Michael McCarthy, Dublin, Ireland, August 1914

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

A good quote, you think to yourself. It'd have had to be written by an Irishman, of course. The English would never speak of themselves being in the gutter with the common muck,, they'd claim to be of the stars themselves if they could. No, an Irishman would have to have written it, because only an Irishman would understand subjugation.

You stand under a gray sky, a field of barley and oats surrounding you. Thanks to it being August, there's relatively little to do, so you're given time to think. Of course, without working to keep you going, the thinking usually goes downhill. Either your evenings end with you grabbing the bottle, or staring at those stars as dreams of freedom fill your mind.

Eireann is truly in the gutter, you think to yourself. The British boot sits on her throat, keeping her down, like it has for hundreds of years. It will continue to, until the people can rise up and fix that problem. Of course, Britain weakens, its empire collapsing inwards. It's only a matter of time before you finish what the proud Fenians of old had started, what Wolfe Tone continued, and what your generation will finish: the fight for independence. 

"Michael! Michael, get in here!" a shrill voice screams from the farmhouse. 

You turn, sighing, as you work towards the farmhouse, your boots plodding through the mud. It's always something with that woman, you think to yourself. You reach the door, pushing it inwards as you walk into your cramped kitchen. 

"Ma, what's wrong?" you say, leaning in the doorway.

Ma sits in the kitchen at the table, a newspaper in her hands. Joseph stands next to her, his tall, sturdy frame filling a long overcoat. Mary is staring around Joseph, a frail, timid creature in comparison to your burly brother, like a delicate flower growing next to a great Oak. Ma motions for you to see the paper, and you shrug, leaning in to see the pages.

You lean over, looking at the crinkled paper. "BRITAIN AT WAR: GERMANY IGNORES FINAL ULTIMATUM" reads the title.

"Jesus Christ," you say.

You're struck in the face by Ma, who doesn't miss a beat in doing so. While the age has certainly taken much from the woman, it sure hasn't sapped her strength by how much it stings. Still, your mind is too focused on the looming war to even register the pain. 

"Michael, don't take the Lord's name in vain!" the old woman croaks.

"We're at war, Ma, don't blame him. He's shocked," Mary says, rubbing your arm.

"We're at war?" Joseph says indignantly. "When did Ireland declare war?! This is their doing, not ours!"

"You can't be saying that, Joseph. It's our empire too!" Mary says.

"Like bloody hell it is!" Joseph says, stepping back to avoid the incoming slap from Ma. "I'd sooner bow downs to the King of Holland than the King of England."

"They gave us a parliament!"

"They didn't give us a parliament! They promised us a parliament, which we haven't gotten! Now that'll be postponed because of the war, and when that's finished, we'll be feeling the British boot pressed against our throats yet again!

There's a short silence, as you all think about the repercussions this new war will have.

"Will you be signing up? They're recruiting," Mary says softly.

Joseph lets out a barking laugh, shaking his head in disgust.

"Are you joking? Unless the Kaiser's recruiting Irishmen to take out the crown, you can count me out!"

Joseph spits on the ground, turning and heading out of the room. Ma immediately darts up as quick as a bullet, far faster than any old woman has a right to do, heading after him to give him another smack. You chuckle as the two rush out of the room. This leaves you and your sister standing alone around the table. 

"We're in dark times, Michael," Mary says to you. "I'm worried about Joseph. He's been hanging around too many hotheads, violent thugs and brutes the lot of them!"

"Joseph's fine," you say dismissively. "How do you think he'd react when you asked him if he'd sign up?"

"I suppose," she says. "But, Michael, you understand, right? Why we need to serve the Empire, to prove the Irish are a loyal, hard-working people."

"To prove that to who?" you say, annoyed. "The British? They saw how loyal we are many a time, they just don't like what we're loyal to. We're Irish, Mary, not British. Don't forget it."

Mary turns in a huff, moving out of the room. Thankfully, this leaves you alone to think, and you let out a quiet sigh of contentment, sitting down at the table. You grab the newspaper, flicking through it. Might as well read up while you're alone.