Another week another flash fiction. The usual suspect is the instigator for this one with the image above as the impetus. Please to enjoy!
Donald Carter stared out, past his own image reflected in the plexi-glass window of the star cruiser and out into the yawning abyss beyond. He shivered thinking of the cold desolation that was deep space. Where others saw stars, he saw only the darkness in between.
“Father?” a voice behind him asked. He turned around to see Commander Sherovich, the cruisers first mate looking at him with a concerned look on her face. “Are you all right? You’ve been standing there looking out for a while now.”
“It’s nothing. Really.” Donald said. “And please don’t call me Father. I left the clergy a long time ago. Right after the war actually.”
There was an awkward pause as Sherovich bit her lip and shuffled her feet. Donald sighed, knew exactly what she was so desperately trying to summon the courage to ask him.
“You want to know why I’m doing this don’t you?” he asked even though he knew the answer was yes. “Why I’ve spent so much of my own money hiring this vessel on what everybody’s calling a fool’s quest?”
She nodded, glad that he’d said it and not she.
“It’s quite complicated really, but I guess it boils down to one thing.” He took the holopad from his belt, used it to project the image of a star system so ingrained in every human’s memory even though no one had set a foot on any one of the planets there. “Hope.”
“I-I’m not sure I understand. Why would you hope to find any trace of them? The Xin? They’re-they were…”
“The enemy? Sometimes I wonder about what makes an enemy, what sets man against man. Or in this case, what sets man against alien. I can’t help it really. It’s in my nature even now that I’m no longer a priest.” Now it was his time to bite his lip. “Especially now that I’m no longer a priest.”
“But they were our foes. If we hadn’t wiped their home planet and any colonies we came across they would have done the same to us. There was no other way.”
“Really? I was there on the front lines during the Ganymede invasion. I’m probably one of only a thousand who saw the enemy face to face and lived to tell the tale. Do you want to know what I saw when I looked into their eyes?”
He took her silence as a consent to continue.
“I saw the same as what I saw in our own soldiers eyes. I saw pain, and sadness, and hatred. I saw the overwhelming desire to flee and escape the carnage around them. And most of all, Commander, I saw hope. Hope that they might make it through the battle, make it through the war, and return home to a life untouched by war.”
She stared at him, and he could see that he still hadn’t answered her question. Not fully.
“Where did your ancestors come from Commander Sherovich? I mean, back when they lived on Earth which country or region did they hail from?”
“Both my grandparents were from The United Russian Federation.”
“And most of my family were from North America, specifically the old United States area. Just a few hundred years ago, at the dawn of the nuclear age, my country and yours were locked in a Cold War, with both sides possessing the means to annihilate the other and the world itself even. If we had behaved back then the way we did with the Xin, odds are neither one of us would be having this conversation today.”
“I’m not sure I buy your analogy, especially when you remember that it was they who attacked first. We only fought back to protect ourselves. They gave us no other choice.”
Donald thumbed his holopad again, this time brought up a strange view of a hologram artwork he was certain the Commander had never seen before. A humanoid figure, surrounded by a ring of people, held a torch high above her head, illuminating the darkness around them. Commander Sherovich gasped when she realized that it was a Xin who wielded the flame.
“This Commander, is the reason I left the Church. I was on the archaeology team that was sent down to the Xin’s homeworld after we decimated it to find out more about them. What we found was nothing like what we’d faced on the battlefield. They weren’t a warrior people, they were a civilization of scientist who practiced a philosophy of learning. This figure here is a motif shown over and over again, meant to symbolize their eternal search for truth in a darkened universe. We also found their data files about us, what they’d gathered from long observations from afar and interceptions of our news feeds. You know what it contained?”
She shook her head.
“It was us at our worst, a compilation of violence, war and genocide. They only attacked us because they thought we were savages, that we would wipe them out if we weren’t stopped ourselves. They didn’t believe they had any other choice. After we got back our research was confiscated by the army, and the Church told me I’d be better off shutting my mouth and never mentioning it ever again. That’s when I told them where they could shove it and I left. Probably the only smart thing I’ve done in my whole life.”
Sherovich studied him for a moment, then walked up and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.
“You are a very strange man, Fa -, er, Mr. Carter. Very strange indeed,” she said as she made her way to the bulkhead door and opened it. She stopped and looked back at him. “I’m not sure if I agree with what you are doing, but somehow I hope you find what you are looking for all the same.”
The door swooshed close behind her and he was left alone in the room. He turned back to the stars view and thought about her answer. It would have to do he supposed. He was a still a priest in all but name. He was used to living in a world where half-wins were victory enough. For a moment then, the void beyond seemed a little less dark.