We were running. Panting. Full pelt before blurring. Trees and shrubs tore at hair, clothes, skin.
And we ran and ran and ran.
Bullets spattered around our feet. Pock-marked earth and leaves and trees. Not skin. Not yet. Endless supply. Continuous. When would those mother fuckers run out of ammo?
When the job was done. Always the answer. Still didn't want to hear it. So we run and run and… you get the idea.
Will morality even kick in? Mortality? Will they feel guilt when the other feels pain? Or will it just end, and move on to the next?
Rinse. Repeat. Return. Rebound. A perpetual cycle that only ends in dreams. Nothing to stop it. A juggernaut of escape and evade, strategising and surrender. No. Wait. Not that. Never that. Of all the things, never surrender.
The hand in mine is strong. The pulse, rapid. Grip tight and sure. It clamps secure fingers over the doubt struggling to rise from me. Beating tiny bird wings inside my ribs, fighting to be free. His flesh on mine is enough to sear the tips of the feathers. To make the doubt retreat. To bury it under the other emotions scrapping for priority.
Because we are strong. We are soldiers. We are together, so we will win.
We emerge from the forest suddenly, feet hitting asphalt sending shock through me. We're on a road. Leading where? Leading from? I don't know these things. On the other side is a field. No cover there. No cars in sight. No hope.
He pulls me into his arms as they come. A bedraggled hunting party. Guns trained on us as they labour to catch their breath, as they emerge from between the trees beside us. Another two come out further up the road. We are between two sets of cold metal. I feel trapped, cornered. Want to hiss my displeasure like the cat I supposedly am. Instead I stay. Perfectly still. Two warm, solid arms encasing me. Protecting me from the crossfire I feel is sure to come. They would be stupid not to shoot us.
They are stupid.
We are told to separate. We do. We are told to walk towards them. We do. We are told to go slowly. We exchange a look. We don't.
We leap simultaneously, over the stunned, stupid heads of our pursuers. Then we are back in the forest, crashing through foliage, bullets spattering the ground behind us once more. But we are ahead now. Adrenaline seeps though my veins. Merges with the power that is already programmed into me. The will to live that they never really understood how to stamp out, regardless of science and psy-ops and the other power that money and military bestow.
We are soldiers. Our pursuers only play pretend. The gun does not make the soldier. And we are fast. So much, impossibly faster, than the already exhausted uniforms still chasing us.
The fear, the adrenaline, it all seeps away to nothing as the gap between us and then lengthens. Then it is just us. Just my brother and me, and we are free.
But then I wake up.
I push through the shroud of sleep.
My brother and I, we're not free.
Because Ben didn't make it out of the forest that day. Because Ben is dead. Because I killed him.
And because I will forever be stuck, between guilt, and the knowledge that what I did was right. That in its way, it was just. But it was also terrible. Because it wasn't something inescapable, like a crossfire, that killed my brother.
It was me.