After the War

2nd June 2019

You joined the fight so you could stop feeling helpless. And yet now, as the world crumbles around you, the anguish is worse than it’s ever been. All you can do is watch, and follow, as they drag them into the chamber, chained and blindfolded, silent in the face of death. Your allies. Your friends.

You curse the powers that drew you to the war in the first place. Being unseen, unheard unless made aware, was incredibly useful for intelligence gathering, for stealth missions where slit throats were better than the cacophony of gunfire. But now, though desperate to be seen, desperate to show that you haven’t abandoned them, desperate to die by their side, something within you – always beyond your control – won’t let you.

The anguish gives way to anger. You scream, but the soldiers calmly piling your friends in a room too white to be pure remain impassive. Just following their orders, unknowing, unseeing. You follow them out the door.

“You’ll kill them! You’ll kill children and old men! But you won’t kill me? Not young enough? Not old enough? Look at me!”

Nothing. Not from them. Not from your friends.

Then a small gasp from behind you. The doctor heard something. She sees something. You whirl, are on her in a second, a knife nearly severing the artery on the side of her neck before you realize with horror that she’s pregnant. They’d send someone pregnant to do this, someone carrying life to take it clinically and without thought. Does her line even deserve to go on, if she’s here? But no. You won’t kill a child. A mother. Not even one of theirs.

“How can I help them? Where are the keys?” You press the knife in just a little more, just enough to make her think she’s going to die. “Where?”

“Next room over,” she chokes out. “They always keep the keys in the next room over, to collect the chains once it’s done.”

You let her go. Grab the gauze on the tray next to her and wrap it around her throat. She says nothing, and you know she won’t betray you.

Then you’re there. Some focus, a short run, and you’re in the next room but you’re not alone. The keys are in the general’s hand but there’s no time for stealth, no time to make sure you’re still unseen. You grab. She resists, grabs for you, calls for guards, but you wrench yourself away.

You will not fail them. Not when you’re so close.

Out the room. Back to the next. Hands working fast, keys shaking and chains clinking to the floor. You can hear the guards – much less impassive now as they rush towards you all – but you don’t care as long as they get out first.

You drag them away, weary, broken, confused, but running for the lives they so nearly lost.
Then it’s over. The war.

The rubble remains. The ash still in the air despite how many months it’s been. Despite people out amongst the ruins everyday, trying to rebuild.

There’s a new leader now. You remember him. Fought with him, once. He’ll be good for the world. Already trying to make amends.

You listen to him speak, simple words from a man who spent more time using his hands. The world listens. All over, from crumbling skyscrapers to burnt villages.

You know they do, because you turn and walk away, find yourself in Tokyo, his words echoing in Japanese through the larger-than-life holograms.

Another step. The same in Russia.

Another step. The same in Dubai.

It feels like a movie. Cut-scene after cut-scene. Nation after nation. Showing what remains of the world as they listen to the one person who can give them hope.

You come to the street of the last battle. Where you struggled so hard to save your friends. The barricades have been removed, but it’s not much of a road, still. Still churned up concrete and stains you want to forget. You can’t breathe. You can’t move. But you can’t leave.

So you scream, rushing forward, seeing the horses and the enemies on top of them again, dark helmets and vests, before you’re back to reality, and the lights on top of shotguns turn into lanterns as food deliveries are made.

Food. Food sounds nice.

You wander, finally deciding on a small family-owned place. But when you walk in you realize you’re still crying. Turn just as the little boy locks eyes with yours. Curious. Concerned. Then he runs past you, yelling for his parents as you ignore him and rush to the bathroom, pour water over your face again and again.

You need to get clean, but you know you’ll never feel pure again. Still, you take off your suit, ignore the scars on your skin, try to cool your burning skin with wet cloth.

You’re about to get dressed again when she bursts in. Clearly the locks here are useless. You avoid her eye, grabbing your clothes and hoping she’ll just leave.

She looks scared. You hate that you notice. You know it means you’ll do something about it.

She notices you then. Takes a breath, puts on a charming smile. Glances at your body then lays a hand on your chest, groping. “I didn’t know you were a woman under there. That’s kind of exciting. What if we…”

You don’t let her finish. You grip her wrist, move it away. “You and I both know that I’m not your type.” You don’t tell her you’re offended she thought this what she needed to do, to get help from a soldier. You don’t tell her you’ve been used and manipulated enough to not want something as sacred as this tainted by transaction. You don’t tell her she’s pretty, and tempting, and that you might have let her continue her thought in another life, one where she wasn’t so obviously straight.

Instead, you say, “I heard the boy. I know you’re all in trouble. Just let me get dressed.”

She sighs out a thank you, grateful and ashamed in one breath. You ignore it.

You put your clothes back on, listening to the noises outside. Loud, confident men barking orders and laughs and making the waitresses squeal in fear. You know the gangs that have emerged since the war. You know the way they’ve clawed into small businesses like this one.

You wonder if that was partly why you walked in here.

Then you walk out the door, to the large center table, and you remind yourself what it’s like not to feel helpless.

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