- Unravel Me
They never asked for this.
Kenji guides us toward the outskirts of the compounds and we slip forward to stand flush against the wall of one of the little square houses, huddled under the extra bit of roof that, at least for a moment, grants us reprieve from the clenched fists falling from the sky.
Wind is gnawing at the windows, straining against the walls. Rain is popping against the roof like popcorn against a pane of glass.
The message from the sky is clear: we are pissed.
We are pissed and we will punish you and we will make you pay for the blood you spill so freely. We will not sit idly by, not anymore, not ever again. We will ruin you, is what the sky says to us.
How could you do this to me? it whispers in the wind.
I gave you everything, it says to us.
Nothing will ever be the same again.
I’m wondering why I still can’t see any sign of the army. I don’t see anyone else from Omega Point. I don’t see anyone at all. In fact, I’m starting to feel like this compound is a little too peaceful.
I’m about to suggest we move when I hear a door slam open.
“This is the last of them,” someone shouts. “She was hiding out over here.” A soldier is dragging a crying woman out from the compound we’re huddled against and she’s screaming, she’s begging for mercy and asking about her husband and the soldier barks at her to shut up.
I have to keep the emotions from spilling out of my eyes, my mouth.
I do not speak.
I do not breathe.
Another soldier jogs over from somewhere I can’t see. He shouts some kind of approving message and makes a motion with his hands that I don’t understand. I feel Kenji stiffen beside me.
Something is wrong.
“Toss her in with everyone else,” the second soldier shouts. “And then we’ll call this area clear.”
The woman is hysterical. She’s screeching, clawing at the soldier, telling him she’s done nothing wrong, she doesn’t understand, where is her husband, she’s been looking for her daughter everywhere and what is happening, she cries, she screams, she flails her fists at the man gripping her like an animal.
He presses the barrel of his gun to her neck. “If you don’t shut up, I’ll shoot you right now.”
She whimpers once, twice, and then she’s limp. She’s fainted in his arms and the soldier looks disgusted as he pulls her out of sight toward wherever they’re keeping everyone else. I have no idea what’s happening. I don’t understand what’s happening.
We follow them.
The wind and the rain pick up in pace and there’s enough noise in the air and distance between us and the soldiers that I feel safe to speak. I squeeze Kenji’s hand. He’s still the glue between me and Adam, projecting his powers to keep us all invisible. “What do you think is going on?” I ask.
He doesn’t answer right away.
“They’re rounding them up,” he says after a moment. “They’re creating groups of people to kill all at once.”
“Yeah.” I hear him clear his throat. “Yeah, she and whoever else they think might be connected to the protests. They don’t just kill the inciters,” he tells me. “They kill the friends and the family members, too. It’s the best way to keep people in line. It never fails to scare the shit out of the few left alive.”
I have to swallow back the vomit threatening to overpower me.
“There has to be a way to get them out of there,” Adam says. “Maybe we can take out the soldiers in charge.”
“Yeah, but listen, you guys know I’m going to have to let go of you, right? I’m already kind of losing strength; my Energy is fading faster than normal. So you’ll be visible,” Kenji says. “You’ll be a clearer target.”
“But what other choice do we have?” I ask.
“We could try to take them out sniper-style,” Kenji says. “We don’t have to engage in direct combat. We have that option.” He pauses. “Juliette, you’ve never been in this kind of situation before. I want you to know I’d respect your decision to stay out of the direct line of fire. Not everyone can stomach what we might see if we follow those soldiers. There’s no shame or blame in that.”
I taste metal in my mouth as I lie. “I’ll be okay.”
He’s quiet a moment. “Just—all right—but don’t be afraid to use your abilities to defend yourself,” he says to me. “I know you’re all weird about not wanting to hurt people or whatever, but these guys aren’t messing around. They will try to kill you.”
I nod even though I know he can’t see me. “Right,” I say. “Yeah.” But I’m panicked through my mind.
“Let’s go,” I whisper.
I can’t feel my knees.
There are 27 people lined up, standing side by side in the middle of a big, barren field. Men and women and children of all different ages. All different sizes. All standing before what could be called a firing squad of 6 soldiers. The rain is rushing down around us, hard and angry, pelting everything and everyone with teardrops as hard as my bones. The wind is absolutely frantic.
The soldiers are deciding what to do. How to kill them. How to dispose of the 27 sets of eyes staring straight ahead. Some are sobbing, some are shaking from fear and grief and horror, others still are standing perfectly straight, stoic in the face of death.
One of the soldiers fires a shot.
The first man crumples to the ground and I feel like I’ve been whipped in the spine. So many emotions rush in and out of me in the span of a few seconds that I’m afraid I might faint; I’m clinging to consciousness with an animal desperation and trying to swallow back the tears, trying to ignore the pain spearing through me.
I can’t understand why no one is moving, why we’re not moving, why none of the civilians are moving even just to jump out of the way and it occurs to me, it dawns on me that running, trying to escape or trying to fight back is simply not a viable option. They are utterly overpowered. They have no guns. No ammunition of any kind.
But I do.
I have a gun.
I have 2, in fact.
This is the moment, this is where we have to let go, this is where we fight alone, just the 3 of us, 3 ancient kids fighting to save 26 faces or we die trying. My eyes are locked on a little girl who can’t be much older than James, her eyes so wide, so terrified, the front of her pants already wet from fear and it rips me to pieces, it kills me, and my free hand is already reaching for my gun when I tell Kenji I’m ready.
I watch the same soldier focus his weapon on the next victim when Kenji releases us.
3 guns are up, aimed to fire, and I hear the bullets before they’re released into the air; I see one find its mark in a soldier’s neck and I have no idea if it’s mine.
It doesn’t matter now.
There are still 5 soldiers left to face, and now they can see us.
We’re dodging the bullets aimed in our direction and I see Adam dropping to the ground, I see him shooting with perfect precision and still failing to find a target. I look around for Kenji only to find that he’s disappeared and I’m so happy for it; 3 soldiers go down almost instantly. Adam takes advantage of the remaining soldiers’ distraction and takes out a fourth. I shoot the fifth from behind.
I don’t know whether or not I’ve killed him.
We’re screaming for the people to follow us, we’re herding them back to the compounds, yelling for them to stay down, to stay out of sight; we tell them help is coming and we’ll do whatever we can to protect them and they’re trying to reach out to us, to touch us, to thank us and take our hands but we don’t have time. We have to hurry them to some semblance of safety and move on to wherever the rest of this decimation is taking place.
I still haven’t forgotten the one man we weren’t able to save. I haven’t forgotten number 27.
I never want that to happen again.
We’re bolting across the many miles of land dedicated to these compounds now, not bothering to keep ourselves hidden or to come up with a definitive plan. We still haven’t spoken. We haven’t discussed what we’ve done or what we might do and we only know that we need to keep moving.
We follow Kenji.
He weaves his way through a demolished cluster of compounds and we know something has gone horribly wrong. There’s no sign of life anywhere. The little metal boxes that used to house civilians are completely destroyed and we don’t know if there were people inside when this happened.
Kenji tells us we have to keep looking.
We move deeper through the regulated territory, these pieces of land dedicated to human habitation, until we hear a rush of footsteps, the sound of a softly churning mechanical sound.
They run on electricity so they’re less conspicuous as they move through the streets, but I’m familiar enough with these tanks to be able to recognize the electric thrum. Adam and Kenji do too.
We follow the noise.
We’re fighting against the wind trying push us away and it’s almost as if it knows, as if the wind is trying to protect us from whatever is waiting on the other side of this compound. It doesn’t want us to have to see this. It doesn’t want us to have to die today.
A raging fire rips through the atmosphere not 50 feet from where we’re standing. The flames lick the earth, lapping up the oxygen, and even the rain can’t douse the devastation all at once. The fire whips and sways in the wind, dying down just enough, humbled into submission by the sky.
We need to be wherever that fire is.
Our feet fight for traction on the muddy ground and I don’t feel the cold as we run, I don’t feel the wet, I only feel the adrenaline coursing through my limbs, forcing me to move forward, gun clenched too tight in my fist, too ready to aim, too ready to fire.
But when we reach the flames I almost drop my weapon.
I almost fall to the floor.
I almost can’t believe my eyes.
Dead dead dead is everywhere.
So many bodies mixed and meshed into the earth that I have no idea whether they’re ours or theirs and I’m beginning to wonder what it means, I’m beginning to doubt myself and this weapon in my hand and I can’t help but wonder about these soldiers, I wonder how they could be just like Adam, just like a million other tortured, orphaned souls who simply needed to survive and took the only job they could get.
My conscience has declared war against itself.
I’m blinking back tears and rain and horror and I know I need to move my legs, I know I need to push forward and be brave, I have to fight whether I like it or not because we can’t let this happen.
I’m tackled from behind.
Someone pins me down and my face is buried in the ground and I’m kicking, I’m trying to scream but I feel the gun wrenched out of my grip, I feel an elbow in my spine and I know Adam and Kenji are gone, they’re deep in battle and I know I’m about to die. I know it’s over and it doesn’t feel real, somehow, it feels like this is a story someone else is telling, like death is a strange, distant thing you’ve only ever seen happen to people you’ve never known and surely it doesn’t happen to me, to you, to any of the rest of us.