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War Dead

by The Inimitable Pooh Bah

Date: May 22 and 23, 2001

Rating: R (violence, language)

Summary: Syl has some problems letting go. Post-"And Jesus Brought a Casserole." Angst.

Warning: Character death.

Disclaimer: Dark Angel belongs to James Cameron, Charles Eglee, and/or FOX.

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Website: http://www.gray-eyed.com/

Archive: List archives and by submission. Do not archive or repost without permission.


He went down fighting and that's something, isn't it? Zack kicked and twisted and snarled as they dragged him away, bleeding and desperate and hopeless. And Syl and me, we just hid in the bushes and watched. Cowards, both of us.

But what do you do, when it's you that you have to fight against? It was us there. It was Zack, it was Max, it was Tad and Dal and Ka. It was me, too--he saw me and Syl crouching behind our tree, he looked me right in the eye and then turned back to wrestling Zack back to the compound. Eight years old, and I don't understand why he hasn't realized what I realized back then. It's not safe there, little brother. You're gonna die, because you're just a science fair project, like Jack and Lee and Pip. Maybe you're stronger and faster and better than I'll ever be, but there's still something wrong with you, somewhere. Maybe you think it's too dangerous to leave, but it's not any safer in there, and isn't it better to die free? It's not worth staying.

Maybe it's not worth leaving, either, if it all ends like this. Maybe the world hurts, no matter where you are in it. Soldier, civilian, captive, free.

We stole an old Volvo in Cheyenne. Syl and me have been switching off driving, Lydecker's been tied up in the back because we want to keep him around but we still don't trust him. We've been driving too long, and it wears on you to tackle Colorado and half of New Mexico this fast. It was all so silent until Syl started crying, five minutes ago.

"I can't take it any more," she sobbed. "Brin and Ben and Tinga and Zack and Max--oh God, stop the car, stop the fucking car."

She yanked him out of the back seat, tossed him onto the ground, kicked his ribs hard enough that I could hear them crack. She didn't smile when he grunted his pain, and somehow that seemed more unhinged than if she'd laughed aloud.

She's there now, standing over him, both of them motionless. It's been too long since she's moved. What the hell is wrong with her? The Syl I know wouldn't be doing this.

"Syl," I hiss.

"Don't, Krit."

"Syl, we're meant to take him to Van. We promised her." I put a hand on her shoulder. "Just calm d--"

She whirls around, long blonde hair flying in an arc behind her. Fighting stance, ready to attack me if I twitch wrong. "I said don't!" I hold my hands up and take a step back. I don't know who this girl is. I don't know when Syl turned into her.

"Don't touch me again, Krit. Don't try to stop me. I have to do this." She circles Lydecker, closing in on her prey. "Whadda ya think, Krit? Snap his neck? Bullet through the head?"

"Syl, we need him."

She laughs. "We don't need him. It's over, right?" She stoops down, whips the blindfold off of him. "Isn't that right, Donny baby? It's all over . . . " She's fingering her handgun, and there's a dangerous edge to her voice.

"Don't you dare shoot him," I order.

Syl shakes her head, tosses the gun aside into the dust. "No. No, that's too good for him." She reaches for his tied hands, toys with the ends of the rope for a moment.

There's a snap.

Lydecker grunts.

"That's for Jack," she hisses.

I remember Jack's seizures. It was the first time I was afraid for someone else.

Snap. Grunt. "For Eva."

I was near the back, didn't see her fall, didn't look at the body as I passed by. I'm glad. It haunts Jondy. Max told me she gets nightmares about it, too. Zane refuses to talk about Eva.

Snap, snap, snap. "For Dal and Ka and Tad. Never made it past the fence. Never had a clue what free was like."

Dal used to trade his toast for my eggs at breakfast. Ka was the one who decided we should have names. . . . I don't remember anything about Tad but his screaming when the dogs got him. I wonder if that's like Zane and Eva, just hurts too bad to think about.

Snap. Snap. "For Brin. . . . For Ben."

I've never decided if I'd rather die or go back. I don't think even Brin or Ben knew for sure, before the moment they had to choose.

Snap. "For Tinga."

I visited Tinga once, sat with Case at the kitchen table and helped him draw crayon pictures. His mommy and daddy, birds, trees, puppy dogs. . . . I wonder if he's still got that box of crayons.

Snap, snap. "For Max and for Zack, and I will never forget what you are and what you did to us, and nothing you can ever do will make up for it. Not defecting, not helping us take Manticore down, not answering every question we've got so the world can make sense to us. Nothing."

"Syl," Lydecker growls.

"Shut up!"

"Syl, I never did anything to you kids."

"Didn't train us, didn't turn little boys and girls into soldiers, didn't hunt us like animals for ten years. Is that never-did-anything?"

"I didn't run Manticore. I didn't whip out my chemistry set and make you. I didn't decide that you had to be soldiers."

"I didn't see you protesting too hard, you bastard," says Syl.

"I know who did it all. I can tell you who. I can help you find them."

"Right."

I tap her shoulder.

She looks up at me.

"Maybe we should do that," I say. "Take it out on them, let him go."

"They're not real, Krit. They're just names. . . . " She turns back to Lydecker, whips out a hunting knife from nowhere. "But you, you're real, you made it all real."

She sinks the blade slow and careful into his shoulder, and her face stays blank as he groans.

It's too loud. Someone's gonna hear. That'd be so wrong, after we've come so far.

"Syl," I hiss, "if you gotta kill him, just cut his throat and let's get the fuck out of here."

"Oh, Krit. You don't get it, do you?" She pulls the knife out bloody, pushes it in again further down his arm, still doesn't smile.

"God, Syl. Stop that."

"Can't handle it, Krit?" she asks, and tries out a few shallow slices on his forearm. She rolls him over, straddles his waist, touches the blade to the back of his neck. "We'll never see Zack again, you bastard, not the Zack we know. Three," she murmurs as she starts making a row of precise cuts, "three, zero, four, one, seven, two, nine, one, five, nine, nine. How's it feel to be marked?"

"Syl, that's sick," I whisper.

"No, no, it's perfect, Krit, can't you see that?"

"Please don't do this. You're not thinking right. You're cracking, like Ben."

She looks up at me with cold eyes. "I'm as sane as any of us."

"You don't need to do it, Syl. You're free, you can stop running, there's no reason to be afraid of him any more, and there's no reason for you to torture him."

"Shut up. Go away."

"Fine."

I walk back to the car and squat against it on the far side. I try to ignore the stench of blood and fear and Syl's adrenaline. I cover my ears when Syl's finally worked him longer than he can hold his silence and he starts screaming. I keep them covered even after he stops.

Syl, the one I knew, liked anchovy pizza and a cold beer. She liked sneaking out of work early on Friday afternoons, sitting up on her apartment's roof late on summer nights. Her favorite day was the Fourth of July, with barbecues and fireworks and the stories about George Washington and Patrick Henry and Ben Franklin that meant someday, with enough determination, she could earn her freedom too. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There's footsteps beside me, and I look up at Syl. Blood covering her hands, smeared on one cheek, darkening patches of the camouflage on her thighs and arms.

"Hey," she says.

I get to my feet and jab a finger toward the body I can't stand to look at. "Syl, what the fuck was that about? You didn't have to. You were already free. The war's been over ever since the lab blew."

She starts crying again, presses her face against my shoulder. "Nobody told me we'd lose so many, Krit."

"But it's over, it's finished, you're free."

"It hurt too damn much to get here! And there's gotta be something to justify it all, some way they'll understand how much they hurt us. That's what it was about. . . . Oh God. I don't know how you can take all this so calm, Krit."

"I just want to get back to my life, and stop having to look over my shoulder." I shrug. "Killing Lydecker wasn't gonna help me with that."

She's silent, starting to think things through and make plans, like she should have earlier. "You goin' back to Jondy?" she asks me.

"Yeah."

"Gonna tell her about Max and Zack?"

"I'll have to."

"I'll go to Denver and tell Zane," Syl offers.

"Thanks."

"We'll talk to Van together, when we get into Santa Fe, and she can call Mab and Pike."

"Pike's down in Mexico with Jace. No phone."

"Oh. Guess I'll go down and tell them, then, after I tell Zane."

"Yeah, you do that. Keep busy, and it'll help you cope." If tonight's any indication, coping isn't her strong suit. I don't blame her, though--everything's so different now.

"Think Van'll be upset?" Syl wonders. "About Zack and Max, I mean."

"Of course she will. We all will." "Think she'll want to get Zack back? 'Cause he's captured, not dead. We could get him out before they turn him."

"You think?"

"I know," Syl corrects. "'Cause we're good."

"We shoulda kept Lydecker alive. He could've helped us."

"Screw Lydecker," she spits. She pushes away from my shoulder and looks up at me and grins for the first time tonight. "I always wanted to say that. Screw Lydecker."

"You gonna be okay, Syl?" I ask.

"I'll be fine," she says, and slips around the car and into the passenger seat.

I slide behind the wheel and start the car up. "You scared me there. I thought you'd gone insane."

"We're all insane, Krit. Pike with his death-wish ideas. Brin and Tinga giving themselves up. Zane thinking normal's a possibility for someone like us. Van with the cigarettes and that morbid attitude. . . . All of us escaping in the first place."

"I don't think wanting freedom is insane."

"Neither is making sure your enemy's really gone, is it?"

"I guess not."

She sighs, looks out her window at the cacti and sagebrush whizzing past. "Killing him's the only sane thing I've done in years."

We're both silent.

Syl flips on the radio--it's tuned to some static-garbled Spanish talk show. A woman is on there worrying about her pot- smoking teenage son, and it seems so petty in the face of the life-and-death-and-freedom struggle Syl and I just won.

I don't give a damn about that woman's problems, and I know Syl doesn't understand a word of Spanish. But somehow neither of us cares enough to change the station.

--

[ END ]


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