The two moons illuminated the battlefield through the cloudless night. Five minutes had passed since the cease fire ended, yet no one fired. The enemy would move soon. She was ready, and they would not be allowed to pass the defenses.
The impromptu truce of the previous day had caught both sides by surprise. The enemies had met, face to face, for the first time since hostilities began and mingled, awkwardly at first, and then more easily as the hours passed. But the holiday was over now, a short twenty-six hour hiatus in this bitter, bloody war, an intermezzo in the great symphony of death.
One of the enemy soldiers, Antoine, had shared his rations with her. She’d done her best, under the circumstances, to look pleased with the pickled lizard he’d offered. He returned the courtesy when she gave him a tin of baked beans. They’d smiled, each thanked the other, and they forked the rations into their mouths, grins still plastered unconvincingly across their faces. Soon they were choking violently and spitting everything out. When they reached for the canteen at the same time, they’d looked at each other in alarm before bursting out laughing.
Rations were low on both sides, yet they’d giggled together nonstop for quite awhile. Feeling guilty for the wasted food, she’d glanced across the battlefield to see other groups of enemies and friends similarly disposed.
They’d talked, hesitatingly at first, and he’d played his harmonica. She told him about learning to play the keyboard, pounding out terrible off key melodies but proud of her accomplishment just the same. He’d shown her holos of his sons, boys that he might never see again, and she’d shared stories of her children at home. It turned out that they had a lot in common.
The temporary truce was over. No one had fired, but it was only a matter of time. The men would try to overrun their defenses, and they would be forced to defend themselves. They needed to hold the line, to maintain position against Antoine and his brothers in arms.
Against the enemy.
She was a soldier, and soldiers obeyed orders. Thinking too much got you dead fast. There must be no hesitation.
Vague shapes moved on the battleground, inching forward. Crouching low to peer through the heavy shadows, she guessed they were using wreckage from the mothership as makeshift shields. They crept closer. Still no one fired. It was too dark to make out clear targets.
They were the enemy. The poker games and camaraderie of fellow soldiers were distractions when battle was imminent. It was dangerous to form friendships with the opposition. It clouded your judgement. A soldier needed a clear head to survive.
They needed to accomplish their mission.
She wondered if the other soldiers felt as she did. She hoped it wouldn’t affect the battle. The defense of their home, the fight against oppression or even for their own freedom dwindled now in the face of their own personal survival. She wondered if she’d ever see her little ones again.
The thought of her children helped her to focus. They would see their mother again. The shadows loomed closer. On her left she heard a twig snap. She wheeled to see a man’s shadow running towards her. He held something in his hand. She fired, and he fell.
The spell broken, the silence ended, her fellow soldiers shouted and shot. Men fell, and the battlefield rang once more with screams of terror and agony. It lasted an eternity longer than any of the battles before, the ones where the enemy was a nameless, faceless evil.
Eternity ended, and silence fell once again like the blade of a guillotine. She finally turned to look at the man who had fallen so near her, her first kill. He held something small, probably a grenade, but that wasn’t what chilled her soul more than the wind and biting cold.
Antoine’s face was turned toward her. She looked away at the battlefield, where the fresh blood shown like the crimson ornaments of a holiday tree.
*Due to the holidays and other life issues, I’m posting this a little early. It’s a (mildly edited) repost of a story I wrote several years ago. I hope you liked it.
**originally posted for #fridayflash on January 1, 2010. This story was inspired by the impromptu Xmas truces of previous wars.