Qara

As trite as it sounds, I wholeheartedly believe that certain individuals are born for a life of servitude. That was our Qara. Cursed with a helper gene inherited from her father’s side of the family, she was raised on the principles of being steadfast always and to carry honor and glory everywhere and at all times. These disciplines were non-negotiable. And when she became old enough to properly comprehend their importance, Qara was taught how to be strong alone as well as stronger as part of a unit.

Many of you have asked what was she like as a child and the one moment that stands out in my mind was the time I found her watching the streams of her father charging into battle. The soundless images of war looped over and again and Qara sat transfixed studying his actions, mimicking his motions. When she finally noticed me in the room, she turned and said, “I know what I want to be.”

I had my own dreams for my daughter. What parent doesn’t? I envisioned her as a diplomat because she always had such a gifted way with words, so convincing, so compelling, and able to see other’s points of view while gently persuading them to see hers as well. I pictured her initiating the peace talks that would finally put an end to this decades-old war with a relentless extraterrestrial enemy hellbent on our total annihilation. But seldom do the dreams of parents and that of their children align themselves. So, instead of voicing my objections, I simply answered, “Fine.”

I pulled her father’s old, battered, unloaded service weapon from storage and laid it on a table before Qara.

“Dismantle it.” I said, offering no instruction on where and how to begin. “If you plan to use a weapon, you should know how it operates.” I secretly hoped she would have become frustrated, abandon the effort and move on to other interests.

But there was a spark in her young eyes as she turned the weapon over in her hands, searching for connection points, latches, catches and switches. She only managed to get a third of the way before being unable to proceed any further, but it was a mighty fine effort for her first attempt.

I then sat Qara with her brother, elder by three years, who showed her the correct way to field strip the weapon and reassemble it. He only needed to perform the act once. The weapon had become a puzzle game and Qara memorized the moves to solve it. She practiced stripping and reassembling the weapon each morning before the family rose and each night before she went to sleep. She became so proficient at it that she performed the act blindfolded, and in a head to head competition with her brother was able to beat his fastest time.

In her free time, Qara rummaged through her father’s possessions, sent home to us after he lost his life on the battlefield while trying to defend the moon. She devoured material on military strategy, ran herself through a homemade obstacle course, practiced combat techniques with her brother, and though I still was not happy with her choice, I had to admit I was proud at how quickly she progressed.

Then the day came when I received the letter. Behind my back, Qara had registered for armed service. More precisely, she sought placement in the same unit her father had served in. When she returned home, I held the letter out, a mixture of anger and pride in my voice as I announced, “Drafted.” Her squeal was the last remnant of the daughter on whom I had fashioned my dreams.

Qara began studying and idolizing the veterans of the unit, most of them fought alongside her father. It was like a dream for her that came true. More than that, it was another link to her father’s past, another piece of the puzzle that completed the image of him in her mind.

The next two weeks went by too swiftly for me to properly show Qara how much I loved her. When she left, the following four months went by too slowly before I could see her again at the ceremony that marked the completion of her training. In less than a week, my daughter would be protecting our world from alien invaders, as her father did before her.

The ceremony ended with a complex weapon exhibition that was more for show and less for survival and during the maneuver, Qara’s weapon misfired. I couldn’t have been happier. I know how that sounds and how it makes me look but let me reassure you, I am far from being a cold-hearted parent and an unpatriotic civilian. I care for my daughter more than words can express and would never want any harm to befall her, but the injuries she suffered from the misfire explosion put her on inactive status, and to me it was a blessing in disguise.

When I was allowed to see Qara, the only thing she repeated was how devastated she felt at having something that was within her reach suddenly snatched away. It was the only time since her father’s funeral that I recalled seeing her cry. It hurt to see her tears, but I believed the disappointment would fade over time, even if it vanished slower than the scars on her arms. Selfish, I know, but I didn’t care. She was alive, which meant she was with me, and I wasn’t ready to relinquish custody to her late father.

To my surprise, Qara was nearly in agreement, and what I mean by that is she told me of her plans to contact the academy and inform them that she would be withdrawing from the program altogether. If she couldn’t fight, the least she could do was to make her spot in the unit available to some other able-bodied applicant.

She did it the following day, without hesitation, without a crack in her voice, but neither of us were prepared for the response she received from the commander of her father’s former unit. “You petitioned us, not the other way around. We kept a spot open for you, in memory of your father. The spot belongs to you. Be the warrior your father was and fill it.”

Qara gained a new sense of determination while I was sinking in a quagmire of dread.

She attacked her therapy to improve mobility in her weapon arm and retested for qualification. It was her dream and her passion to fight for her planet. Qara had done well before the accident, but now, driven to not only live up to her father’s example but surpass it and make him proud, she beat her previous personal best and made the top ten percentile in the academy.

Qara joined her father’s unit and fought well. She was shorter than average height and thin but few could rival her inner strength. For saving the lives of her unit during the Atmospheric Offensive, and Operation Orbital Push, she received honors, but none higher than when she sacrificed her own life during the campaign to retake the moon. The same mission that killed her father.

Qara saved the lives of the five soldiers riding with her on a reconnaissance mission in orbit around the moon. She was piloting the ship when a satellite mine attached itself to the hull.

I have been told that the satellite was one of ours that had been rigged by the enemy with enough military grade explosives to wipe out an armada. Once close enough to activate the magnetic clamp, the device began an automated countdown upon impact. Qara instructed the soldiers to evacuate to the escape pods. She could have left herself, but the propulsion units on the pods wouldn’t have escaped the blast radius. She stayed behind and piloted the craft away from the soldiers, away from the moon and away from her home.

One of the soldiers once said to me quietly, “We promised to sacrifice the one for the good of the whole. Your daughter delivered on that promise.”

Her unit paid their final respects at a private ceremony for the family. Each soldier had nothing but praise for Qara. She was professional. Dedicated. A morale booster. Quick to cut the tension by making you laugh. In line for a promotion.  A hero. The compliments went on throughout the service.

Standing here in front of you all on the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s death, I tell you this story not to dissuade you from joining the military but instead to join the fight and do your part. Qara was wiser than I gave her credit for. She somehow knew that peace was not the answer, that these barbarians must not only be pushed back but crushed so that they never again think to visit our world.

If you take nothing else from his speech, embrace my family’s principles. Be steadfast in the defense of our planet always and to carry honor and glory into battle. These disciplines are not negotiable. Train yourself to be strong alone, but never forget that we are stronger as a unit.

For the sake of our homeworld and in memory of all those who have fallen, including my husband and my daughter, the humans must die!

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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