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Short Stories by Peter Dabbene

“The Adventures of Mikhail Mouse”

 

Research Laboratories, University of Smolensk, Soviet Union, 1941:

 

“Please do not cancel my mice!”

Dr. Igor Valenkho’s pleas were to no avail; the General had reached the limits of his patience. The German army was fast approaching the heart of Russia, and the General had many difficult tasks ahead of him. Informing Dr. Valenkho that funding for the University’s highly regarded Mouse Research Unit had been withdrawn was the least of his concerns.

“I am sorry, comrade, but the survival of the Soviet Union is at stake until we can find a way to slow the Germans’ advance. All non-essential projects have been cancelled.”

Valenkho became distressed. The hours of work, the tedious, repetitious training of the mice – had it all been for naught?  “General, think of the manpower that could be saved! My mice are ready! They can enter machinery through the narrowest of crevices. They can perform delicate repairs that would require a mechanic to pull apart the entire piece of equipment.”

“Enough! The only projects I am interested in right now are those that can immediately destroy the ability of the Germans to make war upon us.”

In desperation, Valenkho considered the General’s words and made a proposal. “General, I believe I have an idea that may satisfy us both…”

 

*

 

German Army Camp, Kirov, Soviet Union, November 1942:

 

“How do these Russians live in such misery?” Helmut Frick complained to his fellow Germans. “I would give anything for beer and schnitzel.” No one answered Private Frick, for they had all seen Lieutenant-General Heim heading their way, looking determined and not at all in the mood to hear of their  winsome wishes of home.

“Frick!” The Lieutenant-General called.

Frick alerted and scurried from his foxhole, falling into line with the other soldiers. Along with the other men, he had been assigned the unexciting task of guarding the 22nd Panzer Division’s tank depot, an assignment which, like many in this war, required long stretches of staring at nothing in particular. “Frick in, sir.”

“Frick in?”

“Reporting for duty, sir.”

“And?”

“Sorry, sir. Frick in, Heil Hitler.”

“That’s better. Men, we are getting underway. We have orders to join the 22nd Panzer with the Romanian 1st Armored and 14th Panzer Divisions.”

“We’ll get the tanks ready to move, sir. We–” Corporal Strauss’s statement was interrupted by a familiar noise at the edge of their hearing.

“Get down! Russian bomber!” They pressed themselves flat against the frozen ground as the bomber passed overhead. It cast a long, dark shadow against the patchy white surface of winter Russia.

“It’s gone. One pass, and it’s gone,” said Strauss.

“I don’t understand it. They’ve been buzzing us at low altitude for two weeks now, but they never seem to drop any bombs. Why?”

Private Reimann answered, still staring into the now-empty sky. “Who knows, Frick? The Russians prefer vodka to beer. They are beyond hope of understanding.”

“Let’s get those tanks to the rendezvous,” Heim said curtly. Strauss climbed into the first Panzer in line. The other soldiers waited patiently, expecting the roaring to life of the tank’s engine, but instead there was only dull silence.    

Strauss reappeared atop the cupola. “It won’t start,” he announced.

“This one won’t start either, Lieutenant-General,” said Private Reimann, emerging from the next tank in line. Lieutenant-General Heim hopped up to Reimann’s tank and peered inside, as Reimann watched nervously. Heim leaned lower and lower, until he lost his balance and dropped into the tank with a thud. A long minute passed.

“What the – Frick!” the General called, his words muffled by the tank’s heavy steel.  

“Yes, sir?” Frick said, hurrying closer.

“Come inside the cockpit for a moment.”

Frick did so.

“Frick, do you see what I see?”

“What do you see, sir?”

“The wiring, Frick. It’s been sabotaged. Full of holes.” He turned, clutching a few pieces of damaged evidence in his gloved hand. “It’s holey, Frick.”

 

*

 

Research Laboratories, University of Smolensk, Soviet Union, November 1942:

 

“Dr. Valenkho, good news! A single mouse has led the charge into Uranus.”

“Beg pardon, comrade?”

“Project Uranus is a success! Your mice were dropped successfully from a low-flying plane. They infiltrated the German tanks and ate the interior wiring, disabling many of them. Our troops won the battle and later confirmed the presence of your mice inside the German Panzers. One hungry little fellow in particular seems to have done the largest amount of damage.” The General reached into his pocket and produced a small white mouse.

“Mikhail!”

“You recognize the mouse?”

“I know all of my mice like they were my children. Mikhail was my prize pupil.”

“I can see why. He has become quite popular with the men. There’s even talk of giving Mikhail a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ medal. Adjusted for size, of course.”       

“It would be well deserved, General. One day, Soviet Communism will spread throughout the world to free oppressed workers everywhere. When that happens, you will see – in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, even both coasts of America, the proletariat will erect great memorials honoring the efforts of Mikhail Mouse!” 

 

*

 

German Army Camp, vicinity of Kirov, Soviet Union, November 1942: 

 

“We’ve discovered how the Russians disabled so many of our tanks undetected, Lieutenant-General Heim.”

Heim had been waiting days for an explanation, some excuse he could pass along to his quite unhappy Fuehrer. The Russians had decimated the crippled German forces, and had taken valuable positions from which they might well push the Wehrmacht right out of Russia. Heim motioned for the aide to continue.

 “Our anti-aircraft batteries recently brought down a Soviet Polikarpov bomber. We searched for survivors and found a secret cache of mice stowed aboard. We could not imagine why an attack plane would be carrying a bunch of mice, nor could we understand the tiny parachutes strapped to their bodies, until it was noticed that a few mice had been freed from their cages in the crash. The freed mice commenced to chew any exposed wiring they found inside the wrecked plane. Sir, the insidious Russians have trained their mice as saboteurs!”

“Red Mice,” mused the Lieutenant-General. “Scheisse! Intelligence was not kidding when they called this Stalingrad campaign a rat war, a Rattenkrieg.  What can we do about this?”

“We are not sure how deep the Communist sympathies of the mice may go. Some of our scientists suggest that we might test their loyalty by placing pieces of cheese around our tanks, to distract the saboteurs from their mission.”

“Do you think cheese grows on trees? We are in the midst of a critical campaign – food supplies are not to be wasted. But I have another idea.” Heim walked outside to the garbage bins, where a group of mangy cats prowled in search of food. He picked up a docile-looking black cat and held it up to the aide.

            “We will use every asset at our disposal.  We shall create a Katzesicherheitabteilungen – a Cat Security Unit. The resulting situation will be much like that of the amusing American cat and mouse, Tom and Jerry. Except that our cats will outsmart the mice.”

            “I do not understand, sir.”

“This, my friend,” said Heim, still holding the cat aloft. “This is the cat that will eat the rat that ate the wiring that stopped our tanks, which caused the Russians to win the battle.”

 

*

 

Research Laboratories, University of Smolensk, Soviet Union, 1943:

 

“Sir, terrible news!” The aide paused to catch his breath and handed over a telegram.

“What is it?” Knowing that his aide had read the message already, the General was too impatient to scan the note’s truncated sentences and abrupt punctuation for meaning.

“Cats, sir. A clutter of them. A clowder of them. A veritable destruction of cats.”

“More.”

“Our spies report that the Germans have taken to keeping at least two cats with each Panzer division. Our last group of mice scattered at the sight of them and have not yet reported back.”

“Then the game is over. Our victories of late will prove no more than a delay of the inevitable. I shall begin the study of German immediately.”

Dr. Valenkho, having overheard this exchange between the General and his aide, stepped forward and seized the weary General by the epaulets. “General! If these Germans believe they can defeat the mice of the Red Army that easily, they are sadly mistaken. Come with me.” He led the General into another laboratory where several dogs sat calmly on the floor, their attentions fixed on Valenkho.

“Are these the dogs we trained for military operations?” the General asked.

“They are. And it will be a matter of ease to adapt them back to their natural inclinations.”

“Meaning?”

“We will retrain them to chase the German cats, allowing the mice to complete their missions unfettered. These are the dogs that will chase the cats that chased the mice that ate the wiring, which stopped the tanks and allowed us to win.”

“Sheer genius! But can you do it?”

“I’ll begin at once. Someone find me a cat.”

 

 

* Based on actual persons and events involved in Operation Uranus during World War II.

 

 

 

Publication details:
Dabbene, Peter. (2009). "The Adventures of Mikhail Mouse." peterdabbene.com (accessed ).

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