This is Issue #93 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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“War is merciless,” Danival said quietly. “War is my job — and I am good at my job,” he told her. “Am not always enjoying job, Sha. But I am General because I am good at it. I wore the raptors for Centralis, and now the wolves for Kriegsland because I am making hard choices where no one else will.”
Sha remembered telling Kieron nearly the same thing, when she prepared her crew to fire on the Maxima. She bowed her head, briefly, grinding her teeth. This wasn’t the same. This couldn’t possibly be the same.
“I have made those choices, Dani,” Sha said, furious. “I have made the hard choices, and I have been responsible for more death than I care to think about, most days. But I am telling you, inviting an attack onto a civilian-occupied–“
“Is not civilians,” Danival interrupted.
“What?” Sha looked around again, her fists uncle china.
“I tell you of serpent? Looking at these civilians. Looking closely. They are wearing armor under traveling cloaks. More of them here are in armor than not,” he said, frowning slightly.
She’s eyes narrowed as she took a slow walk around their little area, noting the groupings, looking them over with feigned indifference.
“You seeing?” Danival asked quietly.
“Fine. They’re army. But you didn’t know. You didn’t know that before you and yours arranged all this,” Sha said softly.
“If you are being angry to me for arranging attack, you are being angry to me for being part of overall machinations of war machine. Machine in which you are also being lever.” Danival watched the crowd without really moving — he had the look of a man who stared ahead blankly because the world around him mattered very little, compared to the task at hand, or perhaps one who had already been broken.
“I’m allowed to hate what you’re doing. I hate what I’ve done. I don’t love Centralis; I love flying. I don’t love the Allied army, I love my crew. I love exploring. I love the sky,” Sha said, sourly staring down at where she stood on the flagstones.
“Why am I not allowed to be loving the same thing?” Danival asked quietly.
“You’re not railing against the idea of acceptable losses. You’re not–“
“Not standing here grieving, knowing I cannot be saving little children? Knowing they are dying soon because of war they are not even knowing?” Danival said, his low voice pitched just for her. “Because I am following orders, as you follow orders, but I am not speaking of my heart conflicted, I am more monster?”
There was that word again.
Sha hung her head, angry. More and more she felt like an idiot child who didn’t understand what it was grown ups were all so concerned and busy about. Things had been clearer before, hadn’t they? The last clear thing she remembered was clinging to the wall as she watched the masked Guardian of Ilona open Djara’s throat to the rain.
That was a monster, wasn’t it? She remembered hearing it howl. She remembered the way it challenged them, painting itself in Djara’s blood and opening its arms. The storm had been screaming around them, and she had answered the monster’s beckoning, deciding then and there that she would fight that thing until she couldn’t. She would fight it until it died, or she did.
“I’m sorry, Dani,” Sha said. “I don’t know what any of us are, anymore. Monster, man, Westlander, Blacklander. The whole thing made sense at one point, didn’t it?”
“This is why I am no having bleeding heart discussion,” he said. “Is not that heart is not bleeding. Is that heart will always bleed. Fearing and sadness — they come, they go, they wash the heart and keep it feeling, keep it being heart and not stone. Must always let the feeling come, or you run risk of having no heart, having stone heart. That is thing that laughs at blood and fire and dying children. That is thing that sees only in terms of victory,” Danival explained. He shrugged to her, looking faintly apologetic.
“So, what,” Sha laughed darkly, “you don’t talk about it anymore, because that way you can keep your duty clear in your mind?”
“Yes.” Dani nodded soberly. “Orders must still be followed. What happens if we do not attack? What happens if we get signal to ship to retreat?”
“The Ilonans are already mobilized — we might not get them to stand down. Instead, we would have heavy losses because we were trying to get back North while they were attacking us from behind,” Sha said. “But that doesn’t justify the fact that you’re sending your army in the first place. What if you hadn’t sent them at all?”
“You and remaining crewman? Dead. With Alec. In wilderness,” Dani said. “There would be no changing of political climate between Centralis and Blacklands. Kriegsland being isolationist. Slow war of no goals would continue for years. Do you know what certain Ilonan ships are doing? Why Kriegsland refuses to stand down?”
Sha sighed, watching the crowd. She nodded. “The hands. The ears.”
“Is the serpent,” Danival said. “Is not all of Blacklands, but prince would not condemn soldiers for being too bloodthirsty. Would not punish them for behaving outside bounds of proper war.”
“Proper war,” Sha said, laughing harshly.
“Yes, proper,” Danival said. “You are knowing what it is, but you are shaming it because it is inelegant solution to inelegant problems.”
“I hate it.” Sha looked up at him, her eyes fierce, furious. “This land is full of brilliant people, scholars, linguists, chemists. We demonize the lot of them because of actions of the few and we discount everything we were given unless we can think of some thieves’ way of saying their advances were actually ours.”
“They doing the same to you, to us.” Danival’s voice was gruff, angry. “They torturing soldiers. Not just killing. War is killing. Soldiers knowing this. But torturing — inhumane. It is inhumane, what they do.”
“War is inhumane,” Sha said. “We, as a species, would do well to remember that we want to survive. All of us want to survive.”
“Are you Captain, or are you philosopher?”
“Can’t I be both?”
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