BLOOD OATH • by John Eric Vona

I would never betray my brother, but something must be done. This war, no, this blood feud, because the war ended a long time ago, cannot go on forever. Neither of us has ever known anything but bloodshed and I know he’s having trouble letting go. Makes you think the peacebeats could have been right when they stopped the fighting with the squids and tried to pull humanity out of their part of the galaxy. But this part of the galaxy is our home and nothing can make me think our grandparents were wrong for staying, not even the scars on my little brother’s face.

We call him Moonface because of the craters that mar his cheeks. The glass shield of his armor suit shattered during a squid ambush. He was twelve. He smiles at me now, thin-lipped and grim, as we step into the airlock.

“Not too late to grab the guns and paste these squirmers,” he whispers.

“Tell me you left them in the ship.”

“Left what?”

“The guns.”

Moonface winks.

The opposing airlock opens and, through an icy mist, a mass of writhing tentacles appears. In my youth, I would have tried to count them, but not now. It doesn’t matter, one way or the other.

“Last chance,” he says. I feel the anxiety, the shifting jitters, of the others in our crew.

Even though we can talk to them now, the squids hate us as much as ever. I doubt peace can really work. Earth’s peace is built on a military that could swat away a squid attack with less fuss than a training exercise and the fact that the squid home world was destroyed during the war, leaving them scattered and broken.

The body of one squid emerges from the tangle and speaks into a medallion translator.

He says he wants peace.

My brother snorts and I elbow him. I deliver the terms while my crew shakes their heads and scuffs the airlock floor with their boots.

The squirmer tries to haggle, but I shut him down.

“Take it to your people,” I say and remove a knife from my belt.

The tangle of squids tightens.

No weapons, the translator squawks.

“It’s an old Earth custom,” I explain. “To seal a deal, we make a blood oath.” I run the blade across my palm and hand the knife to my brother. He looks at me with complete confidence that I’ve gone insane.

But the squid cuts a tentacle and extends it, the warmth of my blood mingling with the chill of the squid’s. I’ve just made history and Moonface doesn’t even know it. The treaty they signed with Earth was made on paper, but ours is made in blood. The squid’ll return home and slither and touch every one of his kin, giving them every human disease I’ve been inoculated for and they’ve never encountered in their virus-free environment.

I turn and wink at my scowling little brother. I would never betray my brother.

John Eric Vona is a graduate of Florida State University’s undergraduate creative writing program where he studied with fiction writers like Charles Henley, Mark Winegardner, and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. His work has been featured in Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 365 Tomorrows. He lives in Tampa with his gorgeous wife, Mary.

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