My stone flew true, hitting her just above the eyebrow. She staggered back, then straightened and calmly gazed back at me, blood already running down her face. Following my lead as high priest, the others joined in too, cursing her and her kind as they hurled their missiles, tearing her veil, exposing her blue skin.
“Please, spare my children,” she cried.
We had found her babies, hidden near where she had climbed the barrier, and killed them all. I opened my mouth to taunt her, then just gathered my robes about me and turned away. I was a single parent now, with twin boys. Things had changed.
When the female finally collapsed, unconscious, the guards moved forward with their spears.
“What's wrong?” asked the captain. “You're the one that crushed her eggs. Their side is always looking for signs of weakness.”
“I don't know,” I said. “She seemed different, standing there so quietly. Just finish up, will you? Her father is waiting to claim the body.”
That night, as I cuddled my own babies, I watched the government reports, showing yet another battle between our forces and the aliens. They fired their rockets, we dropped our bombs. Both sides fought fiercely, sometimes even face to face. We flatly refused the idea of compromise or even discussion, since we were in the right. We did allow some lucky ones to leave their zone to serve us, carefully controlled and monitored, but most of them still wanted more—better pay, freedom to travel, and eventually our extermination. Some day my sons would be out there, and their children after them, but for now they were safe with me.
I continued with my duties for the state—leading the prayers, presiding at stonings, speaking at rallies, reassuring mothers that their sons had died for a good cause. I sometimes wondered about that cause, and about the female's calmness—so unlike those we saw on TV.
The President was not at all happy. “You seem distracted, and I hear you have questions. Your example is vital to the war, to our people. These aliens are little more than animals, dedicated to the death of our race. If you have doubts, do know that I will cast the first stone at you.”
I buried my doubts. I had to stay true to my country, for myself and my sons. Sure, we had some moderates that wanted change—both sides did –but I warned off any that approached me. Any seditious talk meant banishment to the communes, or worse. I did run into that same father again, the one whose daughter had been so calm, but when he smiled and nodded I just frowned and turned away. I could hear my guards beating him as I rode away, but refused to look back. I felt stronger with my new resolve and focus. I even brought my sons to see one of the rallies – a loud and tumultuous event.
That's where they were kidnapped.
They'd started to doze off so I'd left them with a nearby daycare, where unfortunately one of the alien workers recognized them. First I knew was when I got an anonymous email offering a trade—their return for an immediate ceasefire. I knew the government would never agree to that. We mobilized the entire police force, cancelling all leave, plastering their photos everywhere. The government put the propaganda machine into full gear. Recruitment was at an all time high, and the war budget doubled. But, in spite of a number of leads and my continual pestering of the investigators, no kids. Finally, one of the officers, who I'd pegged as one of the moderates, took me aside.
“I don't like this at all,” he said. “We've been close several times, then get reminded to look at the big picture.”
“Meaning?” I said.
“Well, the emails and videos do show your kids are safe and healthy. So supposedly it's better for the campaign, for the President's image, if we let this play out a little longer.”
I don't remember what I said—I may have hit someone. I found myself sitting on a bench outside, rubbing a sore fist.
“Are you okay?
It was that same father from before, smiling, and calm. “No,” I said. “I'm not.”
“Can I help?” he said.
“Why would you help me? I stoned your daughter, had you beaten, and am hunting down your people.”
“You do what you must,” he said. “But we have been watching you. You are a good man, and I think you realize this madness, this generation after generation of fighting, has to stop, for the sake of all our children. Look, I know where your kids are. I can take you to them.”
It seemed that this kidnapping was the sole idea of a couple of young hot-heads, eager to impress their elders. Saner minds knew our government would never agree to a ceasefire, and had watched both sides use the kidnapping for their propaganda. The aliens wanted out, and had approached my new friend, one of their leaders, to see if he could help. Our plan was simple. We'd show up with some of my more moderate officers, fake a dramatic rescue from a splinter group, and that would be that.
We did just that, with much gunfire and confusion. Sure enough, my kids were fine, but very glad to see their dad. I paused as I was leaving to take my friend's hand.
“A thousand blessings,” I said. “But this will still all go on. It must not.”
So we came up with Plan B. I agreed to stay, with my kids, there with his moderate troops, to start working on a settlement. He would do the same with my troops and some officials I suspected of being sympathetic. And we filmed the whole agreement, to broadcast to both sides.
“We will be branded as traitors,” he said.
“For now,” I said. “But maybe only by this generation.”
I wrote this for a Mensa Canada short story contest. The rules were simple - any genre, 1000 words maximum.
I decided to explore the concept of how one side's patriot can be another side's traitor. And I won! Third prize, which was some cash and a nice certificate and publication in the newsletter.