The Price Of Peace

I jumped out of bed at the sound of the first explosion. Could it be? I thought, are they invading? I ran to the balcony to see what was happening in the city below. A thick morning haze covered the concrete rooftops that stretched below my balcony all the way to the far off mountains. Patches of fire and smoke were erupting in the distance. I could hear sirens blazing, the thuds of mortars and, closing my eyes, I began to make out a deep rumble underneath it all: gunfire. The queers were starting to invade our normal city.

I barely had time to let this realization sink in, when the phone rang. I grabbed it.


-"John? It's Reg, are you seeing this?" From the background noise I realized that Reginald was calling from Homeland Defense. They must have been working 24/7 in the last few days to come up with a plan for retaliation. His voice was uneven and trembling. I began to feel a deep, terrible fear. If he was shaken, things were going very badly indeed. Perhaps there were just too many queers to wipe out, perhaps their queerness made them invincible to conventional weaponry.

-"I got a hell of a view from here Reg. It looks like they are on the move, what are we going to do?"

-"We have an attack plan John. It's classified, but I thought about it, and I think I owe you a heads up."

-"Go ahead"

-"Look, I can't really go into details, but remember what we used to talk about in the genetics lab?"

My stomach sank. Suddenly I felt despair. It was mixed -perversely- with a feeling of relief. I had just been told how I was going to die.

-"The virus?"

-"I thought that you might want to be warned. I mean, I know that you are one of us, but your wife had once mentioned your... problem. I know that you wouldn't do anything to... encourage it, but here's the thing: You see, we didn't have the time we needed to work on the virus. Dammit John, the queers advanced sooner than we expected, there was no time to perfect the targeting of this strain. It makes no distinctions on whose side you are on, it attaches to anything that is unnatural about you and uses it as an attack vector." There was a pause, after which he said "Although it is rather fast and painless, it's very humane."

-"Dammit Reg, it was so long ago" I pleaded, as if Reginald could go and talk sense to the virus "it was just a few times, it was nothing really, I just put on a few of Norma's clothes, nothing much, I was just curious. We had a laugh over it and that was it." I wondered why I needed Reginald to believe me, as if it made a difference.

-"I see", Reginald said, "well then you're an edge case. During the testing phase we found that the virus did not affect incidentals, people like comedians who did drag acts for example, so if you did what you did for laughs it will pass you over." He paused for a moment while some commotion could be heard behind him. "Yeah", he went on in a more assertive tone, "you'll be ok John. I wanted to let you know just in case. So, I have to go now - we've just received the go for launch prep. I guess I'll see you soon then, alright? We'll toast to the end of the war, ok?"

-"Yeah, sure." I said. I don't know if my voice sounded as resigned and distant to Reginald's ears as it sounded to mine. I hung up.

So this is how my life ends, I thought. Norma will now find out how much I had kept from her. She will come home and find a disfigured queer corpse lying face down on the floor. She will call the cleanup squads. They will turn the corpse over and she will recognize my distorted face. She will know then. She will understand. She will hate me I guess, but in the end the less she knows about all this the better, for her sake and for her security rating. Reginald would help her avoid any accomplice or association charges. He was a good man, I was sure he would help.

At least I won't experience much pain... My God, I'm going to die today, this is it. What a price to pay for a few moments of... what the hell had it been anyway? What the hell had I been thinking back then? I had clearly lost it, too much stress at work, too much pressure in my marriage, Norma's illness, it had all gotten to me and the doctor had said that I had created a parallel reality so that I could escape the pressures. And he had been right of course: After taking a few vacations I never put on Norma's clothes again. Sometimes I would feel the need, but I would go for a walk and take an objective view of my life and I would realize how silly those thoughts were in the light of day. Besides, I was very normal, I had nothing to do with those queers. I could never hurt a fly. It was so unfair that I would have to be exterminated along with the queers, but then every war has collateral damage. The price of peace!

I went and grabbed my strongest whiskey from its cabinet and sat on the balcony. I began to pour myself drinks, one after another. Over the next few hours I watched as the fires slowly spread across the city. I listened as the sounds of the battles in the streets grew louder. The queers didn't realize how close yet how far they were from destroying normal society. It would all be over for them soon.

The sun, all the way up in the sky by now, was bathing the whole balcony in light. The burning city glowed in the warm summer day. I was quite drunk, yet I kept on drinking. It didn't matter anymore, nothing mattered: I had lied to Reginald through my teeth. It hadn't been for laughs, it hadn't been just a few times. And now it was all over.

Drunk and despairing, I closed my eyes and let go of everything.

When I opened them again I was eighteen. I was back at school. It was a summer night, a little after sunset. The last of the day's heat was being swept away by a fresh night breeze. There was music in the distance and cheerful young voices were chatting and laughing. I was wearing my best dress. Daniel walked up to me. We smiled at each other as he took my hand. "Let's go inside" he said, and I let him lead me back to the prom. All my old friends were there with their dates. Daniel held me close as we danced. I felt like I was floating as the song played in the background:

And I can't explain, but its something about the way you look tonight

Takes my breath away, it's that feeling I get about you, deep inside

And I can't describe, but its something about the way you look tonight

Takes my breath away

The way you look tonight

From another world, one which grew ever more distant with every passing second, there came the scream of jet engines. The music swelled over it. I looked across the room and saw couples dancing, decorations glittering, felt Daniel's arms around me. Like a whisper, the voice of a man called John was speaking in my head, telling me that it was all going to be OK, that the planes were spraying something that would bring peace to the world.

I didn't need it though: I was young and in love. Daniel was holding me close and telling me that I was beautiful. I already felt so peaceful.