This story is by Jonathan “Jon” Hutchison and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Two Worlds, One Peace
War had been raging for ten years. Like most wars, two worldviews had come into conflict. There could be only one victor. In the end, there would only be captives and captors. This was one of history’s inevitable lessons.
John guessed he had been a captive for at least six months. He had endured the torture inflicted by his captors. His will was strong, but John had taken to scratching hash marks on the cell wall as a way to remind himself to resist.
It was morning again. John heard the sound of keys unlocking the door to his cell. The metal door groaned open. There, in the dim light of the hallway, was John’s captor.
“Prisoner 215, today you will see the doctor. Perhaps he will set your arm and put it into a cast. All your effort at defending yourself was for nothing,” said the guard.
“I remember the beating differently than you,” answered John. “If it had been just you and me, you would be the one needing the doctor.”
The guard shot back, “I do not understand your need for bravado. You are the vanquished one, not I.”
“You have not given me anything to eat or drink in three days,” said John. “What will the doctor think about that?”
The guard moved quickly, standing face to face with John. “You know the rules. You will not talk to the doctor when he examines you. He has no need to hear your whimpering. If you ever hope to eat or drink any of our precious resources, you will remain silent in the doctor’s presence. He will decide what you need.”
Without warning, the guard punched John so hard he gasped for air. John had no time to prepare for the assault. It was over in just a few moments. A final kick to John’s body, which now lay on the cold stone floor, was the guard’s silent parting gesture.
Day after day, the same scenario played itself out. The guard would unlock the door, walk in to the cell, tell his captive the doctor would be in and there would be another beating. The door then slammed shut. A new day of suffering had begun.
One afternoon, completely off schedule, the guard stormed into the cell, pulled John to his feet, threw him against the cell wall and yelled, “Your troops have just killed my son. They cut him down when they entered my home. He was just ten years old. How can your people be so cruel?” screamed the guard, “where is their humanity?”
John hesitated before he spoke. Instead of defending himself or asking for food and water, John spoke gently to his captor.
“Sir, I am very sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine the pain you are feeling or the anger you have towards me and my countrymen. I too, have lost a child in this war. He was a hero in my heart as I am certain your young son would have been to you.”
John continued, “I am your prisoner and I do not expect you to understand my feelings at hearing of your son’s death. But I know for sure, there has been enough cruelty for both our lifetimes.”
“How dare you speak to me like that. You and your country have invaded my home. You are destroying everything you touch, just as you did to your own country. You poisoned your water, you fouled the air you breathed, you left the soil unable to sustain growth.”
“When your people ran out their resources to consume, you came here after our resources. You came uninvited. You are killing us. You are again destroying our way of life,” said the guard.
“All my countrymen want is to live unaffected by your people. You and your country, because of greed and selfishness, could not live together. You ended up fighting one another instead of learning to take care of each other. You choose competition rather than cooperation. You destroyed your country. Now you come after us.”
The guard leaned up against the cell wall. He stared out the cell’s small window. He saw the fires and smoke consuming the countryside. The guard wept at the thought of his country so deep at war. His way of life, even if his world beat back John’s world, would never be the same.
“Ever since we escaped and settled this country, we knew your people would be coming after us. We knew your temperament, your excess, your selfishness. We hoped in our hearts we had put enough distance between your world and ours. And yet you followed us, never relenting, never ceasing to devour us. You did not ask, you just took and you are still taking.”
John knew the words his captor spoke were true. “Sir, I acknowledge we made a mess of our world and I am aware it appears to you and your countrymen we are trying to conquer your homeland. Let me assure you there are some of us who came here hoping to learn from your people. We came to learn how to live together.”
“Your words are not backed up by the evidence,” answered the guard. “Your leaders never ask for conversation, just conquest. They demand everything we have. These are not reasonable actions for people who want to learn another way. There is no evidence that your people want to learn anything from us. You see us as your captives, your wartime booty, even before this game of war has concluded.”
“And yet, here we are,” said John. “I’ve lost track of who is captive and who is captor. All I see are two men who have sacrificed their sons to causes that have brought us both unbearable suffering. Sir, of all the places you could be now, of all the people with whom you could surround yourself, you have chosen to come here into my cell to speak with me about the harm we have inflicted on one another.”
“Neither of us has the power, position, or authority to end this war,” said John. “We are sent to war by those who rule over us. We cannot disobey their orders or decisions. We are fighting against our leaders as surely as we have been fighting against one another. But sir, here in this moment, we are just two soldiers who have lost our sons, have lost our homes, have lost control of our lives because of the decisions of others.”
Neither person spoke. The guard hesitated just a moment more, stood tall before his captive and left the cell. John heard the lock being secured once again. He felt a strange kind of peace. He settled down onto the floor and went to sleep, hoping to dream of things he loved.
The next morning, the door opened as usual. But the guard was not alone this time. The doctor was with him. John was examined quickly. “Your arm is indeed broken and must be quite painful. I will get my supplies and get you some fresh clothes to wear. I will return in about thirty minutes. In the meantime, Colonel Rivera has something for you.”
Three men came in and set down a wooden table and two chairs. They brought trays covered by white clothes. They left as quickly as they had arrived.
John’s captor returned from the hallway and gestured for John to join him at the table. “I am Colonel Hector Rivera. What is your name Prisoner 215?”
“My name is Major John Applegate.”
“Major Applegate, will you join me in some breakfast? I think you will find it to your liking.”
The colonel continued, “Major, you are correct that we are victims not of our cruelty, but of the cruelty of our separate worlds and our leaders. We cannot end this conflict today, but in the midst of this war, perhaps we can find a moment of peace. Let us eat and then speak of our dreams and hopes. There will be fighting to come. We cannot stop that, but just for now, let us keep one another safe. Let us allow each other time and space to mourn all those who are near to our hearts.”
The Major nodded in silent agreement.
This was the day the peace began. A survivor from the corpse planet known as Mars sat down to a simple meal with a representative from the new colony located in Galaxy Messier 31. Two worlds met as one.