With a fresh kill in tow, the hunter made his way back to camp through the snow-covered forest. The weight of the stag labored his every step. A cold snap hit. Sharp, biting winds whipped icy... [+]
That was, until I opened my eyes and found myself staring, not at a remorseless killer, but at a terrified child no taller than my knee gazing up with pleading eyes. I gritted my teeth and steeled my resolve. I once again felt my finger coil around the trigger as the cold metal bit into my skin. But in retrospect I know that even then, as I feebly tried to convince myself this was no child but a mere animal who would grow into a merciless warlord, I knew I couldn’t shoot. Time slowed as I released my grip on the blaster and raised my arms in surrender. The gun clattered to the floor, announcing my presence to all. Then I just stood there, numb and detached, as two armed adult Straxians restrained my arms with their cold, scaly fists.
After all of the propaganda the Bureau had pushed, I’d fully expected to be tortured when the Straxians took me prisoner. I’d expected to learn that this was all an elaborate ruse to steal Bureau battle plans. But the longer I was on the ship, the clearer it became that my suspicions were wrong. The distress call was genuine, and instead of the titanium tazercuffs I was warned of, my hands were bound by a simple scrap of cloth, and I was sat down, not in the fabled reality isolation cells, but on a spare bedpost. They did search me for weapons, but it wasn’t nearly as thorough as the nightmarish probing I’d been taught to envision in Bureau training - the Straxians didn’t even take my communicator. I briefly entertained the notion that I might call my crew for backup so they could teleport me onboard. With their ship so badly crippled, the Straxians would be completely unable to fight back, and the Starship Valere would quickly obliterate them, leading my crew and me to be hailed as heroes. But once again, these delusions of grandeur ceased when I saw the Straxians. There were families there with mothers and children all crowded together for warmth. The way they looked at me with a gaze of fear mingled with immediate recognition forced me to confront the glaring reality in front of me. The “Traxies” weren’t bloodthirsty beasts but actual people, and they were just as afraid of me as I was of them. This was no warship, these were refugees.
After a few minutes, a particularly intimidating Straxian - presumably their leader - entered my makeshift cell, and, for a minute, I wondered whether the gruesome rumors I’d heard about how their race treated prisoners of war had any merit. It took me a moment to realize I’d been tuning out the Straxian listing my rights. In fact, before that moment was unaware I even had rights by Straxian laws. As the he continued on and on, I cut him off saying,
“Hey, I came to your ship with the intention to help, and I just want to have a talk. The way I see it, your ship is in distress, and you won’t last much longer if you don’t get any assistance, which currently, I’m you’re only hope for.”
A wave of discomfort passed through the Straxian’s face.
“Unfortunately, that appears to be our present circumstance, yes”
“And you probably think that there’s no chance I’d ever help you because of the war you caused by starting The Incident-”
“WE caused the incident?” All discomfort in the Straxian’s face was immediately replaced by rage. “That was all you humans! Thousands of Straxian lives were claimed in your pointless massacre.”
"Pointless massacre! You were the ones who--"
At this moment I realized I had no concrete knowledge of what actually happened during the Incident. Of course, the media had their speculations but no government agency, Bureau or otherwise, came forward with any authorized information. I looked to the Straxian's face and from his blank stare saw that he too had just come to the same conclusion I had. All we really knew was that large numbers of people on both sides had died and that all of the blame, fear, and resulting wars hadn’t done anything to fix it. I decided to propose a compromise.
“Here’s my offer, give me a list of all the supplies you immediately need, and send me back to my ship with one of your guards accompanying me to teleport them over to you. Then we can talk about making repairs.”
It was clear that the Straxian was taken aback by my charity, and, frankly, so was I. Nonetheless, he agreed, and the crew and I ended up spending the next few days assisting the Straxians with repairs. Our two crews, though uneasy at first, grew not only to tolerate one another but to form friendships. I spent most of my time when I wasn’t making repairs talking with the Straxian children and telling them stories about Earth and my crew’s adventures. When our ships finally parted ways, it was bittersweet for all involved.
The next few weeks were peaceful and absolutely no evidence emerged from our unauthorized mercy mission, but I still lived in constant fear that The Bureau would discover that I’d helped the enemy. This being said, I naturally feared the worst when the communications transmitter announced an incoming holographic call from an unknown vessel specifically requesting my presence. I nervously redirected the call to my quarters and patched it through to find, to my surprise, that it wasn’t from The Bureau at all. Instead I found myself face to face with a dozen starry-eyed Straxian children who must have somehow gotten hold of a transmitter.
“Alit, we miss you! Tell us a story!”
“Tell us about the bravest thing you’ve ever seen!”
I paused to consider whether I should give in to their whims, but I soon found myself searching my memory to find the perfect story. It scarcely took a moment, and I chuckled to myself, imagining the kids’ reactions when they realized that this story was about them.
"Alright kiddos, this is a story about bravery. About how it takes more courage to extend friendship than to assume the worst..."