Cause and Effect

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The chilling wind pierced my skin as it whipped along the street. With it came the smell of cigarettes and alcohol, and I knew the soldiers had followed us into the alley. As footsteps crunched closer, I looked in horror at Christian, crouched beside me, who seemed calm and in control, as usual. He smiled reassuringly and I was once again grateful for his unwavering optimism.
It all happened so incredibly fast, and yet I saw each event with the utmost detail. Christian, with his lightening fast reflexes, sprung forwards and seemed to strike empty air just as a soldier appeared in our line of sight. Christian’s attack, a strike across the man’s windpipe, immediately incapacitated him, and he fell to the floor. Cursing my stupidity and sluggishness, I jumped to my feet, tentatively emerging from the doorway we’d been hiding in. I knew it wasn’t over yet – a patrol always consisted of two soldiers, no more, no less. I saw the second soldier, with his back to me, trading punches with Christian. Although Christian was well-trained and agile, the soldier’s muscles and armour were working in his favour, and none of the blows Christian managed to get in seemed to cause any type of damage. My gaze fell to the dead soldier. There has been so much death in my life that I feel I should be immune to it. But I’m not, and every corpse I see makes me feel sick inside. There’s a laser gun, the new LSR200, attached to his belt. I could have shot the other soldier, point blank, there and then, leaving one less enemy for us to deal with. But deep down, I knew I could never do it. The war may have changed me, but nothing could ever make me a murderer. But its kill or be killed in the world we live in.
“Put your hands on your head. Do not attempt any resistance.”A cold metallic voice rang out, a harsh interruption to my thoughts. The sound echoed from the walls of the enclosed alley. I closed my eyes, and did what they had asked, accepting the inevitable. How unlucky could we possibly be? What were the chances of running into two patrols within the space of ten minutes? It just wasn’t fair. But as my father used to say, before the war took him and my mother, life is never fair. Rough hands pushed me to my knees, and something cold was pressed to the back of my neck. A gun of some kind. They weren’t so civil towards Christian. Perhaps out of loyalty to their dead friend, or maybe from pure malice, the two remaining soldiers took it out on him, punching and kicking until Christian’s face was covered in blood, and he lay on the cracked concrete clutching his ribs in pain. He refused to utter a single sound throughout the beating, and I admired him for that, as much as it tore at my heart to see my friend treated so brutally.
The soldier behind me moved, standing in front of me, so close that I was straining my neck to keep looking up at him. His movements were slow, deliberately designed to intimidate. But I took strength from Christian’s stubbornness. I would not beg for my life or try to bribe my way out. I would face death with dignity, even though I believed it was before my time. My heart seemed amplified a hundred times, so loud that it deafened me to everything else. But although I was panicking physically, my mind seemed unusually calm and collected. I had a sudden urge to look into the eyes of the man who would kill me, but he still had his dark army regulation helmet on, and all I could see was my own reflection. I barely recognised the girl I saw. Pale from lack of sun, thin from malnourishment, and exhausted from all the nights spent hiding in deserted houses, hoping the soldiers wouldn’t find us. A completely different image to the one I saw barely three years ago, the day before they declared the war. I was 13, Christian a year older. We were celebrating Christmas at my house, a sprawling mansion in North Sydney, a house full of hope, laughter and love. It’s gone now, burned to ashes after the soldiers had taken everything they wanted, including my mother’s diamonds and my father’s precious trophies. But three years ago, on December 25th 2016, life was good. I was happy and content, perhaps a little naive of the world outside, but then, who could blame me? As a thirteen year old whose only concern was which model of DigiPhone to buy next, I didn’t even know the meaning of pain and suffering. Christian was a little less shallow than me, but then he’d already experienced loss when his brother Kale had been killed in a drive-by shooting a year before. It was because of that that both Christian and I survived. Despite the recent practice of cantalising, a form of cremation that evaporated the bodies rather than burning them, Christian had chosen to honour his brother in the traditional way and had buried him. Christian and I were paying our respects to Kale the day the bombs hit, at the cemetery on the outskirts of the city. The destruction of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House was more of a symbolic act, an open declaration of war than for any particular integral reason, unlike the two other explosions that took out half of the city. We heard later that 12 bombs, all primed to detonate at the exact same moment had been set in cities all across the country. One in each city of Perth, Adelaide and Hobart, two in Melbourne and Brisbane and three in both Sydney and Canberra. The ACT was in ruins, with all of the parliament buildings destroyed and the country’s leaders wiped out. The death toll was unbelievably high. In the chaotic confusion of the aftermath of “The Monday Massacre”, the power-hungry country behind the attacks, Japan, launched its invasion on Australia. With a few key assassinations of those with high authority, it claimed the entire country in little more than a month. It was our fault for being so complacent; we were sure we’d never be conquered so easily. It served as a dire warning to the rest of the world, but the international community did nothing to impede the invasion, and the inhabitants of Australia were left helpless, like ‘lambs for the slaughter’ as the saying used to go. And a slaughter is what transpired. Although unnecessary, the soldiers murdered thousands of Australians as they seized the country, whether through hate, revenge or because they simply took a savage pleasure in it. Those who could, fled the country, the rest either hiding out or surrendering. The latter were sent to the swiftly constructed labour camps and set to work; mining, manufacturing and farming. “All for the good of the nation” they said, despite the fact that most of the nation were lying rotting in their homes after a visit from the soldiers. Thankfully, this was when the UN finally acted, and America, Britain and several of the more powerful European countries allied together to challenge Japan’s audacious actions. That was three years ago, and the war is still ongoing. The fighting mainly takes place in the northern states, but every year, the reports are pretty much the same – we’ve lost land, we’ve won land. The sides are too evenly-matched, especially since China and Russia declared their allegiance to Japan. The war may last another 10 years without any definite results. The only thing certain is that there will be plenty more bloodshed before peace is established. And although the fighting is thousands of kilometres away from Sydney, there is as much conflict here as anywhere. The soldiers ruthlessly patrol the city, keeping everyone in their places, stamping out any opposition. The number of people the soldiers have killed is uncertain, but barely a quarter of the city’s houses are left inhabited. There are several resistance groups in the ruined city, doing their best to overthrow the control of the Japanese, but without much success. Christian believes it will happen, but he is a very optimistic person by nature. We don’t try any open attacks on the soldiers; our main priority is just staying alive. But whenever I tried to persuade him to join up with one of the groups, using the phrase “safety in numbers”, he deflected my argument with the cold, hard facts – that as part of a larger group, we would be more likely caught. When it was just the two of us, we could avoid patrols more easily. We could survive. Until today.
Less than a second has passed since the soldier in front of me prepared to shoot, and yet it seemed like a lifetime. I almost laughed as I thought about it – literally, my life had passed before my eyes. Reflecting on how things had turned out was definitely not a pleasant experience, but it put things in perspective for me, and gave me a clarity of thought that I desperately craved. I looked back at my reflection in the soldier’s helmet. I now see defiance, a determination to survive and a hope that someday everything will be resolved, and the world will go back to how it was.
I kept my eyes open, staring into the helmet, showing my tenacity. I don’t know how long we were staring at each other, but it seemed like eternity. Just waiting for the flash of light that would kill me. It never came.
I don’t know why they left us alive. Maybe because their consciences were weighing on them too heavily that day. Maybe because of a secret recognition of our cause. Or maybe there were other reasons, reasons I’ll never know. And I find that I don’t care. Because I may be permanently hungry, cold and tired, but at least I am alive.





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