Sergeant Chip by Denton, Bradley, 2004

Sergeant Chip by Denton, Bradley

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In the grand scheme of all things SF the author Bradley Denton is not considered to be one of the giants. But in my opinion this overlooked and seasoned author still deserves to be watched. So far he has had a modest output for someone who has been writing professionally for twenty years. But two of his stories are in my list of favorites. They are Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and this one, Sergeant Chip. If I had to place Denton anywhere I think I would put him into the Howard Waldrup camp, though he has a pretty unique voice and seems to have an independent mind. That seems to be the outlook that Waldrup's Texas writing camp espouses though. This would matter if he attended, but I donít know if he ever has. Sergeant Chip was one of my favorite stories in 2004.

Sergeant Chip is a military piece about a lieutenant named Dial and his K-9 companion, Chip. Chip is the product of a U.S. Government program to heighten the intelligence of animals and team them up with empathetic servicemen who can communicate well with animals. Chip is wise and loyal, and has been with Dial so long that the two have become a perfectly integrated team and can communicate without words. Chip is equipped with a device to facilitate telepathic communication with Dial, but they have been working together for so long that they no longer need to use the device. Told in the form of a letter to Dialís commanders, the story is about the interplay between loyalty to oneís superior officers, and loyalty to loved ones. In a larger sense it is also about family, but in the story Chip is asked to interpret his orders and to figure out for himself how best to accomplish them.

Dial and Chip were a heroic team and had saved many lives during a war with an unnamed enemy. Dial was promoted to Captain for bravery in the face of danger, and given the command of a Platoon in a jungle. With a few hitches Dial did a fantastic job of running his platoon. But the war that the U.S. was involved in was starting to become a burden at home, and it was obvious that the Army commanders were worried about funding for it. The Army leads Chip, Dial and the rest of the platoon into the lion's den to solve their problem.

That morning, in our quarters, Lieutenant Dial said that what we would participate in that afternoon was political bullshit. Money for the war was about to be cut, so public-relations events like this were an attempt to bolster civilian support. But Lieutenant Dial said that only two things had ever motivated the public to support the military: heroism and vengeance.

That notion turns out to be quite prophetic. Dial and his team were ordered into the jungle to chase a team of insurgents that had attacked the base. Once they were far enough away the insurgents tried to mix in with some civilian refugees in order to escape, but Dial stopped them from doing that with mortars and a few infantry. The tide of the battle went back and forth, but Dial was winning and probably would have captured the insurgents, but for some American drones that came out of the sky and shot up and killed everyone in the valley where the battle took place. At first Dial thought that the drones had made a mistake, but an actual human being controlled each one of them wirelessly, and Dial figure that they had to be able to see what they were doing. A soldier with an RPG successfully downed the first drone, but more came and it became obvious what was going on. As the second drone raid finished off Dialís men they all realized that their murders would be sold by command to the American people as a vicious attack by the insurgents. With the passions of American citizens inflamed, the war would continue.

Before he could escape from the second sortie Dial was shot and killed, but before he died he commanded Chip to save four local refugees, one of whom was a girl who was empathetic enough to communicate well with Chip. The five moved off and eventually formed their own unit, and family. Chip bonded with the girl and defended her family the same way he defended Dial's platoon. Chip communicated with her psychically and had her write a letter to Dial's former commanders. The letter actually is the story that you read. In it he promises to do his job if they force him to.

But if You bomb us from high in the sky so we can't fight, there may be nothing I can do to stop You. Then You will have made me fail to carry out my orders.

In that event, I'll do whatever I must to survive. And then I will find You. I don't know Your name or Your rank, but I will find You anyway. I will hunt and kill every officer in every company and every battalion until I reach You. I will read their thoughts as they die and will use that knowledge to hunt You. I will climb walls and dig tunnels. I will swim and run. I will stow away in trucks, ships, and aircraft that will bring me closer to You. I will find something You have touched so I know Your scent. And then I will find You in Your bed or at Your table or wherever You may be.

And I will bite Your throat so it tears out.

So I hope You heed this message. It will be left with one of Your dead soldiers, so I know it will reach their unit's commanding officer. And then it will reach that officer's commanding officer, and then that officer's commanding officer, and so on until it reaches the officer who gave the orders that resulted in the current situation. Until it reaches You.

My company has its equipment and is ready to move out. The two boys are my specialists. The old man is my medic and quartermaster.

As for the girl --

She now wears the metal tag I received when I was promoted to sergeant. She found it in Captain Dial's pocket as we left the battlefield, and today she put it on the chain of her necklace beside the shiny rock. Sergeant is the toughest enlisted job. But she can do it.

I myself am no longer a sergeant. I didn't realize that until this morning. But after I showed the girl what I had done in the night, she touched my head. And I heard her thoughts. I heard what she called me.

She called me Captain.

The main theme here is clearly loyalty, but the way it is presented here you cannot miss the ideals of human kindness and moral right. It actually is a very complex message the way it is presented, especially since the deliverer of that human kindness is not human. But from an SF perspective Dentonís gives a picture of an intelligent other that really has an understanding of humans in a way that very few other Ďaliení beings do. The dog is probably the most loyal and loving companion that we as humans are ever likely to find, and Chip personifies that love and loyalty here perfectly. Those qualities are accentuated by Chip's loving wisdom. I think that is why I love this story so much. Forget that the thing is so well written. The emotional impact is staggering, and it gets me every time I read it.

As a soldier, Chip is perfection on four legs. He is a black labradoodle and he knows how to get the job done.

All three men were raising their pistols. They were farther away from me than when I had made my plan of attack. But they weren't looking at me now. The light of day was almost gone. And I am black as night. I am silent as air.

The third one got off a shot as I hit his chest, but the bullet went into the sky. The other two were already on the ground, their throats torn out, their weapons in the dirt. The third one tried to fight me off once he was down, but that didn't last long.

* * * * * *

But Lieutenant Morris's bitter smell was acrid and strong now, and he stood with his head thrust forward and his arms straight down at his sides. He didn't salute. It was as if he was challenging Captain Dial. It was as if he thought he had done a good thing, and that Captain Dial's orders had been wrong.

That made me angry, because Captain Dial always gave good orders. So I took a step toward Lieutenant Morris and growled.

Lieutenant Morris reached for his sidearm, but Captain Dial slapped his hand away from it. Then Lieutenant Morris made a fist and started to swing it at Captain Dial's face. I was on him before his fist was halfway there, and I put him on his back on the highway.

I stood with my front paws on Lieutenant Morris's chest and my teeth touching his throat, and Captain Dial ordered him to remain still. This time, Lieutenant Morris obeyed. I could feel the pulse in his neck and the shallow motion of his chest as he breathed, but those were the only movements he made until Captain Dial ordered me to stand down. Then I took my paws from Lieutenant Morris's chest and backed away...Lieutenant Morris started to speak, but I growled and he shut up. I was doing him a favor, because one of Captain Dial's thoughts was clear. He was thinking of using his sidearm to shoot Lieutenant Morris in the head. He was thinking that if Lieutenant Morris said even one word, that was what he would do.

The story is told in very clear prose and Denton really never loses his way or wanders around at all. As you read this story, which is available in the fiction links of the main pages, you will feel like you are reading something that a dog wrote. The political message is clear, the relationships are clear, the plot is clear. I just have nothing to complain about here. Dog lovers should jump out of their shoes for joy, and military SF junkies should love it too. There really is nothing gentle about the story, but that's Denton's style, and it works here. I think that Denton is trying to get this thing anthologized still, and I personally tried to hook him up with a publisher about a year ago who might have been able to put it out under its own cover, but I have not seen it yet. Read it while itís free, and I promise, you will run to the store when it finally gets published on its own.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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