“Which one of you did it? Which one of you started this war?”
The boys cowered in the corner, clearly terrified of the hulking man bellowing at them. None of them answered; one whimpered.
“Fess up, you lot, or it’s the dogs for you!”
A low growl came from the shadowed back of the room. One of the boys began babbling.
“It was all of us! I mean, we didn’t mean to. We didn’t want any of this to happen. We were just pushing buttons! Who would be stupid enough to leave a real missile silo unguarded? We thought it was a mock-up or something! It was just a place Hank found, a tunnel, and we went in to explore. You aren’t supposed to leave dangerous things out like this! We’re teenagers. We were just screwing around. We were doing what teenagers do, and we didn’t know it would hurt anybody. Honest.” He abruptly stopped talking and leaned his head on the wall. After a few moments, he added, “We didn’t know anyone would die.”
The large military man sighed. The dog came from the back of the room and sat next to him, a large, hulking beast, a perfect match for the man. The four boys, seeing the dog, sat up a little straighter. The reality was less terrifying than any imagined creature.
“You have loosed the dogs of war. You have killed off at least a third of the world’s population in one day, and another quarter, at least, will die from what comes afterwards. You have no idea of the number of lives you cut short because you were stupid children who wanted to push buttons. If I had my choice, I would feed you to my dog, but I doubt that would be accepted any more readily than your actions. That many people dead is a statistic. If I kill you four, however much you deserve it, people will hate me. You are four faces, four young, stupid, faces, on which their hopes and dreams can be pinned.” He sighed again. “You are going to spend the rest of your lives atoning for this mess. It was a stupid act that changed the world, and you are going to do your damnedest to make it better.”
The boys just stared at him, wide-eyed.
“Here’s the deal. I will not tell anyone what you did. At this point, they’re blaming anyone and everyone in power. No one will know it was you. Trust me on this; you never want them to know. Everyone lost someone dear to them. Most people lost more than one. If they knew, they would tear you limb from limb, and I am not exaggerating. Do you understand?”
The boys nodded in unison. The one who had been babbling said, quietly, “Yes, sir.”
That was the end, and the beginning.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Grace O’Malley challenged me with “Fess up, you lot–or it’s the dogs for you!” and I challenged Mediocre Wayne with “Flying in the dark, completely comfortable.”