Like most Andaran bars, Giobani’s Splendiferous House of Rest and Replenishment was a modest affair. The highly philosophical Andarans only got particularly wound up when debating their beliefs, and the rest of the time they were a quiet sort. They made damn fine ale, though.
"Fondest greetings, General," Giobani said, waving to him with one prime-arm. His low-arms were busy cleaning glasses, but his other prime-arm was already reaching for a bottle of Korbal’s favorite. "I am gratified that you have once again decided to use my establishment as the place to host this singular celebration."
"I’m retired, Gio," Korbal grunted. He accepted the glass of ale, its phosphorescent red glow contrasting pleasantly with his own blue skin. "And you’re the only bar on the station that would agree to it when I started. I’m not about to forget that."
"A fact which my competitors have come to regret," Gio agreed. His eyebrows twitched in an ironic gesture. "And my wife is always pleased with the profit we gain each time."
"Huh?" another voice cut in. A few stools down the bar, another Vulan, several years younger than Korbal by the shade of his skin, glanced over in surprise. "The other bars wouldn’t host a Vulan party?"
"That is incorrect," Giobani replied, all four hands now busy preparing the griddle at the back of the bar, "for this is not a Vulan party. General Korbal is hosting a Terran celebration."
"What!?" The Vulan stood up so sharply he didn’t notice he’d knocked over his drink. Giobani was there in an instant, whisking the glass away and cleaning up the spill. "A decorated Vulan general is hosting a filthy human party!?"
"Retired," Korbal corrected again. "And sit down, pup, you’re embarrassing yourself."
After a moment, the young man did so. "Apologies, General. I was…surprised."
"Had much contact with Terrans?"
"I–just what I see in the news," the man admitted. He picked up the new glass Giobani had placed there, probably not even noticing the switch. Gio was the best kind of bartender.
Korbal snorted, then took a sip of his drink. "What’s your name, pup?"
"Under-Lieutenant Ular Povis, sir!" His hand twitched like he wanted to salute, but of course neither of them were in uniform. And Korbal was retired, but few people seemed to remember that.
"At ease, Under-Lieutenant," Korbal said dryly. "From your accent, you’re from the Yanis Cluster, yes?"
"Yes, sir. I’m a gunnery officer on the destroyer Poval, on escort duty. We just got into port three days ago."
Korbal nodded. "Yanis hasn’t had much to do with this side of Coalition space. You hear about the Liberty War out there? When the humans fought off our invasion?"
Povis grimaced. "Yes, General. They will pay for that someday."
Korbal gave him a pitying look. "Either you don’t watch the news much, or you’re watching the wrong networks. The Glar Cluster and the Liberty colony are allies now. That’s why I’m hosting this party. I do it every year, according to their calendar."
"I…don’t understand."
Giobani trilled a laugh. "A fact which more younglings should learn as early as you have, Under-Lieutenant Povis. Whenever one learns that one does not know, the universe becomes a fraction more harmonious."
"Do you know anything about the Liberty War, pup?" Korbal asked, not unkindly. "Or the history of the Liberty colony?"
"No, General," the young officer admitted.
Korbal grunted again. "I figured. I suppose you’ve never heard of the Terran nation called the United States?"
"Is that the one with the elected emperor?"
"No, you’re thinking of the Holy Roman Empire. The United States started on a different continent, though it was founded by people from one of the nations that eventually re-founded the Empire. But that’s a different story.
"See, this United States was founded on the idea of personal freedom, and that the most ordinary citizen should have a say in his own government." This time it was Povis who snorted, but then he froze at another look from Korbal. "It’s not that far off from our own Second Federation, pup. And they experienced the same problems we did back then. Only they did a better job at it, and there’s a reason why. Tell me; if your captain ordered you on an obvious suicide mission, would you obey orders?"
"Of course!" Povis snapped, fists clenching. For a Vulan, no matter his actual nation, questioning his bravery was something even a decorated general couldn’t get away with.
But Koval raised a placating hand. "Precisely. You fight out of obedience. But the Terrans, especially of the United States, fight out of duty. You and I are trained to fight with honor. These, well…they don’t need orders to know what honor demands. They will put up with a lot, but push them past a certain point and they will fight back with the ferocity of a starving garax hound." Koval took another sip of his drink. "And that is why we lost."
"I see you still lack understanding, Under-Lieutenant," Giobani said, coming back to the bar and beginning to polish its already-gleaming surface. "One of their philosophers explained it in this manner. ‘The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.’ Or one of their singing poets: ‘Hold your head up high, for there is no greater love; think of the faces of the people you defend.’ Do you see?"
The young man, in fact, did not. Korbal tried again. "The Liberty colony was founded by humans from this specific tradition; they were independent of the United States, but revered its history and ideals. And because they were small and weak, and founded their colony on a world we claimed even though the Coalition listed it as open, we thought we could simply absorb them into our nation. A client state, if they cooperated; a slave state, if not. But, like you, we did not understand.
"We didn’t know that they would not simply surrender when they lost their orbitals. We knew their military was small; we did not know that most of their population fought better than our conscripts, even the younglings. We knew they couldn’t resist our aerial and ground vehicles; we did not know they would simply fade into the countryside and avoid massing in numbers. We knew they were independent of other Terran nations; we did not know that ordinary citizens on their homeworld would volunteer–volunteer!–to travel to another star system to fight for people they had never met."
Korbal drained the last of his ale, motioning Giobani for a refill. "And I was the leader of that occupation. Had I studied their history, I would have advised against invading at all. They do not need clear orders. They fight because they believe they protect others. They accept hardship, even personal insults, if it makes another’s life easier. But only to a point. Push them past that, and they become the fiercest warriors I have ever encountered. Even more than the Cartalian Horde."
"I…forgive me, General, but I find this hard to believe," Povis said after a long moment. "They’re so weak. I’ve seen the reports, even participated in simulations–"
"Simulations!" Korbal scoffed. "Simulations aren’t worth shit against humans. Oh, you might get a feel for their anatomy, where to place a bullet, how much pressure their bones can take. But you miss the most important factor." He tapped his forehead. "This is their greatest weapon. Their adaptability. Their penchant for making unusual choices. Their ability to believe, against all odds.
"We thought they were insane at first," Korbal admitted. "That they had experienced a psychotic break that kept them from realizing the true inevitability of their defeat. We couldn’t simply use planetary bombardment, of course; that’s against the Coalition Accords. But how could farmers with rifles stand up to the might of a Volun invasion fleet?
"And then I was captured, and I found out first-hand."
"You were captured?" Povis looked aghast "I know you were defeated, but–"
"Oh, yes. Remember that, pup. Even the greatest of warriors can be laid low. Especially if he becomes overconfident." Korbal smiled at the memory. "Yes, I was foolish. Too set in my ways. I didn’t believe this new species could offer anything different from countless battles fought centuries before they entered Coalition space.
"But, you see, that is when I was introduced to this particular holiday. They treated me as a guest in my captivity, as much as they could, and I was invited to join them. I was confused at first. It took me years, in fact, to grasp the meaning of the day. There is no ceremony to it, no rites and rituals. I thought at first that it was because they had to remain hidden from my forces, but after the war I found that the only thing they did besides food and drink with family and friends was to shoot off fireworks. They couldn’t do that without giving away their position, of course."
"Then why is it so special?" Povis asked, sounding genuinely curious. "Nothing more than food and drink and a light show–this sounds pointless."
"It took me some contemplation to understand it as well, Under-Lieutenant," Giobani said, accepting a box from one of his younglings. It was filled with old-fashioned paper decorations, all in red, white, and blue. He began laying these out on the bar. "It is really a very simple thing. And, as with most simple things in the universe, it is difficult to grasp. But it is truly a celebration of harmony, and now that I grasp it, I have incorporated it into my family’s practices." He trilled softly. "With much sadness, however, I must admit that I have yet to convince my Harmonious Brethren that a celebration of the start of a war can truly be one of peace."
Korbal nodded. "I was slowly realizing that my captors weren’t insane, but it was still impossible for me to grasp at the time. It was only a C-year later, when my forces had been driven off Liberty and our ships commandeered to take the fight to our own systems, that I began to grasp it. They didn’t tell me much, of course; they weren’t stupid enough to give me information on the state of their forces or their plans. But I could tell by the questions they asked me about my culture that they were attempting to understand Vulans the way I should have tried with Terrans. And I saw that they placed much emphasis on not just minimizing damage, but rebuilding our own facilities."
Povis blinked. "You mean military facilities?"
Korbal shook his head. "No. They were rebuilding civilian facilities. Museums weren’t touched once they knew no one was inside. Homes were rebuilt, and possessions saved. They located teachers and gave them facilities to continue instructing students under their own occupation. And I later found out that, at great risk, they deflected the wreckage of one of our ships from entering the atmosphere of an inhabited planet, because it might come down on an inhabited area, even though the Accords wouldn’t hold them responsible. And when we finally sued for peace, they withdrew from our worlds."
"But that’s–"
"Insane?" Korbal finished for him. "No. Actually, I’ve come to believe that doing anything but that is insane. And I’m not the only one. Oh, trust me, the Libertans held great resentment for our unprovoked invasion, and they and their Terran allies won great concessions from us; but they held a very long-term view, and they taught us much about honor. So much, in fact, that the Glar Federation now celebrates this day with the humans of Liberty. It is a recognition that failure does not have to remain a defeat; and that peace is more honorable than war, even if it takes a war to defend it."
Povis was watching as two of Giobani’s younglings, perched on ladders, hung a banner over the bar. He frowned as he read the words there, printed in both Terran English and Vulan Dithrak scripts. "The Fourth of…what is that word?"
"’July,’" Korbal told him. "It’s the name of a month in their standard calendar. The official name of the holiday, at least as they celebrate it, is Independence Day; but they all just call it the Fourth of July. It’s so important to them that it needs no other name. We call it something different in Glar, of course, but we still use their calendar to plan the day."
"Is that the day they drove off your forces?"
"Oh, no!" Korbal barked a laugh. "No, it goes back to their pre-industrial period–before they even knew how to make a steam engine, much less reach for the stars. It references when the United States declared themselves an independent nation. Their leaders signed a great document, a declaration of their intent and the reasons for their rebellion. Many of them were captured and killed during the war that followed, but eventually they won and their parent nation let them be. And do you know what those leaders pledged on that document?"
Povis just shook his head. Of course he didn’t know, but Korbal always enjoyed telling this story.
"’We mutually pledge to each other," Korbal quoted softly, "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’ Those are the last words of that document, which was voted upon by their equivalent of the Parliament of Elders on the fourth of July in their calendar. Under those words, they signed their names, so that no one–not even their enemies–could mistake who they were.
"But…in our culture, such a day would be celebrated with grand ceremony in a temple, not–" Povis glanced around for Giobani, lowering his voice. "Not in a bar." He froze a moment later, as Giobani, at the far end of the bar, swiveled his large head to look at the young officer with an amused flick of his bushy eyebrows.
"And there is the biggest difference between our cultures, pup," Korbal agreed. "They don’t need grand ceremony. They don’t even need to remember the war, because they never fight for glory. They fight to defend what they love. And that is why this day is celebrated with food and drink, among family and friends. To them, nothing in this life is more important."
Giobani called out another typically Andaran long-winded greeting as more people came into his bar, and both Korbal and Povis glanced over to see that some humans had arrived, followed by another group of Vulans and even an environment-suited Reglian. One of the humans waved to Korbal, obviously pleased to see him.
Korbal waved back, finished his drink, and stood. "And so, every July, I host a party and invite every Terran in the system to join me here at Gio’s, even if they’re not from Liberty or the United States. And you’re welcome to stay too, Under-Lieutenant. Meet some real humans for a change."
"Thank you, General," Povis said slowly. "I…I think I will. But, General, may I ask a question?"
"I’m retired, pup," Korbal said with a sigh. "But ask away."
"You said you called today something else in Glar. What is it?"
"Isn’t it obvious, pup?" Korbal smiled. "The only name that fits. Today is the Feast of Sacred Honor."
Check out the next Independence Day contest honorable mention,Smoke, Sparks, and SprocketsbyMike P.!
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