A soldier decides that peace is not an option
It won't be long now, until this garrison is closed. I watch dust and briar bundles drift across the parade grounds. That wide open expanse where just last month my brothers drilled; exhibiting the soldier's trade. What to do now? From a stock of two-hundred, we are twenty and even we are soon to be gone.
They tell us the laying down of arms is a wondrous thing. We will be free to spend our lives as we wish. Free to hold our families and friends nearer than we ever have. Ever. This life is the only one I have known since I was sixteen. Where will I find family and friends?
They came with words of tolerance. Words of acceptance for our mistakes and foibles. They came with understanding. Their lack of greed and abhorrence for violence impressed the presidents and prime ministers. Made them stand back and take stock of their leadership. Yes, and they saw that they were lacking in the eyes of the Conquerors. If, conquerors they could be called. A bloodless coup. I had heard of those circumstances, but never experienced them. It left me and every Man-Jack among us feeling hollow and ill equipped to perform our duties.
We stood on the parade ground at ease, listening with stunned hearts to our commander telling us to lay down our rifles, guns, bullets and bombs. "Trust", he said. Trust? What is that? What foreign ideology provided us with that conception? How does it come to one who has only known bullets and intimidation for thirty years?
I walk out onto the promenade where service to one's country was rewarded with medals and fanfare. It is silent; only the wind whistling by, instead of drums and horns to herald honor and bravery. It is silent save for that wind. Silent, and already rusting.
Two of my comrades lower our flag from its stanchion. Reverently they fold Her, gather Her into their arms and carry Her away. She bears our truest sense of sacrifice. For that piece of cloth men have given over their lives. I salute them and walk back toward the canteen.
Once a site of rowdy camaraderie, and verbal jousting; now still and barren. The scarred tables bearing the names of men who fought and those who died have been removed. The flags of the countries we defeated have been taken down. No one knows what has become of them. Some things the higher-ups did not tell us. I know that they claimed that souvenirs such as these incited ill feelings and held harsh grief. For in our ranks were many converted foreign men. They would rather have joined us than loose their lives. I never wondered one time how those men must have felt drinking to excess beneath their captive native flags. Joining with us as we cursed their country and the mothers that bore them. Never thought about it once. I do now.
Conscience is not something that a true soldier needs. It causes second thoughts and regret in a place where there is no room for them. Those who were feld in battle knew their destiny, those who were innocent and died knew what was coming their way. No one is innocent in the eyes of a soldier fighting insurgency. No one's eyes bear truth and our hearts bear the sense of duty that cannot easily be laid down. No one is innocent.
Outside our fences dust looms along the road. A caravan is heading toward our compound, I watch it grow closer.
The cars swerve inward past the fence and come to a halt in the middle of the parade ground. Two men and a woman and two of "them" emerge. They are smiling, happy. They have peace and warmth all about them. They seek to gather us into that net.
I snap to attention for it is General Brendt himself who draws near to me. His face is lined with years of battle and hard living. The General was a favorite among his troops for he never sent a man to do a job he would not do himself.
"Captain Pauling. Good to see you. Especially under such wonderful circumstances."
I salute, and he offers his hand which I shake.
"This is staff sergeant Withers. She is a medic. She will make certain that you and your men are fit and healthy before discharge. Let me introduce Doctor Raymond Hull. He's a psychiatrist. All of you will have to talk with him before discharge. And, this is Almar and Belon. They are our local intermediaries. Any question you have about the Peace Armada address to them. Now, I am famished. Anything cooking in the mess?"
I smile, a sentiment that does not reach my heart and lead the group toward the mess. Noon meal is being prepared.
"I think you will enjoy our simple fare. It is not elaborate in any way, but filling and edible."
"I am a veteran of many fields," the General says. "It is a treat to sit at any table and chair without being interrupted by bullets." The General smiles at me and once again I return the courtesy.
They eat. They laugh and talk while Almar and Belon stand aside, their arms crossed watching the humans partake of their daily sustenance. They are unreadable. Their large slanted eyes reflect the things around them, but tell nothing of their innermost thoughts. I trust no one. My long years of soldering have taught me. I laid down my arms by direct order, not by my own choice. The aliens seem complacent, unmoved by their surroundings. I wonder, not for the first time, how they propose to impose the peace? I know how we would do it.
I leave the mess and walk a ways down the road, past the gate and out into the scrubby desert in which our camp was settled. Surrounded by distant mountains and miles of sand, we were the first line of defense against our northern neighbors. Two days ago I saw long lines of military vehicles heading south away from the upper borders. They were a mix of ours and our enemy's all tangled together, riding, walking, laughing and singing songs. They were going home. Going to their families and their own lands. It was discouraging to see.
You may think me bizarre. After all these years of fighting not to want to be a part of the Peace Armada. You may think me unfeeling. I am not, I am only untamed. I cannot see myself in any other roll than that which holds me now. It has guided me for these past thirty years. I will know no other.
At the barracks I talk with my remaining twenty. They feel as I do. What good will peace do to us? Who among us has family to return to? Who among us really cares about a life of bar-b-cue on Sundays and carrying a work satchel on Mondays? Who among us remembers how to fire a rifle?
I gather them, deploy them around the mess. They look through the windows at General Brendt's entourage with their rifles aimed true. At my signal they open fire and kill them all. It is remarkable that blue-green liquid splatters from the aliens. That they fall as any living thing would to a shower of AK47s. I signal for them to stop.
We take a truck. We load up, rations, guns, bivouac and twenty men. The wind around us moans a dirge for those newly fallen. We cannot take time to bury them. Let the desert take care of the bodies.
Away. We drive toward the distant mountains. There can be no peace. Whoever thought of peace was never a true hearted soldier. It is as foreign to us as the lands we conquered. When I was a boy I read a poster that said, "Freedom Is Not Free." I sit back and light a smoke thinking about those words. I know in my heart that the humans will find that they may have peace, but their freedom has been seriously compromised. Then, what will they do? They have sold us over. They have disbanded their own defenses for a promise. A promise easily soiled.
I watch the base fade into the distance and the dust rallies behind us. Wind whistles through the open backed canvass. It seems to say, "Freedom Is Not Free, Freedom Is Not Free, Freedom . . ."