*** This piece was written for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge: Ten Little Chapters ***
The Dead Zone
Aislene rolled over, taking the covers with her. There was serenity in her features, a healthy glow to her cheeks. Her tousled hair caught the burgeoning sunlight, which, by degrees, wrenched us from cold night.
I leaned across and kissed her forehead; her sleeping frame juddered.
The newscasts were still full of only one story, a week after it had broken. But they weren’t to know the latest Peace Accord was a fraud.
Shots of smiling dignitaries – that historic handshake – were mashed together with battle scenes from conflicts past, a war so old it was hard to remember who or what had started it.
The Kitchen Slave 5000 brought steaming kafala to the table and a plate of Krang toast, done to perfection.
I muted the newscast so I could hear Aislene singing in the shower – closed my eyes and let it all wash over me. There was no escaping the sadness.
I have no memories of my father.
I keep a picture on the dresser, the three of us together. I couldn’t have been any older than four or five. The ocean is behind us, the sun shining. My dad’s eyes are hidden behind the largest sunglasses you’ve ever seen, but the summer in Askillon is a world away from the cobalt skies of Quanus. My mother’s attention is divided between the camera and me perching precariously on my dad’s shoulders.
In that 12th Peace Accord they had tried to breed the violence and hatred out of the warring worlds, offered up monetary incentives for mixed marriages.
When peace failed my dad was repatriated back to Quanus. I was allowed to stay, with all the other half-breeds, but I didn’t truly belong.
Aislene walked out the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her slender figure. She leaned over me and grabbed a piece of Krang toast.
“Can you believe they finally did it?” she said, her voice full of optimism.
“Let’s see if it’ll last,” I cautioned.
She sat on my lap, dropping crumbs onto my shirt. “You know what this means?” Her smile broadened. “We won’t have to hide any more, we won’t—”
“Just hold that thought,” I said. “Don’t go telling anyone about us yet.”
I pulled the knot in her towel and it dropped to the floor.
“Baby, I have a flight to catch…”
I knew how important it was she caught that flight. But I just wanted to make love to her again. Sometimes you have to live in the moment.
My dad died when I was ten. I was pulled out of class and sent home in a taxi. My mother sat in the living room, the floor an untidy mess of scrunched-up tissues. Their separation had torn her apart, but she had not looked at another man. Would not.
I always tried to imagine how she coped but never came close. We were at war and the father of her child was the enemy. She had no friends, no contact with the man she loved – just the stigma of a mongol son, a child the peace process had failed.
The Dead Zone – millions of miles of empty space around the moon of Ecrillus. For the Quani people it is a sacred resting place. Since I was young I have looked through my telescope towards the faint glowing moon in search of frozen Quani corpses.
My mother threw herself from our high-rise window a couple of years after my dad died. I was rehoused with my aunt. For weeks the other kids in school regaled in telling me that bits of my mother were still showing up around that block. One kid said his pet albys carried back a hand and buried it in his garden. I punched him so hard his teeth came out, the brute strength of the Quani rising up in me. After that I was not allowed in their schools again.
I have met only one other Quani my entire life. He came after mum’s funeral, called himself a cop but I knew what he was from the distinguishing ridge on his brow. We spoke in his Police skeet. He told me not to be afraid, that he, and others like him, were looking out for me. He gave me an info card, told me to look at it. Alone. I did. The propaganda played powerfully to my vulnerabilities.
Most people agree Askillon was winning the war. It was their rain bombs that brought about the latest Peace Accord and allowed them to dictate terms. Thanks to my duel blood I was never invited to fight for the Askillon cause. I had that, at least, to be thankful for.
Best estimates put the death toll of all wars at 17 billion Askillons and 26 billion Quani. I hope my mother and father are included in those figures.
The Quani agent visited me again the day the Peace Accord was signed. That is how I knew it was phony. He said I had to choose a side – that the war had to end.
Of course, he was merely testing my allegiance – I was exposed to the virus as soon as I met him. I’m pretty sure that if I’d protested he’d have gunned me down where I stood.
I was contagious within a week but my Quani genes meant I would remain asymptomatic. True Askillonians would not be so lucky.
I kissed Aislene goodbye, told myself she was destined to die one way or another. She coughed twice on her way out the door. It had already begun. By sundown the virus would reach the farthest reaches of Askillon.
I had found the Dead Zone.