This is the 21st round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “U“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
* * *
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
* * *
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “U” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — (added after voting closes)
(3,885 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
The children were the first to notice the ship cresting the horizon. Their sense of wonder and awe stood in sharp contrast to the mix of reactions from the adults; some ran, some also stood in wonder, and some — unable to process the sight — just stood and stared. Many stood in fear, sensing their world was about to drastically change.
On the bridge of the approaching ship, the Captain observed the scene, noticing the mix of reactions on the part of the natives, but more interested in any evidence of weapons. They shouldn’t have anything capable of hurting the ship, but he favored caution when confronted with unfamiliar situations.
“There are vessels approaching,” said the First Officer, relaying the information he received from the crew at the observation stations.
“Do not initiate hostilities, but prepare to respond if provoked,” the Captain ordered as he continued to watch the approaching shoreline.
Figures on the ground appeared to take charge and usher the initial observers away from the shore even as others came to take their place. Based on their movement and similar attire, he surmised they were part of a military force. As they neared, he saw many of them were holding what were probably weapons.
“Why would they even try?” he mused as he signaled to send the crew to their battle stations.
Forty-five years later, the natives were still trying. To be sure, the initial contact likely set the tone for many subsequent interactions. The Captain of the first ship to make contact with the natives was short in diplomacy and a proponent of the use of overwhelming force. After many bloody encounters, the natives had eventually resigned themselves to the occupation, their leaders still in place in what were now mostly honorary positions. They had some sway over the minor matters, but the Colony’s Governor dictated the law, and the Security Force enforced it.
The major commerce and population centers were under Colonial control and direction, as were most businesses and properties. What remained of the native infrastructure and society had been revamped and upgraded to Colonial standards, although adapting colonial technology to native buildings and industries had necessitated some restructuring and the relocation of large groups of natives outside population centers.
Sito looked up from the briefing material. The ship he was on was approaching the port and he wanted to experience the arrival. As the ship slowed and neared its berth, he saw the ground crews prepare for the ship, more than half of them comprised of natives. After two generations, many of the natives who remained in the population centers had integrated and accepted the occupation. Sito knew how that had been accomplished.
Not long after the establishment of colonial rule, native children were forced to attend Colonial-run schools where they learned the colonialist’s language while learning nothing of their own heritage and culture. Once in their teens, and most impressionable, they lived, learned, and worked at the schools. Once of age, they were then integrated back into the general population, often as liaisons between the native-speaking population and the colonialists. Many went on to fill positions of responsibility and formed an intermediary class; above the mostly poor and opportunity-limited natives, but not quite as sophisticated and affluent as the colonialists. In another few generations, and as the older generations died out, likely little — if anything — would remain of the original culture and history.
Sito watched as the crews secured the ship, remaining aboard as the latest wave of colonialists disembarked. Most had land and business claims already lined up, but the younger ones sought to make their fortune by competing with the natives; a competition they were bound to win. Sito recalled his family settling on another…
His thoughts interrupted, Sito turned at the sound of his name.
“Dearan! It’s been many years. It’s nice to see you!”
“Likewise,” Dearan replied. “I just wish it were under better circumstances.”
Sito’s smile strained a bit with the reminder.
“I didn’t know you were stationed here,” Sito said as he followed Dearan off the ship and into the city. They opted to walk to the city center and the Governor’s building.
“I won’t be for long,” Dearan replied. “I’m just here to take you to the Government Building, after which I will be relieved of duty as I prepare to head back.” He pointed at the ship and continued. “As soon as it’s unloaded and restocked, I’ll be on the return voyage.”
Sito laid his hand on Dearan’s arm and they both stopped and faced each other. “You’re being relieved?”
Dearan looked at his friend’s eye for a few seconds before motioning to a small park and benches.
“How much have you been told?” he asked Sito once they had settled on a bench in the shade of a tree. Dearan was used to the brutal sun, heat, and humidity, but guessed that Sito would need some time to adjust.
“There’s a resurgence of native resistance, and it’s become more violent in the past few years,” Sito said. “I’m to assess the situation and propose a course of action to eliminate any threats to the colonists and colony.”
Dearan smiled as he looked down at his hands, but Sito knew him well enough to recognize a sad smile. He waited for Dearan to say something, but instead, Dearan held his hands in front of him.
“There’s blood on these hands. Native blood I spilled in following the orders of the Governor. Not much, but none I can justify to myself.”
Sito didn’t answer. Neither of them had been trained to feel empathy toward native populations. They were to be conquered, partially assimilated, and used. Dearan’s tone spoke of a breakdown in his training, of him looking at natives more as equals than as subjects. It sometimes happened when in contact with native races for an extended period of time, especially if the contact was one-on-one with one or two individuals.
“I don’t think we’ll win this fight,” Dearan added.
Sito looked around. He saw the integration of Colonial technology along with the mode of dress and social interactions. There were a few signs of native culture but, based on what he had read of native culture when they’d first arrived, very little of it remained. At least on the surface, the fight was already won.
Dearan guessed what Sito was thinking.
“You’re looking at it wrong,” he said. “You’re looking at the trappings of a society, but what you’re not seeing is the ideas.”
Sito regarded his friend with something bordering on pity. Dearan had gone native.
“You’re here because the Governor needed someone who would not question the punitive procedures he orders whenever there’s an incident,” Dearan said.
“Dearan,” Sito replied, “I’m here to assess the situation and make recommendations. I’m not taking orders from the Governor. But, you’re right. Part of it is to find a solution to a problem you’ve not been able to address.”
“Tell me what you think is the problem you’ve been asked to solve,” Dearan asked.
“This colony faces an indeterminate number of natives comprising a resistance that has become more forceful and occasionally deadly over the last few years. Its activities have reached a point where the cost of keeping the colonist safe is mounting without any improvement in sight, thus endangering the colony itself.”
Dearan again smiled his sad smile.
“Indeterminate number?” he asked.
“The reports put it as a small but well-organized faction with access to native weapons,” Sito replied.
Dearan swept his hand to encompass the scene before them.
“See the natives out there? Every one of them is in the resistance.”
Sito looked out, suddenly feeling vulnerable.
“Oh, don’t worry; you’re perfectly safe . . . for now, and unless you hurt one of the natives,” Dearan said.
“Look,” he continued. “The reports you’re reading downplay the magnitude of the problem. The Governor doesn’t want to make it look like he’s lost control of the colony. In fact, it’s not just this colony. Every colony I’m in contact with, on this continent and others, is facing the same problem. But this colony faces bigger problems than most.”
“Because these people used to think they were free.”
“What does that mean?”
“No one is ever free,” Dearan answered. “Not you, not me, not even the Governor. We’re always answering to someone, and so were these people. The thing is, they believed they answered to themselves. They believed they were their own masters and, to a certain extent, they were. As close to free as one could get.”
“I don’t understand,” Sito said, wondering if his friend has lost his mind.
“It’s not whether you are free or not,” Dearan answered. “It’s whether you believe you have the right to be free, and these people do, down to their core. No amount of indoctrination or force will change that because once the idea takes hold, it doesn’t let go.”
“I still don’t understand,” he said. “These people have been conquered. As part of that, we’ve introduced a better standard of living, better technology, better medicine, and educated them to a better version of society than they had before.”
Dearan sighed, stood, and they resumed walking toward the Governor’s mansion.
“I don’t expect you to understand, but your life may depend on you coming to grips with the psychology of these people. We have technological and weapons superiority,” Dearan said, “but I’m not convinced we have philosophical superiority. I know we don’t have numerical superiority. Also, though not as advanced, their projectile weapons are just as deadly as ours because they are proficient in their use.”
They went the rest of the way in silence and barely spoke a few days later when Dearan departed.
In the next few weeks, Sito acquainted himself with the incidents that plagued the Colony, and a pattern began to emerge; an escalating pattern. Barely a ripple in the first thirty years or so, it became more defined as time went on.
Sito picked the report for a random incident from a few years back. A colonialist struck a native female who had accidentally bumped into him and made him spill the drink he had been holding. Due to the size differential, he had dislocated her jaw. He’d been reprimanded and paid a nominal fine as restitution for the damage he caused, but three days after that, a group of natives gave him a severe beating. He survived, but just barely.
Those types of retributions grew to encompass broader grievances. A colonialist that misbehaved by physically or socially mistreating a native was certain to pay a price.
A line was crossed when the child of one of the assimilated natives had been struck with enough force to break bones. The child had accidentally damaged the property of one of the colonialists. The mother of the child, a native woman working as a liaison at one of the big settlements, had filed a complaint with the Governor’s office, but rather than punish the colonialist, she was dismissed from her job and barred from working at colonial-run institutions.
Two days later, the colonialist who had struck the child was killed with one of the projectile weapons the natives favored. The weapons were forbidden, but large caches of them were suspected to exist. The woman was immediately arrested and public announcements were posted declaring her an accomplice and demanding the perpetrators turn themselves in.
The scale of the problem was revealed when a small and well-trained group of natives mounted an assault on the detention facility and freed the woman and three other people who were being held for minor crimes. Despite being better armed, three of the guards were killed, and two were wounded. None of the natives were killed or even wounded. The woman and her family went underground, probably in one of the outlying native communities dotting topological areas that were near perfect for isolation and concealment and where the nature of the terrain made patrolling a difficult and dangerous affair.
Nonetheless, the Governor had ordered a reprisal to one of the known encampments. Things got out of hand, and twenty-seven native people died, including some women and children, all of them unarmed.
The answer was swift. Every one of the security personnel who participated in the raid was dead within the week. Since then, any colonialist or colonial security personnel that ventured outside their settlements were subject to attack and to be killed. The Governor no longer left the Government House as it was assumed he was also targeted.
The consequences of that action had even broader ramifications because it meant that native individuals who had been integrated into the ranks of the Security Force were now considered as possibly hostile and had been put on furlough. That had left the Security Force with insufficient manpower to do anything more than live under an unofficial and uneasy truce.
It only took Sito a few days to notice the undercurrent of subtle tension governing nearly all the interactions between colonialists and natives. The situation awaited the spark that would turn it into a full-blown conflict, and unlike the initial encounter, the number of colonialists now vulnerable to attack negated the idea of a heavy-handed approach.
What Sito didn’t know was how the average native felt about the situation. Did it matter to them if they lived under colonial rule or under the rule of one of their own? By nearly all the metrics, their lives were better now than before the colony was established, but Dearan’s words echoed in his mind.
“Can you tell me about the resistance?” Sito asked the woman who was cleaning the security offices late one evening.
The woman stopped what she was doing and looked up at Sito. She seemed to consider something before answering.
“What do you want to know?”
“Do you support them?”
The woman looked at Sito for a few seconds before looking away and answering.
“I’m just a cleaning lady.”
“A good friend told me every native is part of the resistance,” Sito pressed. “Is that true?”
The woman stopped and stood to face Sito.
“What’s the answer that won’t get me arrested or killed?” she asked.
“I’m trying to understand how things are. What do ordinary people think about the resistance? ” Sito asked. “At this point, an understanding helps the resistance as well as me.”
“Is that so?” the woman asked in a neutral tone that still sounded a bit sarcastic to Sito. Setting aside his annoyance, he pressed on.
“I’m trying to avoid a bloodbath. The way things are escalating, one seems inevitable,” Sito replied. “At some point, the escalation would result in an all-out war, and I don’t think either side wants that.”
“Strange that you would say that, given that you people were the aggressors. And, that your side still opts for force as opposed to negotiations.”
“Who would we negotiate with?”
The woman considered Sito for a moment before speaking.
“I hear things. The last attempt at negotiations was actually a trap. It didn’t work, but since then, it’s assumed the Governor is not acting in good faith.”
Sito regarded the woman. It dawned on him that her mode of speaking and near-flawless use of Sito’s language spoke of someone above the station of a cleaning lady. He noticed a few other things; the woman was fit and Sito suspected her slow movement and subservient demeanor were deliberate attempts at being inconspicuous.
Sito moved his hand toward his sidearm and he got to see just how fast a trained native, a woman, no less, could move. Before he knew what had happened, he was on the floor, the woman backing off from him and holding Sito at the point of Sito’s own weapon.
“We’re going for a walk,” she said.
“If you’re going to kill me, do it here,” Sito replied. “I will not be a hostage for your safe passage.”
“If I wanted to kill you, you’d be already dead. You said you wanted to learn about the resistance? Well, here’s your chance.”
“You’re saying I won’t be killed?”
“You have my word, and unlike that of your Governor, my word is my bond. If you’re serious about avoiding a bloodbath, follow me.”
With that, the woman set Sito’s weapon on the nearest desk, turned, and headed off. “Leave the weapon,” she added.
After a moment’s hesitation, Sito rose and followed, catching up to her near the exit to the building. Outside, they got into one of the native vehicles that had been modified to use colonialist technology. In near silence, they rolled through empty side streets and onto the main thoroughfare out of the city.
“Give me your personal tracker and communication device,” the woman said as they rolled through the outskirts of the city.
“How do you know about those?” Sito asked.
“We had a satellite network and similar devices before your people arrived. You wiped out our satellites, but we know you have your own network in place.”
Sito considered the woman for a moment, and then handed the tracker and communication to the woman and she tossed them out of the moving vehicle.
“What do you want to know?” she asked.
“I can wait until we meet with someone in charge,” Sito replied.
The woman smiled and said nothing. She pulled a small device and spoke into it in her native language.
A half-hour outside the city, they pulled off the road and onto an unpaved track going through a heavily wooded area. Even with thermal imaging and radar imaging, these forest areas were a difficult place for the satellites to monitor.
The vehicle slowed to a crawl and after a final turn, nearly stopped under an improvised shelter. Three people were waiting there.
“Get out of the vehicle.”
Sito looked at her, and then, the vehicle barely moving, he got out. The woman also exited the vehicle, and another person got on. As he watched, the vehicle picked up speed and continued on, Sito’s last hope for remote tracking going with it.
They waited a few minutes and then another vehicle approached. This was a pre-Colonial all-terrain vehicle the natives used for recreation. There was no Colonial technology used in it and thus invisible to surveillance systems.
Sito, the woman, and two men got on and they drove off following an even smaller dirt track and sometimes no track at all. After twenty minutes, they came to a heavily camouflaged camp. Beneath netting and shielding, various temporary buildings stood in a semicircular arrangement. Lighting was provided by low-powered amber lights that barely registered even at a short distance, but that provided sufficient illumination for the people to move around.
Sito and the woman entered one of the buildings through a double door system that didn’t allow interior light to shine outside.
Once inside, they sat on opposite sides of a table, with an empty chair next to the woman.
A few moments later, a man entered and sat next to the woman. Sito studied the man who stared back expressionless and in silence.
“So,” Sito said, addressing the man, “you’re the leader of the resistance.”
“Yes, I am,” the woman said.
Sito turned to her. “He doesn’t speak my language?” he asked.
“He does, but I’m the leader,” the woman answered, smiling.
Sito sat back in surprise.
“Obviously, this will end my usefulness as a cleaning woman, but I deemed the opportunity worth the loss of intelligence gathering.”
“What is it you wanted to know about us, Sito?” She asked.
Sito considered the woman. The psychology of the native females had been sorely understudied. He was tempted to assume it was similar to that of the males with regard to broad considerations but probably influenced by other factors for more specific issues.
“Where do you see this going?” Sito asked.
“Ideally? I’d like you and your people off our planet,” the woman replied. She held her hand up as Sito was about to respond, and continued. “Practically, it’s too late for that.”
The woman paused, and Sito picked up the line of thought . . .
“… because my friend was wrong. It not all of you; some are sympathetic to Colonial rule.”
“… and what else?” the woman asked.
Sito understood where she was leading him.
“… and some colonialists are sympathetic to your cause,” Sito finished.
“People in power tend to only see half of the equation,” the woman said. “Pragmatically, the best course of action is coexistence. Here’s the catch . . . there are factions within your society and mine that are against any kind of compromise. Most people are not at the extremes, but if those are the only choices, then that’s where they will drift.”
The more Sito spoke with the woman, the more he kept revising his estimation of her . . . upward.
“I’m not sure how much I can move the needle toward the solution you mention. For one, how would we even begin to negotiate a set of rules that would be equitable to all, for another, as you mentioned, there’s no incentive for people in power to relinquish any of it,” Sito said.
“On your second point, you said it yourself,” the woman replied. “We’re on the cusp of a bloodbath. All that it will take is the right incident and then events will unfold of their own volition regardless of the desire of individuals or even groups. You should strive to impress that fact on your superiors.”
The woman reached into a pocket and produced a small booklet. Little more than a pamphlet, it was adorned with geometric designs, and she slid it across the table to him.
“As for your first point, this is something we had forgotten and which, through our greed and self-interest, had weakened in power and effect. It took an off-world invasion to remind us of what the words mean and why they matter,” she said. “It’s something we translated into your language. I suggest it may be a baseline for negotiations. ”
The following morning, Sito was dropped off near the Government building, the little booklet in hand. He stood there, processing all that he had heard. He still wasn’t sure what he should report and decided to sit in the shade of a tree and clear his mind.
As he watched the hustle and bustle of the city awakening to a new day, his subconscious morphed into an awareness of something until it snapped into focus. He looked down at the geometric designs on the cover of the booklet. Alternating red and white stripes, and stars in a field of blue. He opened the booklet and read the title page:
Looking up, once aware of it, Sito realized Dearan was right. They were never going to win. Every native person, every native business, and every native artifact Sito saw sported subtle elements of the design. These people hadn’t forgotten where they came from, and never would. The only way forward was through compromise and mutual cooperation, and he hoped he could convince his superiors of it.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click this LINK and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Unmaking a Monster <<Link
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
Note: if you are not reading this blog post at DisperserTracks.com, know that it’s copied without permission, and likely is being used by someone with nefarious intentions, like attracting you to a malware-infested website. Could be they also torture small mammals.
Note 2: it’s perfectly OK to share a link that points back here.