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Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Story for ANZAC Day 2015


I’ve been wanting to write a story for ANZAC Day for weeks, but just couldn’t think of anything that brought together the ideas that the dead must be remembered, and their deeds not forgotten, that the service of a warrior is not degraded by the fact that he fights in a war, but that a warrior’s honour is upheld by the manner in which he conducts himself in that war and the reasons for which he fights—and by the idea that all wounds heal, that enemies can find a foundation for mutual respect and understanding, even if friendship comes generations later. Today, the scene in the first two paragraphs came into my head and combined with images from the dawn services, the ideas above, and nation-wide memorials to produce this. I can only ask forgiveness that it is not a historical piece. This story is set on Aquamarine, the lizardine homeworld, after the events described in The Reptiles’ Blade.
 

The First to Remember


A shot rang out, earlier than those scheduled to honour the dead. Melisand jerked around, her eyes darting to the hills, her hands reaching for weapons that had never been there. She hit the ground in a crouch, scanning for danger. Hana watched the display.
“What is that?” she asked. “She’s never been near combat. Where’d she get reactions like that?”
“Empath,” Drugan said, but his focus was on the surrounding hills.
“What—” Hana started, but Melisand cut her off, reaching up to jerk the consul and her guardian to the ground.
“Get down!” the girl screamed, belly crawling to the stunted bushes lining the parade ground.
Around them, soldiers scattered. Melisand ignored them scuttering into the bushes, before rising into a low crouch and heading for the crest of the nearest rise. Hana and Drugan in tow, she stumbled into the gully beyond it, as a roar shook the air behind them.
“Well, that is really going to stuff things up,” she muttered, ignoring Drugan’s look of surprise and Hana’s raised eyebrows. “We have two hours to evacuate the island before they start killing everyone on it.”
“They, who?” Drugan asked.
A handful of soldiers crested the rise, terror in their faces as they fled the chatter of small arms fire and screams behind them.
“Frack!” The expletive shocked them to silence; Melisand didn’t swear—ever. It was a habit she’d gotten out of, she claimed, by sheer dint of will, and here she’d just dropped one of the worst words in the vernacular. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she said it again.
“Frack! They’re here already.”
Three soldiers fell, tumbling down the slope towards them, their rifles flying from their hands. Two others were picked up and flung overhead by an unseen force.
“Well, crap.” Melisand hurried over to collect one of the fallen rifles.
She collected two more, tossing one to Drugan, before looking at Hana.
“Know how to use one?”
Hana held out her hand and nodded.
“You?”
“I think I’ve got it.”
“You think?”
“I didn’t have a lot of time to pull it from his head, okay?”
Drugan caught the edge of tears in her voice, knew she’d touched a dying mind.
“Stay with me,” he said, but Melisand was staring up the slope.
Her next words chilled him.
“I can stop them.”
She flung the rifle to one side, and stepped forward, shrugging Drugan’s hand from her shoulder, sliding beneath Hana’s outstretched palm. Drugan, looking at her, felt a thrill of fear. Melisand had always been pretty, but now she was beautiful—and remote, as though she was channelling some alien princess.
She met the invaders half-way up the hill, raising her hand to halt the vanguard—and not speaking as they froze, staring at her. But she demanded, Drugan was sure of it, watching as the lead warrior stiffened and then scurried back the way he had come. He felt Hana shift beside him, and placed a hand on the consul’s arm. She drew breath as though to speak, but Melisand cut her off again.
“You stole me from my mother,” she said, and Drugan swayed in shock.
How had she known?
“This is my guardian—he-who-stood-as-my-father-and-is-tied-more-closely-than-blood.”
And where had she learned Lizardine? Drugan felt her touch his mind, sensed a smile, tight and warlike, the one that meant sheer capricious mischief. Oh, gods, no.
“We came to remember.” Melisand’s voice rang out before Drugan could work out what to say.
“You had no right, after what your kind has done.” The newly arrived lizardine officer was adamant. “Your kind has been ordered not to trespass here again.”
“We have permission, and I have every right,” Melisand asserted, “for the dead of all are mine.”
“But he does not.”
Melisand dropped her chin to her chest, and Drugan felt his heart plummet.
“Oh, lords.”
Hana gripped his arm.
“What?”
“Trouble,” Drugan muttered, but Melisand spoke again.
“Our men followed orders.”
“They were butchers,” the lizardine officer said. “For that all here will die.”
“Not all.” Melisand’s tone was smugly superior, and Drugan felt her come and tear his head apart, sharing its contents with everyone in range.
No, he wanted to protest. Please. Don’t.
But Melisand was pure ice, chilling in her merciless search through his mind, kicking in every door he tried to bar, smashing dams that held back oceans of pain. Drugan lost the feel of the wind, lost sight of the sky, the tangled bluebush, the sand, heard the hunting cries of men beyond control, heard his own harsh protests at the indiscriminate slaughter, felt sharp fangs puncture his hand as he pushed the hatchling into a hollow between two stones, wondered if it had survived.
But Melisand gave no pause. She ferretted out every memory and laid them bare—his mercy, the mercy of other men, soldiers following orders in a war they were told they had to win, there were colonists at stake, the lizardine were barely sentient savages, the lies they found and lived with, the lives they lost and saved. She left him gasping in the sand, Hana weeping beside him.
“I did not know,” she whispered. “Forgive me. I did not know.”
Drugan had no reply for that, as Melisand sacrificed a few memories of her own—her childhood, the one she’d had before Drugan had found her in a lizardine scientific facility. The loss of her parents to blood-drenched butchery for trespassing where they’d been told they could tread. And, finally, how she and Drugan had brought a contingent to honour the dead, to remember their own, and to ask forgiveness of those they’d fought, to recognise the warriors of both sides, the price they’d paid for permission.
Melisand took those memories and broadcast them just as far as she was able.
“This war is not something to be swept into a corner and hidden,” she declared. “And the warriors who fought in it will not be forgotten. We will remember them, and we will honour them. And I dare you to say otherwise.”
The lizardine officer raised his hand, spoke a word into the broadcast mic and, for the second time in a century, the killing stopped.
“Now, there are more dead to honour,” he said, but the hand he held out, offered support. Melisand took it, looked back at Drugan and Hana. When she answered, her voice held more of the girl they knew.
“Then let us honour them together.”

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