Voices of War | The Cata-Rats

A single light blue eye stares out from beneath gravel and dirt.
Seeing, unseen

Part 1 — Compiled from military records and the Diary of I.G.I. AKA Mouse (Black Guild, Anara) — (3/133)

“Private!” shouted a short, muscular man dressed in black. His black beret tipped neatly to one side.

Mouse had been busy writing in her journal. She immediately pushed her chair out, stood, swivelled around, and stiffened to attention. Raising her hand in salute, she responded, “Sergeant!”

“I’m told you requested this assignment. Now why would you go and do such a thing, Private? Do you have a death wish?” the sergeant continued. He was now face to face with Mouse. She could feel spittle landing on her cheeks. They blushed red.

Mouse held fast. Her large, light blue eyes twinkling vibrantly at the Sergeant in reply. She answered, “Yes… and no Sergeant!”

The Sergeant stared into her eyes for several moments, then stepped back and looked her up and down. For a moment, it looked as though he was going to scream at her again, but he seemed to think better of it. Instead, he relaxed and spoke, “welcome to the Cata-Rats. You’ll fit right in.”

Three weeks of training were quickly behind her, and Mouse had cemented her place in the unit admirably. There wasn’t much she hadn’t yet mastered; faster than most, intuitive, strong for her size, and along with her unnaturally good night-sight, she had incredibly sharp hearing too. The Sergeant had been most impressed, especially when she’d beaten him at his own game.

A figure squirmed along the damp tunnel floor in silence. There was no light, not a single shimmer from a belt buckle or button, and no shine off a sweaty brow. A barely perceptible rustle of canvas on dirt was all that alerted her to the other’s presence.

The objective: capture the flag. Mouse and her squad were the last to run the course. They had been the up and comers during this intake. The Cata-Rats only took on new recruits every two years, so the standard was high. As well as she’d done so far, Mouse wanted to leave nothing to chance.

He was closer now, the Sergeant. He had a certain musk she’d singled out during training.

Closer still, if she reached out with her arm, she could have touched him. She could call a kill, but she decided not to. Patience was the order of the day.

The Sergeant passed by and she waited several minutes, listening intently the whole time for the slightest of noises. There was nothing.

Without making a sound, she sat up, the dirt she’d buried herself in falling away. Anyone watching on, even in full light, would have been at a loss to have seen her diminutive frame rise out of the soil and gravel. Invisibly, keeping low to the ground and tight to the wall, she wound down the tunnel and made her way to the flag chamber.

Ten minutes later, the Sergeant lay silently on the ground, near to the blue team’s base. Somehow, for the first time in all his years, he had caught no one on his way here. Now he could only hope to catch them on the way back.

That was until she stuck her finger into his neck, like a dagger to his throat, and whispered, “Kill.”

The Sergeant was at a loss for words. Mouse stepped back, throwing the flag to a teammate who had just appeared in the tunnel ahead. She didn’t smile. She wasn’t one to gloat. Instead, she offered her hand to the Sergeant.

Once he was standing and had finished dusting off the muck and debris, he looked at her, genuinely shocked. “That third bend? Before the flag?”

“Roughly,” she answered.

“I had a shiver as I passed. Well done. Very well done.”

That was then—in better days before Mouse had seen any real action. This was now.

Deep behind enemy lines, she crawled through a hastily dug tunnel. Never had she felt claustrophobia, but if she was ever going to, this would be the moment. The tunnel was just barely big enough for her to fit through, and the harsh, gravelly walls scraped and tore at her arms and face.

This last section was dug by the only Cata-Rat smaller than Mouse. He was up ahead somewhere, waiting for her to come through, hiding in the Daxian tunnel, their target. Mouse had very little time.

She felt a blast of cool air from up ahead. It whistled down the arm that was stretched awkwardly ahead of her, dragging her body forward as the other pushed. Her cheek scrubbed against an especially jagged piece of shattered rock.

Fortunately, that was the last of the discomfort for now. She felt a hand grab at hers and pull. Tar helped her out of the tunnel and into the shadows, where they regrouped in silence. Gesturing rapidly in the Cata-Rats secret sign-language. He explained he had scouted ahead and found a small barracks, and a few Daxians at rest.

Tar was a foundling like Mouse, raised by the Black Guild, and they had become close. Unlike her, he had no memory of his parents, where Mouse had that precious image in her head, and the Totem. Their bond had meant they’d been identified early as a strong team. That, together with their size, meant they were often tasked with the gnarlier missions.

She followed him down the tunnel, keeping to the shadows and stepping silently. Her twin blades—thin, razor-sharp stilettos—palmed and tucked against her wrists.

There was no one on guard. The Daxians obviously felt no threat from inside the tunnels, so Mouse and Tar got to work.

Without a sound, they executed each of the seven Daxian soldiers as they slept. As she slipped the blade smoothly out of the neck of the last, a smaller female, she paused.

On a small crate to the left of the bunk was a picture. She and another female Daxian in formals, their arms around each others’ shoulders. Graduation perhaps? Mouse looked from the picture back to the dead young woman. She hadn’t even felt the blade go in. She hadn’t known that this would be her last night alive.

The door creaked. Mouse turned to see Tar waiting for her. Without looking back, she followed him out and they headed back to their tunnel. Tar stuck his hand inside and pressed the Clicker once. A loud click-clack echoed down the narrow shaft. A moment later, a single clack-click came in response. Now they had to wait for the rest of the squad to make their way through.

Mouse sat in the shadows. The photograph of two young Daxian women fighting for its moment in her mind’s eye—next to it, a similar image of her parents, smiling, arms around each others’ shoulders.

Her hand reached up to her chest. There she grasped at a lump beneath her shirt, her Totem hanging on its chord around her neck. The same Totem that her father wore in the image from her memory.

We will hear from Mouse again soon. Thank you for reading.

Illustration by Midjourney & G.G.B.

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