southernisms: (Siobhan)
[personal profile] southernisms
Typically, it takes a monumental event to make a person see the larger picture, and for me, that cataclysmic event was the invasion of Earth by aliens. When I learned of the news over radio broadcasts, at first I thought it was just some stupid BBC show designed to scare people – hadn’t the Americans done the same thing with a show back in the 30s? It wasn’t until we were all addressed by a general from the Royal Army to apprise us of the situation that I realised that the greatest threat to Northern Ireland's sovereignty was not the English. No one in the United Kingdom or Ireland was safe from the devastation, and if this new enemy succeeded, Ireland would never be unified...mainly because there would be nothing left to unify her.

Then, as many other of my fellow prisoners also wondered: why was the Army here to address us? Surely this would be a job for the prison warden, wouldn’t it? The words that came next from that officer gave me no comfort at all: as military and law enforcement were cut down, Her Majesty’s Army fell on the only reserves it had available, namely us. The floodgates opened, and every prisoner in our compound was field-commissioned as a private and promised a full pardon…if we survived. We were also told that this was a worldwide situation and that even global powers like America and China had exhausted a large portion of their own forces in order to fight the military threat and were now relying on much the same thing as the Queen had done here.

As we were divided into groups and assigned to our new posts, I almost found it ironic that I was now a private in a foreign army; and even more, I was now a member of what I’d spent a great number of my years fighting against. But in a stroke of black humour that proved that God has a sense of irony, I found myself assigned – by request, no less – to a new team of Marines, led by none other than that gruff old colour sergeant who had come out of recent retirement just to fight the enemy. Our assignment, I discovered, was to sweep through Belfast, and then into Ireland proper in order to assist the nearly-decimated Irish military, which had almost to a man fallen in the first couple hours of the war.

After we were divided into our respective fire teams, we were loosened into the war zone that was once the city of Belfast. I then learned my final lesson, the one that I then realized that my father had tried to teach me back so long ago: no matter how powerful you think you are, there is someone who is magnitudes more so than you, and it will take something else to defeat your enemy if that’s the case. Never in my most dire nightmares could I have imagined such unmitigated devastation, for neither Catholic Irish nor Protestant English could control a dead city. The unburied corpses of Northern Irish, regardless of lineage or creed, lay decaying with none to bury them. As arriving reinforcements for a beleaguered battle line, we had no time to do so. The most we could do was to vaporize the bodies with our laser rifles set at maximum and pray that this would be enough.

None of us had much time to ponder much of anything about the city’s fate much less the mortality of life, however, as none escaped the eye of the Rikti. As they were overcome with another wave of aggressors, the Rikti were forced to fall back, especially since this new wave fought with much more ferocity. For many of us, violence was the only language we spoke, and the Rikti answered in kind as two sides who spoke the same language clashed in the sort of “debate” that one usually summed up in a word: apocalypse.

Soon, it became clear to each and every one of us that we were no longer fighting for our freedom; we were fighting for our very survival. Loyalist battled alongside Republican, English died alongside Irish – having fought, perhaps for the first time in history, with instead of against. In short order, we were able to sweep them out of Northern Ireland and as we moved into the Republic proper, the battle became even more vicious. Our squadron lost more troops in the first five minutes of moving into Irish territory than it had during the battle within the previously contested lands. Even still, we had no choice but to push on, and it became apparent that if we were going to win, the gloves were going to have to come off.

That being said, after conferring with my sergeant, he gladly agreed that I should drop my rifle and don my old fighting gloves. And with a sort of relief; I’d never liked the comfort of fighting from a distance, anyway. I stepped in up close and personal to introduce the Rikti to the System, unleashing my explosive power after years of coiled training and refining. I threw all of myself into battling the Ritki, earning awe and adoration even from those who had once feared and reviled the name of the 'Black Witch.' I was now called by my given name, though many times it would have some kind of angelic nomenclature tacked on for good measure. I was still a dark angel of death, but it was death to the enemies of our world and comfort to those too weak to defend themselves. I was once called a 'true Republican', then a 'vicious murderer', and now I was being called 'the saviour of the Isles'. From that point on, I gained true legendary status but this time, I placed no stock in it. I’d been taken once by that sort of hubris, I would not let it happen again – too many lives depended on it, and this was no time to become the puffed up, strutting peacock I’d been just before I was arrested.

It was on this battlefield that I realised my father’s vision of the true purpose of martial arts, and during those down times, the few moments of peace that we had, that I found myself realising what a bloody fool I’d been. All those years he’d tried to instil in me that there was a better way to solve problems and that violence was a last resort. As I’d suffered from years of being forgotten by my IRA 'friends' and become 'one of the squaddies' with my one time enemies, I now understood that I’d been wrong, so damned wrong about my affairs as a Republican. If I had understood that before, I would have saved myself years of pain and suffering, and maybe I would have been able to have a better relationship with my father. It also occurred to me that he’d never given up on me, that those letters he wrote, still unread back in my prison cell back in Britain, may have been ones trying to reconcile with me and give me hope and courage. As the weeks of battle turned into months, I found myself more and more regretting all I had done and to work to make amends for it. Most of all, though, I wished to have found myself yearning to make up with my father.

Tragically, I was never able to tell him. It was down in war-torn Dublin that my team encountered him and his forces, during the worst of the fighting in Ireland. I saw him across a wasteland of broken buildings, Rikti remains, and human corpses, fending off multiple Rikti enemies. He fought with a kind of viciousness that I had yet to witness from anyone I had known in the IRA, the full force of his powers unleashed like a colossal tidal wave against the shoreline. My father took down countless Rikti until he himself fell, a lone man against many. To my surprise, the Ritki considered him such a threat that they used an ion bomb – something they usually only wielded against ships and tanks – to kill him. Maybe they felt it was the only way to stop him. Maybe it truly was the only way to do so.

In that act, I finally accorded him the respect that I had for so long refused him, but too little too late. It was at that moment I awoke to the fact that I would never measure up to his greatness. He was the true hero; I was simply the arrogant pretender. I would have rushed to avenge him with whatever passes for their blood and likely died in the attempt, had not my sergeant held me back and all but dragged me to safety.

That night, I sat there, yearning for revenge and very much would have broken ranks to have it, had it not been from a memory from the past. That night, I remembered my father’s story from years ago about his chance to have killed my mother’s killer and how he chose the higher path. And finally, after years of denial, I understood his final lesson to me: always choose the route of the just above the route of the banal. And as I looked across the distance at the radioactive pit that was my father’s tomb, I realized that somehow in my awakening to the facts that I had finally become my father’s heir to the System, yet it paled in comparison to what he had achieved. I was ready for this inheritance in skill, but I had much a ways to learn in terms of valour, and I could only hope that he would look favourably on me from heaven.

Like my father, myriads died to end the Ritki threat, and even with my skills in the arts of war, I considered myself merely lucky to have survived. By the time the Ritki were forced to retreat, the numbers of the dead were beyond counting, and no one was left unscathed by the war. After the necessary mourning period and when humankind went about the business of rebuilding, the British and Irish governments were re-established, respectively, from the remnants of the collective United Kingdom's and Ireland's governing bodies. True to the promises of its predecessors, the new government granted those surviving prisoners full pardons. Cynically, I believe this was less due to their altruism than fears that returning a large portion of widely-recognised heroes back to prison would have incited riots from London to Shetland to Galway. Politicians will always be politicians until Judgement Day itself, and these new ones were hardly any better than the last batch. But as long as my sentence was abolished, I had no inkling to complain.

Furthermore, I was told that the two sides were working to finally settle the North Ireland situation peacefully. If there was anything that could be said that the Ritki accomplished, it was that it severed the cycle of violence once and for all in Belfast. Catholics went and helped to build Protestant churches. Royalists helped to restore Republican homes, and even the titles went away – all were Northern Irish, and whether that would be under a British, Irish, or even independent flag, they would all be working for a peaceful future as one.

This hardly meant that my life was now a bed of roses, however. My sergeant, now promoted as a result of the war to a major’s slot, warned me of the changes taking place within the new government. From his elevated position, he could see how the tide was turning and how people I had caused trouble for in the past were moving into high positions within the new government. In our part of the world, memories are long and extend back for generations -- where I’m from, people still speak the name “Cromwell” like a curse. And 'hero' status and media darling be damned, as far as these people were concerned, my penance would only be paid in full with a noose around my neck. The wisest thing for me to do would be to leave the country, he informed me, whether to Australia, Canada, or even the States. He then handed me several thousands of pounds -- hardly necessary since I’d inherited the whole of my father’s estate -- and a one-way ticket to New York City. From there, I would find my way to ultimately where I needed to go.

As he saw me off at Heathrow, I finally asked the old man: why had he done so much for me? Why, despite being his greatest enemy, had he requested that I be on his team and that he ensured my safety after the war? He was treating me like a kindly old uncle would treat his niece rather than the way an old adversary would treat his opponent, even if now we were on the same side. As we sat at the bar, waiting for my flight to be called, I felt I had to ask him that. There was something strange about it all, something I just could not put my finger on.

The old major set down his drink, then gave me, for probably what was one of the few times in his life, a kindly, loving smile. He told me of when he was a young man, assigned as a sniper team to a Royal Army unit so long ago, and of a job he had to do where he had to kill a den of spies. He did his duty, but it sickened him to have fired on them while they were unarmed, especially his first target: a woman. After that assignment, the Marines pulled him back from that duty and gave him some furlough time with his family in Liverpool. He recalled an assassin sent by the IRA, standing at the window and ready to kill him, but who backed away from it. He found that same assassin years later and asked him why he’d stayed his hand. The assassin had told him that he had 'found a better way'.

The major remembered that statement and took it to heart, making a lifelong friendship with the would-be assassin, one that lasted as the major’s son and wife were killed in a car accident years later. Now unmarried and childless, the major had heard about the assassin’s problem with his own child and promised to do what he could to keep tracks on that child’s situation. Despite the danger, the major gave the assassin classified reports on the child’s situation, not to pass to the enemy, but to ensure that the child was still hale and safe. Though the reports also revealed how the child had become a monster, the assassin, buoyed up by hope and the friendship of the major, had never given up the faith that the child would learn some day.

As the years went on, it was that major’s team that stepped into the fray to ensure that the child would be captured instead of killed, as was the Army’s preference. It was the major that ensured that the child was given a fair trial, and not just thrown in a dank cell and forgotten, as I’d heard happened to many of the IRA’s biggest 'names'. It was the major that gave the assassin the information of the child’s whereabouts, allowing the assassin to write to his only child, despite the fact that child had never given the assassin that same information. When the war came about, knowing the child’s prowess and keeping in mind his promise to the assassin, he had the child assigned to his team. And now that danger was afoot still, he would keep his promise.

In his old, gruff voice, he told me, "I have kept my word to your father that I would see you safe, Siobhán. I have kept my prayer promise to your mother’s memory that I would do so. But I cannot any longer, save to have you go to safety. And here is where we must part." With that, just as the airport announcer called for my flight, the old major kissed me on the forehead as a kindly old uncle would his beloved niece, and stepped out of my life.

As I boarded the flight and all throughout it, I cried tears. I cried tears for the years that I had lost. I cried for a mother that I’d never known. I cried for a father that I pushed away and was never able to forgive for crimes he had never committed. And I now cried for an 'uncle' that had seen me safe throughout the years, though I’d hated him for so long. I may have now been the master to The System, but I was also the biggest fool the world had ever seen. And as the flight neared its end, I realized that I had been wrong about what I’d thought years ago, in the prison: accounts were not settled. Indeed, they were wider open than I’d ever realised, and it would take a lifetime to repay the debt to the three.

February 2017

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