"I'm not on duty, Dusty. Call me Meg," she said in a groggy voice. "What are you doing waking me up at...Sweet Skies! 2:30!"
"Myst has declared war on Mystis!" explained Lt. Dustin Mercury, Meg's companion, slash courier, slash assistant. Meg sat up in a flash. Mystis and Myst were twin planets rotating around themselves. In the center, the government was set up on a large space station called Government Center. All the officers of the Myst army, Meg included, lived there. Mystis had long since disagreed with Myst government which ruled the planets, but Meg never dreamed it would come to war. She jumped out of bed and proceeded to put on her clothes. "Dusty, when did you hear this? Who knows? Why wasn't I told?" she fired at him while pulling on a pair of pants.
"Slow down. I heard about this about ten minutes ago, everyone probably knows by now, and you were just told by me," he said with maddening calmness.
When Meg got her clothes on, they opened the door to the hallway to a cacophony of people yelling and screaming. The people of Government Center wanted answers and were trying to get into the Capitol room on the military level. Meg and Dusty pushed their way to the front of the crowd. A guard stopped them.
"I'm sorry Miss, but no one is allowed into the Capitol without clearance," said the guard in a voice that told Meg that he had already said this many times this morning.
"I'm General Meg Sharie Marion. Code Alpha-nine-eight-two-one-k-five," she said in her business voice. She waited for the guard to punch in her code.
"Please repeat for voice analysis."
She did, and was let in. Dusty gave his code and was let in behind her. Neither Dusty, nor Meg envied the guard who had to hold back the masses.
She was the last officer to arrive at the table, and had come in when the president was speaking. Meg took her seat next to her longtime friend, General Randy Eel.
"What's he talking about?" Meg whispered.
"Just why he felt war was unavoidable. Now listen," he answered.
"After Mystis attacked our fort and shed our soldiers blood, we, my cabinet and I, have decided that war is our last and only road," said President Johnson. "I understand that many of you are from Mystis and that the people of Myst are going to be somewhat hostile to you. The government will grant you safe passage back to Mystis. You can join the army there, though it is my duty to implore that you stay here and fight for us." The president's voice softened. "On a more personal note, I wish you all the best of luck, either way. Let us all pray that this war will end quickly and not cost us too many lives. This Meeting of Officers is now concluded."
The other officers got up and talked in murmurs. Some of the Mystis officers walked toward the door to the hangar bay
"Sweet Skies, what am I gonna do?" asked Randy with a distressed voice.
"What do you mean? We're going over to the Myst military room and report for duty. What is there to decide?" asked a bewildered Meg.
"Meg, you know very well that I grew up on Mystis. How can I go against my home world? Remember, Meg, this was the place I got my first kiss, my first vehicle, and where I first discovered that I wanted to join the army. I was brought up to stand by my world."
"First of all," said Meg in a determined tone, "you were born on Myst just the same as me. Second of all, you hate the government plan of Mystis. You have always told me that no matter what, never throw away your principles. 'Stand up for what you believe in, even if you're standing alone.' Aren't you going to practice what you preach?"
"I know what I've said and what I believe in, but I can't throw away my entire life growing up any easier than I can throw away my principles. I've got to think this out," concluded Randy in complete justification.
"I don't see what there is to think about, Randy. Just remember there's a time limit on the escape to Mystis." With that, Meg walked off in a huff and over to a room that wasn't hers. She knocked on the door and a handsome face smiled back at her.
"Should I salute, General?" he asked.
"Be quiet, Marcus. I'm sorry to call on you so late, little bro, but I'm just so mad at Randy," confided Meg.
"I hate to say it, but I told you so. That's what happens when you befriend someone from Mystis," said Marcus, who was more than a little prejudiced against anyone from his twin planet.
"I hate to admit it, but I think you're right." Meg sighed. "I guess this means that I have to go over to his room right now and tell him that if he chooses Mystis, then he not only trashes everything he believes in, but also my friendship," said Meg trying unsuccessfully to lace her words with frost. "Whoa, big sis! You guys have been friends for, like, ever. I don't like him, but you do," said Marcus realizing the mistake of his hastiness. He didn't want to see his sister hurt, and he knew that it would kill her to ditch Randy. Besides, thought Marcus, Randy was born on Myst and just grew up on Mystis.
"But Marcus, if he joins Mystis, we'll be fighting against each other. If he does join, it has to be as my enemy; otherwise I'll be distracted into not doing my best. What if we end up in the same battle?" reasoned Meg.
"Yeah right, Meg. They wouldn't give you a regiment. That would put one of the government's most popular generals on the front line, not to mention the best military public speaker. It would be a sniper's dream," said Marcus logically. It was true. Meg was a great public speaker, and she had been shot at before. The war would just be a good excuse to get rid of her. Both of the Marions knew this, but Marcus could see that Meg had made up her mind, and was going to be stubborn.
"Still, it messes up my whole view of the war. I have to tell him." Marcus knew that this was her ultimatum, and there would be no more arguing. He also knew that now he was supposed to encourage her.
"You'd better hurry then," was all Marcus said.
Meg got up and left. She was quickly walking down the hall towards Randy's room when she was stopped by a stampede of people yelling and screaming. Meg could only make out some of the words.
"Go back to where you came from!"
Meg was genuinely shocked. The tensions between the people on Government Center and the Mystis officers had been mounting lately, but she never thought it would come down to angry mobs. She decided to take the back way when something that was being said caught her ear.
"The high, yet equal, taxes for both the rich and the poor that Mystis believes in will not only tear the planets apart, but they will force peasants into indentured servitude. Of course the rich won't want to give up their servants up once their servitude is officially over. They will be forced into slavery. That's right people, Mystis government will eventually turn the lower class citizens into SLAVES!" yelled the speaker to the mob. He continued on about how they would have to take it upon themselves to hunt out all the Mystis officers and chase them out. What amazed Meg was that the people knew the about the servitude/slavery the Rebel government believed in. She had to get to Randy and warn him before the mob got to him. She ran to the door and found it ajar. She nearly choked.
"Sweet Skies, I'm too late! The mob has already been here!" whispered Meg to herself as she carefully pushed the door open the rest of the way. She was close to choking again. The familiar room where she and Randy spent so much of their time in talking and just hanging out, was stripped bare. Then, all her fear for Randy turned into bitterness.
"I'm too late all right. He's already left. Some friend! He didn't even bother to tell me." Then a thought hit her. She went down to the shuttle bay from which the Mystis officers were leaving. "Please sign up to leave for Mystis on the next available transport," said the heat-activated computer as she got close enough. ""I'm not leaving Government Center. I'm inquiring about General Randolph Eel. Has he come through here yet," she asked, hoping that there was some other explanation.
"General Eel was on the previous transport out."
Meg walked to the window and watched Randy fly out of her life. She silently fumed.
Randy looked out the window. Government Center wasn't far from Mystis, but it seemed like he would never go back again, like he would never go to another officer's meeting again, like he would never see Meg again.
Damn it! he thought. He had to stop thinking about her. She would never forgive him. He regretted leaving without telling her, but he knew she could never understand his decision. He just had to fight for his home planet just as she had to fight for hers.
"Damn this war," he muttered bitterly to himself.
A loud beep pulled him out of his sulking. They were arriving at Mystis. Randy had signed up for duty, but wouldn't be needed until tomorrow morning. He would spend his last peaceful day at the home of a childhood friend.
Once he got through spaceport procedure, he sped out to his friend's place. It was now about seven a.m. and Randy was dead tired. The house was huge and it welcomed him. It was hardly lonely, though he was alone. Randy had happy memories of happy times long past to keep him company. The home that Randy grew up in had recently burned down, so his friend, who had already joined up with the army, had given Randy permission to spend the day here. Randy fell asleep the minute his head hit the pillow.
When Randy woke up, he found that it was already the next morning. Despite his surprise at sleeping so long, he had a hearty breakfast. And sped over to the Mystis Army HQ. The HQ was below ground to deter any bombing attempts and all windows out into the caverns were ten inches thick.
The elected president of the Mystis rebellion, political bigwig, Corin Sickles, waited for Randy to arrive.
"General Eel, please come into my office. Yes, yes, sit down. Can I get you something to drink?" he asked politely.
"No thank you, sir. There is something you could get me, though, sir," Randy said.
"And what would that be?" asked President Sickles in a voice that said he was willing to please.
"The answer to my one question. Who is the commanding general of the Mystis Army?" Randy asked.
"General Eel, I'm very glad that that is the question you asked. You see, I have reviewed strategies and school records of all the generals that have reported in and...well...General Eel, I'll be blunt: You are the commanding general."
Randy stood up and then sat down again. "Sir, with all due respect, I don't think I'd be right for the job," he said pleadingly.
"General Eel," Sickles said in a tone that meant business, "you are the best general we have, and with you acting as commander, we can't lose. I've made my decision, General Eel, and, like it or not, you are my commanding general.
Randy stood up and saluted stiffly. "Yes, sir. I will do my best, sir."
"Dismissed," said Sickles. Randy left without a word. He looked over to Sickles' assistant at the desk right outside the office.
"Call what army we have together. I want to address them," Randy said. The assistant opened her mouth to say something, but instead went about to do the task at hand silently.
Three hours later, the assembly room was full of soldiers itching to fight. Randy walked out onto the stage and everyone sat silent. He surveyed the audience, then spoke.
"I am General Randolph Eel. President Sickles, leader of the Mystis Movement, has appointed me as commanding general. I don't want to sound preachy, but I want you to remember something out there. You are not only fighting for a government cause. You are not only fighting for a way of life. You are fighting for your children and your children's children, and their children. They are the ones who will ultimately reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of this war in the future.
"You cannot go out there and expect it to be glorious. It won't be. You cannot expect to win evey battle. We won't. Wars are not about who is right. Don't ever think that. They are about how many people are left over. We will win this war because God does not appreciate tyranny in any form and the minute Myst tried to take over and tell us how to make our own laws, they went one step too far."
Everyone sat in awed silence. One person in the back stood up and clapped. The wave of applause then rippled down to the front row until everyone was on their feet and clapping. Randy walked off the stage.
Once he was out of sight of the audience, he looked skyward and prayed, "God help us all to win this war quickly no matter who wins."
--Two Years Later-
Meg Marion paced back and forth in her office. After two years of war, she had had a lot of work to do. True to Marcus' word, she had not been given her own regiment, but an even harder job. Among many other diplomatic duties, she had been given family/relations duty. That was just a fancy way of saying that she had to tell the families about the deaths of their loved ones.
Most of the time, she could get away with a simple note, but for higher officers, President Johnson preferred that Meg personally went out and informed the family. She hated to do that. To see the look on the families' faces... It took all of her control to not break down herself.
Now she was trying to think up something to say to the family of a fellow general who had just died in one of the costliest battles yet. She had known General Soldyern personally and considered him a good friend. Meg was getting a headache. She buzzed Dustin at his desk outside her office.
"Lt. Mercury, will you please come in here to give your daily report," she said in her crisp, on-duty tone. Dusty came in and saluted.
"Sit down and proceed."
"Well General Marion, I have bad news and I have worse news," started Dusty. He paused.
"By all means, start with the bad news," prompted Meg.
"We've gotten more letters than ever from people requesting a proper burial for family members that die in war. They feel that the victims deserve a little better than a quote, 'unceremonious jettisoning,' unquote. President Johnson wishes to remind you that this is all under your jurisdiction. He wishes to know what you plan to do about this."
"What can I do as long as we're losing this war, we haven't any time for burials, much less ceremony. Not to mention space. This is turning out to be the costliest war in history," reasoned Meg.
"Do you want to set up a press conference to tell the people that?" asked Dusty.
"Not really, but I don't have much of a choice, do I? You said something about worse news?" asked Meg, changing the subject.
"General Marion...well...permission to go off the record?" Dusty said hesitantly.
Alarm bells went off in Meg's head. This was serious. "Granted," she said cautiously.
"Meg, the battle of Shales ended today. We lost...again. We have a rough idea of the casualties. We don't have the complete list of course, but, well, Marcus' name is on the list that we have. I'm so very sorry, Meg," said Dusty in a compassionate voice. Dusty saw Meg's eyes water up. She shook her head, and the almost-tears were gone. All emotion in her eyes was gone too. All emotion, that is, except for bitter hatred.
"Lt. Mercury, do you know whose fault this is?" asked Meg.
"No ma'am," he said in a slow voice.
"It is General Eel's fault. Without his command, we would have long since crushed the Mystis army, and my brother would not be dead," said Meg without any emotion in her voice. "We will show the Mystis army our strength and make up for lost battles, get a burial ground for those who die in this war, and I'll get revenge on General Eel personally."
A stealthy group of soldiers, headed by General Marion, stole onto a deserted lawn. Th lawn was huge, for it belonged to a glorious mansion of a very old family: the Eels. The Eels had always lived on Government Center in their mansion, Windy Willows, in the lower residential levels. They had temporarily moved to Myst so that Randy could be born on a real planet and have some real roots. They moved to Mystis when Randy turned eight, because of better schools. They moved back to their mansion when Randy turned eighteen. His parents died soon after during a summer vacation to their Mystis home in the fire that burned it down. Windy Willows was the only real home Randy had left.
"I never thought I'd be coming to Windy Willows for this, but all's fair in love and war," Meg remarked to Dusty in a barely audible voice. "Tell the soldiers to go farther up to the house to bury them there.
"Just for the record, General Marion, I still think that we should have told President Johnson about this and I am doing this strictly under protest," said Dusty in a cool voice.
"Your protest will be noted in my log and report, now tell them," Meg hissed harshly. Dusty complied by signaling Meg's directions to the soldiers. There were twelve total, split into pairs carrying six boxes. The boxes were coffins. The soldiers laid the coffins down when they were about twelve feet from the house. Shovels that were placed on top of the coffins were removed and used to turn away soil. Once there was enough room to put a coffin in and cover it with dirt, it was done. This was repeated with all six in relative silence.
"Wait," said Meg when they had started to drive the wooden marker into the ground, "I want to put my brother's in." The soldiers obliged. Meg Marion stepped back and read her brother's name on the marker. She started to cry openly for the first time since the news of her brother's death.
"Sweet Skies, Dusty, what have I done?" she asked between choking sobs. The stars were starting to wink out of existence and the sun was on the rise. Dusty put his arm around Meg and walked her out of the new cemetery.
"She what?!" exclaimed Randy incredulously.
"She's really just the likely suspect. Our scouts tell us that the graves were just there one morning. Being in charge of burials of the Myst dead, everyone believes it was General Marion's doing, but she probably wasn't in it alone. There were the families that wanted the victims buried," said the courier that was sent to give Randy the breaking news. It was the talk of both planets and Government Center.
"Thank you. That will be all," said Randy in a forlorn voice. Did Meg's hatred of him and his decision so far as to banish him from the only place he had to call home? Randy guessed so.
Randy called President Sickles on his private frequency.
"President Sickles, I respectfully request that you call a temporary truce," said Randy hastily.
"Oh you do, do you? On what grounds?" asked the president in an amused tone.
"To collect any of our dead they still might have in our possession, and for them to collect theirs. Furthermore, I wish to go down there too," Randy responded.
"Would this have anything to do with today's top story?" asked Sickles.
"I'll do it...if it's possible," conceded President Sickles.
President Johnson readily agreed with the collection of their dead, now that Myst had a proper place to put them. Johnson hated the idea, but the families would have nothing less. A transport with people to recover the dead was sent along with a barge to carry the victims back. Randy was aboard the barge. They landed on Myst, and Randy took the now empty transport to Government Center.
He had only a little trouble getting into the cemetery. He merely had to remind the wary guards of the truce and then explain that he had to pay his own respects.
Surprisingly, there was only one person at the cemetery. She stood alone over a freshly dug gravesite. As he got closer, he saw her shoulders gently shaking. Meg was crying.
"If you don't think it would be disparaging to his memory, I'd like to lay these on Marcus' grave," said Randy in a cool voice.
"Of course it wouldn't. Go right ahead. You know, he respected you Randy." Meg didn't turn to face him while she talked.
"I know that he would have wanted you to go on fighting," Randy said. Then he broke down. "Damn it, Meg, tell me you didn't do this! Look me in the eye and tell me!" Randy had grabbed her shoulders and turned her to face him.
Meg looked into his pleading eyes and turned her head away. "I can't."
"That's what I thought," said Randy loosening his grip on her shoulders. She wriggled the rest of her way free. "You know you'll be discharged for not consulting President Johnson on a major decision like this."
"I know." Meg paused. "I'm sorry. I...I...I didn't realize what I had done before it was too late. Randy, I know I can't ask for friendship, but I want to ask forgiveness. You've got to believe me when I say I'm sorry," she said emotionally.
"I...do. And you're right. I don't think things can ever be close enough to how it was before for us to ever be friends again," said Randy in a whisper.
"It's a shame isn't it, General Eel?"
"A crying shame General Marion." With that, the two childhood friends saluted each other and walked away in different directions, both in tears.
Neither Meg Marion, nor Randy Eel ever saw one another again.
Author's note: I wrote this two years ago and I've just now got up the courage to let anyone read it. It's based loosely on a true story of the Civil War (ever wonder where Arlington Cemetery came from?) but I've taken a LOT of creative liberties. I don't even think that the characters are right. Anyway, I'm not that creative when it comes to names, so if you know anything at all about the Civil War you can probably place the historic characters. Anyway, I hope you liked it. Any comments/questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. No flaming please. If you read this, I'd really appreciate a review because this is one of the first stories I wrote that I really liked and I'd like to know what otheres think. Thanks.