The humanitarian effort on Cygnus Minor seemed to lose more ground every day. Factions had risen out of the refugees there, possibly through deliberate efforts of one side or the other in the Trans-Galactic War in an attempt to draw Neutral Giedian Solar Republic into the fight or otherwise destabilize their footing in the sector.
Though only three planets, Giedia Prime, Geidia Proxima, and the latest to be colonized Cygnus Minor, NGSR held considerable political sway and controlled some very rich resources. Cygnus Minor was mostly populated by refugees from the Trans-Galactic War which was now entering its hundredth year, and seemed to draw more and more planets in as it went.
Despite not being part of the voting membership of the NGSR, nor having a great amount of valuable resources on planet, Cygnus Minor was still a prime target both for terrorist activities and as a base for possible attacks against either of the main Giedia planets. Both of which were of great concern to the paramilitary humanitarian corps stationed in the Northern hemisphere, where most of the attacks were concentrated.
Sergeant Kebede bent over the body of one of the latest victims, a woman. She closed her hand around a stone pendant at her neck, and though the symbol was faded and half obscured by dirt and blood, she had known what it was the moment her eyes fell on it. A symbol of protection from another country on another planet, and one she had first seen almost twenty years ago. It now threatened to send her falling into memories of the past, but her moment of reverie was broken by the sound of a baby’s cry. She moved around the toppled cart to find the babe among soft blankets, frightened but no apparent injuries as she lifted it into her arms.
It continued to cry until she started to rock back and forth, bouncing gently. She pulled one glove off with her teeth and rested her hand on its body. A tiny hand wrapped around her finger, pulling it into its mouth like a pacifier.
Looking back at the broken bodies around the cart, likely the parents, she ordered her squad to collect them. They would need genetic ID to ensure the child belonged to the deceased. Protocol required it for proper disposition of those displaced and orphaned, as children this young had often not been officially identified by the government, though the parents almost certainly would have been.
That meant the bodies would not be collected and put into cold storage with the others from the attack, likely not to be identified for up to a year with the current back-log. Instead they would have to be logged, stored, and tracked separately. Because of that it was a protocol generally ignored in the field, but she insisted, ignoring the few protests.
With too much work left to be done, she could not devote any time to the child yet, instead giving it over to the medic for a full evaluation but tagging it with her ID. She would be checking up.
After there had been an accounting of the attack: the number dead, the types of weapons that had been employed – all of which pointed to an operation by the Laran Resistance which the media would no doubt play off as speculation and unverified accounts – there were finally a few hours of down-time. Sgt. Kebede sat on her bunk and pulled the stone out of her pocket, drawing a matching one from beneath her shirt and holding them side-by-side.
Aliya felt her mother’s grip tighten and looked up. Her lips – usually so full of smiles and laughter – were drawn tight, pressed together to prevent the words she so dearly wished to send flying at the man behind the counter from slipping out. She chose her words with care, tone kept as neutral as she could manage.
“My husband is already on Giedia Prime,” she repeated. “These are his embassy papers and our immigration visas,” she said, holding them out again for the man. He did not look at them.
“No new visas are being issued to residents of this sector,” he said, not looking up from his screen. “Please contact your local embassy if you wish to apply for refugee status.”
“We are not refugees, sir, I have our visas already!” She pulled Aliya closer. “Please, just look at my documents!”
Aliya’s gaze moved from her mother to the man in question. His dark grey uniform was buttoned up tight to his throat, giving him an appearance of being strangled, helped along by his fat, red cheeks. His hand at last moved to snatch the offending papers from her mother’s grip and look them over with no attempt to veil his disdain.
“These are dated from three standard months ago,” he said, tossing them back at her, dismissive of their content.
“They document our travel window as open now,” she insisted, pointing to the range of dates at the bottom.
The man yawned and finally spoke into his head piece. “Sir, this is Kelt at desk two. I’ve got a… Delta Cygni here and her kid, claims she’s got visas to Giedia Prime. No, sir, no husband.”
Aliya’s mother stood stone silent but her grip got tighter again. Finally the man turned back to them, gesturing vaguely as he gave directions with little care whether they were understood or remembered.
“Take your papers and effects, go to the second lift, up six flights, first right, then second left down the hall till you see refugee processing. They’ll evaluate your case.” Barely pausing for breath he looked around them and called out, “NEXT!”
Aliya’s mother picked up her papers and they both took their bags and left the desk without comment. She didn’t speak again until they were in the lift and Aliya tugged her shirtsleeve.
“It’ll be alright, dear,” her mother said, lacking any hint of conviction to her words. “This next place will help us.” Unlike the three places before it.
“But we aren’t refugees,” Aliya whispered.
Her mother’s face flinched momentarily and she nodded. “No, dear. We aren’t refugees. Except perhaps from that man.”
She tried to give a smile, but Aliya could tell it wasn’t genuine. She rested her head against her mother’s stomach until they reached their floor. Mumbling under her breath, her mother recalled the directions.
“First right… second left.”
They followed the curve of the hall, and Aliya wondered if that was meant to be the second left or if the next hallway to their left was it. Thankfully a sign reading REFUGEE PROCESSING guided them the rest of the way, and not exactly to the letter of the directions they had been given. Even had it not, though, the sound of the waiting room would have drawn them to the correct location.
To Aliya it looked like a hundred people were there, the sound filling the small space, and the smell of that many bodies having gone who-knew-how-long without baths overwhelmed her at first. She pushed her face into her mother’s skirt as they approached the counter.
In the next line was a family of five children and their beleaguered father, all dressed in what were likely their best clothes, yet old and worn. Each clutched a bag, and the smallest child had a doll pinched under his arm.
One girl, the closest to her, returned her gaze and their eyes met, a shared tiredness reflected between them. But Aliya lacked the hopeless edge the other girl had; she was not a refugee, they had visas. Her mother had assured her they would get through, they just needed to go through the proper channels.
Aliya gave the girl a smile. The girl looked at her father, but he was distracted with paperwork. She let go of her brother’s hand and came closer.
“Hello,” Aliya said.
“Hello,” the girl replied.
She hesitated before saying, “Ebhiante.”
Her accent was heavy and Aliya had trouble making out all the sounds, asking her to repeat it before trying it herself.
“Where are you going?” Ebhiante asked, looking between Aliya and her mother in a way which said they didn’t look like refugees. Not like the others here.
“Giedia Prime. My father is there.”
“Oh.” Ebhiante looked down at her bag. “Where are you from?”
Before Aliya could answer, though, her mother gave her a tug and hushed her. Ebhiante started to retreat back to her family, but suddenly turned and grabbed Aliya’s wrist. She pulled a stone amulet from around her neck and pressed it into Aliya’s hand.
“Imha keep you safe,” Ebhiante breathed.
Aliya felt another tug behind her, pulling her apart from Ebhiante. She turned to see the two armed soldiers who had approached her mother.
“Kebede, Siria and Aliya,” one said, reading the papers.
“Yes,” her mother said, showing no hint of fear at them or their weapons.
“Right,” the one said, pushing the papers back at her. “This way.”
“Where are we going?” her mother asked, not willing to follow them blindly, but the other soldier took her by the arm and pulled her along. Aliya looked back to see Ebhiante, hand still out as if she could reach her. Then they were gone, escorted past the counter and down a long hallway with many doors. They did not take any of the doors, but the hallway at last emptied out into another room, larger than what they had left, and divided in half by a thick glass wall with a set of double doors like an air-lock. There were soldiers with guns everywhere Aliya looked.
Leading up to the wall on both sides were narrow walkways, turning back and forth like a maze, and cut off at waist height. They were escorted down one of these passages to the doors on their side of the glass wall. The soldier who had spoken handed their papers to one of the guards at the door who looked it over carefully.
“Siria Kebede,” she said.
“Aliya Kebede,” she said, looking now at Aliya.
Aliya nodded, and the guard handed the papers back to her mother. Addressing the soldiers who had escorted them here, she said, “Thank you, we’ll take them from here.”
The doors opened and the guard motioned for them to pass. “Go straight toward the far doors. Do not stop. Present your papers at the window, they will ensure you are directed to your transport.”
Aliya’s mother looked at the guard, letting a moment of weakness show as she pleaded, “Tell me where we are being sent.”
The guard gave her a sympathetic look. “You are going to join your husband, Ma’am. This is the check-point for travel to NGSR.”
Aliya had never seen her mother cry before that moment, and yet it seemed only to increase her strength. Standing straight and tall, she did not even bother to wipe the tears from her cheeks as she picked up her bag in one hand, gripped Aliya’s hand tight with her other, and nodded.
The guard gave a nod. Aliya wasn’t sure whether she should be relieved or afraid, but together she and her mother walked from war to freedom in thirty feet.
Boots stopped outside her tent and a voice soon followed. “Sergeant Kebede.”
She rubbed her nose between her thumb and forefinger, trying to fight off the headache threatening. “What is it, McKay?”
“You wanted to be notified about the child?”
She got up quickly at that and pushed back the flap to her tent. “Yes?”
“We have a local acting as a wet-nurse,” McKay said. “They’re in recovery.”
Sgt. Kebede nodded and holstered her pistol, then followed him toward the medical tents. “Wet-nurse? Is she pregnant?”
McKay shook his head. “She lost hers, I think.”
That stopped her up short. “You think!?”
“Sorry, Sgt. We’re having trouble finding a translator. We’ve gotten a few words but…” Then he dropped his voice and added, “Not sure how long we’ll have her around, to be honest.”
They started walking again, and she followed quietly for a minute before she put a hand on his arm and asked, “The baby… is it a boy or a girl?”
“Girl,” he murmured.
There were too few patients in the field hospital for the population this town had on register; far too few. There was no thinking that it was from lack of injured, rather from lack of survivors to be treated. She pushed that thought aside for now as they approached the woman, part of an arm missing and bandages on her face red from the injuries beneath, and yet against her breast lay the child, sleeping peacefully.
Sgt. Kebede stood a short distance away and watched. The woman lifted her head to meet her gaze with only one blood-shot eye visible from beneath her bandages. What she could see of her face was no older than she was, thirty at most though of a much harder life.
McKay spoke softly, “Internal bleeding. We tried to give her an IV for the pain but she refused because of the child.”
“McKay, what the hell are you using her as a wet-nurse for? She’s in no condition-”
“Sergeant, she heard the child crying and the nurses couldn’t keep her in bed. She tore a few stitches out in the struggle, and only calmed down when we gave it to her.” He scratched his arm and reluctantly added, “I think she might think it’s hers.”
Sgt. Kebede took the stone from her pocket and ran her thumb over the symbol of the Goddess, recalling the face of the woman from whose neck she had taken it. There was little chance of it being that same girl from all those years ago, but she couldn’t help feeling as if she owed something to the past.
She drew up a stool and sat beside the woman and child, holding up the amulet. The woman seemed to recognize it, and made no objection when she tied it through a grommet in the child’s medical blanket. The woman patted her hand and gave what might have been a smile. With a rough voice and thick accent, she spoke a few words.
Sgt. Kebede looked back at McKay, but he only shrugged. The woman frowned slightly, then pointed to the medic, “McKay,” pointed to herself, “Thella,” then pointed to the child and looked at the Sergeant to fill in the unspoken blank.
She was about to shake her head, she didn’t know, but instead found herself saying, “Ebhiante. Her name is Ebhiante.”
The woman thought for a moment, then nodded, leaning back into the bed and closing her eye. Sgt. Kebede got up and left them to rest, pulling McKay into an area cordoned into an office.
“Find a translator, McKay,” she snapped. “We have to have someone in this dishat army who understands her.”
“And keep me informed of their conditions. Both of them. I don’t want them to sneeze without me knowing.”
She picked up a file on his desk, flipping through some of the reports inside. “And I want an ID on those two bodies, PDQ*, you understand? I want to know who that child is!”
She dropped the folder and raked her fingers through what little hair she bothered to keep on her head. “What is it, McKay?”
“Who is Ebhiante?”
She opened her mouth, then shut it and turned around. “You’ve got patients to see to, Corporal,” she said on her way out.
He shook his head. “Yes, Sergeant,” he sighed after she was gone.
It took two days for a positive ID to be made. Of the two bodies, the woman was related, but not as a mother. An aunt was more likely, though there was a chance she was an elder cousin. The man was registered as the woman’s husband, and so was unrelated by blood. They would have to search the government registration database for likely relatives, and then compare their DNA to the child’s. Because children had up to a year to be registered and there was no file on her, there was little hope of a quick resolution to the case.
The wet-nurse, Thella, had beaten McKay’s odds and survived her injuries after another round of surgery. It took another week to get a translator transferred since no one was sure exactly which language the woman was speaking. McKay had been partly right, it seemed; Thella had thought the child was hers, but only at first.
Now, Sergeant Kebede was using all her connections, some of questionable legality, in order to push through paperwork to adopt Ebhiante and to sponsor Thella as a domestic worker so she could bring them to Giedia Prime. Even twenty years later, it still took a mountain of paperwork to get onto the two main planets.
So when, a month later, she had a civilian messenger come up with an encrypted communique and ask for Sergeant Aliya Kebede, it was the second time in her life she wasn’t sure whether she should be relieved at having an answer at last or afraid of what that answer might be.
A hush fell over the Assembly as the First Consul entered and stood at the podium. She cleared her throat and began to speak.
“For one hundred and fifty-three years, our galaxy has been consumed by war. A war which has laid waste our most precious resource, the lives of billions; the only cost worth considering, and one which must temper our joy at the news that this war is now over.”
The speech was brought to a halt as the entire Assembly erupted in cheers which lasted a good several minutes. As it died down, she continued.
“Treaties were signed by all parties to bring an immediate end to all hostilities and all future claims of right to territories beyond the agreed upon borders. These treaties are set to go into effect on twelve-point-oh-nine of Galactic Year one thousand and three, at ten o’clock Giedian Standard Time; which is just two minutes from now.”
Another round of applause filled the room.
“May our children remember this day, may we remember our fore-bearers, and may we endeavor to be worthy of the lives we have. Please join me in silence as the Giedian Galactic Peace Treaty goes into effect.”
Silence washed through the room, broken by a canon which signaled the moment. Cheers followed, and for a good ten minutes there was no bringing the room back to attention. Slowly the celebration of the moment died down and the First Consul was able to continue again.
“I would like to now call forth the woman who was most instrumental in crafting this treaty, whose tireless efforts to bring the parties to the negotiating table have brought us to where we are today. Please welcome Ambassador Ebhiante Kebede.”