Donald Keefe was sitting on his desk. He stared at his computer screen for a while before he turned his eyes away.
He shook his head as if he had seen something unpleasant or horrific. He ran his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. Then he glanced back at the screen.
He shook his head again.
“This has got to stop,” he muttered under his breath. “We cannot continue like this.”
Just then, there was a knock on his door. Before he could respond, it opened. In the doorway stood an armed soldier with an automatic rifle.
“What is it, soldier?”
“Colonel, they are restless again.”
“Has there been any breach?”
“Not yet, Colonel, but we suspect they might try soon.”
“We cannot allow that to happen.”
As they walked through the corridor, Donald took out his handkerchief and dabbed his face. He felt uncomfortable with the beads of sweat rolling down his face.
No, he thought. Not again. This is every soldier’s worst nightmare – to be at the forefront of a battle they do not understand.
Outside, they stepped onto a platform made of metal and granite, to have a clear view. Donald shook his head as he surveyed the huge crowds that stretched out in front of them.
From the elevated platform, Donald could make out several men, women and children all jostling forward, pressing hard to be let through the barricades made out of barbed wires and sand-filled cement bags.
He stood there staring at the angry crowds with no expression on his face, then he dipped his hand into his shirt pocket and brought out an unlit cigar. He bit the unlit cigar and rubbed his greying hair with his left hand.
“Colonel,” said the soldier who had accompanied him.
“Do you see what I mean?”
He nodded and looked back at the crowd before him. “Yes, the crowds do seem pretty restless today.”
“Colonel!” someone shouted above the noise.
Donald peered at one of the armed soldiers behind the barricade. “What is it, soldier?”
“Colonel, they are really restless today,” a brunette soldier replied.
Donald looked at her. Like her other colleagues, her finger was firmly on the safety of the automatic rifle in her hands. Around her waist was a belt full of magazines, ready to be snatched and chucked into the magazine folder of her rifle if needed.
“Colonel,” she called out, again.
“Aren’t they always?”
There was a scuffle not too far from the soldier. They all turned to glance at what was happening. A couple of soldiers had raised their weapons and pointed at a section of the crowd that was struggling to push through the barricade. They were using a huge log to push through the barbed wires.
“Get back!” the soldiers shouted. “Get back, or we’ll shoot!”
“Colonel!” the brunette soldier called again.
“You all know what to do. We cannot allow anyone to get through the barricade.”
She nodded and raised two fingers above her head. One of the soldiers close to the barrier that was about to be breeched saw her signal. He nodded and turned to the other soldiers. “The colonel has given the go-ahead. You know what to do.”
One after the other, the soldiers switched off the safety on their rifles.
The crowd had now become quite excited. They were encouraged by the weak spot they seemed to have discovered in the barbed wires. As more people came to join the others to push through that section of the barricade, the soldiers raised their weapons.
It was at that point that Donald sighed and turned. As he left the platform and walked back into the building, he could hear the loud screams as the sound of automatic gunfire tore through the already noisy atmosphere outside.
How he hated himself so much for giving the order.
But he couldn’t do anything. He had to give that order.
I was merely following orders. And the orders were that no one was supposed to breech the barricade. If they did, they should be shot on sight.
He had not gone too far when his phone buzzed. He picked the call without looking at the caller ID.
“Colonel Keefe speaking.”
“We can hear gunfire.”
“Yes, it was unavoidable. They were trying to breech the barricade.”
“Humans, are you people always this restless?”
“Yes, maybe, it depends.”
“Yes! Maybe! It depends!” the caller repeated. “Aren’t you supposed to know how you all behave?”
Donald took a deep breath as he stared at the walls around him. “I am a soldier,” he finally replied. “It is not my place to think or know anything. I simply follow orders.”
“I see, an excellent response indeed, just as I would have expected.”
“Thank you for the compliment.”
“You’re welcome, Colonel Keefe. By the way, we want another consignment today.”
“Another consignment?” Donald could not ignore the feeling of uneasiness that had suddenly taken over his body like a fever.
“Yes, make it two hundred.”
“Mixed as usual?”
“Yes, but only children.”
Donald frowned. “Children? Did you just say children?”
“Yes, two hundred children. We want two hundred children to be delivered to us today.”
Donald turned towards the door he just came from. He could hear the muffled screams and the sporadic gunfire outside.
“Yes, I’m still here. Two hundred children will be delivered to you today.”
As the phone went dead, Donald shook his head. He pulled out the cigar he had been chewing on for the past half hour.
Two hundred children!
He shook his head and glanced at the door again. He could imagine what was going on outside. It was obvious that more and more people must have been trying to make it through the barricade. And as they tried to get through, the bullets of his soldiers would cut them down.
They knew their orders. They would not stop shooting until the crowd stepped back and away from the barricade. The soldiers were not to relent until they got full compliance from those behind the barricade.
Donald sighed. He pulled out his phone and dialed a number.
“Colonel,” answered the person on the other side.
“They have placed a new order.”
“Mixed as usual – men and women?”
“Two hundred children? Are you sure?”
Donald gritted his teeth. “Yes, I’m sure. That’s what they want. Children, two hundred of them.”
“But, Colonel, children?”
“I know what you’re thinking. Just do it. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Colonel. We understand.”
After the line went dead, he bit his lip and thought for a while, then decided what he was going to do.
Donald got into his SUV and drove off quickly. A few minutes later, he parked outside a building. He got out and hurried towards it, then stopped in front of a door. He looked around discretely, surveying the area for threats of any sort.
He knocked three times. There was no response at first. Then Donald heard a knock on the other side of the door – then another, and then a third knock. He bit his lip, knocked twice and waited. He heard the sound of keys turning in a lock. Finally, the door was opened.
Donald stepped in and the door shut behind him.
Inside, he could see two men and a woman. They were all dressed in military attire.
“Colonel,” the woman said.
Donald nodded at her. “I think it’s time.”
The woman glanced at the other two soldiers before turning back to him. “You can’t be serious, Colonel! You mean now is the time for us to strike?”
“Yes, now is the time.”
One of the male soldiers stepped forward. “But we aren’t ready, Colonel. There are just four of us.”
The third soldier nodded. “Yes, he’s right. We haven’t recruited enough people yet, Colonel.”
“There’s no time for that. It has to be today. It has to be now.”
“But we’re not ready yet,” the first soldier protested. “We need more people.”
“No, we don’t,” Donald said firmly. “In fact, just one of us would do.”
The first soldier shook her head. “Just one? Are you listening to yourself, Colonel? That would be suicide! Four of us cannot face them, let alone one.”
“One person can handle the job just fine.”
The soldiers exchanged glances. Then the second soldier raised his hand. “Okay. Maybe I can try my luck.”
“When I said one, I didn’t mean that any of you would have to volunteer. I’m going to do it myself.”
All three soldiers shook their heads in unison. It was the woman who spoke. “No, you can’t do it alone, Colonel! We have to get more people.”
Donald turned to her. “And then what? Spend the next few days or weeks trying to convince them? They are moving fast. Did you hear the request they made earlier?”
The third soldier nodded. “Yes. They want two hundred.”
“Not just two hundred. Children. Two hundred children. And do you know what that means?”
The three soldiers exchanged looks with one another but said nothing.
“They’re going to eradicate all that is left of mankind, as if what they make us do right now isn’t enough, they want to go for our children. And we all know that it’s not because they care so much about the youngest of our species.”
The woman slammed a clenched fist against the wall. “Since when did they ever care about mankind? They never did!”
“And they never will.” Donald took his car keys from his pocket and handed it over to the first soldier. “Go and prepare the car.”
Donald pulled out a chair as they left, then sat in silence and waited.
The three soldiers came back into the room.
They all stood tall and saluted him.
Donald waved them aside. “Please, forget all that ceremony. Mankind has to be saved and I’m the most qualified to do this for them.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “I’ve got to go now. They’ll call soon to find out about their order and I don’t want them to suspect anything. Take care of yourselves.”
No one said anything as Donald walked out of the room.
As he drove back the way he came, he allowed his mind to reflect on how he had come to this point. He recalled the way he had instructed his soldiers to shoot at those helpless and unarmed men and women.
Ever since the alien invasion, almost all of mankind had been terminated. Those that were not killed, like Donald and the few soldiers from his regiment, were tasked with controlling the people that the alien race had imprisoned for their experiments and research.
The people who were imprisoned lived in terrible conditions in a camp that was guarded by soldiers who were under Donald’s command. Every once in a while, the prisoners would get restless and try to make a break out of their prison. Just like today.
Donald punched his fists into the steering wheel and cursed.
He could not deny that ordering his soldiers to shoot was very hard on him. But it had to be done in order to make the aliens believe that he was still loyal to them and their oppressive regime.
Donald bit his lip as he drove on.
He could have continued to play along and wait for the right moment to strike. That would have given him more time to recruit many more men and women. But the sudden and unexpected request for two hundred children had jolted Donald in a way that he had never expected.
The aliens were desperately trying to eliminate what remained of the human race and the best way they knew how to achieve this was to change their research methods. Rather than continue experimenting on the adults in the camp, they were now going for children.
Children were the only hope that mankind had to rebuild and replenish their population. That is, if they eventually did escape from the oppressive regime of the aliens.
If, Donald pondered.
When, he corrected himself as he pushed his foot down on the accelerator.
Donald was filled with an overwhelming sense of purpose to get mankind out of the mess that they were now in.
But is it a sense of purpose, or just guilt? he wondered.
It could be both, but probably more guilt, he concluded. After all, he had been overseeing the imprisonment, prosecution and, like today, the slaughter of his fellow human beings.
What he found so heartbreaking was the fact that apart from the three people he had been able to confide in, convince and recruit, he could not let anyone else into his plans.
But now that he had decided to shelve any long-term plans for a bigger mission, he could start feeling a sense of fulfillment again.
If he could just rescue mankind from the clutches of these aliens, he was sure that he would be fulfilled again.
Even if it meant taking my own life in the process.
A few minutes later, he was inside the camp. In his company were some armed men and women. By their side were several children. The kids were looking very disheveled and malnourished. They were surrounded by several other adults. Many of them were complaining, murmuring and even shouting.
The soldiers with Donald knew what to do. Their guns were all raised and aimed at the prisoners – they knew their orders. They would easily open fire if they felt challenged or threatened.
Donald was hoping that the crowd would just let them be. He had already seen enough senseless killings for one day.
Somehow, the adult prisoners allowed the soldiers to take the children away without putting up a fight or any resistance.
The children were all loaded into trucks. The soldiers began to drive towards the alien spaceship. The spaceship resembled a gigantic spherical dome.
The exterior of the alien ship was smooth and seemed to shimmer in the sun. On other occasions, it would look shiny and reflective, as if it was a massive mirror reflecting all of its surroundings
Only a high-ranking soldier like Donald could tell that there was more to this spaceship than what anyone could see from the outside. Because he had been inside a few times, Donald knew that the spaceship had an intricately designed interior, made up of various floors, compartments and sections.
When the aliens had first arrived, mankind had thought the visitors were on Earth for peace. They were very mistaken and they all had been living with their mistake for several years now.
“What could they want with so many children?”
The question caught Donald off-guard. Whenever they went to deliver the aliens’ orders, no one said anything. Donald would lead a select team of soldiers into the camp to retrieve the number of people that had been requested. The soldiers would then load the prisoners into trucks and ferry them to the alien ship.
During such trips, not a word was ever uttered by Donald or the soldiers in his team. Not a single word.
But today, someone seemed to be in the mood for a discussion. Donald turned to look at the soldier, wondering whether he was new. “What was that you said?”
The soldier glanced at the trucks behind them. “Those are all children, Colonel. What could they want with so many children?”
Donald regarded the soldier for a while. He was contemplating where to place him. Maybe he could make a good recruit for the special team.
“Colonel, you haven’t answered me,” the soldier pressed.
Or maybe not, Donald concluded. He smiled. “What is your name, soldier?”
“Eric, sir, Sergeant Eric Parker.”
“Okay, Eric. Let me ask you this: have we ever questioned our masters about their requests before?”
“Then let it be, Eric. No questions whatsoever, okay?”
They continued to drive in silence.
As they approached the alien spaceship, Donald gave the order for all vehicles to stop. He picked up the intercom and spoke in a casual voice, “Guys, I need you all to stop here.”
Eric protested. “But that is not the usual protocol.”
Donald looked at Eric with a frown. “Let it be, Eric. No questions whatsoever, remember?”
“Get out of the car.”
Donald drove off alone in the SUV. He could see the soldiers and the consignment of children in his rearview mirror.
He estimated that the distance between the alien ship and the children should be enough to keep them safe from the eventual fallout of his actions.
From where they stood watching their commanding officer drive into the dome, none of the soldiers suspected that the SUV Donald was driving was rigged with explosives.
Suddenly, they heard the loud bang of the first explosion. Then another and then another.
Soon, the spaceship became engulfed in fire and smoke.
The soldiers and children in their entourage were shocked beyond words. As they stared in disbelief at the inferno, they knew no one and nothing could ever survive that catastrophic blaze.
“The Colonel!” one of the soldiers cried out. “He saved us.”
“He saved mankind,” another soldier added.
“He is a hero,” Eric said. As he stood there, Eric could not help but feel a deep sense of remorse. Sadness fell over him like a blanket. As much as he tried to shrug off the feelings of sadness and unhappiness, they latched onto him and just would not let go. He could not imagine what Donald had just gone through – the price he had to pay because he wanted to rescue mankind from the clutches of its captors.
The feelings of sadness gradually began to dissipate like a heavy downpour turning into droplets before ceasing all together. Slowly, a new wave of reassurance, of hope and of freedom came over him.
Perhaps it wasn’t all in vain, Eric thought.
Perhaps the Colonel’s sacrifice was meaningful after all.
Because of the Colonel’s sacrifice, mankind now has hope.
Mankind has hope and freedom.
This is our new beginning.
Eric smiled as he heaved a sigh of relief.
There is now going to be hope and freedom.
The Colonel was indeed a hero, Eric mused.
Everybody disembarked from the vehicles and started to celebrate. They all seemed to have quickly realized the importance of Donald’s sacrifice. They were celebrating in pure excitement and joy.
They all had reason to celebrate: their alien captors had been destroyed. Mankind was now free again. Life was going to go back to normal.
Eric’s phone rang suddenly. He recognized the caller ID and couldn’t believe his eyes.
The aliens? How is that possible?
Eric waved at the soldiers and children, asking them all to be quiet.
He answered the call. “Sergeant Parker speaking.”
“Did you see what just happened?” the caller asked.
Bemused, Eric glanced at the blazing inferno. “Yes.”
“Is the consignment safe?”
“Deliver it to us, Colonel Eric. We’re landing soon.” Then the line went dead.
“Look!” one of the soldiers shouted.
They all peered in the direction he was pointing at. Not too far above the clouds was another huge spherical dome. It seemed like an exact replica of the one that Donald had just blown up.