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[Editor's Note: This story first appeared in Blancmange # 210, APA-Q # 298 (c) Mark L Blackman. It was reprinted in Volume 3, Numbers 11 & 12 of The Starship Express Copyright © 1989 Philip De Parto with the permission of the author who also allowed it to be posted here.]
BARUCH ROGERS, SPACE RABBI finds war is a childish cycle -- from the works of the scribe Moshe Eleazar ben-Baruch ha-Levi.
The soldier stood face-to-face with the Enemy. He quickly inventoried his personal arsenal: LaserUsi, projectile-launcher, neutron grenades. Nothing really suitable for hand-to-hand combat. His heart pounded in his chest. Bloodlust clouded his vision. His arm lunged forward and snapped around his opponent's windpipe.
Blinking, gasping, the second man fought to breathe stranglehold. Under the cover of this maneuver, he snaked his rifle upward until its barrel rested against his attacker's jawbone. At that distance he couldn't miss. The first soldier flinched in surprise. His arm went limp.
"All right," he said finally, "you win, I'll pick up the check."
"It's just like I told you, Rabbi," observed Ensign Adonijah Flanken, "mercenaries love to fight."
The security chief for half the planet sat across from Baruch Rogers, Space Rabbi at a table in the Borzoi mess tent, languidly twirling his moustache. In keeping with a military tradition that went back to Joshua, the food was terrible, and such large portions. "That's why I got my superiors to hire them,.'
"We mercenaries fight for what we believe in," said a tall officer. A patch above his pocket identified him as Harry Fleischman and kept the laundry from losing his shirts. "And what we believe in is money."
As if to emphasize his point, he held up a billfold and emptied it. He stuffed the cash into his pocket and let the empty billfold drop to the ground. Turning on his heels, he strutted off.
Most peculiar fellow, thought Rogers. He turned his attention back to Flanken as they left the mess tent. From behind them came a shout, "My wallet! It's gone!"
"You expect me to believe that?" It was the two mercenaries who had been fighting over the check. "You also think maybe I buy retail?"
"And besides," Flanken resumed, "My superiors are so decadent and corrupt, no one would ever fight for them out of loyalty."
He led Rogers through the Borzoi Irregular camp toward the mercenary commander's headquarters. All around them were young men clad in ill-fitting fur outfits of irregular sizes, lengths, and seams--from which the corps had earned its familiar name. Some sat around cleaning their weapons. A few played holodisks. The Rabbi stopped in front of one soldier writing a letter home.
"Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, Here I am at Camp--"
He folded the letter in three and burned it.
"But--" Rogers looked at Flanken,
"Military censorship, Rabbi. Can't et the Enemy know who or where you are." "Don't worry, son," Rogers bent toward the mercenary. "we'll have you home in time for Chanukah, and in one piece. I'm here to end this war."
"End--? But no war, no money. Commander!" The young man sprang to his feet shouting. we have an un-friendly agent in camp!"
Within seconds the Rabbi and Flanken were surrounded by a squad of Borzoi, weapons pointed at them. Just as suddenly, they parted, even as the waves of the Red Sea, and three men strode through.
"Weapons down, men," said the one who was obviously the commander, "This is our employer. Now, what's all this about an unfriendly agent?"
"Unfriendly?" Again Rogers looked at Flanken."What's unfriendly about trying to save their lives?"
"Unfriendly' is their term for Enemy," explained the security chief.
'Quite so, Ensign. And your companion is?"
--You don't have to give him anything more than your name, status, and UJA pledge number.--
"Who wath sat?" asked the stern-faced man next to the commander.
"My Judaically-programmed Ethnocentric Nomothetic Talmudic Analytic computer. I am Baruch Rogers, Space Rabbi, from the Harry Seldman Foundation of Judeohistory." Flanken nodded in confirmation.
"Oh, one of those mystics. How exotic. I am General Davi Gruen, Commanding Officer of the Borzoi irregulars, and this is my aide, Col. Janasan -- I mean, Jonathan -- Schwartz." Rogers noticed the third man as in civilian garb. "And this is Tam Olam, war correspondent. I think the danger is past, men." He turned to Flanken. "Whatever possessed you to bring someone like him here?"
The Ensign shrugged. "I thought he was just going to conduct Shabbat services, maybe give a blessing from the L-rd of Hosts. Go know he's going t try and start a peace movement."
The group entered the General's tent "We can't have you spreading disharmony among my army, Rabbi,"said Gruen. He seated himself at a small desk.
"That's right,"agreed Olam. "Instead, they need more men like me. Men who write cleanly and well about the glories of battle."
"You know," said Rogers, "the whole idea of mercenaries confuses me. How can you put your all into fighting the enemy if you're more concerned with living to spend your fee? I mean, what good is it if you aren't ar--
"Sha!" Zug nischt in front of the customer!" thundered Gruen. Schwartz, meanwhile, had stepped to the opening to admit a scout. "we'll finish this another time, Rabbi. let's have your report on the Enemy, soldier,"
"Yes, sir. On the right flank, the have dozens of hovertanks."
"No, General. We can take them out with our artillery and then send in our infantry. On the right flank, they have thousands of troops and hundreds of laser cannons."
"No, sir. We can overrun them with our hovertanks. But the center -- oy, don't even ask. It's horrible. I can't even talk about it."
"Tell me--I have to know--what did you see in the center?"
"Oy, sir, in the center they've got such a big dog!"
"Thank you. Good soldier, Shviger." After the scout left, Gruen ushered out Flanken and Olam as well. He then turned to Rogers. "A big dog . . . On second thought, Rabbi . . . Jonason, take a letter."
No man's land, it had been named during one of Earth's many wars. And it wasn't much of a place for rabbis either, but Baruch Rogers slugged onward anyway, until he came in sight of an Unfriendly guard.
Unfortunately, in sight of was also in range of. A volley of laser blasts burst around him. "Halt or be recognized!"
"I'm halting, I'm halting." As the guard approached, Rogers saw he was a barechested man with prayershawl wrapped in a band around his forehead. "Rambam, is that you?"
"Yeah, who you?"
"It's me, Baruch Rogers, Space Rabbi Remember? I saved you from the salmon who were going drop that giant bagel on Earth."
Rambam's weapon was still hoisted. "So whaddaya done for me lately? Besides, a single thing I ain't blasted all day."
Not taking any chances, Rogers polarized his visor to mirrorshade. If he were shot at, it would reflect harmlessly off. Still, only a complete idiot would shoot under these circumstances.
A tree exploded behind the mercenary
"Say," Rogers suddenly realized, "what are you doing with the Unfriendlies? Last I heard you were with the Borzoi."
Rambam retrieved his fallen Uzi. "They kicked me out for refusin' to wear a shirt. I'm with Hammacher's Shleppers now."
--Isn't that a department store-- asked JENTA,
"Rambam, I have an important message for your leader. Please take me to him."
The camp Rogers was led through resembled the Borzoi camp, except for the men's garb. In contrast to the uniform, if ill-fitting, fur, this army was dressed like refugees at a rummage sale. Their name was also well-chosen, he decided. Within moments, he stood within the commander's tent.
The name's Hammacher. Michael Hammacher. I used to be a private eye. Now I'm in the mercenary game. The job's the same, the pay's better, even if you can't always set your own hours. This is my partner. Judah Falkenberg. A man sticks up for his partner. They tell me you're a sky pilot with a message from the Unfriendlies. Spill it."
"But I thought you're the Unfriendlies. And I'm a Space--" Falkenberg hefted his sidearm. Rogers shrugged and handed over Gruen's letter.
Hammacher opened and looked at the note, then handed it to Falkenberg, a smile on his face.
"Negotiate, why should we negotiate? Falkenberg asked. "We're doing fine, business isn't so bad. If peace breaks out, we're out of a good job. We'd have to go home, and my mother's gone and rented out my room."
"Besides," added Hammacher, "we've got the big dog."
--"Watch where you step, Rebbe," said JENTA, "That isa big dog they've got."--
"Both sides are happy enough to sit around collecting their fees and just let the war drag on," Rogers grumbled. "When one side realizes that war means they can get hurt and is willing to negotiate the other side just sees that they have the upper hand and want to continue. I don't see any way out."
--Hmm, I'm not so sure about that, Rabbi. I've been interfacing with the cutest couple of administration computers at each sides headquarters.--
"Oy!" cried the Rabbi, "you'll pick up some dirty, filthy, disgusting virus."
The Borzoi computer technician tugged a his right sleeve, then gasped at the hard copy that was spewing forth from his printer. "Hey, Yussel!" he called over to the soldier who was tugging at his left pants leg. "Come look at this."
Yussel came over and looked. His eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed in anger. "I don't believe it, villie," he exclaimed finally.
Ensign Adonijah Flanken sat across peace table from his opposite number, Major General Darius Blutnik. "What an ignoble strait we have been brought to," he moaned.
"I quite agree, my boy. No more pay vouchers passing across my desk and into -- ahem"
"And all because our mercenaries found out how little of what we had been allocated was actually being used to pay them."
"How do you suppose they ever accessed our computer records?" asked Blutnik.
Flanken shrugged. "Beats me. So what happens? All our mercenaries decide to go on strike! Looks like we'll have to call this war off,"
"what's the galaxy coming to when a war profiteer can't even turn an honest shekel? Whoever heard of a Union army?"
And now, definitions of the terminology you might not understand:
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