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Suddenly it got quiet. Debris showers from the dusty air as Nic scrambles to his feet, tail swaying for balance. His furless, sensitive ears rang as he gazed across the field, watching for survivors. A flick of a tail catches his watering eyes, and he takes off toward it.
Clawing at the pile surrounding the pink tail, Nic hears a distant voice with a heavy German accent. Franz! After cleaning the bulk of the debris, Nic sees a paw burst from the soil. Franz lifts his bulky, dirty body from the ground, shouting a variety of obscenities.
“Breathe, buddy, breathe!” Nic jokes, as Franz calms down.
“Well then!” Brushing dirt from his fur, Franz, with empty hope, asks, “Did we win?”
Again scanning the field, Nic glances at his friend with raised eyebrows and casually responds, “I just saved you from being buried alive.”
“Okay, I get it, we lost again. Sheesh, I get really sick of that tone of yours.”
Nic chuckles shortly and then says, “Look over here.” He scurries off toward another pile of rubble.
Franz, finally taking in his surroundings, lets out a low, “whoa” and shouts after Nic, “Hey Nic! It looks like our entire army just got blown to hell. Why are you so relaxed?”
“Just come over here and help me out! I think this is Ronald!”
“Now that’s more like it!” Franz chases after Nic, eyes peeled for survivors.
* * *
1 Day Prior, at the Base
120 pink ears prick into alertness as 60 rats turn toward their commander. Each rat is dressed in 2 belts strapped across their chests in the shape of an ‘X’. Nic, eyes forward but ears elsewhere, whispers a warning to one of his friends.
“Pst! Ronald! Quit it with the joke, he’s looking right at you!”
But Nic realizes he is too late as he notices Sergeant Kimber stomping toward scrawny Ronald Gimberman.
“Gimberman!” Kimber’s head looks like it might explode as he towers over Ronald.
Ronald, chuckling, sweetly responds, “Yes, Kimberly?”
Nic lowers his head as he thinks about all the laps Ronald will have to do for this one as Kimber digs a sharp claw into Ronald’s chest. “What did you call me?”
“Kimberly, you know when you start a joke that just won’t be funny unless you tell it to the end?”
“I know it’ll be funny to watch you panting like a dog and begging for water once you finish 20 laps.”
Nic watches as the grin is wiped from Ronald’s face and he starts toward the track. Ronald is a funny rat, Nic thought, but sometimes he just takes things a little too far. He wondered if this was really the place for a clown like him.
“Sorry about the interruption, soldiers, I just had to have a chat with the kids.” A few of the bigger rats chortle in the back. “As you know, deployment is tomorrow. We will be traversing the field to get to the barn, where we can gain access to the house. Understood?”
“Aye!” The army triumphantly bellows, shaking the soft earth.
“Alright, then. Be ready. This could be it,” the sergeant says confidently. Nic and his comrades shift slightly, remembering the countless past attempts at finally conquering the human tyrant. However, this plan was well thought and seemed flawless enough. The army would have to wait for the next day.
* * *
As Nic awoke, he found many of his friends swaying uneasily in anticipation of the march to come. He puts a paw on Guff’s, his bunkmate’s, shoulder as he stretches his other arm to go with a big yawn. “We’ll be fine, Guff. You’ll see.”
“I know,” Guff says, but in an effort to sound confident, his voice cracks and he looks up at Nic.
Nic gives Guff a pat on the back and walks to his hook where his belts hang. He straps them on, tightening each buckle just right, and making sure the ‘X’ shape is perfect. Then he makes his way toward the toilets, where he shuts the door, looks around, and vomits into the bowl. Who was he kidding? Nic was just as nervous as everyone else in this base. But he had to act strong, be strong. It was the only way he could support his fellow soldiers, and the only way they would have any hope of success.
After flushing the toilet and rinsing out his mouth, Nic leaves the toilets and heads for the food pile. Picking out a few tasty looking morsels, Nic heads off toward Ronald, who is sitting alone under a bush.
“What are you so mopy about?”
“Some of the other rats are saying I should bug out, join a circus or something. They say the army isn’t the place for me.” Ronald says, feeling more comfortable talking to Nic than anyone else.
Nic’s heart sinks as he reassures his friend, “Ronald, you’re the only comic relief we’ve got in this mess. I don’t know what we would do without you.”
Ronald smiles, raising Nic’s heart back up. “Thanks, Nic.”
Just then, a horn sounds and the 60 rats all look up at the top of the food pile, where Kimber stands. “ASSEMBLE!”
“Here we go,” Nic mutters, extending a paw to Ronald.
Silently, the confident soldiers swarm to formation, heads raised to their sergeant.
Left foot first. The rats start through the field, alert and watchful. The march would be a long one, and many dreaded the long haul to the barn. After only 15 minutes, however, a voice sounded far from Nic’s position.
“What did he say?”
Suddenly it got quiet.