“It’s going to take me a while,” Chess cautioned. “Hours, probably – it’s hard to gauge.”
Dallow scowled at him. “How will you even know where you’re going? It’ll be dark soon.”
“Yeah, you could get lost, and we’ll find you weeks from now, wandering around eating acorns and talking to yourself,” a recruit suggested cheerfully.
Chess glared at the speaker. “I have a compass. It’s manual,” he added quickly, heading off the protest that he knew Dallow would make. “They won’t be able to track the signal.”
“Okay,” Dallow sighed, “So, say you get in there okay… and you’re ready for us to provide cover fire so you can get back out… but we can’t use communications because they can intercept them. So, how will we know when to fire?”
Chess shook his head slowly. “I’ll give you a signal. I don’t know what – I’ll have to look around and see what’s there. A flare, maybe. I’ll make sure it’s something you can’t mistake.”
No one said anything after that. The entire woods seemed to grow silent for a few moments and people around him shifted uncomfortably.
“Look,” Chess said hesitantly, “Nothing has worked so far. The computer simulations didn’t work. But we don’t have to follow a pre-programmed strategy: we can do whatever we want.”
“We could all run up the hill naked,” Mal laughed, but even she sounded tired.
“No,” Dallow answered solemnly. “We have to wear our target suits. But that would be cool and refreshing,” he finished with a hint of a smile. He paused for a moment and then appeared to make up his mind. “Okay,” he nodded. “We’re running out of people and ideas. But they must be low on ammo, too... We’ll have to be ready for your signal for hours, maybe, but we’ll be there. Let’s do it.”
“Or die trying,” Chess said quietly.
The light was beginning to fade from the sky as Chess separated from the rest of his group. They were headed toward one side of the small hill where the opposing team had set their camp. There, they would wait just beyond the cover of the trees. They would be waiting for him. Chess hoped desperately that they would manage to stay alert... and that he could carry out his part in his own plan.
Chess, as agreed, hurried around to the forest edge at other side of the hill. Once under the trees, he knelt and checked his compass reading. Far off, at the top of the hill, he could barely see the cabin, which was quickly becoming a silhouette against a deep blue sky. He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to slow his breathing. His heart pounded as he gazed at the gradual, easy slope of the hill in front of him. From the top of the hill, it was easy to see anyone approaching from this direction… and easy to shoot them, so he figured the guards watching this side would be fairly relaxed.
There was one crucial part of his plan that he had only guessed at: it was time to test his theory now. Taking one last deep breath, he crawled out from under the cover of the trees and made for the nearest deep furrow in the ground. Churned up in rainy weather by some enormous military vehicle, the trench-like grooves were dry now, almost tunnels through the earth. Chess sank down until he was flat on his belly in the ditch and then raised his head. Bits of dirt broke off from the sides of the furrow and rained down gently onto his face.
Yes, he decided, he could fit completely into the trench, but some were larger than others. He would have to snake along on elbows and knees in places. He groaned and then moved the compass and a small flashlight up to his breast pocket so he would be able to reach them in the confined space.
The white noise was starting up in his brain now. This was never going to work, he thought, suddenly on the edge of despair. He didn’t have the endurance for this… and even if he did, did the plan even have a chance of working? Chess the master thief could do this… but what about Chess the hapless recruit? He lay there watching the sweat drip down from his forehead into the dirt.
“Goddess of the indigo priestess,” he thought, “I sure wish you could help me. In return, I’d sacrifice to you… the next few hours.” He blinked his burning eyes again and began to crawl.
Continued next page...
When Massoud was growing up in Kabul, he was part of a neighborhood gang that had regular battles with other gangs. One particularly large gang would occupy a hilltop near his house… He would split his force, sending one half straight up the hill while the other half circled and attacked from the rear. It always worked. It still worked.
The Lion in Winter, Fire by Sebastian Junger
Readers might have noticed that Chess is no superhero. I did not want him to be. He is not the “one,” foretold by some prophecy, who is pre-destined to save the world or whatever. (Don’t you kinda wonder what would happen if all these stories that have “the one” in them suddenly merged and all the “ones” met each other?) In fact, I wanted him to have fewer advantages than others might, by having low self-confidence and a tendency toward depression. These disadvantages, to me, make his determination to press onward even more admirable.
I once had a discussion with a coworker about who our favorite superheroes were. She told me, “I used to think Superman was my favorite because he was so, well, super. But, more recently, I have come to realize that Batman is probably my favorite superhero, specifically because he does not have any superpowers. Everything that he does, every victory that he achieves, is the result of his own effort and strength of will. He’s just human, working from the basic foundation that every one of us has. So, the fact that he is so powerful makes him super in my eyes.” I had to agree with her, except that my favorite character has always, always -- since the days of Adam West and Yvonne Craig reruns -- been Batgirl.
(By the way, Yvonne Craig was also in a season three Star Trek episode. They really should have let her do her signature Batgirl kicks there – she would have gotten the situation under control without any need for the Vulcan nerve pinch!)
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