Yeah, so we found Carmen and almost killed her.
I don't know how things went on the front end of the concert, but I was waiting by one of the back doors. Somehow she got convinced to come out that way, and I got a text from Gunnar that she was en route. So when she showed her little crazyface I hopped over and put a hand over her mouth. I wanted to subdue her, so I reached around in my head for the darker part of all that healing shit I do. Her body kinda blossomed into bruises.
Then Kas rifle butted her. Almost killed her. I should have just let Kas hotwire the van, like she seemed to want to do. I was just afraid that a delay would give Carmen some advantage over us. I didn't want her talking, or moving, until we were ready for her.
Anyway. I kept her from dying.
We stripped her of her relics and got her on our little plane. Oh yeah, we uh... we borrowed a plane. I think we plan to take it back.
Harlan did... something to her. Carmen thinks she's in love with him, now. It's kinda gross. I mean, he's not a bad looking guy, if you're into ridiculously pretty blondes with severe attitude problems. Harlan's technically better looking than Gunnar.
Okay, Harlan's the best looking guy in the Band. He also just happens to act like a jerk a lot of the time, and it's really fucking painfully obvious to everyone who isn't Carmen that he thinks she's got cooties or something. It's kinda cruel.
We got her into an interrogation room at the airport after that. Gunnar stayed with the plane. Nate and Brendan had gone in to talk to her. Brendan laid a geas on her, but made it really clear that the choice was hers whether or not to follow it. He was very... well, I guess "kind" is the word I want. Yeah. He was kind about it.
Then I wanted to talk to her. I thought maybe the Band might be a little uneasy about this prospect, considering how well the last intimate conversation I had with a Scion went. I left my relics outside, just to prove to Carmen that I didn't mean her any harm.
Well, no more harm than I could do with my bare hands. Seriously though, I didn't want to hurt her. It just kinda happened.
"Carmen," I started slowly and respectfully. I kept my voice soft. Didn't want her to think I was yelling at her. "I know what it's like to wanna watch the whole world burn." I poured a lot of myself into that sentence, and more of myself into the next. I wanted her to know that I understood.
"But more importantly, I know how fucking disappointing it is when you get what you want and it's not at all like you thought it would be." I leaned toward her a little, looking her in the eyes. "Here. I'll show you."
And then, that thing I can do where I'm in Gunnar's head, I did it to her. Only it wasn't my voice I wanted her to hear. It was my memories. The really painful ones, the ones I keep locked away and try not to think about too hard. I wanted her to feel the things I had felt.
I started with watching my mom die. All of those memories, from when I was thirteen and first learned what the word "cancer" meant, I distilled them. I focused on the times I visited my mom in the hospital, skeleton-thin and barely able to fucking move, let alone paint or laugh or talk like she used to. I distilled all of that, five years of watching someone die and sitting by their bedside as it happened, into something brief. I didn't need to drag that out, it was just the preface. I just wanted her to understand what came next.
I showed her the funeral, the coffin, the headstone. The empty house. Then the day I joined the army, the training I mastered just because I could, the pointless medals I earned for marksmanship and combat, and how little it helped. I kept that short too, it felt to me like the blink of an eye. Then I skipped to the important part: the night I tried to lay down and die. I fucked that up, too.
I started with the mission: my team and I, finding the civilians. Calling in for orders. We were told to guard them, women and children. Days of no sound but dirt beneath our boots and explosions and gunfire in the rapidly diminishing distance. The bombs and the guns kept getting closer. Nighttime, where one of the guys who spoke Arabic translated for us and we got to know our charges. They were sweet women and sweet kids, kids who said they wanted to be good guys like us and protect people.
And the last day, the crying child. Nightfall. The kid is still crying. He's getting sick. It's getting dark, and it's getting cold.
The guys relax, as much as anyone can in this situation. They're exhausted. Tomorrow this all ends. Some of the guys are going home. Spouses, kids and all of that waiting for them on the other side of the world.
And the quiet splinters. The door bursts. There are shouts, foreign. Angry. There are gunshots and grunts. I'm on the floor. I've got eight bullets in my side. I had never been shot before that day. It fucking hurts. It feels a little like burning from the inside out. Molten pain tearing through your insides.
I can still look around, and I see all nine of my comrades all dead. Men and women I loved. People I trusted. An officer named Alma gurgled next to me. I think she was reaching for me. I think it was quick for most of them, at least.
Then they lined up the kids. The littlest one isn't crying anymore.
He's screaming instead. His eyes are wide. Big brown pools, and they keep looking at me because I am the good guy. I'm the strong one. I'm the one who is supposed to save him.
But I don't.
Maybe I just won't.
The mercenaries rifle butt him in the chest. Something cracks. His breath sounds wet. He keeps crying strangled cries before they shoot him in the head. He lands on the floor with a soft thump. All the force of a wet towel, and with the same type of schlooping sound.
The rest of the kids fall in pretty much the same way. Eight more gunshots, one for each little life I watch end. Each body lands with open, empty eyes. Looking at me. I can't help them.
I can't look away anymore, either. I can't lift my head far enough off the ground. I can feel something warm and wet, sticky and salty on my cheek. Tears, some of it. But not most of it. The rest is blood, pooling on the dirt under the side of my face. Mine.
The women are wailing now for their children. They get grabbed by their hair by the men, lined up next to their dead children. The men strip them.
Their bodies were beautiful. I remember thinking that. The men didn't care about that, though. They raped the women. They heard me whimper when the women stopped screaming. They thought it was funny, the way I cried. It amused them to see my tears. So they did it again.
Then they lined the women up. The women were quivering and their voices were wrecked.
Then the men fired their weapons. One shot for each body. Some in the back, some in the chest. Some in the head. Six more bodies on the dirty floor. At least some were looking away when they fell.
Those gunshots seemed so much louder. I jerked at each one. It made everything hurt.
There was another sound underneath the thunderclap of gunfire. It was tiny. It was a sobbing. It didn't sound human, even. It sounded pathetic. Like a small, terrified and wounded animal.
It was me. In that moment I wasn't even human anymore. I was something wrong and broken.
They heard me crying and they laughed. Then they kicked me in the ribs, hard. Something snapped. Two ribs.
They listened to the little strangled sound and the wet gurgling of my breath around the snot and blood I had clogging up my nose. They laughed again. One of them took out a lighter and flicked his thumb with a snapping sound. He ignited the clothing of some of the kids. They set the house on fire and they left me there to burn with it.
I kept praying that I would go unconscious. I prayed that I would bleed to death, or burn to death. I wanted it to stop. I wanted blackness to come, but it didn't. All through the night I could still hear. And smell. And feel. The bodies popped and cracked in the fire.
I still can't forget the sound of a child's eyeball popping from the heat of the flames. I still can't forget the way they smelled as they burned.
Carmen probably won't forget it either.
She was crying when it ended. Tears had been streaming down her face for a while, it looked like. When I let her mind go she started holding her head and sobbing.
Turns out I spent over an hour in there with her. I didn't mean for it to be that long, and I'm sorry I had to do that to her. I didn't even want those memories in my head, but it was all I could think of to help her, and it was so much better that she just watched it happening to someone else than having to live through it herself.
It was the kindest thing I could think of.
The nicest thing I could think to do was show her what it really looks like, what it really feels like, to really see people in pain. To know that you are completely broken and defeated and that all you want is to watch the world burn before you die.
So I showed her the tears sliding down my cheeks, my mangled and shaking body laying broken in the fire, and just how damned pitiful I looked.
I may not like the kid much, but I'll be damned if I wasn't going to help save her.
It's like my mom used to try to tell me: You watch over people, Laurel. You take care of them. You protect the people you love, but protect the people you hate, too. They tend to need it more.
she doesn't see her beauty
she tries to get away
it's just that nothing seems worth saving
i can't watch her slip away
i won't let you fall apart
she reads the minds of all the people as they pass her by
hoping someone can see
if i could fix myself i'd -
but it's too late for me
i won't let you fall apart
i won't let you fall apart
i won't let you fall apart
i won't let you fall apart...
...it's something i have to do
i was there, too
before everything else
i was like you"
Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile