own needs, and then some. Evanor was able to trade the extra produce for a gorm with a few months of milk left in her. People would try to be friendly with her when she’d go down to the village but after she deferred their persistent requests to join them for some local church function, they left her alone thinking there was something not quite right about her. No matter. God would decide what to do about her in His own good time, they would think to themselves. Only Lem knew how to calculate just how long that good time would take. Until then they could live in that cabin.

Some of the forest animals would come close to the cabin at night just before dawn to lick salt from the rocks half buried in their yard. Lem enjoyed watching them nuzzle against the corner of the porch.

The gardening work was challenging for Lem. He dislodged the rocks from the garden patch and rolled them over to make a short wall around the patch. He tilled and seeded the ground with the seed his mother had purchased, the way he’d seen his father do it in the fields of Styg’s farm. The work made him lean and strong.

One evening, as they sat at the supper table in the kitchen, Lem told his mother that he wanted to go back to visit Yani and let them know where they were. “You’ll be safe here awhile longer Mama,” Lem promised Evanor. “I’ll be safe too because I won’t let anybody see me where I go.”

There was something in the sureness of Lem’s voice that made Evanor trust that he knew what he was saying and doing, as well or better than any grown-up would. She knew Lem could take care of himself and, if he said she’d be safe here without him, then she’d be safe here without him. Besides, she knew Lem had a thing for little Yani. Who knows? Maybe their fates were knotted. Who was Evanor to stand against fate?

Evanor baked a couple loaves of bread and packed some fruit and vegetables in a bag for Lem. Lem packed some clothes and filled his water bag.

Lem woke just before dawn when the forest animals were licking the rocks in their yard. The animals scarcely noticed him as he slipped past them, over the ledge and down the hill. He ran swiftly along the gully. Lem made the base of the first ridge by first light. Just as the sky was graying, Lem looked sideways at the boulder-strewn hillside and disappeared inside.

Lem knocked on Kivo’s door the morning after the third night. Thana opened the door and was alarmed. “What are you doing here? Where’s your mother?”

“She’s at home safe,” Lem said pleasantly. “I came to see Yani. Is she at home?”

“Well I don’t know Lem,” Thana answered.

“What do you mean you don’t know Thana?” Lem asked, knowing full well Yani was upstairs in her bedroom.

“I mean I don’t know if you should be here without your mother,” she said uncertainly. “Maybe Kivo…”

“Hi Lem!” Yani said, standing right beside her mother all of a sudden. “I knew you were coming today. Why don’t you come up to my room? Is that all right with you Mother?”

“Well, I suppose so,” Thana said reluctantly and the children ran past her up the stairs before she could say another word.

“I didn’t know where you were,” Yani complained to Lem as soon as they sat on her bed.

“I’ll show you,” Lem said. He drew a map of Sectors 87 and 95 in the air with his finger. The image lingered in their minds. He drew a line along the path Evanor and he had taken and by which he had returned, over the ridges, through the gullies, and up the hill where the cabin hid. The map and the path lines were etched in her brain.

Lem told Yani about the previous occupants he’d found hanging from the tree behind the cabin and how he managed to cut them down and bury them before his mother had seen them. “It was terrible Yani!” he said quietly. “I knew Mama would never have agreed to stay in the cabin if she had seen those bodies hanging there like that… She’d be afraid they’d come back and do that to us.”

“Aren’t you afraid they’ll come back,” Yani asked with a hint of a smile on her pretty little face.

“No, silly,” Lem said, “I know exactly when they’re coming back to the cabin … We’ll be long gone before they arrive.”

“You must be hungry,” Yani told Lem matter-of-factly. “Let’s go down to the kitchen and ask Mother to give you some breakfast. I already ate mine, but I’ll sit with you and we can talk.”

“All right,” Lem said. “I am really hungry!”

Yani and Lem descended the stairs and found Thana in the kitchen already preparing breakfast for Lem. “Thanks Mother,” Yani said.

“Thanks Thana,” Lem said as he sat down at the table. The stove fire warmed the kitchen.

“It isn’t every day we get special visitors,” Thana answered graciously.

“Lem, did you know there are others just like us?” Yani exclaimed brightly. “They came to visit Papa and to see me… They were bigger than us … like Papa and Mother, but as blue as us.”

Lem’s big blue eyes opened widely. “Why did they come to visit you?” he asked Yani. Thana was watching and listening closely while puttering around in the pantry behind the stove.

“They were all leaving the sector, just like Evanor and you,” she answered. “Some were only passing through our sector from another one, on the way to some place they called the Refuge … It’s in a place they called the uncharted area. Nobody has ever been there. Yani traced a map for Lem on the kitchen table with her index finger. “They are going the same way you went. From Sector 95, they’re going down to Sector 127 to a big river that separates the sectors from the uncharted area. The Refuge is somewhere on the other side of that river.” She returned Thana’s glance and continued, “They said the Refuge is the only place in our world that people like us can live in peace. Our parents can come too, if they want, and they will be protected … from the war.”

Thana couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Your father told those people nobody was talking about war in these parts. If they were, he would’ve heard of it.”

“But Mother,” Yani said, “we see things happening before they happen.”

“I don’t know how that can be,” Thana answered without a lot of conviction.

Yani glanced over at Lem just as he turned his head and saw into her eyes. He finished the last of his porridge and pushed the bowl away from him. He thanked Thana for breakfast and told her he would have to go back home that evening after supper.

Yani and Lem ran outside to play a kind of hide-and-seek.

“Yani,” Lem said during one of their games, “you must persuade your parents to take you to the Refuge.”

“Of course Silly!” Yani said with a smile. “Why did you think I told you?”

Lem seemed not to mind Yani calling him “silly” anymore. The truth was that he didn’t mind anything she said.

After Kivo came back from work in the fields behind the cabin, they all sat down to a delicious supper. When Lem rose from the table and said he had to leave, Thana filled his food bags with fragrant bread, crisp vegetables, and fresh fruit. Lem hugged them all, but especially Yani, and disappeared through the door into the night.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Story Line for Rats and Saps (Part 7)

This is what you’ve all been waiting for — the final part of the storyline. Starting next week I start expanding each line item of the 7-part storyline into a full-fledged chapter, one a week hopefully. Enjoy the read.

Part 7:

  1. The Sector Commander’s assistant knocked on his commander’s door and waited for permission to enter the office. The Sector Commander answered gruffly, “Enter.” The assistant opened the door and saluted smartly from the doorway. The commander returned the salute cursorily and scowled, “What do you want?” “Sir,” the assistant held the closed file in his outstretched hand, “We have not been able to raise the unit commander in Sector 127 for the last half hour.” “Did you try his second in command?” the commander looked out the window. “Yes sir,” the assistant answered. “The second doesn’t answer. Neither does the medic, the chaplain, or the cook… Nobody for the last half hour.” “Well, keep trying to raise someone on the STU for another half hour or so,” the commander ordered. A half hour later the assistant once again knocked on the door. After receiving permission to enter and saluting, he reported that there was still no response on the STUs. The commander was exasperated. “Get me the governor of Sector 127 now!” he ordered. The assistant ducked out of the room. A couple minutes later, the assistant returned and reported that the governor of Sector 127 was on the other STU. The commander thumbed his STU and growled into it, “Sector 84 Commander here. As you know, we have a commando unit operating in your territory near the river.” “No, I didn’t know,” the governor answered coldly. “Well, now you know,” the commander sloughed off the governor’s impertinence, “I haven’t had radio contact with my unit commander there or anyone else for that matter for the last hour.” “Well, what do you want me to do about it?” the governor asked, not wishing to extend his resources or volunteer anything to this pompous sector commander. “I need you to send a couple of scout balloons over the area for a look-see,” the commander said irately. “Who’s gonna pay for my men and balloons?” the governor asked thinking about his budget and his financial opportunities. “You’ll get your money!” the commander scowled. The governor asked for the last coordinates reported by the commandos. The commander nodded to his assistant, who pointed to their last known location on the wall map. The commander read the coordinates off the map to the governor. The governor said he’d let them know as soon as his balloon scouts got back.
  2. The governor called in his assistant and requested him to send one of the scout balloons over to Dead River at Point 23 and float down as far as Point 27, looking for any sign of the commandos Sector 84 had lost. “Have him back before nightfall, one way or the other,” the governor ordered. The assistant nodded and returned to his desk to call the duty pilot. The duty pilot scowled, got up, stretched, and ambled over to the quartermaster at his own slow pace. The pilot asked the QM for a fuzzcoat, STU, map of Dead River, and a monocular. The pilot signed for everything he took and ambled over to the balloon master. “What do you have ready to go?” the pilot asked the BM. “Number 3,” said the BM, stifling a yawn. “I thought 3 had been retired,” the pilot grimaced. “I thought you’d been retired,” smirked the BM. The pilot signed for the balloon and walked out the door in search of 3. It had more patches on it than his grandmother’s quilt. He climbed into the basket with his bag, checked the air-burner frames, and told the guard to cut him loose. The balloon started to rise tentatively into the air, while the pilot looked for a breeze blowing in the direction of Dead River. He shivered at the thought and put on his fuzzcoat. The pilot radioed his position to the assistant. He glanced at the map and checked his direction. The balloon floated on, mostly silent except for the times he had to turn on the airburners to maintain height. The sun was high. He leaned over the basket and saw his shadow running along the ridges and valleys underneath him. The pilot saw the thick grey clouds in the distance. When he saw the river, the pilot glanced at his map and saw he was approaching Point 23. He released air from the balloon to drop altitude until he was floating downstream parallel to the river on his left, keeping a respectful distance from the river, the roiling clouds, and those damned lightning bolts. The ridges and valleys moved slowly under him. He passed over a clearing in the woods and saw something that made his blood run cold: two naked corpses hung upside down from th limb of a skag tree. One of them was a woman. Well, it was a common enough sight. “They must have been Rat-lovers,” the pilot told himself. He trained his monocular on the dead woman a little longer than was proper or necessary. The pilot thumbed on his STU and reported the hanging bodies and their position to the assistant. “That’s none of our business,” said the assistant. “You’d better be looking for those commandos, if you know what’s good for you.” The pilot flicked off the STU. He adjusted the altitude to take the balloon in a little closer to the river. Then he saw the three deflated balloons on the beach. As he approached the gutted balloons, he saw the commandos lying every which way on the beach. Not a one of them was moving. The pilot reported what he saw to the assistant and asked him what he wanted him to do. The assistant told the pilot to return home. “Put as much distance as you can between you and that river,” the assistant ordered. “I wouldn’t want your balloon to be hit by some stray lightning bolt.” The assistant laid his STU on his desk, walked over to the governor’s office, and stuck his head inside. “Sir, the scout balloon found the commandos at Point 24,” the assistant told his boss. “49 of them, all dead, and 9 dracs. 6 of the commandos looked badly burned. The rest looked blue in the face. Oh and the pilot saw two corpses, a man and a woman, hung upside down and hour northwest of Point 24… probably Rat-lovers.” The governor nodded at his assistant and called the Sector 84 Commander.
  3. The Sector 84 Commander ordered a unit of 10 men to go to Sector 127 to recover the equipment and bring back the remains of his commandos for identification and determination of what the hell happened. He ordered the unit to bring back the two Rat-lovers for identification in case they could be linked to others.
  4. 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 the one that was missing, were blue from cyanide poisoning, probably from the cyanide gas canisters that had burst open on the rocks. The missing commando was Sangor. So was the male corpse found hanging from the skag tree. The woman was his wife, Sirka.
  5. Sangor had been a captive of the Rats. Maybe they turned him. Maybe his wife caused 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 did not seem to share their enthusiasm when they talked about escaping. Some of what the former captives said was just jealous speculation, but some rang true as a bell. The picture of defeat and betrayal was becoming clear to the commander. What was also clear was that the Rats were preparing to launch an attack on them, the likes of which they could scarcely imagine.
  6. Sector 84 Commander requested an urgent meeting with the president. He outlined recent events in the Rat wars and presented his conclusions. “Our civilization is in imminent danger of extinction,” the commander raised his voice dramatically while scanning the blank faces around the table, before resting respectfully on the president’s face. “… Unless we eliminate the Rats once and for all.” The commander nodded at his assistant, who rose to address the faces. “Sir, as you know, we have been working on a top-secret project for five years now.” The assistant clicked a button on the box in front of him and an image appeared on the screens on every wall. He described the cobalt bomb and the super cannon that was capable of shooting the cobalt projectile from the eastern area of Sector 84 into the middle of the Uncharted Areas. The trajectory was suborbital and would bring the shell down through the clouds over Rats’ unsuspecting heads. Although the bomb had never been tested, the scientists involved on the project assured them that the kill radius would be at least two weeks in every direction. “Why didn’t you test it?” the president interrupted the assistant’s presentation. “How do you know it will work?” The assistant explained to the president that there were only two places they could test the weapon: “our place or their place, and besides, the Saps did not want to lose the element of surprise… Let’s just call this operation against the Rats our first test”. There was a sound of conspiratorial smirks around the table. The president banged his fist down hard on the table. The image of the kill radius and encircling damage radii jumped on all the screens. “What say you all?” the president demanded of the blank faces around the table. The votes were unanimous. “When is the test to be scheduled?” The assistant looked at his commander, attempted to swallow down the dryness in his throat, and croaked up the date. “Make it so … and the devil take your miserable soul if the test fails!” the president said in a harsh and guttural growl.
  7. There was a quiet murmur in the cave as the representatives of all the Rat families found a place to sit in the vast cavern. As soon as Lem and Yani sat down, traces of red lights appeared to slice the air in front of them but stayed suspended. There were bright points along each line. The points seemed to sprout new traces that branched out in all directions. The lines bred more and more lines until the central space of the cavern took on a solidity that looked like a star. A few lines leaped out of the star. Lem spoke. “What you are looking at is a map of Sap and Rat timelines. Each line is an individual from birth to death. Each point is an event on that individual’s timeline. Each event is a point from which alternate timelines spring forth. This is just a representation of what we all see and know for ourselves. I made this so we could discuss what we see and know, even though we don’t have words for these things yet.” Lem looked around at the familiar faces of his friends. He saw agreement on their faces. He also noticed a parenthesis of mirth in their blue eyes at his childish scrawls etched on the diaphanous walls of space-time. Everyone had an internal language that allowed him to think about what he saw. The only problem was that everyone had a different internal language. The common language they used to communicate among each other was inadequate to express their thoughts and conceptual structures. Someday their common language would be as rich as their internal languages but, for today, Lem’s barely adequate light display in the cavern would have to suffice. “Instead of the constantly expanding cone of timelines we should expect to see,” Lem continued, “we see a convergence of timelines into a vortex culminating in a single point and whose lines branch away conically.” A voice arose from the darkness of the cavern. “Please expand the convergence point for us, Lem.” Lem thought about the point and it expanded into a cobalt bomb explosion in the atmosphere above their lovely valley and then another explosion and another in a chain reaction of world-rending blasts spread across the sky from horizon to horizon. Air turned to fire and fire turned to scorched earth and water boiled until it was no more.
  8. There was a silence throughout the cavern. Light and shadow ricocheted against the stone walls. Lem said, “It is time for us to do what we were always meant to do, what the Saps told us all along that we must do with their words and their actions.” He paused and then said a single word: leave.
  9. It had taken them five years to build it. It was a shame that it would be destroyed after they used it only once. It really was not much to look at – just two doors and a tunnel between them. The beauty was in the simplicity of it. Like most of the products of genius, the simplest things were often the most elusive. It had always been there if only they could have seen it. The only problem would have been explaining it to a being who was sentient in only three dimensions. They all lined up at the door. Nobody pushed or raised his voice. The Rats knew there was just enough time for them all to go through the door to the other side safely. Lem opened the door for his friend. Yani stood at Lem’s side and smiled at the friend as he passed through the doorway.
  10. The assistant’s neck was on the chopping block. There had been two delays in the scheduled test. He had been hauled in front of the president each time. The next time he’d be hauled in front of a firing squad in the words of his fearless leader. Today was D-Day. In another few moments it would be H-Hour. The countdown had already begun. The shell was loaded in the canon. The magnets were spinning up their fields. 3 – 2 – 1 … The assistant lowered his arm and the artillery officer pushed the button that armed the shell with an opposing magnetic field. The cobalt shell hissed out of the canon at ten times the speed of sound, causing a series of deafening booms, as the shell disappeared above the clouds on its trajectory to the Uncharted Areas.
  11. The last ones through the doorway were Lem and Yani. Lem closed the door behind him. He took Yani’s hand and they walked together toward the light. It seemed like no time at all before they reached the other door. As Lem and Yani emerged from the tunnel, all their friends greeted them with smiles and waves. Lem closed the second door behind him. They walked with their friends into the fresh night air of a valley much like their own beloved valley. It was so quiet you could almost hear the stars sing. Someone pointed at their sister planet as it rose majestically above the eastern mountains. The air became heavy with sadness. “Look!” someone said and their heads all turned to the planet hovering expectantly above the mountain tops. A flower of light blossomed silently plains, another flower, and another flower. Soon there was a whole bouquet of light as the atmosphere of the sister planet caught fire. It seemed the Sap planet was becoming a star, but there was no danger to the Rats anymore. After a few day-night cycles there was no atmosphere left to burn and the bouquet withered.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Story Line for Rats and Saps (Part 6)

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.

Part 6:

  1. 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…
  2. “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?”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. His friends plot to break out of the compound and make a run for the river.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16.  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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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!”
  20. 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.
  21. 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

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Story Line for Rats and Saps (Part 5)

Surprise, surprise!

 Part 5:

  1. The Sap scouts, cavalrymen, infantrymen, and other miscellaneous soldiers, who were never heard from again, were captured alive by Rat defenders. Their feet were tied so that their motion was limited to walking, their hands were tied behind them, and their heads were covered with bags preventing them from seeing. Each soldier was tied around his waist to the soldiers in front of and behind him. They were ordered to stand up and to begin walking, like a human millipede, through the narrow paths of the forest. At least the rain and the hail had stopped. The men were fearful of what lay ahead for them: a cliff, a firing squad, a prison cages not fit for human incarceration. After several hours of walking, humiliated by dirtying themselves with their own defecation and urine, hunger slowly replaced fear in their stomachs. The Sap captives could smell each other’s stink and it was nauseating. They stopped caring about what would happen to them. They only cared that it would end, as soon as possible. They kept walking until they felt the damp coolness of night on their skins. They were ordered to stop walking and lay down on the ground to sleep until they would be told to wake up and continue their march. The men slept deeply, like all soldiers who never know when they will be able to sleep again.
  2. An order smashed into their sleeping brains like a sudden fright blasting their dreams of mother-love and safety to smithereens. The men were told to get up and start walking again. Nobody knew how long he had slept, whether it was day or night. They trudged headlong to only God knew where. Some of the men cried out to their comrades or to God. The snake-like chain of captives was ordered to run and they ran until they were silent, needing all their concentration just to keep from tripping and falling. When they had no wind in them to cry out anymore, they were ordered to walk, to devote all their concentration to where they placed their feet. They walked, they urinated, and they defecated in their already stinking pants. They did not eat or drink. They hallucinated their captors and their surroundings. Just when they thought they could not take another step, they were ordered to stop, lay down in the grass, and to sleep.
  3. The head of the chain of Sap captives, not the leader but the first in line, was Sangor, son of Javid and Dorka. His sleep was light enough that he heard the whisper of footfall near his head. He heard a rushing swish of air come down and snapped his head away, cringing inside his gut. “Get up and start walking,” a strange voice sub-vocalized in Sangor’s throat, choking him because he knew it was not his own voice. Nobody else heard the voice that was so loud in Sangor’s ears. He got up awkwardly and began walking blindly. He tripped over a tree root crossing his path. The dark bag over his head nearly flew off when his face hit the packed dirt hard. Blood dripped from Sangor’s nose, down his swollen upper lip, and onto his cracked tongue. He wished that he could have felt his nose to determine whether or not it was broken but his hands were still tied behind his back. “Get up,” the voice vibrated under his jaw. Sangor choked on his spittle but got up and continued walking, more carefully this time, using his feet to feel in front of him as much as to transport him. He asked thickly, “How much longer?” “Shut up,” the voice jarred Sangor’s jaw. He released his bladder and his urine stung the open wounds on his leg.
  4. “Stand still,” the voice ordered. Sangor stopped walking and stood still. He felt warmth press through the bag and touch his ear and felt a coolness breeze by his sweaty neck. He heard a pleasant but unfamiliar warbling of birdsong above him. Sangor still tasted his own blood and smelled his own stink. Then he felt, as surely as if he could see it, a shot-blaster pointed at his back about where his heart was. The feeling burned through him, all the way to his chest. Sangor could scarcely breathe. He knew these were the last moments of his consciousness, his life. He closed his eyes and prayed silently.
  5. “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.”
  6. 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 that 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, Ra’anana Israel

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Story Line for Rats and Saps (Part 4)

The tension builds to “Shock and Awe” levels, but from which side? I did not say it before, but each numbered paragraph in the storyline will expand to one chapter or more. If you just tuned in in the middle and feel lost, please go back to my earlier posts, starting with Background, etc. Another couple posts and I’ll start heading into the Chapter previews.

Part 4:

  1. A shuttle from a robot trading ship landed in Sector 87 with supplies. While the robot was waiting in the local pub for the humans to offload the supplies they needed and load their meager food stuffs and mined minerals, he overheard two humans at another table talking about a new species of humans they called Rats.
  2. When the robot returned with his shuttle to the main ship, he reported what he overheard to the Office of Human Affairs on his home planet over the QEB. The watch officer suggested that the robot take the shuttle back down and scout around the other sectors and Uncharted Areas to see whether there were any signs of this new human species. The trader robot took the shuttle back down to the surface and sectors known to be inhabited as well as the Uncharted Areas. The robot found signs of human habitation in the infrared range of the spectrum and set the shuttle down nearby. The robot jumped down from the shuttle and started walking in the direction of the infrared blobs. He walked into a forest and found himself surrounded by dark blue humanoids.
  3. Lem led the robot to his home, accompanied by the rest of the group. Lem explained to the robot the differences between Homo Sapiens and themselves. Homo Sapiens called them “Rats”, a pejorative term for “Rationals”, their dominant characteristic, aside from being blue-skinned. They had accepted the name, Rats, good-naturedly, and referred to the Homo Sapiens equally good-naturedly as “Saps”. Saps were rather exclusive in their concept of humanity, whereas Rats were far more inclusive. No intermarriage of Sap and Rat had ever produced offspring, although a few Rats were born of Sap parents, like Lem and Yani. Most Saps would prefer a Rat-free world. There had been a number of Rat births from Sap parents. Maybe it had to do with the cyanide compounds mined for processing gold ore in some of the sectors. Most Sap parents killed their Rat infants after child-birth. A very few, like Thort and Evanor or Kivo and Thana, let their Rat infants live and raised them as Sap children.
  4. The robot asks Lem whether the Rationals need any special assistance from his bosses. Lem said there wasn’t very much the robots could do for the Rationals. They could see where they were going and they knew what to do. Their problems had to do with the Saps, who did not know where they were headed and certainly did not know the right things to do. The Saps would never accept the Rationals, although they could use their help and they would continue to attack them, even though they did not stand a chance. In any event, the robots did not share the Rationals’ time line, except to intersect with it once every 64 years. Lem did not tell the robot that the Saps only shared their time line up to a certain point.
  5. The robot said finally that, if there is nothing the Rationals need from the robots, there is probably nothing they have or want to trade off-world with them. Lem and the rest of them concurred. The robot promised to stop by just to check on them once every 64 years, no strings attached. Lem said somebody would always be here to welcome him.
  6. The Rats had a good year, actually a good 10 years. Farms were thriving, but even better, the successes appeared to be sustainable. People were healthy and nobody went to bed hungry. There was no government, no laws, no judges, and no police. From time to time, a forum of people would meet to deliberate apparent conflicts of interest that were too difficult for both sides to resolve. The assumption was that both sides were right and their intentions were good, but there was probably a challenging paradox involved that warranted group deliberation. All human societies have complex needs and the Rats were no exception. It did not make sense for everyone to be a farmer; besides, there were enough farmers producing enough food for everybody. The Rats could have produced enough food for the Saps too, but the Saps hated the Rats more than they loved eating. The Rats began to specialize their labors. In addition to farmers, there were doctors, teachers, builders, researchers, transporters, and broadcasters. Nobody received money for any products, services, or work, so there was no need for money. Everybody did what was necessary to maintain a sufficient level of abundance in his area of specialization. It made sense. Once you were born, you have to do everything you can to survive until the day you die. If there are people in a society who lack the means to survive, that society will break down.
  7. A mob of worked-up Sap neighbors set fire to Evanor’s small farm. They drag her out of bed and tie her to a tree. They pile twigs and tinder around her legs and douse everything with oil. Evanor is set on fire. She screams until she dies.
  8. Another mob captures Kivo and Thana. Their neighbors hang them side by side from the same tree branch.
  9. Laws were passed at the sector level and regional levels to mandate that all blue infants be terminated immediately after birth, whether or not they were deemed viable. The various rag-tag mobs in each sector are consolidated into a more-or-less regular army. Officers are appointed to develop a viable strategy to track down and kill the Rats once and for all. It would require crossing into the Uncharted Areas. The Rats did not see the need for a hierarchical military organization. They would defend themselves and their families as best they could, but each man, woman, and child knew what had to be done, come what may, and there was no need for any general to command them to do it.
  10. That year there was another drought and the only crop farmers like Styg reaped in Sector 87 was dust. In Sector 84, Javid, Thort’s neighbor and co-worker at the local mine, passed away. His wife, Dorka, said it was from Blue Lung. Javid had been coughing up blue phlegm in the worst way the last few months. The company doctors said there was no such thing as Blue Lung. They explained that Javid had probably smoked and drank too much.
  11. The Sap army moved through Sector 127 toward the Uncharted Areas with scouts, infantry, cavalry, heavy artillery, observational balloons, and logistics trailing behind. Command and Control Centers were set up just behind the forward units. Communications antennae were planted on hills behind the CCC’s. It was an impressive display of military power and organization. The weather was difficult though. There were constant electrical storms throughout the sector with horizontal lightning streaking across hilltops and through valleys. The ground was soggy at best and at worst the foot soldiers and the drac-drawn carts sank down in the mud. Thick bullets of ice hailed down on their dented helmets and thwacked the soldiers on their insufficiently padded shoulders. It was impossible to set up camp that night prior to crossing into the Uncharted Areas at dawn the next morning, so the soldiers hunkered down for the night and tried their best to ignore the relentless hail and the terrifying lightning.
  12. Dawn arrives, not much different from the previous night, and the men, animals, and carts move forward slowly. They reach the river bank and look across to the mists hiding the far side. The black river current is faster in the middle than along the bank. The field commander sends scouts up and down the river to find a place where the river may be safely forded. The scouts are ordered to return before evening. Radio silence must be maintained. Two scouts are sent in each direction. By nightfall none of the scouts had returned.
  13. The next morning at dawn cavalry units accompanied two fresh pairs of scouts up and down the river. The scouts and units were to return before evening. Again radio silence was to be maintained at all costs. Night descended, not much different from the day, but neither the scouts nor the cavalry units returned.
  14. The morning after, the field commander divided the infantry, cavalry, heavy artillery, observational balloons, and logistics units into two equal groups, each with its own group commander. Each would move in opposite directions up and down the river bank until they found a point where the river could be crossed. Both groups would use encrypted radio signals to communicate with each other. The two groups would meet up on the other side, possibly organizing a pincer movement around the Rat enemy although they had no idea where the Rats were. The upriver group slogged its way around the bend and soon was out of sight of the downriver group, which moved slowly downstream.
  15. The upriver group marched three days before they found a point apparently shallow enough to ford the river. The scouts and cavalry units were never found. There were rumors that they had been beheaded or skinned alive and left hanging upside down from a tree. The rumors served to increase their hatred of the Rats and their resolve to massacre every last one of them. No mercy would be shown. Among many of the soldiers, however, the rumors served to make them afraid and to wonder whether this military campaign was really worth sacrificing their lives. The upriver group commander called the downriver commander over the STU. The downriver commander had not reached a point where the river could be safely crossed but was optimistic that it was only a matter of time until they found it. They had not found any sign of the scouts or cavalry units sent downstream. He feared the worst had happened. His men were itching to kill the Rats with their bare hands.
  16. The upriver commander, being senior in command, decided to cross the river without waiting for the downriver commander’s group to cross. He ordered some men to wade across the treacherous rapids with heavy coils of rope slung over each shoulder and shot-blasters held high above their heads. The rope coils were tied around thick trees and boulders growing stubbornly from the river bank. The stones below the white water were sharp as axe blades and provided slippery footing at best. The lead man slipped and hit his head, opening a bloody gash across his cheekbone. The second man caught him by the collar but lost his shot-blaster downstream while scrambling to maintain his footing. He waited for the third soldier to reach him and together they dragged the unconscious soldier to the other side. They laid the soldier on the sandy beach of the far bank and looped the ropes around gnarled tree trunks. One of the soldiers carried the excess rope back across the river to the near side. The ends of the rope were tied so that a long low hanging loop of rope crossed over the river. A hundred or men tied themselves to the ropes overhanging the river and waded across with their weapons aimed at the forested hill tops on the far side. They reached the other side and established a beach head facing their weapons inland, the direction from which they thought the Rat attackers would come. The remaining soldiers built several rough-hewn rafts and thick staves to pull the carts, animals, and heavy equipment across, while trying to brake the strong downstream currents. The sun seemed to break through the thick roiling clouds hiding the treetops on the cliffs surrounding the beach they had secured. Some of the men were heartened to see a keyhole of golden sunlight, the first rays in more than a week, what with all the dismal weather they had slogged through. Some men wondered how in God’s own hell were they going to scale those cliffs. Small but sturdy piers were built under the ropes on either side of the river. An empty raft was tethered to the rope and to the pier and pushed, sliding into the water. The first drac and cart were driven reluctantly onto the unstable raft. The drac snorted and brayed, swaying his head and neck left and right, and nearly charging off the edge of the raft. The cart held a heavy cannon battened down for the river crossing. The rope to the pier was released and one soldier pulled the raft via the loop rope while another soldier planted the stave into the riverbed to keep the raft from flowing downstream.
  17. When the raft was halfway across the river, a lightning bolt ripped through the grey sky and blasted the thick tree to splinters, around which the crossing rope was looped. The looped rope catapulted uselessly into the air and the raft capsized, drac, cart, soldiers, and cannon. The rope held onto the raft as it swung along the radius downstream of the tree trunk on the far side of the river, that is, until a second lightning bolt blasted the tree trunk into splinters. The capsized raft, now released from any and all commitments, flowed downstream until it broke up on one of the sharp rocks jutting up from the riverbed.
  18. The upriver group commander was undaunted by the singular bad luck he had witnessed with his own eyes. He would not be deterred and resolved to cross the river again but the grey light was waning and soon the night would render it virtually impossible to cross the river. He called his men across the river to make camp as best they could for the night and the logistics units would bring provisions to them in the morning. He watched with his monocular the camp fires sputtering across the river. His own men made camp and settled in for the night. He ordered two standing guards and two roving guards to patrol the perimeter. He gave the same orders to the unit commander on the far side of the river.
  19. At the crack of dawn, the commander scanned the far side with his monocular but saw only the grey mists. He called the unit commander on the STU but only a dead silence issued from the earphone. He called the downriver group commander for position and status. The downriver commander reported they were about to break camp and continue downstream looking for a safe place to cross the river. The upriver commander told him about the two lightning bolts and the lost cannon, cart, and drac. He had an eerie feeling about those lightning bolts but he did not mention it to the other commander.
  20. The upriver commander slipped the STU into his backpack. He ordered some soldiers to tie a new rope around one of the other thick trees on the near bank of the river and some other soldiers to tie the other end of the rope around their waists. The first group of soldiers fed the rope out slowly as the second group waded into the river with their weapons trained on the cliff tops. The men in the river moved slowly, trying to maintain their footing in the rapids. They disappeared into the mists. After twenty agonizing minutes, the commander heard his STU bleeping gratefully. “Sir, we reached the far bank of the river,” the voice reported, “but we don’t see any of our guys. There’s no tracks in the sand or mud either.” “Keep looking!” the commander ordered. “There’s gotta be something left behind, a cigarette stub, a food bar wrapper, a smoking pile of dung, something…” “We’re looking again sir,” the voice crackled with static, “but we’re not finding anything.” The commander ordered the men on the other side of the river to stop searching and to secure the perimeter immediately. He told them to call him every ten minutes to update their status whether or not there was anything to report. Two men looped the rope around another tree. One of the men waded back across the river with the excess rope.
  21. After the rope loop was hanging across the river, another raft was shoved through the mud and sand down to the river side beside the pier. A drac and cart were driven onto the raft. The drac roared fire and the raft nearly capsized. The cannon was carefully lifted into the cart and tied down. The raft inched across the strong shallow currents with one soldier pulling the loop rope and the other staving off the pull of the downstream. The raft reached the middle of the river with great difficulty and then a single lightning bolt split into two tines slamming into both trees on either side of the river, replacing them with ash and smoke. The rope flew upward in a diabolic smile of flame. The raft flowed sideways downriver until it hit a half-submerged tree and the cart, cannon, and drac upended over the side of the raft and splashed under the grey water. The men were shot off the raft into the water as it flipped over. During the excitement of this rolling disaster, the commander had forgotten that he had not heard from his men on the other side of the river for more than ten minutes. He called the voice he’d talked to earlier that morning, but there was no response.
  22. The downriver group continued to move forward, keeping the river to their left. Around every bend, the river seemed to widen until the opposite bank was lost in the undifferentiated grey mists. Just before nightfall at the end of each long march, the group stopped to set up camp and draw up lists for guard and patrol duty. The commander called the upriver commander every hour from sunset to sunrise to give and receive status updates. The downriver commander was appalled to hear of the losses in men and material. He was even more appalled to hear about the lightning bolts. He had to consider that the Rats had succeeded in weaponizing lightning.
  23. The next morning the downriver group breaks camp and begins another long slog. You can’t really march in mud up to your knees. They slog parallel to the river looking over to the other bank as it recedes into the distance. Everyone suspects the uselessness of the effort and that the river will probably become a lake before it becomes a creek. The rain turns to hail, which turns to rain again, and then hail. The soldiers are indifferent to the weather. The rain softens and beats down the cloth protecting their backs and shoulders, so that the hail hurts even more against their wet skins. Their minds are elsewhere, in warm and dry local pubs or in warm and dry beds. The grey afternoon darkens into evening as the soldiers round a bend and enter a boulder strewn inlet. They set up camp for the night, sip cold soup from crusted cups, and curse their downriver commander more than the Rats.
  24. It seems an endless senseless cycle of night and morning, dreaming and waking. Some men have been feverish for several days and they move in and out of hallucinations, effortlessly, passively. One soldier faints headlong into the mud. His comrades lift him up, barely conscious, supporting him with their shoulders under his armpits, taking on his backpack or shot-blaster along with their own. The fog moves in low, covering the muddy ground, the sandy bank, and the river itself. The soldiers’ feet trudge along blindly, not knowing where to step. One man stumbles sideways into the river. The rain pours down straight from the low clouds in thick globules, beating away the low-lying fog, until once again the feet knew where to step. Grey morning slips unnoticed into grey afternoon and afternoon into grayer evening. The last light starts to fade from the rain. They stop to set up camp. Lists are drawn up for guard and patrol duty.
  25. Just before dawn, the last-watch guard entered the downriver commander’s tent and fired his shot-blaster into the commander’s snoring face. One of the other guards dragged the commander’s corpse through the mud to the river bank, waded in until he was chest deep and the corpse floated in the current, and released it to float downstream. The other men started to wake up, one by one, and tend to their personal needs. They ate in silence and then began to move upriver and homeward. The STU beside the downriver commander’s cot squawked in high-pitched tones to the emptiness of the tent.
  26. The upriver commander called his commanding general on his STU and reported that his troops had sustained a 75% loss of personnel and materiel against superior Rat forces deployed along the river bordering the Uncharted Areas. Apparently the Rats had superior technology, including the ability to control the local weather to their advantage and even to use lightning as an accurate and effective weapon. He recommended to his superior officer massive reinforcements to overcome the enemy, to make them regret the day they were born. The commanding general said there were no more troops available. It would take months to organize and train them. “Sir, in that case,” the upriver commander said to his superior, “I recommend falling back with our remaining forces to defend our home sectors from a Rat counter attack.

Mike Stone, Ra’anana Israel

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