This story is set in fictitious nations that me and a few friends have created on Facebook using the NATIONS app. All you need to know is that the main country is called B'Geeria and in 2002 it was invaded by the Facist Alliance, a group of nations to the north. After a year and a half the war ended thanks to an allied effort to reverse the situation but there were always rumors of war crimes by the invaders.
In 2012 Claire Van Keller, a nurse in the Goromanian Army (part of the Facist Alliance) spoke out about some of the crimes she witnessed.
Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoy.
by Tony Wilkins
16th March 2012
St. Raymond's Hospital
Lieutenant Commander Brian Michael Guild of the Royal B'Geerian Navy looked down upon the sleeping face of his enemy; at least that's how he perceived the whaiflike twenty nine year old woman in the hospital bed. Claire Van Keller had been a nurse in the Goromanian Army, part of the Facist armies, during the war between 2002 and 2004. To an objective person the ill-looking woman could attract sympathy but Guild couldn't help but look down upon her as nothing except the enemy even though she wasn't a soldier or a sailor. She represented to him the very enemy that invaded his homeland almost ten years ago.
There were many in B'Geeria who felt as he did. That's always an after-effect of war. Before the war he was known in the small town of Cefnforest as their future star. The town was built around a mine in the south east of the country where there were few local job options. Guild had worked hard in his studies and his sports. He had initially wanted to join the Royal B'Geerian Air Force but then found the call of the sea more appealing. In such a small community there were many who supported him and in truth envied his enthusiasm and abilities. A handsome young man, he joined the Navy at eighteen years old. His excellent aptitude and intelligence made him a logical candidate for the Navy Intelligence Agency, the Asiantaeth Cudd-wybodaeth Llynges, a prestigious posting to say the least for it insured that he started his career as a Sub-Lieutenant rather than an Ensign.
The war changed him beyond recognition. Not at first of course. At first he settled into the conflict serving onboard the BNS Ariel, a minesweeper, but his talents quickly brought him to the attention of Commodore Tarquinn who promoted him to his senior staff which meant he had more influence in how the taskgroup he was assigned to operated. From his position the war did appear as though it were a colossal game of Chess. Except for the occasional air or submarine attack it was often easy for him to forget about the horrors of the battles raging on land.
It was a quiet evening on August 13th 2003 that he was scarred for life. He was aboard the BNS Kilroy, a Lavigne-class destroyer under Tarquinn's command, operating in the eastern Eurasian Sea as part of the joint taskforce to clear the Arienna Island ranges of Facist forces. There had been a brief lull in combat and someone somewhere was making that fateful mistake of relaxing their guard. He couldn't remember the exact point that the missile hit the ship. He just seemed to be walking through the corridors of the ship one minute and then being dragged by two sailors onto the flightdeck for evacuation from the stricken ship. All around him were the bodies of the less fortunate crewmembers. They had to wait to be evacuated off while the wounded that still had a chance were taken off first. The realities of war had finally come to him. He was never the same again. Those who knew him often remarked how much older he seemed after that incident.
Van Keller began to stir perhaps sensing her visitor. Her eyes blinked open and she allowed herself a slight smile as she saw his familiar face. He had been with her ever since she appeared in Australia requesting asylum from the Australian Government. That request had been refused. Claire Van Keller feared for her life. She wanted to open up about the war crimes she saw committed by her own Army during the final months of the war when things turned against the Facist Alliance. It was a mess the Australians did not want to get caught up in. Fortunately for her though the Tcidenebian Government came to her rescue and agreed to take her into their protection.
Guild had gotten involved in Australia. At the time he was working with the Royal Australian Navy as part of an exchange tour developing tactics to combat the threat of biological and chemical terrorism. Being a high ranking officer in the B'Geerian Intelligence community he was ordered to join her entourage as she travelled to Tcidenebia but there was another reason he was selected for this assignment; he had met Van Keller during the war. She had been one of a number of medical staff taken prisoner near the end of the Facist War and whom he had questioned. It was felt that since he already had a rapport with her she maybe more cooperative to him. His superiors would have liked him to convince her to accept B'Geerian protection but with the country being a former enemy she was naturally apprehensive of this offer and preferred to go to Tcidenebia. With so many new faces in her whirlwind journey the fact that Guild had been there through most of it made him the most familiar person to her in her life at this point even though their relationship seemed luke warm.
"Hello," she said in a wispy voice.
"They called me from the hotel room," he said in an understanding tone. "What happened?"
"I felt faint; before I knew it I was on the floor."
"Did you eat or drink anything before it happened?" he asked inquisitively.
She grinned in amusement. "I wasn't poisoned by my government if that's what you think?"
"That's not what I mean."
"I know, the doctor explained it to me. Exhaustion and a poor diet. And stress of course."
"I did try to get you to eat something on the plane from Sydney," he said matter-of-factly.
"Airline food, yuck," she said smiling in weak amusement.
Guild had little more to say. His duty required that he check on her condition and now he had done that he wanted to leave.
"Well then," he said. "I will let you get some rest."
"Wait," she called out to him in a higher pitched yet still obviously tired tone. He stopped and looked back at her. "You don't have to go. You could stay."
Guild started to feel a little trapped. Duty also demanded his politeness but he didn't want to stay with her. In Australia and on the flight to Tcidenebia he had said little to her and the thought that this may have intimidated her somehow never crossed his mind. He was afraid of relating to her in anyway because he wanted to hate her. Hate was an easy emotion. He had lived with hating Goromanians for so long that anything else seemed alien.
"If you would like me to stay I will," he said in a very businesslike fashion.
"You don't want to stay with me do you?" Her tone was of clear disappointment and it made him feel a little ashamed. "Were you in the war?"
"I've fought in several conflicts," he stated deflecting the question. He knew which one she was talking about. Whenever anyone said 'the war' in B'Geeria they always meant the Facist Invasion in 2002. That conflict, which almost saw B'Geeria erased off the map, redefined the nation. Just like Guild, his country was no longer the same afterwards. "Yes."
"What did you do?" she asked before noticing his white naval uniform. "I mean, in the Navy. What did you do in the Navy?"
Guild thought about her question. He was unsure whether or not he wanted to talk about this but something was driving him on to speak to her about it. He sat in the chair beside her bed, something that seemed to give her some degree of solace, and tried to make himself comfortable before he spoke.
"I was always an intelligence officer," he explained.
"So is that like James Bond?" she asked again with a wispy yet amused voice.
"Nothing so exciting. Mostly paperwork and briefings; although I did get my hands dirty a few times." She looked at him quizzically and so reiterated, "I went with the Marines a couple of times when we were retaking the Arienna islands. It was always to get a firsthand look at the enemy."
"The enemy? You mean like me?"
He looked straight at her, his eyes focused into pinpoints. "You invaded my home. You threatened my family. Yes, you were the enemy."
"What?" he asked confused by her response?
"Thank you for not lying to me. Ever since I got to Australia I've had people telling me I'm a hero for what I am doing but I don't feel like it. I feel dirty because of what happened. That's why I am doing this. I've lived with this secret for over eight years and it's been eating me alive."
"So you are doing this to ease your conscience?" he said a little scathingly. To him it was sounding like the only reason she was doing this was to make herself feel better and in his frame of mind he took that as a selfish act.
"Partly," she confessed. "I know what those officers did was wrong and I don't like it that they were from my country. I used to feel proud to call myself Goromanian but now it just feels dirty."
"You feel this way now, after watching your own officers murder civilians and PoWs?"
"Then may I ask you something?"
She had to dare herself to say, "Ok."
"How did you feel the day you first stepped foot in my country with your Army?"
She was hurt by the attacking question and Guild thought he might have taken some satisfaction in that. He had in fact intended for it to hurt her. He had wanted to ask that question to an enemy for years and now he had the chance. He got the response he hoped for, guilt and shame, but he hated it almost as much as the enemy themselves. Why? He didn't know.
"Cold," she replied as a not-so-funny joke to him after a short pause to compose herself. "I remember it being cold in B'Geeria."
"You invaded in September, winter was already on its way. We thought it was an odd time for an invasion given how harsh a B'Geerian winter can be."
"With the situation deteriorating I think our Generals didn't want to wait a winter for you to prepare."
"Makes sense," he commented almost offhandedly.
"You keep saying that I invaded your country. I didn't decide to start a war. I was doing my duty just like you. I didn't even want to join the Army. I wanted to be a nurse at a hospital, perhaps marry a rich doctor and settle down with a couple of kids. I was at nursing college when I was drafted eight months before the invasion."
"You didn't answer my question," he said calmly.
She thought for a moment. She looked away from him staring vaguely ahead as her mind cast back to that cold day in September when the Facist Army crossed the border into B'Geeria. She remembered feeling only one thing.
"Fear. I was afraid." She looked back at him. "Our medical unit was always well behind the lines and I remember when we were told that the fighting had began. Every time I heard a plane I kept expecting bombs to land on me. All I knew about war was from movies I had seen. But overtime we began to settle down and get used to it. I didn't actually go into B'Geeria until three days after the invasion began. It was beautiful with all the snow on the trees and fields. Our senior nurse told us that now this country is ours and we will become rich with our industries taking over."
"It didn't quite work out like that," he said through eyes that winced angrily at her.
"No it didn't," she replied. "I saw my first casualty that day; a B'Geerian soldier that had been captured. He had a leg wound. I helped patch him up and took care of him for a few days before he was well enough to be taken to a prisoner camp. We became good friends. I didn't think of him as the enemy. I sometimes wonder what happened to him."
"Maybe he went home after the ceasefire was declared," uttered Guild.
"I hope so," she said almost in a whimper, her eyes filling up. "I really hope so. They killed those men and women like they were nothing to them."
"The Vycattans," she answered.
Vycatta was one of the nations that made up the Facist Alliance. It was always considered one of the weaker member states by Goromania since they often lobbied for more peaceful relations with B'Geeria and their other neighbours such as Damania. When the war broke out many Vycattans were angry about it and in December 2003 they rose up against their government ousting their leadership and immediately breaking away from the Facist Alliance. However they were to pay a hefty price for this disobedience. Facist soldiers from Goromania and Thomistan were fighting the B'Geerians and Jhonrans in Vycatta at the time of the uprising and turned their weapons on Vycattan soldiers and civilians to punish them.
"You saw it?" asked Guild carefully, for the first time actually feeling sympathy for her. "You saw the killing?"
"After the uprising a General came to our base and ordered his troops to expel all Vycattan soldiers and civilians from the beds on our wards. It didn't matter what condition they were in. Men. Women. The General's soldiers came in and dragged those poor men out ripping IVs from their bodies and pulling them off oxygen machines. One Vycattan was actually in the middle of an operation by one of our surgeons and they just took him outside with his chest still open. He died in minutes."
"Shit," he uttered under his breath at the mental image that was forming in his mind.
"A few of our doctors and senior nurses tried to protest but they were threatened by the General's men. We were told if anyone tried to offer aid to any Vycattan or enemy soldier from now on the repercussions would be severe. That was the day it all changed. After that my life was never the same again. Have you ever had a day like that?"
A loud explosion followed by the sound of shearing metal pulsed through Guild's mind. He was back aboard the BNS Kilroy the moment the Koromoran anti-ship missile ripped into the side of the ship. The memory lasted only seconds but seemed to drag out for hours.
Van Keller noticed this and said, "You have, haven't you?"
"Yes," he replied begrudgingly.
"Want to tell me about it?" she asked caringly.
"No, not really."
"Have you ever told anyone about it?" He didn't have to say anything. His look told her all she needed to know. He had never talked to anyone about that moment. "You might feel better if you do. Help you move on."
"I thought you were a nurse not a damned shrink," he grumbled.
"I've been told I am a good listener, will that do?"
Guild sighed frustrated, "Only if I wanted to talk about it. Which I don't by the way."
"I've told you my story," she stated delicately, "now it's your turn."
Guild leaned forwards resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing his temples with his index fingers. It was as if he had built a mental wall between him and her, or perhaps the whole world, that was preventing him from talking about it. That wall had been there for nine years and no one close to him had penetrated it; family, friends, colleagues. And yet here was a woman he barely knew who was slowly chipping away at that wall, weakening it. He could sense the cracks as he pondered what might happen if he finally talked about that day aboard the BNS Kilroy, more importantly why he was there.
"Tell me," she said softly and with that the wall fell.
He stopped rubbing his temples and sat upright, sucking in a hefty amount of air as he braced himself before asking, "Have you ever heard of a ship called the BNS Kilroy?"
"No," she replied honestly. "It's a B'Geerian ship I presume?"
"Yes, it was hit by a Koromoran missile in the middle of the war." He paused as he tried to build himself up to say the words, "I was onboard it when it happened. I survived."
"That's a good thing isn't it?"
"For me I suppose. I lost someone on that ship, someone close to me. Her name was Jenna Staite. We'd been seeing each other a few months before she...uh...died. The thing about it was that I wasn't supposed to be having a relationship with her. It was against Navy regs. She was the Naval intelligence officer assigned to the Kilroy and with me working directly under Commodore Tarquinn I was her senior officer. I've sacrificed a lot for my career but I was willing to risk it all for her."
"You can't blame yourself for what happened," she said. "It was a war."
"Maybe I do have some blame," he uttered almost in a whisper. "I wasn't supposed to be on that ship. Well, more precisely, there was no need for me to be there. I was usually aboard Tarquinn's flagship, the BNS Finback. I hadn't seen her for about a week so I made up an excuse to get me flown over to the Kilroy. I was only supposed to be there for half an hour. She was asleep in her quarters when I arrived and I think she was both pleased and annoyed to see me, she never was a morning person. We talked for a little bit and she walked back towards the flightdeck with me when it was time for me to go. A junior sailor looked at us suspiciously and so I suggested to her that I go the rest of the way on my own. She was irritated by it, she always liked to see me off, but she agreed. I wanted to kiss her good-bye so badly but I couldn't."
He stopped briefly once more.
"Was that the last time you ever saw her?" she asked carefully.
"Not exactly. We said our good-byes and she turned to walk back towards her quarters. I just stood there watching her go. She had barely gone twenty, maybe thirty, feet and I suddenly called out to her. I don't know what for. She looked at me and that was when someone opened a door between us. The next thing I knew I was on my back being dragged through the corridors of the ship away from the fire. We don't know if the missile was air launched or came from one of the islands nearby. It was a total surprise attack. I was told afterwards that it was the door that opened in front of me that saved my life. It blew off the hinges in the shockwave from the blast and hit me square-on sending me away from where the damage was. Where she was standing. There was no trace of her. She just vanished off the face of the Earth."
"You are suffering from what's called survivor's guilt," she explained. "It's when a person who survives a tragedy where other's have died think that they don't deserve to be alive."
"I know what survivor's guilt is and that's not what it is."
"Then what? What's eating you so badly?"
The anger he had entered the room with had begun to surface once more. "The fact is had I not gone to that ship that night she would have been asleep in her quarters when that missile hit. Her quarters were located in the hull under the foredeck. The ship was hit just ahead of the flightdeck which is at the rear of the ship. If she had still been asleep in her quarters she would be here today."
"You can't possibly know that," she said. "Any number of things could have happened that night on that ship. If you hadn't been there then she might have been in that part of the ship for another reason altogether and you'd still be hurting. You're looking for a reason to punish yourself and you found one."
"Why do I want to punish myself for it?"
"Because you weren't allowed to mourn her," she said factually. "You knew that if you showed too much emotion the secret of your relationship would have been out and that would be your career over; something I'm guessing she wouldn't have wanted anymore than you." She reached out for him and grasped his hand tightly. "You are allowed to mourn her now. We are allowed to mourn them all. That's why I am doing this. To give our people closure."
Just then the door opened and a Tcidenebian nurse walked in. Startled at Guild being in the room she said,"Oh, je suis désolé."
"Uh, I'm sorry I don't speak French," said Guild.
"Sorry," said the nurse in English. "My family is from a French community and when I'm startled I revert back to it."
"That's ok," he said.
"Is everything ok in here?" she asked.
Guild looked at Van Keller. Although he had tried to avoid it he had related to her and she had helped him. He wasn't completely over his feelings of guilt, far from it in fact, but he had started to recover. "Yes, everything's fine."