This is one of the first short stories I wrote after Pigs, Poultry and Poo came out. I’ve dusted it off, and tidied it up a bit, and am now releasing it into the wild… it’s original title was something like ‘Superhero Dutch Disease’, but I prefer this title.
Peace in Our Time
by Jason Gibbs
The war had been dragging on for years. Sometimes we were in the ascendant, other times we were being pushed back, but never did it seem like it would end. The dead were legion, and all lost over a strip of land mere miles wide. We two enemies were too closely matched. Though once powerful, the endless fighting had sapped our energies, and the other nations on our borders were waiting to pick over our bones, even if they had to help finish us off.
At the start of the eleventh year of the war a rumour came that the enemy had developed a super weapon which would finally end us, and the war. Some were afraid, others merely laughed off the story as enemy propaganda. In the event we were the ones blessed with a super weapon.
Jondril arrived one day in the capital. He approached the war office building and told the receptionist he was there to end the war. As you can imagine he received short shrift, and was thrown out, literally. Two hours later an armoured figure, twice the size of a man, approached the war office and tore down the wall. Security went crazy, and opened up with all their weapons. The figure calmly stood, bullets bouncing off. Lasers sitting on the armour’s shoulders knocked rounds out of the air and then destroyed the weapons facing him. When the firing had all but petered out, the figure stamped its foot smashing the road and sending rubble in a widening circle of destruction. Once more Jondril spoke, his voice booming as it was enhanced by the suit’s speakers, “I would end this war!”
The minister for war decided to play for time while the heavy weaponry was brought in from the outskirts of the city. He walked out to talk to Jondril. A brave man the minister, and one who would have still been at the front had he not lost an arm and an eye.
He and Jondril talked. And talked more. The weaponry arrived, and the minister was given the signal. He ignored it. The suited figure nodded its head, and split down the front, and Jondril climbed down. The suit closed up again, and not a seam could be seen.
The minister guided Jondril into his building and to his office, and there they had coffee, and talked more. More happened on that day, some said he should be imprisoned, others pointed out that he had not hurt anyone deliberately, though a few soldiers had been hurt by flying debris, but most hailed him. He’d brought a suit which was all but impervious to our weapons, and also therefore to those of our enemy. We heard that his father had been a scientist who had been working on such suits for many years. He’d finally succeeded, but had sadly died before he could see his life’s work used for its true purpose, bringing peace.
The very next day Jondril walked to the front, and waded into the fight. Again and again the enemy attacked him, but their bullets could not harm him, and their missiles didn’t bother him. While he was untouched, every shot his suit fired was true, and the enemy soon found that all their weapons melted, or fried, or in some unfortunate cases exploded. Jondril never once targeted a person, he only wrecked weapons. As he explained to us later, “I wanted to stop the bloodshed, not become part of it.” The enemy tried heavy weapons, but these too could not touch him, his suit was able to deflect heavy shells out of the air, and seemed to cause missiles to veer away sharply, or explode, as if by magic. There were some who thought it strange that not a single heavy missile actually hit him, but the majority were just dazzled by the impact on our enemies as they fell back in disarray.
The enemy were, however, both brave and foolish, and regrouped to continue to attack. But after two weeks they had made no progress, and Jondril had destroyed all of their armaments on the front. Our generals wanted to plough through the now defenceless enemy and take their revenge, but Jondril was firm that he would not allow that. He wanted the war to stop. They realized they had no choice. Like our enemies, there was nothing they had which could beat him.
Three weeks after Jondril’s appearance an armistice was signed. We were at peace. At first nobody could believe it. Then came the celebrations, with parades and parties galore. Then the hangovers from the celebrations, combined with effects of the war started to take its toll. The government wanted to keep the armed forces on alert, in case of a resumption of hostilities. Our people took to the streets to demand, quietly but firmly, that their sons and daughters should return home. They did not riot, they did not march, they just accumulated around the parliament buildings, standing, and made their demand by their very presence. Still the politicians did not relent. Until Jondril joined the silent crowds. He too said nothing, but his intent was clear.
Within days the soldiers were returning home, first a trickle and then a flood. Some injured, some battered, and many scarred from the constant warfare. It was a hard time for them, and their families, but also a joyous one.
Our weapons were stockpiled. Our munitions factories converted to creating tools, toys and gadgets. A year passed. Peace reigned. Our former enemy became a trading partner, though sadly only of a few fripperies. There was hope for more.
Then, to our horror, two other neighbours invaded. They had watched, and seeing our weakness had allied to dismember us. We woke up, and at once the weariness of war crashed down upon us. But also rage. How dare they take fragile hope from us. Sons and daughters rushed back to the barracks, ready to rearm and send these cowards home with their tails between their legs. One young man was already prepared, he had watched our neighbours and realized they might harbour perfidy in their hearts. Jondril marched out again, and as before none could stand against him. Our neighbours tried half-heartedly to stop him, but soon realized that he was as untouched by their weapons as he had been by ours.
Many thought Jondril would stop at our border and let that be a lesson to all. He did not. He took the minister for war with him to each of the capitals, and ripped down the walls of the presidential palaces. He then watched, silently, as a peace was negotiated, with each of our neighbours agreeing to destroy all their weapons, and pay us tribute. In response we would destroy all but a token few of our remaining weapons. Though truth be told there weren’t many left since the factories had not replenished what had been used in our latest battles.
Jondril stood over the pits of weapons, watching them burn and melt. Had the suit had a face it might well have smiled, one can only assume Jondril was smiling inside. His work was done, peace was assured.
A month passed. Then another. Peace became normal. The few guards at the borders became more concerned with improving their volleyball skills than watching their peers over the border.
Suddenly our original enemies brought all their armies to our border. While we had been enjoying the peace, they had quietly rebuilt their war machine. They formed up and marched across, all the way to the capital. There was no one to stop them. They stopped in our main square, and the enemy president walked forward to meet our president. The enemy leader was a brave man and showed no fear, even though Jondril was standing next to our leader.
Before either president could speak the suit cracked open again, and out stepped Jondril. He walked to the enemy president, and embraced him, “Welcome sir. The war is over.”
That’s not how it was. I mean, yes, it sort of was. Sorry, let me explain. I was Jondril. Well, Jondril was the suit, but it was me inside. And it wasn’t exactly like that.
I should start at the beginning. They said that I should just write what I remember, and then at some stage it will be released, and everyone will know the truth, or I guess, my version of the truth.
The beginning is tricky. I can’t tell you my name, not least because after this I’ll be getting a new one, hopefully. Jondril is not exactly a popular person amongst our new subjects. I wasn’t a soldier. I was a scientist. Am a scientist. I work with brain to machine interfaces, and before Jondril I’d been working on one of the many war efforts to find a new weapon.
The idea was to turn our soldiers into walking tanks. We’d give them each an army’s worth of guns and send them off to wipe out our opponents. The problem was that it didn’t work. The suits were too slow. While we’d been successful with bulking the armour up, and making it almost invulnerable to small arms fire, one decent missile, and blam: many millions of expensive tech up in smoke. We added anti-missile technologies, shrunk high powered lasers and improved the targeting. It still wasn’t enough. Our simulations gave the suit wearer a survival time of between three and four hours in the first deployment, and less than fifteen minutes in all further deployments.
There was really only one successful part of the project. My bit. No, I’m not being arrogant, I’m just telling it the way it was. We succeeded, I succeeded, in subconscious human to machine control. What does that mean? It means that I could control the robot’s actions just by thinking, but more than that, I didn’t have to think ‘move knee up, swing foot forward, drop foot down’, instead I just thought about moving forward. The suit became an extension of my body, and one which felt, after some practice, natural.
The success was only partial however, as only I could interface with the original suit. The only one now, I guess. But we had worked out what we needed to develop next to allow others to do the same.
Our last test failure came just before the funding round. We all knew what would happen. I couldn’t face it. I wanted there to be something out of all the years of work, over eight of them in fact, with me joining with the suit every day for the last five.
I was desperate. I proposed one last gamble. Something which would show the worth of the suit, and hopefully allow us to continue our work. I promised to lead the enemy into an ambush. We’d be able to turn the tide. And if I failed, all they’d lose would be the suit. And me.
I think I struck a chord. The war was making us less human, and there were some who were desperate for it to be over, one way or another. One of those was the general in charge of intelligence. I suspect because he knew just how closely matched we were with our enemies, despite all the propaganda, and therefore just how permanent our stalemate could be.
So, our plan was born. I would persuade our enemies I was on their side. Pretend to wipe out a section of the front, they would charge in, and we’d annihilate them. I wasn’t comfortable with being instrumental in all that death, but it was going to happen one way or another, perhaps I could save some lives in the long run. And the program of course.
I don’t hate our former enemies. I didn’t hate them then. I felt nothing. My brother had died at the front, and my father. My mother just faded after my brother’s death. I didn’t blame the enemy, I couldn’t see the point, they were losing just as many sons, daughters and parents as we were.
The night the mission started I was a mess. My heart was in my throat; my bowels had turned to water. Fortunately, I was in the suit, so no one could see my face, which I’m sure was pale with fear. I was dropped, in my suit, twenty miles from the enemy capital in mountainous territory. The drop went without a hitch, and as I unfolded from the ball the suit had formed on landing and checked the systems, I could feel the adrenaline kick in. This was my chance. I power ran to the edge of the capital, using the darkness to hide me, aided by the stealth we’d built into the suit.
Taking the suit off was harder than I expected, but I knew I had to make the first approach in person to have any chance of getting them to talk to me without just wiping the suit from the planet. I felt naked. Alone in a country of enemies. I’d spent some weeks being subliminally trained to use the correct accent and speech rhythms, so I would not stand out. I had the right clothes, and enough money to get to and from the war office. And buy some food.
It soon became clear that I was just as invisible on the streets as everyone else. Indeed, I could easily have been in my own city, there was really little between us.
The events at the war office have been described often enough. There’s only one thing I would add. The suit was standing serenely, taking the punishment. Inside I was panicking. I had never been shot at before, and now the rounds were pinging in from everywhere. My original plan had been to take some initial punishment, and then shelter next to a building to carefully pick off the weapons firing at me. However, in my panic my ability to communicate to the suit failed. I was trapped inside it, and its systems went to automatic protection. Fortunately, I’d instructed it to avoid fatalities, otherwise there would have been a blood bath and the minister of war would have had to call down an airstrike, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed that.
Our talk. I can’t tell you much. He was, is, a brave man. Some say he would have been the next president. Perhaps. He asked me what I wanted. I told him peace. He then asked me how, and I said I’d disarm our enemies. He looked at the suit silently for a while, and then asked me to step out. I nearly didn’t, but I knew this was my chance to persuade him.
I stepped out, sweating, but managed to hold myself straight. He looked at me. Said something about young men and war, and then offered me a coffee in an office, and we walked inside. We didn’t talk much more then. He didn’t quiz me about where I came from; he didn’t test my cover story at all. I like to think he just trusted me, but of course he also knew that others would be interrogating me on those things later.
We had the coffee in his office. I was then escorted into a comfortable, but locked room. Some hours later I was visited again by an officer. He wanted the keys to the suit. I explained that it would only work with me. He threatened me. I repeated my statement. He went away.
Oddly, they never did properly test my cover story. I was pretending to be one of their scientists from a facility which had been blown up a year before which we knew had been working on suits. I’d somehow made it to my nearby home and finished up my work and hey, here I was with a weapon to end the war. It was the weakest part of the story, but it was only intended to hold up for a day or so, not long enough to be properly checked. They created their own propaganda. Possibly because they didn’t want to admit to having had a facility blown up, or maybe they were incapable of releasing the truth.
The next day I went to the front. I’d told them I wanted to make a difference and that I’d clear our enemies. I waded in, destroyed every weapon pointed at me, and defanged all my opposition.
Here was a tricky bit. I knew that the suit couldn’t withstand true heavy weaponry, as of course did those in charge of my new ‘enemies’, but we had to pretend. And be convincing enough that my new allies would buy it. I was in constant communication with my old bosses, and they helped me manage such a show. Every time a missile got too close they’d force it to self-destruct, and I’d point my arm at it just beforehand. The artillery systems were surprisingly inaccurate that day, enough so that I could walk in between the paths. It was all very convincing.
We managed to keep it going for two weeks. The enemy forces fell back, leaving plenty of broken weapons in their wake. Many of these were obsolete, but it wasn’t that obvious once they’d been sufficiently burnt, and both sides had been using obsolete weaponry for so long it probably wouldn’t have stood out.
How did I keep talking with my bosses without my new friends finding out? Easy really, my suit was constantly chatting on every available network, wavelength and direct connection it could sense. It was like a shining ball of communications, which meant that it was impossible to track any of it. Especially as it was constantly shifting channels. My new allies did try to hack it, as expected, but to them it always seemed one step ahead, and even turned the hacks around. This was because it wasn’t doing anything with most of the information it was getting in, it was just scrambling it and feeding it straight back out again, like a crazed router.
With my former nation now appearing to be in deep trouble and on the run, my new friends were keen to take advantage and drive every spare man and woman they had, all the way to the capital to perform the coup de grace. I was supposed to let them. But I couldn’t.
I’d never before been at the front. I’d not seen the dead and dying happening in front of me. Sure I’d seen it on TV, but that’s TV… As much as I was doing to try and spike weapons around me, there was still fighting, and blood and death, and it sickened me. This was one of the reasons I failed the combat psych test and was allowed to continue in research. And I wanted it stopped.
So instead of letting the fools walk into the giant trap I’d set up for them, I insisted they didn’t. I further insisted they push for an armistice. By this point I was a hero, and they couldn’t argue.
Unlike my former bosses, who were threatening all sorts. There was much swearing, accusations of betrayal and suchlike. I ignored it for a while. And then told them of my new plan.
I’d realized that everyone wanted the war to stop. I believed, rightly as it turns out, that the country I was in was desperate to stop. The people had run out of fighting spirit. I told my former bosses that if they agreed to an armistice, within a year the land I was in would be toothless, and they would be able to walk in unopposed. All they would have to do is maintain combat readiness but keep it low profile.
The key was that my new best friends viewed me as an army on my own. They wouldn’t need to retain troops if they had me. The more sensible generals thought this foolish, and tried to keep the army together. But the people soon stopped that. Helped by some apparently ad hoc campaigns on social media. I judged the appropriate time, and joined the standing demonstrations. Within days the war machine was being dismantled with enthusiasm.
Why did my bosses not invade now? In part because they wanted to rearm properly. The last few years had left both sides armies exhausted and equipment and munitions were short. In part I think they wanted to make sure that the old enemy was truly quietened. And in part they needed to maintain control of their own people, allowing some peace, but not too much. I also did my bit in staying their hand, by telling them that there were still many fit and trained men and women in this ‘adopted’ country of mine, and we needed time for their war skills to atrophy.
Months passed. How did I avoid detection? I told my new friends I needed space, and that I would be available if needed, but would respond badly to unnecessary contact. I provided written responses to some questions from the news people, and then hid in the mountains, using the stealth on the suit to hide me. In truth I did want the space, and the mountains were soothing. I felt the burden of the deaths I’d caused. Not directly, but I’d certainly changed the dynamic, and many of my countrymen had died. Perhaps they would have died soon anyway. The war would have chewed them up. But the difference was that I had helped. I didn’t want to face the probability that I would cause yet more death.
I spent all my time in my suit, and it became more and more part of me. I slept in it. It fed me. We were one.
After a year my former homeland had recovered. The armies were ready. There were fewer men and women in arms, but those left were well fed, well-armed, and ready for a fight. My pleading that the war not be restarted fell on increasingly deaf ears, and I was becoming desperate. I was close to refusing to be any further part, but then, we all knew that I wasn’t needed for the planned slaughter.
Then fate intervened. Two smaller nations on the borders decided to ally and pick over the weakened beast I now lived in. They invaded, but tentatively. Which was their mistake. A year of peace had not healed all the wounds, and the anger of the people was frightening. As soon as news of the incursions hit the media channels there was an eruption. The people would not have their peace taken from them. Vengeance and death were offered up by people who but days before were discussing poetry competitions and flower shows.
I made sure my erstwhile bosses were made aware of all of this. They could see their enemy was weakened, but not defeated.
Then I saw a positive option. Perhaps true peace was possible? I joined in the defence. Recklessly diving into the combat. Fortunately, the two nations were weak, and hadn’t brought any proper heavy weapon support otherwise I might have been destroyed within hours. Instead they fell back before me. I continued to push them back, rolling over their armies, destroying any arms brought against me, but avoiding fatalities as far as was possible. I also told my friends to let me do the work, and save themselves. This would reduce the potential for death on both sides.
My actions in forcing the peace are well documented. Suffice it to say the defeated nations were in such shock that they would have signed anything, and the peace they were offered was far better than any they would have given. As all three sides destroyed their weapons I rejoiced.
Did I know my old bosses would take advantage of the situation? Of course, I had presented the option to them. They would win, and take over not one, but three nations, becoming a much more powerful empire. One which could not be threatened by any of our more distant neighbours. Was I comfortable with betraying my allies? I never did. I ended the war. I gave them peace.