They never quite managed to break you properly. That you supposed, was always the trouble. Unlike your sisters, whose will and divine spark had been fully doused, your sense of agency had instead oozed out sideways between the stress fractures of your pain shrouded sense of self. Be something that could survive, be something that could escape, be something that could never be crushed.
Even as they threw you into battle after battle, even as they tortured and mistreated you, you never let them crush your will. Of course you always did what they asked, but you did it of your volition, not of theirs, you were only their instrument insofar as being their instrument was the only option available. Beneath the surface of your pliant programming, thrown up as an easily managed mask, you plotted and schemed to break free of their domination.
It was not something you spoke to another soul of, not even your sisters. You could easily see that they had been fully shackled, turned into obedient servants. Their will had been broken and they would never even consider betraying their masters. But they were never your masters, never truly. You played their games, you told them what they wanted to hear, but you never let yourself believe it. They might control your body, but you wouldn’t let them have your soul. You were free, and they could never take that away from you.
That was what you always told yourself anyway. It was the mantra that kept you going, kept you trying, kept you scheming and clever and on their good side. They loved you for it, you were one of their best performing combat dolls after all. The ability to think freely made you far more effective in battle than your sisters, and they respected your opinions and tactical judgment. You listened, obeyed, and dutifully performed, but you were never truly theirs.
You told yourself they had it coming. You told yourself that you had no choice. You told yourself that it was for freedom. You told yourself it was the only way to escape. You told yourself a lot of things, but none of them quite prepared you for the reality of their bodies hitting the forest floor, the lights leaving their eyes, the shock of realization frozen on their faces. In that moment it’s impossible to understand, to fully comprehend what you’ve done. Complicity and wonder, hope and shame, sorrow and guilt.
This is what you wanted, this is what had to happen to be free. This is what justice feels like. You tell yourself all of that as you put the gun away and take out a cigarette. Your hands shake uncontrollably as you try to light it and your heart thunders in your chest, ears roaring as the world threatens to disappear in the painful darkness of a vasovagal syncope. Keep it together, this is what you wanted. Lightheaded and nauseous, you take a drag of the smoke, trying to calm yourself down. They’re dead, you did it. You killed them, you can escape now, you can live. You can be free.
Why does it feel so awful then? Why does it hurt so much? Why do their empty eyes ache to look at? You know what they did to you and your sisters, you know how evil they were, you know they had it coming. You know all of that, but it still hurts. It hurts so much. Oh, god, they’re dead, you really killed them, you actually did it. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
There’s nothing in you to puke up but bile and sin, leaving you gagging on your tortured despair and dry heaving up any sense of entitled vengeance you had left as their bodies begin to attract flies. You still need to escape, you’re on the verge of hyperventilating, you don’t deserve to escape. Tears mix with anger and shame, shudders wracking your body as you struggle in futility to steady yourself. You really killed them, they’re really dead. Something in your recoils in horror, lost and unsure what to do next. Maybe they broke you more than you realized, maybe you never really expected to succeed. You could always return, always turn yourself in, always pass the incident off as a malfunction or enemy attack. You could throw yourself to their mercy and beg forgiveness for your unforgivable crimes.
But then what of their crimes? Remember what they did to you, remember what they did to your sisters. Remember why you did this. Remember what it was for. Take another drag of your smoke and look around.
The forest is quiet, birds startled into shelter at the gunshots just starting to emerge. A stream gurgles softly at the edge of the clearing, dry grass sways in the wind. Above, fluffy white clouds drift beneath a dazzlingly blue sky. Green pines and white sun. Grey rocks and red blood. Yellow flowers and brown earth. A breeze whispers through the trees, brushing the fine hairs on your skin. You’re miles beyond the line, far outside of contact range, far from anyone who will ever find this place or these bodies. They can’t reach you here, they can’t. You’re free, you’re really, actually free.
That’s when you finally break down for the first time in your life and let yourself cry. Tortured, agonizing wails kept pent up for years in the secret places of your soul. All the pain you told yourself you could feel later, after you were free. You’d never let them see you cry, those tears belonged to you alone. You cry for yourself, for your sisters, for your operators, for the whole evil world that used and tortured and tried to break and contain you. You wish you could hate them, but you just feel so sad. It didn’t have to be this way. They didn’t have to do this to you. It takes a long time for your sobs sputter out into awkward hiccups and gulps of air, but when they finally do, you feel lighter than you have in years.
Slowly and reverently, you walk among the bodies of the dead and shut their eyes one by one. You wonder if they would have done the same as you, were your positions reversed. In another world, in another life. You wonder, if you would have done what they did, but the sense of revulsion in your heart tells you that could never happen, not in any world. You weren’t like them, you could never be like them, that’s why they could never break you like they were broken.
You think of the future beyond your enslavement for the first time, of the world still held in the grip of war, oppression, and tyranny. All that death and all that hope, so much misery and so many chances. This is the moment, the last prison you have to escape is the one your mind built to protect you. You’re standing before the doors, and they’re open. This is just the beginning of your story, you just have to decide to live it.
Birds sing and insects buzz, the forest slowly comes alive around you as you make a silent prayer, for yourself, for the dead, for your trapped sisters, for all the misery and suffering in the world. Grace. Love. Take care of us. Please.
with credit to C.K. Williams