I probably should’ve picked the right side.
Not that I knew which side was right when I picked mine. I needed a job, I had a set of skills they needed, and Purity were willing to pay above and beyond what any other damn place would pay for a veteran. Washed out and left to rot at 35.
It started simple enough. Eliminate the Anomaly threat. Neutralise the enemy. Just like when I was deployed. The enemy is the enemy, it didn’t matter how subjective it was, as long as they were on the other side of the war, they were wrong. But this time the enemies were Anomalies. People who were different, but people nonetheless.
It always boils down to morals and ethics. I’ve killed countless people. Faceless and nameless to me. And now I do the same, but there’s something different about killing people from your own country, your own city… There shouldn’t be a difference, but I guess that’s part of my own ignorance.
My mates and I used to joke during training, claiming that we would one day rise to the top and take down those filthy Anoms. Well, I didn’t like calling them filthy because that was racist, and I liked to believe I wasn’t a racist, even though I was working a job that is primarily built on racism.
Where’s the boundary between good and evil anyway? What makes us better than them, what makes them better than us?
Shit. I’m an arsehole, aren’t I? A total hypocrite.
Gunshots echo through my ear, the sound of claws through flesh, the guttural animalistic screaming-- I wake up with a shout, sitting up bolt upright. I panic, look around and reach for the gun under my pillow, searching for a threat.
I’m in my bed.
“Bad dream?” asked Nate, leaning over the edge of his top bunk, looking at me with tired, barely conscious eyes.
“Y-Yeah,” I replied, panting, “God, good god…”
“What’d you see?” he asked, slowly getting up and swinging himself down from the top, landing with a quiet thud. “Wanna talk about it?”
“No, no, it’s fine. I don’t want to talk about it. Sorry for waking you.”
Nate shook his head and sat down on my bed, looking at me with those puppy dog eyes filled with concern. “Hey, it’s gonna be okay.”
“I-It’s hard,” I said, choking back the tears as I slide the pistol back under my pillow, “The meds aren’t working like they should… God, if you could see what they could do.”
“I’ve seen what they can do, that’s why we need to stop them.”
“Nate, God, Nate. The girl, the girl set Liam on fire with a wave of her hand, and I heard him scream as the flesh melted off his body, and it just, it smelt of… it smelt of burning flesh, of his flesh. And then, the other guy! He crushed Jonas’ skull with his mind. I saw the blood splatter all over the place and his body joust collapse, gone, everything gone, they can’t identify a man who doesn’t have a head!” I choked, coughing and leaning forwards and putting my head in my shaking hands, “I had… I had to tell his wife… tell his wife that he was murdered out there…”
I felt a hand on my shoulder, firm yet gentle. Nate gave me a squeeze on the shoulder, then shuffled in closer so he could rub calming circles on my back.
“Hey, it’s gonna be okay,” he said, god, he was so fucking naïve. “It’s gonna be okay. That’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re here for, Zave. We’ve got a job to do… we’ve gotta avenge our friends, make the world a safer place.”
“I just, I can’t do it,” I sobbed, shaking uncontrollably. Every part of my moral fibre told me this was a terrible idea. “I can’t do it, I can’t do it…”
“Yes, you can, you’re so much stronger than you think. There’s got to be a reason you joined!”
“Other than for money? No, I just-- I can’t do this no more, I have to leave, I have to-- I have to quit.”
Nate grabbed me by the shoulders, pulling me right out of my daze. I looked up at him, and I could feel the intensity in his eyes as he stared into mine. The grip didn’t loosen, but for that moment it was the only thing keeping me steady on this Earth.
“Look at me, listen to me, Zave,” he stated, “You can do this. If you try to quit, they’ll kill you, you know that right? We know too much. They’ll kill you and bury you in an unmarked grave. You don’t want that-- I don’t want that.”
“No, listen to me. The world sucks right now, and it sucks that we have to go around killing these Anoms, but they’re killing our friends. One of them, I saw one of them rip the air right out of the lungs of one of my squadmates. Died instantly. And that, that bomb one, I saw him, I saw him blow up the side of the facility and it collapsed on all the poor people who couldn’t escape! They’re murderers. We have to fight for what’s right, Zave.”
“Nate, Nate… this, this isn’t right, we’re--”
“We don’t have time for morals, Zave!”
“But, they’re human.”
“They’re scared, Nate. They’re scared and they’re running from us. I watched as Donaldson shot a child. She couldn’t have been more than 12, she… she couldn’t even defend herself! We’re the monsters--”
Nate cut me off, lifting his shirt and point at the huge, deep gashes across his torso. I stared, dumbfounded. Bitterness seeped out of his mouth as he hissed, “They weren’t scared when they did this to me.”
“You-- You never told me…”
“What, you think I like telling people about this? Zave… I have nightmares too… we all do, we…” he sighed, dropping his shirt again, “But look at it this way. Nobody wants to be here, none of us want to be here. I remember when I was in induction and… that’s when I realised I made a fucking mistake.”
The grip on my shoulder loosened and I could feel him shaking. He leaned forwards, placing his forehead against mine as he began to cry. I tentatively reached up to give him a few pats on his back, not sure what to do as he clung to my shirt and wept.
“I… I made a mistake,” he choked out through the tears, “I… I thought this, I thought this would be better than the army, I thought-- I haven’t seen my parents in two years, I can’t… We’re not even allowed to contact them, it’s-- We’re going to die out there, Zave… there’s no stopping it… either we get killed here by those fuckers who tricked us into working for them, and they tell our families we were deserters and no bodies were found… or we die out there like heroes. Like fucking martyrs, because that’s what we are…”
I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him into a hug. He leaned his head onto my shoulder and cried.
“It’ll be okay, Nate,” I said, resting my cheek against his hair. “You’ll be okay. One day we’ll get out of here. We won’t have to fight Anoms no more… they won’t be able to hurt us no more.”
“I never wanted to be the bad guy!”
“Shhhh,” I said, gently rubbing his back to try and get him to calm down, but all I could think about was the fluttering of his chest as he sobbed. “We’re not the bad guys… we just… we just picked the wrong side.”
“I don’t want to die. I’m so scared.”
“You won’t, not if I can help it,” I replied. It was an empty promise. “We’ll get out of here… Just the two of us, how about it? We’ll get out of here, we’ll run one day, and they’ll never see us again. Change our names… change everything.” I paused to wipe the tears that had begun to fall from my eyes, “We’ll change the world some day, whether for better or for worse. We’ll be okay.”
I held him until he cried himself to sleep, arms still tangled around me. I gently laid him down in the bed and tucked him in. I couldn’t sleep no more. If there was one thing I was still here for, it was to protect him. And I would.