Private Jefferson was bored. Handcuffed to the desk in the interrogation room, she cast her eyes around for something to look at besides the metal door and her own reflection in the two way mirror. She wondered briefly whether anyone was observing her through the glass. She stuck out her tongue—just in case.
Jefferson jolted when the door handle rattled. A severe-looking woman with dark skin and short hair strode toward her.
"Private Kallan Jefferson. My name is Dr. Evelyn Rice, and I am here to take down your official statement." The woman set a voice recorder down on the desk and rifled through her briefcase for a file. "You are aware of the full charges against you?"
Kallan Jefferson rolled her eyes.
"I cannot overstress the importance that you take this seriously, Private. Treason against humanity, trespassing, assaulting a commanding officer. You'll face the firing squad for this."
"If I'm convicted."
"Do you expect to get off?"
Jefferson didn't reply.
"You're the worst kind of traitor, Jefferson. A little girl who couldn't take orders. Who let sentimental notions override her judgment. The war could have ended that day; every human life lost since then is on your hands."
She looked away, and tried to keep her expression still.
"I need your statement, Private."
"Why should I tell you anything?"
Dr. Evelyn smiled cruelly. "Posterity."
Kallan looked down. She wanted to appear strong and stoic, but she was barely managing to hold in her abject terror. Unless she could clear her name, her life was forfeit. And by the sneer on Dr. Evelyn's face, her interrogator had already decided the matter of her guilt.
"I joined the Interstellar Army of the People two years ago…" She began for the voice recorder. Remembering the series of events that brought her here was difficult- especially if she was simultaneously abridging the story to cast herself in a good light.
Kallan and Caleb Jefferson—twins—had both signed up for the IAP on their 18th birthday. Their parents had been in the service before them, and their grandparents before them. Serving their planet was in their blood. Once in the army, basic training flew by before they knew it. In what seemed like no time at all, the siblings were assigned to a unit, placed in cryogenic storage, and shipped off to the war in the Proserpine System. Humanity had been at war with the Proserpines for well over half a century. Fear and hatred of the alien race was instilled in them from their earliest memories. "Behave, or a Proserpine will snatch you up." News steadily streamed back to Earth about the atrocities committed by the enemy. It was said that they were merciless and would torture a human child just to hear them scream. The Jeffersons were equal parts excited and nervous about being tossed into such an environment, but they strongly believed in the cause they were fighting for: the safety and expansion of the human race.
But the reality of war did not meet Private Jefferson's expectations. She spent most of her days pacing the halls of the space station. Her workload consisted of maintenance, accounting, and trying to maintain a healthy bone density. When she looked out of the storm windows onto the alien planet below, she was saddened by the amount of space junk orbiting above the reddish atmosphere. Proserpina's natural beauty had been destroyed by the generations of war.
Two weeks later, the Jefferson twins were sent off on their first service mission. That was the point when Kallan's life began to spiral out of control.
"I was sent on the P3 mission to Styx. The area we were scouting was supposed to be abandoned, but my team was ambushed," she recounted for the recorder. Dr. Evelyn nodded encouragingly, but the hint of menace was ever-present.
She remembered that morning hazily. The silence of the dusty streets, the two suns already blazing in the red sky. Her brother was with her, and she recalled the look of fear in his eyes at the first explosion. The team hurried for cover, and returned fire. Movements in the dust revealed that a group of Proserpines were close and out for blood. She raised her laser pistol, tried to steady her arm and get a good shot, when shrapnel exploded from the vehicle to their left. Private Stevens cried out in pain, and Jefferson remembered rushing to his side. She scrambled in her bag for her first aid kit, and then applied gauze to the head wound of her comrade. She was distracted, and slightly thrown by the site of so much blood, but she really should have paid more attention to her surroundings. It was her fault when she looked up to see the shadowy alien face over her, and felt the sudden impact with her skull. A concerned cry for Stevens was the last thing to leave her lips.
When Kallan first regained consciousness, she was pleasantly surprised to find herself alive and all in one piece, give or take a pounding headache. The room was dark, and she could feel a rough dirt floor beneath her fingertips. Her hands were secured behind her back, and she wasn't surprised to find herself disarmed.
A sound in front of her caused Kallan to freeze. Adrenaline rushed through her system. Through her translator piece, a feminine robotic voice whispered in her ear her captors' conversation.
"Why did you bring it here?"
"What was I supposed to do—leave it to die in the street?"
"It would have done the same to you. Humans are ruthless. And how are you going to explain a human tied up in the cellar?"
"I'm not going to keep it."
"So you'll turn it back over to its brain—just like that?"
Kallan was momentarily thrown by her translator's choice of translation. By "brain," the word meant was probably "central command." Did the aliens view the IAP as some form of hive mind?
"I don't know. I don't know…"
"Best thing to do is put it out of its misery—"
"No!" She cried in unison with her translator. Both aliens snapped their attention towards her. She wished she could tell them apart—which one had been sympathetic and wavering and which had offered to kill her. But the translation was monotone and their facial features gave no clues. When one of the aliens rushed towards her, she flinched and tried to draw away. But this one turned and faced the other in a standoffish manner.
"I won't let you harm it." So the one closest to her was the sympathetic one. Good to know. She swallowed nervously as the tall creature with bluish white almost-translucent skin bent towards her. Its eyes were black and pupiless, and where Kallan expected an opening for a mouth was a thin membrane. She had to control her revulsion.
"Human female," it addressed her. "Do you understand our speech?"
"Yes," she replied shakily. The two aliens exchanged glances. The one farther away looked exasperated.
"Hold your palm towards us for affirmative." Of course, Kallan realized. She could understand the aliens, but they could not understand her Standard English. So she held out her palm. They glanced towards each other again, this time in relief.
"I am called Enna," the friendly one told her, "and this is my partner, Vira." Kallan was once again annoyed at her translator—partner could mean so many things, from colleague to friend to lover, and she wouldn't know. "What are you called, human female?"
"Kallan Jefferson." She stated.
"Kallan Jefferson," Enna confirmed. "You are a part of the brain, are you not? Palm forward for affirmative."
After a moment's hesitation, she turned her palm forward. There was no point in lying to those who could kill you without a second thought.
"The red on your forehead. Does this mean that you are damaged?"
She showed her palm again, for yes.
"It needs to be disinfected," She told Enna, even though she knew the alien wouldn't understand. She hoped her voice conveyed that she wasn't a threat to them like this. She just wanted to survive this.
"Enna," Vira warned, "do not treat it like a pet."
"I am simply being hospitable. I harbor no emotional attachment to Kallan."
"Human," Vira called to her, "we will clean your wound and see you fed. But you are not welcome here. You are a threat to my family." Ah, so Vira and Enna probably were spouses or the Proserpine equivalent.
Kallan was surprised and deeply grateful when these aliens gave her medical attention, food and water, and shelter. She wasn't free to leave their home or try to contact the IAP. She could say yes or no or maybe, and could point to tangible objects, but that was about the extent of her ability to communicate. Despite that obstacle, over time she felt herself warming to the presence of those two, and they to her. Even Vira, who promised she would not be welcome, began to express fondness at her presence. She was touched when the two introduced them to their two children—a step, she thought, that must have frightened them. These aliens who were supposed to be her enemy were letting her into their lives, bit by bit. Perhaps they did see her as a pet, but Kallan didn't dwell on that too much.
After three weeks, the Proserpine couple sat her down to talk.
"Are you happy?" Enna asked.
"Would you like to go back to your people?" Vira asked.
Kallan almost started to cry. She showed her palm, hoping beyond hope that Vira was offering her release—not that she viewed herself as a prisoner, but that's what she was, in fact.
"After studying you for a few weeks now, we have concluded that you pose no threat to our family. We have hesitations about returning you to your brain, but we also wish you well. If you promise not to betray our trust, we will turn you loose on the outskirts of an IAP controlled region. Is this acceptable?" Enna asked.
"Thank you!" She exclaimed, forgetting herself momentarily. Then she showed them her palm again, and the Proserpine couple nodded.
Kallan Jefferson was free.
Her first few days back on the space station, Kallan was treated like some sort of celebrity. Everyone wanted to know what being a POW of the Proserpines was like, and how she managed to escape. She gave evasive answers, not wanting to reveal anything to hurt her friends—and she did view them as friends now, strange as that was.
So when she overheard the details on the latest military offensive strike while dropping off files for a commanding officer, she felt sick to her stomach.
Kallan had promised not to betray Enna and Vira's trust upon her return. But to her, inaction seemed like just as much of a betrayal. The thought of the couple and their two children drowning in their own blood was horrifying to her now. She knew she had to do anything she could to stop it.
One week later, she snuck out of her bunk, holstered a flashlight and her pistol to her belt, and made for the technical support room. She was training to be a specialist in tech, so she knew where to look aboard the massive spacecraft. The only problem was the guard outside the door. As quiet as possible, she changed her pistol's setting to stun and aimed for the man's chest. He was out before he even knew what struck him. Kallan slipped his ID badge off of his neck and slid the keycard into the door.
Once inside, she hastily punched in the stolen pass code, praying it would work. As soon as the computer system connected, the alarm blared. She had to hurry now. She brought up the plans and projected the hologram into the room. The missile attack was designed to target four major cities of Proserpina: Elysium, Asphodel, Tartarus, and Styx. The projectiles would cover the areas with phosgene gas in an attempt to poison as much life as possible. With a shaking hand, she inserted her own flash drive into the supercomputer and started to upload the virus.
Within seconds, the hologram shut off. On the screen, pages and pages worth of code, coordinates, and data wiped themselves clean. The information couldn't be salvaged.
She had done it. Enna and the others would be safe, at least for now.
A crash echoed through the room as the door flung open. Kallan whirled around, her hand grabbing her pistol. When she recognized Caleb, she relaxed by a fraction.
"Kallan?" He asked, shocked.
"Hi." The tension in the room increased tenfold. She lowered her pistol. "I'm so glad it's you—"
"Drop your weapon and put your hands where I can see them!" His pistol aimed straight at her chest.
"Caleb, it's just me—"
"I said drop it!" This time she did as her brother commanded. "It was you?" he questioned in disbelief. "You're the security breach?" She didn't answer, but her eyes flitted to the flash drive in the USB port. He noticed, and keeping his pistol aimed on her, approached the supercomputer. He spotted the damage immediately.
"What have you done?"
"Caleb, I know it looks bad—"
"Kallan Jefferson, I swear if you don't answer me—"
"Did you know?" She asked in desperation, her voice cracking. "Did you know about this project? They were going to destroy four civilian cities. This wasn't about military advancement, it was about killing families and children. It's criminal."
"It's war, Kallan. This is what attrition means. We need to break their spirits, and wipe out every pillar of strength they have."
"No, they aren't. And you are a traitor to your kind." Caleb had the gun at the nape of her neck now, and with swift dexterity closed a handcuff around one of her wrists, then the other. She winced as the cold metal bit into her skin. When she turned to look at her brother's face, she no longer recognized the person looking back at her. "On behalf of the IAP, I am placing you under arrest for treason." She felt a rush of betrayal, even though she knew Caleb justified his actions in his own way. Kallan had done what she thought was right, and her own brother practically disowned her for it.
"The first week I was back on the space station, I was so confused. I would find myself in a corridor or room with no recollection of what time it was or how I got there—it was like sleepwalking. Even when I was arrested, I hardly knew what was happening to me. The Proserpines I was with could have brainwashed me, couldn't they've?" She lied, trying to sound naïve. But deep down, she knew Dr. Evelyn would never buy it. Once it was clear that Kallan Jefferson had finished speaking, Dr. Evelyn shut off the voice recorder.
"That was quite the bullshit session," Dr. Evelyn mockingly praised. "Enough to convince officers with cursory knowledge of Proserpine tech. But you and I both know that the inhabitants of Proserpina are weak and unimaginative, and could never have constructed such a counter-offensive."
"So what are my chances of getting off scot free?" She asked sarcastically, hiding behind the humor to hide her dread. Kallan was struck by the futility of it all. Destroying the offensive didn't end the war or save Proserpina from destruction. All it did was ruin her life, and buy her friends a few more months.
"Almost nil," Dr. Evelyn told her. This time there was no smile. "The case has to be presented to the military tribunal, of course. But within the month, Private Jefferson, you will face the firing squad."
So there it was. By following her own moral compass, Private Jefferson forfeited her life. She wasn't okay with it, and probably would not come to terms with it in the upcoming weeks. But she knew now she should never have been a soldier. How could anyone look at Proserpina and not see its natural beauty? How could anyone talk to a Proserpine and see that there was more likeness than difference? The stories from her childhood had been dreadfully wrong. It was not the Proserpines, but the humans that were the monsters to be feared.
A/N This was an assignment for class, so some elements of the story are a bit rushed. I may expand it in the near future. This was my first attempt at science fiction, and any reviews would be greatly appreciated!