Kid, let me tell you about the war.
The old man has been sitting quietly at the bus stop, but now he animates like some gargoyle—a piece of grotesque scenery, come abruptly to life. His gloves are ratty and worn, and they gesticulate as he talks, showing flashes of exposed skin.
Let me tell you about this grand old world you've been born to.
The young boy's parents move quickly to intercept. They position themselves in front of the child, and the old man comes to a stop. Wallets are produced. Federal notes change hands. He returns to his corner. When the next bus arrives, he doesn't get on.
But the damage is already done.
What was he talking about, Da?
The boy only seems to half-care, his attention split between the strange man and the street signs that go whirring past. Still, the question has been asked. It hangs in the air, unwilling to go away.
The boy's father adjusts his expression into a neat little mask . It was something that happened a long time ago. Let's just leave it at that.
Does everyone know what day today is?
The crowd in the temple stays silent. Their service is mostly rhetorical anyway.
Now, how many of you have actually felt moved by that? How many of you, in between waking and dining and driving here, have found yourselves thinking about the Coastals, and what life would have been like under their rule? How many of you said a prayer for the fallen soldiers who paved a road to peace with their sacrifices?
No, don't tell me. This is something private, to keep between you and the world above.
The congregation shuffles uneasily. Pages turn and psalms are preemptively read. It has been forty years since the war ended.
Shifting awkwardly on his bench, the boy cranes his neck to look at the curate and wonders what everyone else is getting so worked up about.
Most of us gather on Cessation Day out of habit, and because it makes us feel good. It is a chance to see family, to share food, and to put aside our usual labors. We do not think of the great men who defended us.
Today, I am going to inconvenience you. I am going to ask you to put your hands together and pray. Not for yourselves or those around you, but for the men who served.
You can have every other day of the year, but they have a right to this one.
Tell me, Timothy, what do you know about the Fourth War?
The little polyfiber seat is too small for his growing body, but he ignores the discomfort. Fifth grade is a big deal. If he can tough out everything it throws at him, he knows in his bones that he will be fully prepared for life.
I know it happened a long time ago.
A snicker runs the length of the room.
What else do you know, Mr. Walt?
He hesitates. They haven't done the reading on this yet. That's next chapter, and it isn't like he's the kind of dork who would read ahead on stuff like that.
I know we fought Empress Alohilani because the Coastals got greedy and wanted our farms?
The teacher ponders for a moment, then crosses to the atlas at the far end of the room. It flickers to life like an old light-bulb, projecting vaguely across a three-dimensional space. Timothy wonders why everything the school uses is always so outdated. The United Central Territories are a blur of hazy beige, and he can barely pick out his home state.
That's actually a very good description, Mr. Walt, but let's talk about the events leading up to the war. What do you all know about the assassination of Governor Windsor and the early days of the Coastal Offensive?
His head hurts from the memorization, and he wonders if one day he's going to put something in there that's just too much for his brain to carry. He imagines skulls rupturing and gray matter spraying the walls, all because the great state of Camellia needed another standardized test for its high school juniors. One dead, three injured from bone-fragments. Public education exclusively to blame.
Timothy puts down the book, rubs his eyes, and lets the words digest. He's going to be dreaming this tonight, he knows. General Maddock and the Eastern Blockade and the Winter of Ghosts and Hostile Embargoes and Justifiable Provocation. They swim in his head like deep-sea fish, worming their way down into the dark of memory to share the depths with mathematics and literature. When the times comes, he will bait his line and drag them back out, heaving and gasping into the little ovals of a multiple choice test. He wonders briefly what a fried Aggressive Marine Tactics would taste like, and then realizes that he's allowing himself to procrastinate. He flips the textbook back open and—with a sigh—resume studying.
Profession Baher is late again, but he enters the lecture hall with style. Two TA's at his heels, struggling to match his pace, he bursts into the room five minutes after ten and immediately launches into a speech.
It is week three of classes, and most of the students have learned to expect this of him. Those that haven't are quickly snapping shut mobiles, adjusting glasses, and preparing to take notes. Tim is only here for the UCT history credit, but he has found that he enjoys the class all the same.
Haleiwa Surplus Riots. That sound familiar to any of you? I told you we were going to be talking about that again. Anyone want to recap?
Tim lifts a hand.
The Coastals were facing a food shortage because of the Empress' refusal to cooperate with us. In an attempt to incite domestic sympathy for the war, their government made it publicly known that the UCT had produced more salable grains than it needed, and was burning it to keep from deflating the market value. Several UCT diplomats were murdered, and the embassy was sacked. Um.
He pauses, realizes that he's reciting almost word-for-word from the reading, and stops himself mid-thought.
Very good. It would be nice to hear it in your words for once, Mr. Walt, but Mr. Dimmons' textbook does an excellent job of explaining it, too. Now, does anyone feel the Coastals were justified in doing this?
The room goes silent for a moment, but when the answer comes, it's a very definitive 'no.'
It was very simple, the tour-guide says, adding another palm frond to the braid. You tied enough of these together, and they made a noose. The UCT soldiers were coming. They were only miles off the shore. We had heard stories about what they would do to us when they made landfall, and so this was the simplest way out.
She straightens up, holding the half-finished weave between her hands. The plant-fiber is tough. Resilient. She invites everyone to feel it, and so the little piece of death is passed around the group. Tim declines to touch it.
He had thought this would be simple—an old wound healed to a scar—and yet, here it is, fresh and raw. He meets the tour-guide's eyes for just a moment, then drops his head to look away.
It is not the first paper he has written, and it will not be the last, but it is the first to provoke such an outcry. It makes the nightly news, briefly, in Camellia. The story runs three times in his home town. In the Coastal Provinces, it goes for a whole week as headline news. He has taken the bandage from a cut, and it is bleeding again.
Perhaps he should not have gone looking for someone to blame. Perhaps he should not have accused the last Empress so flagrantly of provoking a war that victimized her citizens, or spoke so factually about the horrors of the UCT's response. It is too late to take it back, though, and he stands by his views.
The Provinces caused this war, at least in part.
He meets Hokuao while conducting research in the Southern Straits. She recognizes him from the television a few years back, but calmly puts aside his celebrity and gives him a second chance. Within a week, they are dating.
She takes him to see the Barrier Cliffs, and to visit the volcanoes. He reads about their intermittent eruptions, and the impact that they have on agriculture and infrastructure. They go out for traditional Coastal food, and he is surprised by the scarcity of the portions.
Trade with the UCT was the best thing that happened to us after the war, she murmurs, following the drift of one of their more serious topics. Back then, we had soldiers enlisting so that they wouldn't starve.
Rationing had never been quite so severe back on the mainland.
Their child is born Makalohi, and his naming is a kind of defiance. He does not belong to the UCT or the Coastals. His identity rests somewhere in between.
When he is a few years old, Timothy tells him the story of the Fourth War.
It is a simple version, with good guys and bad guys. In the end, the good guys win.
Why burden him with the truth now? There's no hurry.
Makalohi will have the rest of his life with which to pick apart that tale.