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Different Lives

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Yang Wen-li had never expected to have an easy life. But he had hoped at least to get a chance at pursuing the carrier he wanted to have. Bad luck had it that his father died when he was young and left him with nothing but debts.

Young, orphaned, without money, he had only one chance to make a living and maybe get the education he wanted to have. So Yang, in an attempt to make his way in life against all odds, enlisted as a cadet with no intention of ever really becoming a soldier for life. His only goal was to study history.

Even at this age he should have known that life was never just that easy.

“They are going to shut down the history department,” he told his friend Jean that evening.

“Are you going to stay then?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I really don't see how I can leave. I'd have to pay for the years I've spent here already. I'm only here because I didn't have money in the first place.”

His mentors were confident that although his marks in other subjects weren't all that great they could find a niche for him. Yang wasn't sure he wanted them to find one. Once more his future did seem uncertain and not all that bright.

“We have to protest. We can't let them do this! They promised you this education and you should get it!” Jean and Yang had met Jessica Edwards only weeks before, but she had left a big impression on both of them. It was obvious to Yang how head over heals in love his friend was with her – and although he had no right to feel that way, he felt a stab of pain every time he saw them together. He tried to quench his own feelings for Jessica, but couldn't help but look at her with admiration and love. At least he hoped that Jean wasn't aware of it, as he wanted nothing more than his friend to be happy.

In a way he was beginning to fear that his life would go on to be a series of missed chances. He idly watched Jessica organize the students of the at risk departments, print leaflets and inform the student body of the plans. Yang did not think it would really lead to anything and instead concentrated on reevaluating his own options.

“Yang, you really should come along when we talk to that journalist,” Jessica told him in the evening. Jean was smiling at him a tad bit ruefully, but not contesting anything Jessica was saying. “Didn't you say, you really wanted to study history?”

“Jessica. You're right, of course. But technically we are already signed into the military. Talking to the press could get all of us into serious trouble.”

“Don't you want to take the risk?” she asked with an earnest expression.

“It could ruin our carrier chances in the military and doesn't guarantee us any other options.”

Jessica frowned at him and then smiled. “That is why I need a tactician on my side.”

***

Yang never figured out how Jessica had done it. She had managed to get two papers interested in the story and in the wake of another political scandal two high ranking politicians who were running for their districts representative positions had latched onto this problem as a means to get the war tired populace to vote for them. Jessica, whose name did not appear in any of the articles, was right out pleased with herself and told Yang one morning: “I'll be a teacher. I think it's important to help children to find their way, so that they won't end up like you. Not knowing where to go.”

He gave her a tired smile. Thoughts of his own future still weren't happy ones. But he could imagine Jessica teaching a class of happy children and nodded. “I'm sure you'll be wonderful whatever you do,” he told her and hoped his voice didn't betray him.

Jessica just smiled at him with a soft expression and he knew that his voice hadn't betrayed him. His eyes had.

***

It was arranged that those students who absolutely didn't feel they wanted to pursue a career in a field that differed from the one they had chosen, would be given the chance to leave the military and continue their studies at the Free People's University of Heinessen without renewed payments. Of all the students in the history department only three decided to leave the military behind.

One of them was Yang Wen-li.

***

After graduation he had the chance to stay on in a teaching capacity. He had always known that his passion for history would never make him rich, but he was surprised how suddenly everything was falling into place for him anyway. He earned enough to make a living and pay back the money he owed the government.

His first publication was focused on the Thirteen Day War and the implications of global economy. He began to delve deeper into earth history after that and published an essay on China in the days before the rise of the mega states and thought that his father would probably have loved to read it.

As it was in high demand he specialized on military history and was one of the youngest experts on the subject of the rise of the Goldenbaum dynasty and Imperial military history. To his own surprise some of his works – those most critical of the recent decay of the Imperial dynasty – get cited frequently in the media.

In an interview he said something about history being the best source for predicting future developments, as history has a way of repeating itself. Dynasties rise and fall. He was surprised to find his name in the papers the next day as the person who predicted the downfall of the Goldenbaum dynasty.

***

The Alliance forces had been crushed at El Facil week before. The way the army had left behind the civilians had been a scandal across all the media stations. There had been talk about reelections and political unrest ever since.

A new name popped up in the records of Imperial movements. Reinhard von Müsel. Most Imperial sources didn't have anything nice to say about him, but Yang had a feeling that he was witnessing a part of history in the making. And that was something Yang didn't want to miss for the world.

Jessica came over to visit him in his office that day and seeing her distress, he felt slightly guilty for staying hidden away with his research so often these days. Jean would have to leave again in the next week. The war was on again.

***

When Jean was killed in action Jessica was devastated. Yang shared her pain, for Jean had been one of his best and closest friends – and it broke his heart to see Jessica broken and depressed.

“They killed him,” she declared and pointed at the television set where the news were showing footage of the head of parliament sprouting more war propaganda. “It was good you got out before they sent you off to the slaughter, too.”

***

The next day Jessica nearly committed public suicide and only the intervention of on of Jean's comrades saved her life. Yang picked her up with his new, fancy car and they decided to stay in his office at the university, because it had become apparent that going home was to dangerous at the moment.

“I can't just mourn him. Do you understand. I have to do something.”

“Then do something, Jessica. Don't you think he would have wanted you to go on living and be happy?”

She gave him a critical look. “What are you doing?”

It hurt, because he knew there was more than a little truth in it. “I'm a historian. What can I do?”

Jessica, her eyes red from the crying, her cheeks still flushed, got up and picked up a book from his desk and looked at it for a moment. “Write. Publish. Help people understand what our history is all about and why we can't just keep going to have battle after battle.”

For a moment all speech had left him, then he nodded. “You're right, of course, this was not Heinessen's dream of the future.”

She nodded. Then turned to look at him. “I've decided something. I'll work with the peace movement.”

“Politics?”

“Yes.”

“You've always been good at that. Who knows where I would be without your talent for activism.”

She smiled at him, tears freely running down her cheeks. “Lets make Jean proud of us at least.”

***

Jessica hadn't lost any of her “talent for activism” and slowly she was rediscovering her own enthusiasm. Yang went to listen to her speeches, watched her debate on television. She urged him to do more and he published an essay on the state of the Empire, describing historical developments and again theorizing about what was to come. Of course, the essay went unnoticed. The government was becoming more and more unstable and nobody was looking at the writing of historians.

Even now that the Empire was on the verge of Civil War and the star of Reinhard von Müsel, now von Lohengramm had finally risen, nobody seemed to understand that this young man was a true genius, a leader, possibly the Alexander the Great of their time. It scared Yang to think about it, because he could see only stagnation in the way the Alliance had been run for decades now. Corruption, selfishness and short sightedness governed their politicians.

So Yang set down to do some research on the history of the Alliance. His more critical essays were not published and he asked Jessica for help. She just nodded and introduced him to a small publisher who printed all of her pamphlets and writings.

***

In only a few years Rheinhard von Lohengramm had gone from being the son of a bankrupt aristocrat to Emperor. Kaiser Reinhard I. Yang stared at his picture for a while. He knew now what was coming.

Jessica didn't seem happy either. She came to him and asked his opinion over a glass of wine. She was more beautiful to him than ever, although she was tired and stressed. “What do you think?”

“I think we need a new government or we won't stand a chance.”

She smiled at him one of her sad, but wonderfully open smiles and just leaned over the desk to kiss him. “I think I love you.”

“I've always loved you,” he whispered back.

He had never wanted a family, never wanted to be in a position of power. All he had ever wanted was to learn and have a quite life. Now he was witnessing history: As Jessica and other “reformers” were rallying people, to make a change before it was to late, as the Empire was getting stronger under the leadership of a young Emperor who had managed to rally the best commanders of his Empire around him. The Alliance would stand or fall. And although he felt that dreams were to be lost soon, he also felt utter excitement at the prospect of witnessing history in the making.

When Jessica visited him the next time he told her: “I fear I should write the history of democracy. So people will remember why it's something worth thriving for.”

She was sitting on his living room sofa watching the news again and looked over only briefly. Another battle lost. Empire forces were closing in on Heinessen. “I think you should do it, too. People on both sides could benefit from it. I certainly would.” She smiled tiredly.

The Alliance was on the brink of reformation – but the Empire had never been a bigger threat.

And still Yang Wen-li had no fear for the future.