I was born into a nightmare. The world was burning and my boots broke bones on the street. The groan of metal, of gears, of death, that collective groan of a billion people striving for air when there was none, was the first sound I heard.
I was born into mud, into the clothes of a dead man, and with the stench of rotting flesh in my nose.
There would be no relief. Marcus had never asked, but Kyle told him this anyway. Relentless noise, relentless loss. Easy for Marcus, who never got close enough to lose, but back breaking for Kyle, who loved every drop of blood that hit the ground.
Marcus took to watching the boy sleep. It was deceptive. He slept like there were no monsters. Long eyelashes twitched against his cheeks. He was a child without the luxury of a childhood. Marcus could remember fights at school, paper bag lunches and sneaking into R-rated movies. Kyle would never see an R-rated movie. He would never sleep in until one on a Sunday. He would never skip the last day of school to make out with Samantha Knight in the back of her father's 4x4. He would never go fishing, or bike riding, or swimming at the beach.
Marcus had never been grateful for his own childhood before.
After he'd told Kyle the truth about his past (I closed my eyes with poison in my veins and woke up to poison in my lungs) he'd wanted to know if it had been easy to pull the trigger on another human being.
"Because I was the machine back then."
"That doesn't make any sense." Kyle's eyes flicked to the glove that covered Marcus' exposed Coltan hand.
"I ran on meth," he explained with a slow, humorless grin. (The cracking of skulls under foot.) "Basically the same as a nuclear power source, right?"
Kyle just watched him. Marcus could never hold his gaze. The judgment was righteous, complete. His expression spoke of a pure heart. Kyle would never smoke meth, never rob a gas station, never jack a car. When he fired a gun, red lights went out. Lives were saved, not lost.
Marcus wondered what it was like to be a decent man.
"Why'd you do it?"
"I thought I had to."
"For your brother."
"But he was already dead."
"I never had a convenient enemy, kid," he snapped, beginning to lose patience. "When something shot at me, it was a man pulling the trigger. Once upon a time we killed each other. Did you know that? Guess cuz there was no one else to kill." Humans and their us's and their them's. It made it easier. Us and them. It was inherent with the machines. There were no ambiguities. No moral quandaries. "Simple," he said out loud, to the air (I woke to ashen sky and salted earth).
"You call this shit convenient?" Kyle straightened and Connor, seated down the line of watchful or sleeping soldiers, looked up. "You call living in dirt convenient? You call my whole family dead convenient?"
"We all got loss, Kyle," Marcus barked. He could feel Connor watching them. "We all got shit."
Kyle turned his head and fell into a burning, righteous silence. It was often like this. Marcus, despite the months spent with the resistance, would never think like them. He would never be human with Kyle in a way that had nothing to do with Coltan bones (bleached finger bones half buried in the sand) or the unnatural beat of his heart. He had never been as human as Kyle.
But, he thought to himself as Kyle slowly, slowly drifted into sleep, had it been the machine in him that had picked up that screw driver, that had wanted to gut the man who'd attacked Blair, or had it been the man?