No man’s land - a vast stretch of destruction caused by two warring factions - split a once peaceful country in half. It started with a government that was not willing to relinquish its century-old rule despite the opposition’s overwhelming majority in a democratic election. Sounds familiar? It could happen to your country but let’s focus on this fictional one.
The war had ravaged the country’s economy and taken a toll on her divided citizens. Everyone just wanted it to end but the fire was being fuelled by two leaders who refused to back down. They began as a loving couple but they were not able to contain their domestic quarrels. The arguments extended beyond their professional lives. Eventually, they split and joined opposite factions. The husband, now known as Admiral Teak continued to lead the ruling coalition while the wife, commonly known as Lady Iron, joined the opposition. Through clever manipulation of their divorce by positioning herself as the victim, she led the opposition to a landslide victory in the elections.
When words were no longer sufficient, both parties took to violence as the only solution. Initial underground tactics became a full-scale war that went on for years and without any signs of either side winning. The country’s once rich reserves continued to dwindle.
“You have one month to figure it out,” Admiral Teak said to his chief scientist.
“Admiral, there is not enough time! Our team would need at least two years to-“ the chief scientist was cut off before she could finish her sentence.
“ONE MONTH!” the admiral reiterated with his index finger before he strode out of the room.
"The only thing that managed to get past security are flies. Anything bigger gets fried by those damn lasers! There is just no way to send anything past that rat-infested, godforsaken wasteland,” an assistant mumbled.
Then there was silence. When the assistant looked at the chief, all he saw was a grin. The lab laboured during the cold winter month to design and mass-produce robotic metal mice.
While Teak’s faction was busy with the master plan, spies - there will always be espionage involved - alerted the Lady’s faction.
“We have to counteract immediately! We cannot wait for their mice to come and attack us!” the advisor said.
“We don’t know that they will come and attack. Perhaps they are created to infiltrate,” said his deputy.
“Fools! If they can penetrate our defences, they can do anything! They can bring in explosives and blow all of us apart!” The Lady admonished them. “I want a plan and I want it now!”
“We can create our own rodents and-“
“Is there no originality in you, advisor?” the assistant interrupted the first advisor. “Instead of something smaller, I propose something larger, much larger so that it can carry enough explosives and give it a bigger bang.”
The advisor’s face was impassive but he felt the sting. His ambitious young deputy was getting impatient to replace him. Chosen among a pool of genius strategists, she was the most compatible with him. Perhaps too compatible - they shared the same hunger for power. She was doing unto him what he did to his predecessor. He had framed and kicked him out in a power struggle.
“What do you have in mind?” the Iron Lady asked, eager for a solution.
“I would suggest a horse, My Lady.”
“A brilliant idea indeed!” the advisor jumped in. “But a horse might prove difficult to create. The agility, the speed, might require additional time to figure out. I feel we should go for something more common in these parts. The ox is more appropriate. All brute and strength, it can stomp those rats flat and then some.”
The Iron Lady’s eyes narrowed. Her advisor might still prove useful after all.
“Good. We shall have our metal oxen. With their strength and large bodies, they will crush the rodents and for the last time, destroy our enemies once and for all. Victory is ours!”
One month later, late into the night, the Teak factions unleashed thousands of metal mice into the wasteland. Covered with artificial skin and equipped with tiny speakers, the mice were virtually indistinguishable from real rodents. Most of the metal mice were loaded with explosives but some were designed to squeeze through border control.
It was questionable why they chose to release the metal rodents all at the same time because it was this mistake that alerted the Lady’s faction.
“Lady Iron, the other side is pouring out their mice. They are on their way!” the military chief said.
“Very well. Let loose our very own metal oxen!” Lady Iron commanded.
The military chief punched his fist into a huge red button. Alarms blaring, thick metal doors cranked open. Behind those doors, hundreds of glowing red eyes turned on. Unlike her husband, the lady did not bother to disguise her oxen. The red flashing lights reflected off their metallic bodies. The ground shook as the creatures stormed out. They left behind a trail of dust as they rushed out of the gateway to no man’s land.
From a bird’s eye view, it could be seen thousands of tiny rodents swarm toward a large herd of oxen. The robot mice moved fluidly, consuming anything that was in their way. The oxen took a different approach. They crashed and stomped on all the obstacles to clear their path.
When the mighty clashed with the tiny, sparks flew. The sound of crashing metal followed by explosions echoed through the night. The oxen crashed head-on into the rodents. Some rodents exploded but the oxen were unscathed. Those mice that the oxen missed jumped on the giant bodies. They hung on and covered the metal beasts. In a coordinated effort, these mice exploded at the same time. The suicidal attempts took the oxen with them.
What looked like a victory to the mice quickly shifted to a win for the oxen. When the oxen fell, their own explosives took out a big group of mice. In the end, when all had perished, only metallic carcasses remained. Thick, black smoke billowed up from the smouldering, convoluted mess. The wreckages merely added to the landscape of the wasteland.
With all their resources used up for the creation of the beasts and the rodents, both factions were penniless. Both Admiral Teak and Lady Iron were weary but they were not able to rest. The guilt of plunging their broken country into poverty overwhelmed their consciousness. A thought came to them. A thought that should have come sooner.
“A truce?” Lady Iron tried to sound surprised.
“Yes, and you very well know that is the only option.”
They agreed to meet at dawn. They were shocked at how the years of anger and hatred had consumed their physical forms. All skin and bones, they looked so fragile that a feather might lay waste to their bodies. Still, their minds were sharp as tacks.
“You’ve lost quite a lot of weight,” Teak said, showing concern on his wizened face.
“So did you,” replied the lady, her eyes filled with sympathy.
Suddenly, memories of their early, love-filled years came flooding back. It felt like just yesterday that they had split up and started the war.
“You know, we could end this right here and now,” Teak reached out and took Lady Iron’s hand. She retreated at first but he held fast.
“What has become of us?” she asked as her armour crumbled.
They both felt guilty over the years of violence and lives sacrificed just to satisfy their whims.
“We will have to take things one step at a time. We started this. Now we have to fix it,” Teak said.
No longer alone, they felt confident they will be able to rebuild the nation together. They held hands as the sun rose, its warm rays burning through the cold, dark ruins of war.