“No way,” Rikishi said waving his arms and walking towards the chicken coop. “I’m done with that bullshit.”
Tarra picked up her long skirt and tried to follow as fast she could while dodging piles of animal dung and sharp farm equipment. “Rik, wait! Please wait.”
“I’m sorry you made the trip out here for nothing, Tarra, but I’m not going on another victory celebration. The people from the Order have been humiliated enough.” Rikishi looked back at his sister before focusing forward on the chicken coop. “ Elam, son, it’s time to get out of there. Your mom will need to get back on the road if you will make it home in time for supper.”
“Rik, you’re being just like dad, stubborn as an ass. You stop right there!”
Rikishi did not know why, but he stopped. Tarra sounded just like mom when got angry. Was he really acting like Dad? The thought bothered him more than he would admit.
“Look, I know you think you are helping,” Rikishi said turning around as he sister caught up to him, “but I want nothing to do with the Republic or the war anymore. I want to forget it all and go on with my life, alone.”
“Because of Muriam,” said Tarra, her hand hands pressed on her hips with an angry glare on her face, “you still feel responsible for her.”
Rikishi looked away. His sister knew the entire story of his months with Muriam, the only person that did, but he still could not look her in the face when he thought about her. “I am responsible for her and everyone she knew. They are all probably dead too now. All she did was save my life and in return, I slowly killed her. She was a hero. She should be alive and I should be dead.”
“Stop punishing yourself for the crime you think you’ve committed. Live your life like the good man I know you are and honor her sacrifice for you. She proved that the people in the Order are not the monsters that the Republic claimed.”
Rikishi shook his head “You don’t get it, no one in the Republic cares. We won and the Order must be punished to satisfy the lust for vengeance. If the people knew the hell that the Blessed created on their own people, the opinions of the war would drastically change. The politicians and generals are using the popularity of the war to keep their thumbs firmly on the backs of the Order to rebuild the Republic.”
“There are some of us who do care, Rik. Maybe if you helped us instead of hiding, we could change things and help those suffering.”
Rikishi ignored her comment. He wanted out of the political spotlight completely and to raise crops like his family had done for generations. As a military widow, Tarra would receive a pension for the rest of her life, money liquidated from Order bank accounts. It was a small gesture of gratitude from the Republic that he appreciated, the boy deserved to have his mother at home with him and not working fifty hours a week just to pay the bills, but they were stealing from the defeated to keep their bank account full.
He turned around to face his sister. “Why now? Why do you want me?”
“Because Elam told everyone that his Uncle Rikishi, the greatest hero of the war, would speak at the school’s victory day celebration. It’s all everyone has talked about it. It even got the bullies to leave him alone.”
“That bad, huh?”
“You have no idea. He hides in the library because his instructors turn a blind eye to it.”
“Why do the pick on Elam?”
“Look at him, Rik. He’s smaller and smarter than all the other boys and the kids at his school comes from families that could afford commutation or substitution. They still have fathers at home.”
“Those rich bastards who paid someone else to serve are no different from the draft dodgers.”
“Draft dodging is punishable by firing squad,” Tarra said turning up her nose and with a fake urban accent, “What they did was legal and raised money for the war. Everyone has their place.” It sounded like this was a common statement among the rich urban families. The poor areas outside the cities did not agree.
“It’s the same thing and those men are cowards. Their kids are too. Paul was a real man who did his duty when his family money could have kept him home. I’m just sorry it cost Elam his father.”
Rikishi turned away as tears fell from his sister’s eyes. Time did not heal all wounds. “He loved you as a brother and wanted to join your unit. He didn’t know his dad called in favors to have him reassigned. He put in his transfer papers a few weeks before the attack and was awaiting new orders.”
The raid on the Celia was the beginning of the end for the Republic. A small number of new Order tanks, faster and more heavily armed than anything in the Republic depots, along with their supporting units attacked Celia, the second largest city in the Republic, wiping out an entire armored brigade and the garrisoned defense force. Only the combined efforts of several divisions forced the Order out of the district. The attacks only increased over the next year and the Republic was forced to secede the outer territories to protect the districts around the capital. For Elam’s father, he gave his life defending Celia.
“He would have made a great Rat,” Rikishi stated as fact. “Paul was brave and intelligent.”
Rikishi watched Elam smile as he walked out of the chicken coop with feathers stuck to his clothes and hair. The chickens were probably unhappy by the disturbance but there was nothing more important than that little boy.
He sighed. “Ok, Tarra, I’ll be there.”