There are other worlds somewhere, realms of other possibilities and outcomes, of beauties and wonders both familiar and unknowable.
The sun burned a blood-orange streak across the sky and seared a path of gold over the slowly rolling sea. Away from the light, sky and sea turned red, violet, blue, and black. The colors bent away from clouds and waves.
It comforted her to think that the waves receding from her would wash up again on a distant shore. In time the darkness about to descend would inevitably be lifted.
The sand was already cold. Somewhere else the sun was rising, the sand warming, the day beginning afresh.
What’s done was done and there was no purpose to be found in lamenting that things could have and should have been different. There were some on the beach weeping, pleading, or cursing, and others quietly giving in to despair. The unceasing waves and the invisible wind carried the sounds away from her. She kept her eyes fixed on the horizon and on the hope of other worlds.
Consensus was that it began with the shelling of protest camp. There had been violent confrontations in the past, but the use of heavy artillery was more than an escalation. A frontier was crossed which could not be explained away or minimized or contextualized.
That was what they said, anyway. She had been young then, too young to entirely follow the developments and understand the far-reaching implications, but old enough to know that the shelling of the protest camp hadn’t been the beginning of anything. That frontier had been crossed long before, when one side accepted that all disagreement was a threat to be met with force–force at first metaphorical and rhetorical but eventually decidedly less so.
She was old enough to resist and young enough that resistance became her identity. Childhood was a blur of ignorance and innocence that didn’t end so much as fade into the struggle, like the darkening hues she looked out onto as she waited on the beach.
Just as the shelling hadn’t been the beginning, no matter what anyone said, so too this day was not the ending.
On other worlds there could be two moons, or the colors of heaven and earth reversed. There were worlds where cooler heads prevailed, where evil was stopped in its infancy by accident or fate. The general boasted that as a child he had overcome a serious infection; in another world, then, he must have succumb, and without his leadership the battlefields would have been very different. Without him the lines would have held. On other worlds, then, he died as a child and the struggle ended in victory.
She had no regrets. Even now she felt pride that she had committed herself before she could even really understand what she was fighting for. Deep inside her a natural sense of justice and compassion had taken root so strongly that at the first challenge it presented itself as her guiding force. It was the core of her self. No defeat could change that.
The sun sank lower and the victors drew inexorably closer, but she kept her eyes on the horizon. She had done all that she could do, more than she had believed herself capable, and over the years of hardship and frustration she had never wavered from that her core convictions. Some argued that their commitment to justice was their undoing, that against an enemy who played dirty they had miscalculated by prioritizing virtue.
They were missing the point. Victory at all costs was no victory at all.
The main force had fallen last week. The reports were passed around as rumor, but everyone understood the underlying truth. The captured were handcuffed, charges were read, verdicts decided, and sentences summarily carried out, thousands and thousands of times in the space of a few hours, followed by reprisals against sympathizers, suspected sympathizers, and enough innocents to force the surrender of the remaining forces.
They didn’t surrender but they retreated away from civilians, and the noose closed around them finally on the beach.
The last of them stood in a line facing the water, on their knees with their hands behind their backs.
On this world they were defeated and darkness was descending, but just as the waters that washed away would return, as the sun would char its way around the earth and bring its blessings back, so too would justice return. This darkness would pass, and it wouldn’t matter if her name was celebrated by future generations or if she was one of the anonymous thousands who fought or if she and the others on the this beach were forgotten forever. What mattered was that in the end they would win. If the arc of history taught anything it was that they would win.
She watched the last rays of the sun slip behind the horizon. She drew in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. Let this breath, then, continue the struggle, if it is all I have left, she thought to herself. It would continue, and though the journey would be long the ending was already decided and always had been. On this world, and on other worlds. She knew it, and even more importantly, they knew it, too.