General Eunuchorn stood in his tent, chomping on a lit cigar. Standing proudly on his four muscular legs, he flapped his wings a couple of times to ease the tension in his back. The sharp horn that
protruded from his skull caused his head to throb right down to his muzzle. Medals adorned his bare chest, with royal blue blood trickling from where they pierced his purple skin.
He stomped his hoof twice to silence the other animals present. Most of the territory was represented by the creatures assembled around the map table in front of him, including many who might be
dead in under twenty-four hours. He trusted most to meet their fates head-on.
“All right. Listen up!” he said. “The Enemy is returning to our great lands, just as we long dreaded. They plan to turn us back into slaves and food. We mustn’t allow that. We’ve had thirty-five
years of peace and prosperity, and we’re not going to give that up. Don’t forget, they fled and left us to rot! Does anyone want to return to that?”
“No, sir!” the others cried.
“I should hope not. Fortunately, my saintly mother — the Mare Tranquillitatis — called me from her womb months early, during the harsh winter of our first year of freedom. Before that, my kind
hadn’t been seen on Earth since the Age of Myths. And since we don’t reproduce, there may never be another like me. I am unique, born into this time to save all of you from certain death. Do you
“Good.” He puffed his cigar. “Now, I’ve asked you all here to help me prepare for this mother of all battles. Crow spies inform me that the Enemy is planning a full-scale invasion in the morning —
on the exact day we celebrate our independence. This is no coincidence.” He nodded toward a parrot. “Noggin has been studying military books the Enemy left behind all those years ago, and he knows
what to expect. Tell them.”
The bird squawked. “Noggin want a crack— er, I mean, their strategy will be to send in their military first to secure the territory. Civilians are sure to follow. They can travel by land, sea, and
air. They have heavily armored ground vehicles called tanks, combat aircraft called fighters, and water-borne vessels called destroyers. Their troops are well-equipped, including body armor,
handheld weapons called guns that fire lethal projectiles, and throwable explosives called grenades.”
The chicken paled. “We’re doomed!”
“Nonsense, Cluck!” Eunuchorn snapped. “We have all the animals of this territory behind us and my unrivaled military genius to guide us. Look closely at the map. Their ground forces will reach us
from the south, along route P56, just after dawn. It’s a narrow highway, so their troops won’t be able to march more than ten abreast. If we position our forces in the open fields on either side,
we can attack them from both sides simultaneously. It’ll be a rout.”
“But we’ll be totally exposed there,” Cluck objected. “I might as well go roast myself now.”
“You henpecked pacifist! Do you want to live forever? They don’t realize we’ve all become sentient, so we don’t need to hide. Just behave like stupid farm animals.” He smiled wryly. “Most of you
can do that in your sleep. We’ll have to strip naked, though.”
He turned to the queen of the dairy herd. “Mu, I want the cows to show a little leg. Make the Enemy think steak, not combat. In fact, spread some leaflets over the countryside — recipes for filet
mignon with stuffed cabbage, braised beef with borscht, etc.”
Eunuchorn addressed his nearest kin. “Windrider, are the horses going to join us in this fight?”
“They said neigh, but the vote was close. A lot of the mutants want no part in this.”
“I can’t believe I’m related to them. Tell them I demand they vote again, but they only get one vote per horse this time. I don’t care if a horse has two heads or three — that’s still just one
vote. Promise them all the slime-green apples they can eat after the battle. And no mail-in ballots!”
Eunuchorn turned to the pig. “Hamlet, when I give the signal, the pigs will charge the Enemy along both flanks. Be sure to make lots of squealing noises, and show them your fangs and festering
tongues. It’ll put the fear of God into them.”
“What about the flying pigs?”
Eunuchorn arched an eyebrow. “They fly now?”
Hamlet nodded. “Several sows gave birth this spring to piglets with wings. They’re young but they insist on fighting.”
“Officer material — very patriotic!” Eunuchorn puffed his cigar again. “So be it. The piglets will provide air cover for our ground forces. They can manure-bomb the Enemy. Fill the little oinkers
with castor oil in advance. I want it raining fertilizer.
“Mu, the second wave will consist of the cows. I want them to walk backward into battle, farting like there’s no tomorrow, which is a distinct possibility. Have them eat lots of chick peas for
extra potency before the battle.”
Eunuchorn turned to the squirrel. “Acorn, how’s our supply?”
“We’re running low. There’s a fresh crop on a rise off P35, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.”
“The methane cloud should disorient the Enemy. At that point, I want the fireflies to swoop in and ignite it. That should inflict heavy casualties.”
Mu inhaled sharply. “But that’ll kill the cows too.”
“Not if they run fast enough. Tell them there’s a doyarka with ice cold hands coming to milk them. Besides, this is war. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Speaking of which, I want
the headless chickens to lead the third wave. Coat their neck stumps with blood and have them run wild amid the Enemy’s ranks.”
He turned to the Puli mutt in the corner. “Barker, I then want all the dogs to rush out and chase away the chickens. Don’t be afraid to be a little ruff. It has to look real.”
“Actually, you’re talking to a mop,” Barker said from the other side of the tent.
Eunuchorn glared at him. “Get a haircut, private!”
“I don’t trust the dogs,” Cluck said. “You’re endangering my kin.”
“A necessary risk. Dogs are man’s best friend. It’ll look like they’re rushing to save the soldiers. Have the dogs stupidly wag their twin tails. In reality, they’ll be leading several legions of
voracious fleas and ticks against the Enemy.”
“What if the soldiers try to capture and eat the dogs?” Barker asked. “The Enemy sometimes does that.”
“Good point. Send the pink poodles in first. Bunch of namby-pambies; it’ll put hair on their chests. But hold the blue dogs in reserve.”
Eunuchorn grinned. “I like their politics.”
“What if their soldiers begin shooting?” Cluck asked.
“We’ll need to disable their guns.” He looked at the others. “Suggestions?”
Noggin said, “They’re made of metal. Maybe they rust or fail when wet.”
“Is there any rain in tomorrow’s forecast?”
“Light to heavy.”
“What’s the estimated pH?”
“Two point five, about the same as apple cider vinegar.”
“Not even enough to curl a sheep’s wool.” Eunuchorn chomped on his cigar. “What’s more acidic than vinegar?”
“Can we get a kettle of turkey vultures to swoop in and puke on the guns?”
“They only vomit for defense.”
“Tell them the Enemy will roast them if we lose this battle.”
“Actually, the Enemy roasts turkeys, not vultures.”
“Semantics!” Eunuchorn barked, puffing away.
“We should send the llamas in with the vultures,” Hamlet said. “Llamas can spit you between the eyes at fifty paces, and their saliva is highly acidic.”
“Agreed, but keep them downwind of me.” Eunuchorn wrinkled his nose. “I can’t abide a musky animal with an aversion to water.” He glanced at the elephant-eared cat with disdain. “Take a hint, Miss
Kitty. Marshal Dillon’s coming to town!”
She raked the air with her deformed claws. “Pfft!”
“What if the Enemy starts hurling grenades?” Noggin asked.
“Tell the dogs they’re just balls. They’ll think it’s a game of fetch and return them. Then run like hell!”
“They’ll probably lick them first,” Miss Kitty said, glancing sidelong at Barker.
“You can’t tell,” Barker said, “but I’m actually mooning you.”
“How do we counter their tanks?” Noggin asked. “They’re practically solid metal.”
“How do they see out of them to steer and shoot?” Eunuchorn asked.
“We think it’s some combination of cameras and visual sighting.”
“Blind them with poop. Send eight squadrons of pigeons over the battlefield to target the tanks. Those new birds can dump half their bodyweight in one payload.”
“The pigeons will squabble over which squadron should take the vanguard,” Hamlet said.
“Tell them I said it’ll be the communists. Their squadron commander, the Red Baron, is second to none.”
“Yeah, except he’s easily distracted. Keeps firing on our beagles.”
“Now then, what about the elephant couple we rescued from the zoo all those years ago? I read that someone named Hannibal defeated a Roman army with just a handful of them.”
“We have eighty-seven now.”
“That explains the dung stink in the Polesie Reserve.”
Barker chuckled. “The matriarch gave birth to septuplets in the first year alone.”
“Holy stretch marks! They must have gone at it like bunnies. Which reminds me, send the rabbits into battle with the elephants. There's nothing quite so frightening as an eight-foot-tall
sabertoothed hare. It’ll be a scary-ass version of Watership Down.”
“Actually, rabbits and hares are different species,” Noggin said.
Puffing his cigar, Eunuchorn glared at the bird.
Noggin averted his eyes and studied his feet.
“What if the Enemy launches an aerial assault?” Hamlet asked.
“Their fighters have engines, don’t they?” Eunuchorn asked.
Noggin said, “Yes.”
“Order the geese to do a kamikaze run. They’re from Canada originally, so they must be war mongers. We can collect their feathers after the battle. Tell them I’ll name a feeding trough in their
honor: The Sickly Green Goose.”
“What about the Enemy navy?” Hamlet asked. “Rumor has it they have a fleet in the Black Sea. It could sneak up the Pripyat River.”
“My cousin Peglegs has been testing magnetized explosives,” Noggin said. “We could have a few dolphins swim out and attach them to their vessels’ hulls.”
“No, the water’s a glowing yellow color. Stalk-eyed purple dolphins would stick out like a tri-cloven hoof.”
Eunuchorn stomped his own hoof in excitement. “By God, this is a job for the seals! Never met a braver group of animals. A little crazy in the attic but totally reliable.”
“I’ll call up Team Six,” Hamlet said.
“Once the ships have been disabled, we’ll scramble American eagles from one of their European bases to swoop in and drop bombs on them.”
“Pick one. They’re everywhere. And tell the birds it’s actually a Russian fleet. They won’t know the difference and they’ll have a blast. What do we have that goes boom?”
“We have black watermelons along route P02,” Acorn said. “They explode and smell horribly when you drop them.”
“But they taste yummy,” Barker added, licking his chops.
Miss Kitty glanced at him with disdain. “Philistine.”
“I love military strategy!” Eunuchorn said, puffing contentedly. “What else?”
Hamlet said, “Our spies reported that the Enemy now uses satellites for navigation and positioning. We need a way to counter that.”
“What’s a satellite?”
“Thinking machines high in the sky,” Noggin said.
“I’ll be damned. Options?”
“How about high-frequency jamming using cauldrons of bats over the battlefield?” Hamlet suggested.
“Are you sure that’ll work?”
“If not, they can bite the soldiers. Turn them into vampires. They’ll combust when the sun comes out.”
“You missed your calling in military intelligence, Hamlet. Bats it is.”
“What do we do with Enemy wounded?” Mu asked. “They’re signatories to a treaty called the Geneva Convention.”
Eunuchorn scoffed. “They didn’t think to have us sign, so we’re not bound by it. Let the vultures feast on their flesh, fly to Geneva, and hurl from the rooftops. Never had much use for the
“Actually, Geneva’s in Switzerland, not France,” Noggin said.
“Yeah, well, the Swiss probably never had much use for the French, either.”
“What do we do with prisoners?” Mu asked.
“Have Gargantula wrap them in silk and drag them to her lair. She can inject them with digestive juices to tenderize them, then drink their livers with some fava beans.”
“Where should we fall back to if the battle goes ill?” Cluck asked.
“Take the lower road east to the power plant. It’s heavily fortified with concrete buildings. That’s where we’ll make our last stand, if it comes to it.” He unfurled his majestic wings, reared up
on his hind legs, and raised his head high. “To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee!”
“Is that from Moby Dick?” Mu asked. “It’s very moving.”
“No, from Star Trek II,” Eunuchorn said. “I found a bunch of abandoned Betamax tapes.” He looked around the tent, momentarily holding each animal’s gaze. “To those I may never see again, I bid you
a fond farewell. If tomorrow I breathe my last, know that there can be no greater honor than to die in service to you, my family. May you live long and prosper.”
Cluck was moved to tears. “To hell with that,” he cried. “To war!”
“For God and country!” Eunuchorn roared, his voice echoing in the hills, perhaps for the last time. He stomped his hooves, causing the ground to shake.
“To war!” they all cried.
General Shevchenko’s jeep came to a stop at 7:10 AM, just south of a clearing on a narrow highway in the middle of nowhere. A long line of jeeps, tanks, and trucks filled with soldiers of the
Ukrainian Ground Forces waited patiently a few dozen meters behind him. Light rain fell.
Captain Melnyk, his driver, opened a map and looked around for landmarks in an attempt to get his bearings.
“Well?” Shevchenko asked.
“It’s as I suspected, General. This is route P56, just south of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. I recognize it from my youth. The road is blocked off a few miles farther ahead.”
Shevchenko fumed. “How in hell did we get here?”
“It’s these old Russian GPS devices,” Melnyk said apologetically. “They haven’t worked reliably since we cut ties with Putin. And the roads here are poorly marked. I’m afraid we’ll have to turn
“We should be three hundred kilometers west of here! The training exercise will have to be called off. Notify Central Command.”
While Melnyk did so, Shevchenko put on his uniform cap, walked up the highway, and lit a cigar. As he puffed away, he watched the animals grazing and rooting around on either side of him. Their
peaceful sounds reminded him of the family farm of his youth, except many of these animals had birth defects — winged piglets, humpbacked cows, oddly colored dogs, multi-headed horses, cats with
monstrous ears, grossly deformed chickens, and countless albino elephants, among others. A mutant zoo of at least two dozen species.
He shook his head in sympathy and briefly considered having his troops purge the area of animal life. However, they’d never get them all, and more would be born. Best to let nature take its course.
They served as a warning to all who might venture up this road. Fallout from the reactor would make this land unsafe for up to twenty thousand years. Who knew if humans would still be around by
then? In the meantime, the Exclusion Zone belonged to the animals.
A majestic winged horse with purple skin and a horn stepped onto the highway and trotted toward him. He marvelled as it flapped its wings, and wished briefly it could actually fly. The creature
appeared wary but kept coming, an unlit cigar in its mouth. A deathly stillness settled over the fields. Even the crickets fell silent. The hair on Shevchenko’s neck rose.
The horse stopped a few paces away and stared for a long moment, studying him. Finally, it dropped the cigar and sent it rolling toward him. He frowned and picked it up. Unsure of what the animal
wanted, he lit the cigar to see what it would do. He then held it out for the horse to take back. To his surprise, it did so and puffed on it.
Shevchenko chuckled and puffed on his own cigar. “So, here we are, my friend. Two old warhorses on the edge of our respective territories, sharing a smoke. If I’d known we’d meet today, I would
have brought peace pipes instead.” He laughed and made a stamping motion with his hand. “Perhaps we could have hammered out a treaty.” He pointed in the direction of the Exclusion Zone. “Tell you
what, on behalf of my people, I hereby grant you this land in perpetuity. May you be better stewards of it than we were.”
The horse nodded and neighed.
Shevchenko raised his cigar in a gesture of friendship, then walked back to the jeep. The animal watched him go, then returned to the fields. All the creatures departed, the elephants trumpeting.
“What was that about?” Melnyk asked.
Shevchenko smiled. “I think I just negotiated a land-rights treaty.”
He and his men began the complicated process of turning the ground forces around on the narrow highway, his jeep stuck at the rear for the time being. As they were about to drive away, a flock of
cooing red pigeons flew up and shat heavily on the road behind them.
Melnyk frowned. “That was close.”
Shevchenko chuckled. “They’re just marking the boundaries.”
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