Short Stories

The Mission of Crossroads

He stared out of the window, pursing his lips in determination, as Sgt John Caplan came running in the room.
 
“Major Kane, he has responded!” he said, almost out of breath.
“Show me!” Major Kane stretched out his hands. Sgt John placed the package in his hands and left. Kane took a deep breath and used his blade to tear open the flap neatly in one swift hand move. Inside was a simple letter addressed to him:
 
Dear Matthew,
 
The time has come for you.
 
He gritted his teeth and crumpled the paper in his clenched fist. He knew very well, of the meaning of the mockery behind this. The sender, who called himself the Peacemaker, was the catalyst that had altered his life forever. The daunting memory of what had happened that day still played out in his mind.
 
The Peacemaker, a right-hand man of a huge terrorist organization, had ordered a strike on the military base surrounding his territory. The battalion, under Major, then Lieutenant, Kane’s command, fought tooth and nail to defeat the terrorists. They closed in on headquarters, to complete their last lap. They were about to encroach upon the huge walls lined with barbed wire when a voice boomed from somewhere within the building.
 
“Lieutenant, before you make your move, I would like you to listen to something!”
 
The sounds that he heard next chilled him to his very bone.
 
He heard a woman’s bloodcurdling scream, followed by the loud cries of a child. His blood froze. He recognized those voices only too well.
 
“Matt… please…” she said before the sounds of two bullets ricocheted around the entire compound.
 
Matt was in shock, as his subordinates took immediate decisions of invasion. And that was when they realized their mission came crashing down because the Peacemaker was nowhere to be found. As the soldiers barely got out when a loud beep sounded seconds before the whole place blew up.
 
Barely few of them could make it out, let alone alive.
 
Lieutenant Kane spent days in the hospital recovering from his burns. Out of the victims who were battling their lives, he was the most determined…
 
…and yet, the most broken.
 
His physical wounds were healing, and some even became part of the tragedy that he had made peace with. But the pain of losing the very foundation that glued his life together…
 
As he recuperated, his subordinates kept giving him updates, as per his request. When the soldiers were dispatched to the barracks, all they could find was abandoned houses with a badly burned one. Two bodies were retrieved, that of a woman and of a male infant.
 
At first, the numbness spread throughout his body and mind, as they kept reading the report to him. He had found it impossible to even comprehend the ramifications of the tragedy when reality would hit him like a trainwreck. That was when they dropped the bomb.
 
His wife was two months pregnant.
 
That was it. that was the trigger. That broke down his defences and opened the floodgates. He was inconsolable. In just a minute, he lost the people that he had loved the most. His wife, his little son, his unborn child… they left him. He could feel his world stop spinning.
 
With permission from the higher authorities, he took time off to deal. No amount of psychiatrist sessions and pills could reconcile with the fact that he was on the brink of jumping off the cliff…
 
…just when he found a letter written by his wife, a week before their deaths.
 
She told him that she loved him, that they were going to have a second child, that she still wanted her husband to be by her side but she knew and understood that his call for duty was as honourable as his compassion towards his family. That she knew that wherever he is and whatever he would do that he would set an example for his children and the children of our country. She had faith in him and she knew that when the time would come, he would do the right thing.
 
That was not the perfect solution, but it was a start.
 
He resumed work, training others and getting trained. Slowly and steadily, he began to climb the ladder. It was not an easy task because, from time to time, he would be reminded of the point of no return. He would be tempted by fate to give up, only to be saved by his wife’s invisible comfort.
 
And, in a few years, he climbed up to the rank of a Major. In spite of that, he never lost his humility. There were times where he could see himself in the soldiers who lost their families and the families who lost their soldiers. For them, he was always a listener, if not an advisor and moral support. That made him realize that the weight of his job was much more than fighting at the border for the love that he had for his country. It also weighed in the love that he shared with the citizens within the country.
 
Fate played a different game. History was repeated.
 
The Peacemaker was back.
 
And, he was surrounded.
 
No matter how many years had passed, the feeling of anger and pain resonated within his entire being, every single time he heard his name. And now that the Peacemaker sent a message of surrender, made him determined to be the one to capture him.
 
With his battalion behind him, he proceeded with caution to the place where the Peacemaker had asked him to arrive. Learning from past mistakes had made the army dispatch another battalion to the army camps, after making sure that there were neither any hidden bombs nor any other weapons of any sort.
 
Major Kane walked slowly towards the barbed wire fence surrounding the fields of the final meet. He knew that something was amiss, knowing how the Peacemaker’s mind worked. But, when he had arrived, he was met with another blow to his guts.
 
The fields were not empty. The terrorists were present alright, their guns were trained at the soldiers, but it was who they were guarding that made him grit his teeth.
 
The matted-haired men and women at the centre of the fields were caked with dust, from their ragged and torn clothes to their chipped nails. Some of them had lost their limbs, while some of them had given up their will. And their faces…
 
Major Kane’s heart fell because he had recognized them only too well.
 
The soldiers of the day of big tragedy all those years back, all tortured, starved and dangled in front of the Army as emotional leverage. The ropes tied around their frail and failing bodies cut through their skin, letting blood and pus ooze out of their wounds. And they were in grave danger, because of the person standing among them.
 
At the centre of them was a boy, not older than fifteen. He had donned a jacket fixed with dynamites all over and stood with clenched fists. Major Kane did not have to guess his purpose.
 
“So you have arrived, Major,” the Peacemaker’s voice boomed on the microphones installed around the fields, “Welcome to the past!”
 
A shiver ran down Major Kane’s spine, but he held his own. He gripped his gun tight, training it on the terrorists on the fields.

“Before you do anything, Major, I would like to say something,” the voice continued to boom, “The captors are going to do anything to the people at all. They stand guard against any of your men entering the fence.”
 
Major Kane took a step towards the fence. The suicide bomber unclenched his fist, to reveal a small contraption with a huge red button in the centre. He placed his thumb on the button and gave the Major a menacing smile.
 
“Major, you can see that the only obstacle between you and the people is the man in the middle. Eliminate the problem and the people are saved. Come on Major, shoot him.”
 
The Major found it fishy. It could not be that simple. What was the Peacemaker not telling him?
 
“Okay, Major, you are taking too much time. I do not like your hesitation. I will count to ten, and if you cannot shoot him, then…”
 
Major trained his gun at the bomber’s head, but the bomber did not even flinch one bit. The victims tied around him began to cry even louder, screaming for their leader to save them.
 
“Ten… Nine…Eight… Seven…” He began chanting.
 
He positioned his gun, as the boy placed his thumb on the trigger button.
“Six… Five… Four… Three…”
 
The bomber raised his hand and began to press the trigger.
 
“Two… One…”
 
Boom!
 
The bomber fell to his knees, as the Major’s battalion broke fire on the terrorists, killing most and capturing some. After the loss of lives on both sides and an intense breach of security, the Peacemaker was finally killed in an intense encounter.
 
The Major was hailed for bringing hope and awarded by his act of bravery by the government. After the felicitation ceremony, as he was about to step into his car, his colleague had handed him a letter.
 
“It was the letter written by the Peacemaker to you,” he said quietly, “We found it after the encounter.”
 
The Major got in the car and opened to read it. And his world came crashing down, burying his hope six feet under the ground.
 
For the love of his country, he saved the lives of his people, but he sacrificed the life of the one who could save him.
 
Because, in the whole letter, there was one sentence that pierced his heart.
 

 Before I began the countdown, if I had told you that he was your son you believed was dead, would you still shoot him?

******