Author: G. Allen Wilbanks

“Mama, why is that man so ugly?”
“Hush, child,” the mother chastised her son. “That is rude, and quite a mean thing to say.”
“But Mama,” the boy protested.
“That man is a hero!” the woman proclaimed, loudly enough that if the man had heard her son’s cruel question, he would certainly hear her response to the unkind statement. “He looks like that because of the war. Without people like that man, you would not even be here right now.”
“The human war, Mama?”
The woman nodded. “Yes. The humans. You weren’t born yet, so you don’t understand how bad it was. The humans found us and attacked our homes. There were so many more of them than us, and they had weapons you wouldn’t begin to believe.”
“I know about the humans. They tell us in school. But why does he look like that?”
“We were losing, child. We could not match the horrors that humans turned on us. That man, and a thousand men and women like him, let surgeons change their appearance so they looked like the enemy. They went to the human homeworld to live. While soldiers here fought a lost cause, people like him fought the enemy from the inside, using propaganda and misinformation. They fragmented the human factions and turned them against one another so they could no longer focus on attacking us.”
“Propa-? What is that?”
“It doesn’t matter. The humans turned their weapons on each other and destroyed themselves. They can no longer threaten us, and it is due to brave volunteers like that man.”
The woman waved at the soldier. “Thank you for everything you did for us!” she called out.
The man turned toward her; a twisted, broken smile tried to form on his lips in reply. Despite her best intentions, the woman flinched at the expression. He was truly, quite ugly.
The man dropped his gaze to the child at her side. The boy did not look away. Instead, he peered back at the soldier with the unwavering curiosity managed only by the very young and the very curious.
“Thank you,” said the child, imitating the words of his mother, though he had no understanding of why he said them.