SteemShorts are short stories written collaboratively by three different authors and illustrated by an artist/photographer.
Authors and illustrators compete to make a SteemShort on the @adsactly society's account.
The process to create a SteemShort is described in this post: SteemShorts: Collaborative Short Stories.
I personally believe that this is one of the best Steemshorts so far.
Here is the full story:
A General's Decision
© @gbengaremi (Gbenga Remi), @jacksondavies (Jackson Davies) and @rasamuel for the text
© @katharsisdrill for the illustration
Licensed under "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike"
PARIS, EARTH, YEAR 3000
“I don’t want to do it.”
The little boy said, his concentration solely on the armoured shoes which he was in the process of lacing carefully. He had learned to be careful all the time. Be as meticulous as possible. As he stood there in the dimly-lit armoury with his little brother, his mind was not on the thing he was about to do. His mind had strayed, as it had the tendency to do, far away into the stars—where he felt he belonged. It was his destiny, but his brother had distracted him.
“Don’t hold back this time,” His brother had said, putting on his armour too. “If you have me, which I know you will just hit me, okay? Don’t hold back this time.”
“I won’t do it.”
William Chang said.
He finished lacing his shoes, adjusted his metal armour and stood up. Heading towards the door, he saw a figure standing menacingly by it. It was an imposing figure—which he was more than familiar with; it was literally a shadow that he knew he was doomed to spend his entire life living up to. It was the figure of his own father, Li Chang, or as he preferred to be called, Chang the Conqueror. Everyone on the planet knew his story. How he had gone from being a filthy peasant surviving in the slums of Paris, to single-handedly putting the entire planet on the map. How he had earned for Earth, the respect of the Intergalactic Federation of Worlds. He did all this with his intrepid adventures and brave conquests.
“So, you’ve decided to walk the path of a weakling.”
Li Chang said to his son.
“I have not.”
“That’s not what your trainer tells me.”
“I have not!” William retorted.
“I will be overseeing your training today. See you in the arena in five seconds.”
Old Chang disappeared from the shed, and William followed immediately behind, his little brother trailing behind him.
The arena was old-fashioned. It was built just at the center of the family vineyard. William had always wondered why, but he never bothered to ask. It’s not like it would matter, anyway.
The boys had their full armour on. Sammy, William’s little brother, who was three full years younger, stood a few feet away. He was facing his older brother as squarely as he could and even though beads of sweat had settled over his forehead, he still managed to hide his fears rather superbly. At their father’s order, they both put on their helmets and picked up their sword. It was a slow fight, with one-sided attacks from one brother and the other putting up an effortless but efficient defence.
“Get him, Sammy!” Old Chang shouted from his seat. “Time your attacks. Precise launches. Faster.”
It was ineffective. William was too good, too fast, too strong for his little brother.
“Is that what you’ll do all day, William?”
Old Chang shouted. “Don’t be weak, boy. Attack! Attack!”
But William did not.
“Drop your swords!”
The older Chang ordered from his seat. “I want you to fight hand to hand.”
The boys did as their father ordered. At that point, the battle became more of a pantomime than a battle. Sammy’s jabs were weak. He was tired and the armour weighed him down. Ashamed of, or for his little brother, William went in with an arm lock. In the space of a few microseconds, he had his brother pinned on the hot sands.
Li Chang shouted, excited.
But young William Chang could not.
“I said finish him!”
Old Li Chang shouted again. Still, Wiliam only hovered above his little brother, his hand fisted but suspended in the air. He couldn’t bring himself to bring it down.
“You’re weak, boy!”
Li Chang shouted from his seat.
The next morning Li Chang was summoned by the Federation. Before he left, however, he entered into his older son’s room at dawn while he was still asleep. He sat beside his bed, stroking his hair like a loving father. Young William woke up to the startling sight. Before he could voice his amazement his father said:
“There are two kinds of people in the Universe, boy. The ones who do all it takes to win and the ones who lose and complain. I’m afraid you’re too weak, boy. You belong to the latter. You’ll amount to nothing! Nothing!”
When Old Chang left the room, William wished he’d never see his father again. Little did he know his wish would be granted. Old Chang died in battle the next day. The whole Universe mourned. William mourned too, but he knew his destiny had just begun and that was an endless thrill for him.
Raoulin V, Year 3045
William Chang’s ship hovered over Raoulin V with one mission—to destroy the whole planet. Only William knew the reason for that. His crew, even though kept in the dark, had enough trust in The Federation to know that for the order to have been given, it was an absolute necessity.
However, General Chang could not bring himself to push that button. He paced up and down the bridge, pensive and contemplative—even a bit sweaty. His crew thought he was weighing the decision but they were wrong. His mind had gone back 45 years ago to his encounter in the Vineyard.
45 years had passed and yet it felt like it was yesterday.
Yes, a whole lot had happened. He had dedicated his life to the Federation, even though everyone held him to the standards of his father, constantly comparing. Even though it had taken him only 25 years to become a General—unprecedented in Federation history, still he had yet to shake his father’s shadow. He had failed to achieve half the things his father had.
With the push of that button he could; finally, he could. His name--his name!--would go down in history as the man who finally put an end to the 100-years war with the Raols. But at what cost? Yes, the Federation had finally built the perfect machine to get the job done and had secretly installed it on his ship. Yes, most of the people down there on Raolin V would go on to become military thugs and probably kill people he knew, but was that enough?
“General Chang.” A female voice called on the bridge. “General, you have to decide now!”
“General, we have no choice.” Another voice, a male one, called again.
“Control gave the order, General. We can win this war. With a push of that button, we can win this war. You can win this war! For all of us.”
William Chang was not hearing the words of his crew. Fixated on a spot now, he was hovering. His mind hovering on that vineyard, hovering above his little brother and his father’s voice hovering in his ears. “You’re weak, boy! You’ll never amount to anything! Never!”
The silence is chilling on deck as one man stands alone. In his hands the power to destroy an entire species. The silence is broken by an order from General Chang.
"Disengage! Send the ship back to station 5."
This announcement is greeted with murmurs from the crew. A crew member voices opposition to Chang's decision.
"With all due respect sir, this is our chance to end this war once and for all. We've been doing this for over a century. How many more generations will have to experience this war?"
Chang replies while walking off to his quarters.
"This is an entire species we're talking about! That's not a decision one makes on a whim."
Words are traded between crew members. Some see reason with General Chang's decision, others do not.
General Chang's decision reaches the table of the military high command, and they are not pleased with the development. In an obscure corner of the ship, a crew member receives a call from a high ranking member of the Department Of Defense.
"I told them that he was the wrong candidate. He should never have been chosen for this mission."
"I've worked with the General on a couple occasions, he has a soft heart but he can do what has to be done when the need arises. Just give him some time."
"We don't have time! This war has to end now! I'm sorry, we have no choice but to activate the contingency plan."
The crew member pleads for more time.
"Activating the contingency plan complicates matters. I hear that the crew is fiercely loyal to the General."
"The crew isn't as monolithic as you think, we've inserted some elements into this mission and they are there to carry out your orders. The rest of the crew members will have no choice but to comply."
The crew member bows to the inevitable.
"Very well, I will carry out your wishes."
"That's the spirit General, I knew we could count on you."
General Chang took his time to decide his next course of action. In times like this, he loved to listen to classical music. There was something about it that calmed him down and helped him think with clarity.
He had barely been in his quarters for 30 minutes when he received a notification from the deck. Apparently, a matter on deck required his urgent attention.
General Chang sighs and makes his way outside. He opens his door and is greeted by some menacing men with guns pointed at him. Rough hands grab him and he is whisked to the bridge.
Upon arrival on deck, he beholds a scene of chaos. The contingency plan had been carried out. Chang was dethroned and his most loyal crew members had been subdued.
The mutineers were taking orders from the special crew member, who turned out to be none other than General Erik Van Hal. General Chang's second-in-command.
General Hal acquaints himself with the tools on deck. All codes for the ship have been handed over to him by Control. All except one, the code for triggering the secret weapon. General Chang had changed that before he left the deck, and right now only he knew the launch sequence.
Infuriated, General Hal barges into Chang's holding cell intent on acquiring the code.
"What's the code for the device?"
"I can't tell you that." General Chang replies.
General Hal stares at him in silence, hatred inscribed all over his face. The silence in the cell is broken by a clicking sound as General Hal pulls out a shiny metal object.
"Okay, let's start this over again. What's the code for the device?"
William Chang was covered in his own blood. Van Hal had done a good job with the torture, he thought. He knew he was stronger, regardless what his father thought. As he sat there, bloody and in pain, he was very proud of himself. He was no failure. He refused to break. Van Hal promised he would be back but Chang resolved to himself to be strong. He had to be. Just as he started to think about what torture devices Van Hal might explore on his next visit, he heard the cell door swing open. He's back, he thought.
William Chang was too weak to look up. "Get it over with," he said.
"No, General, it's us."
The voice was familiar. It gave him hope and he lifted his head, feeling the pain throb in his vein as he did.
"Yes, General. We're here to help."
The general was too weak and downtrodden to speak.
"General we must not give up. We can still take back the ship. We must fight!"
William Chang, although weak and in doubt, chose to take courage from his comrade's words. Tasha stepped in and broke the cuffs on the General's arms and legs, helping him up on his feet. The two officers helped Chang out of the cell.
In a few minutes, they had broken out the remaining soldiers loyal to General Chang. They were also being held captive. After securing a few weapons from the ship's armoury, a mini-battle began on the ship.
It was an evenly matched battle. General Van Hal had the numbers, but William Chang's soldiers had the better expertise. The battle dragged on for hours. Blasters and phasers and explosives damaging the ship's core.
"If we keep going like this General, the ship won't be able to survive it."
"Still, we can't give in. Van Hal's not going to stop fighting. We can't either."
No sooner had General Chang uttered these words than a loud boom was heard on the ship. An explosion in the engine room had caused an engine breakdown. The ship was crashing, and the whole crew with it.
General Van Hal woke up with a loud ringing in his head. He had no idea where he was. He felt the hard substance upon which he was laid, his bones cracking as he turned. It was all dark, reminding him of his room back on earth all those years ago.
Before he could put himself together, a portal-like metal door opened in front of him revealing alien life-forms. It was then that it all came back to him--the order, the betrayal, the battle, the crash!
"My God!" Chang said to himself. "I'm on Raoulin V."
Immediately, he tried to spring up, but his body was too weak. He was helpless and the aliens moved closer and closer.
"You're weak, boy!" William Chang could hear his father's voice admonishing.
The aliens got closer. As they approached, he could see the hatred in their eyes. They pinned him down on the bed. They spoke to each other in a language he was very familiar with, having studied Raoulinese in the Academy. The aliens, however, did not know that.
"Let's kill him." One of the aliens said to another. There were three of them.
"Let's kill him like we did the rest of his crew."
The other two said no words, only focusing on tying Chang to the hard bed.
"We did not kill his crew." One of them said finally after they were done.
"We decided they were useful. We could use them as a means to end the war."
"End the war!?" William Chang blurted out. He had not meant to and he caught himself too late.
"He hears us." The first to speak said, terrified. He speaks Raoulinese."
The other two appeared baffled but remained calm.
"So, you speak Raoulinese?" The second said, calm.
"End the war?" William Chang said incredulously. "What do you mean, end the war? The Raoulins don't want an end to the war. Everyone knows this."
"Everyone?" The third said.
"You only choose to know what you want to," The second said. "The Raoulins have never wanted war. It was your people who initiated the war, for their own gains. They colluded to rig our elections. Put in their own man. Their puppet and his corrupt friends. So they can start their own war, kill millions and make more money and power for themselves. All this while curbing the population. And now we suffer for it while you look good, fighting the good fight."
William Chang was perplexed. He remembered he had come across such an intel on a mission he undertook recently. It was a file he had been sent to retrieve. His first officer had opened it against Federation orders. For that, he was taken away. Chang was disappointed but before he was taken the officer had told him the same things these aliens were telling him now. It was all a conspiracy, but William Chang didn't believe him. He was told his First Officer was a traitor who wanted to sell Federation intel to the Raoulins for money. The next week after they took him away he was replaced by General Van Hal.
"Can you prove this?" William Chang asked the aliens. "What you said? If what you're saying is true -- it's -- I'm going to need some proof."
The three aliens looked at each other and after the first alien gave a go-ahead sign by clapping his talon-like hands. The second alien pulled out a translucent material seemingly from thin air.
"The file!" William Chang said.
As hurriedly as he could, he opened it and there it was. It was all true--the conspiracy; the plan; the cover-up. How they were to build a world-destroying machine; employ Chang to do the dirty job of destroying the entire Raoulin race, thereby covering their own asses. It was all there!
Now William Chang had a decision to make. Run away with his crew to safety or stand and fight with these brave Raoulins.
Of course, there was in fact only one choice. This was his true calling. He was no coward. He was no failure. He would stand and fight, even against forces bigger than him.
"Take me to my crew," William Chang said. "We can help you. I know how to end this war!"