A Pile of Empty Brass
Author’s Note: This is the first time I’ve felt like I have a story worth writing in a long, long time. I wanted to thank everyone who has made such kind comments on my writing in recent weeks. All of the stories that you’ve seen on my tumblr are at a minimum a year old. You’ve reminded me why I enjoy writing, and I can only express my deepest gratitude to you all. Thank you.
It was not the human warriors that convinced us of their worthiness.
It was not their works of engineering.
It was not their music, it was not their cuisine, it was not their weapons of war, it was not their policies of peace, it was none of these things for how can we measure a species by these things?
A species may fight with ferocity and valor on the field, and scorn their poor.
A species may build great works, and flee before a fight.
A species may sing beautifully, and use that song to pervert the truth.
It is no measure of a species how they treat their poor if they treat those who are not of their species as worse than dirt.
No, no it was none of these things that convinced us of humanity’s greatness.
It was their spirit. It was their resilience, their willingness to take a just cause to the bitter end and to watch their towers crumble and their skies burn before they would sacrifice what they considered sacrosanct.
It was as their great fleets were smashed before the oncoming tide of terror and their armies massacred from the skies, for though we might not judge their race by their martial prowess it was a prowess they had in abundance. And the terror that came from the great void between the stars could not stand before the fury of a human army, and so rained fire on them from the skies.
It was as disaster after disaster befell them, and a single demand was broadcast again, and again, and again.
Surrender. Bend the knee. Permit the terror to stand tall. Let them break you beneath their whips.
Surrender your freedom, and be spared.
And so it was that a human diplomat came to us, the Concordat, the council of spacewalking species, and to my everlasting shame we counseled surrender. Many of us had. It was not wrong to bend the knee to the strongest, we argued.
Humanity, it seemed, disagreed.
“Honored Speaker of the Concordat, my fellow members.” He began, slowly, and I heard something in his voice I could not place then but I know now to be the joy humanity can only feel when they have dedicated themselves to a cause they know deep in their hearts to be so just, so pure as to be worth the deaths of everyone they knew or loved. It was the voice of a man who saw his death on the horizon and resolved to greet it with his head held high and a song on his lips.
“Caution, you have counseled us. It is wisdom you say, to bend the knee to that terror from beyond the void, to let them have our homes and our families to do with as we please. For you say there is no shame to live as slaves. No dishonor in surrender to an evil, so long as we live.”
There was an unspeakable quality to his voice, a deep tenor that echoed throughout the chamber for those of us with the ability to hear it.
“My fellow members of the Concordat you call your policy accommodation and say if we surrender, if we let the enemy into our homes and our hearts he will come to love us.
“Humanity has considered this proposal, and as one we have spoken. As one we have rejected it, for we are not a people who will go quietly into the night we are not a people which will let our children grow up with the yoke of slavery around their necks without a fight.
“We are all retreating under the pressure of this war and so you say that the time has come to surrender because you have heard from your own people pleas for peace at any price. You have heard those that say they would rather live on their knees than die on their feet.
“Honored members of the Concordat those voices may speak for your own people but they do not speak for us. There are things in this life worth bleeding for, worth killing for, worth dying for and the sweet air of freedom is such a thing. We will not surrender. This has been our position from the very beginning, and it has not changed.
“There is no price we will not pay to maintain our freedom, for as we die it is the only thing we have. One day, we all know, that one day we will go to meet our creator or the void. One day we will go into that darkness, and we will be judged, of this I have no doubt. I, my father, my mother, my son, my daughter, my people, my people will go into the void and we will hold our heads high. Our children will enter the void. Our children’s children will enter the void. This we all know.
“So the question before us is not ‘will our children live’ for our children will die. This is our burden to bear. The question that lies before us is how will they live. How can we look our children in the eyes and say ‘we did this for you’ as they are broken beneath the heel of a tyrant.
“So members of the Concordant, we will set our children to flee. We will send them and our parents and those we can spare far, far away. We will send them further than the terror can follow and they will grow up free.
“And we, we who can? We will fight. We will fight in the space above our colonies, we will fight in the atmosphere of our homes and we will fight on the landing grounds of the terror. We will fight, and fight, and fight until the terror no longer comes, or the last of us has fallen.
“And we will pray to whatever God we believe in. We will pray to be made fast and accurate. We will pray for true aim and quick hands and minds. And we will not pray for victory, for we will not leave victory up to the fickle hands of fate. We will take victory, and our victory will be the free lives of our children.
“We will not pray for victory. Our victory is assured. So members of the Concordat, we do not ask for your prayers for our victory. We ask that you pray for us to die in piles of empty brass.
“We will die on our feet so that our children will never know the agony of living on their knees.”