It was the picture that made up her mind.

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Strange, that it had required something like that.

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Her sons had been taken away at gunpoint and used as human shields. The one who survived had been arrested without explanation and never seen again.

She had condemned the violence.

Her daughter-in-law had been shot because she was too near a group of rock-throwing youths, then bled to death when an ambulance wasn't allowed to reach her.

Once again, she had condemned the violence.

Her elderly, ailing husband had died, and she herself had been injured, when their bulldozed hovel collapsed on them.

Through her tears, she had still condemned the violence.

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Her third-grade students were the only family she had left in the camp. Maybe that was why their childish artwork moved her so deeply.

She'd asked them to draw what the concept of "spring" meant to them. Spring!

All the pictures were similar. Painfully so. But this one stood out because it included so much.

Spring.

A row of houses in flames.

Spring.

In the foreground, a crudely drawn tank.

Spring.

On the tank, the insignia of the enemy who ruled them.

Spring.

Lettering on it as well, a "Made in" statement that indicted the superpower behind the immediate enemy.

Spring.

And overhead, a weeping sun.

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A third generation of children trapped in a squalid refugee camp. Not safe even there.

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The day after she'd wept over that picture, she made her way through the checkpoint.

It was easy. She was old--not, she knew, by the standards of some parts of the world, but old for her people, with the poor diet and worse health care available to them. A hard life had made her look even older.

The soldiers at the checkpoint came from a culture that revered old people.

Why was she traveling to a city in the heart of their new nation?

She explained meekly that she was going to live with her nephew, because all her other kin were dead.

The nephew was real, living there legally to work at a menial job. She had papers to prove it. She held her breath as the soldiers checked a computerized list. But they still hadn't identified him as what they'd call a "terrorist."

What she had once called a terrorist.

It didn't occur to them to ask how her other kin had died.

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A week later she was in a crowded subway station--looking frail and harmless, bent with age.

She was in fact bent under the weight of the explosives strapped to her body.

This city was once ours, she reflected. This country was once ours.

She wondered, briefly, if there had ever been a chance of history's unfolding differently.

I almost wish we'd used our nukes.

But that was unthinkable. It never could have happened. It should have been obvious to everyone that neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union and its ally China would unleash a nuclear onslaught that risked wiping out humanity.

It should have been equally obvious that without the nukes, the Soviets and Chinese would win World War III.

And that the victors would appropriate the vanquished U.S. as a new home for China's excess population. Who could stop them?

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Is this where I want to die? Already underground?

She felt a sudden, irrational longing for a last breath of fresh air, a last glimpse of sunlight.

And then she remembered the picture.

The weeping sun.

She remembered the children, yet another generation doomed to live and die without hope.

The children of the children of the children who once lived in a land called the United States of America.

Now called New China.

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With the image of the weeping sun before her closed eyes, Kristin Hale blew herself up.

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The End

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Author's Note: Obviously, this is fiction intended to make the reader ask: "What if it were happening to us?" No offense is intended, certainly not toward China or the Chinese. This was the only scenario I could think of in which a conquering enemy might have "appropriated" the United States.

Palestinian children's drawings inspired by "spring" were featured in a report on ABC News several months before I wrote this story. The one I remember included everything I mention here. The tank bore a Star of David and the words "Made in U.S.A."

The ABC News report concluded with the line, "The children of the children of the children who once lived in a land called Palestine. Now called Israel."