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Evacuated

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Prologue: A state of war:

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1st September, 1939.

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The dawn mist was thick.

It carpeted the wide, flat plains like a dusting of flour on a baker's worktop, shallow but thick. The odd gust of wind would tear a gap in it, letting the morning sun touch the stubble of the recently harvested wheat fields, but the reprieve was short lived as the cloying shroud returned to cover it after a minute or two.

In a small red and white striped guard-hut, a flickering orange spark lit up as a mammal lit his first cigarette of the day. Taking it up in his clawed fingers, Stepan Mustedecki took a deep drag, staying his nerves before blowing out through his nose. He watched the smoke join the white mist, before reaching down to grab his newspaper. The dark and foreboding headlines on the front would have concerned him had he not already grown weary of the ever-repeating warnings. The grandstanding and sabre-rattling of his country's eastern and, more worryingly, western neighbours; it had been going on for so long and taking up so much space in the news that even he, arguable the person it was most relevant to in the whole country, had grown bored. So, rather than reading up yet more words on the Cud Reich's grandstanding, he skipped straight to the puzzles at the end.

Pen out, he chose a crossword and quickly got to work.

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After just five minutes, all the easy clues had been answered. He was now onto the ones that needed at least a little thought, or at least some cross-checking. "Soe-wiecki urzędnik, naprawdę musi czytać 'Mein-Kampf'," he muttered, before turning his paper to the front page and scanning through the text.

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"Molo…"

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"Molo…"

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"Molotov," he finally said, smiling as he found the name on the second page. He knew it already, but just wanted to check the spelling, lest he screw himself up later on. Turning to the back of the paper, he filled in the name of the Soeviet minister of war and smiled, his long and thin jet-black tail gently swaying in agreement. He was about to fill in a word that branched off of it when a somewhat familiar, but somehow 'off', sound piqued his attention. One of his little ears flicking with irritation, the polecat jumped off his stool and swayed his arms around, trying to clear away the mosquito he could hear.

A few swings in he stopped and paused.

Slowly chewing his lip, he tried to focus on the sound. Sure, it sounded like the perennial drone of one of those damned insects, but that wasn't it exactly. His fur slowly began sticking up on his back as he stepped out of his hut and looked up at the sky. The mist still clouded his view, but he could swear that he saw the sun flicker somehow. The noise was louder out here, and unlike an insect it was constant.

Continuous.

A never changing far off rumble…

Stepan felt a cold tingle run down his spine and he looked west, along the road as it went past his guard hut. Right next to it was a bar that crossed the carriageway and, beyond that, was a different country. A country which he desperately hoped wasn't doing what a small part of his mind thought it was doing.

The part of his mind got larger as an odd set of smells pierced his nose. Fuel oil, cordite, chemicals, the sweat of mammals and the exhaust of machines. Kneeling down, he placed his small pads on the ground before following with the side of his head. He gulped, his eyes widening and pupils dilating into pinpricks, as he felt the rumble of tank treads and the hammering beat of marching hoofs. Standing up, he raced towards his hut and grabbed his rifle and an old army hat. The polecat threw the latter onto his head before stepping out into the middle of the road, just as the looming monsters began to appear out of the mist. "Kurwa!" he cursed, before he pointed his rifle forwards. The first two vehicles in the column almost looked like cars, but behind the front grill and windshield the sides of an armoured hold rose up. Stepan stepped back a few paces as he saw the finer details coalesce. The machine guns up in their roosts, the crisp and perfect soldiers riding alongside the two halftracks and the great column of troops behind them.

A hoof of one of the sheep soldiers that drove the vehicles pointed out towards him, and Stepan took a deep breath before shouting out. "Ja, Stepan Mustedecki, poproszę, abyś szanował suwerenność Poleska i przestań, gdzie jesteś!"

He didn't know whether they could understand him, but whatever it was, his demand made no difference. The troops carried on, two soldiers jumping out of the front of one of the halftracks and racing towards the barrier across the road. One of them, a grizzled goat, paid him no mind. The other, a ram that looked to be at least half Stepan's age, held one hoof up while his other held a luger, its barrel pointing downwards. "Großes Wiesel," he warned, albiet in a slightly joking manner. "Bitte ergib dich, dann muss auch kein Blut fließen."

Stepan gulped, only gathering that the sheep wanted him to do something immediately. He silently thanked the sheep when, after staring at him for a few seconds, he offered a warning in his own language. "Proszę poddać się."

Stepan nodded and dropped his weapon, his paws going up as he walked over to his hut, taking a standing position and looking straight into the painted wood. The sudden wave of fear that had buried him slowly began to recede and, somehow, he managed to chuckle. Given his reason for visiting, the sheep soldier had certainly learned some appropriate phrases in Polelish. The surrendering polecat glanced to his right as the token barrier was removed, and the column of armour began moving into his country.

The start of a war.

The start of an invasion.

Tucking in his tail, just in case a wide vehicle ran over it, he noticed the young ram coming over. Paws out, he lifted the dropped rifle off the ground, speaking as he did so. "Vielen Dank."

His weapon out of reach, the small mustelid moved about a bit, looking up at the smiling sheep in front of him. The large ungulate waved him on and Stepan followed him to the side of the road, where the goat who'd also got out was standing, smart and proper in his jet-black uniform. The horned mammal was watching the lines of troops move past, now almost entirely composing of trucks filled with soldiers or supplies. Huge artillery pieces and field cannons were dragged along too, rattling and bumping as they were advanced to their new positions. Stepan lived in a small village to the northeast, and he knew that the fields on the top of the low hills to the north gave you a panoramic view of the flat river valley beyond. He hazarded a guess that this was an artillery division, aiming to set up there as fast as possible in order to provide covering fire for larger, heavily armoured troops, as they ploughed towards the larger cities. He wondered if he'd have a chance to ask as he was taken to a prison camp or something. Turning forward, the sheep had reached the goat and offered a firm salute.

"Gruppenführer, ich habe einen Gefangenen gemacht," he reported proudly.

The goat looked at Stepan with an annoyed stare before turning back to the sheep. Snorting before he spoke, his nostrils flaring out with his eyelids half lidded in annoyance, the horned mammal spoke in a tone that almost seemed to be disappointed. "Das sehe ich. Und warum, wenn ich fragen darf?"

The sheep's eyes opened by a fraction, and he stole a quick glance at his captive before turning back to his commander. "Er hat sich ohne Widerstand ergeben. Was jetzt? Wer ist verantwortlich dafür, Gefangene ins Lager zu bringen?"

The goat snorted. "In dieser Einheit, niemand."

The sheep blinked a few times, his hooves opening out somewhat while he gave a confused 'huh!?' The grunt over, he ran his hoof over his chin, looking back at Stepan before back at his commander. The goats eyes widened, and a smile grew across the sheep's face as he spoke. "Nun, ich denke, das ist nicht nötig. Er ist nur ein einfacher Grenzsoldat. Wir können ihn hier lassen, und er kann nach Hause gehen. Schwamm drüber!"

Stepan couldn't help but spot the look of incredulity that crossed the goats face. The sheep noticed it too, and began to speak. "Gruppenführer, ich..."

"Soldat, unser Ziel ist es, Lebensraum zu gewinnen, den diese Untersäugetiere für sich beanspruchen!" the goat barked. "Sein Leben ist wertlos, und alles, was er tun wird, lenkt unsere Truppen von der Sache ab." Stepan noticed the sheep gulp, throwing a guilty look towards him before turning back to his superior. "Als ich Ihnen befahl, sich um ihn zu kümmern, habe ich einen toten Iltis erwartet!" he continued, the last sentence causing the sheep's mouth to drop slightly. "Er sollte dankbar sein, dass wir bereit sind, eine Kugel auf ihn zu verschwenden, statt ihn einfach unter die Panzer zu werfen!"

Stepan closed his eyes and breathed in and out, feeling oddly calm despite the crackling static of tension and dread that filled him. Opening them, he met those of the sheep and spotted that the light in them had gone out, his bar like pupils staring out into nothingness. The goat lunged forward, grabbing the sheep's rifle and pulling it off his shoulder, only to push it back into his hands and then turn down, pointing straight at him. The horned mammal stood upright again, his right arm springing out straight in a salute as he cried out. "Heil Knitler!"

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"Heil Knitler," the sheep saluted back, though without any of the pride or gusto that his commander had in his voice. The goat marched off, keeping a critical eye on the sheep all the time, while the younger mammal looked at Stepan, though his eyes refused to make direct contact. Wandering over, Stepan looked up as the larger sheep towered over him, and sighed.

"Danke…" Stepan said slowly, knowing at least that part of the sheep's language. Looking down, he noticed a few damp stains of the ground as the sheep spoke up.

"Przykro," he said slowly. "Tak mi przykro…"

Stepan let out a snort. It seemed like the sheep had picked a few very useful phrases to learn. He looked up slightly, almost studying the crisp uniform when a hoof with a cigarette came down. He snorted again.

He was certain it was one of his own.

"Zigarette?" the sheep asked.

"Ja… bitte," Stepan replied, as he opened his lips and held it in there. He pulled back a long breath, feeling the warm heat flow through his mouth and warming at least part of his ice-cold body.

The sheep handed down a strip of fabric.

Stepan shook his head. He took off his helmet, dropping it to the ground, as the sheep marched a few paces away before turning on his heel to face him.

Glancing to his right, Stepan noticed the goat still looking on.

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His ears raised as he heard a rhythmic click, and he turned to face the sheep, his weapon raised and pointed at him.

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He took a long drag of his cigarette. He closed his eyes, and could hear his heart racing at a terrible pace. He could…..

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Ten minutes later, a small shovel pounded down and a heap of newly dug earth. Standing up, the sheep soldier wandered to the edge of the road and waited for a vehicle to come by. He glanced down at his uniform. His shining badges and pins. He remembered how his mother had kissed him on the forehead when he said that he was joining up. How proud she was that he was fighting for them and their country.

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He didn't feel proud.

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Not anymore.

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3rd September, 1939.

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The elderly jack stood grimly in the large room. Light flowed in from the two large windows at one end, but despite the cream and marble decorations it seemed as dark as the cast iron in the fireplace. As he stood, papers in hoof, he reached up to stroke his large bowtie. His ears rotated as various other mammals prepared behind him. Some colleagues, some opponents, but many just simple mammals doing their jobs. He pondered… how many of them knew, or could guess, that he was about to make history.

He thought back to his father and his legacy, and wondered about the legacy he himself would leave. He himself was an old man now, recently seventy with adult children. It certainly proved that he wasn't a mule, as some of the gutter press had joked. He snorted, his upper lip twitching, carrying his bushy moustache with it. He felt a bit ill, though maybe it was the same pains in his bowels that had started to irritate him recently. He sighed, before closing his eyes as the familiar bells rang out.

Quarter past.

He turned to the waiting microphone, turned on, and spoke to his nation.

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"I am speaking to you, from the cabinet room, at ten growling street," he began slowly, his voice tinged with regret. He paused, checking his papers again, before continuing. "This morning the Zootopian Ambassador in Baa'lin… handed the Cud-Reich government a final note; stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poleland, a state of war would exist between us." He breathed in, before sadly continuing. "I have to tell you now, that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently… this country is… at war… with the Reich."

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There was a long pause as he remembered all he'd done before. His attempts to stop this from happening. How he'd betrayed an entire country, a proud and stable democracy, all for naught.

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"You can imagine, what a bitter blow it is to me, that all my long struggle to win peace has failed… Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more, or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful."

He closed his eyes, and let some of the lingering anger in him ever slow slightly out. A tiny rally in his grandfatherly like voice, tiny, but still there. "Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful and honourable settlement between the Reich… and Poleland, but Knitler would not have it! He had evidently made up his mind to attack Poleland whatever happened… and although he now says he put forward reasonable proposals, which were rejected by the Poles, that is not a true statement!"

He raised his hoof up, as if lecturing. Even if this was over the radio, he wanted to drive this point home. "The proposals were never shown to the Poles, nor to us, and, although they were announced in a Reich broadcast on Thursday night, Knitler did not wait to hear comments on them, but ordered his troops to cross the Polelish frontier the next morning… His action shows convincingly, that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will! He can only be stopped by force! And we and Furance are today, in fulfilment of our obligations, going to the aid of Poleland, who is so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her people."

He stamped his hoof on the floor, clearing a line as he spoke forward. No more regrets, no more appeasement. Only war. A war that was completely, and inarguably, justified. "We have a clear conscience! We have done all that any country could do to establish peace… The situation… -in which no word given by Knitler could be trusted! …and no people or country could feel themselves safe, has become intolerable. And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage…."

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Across the city and beyond, ears were swivelled and fixed on their radios. Somewhere, a sea of long ears all focussed on the news. Somewhere else, a pair of red fingers had put down a needle and turned up the volume on the family's radio set. Everywhere, mammals looked as each other, worried and scared, as the final words of the speech rang out.

"Now may God bless you all. May he defend the right! It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against - brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution - and against them I am certain that the right will prevail…"