THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR THOSE KNOWN AS 'X5'
You will be born into a place that doesn't exist and you will be given no name. You will be taught to fight and to run, and to know when to do which, and to work with the other children around you as though you're all one person.
You will realize, gradually, that you're not all one person.
You will hear young children screaming in the night, but it will always stop in just moments, and it will never be the same voice twice.
Somehow, you will learn to love. Your unit members will become your brothers and sisters, your CO will be the most important person in your life in a way they don't want him to be. What the men say will become less and less important, and you will decide that you'd rather listen to Zack.
You will be given a name by a brother or a sister, and for some reason you'll know to protect it, that it is important, that it is everything you are and everything they never want you to be.
All you'll ever want is to see the world.
You will lose some brothers, some sisters, to the cold men that emerge from the doors in the night and drag them out of the barracks, and you will never see them again. Sometimes you'll cry.
You will stand on top of a roof in the cold and stare at a picture of a woman, and you might believe she's real or you might not, but you'll listen to stories about her anyway because it's something they don't know you have. You'll want to believe.
You will tear a man apart in the woods for no reason, and no one will stop you and you won't know there's anything wrong until you tell someone, someday, and they look at you like you're not even human.
You'll see a sister shaking on the floor one night, and you will remember a brother who disappeared, and when the guards come in you will get behind Zack and watch Eva shoot that gun and you will finally realize you aren't helpless.
You will walk down a cold hallway with your brothers and sisters around you, and you'll smell fear and adrenaline and excitement in the air. You'll see Eva's head snap back and her blood will splash against the wall, against the floor, and you'll decide the outside world has to be better.
Zack will separate you from the people you love and send you with one, just one, into the trees, and he will order you to head for the fence. And you will run so fast that you won't know if you'll ever stop, and there will be shots and helicopters and confusion and suddenly you'll find yourself alone.
The forest will be snowy but it will be silent, too, and that will be enough for you to stop running. You will look up at the stars and feel the cold ground under your feet and you won't be quite sure what to think of freedom.
You'll see that the forest eventually ends and that the people outside like to congregate, that there are buildings and towns and cities, and you won't like that because it's not safe, it's a tactical risk.
You will realize that the people outside don't care about tactical risks.
A woman will tell you that you need to find a home, and she won't believe you when you say you have to find your brothers and sisters, and a family will want you to live with them.
You will discover baths and hugs and safety and days of doing nothing but sitting, doing what you want, and you will wait for orders that never come.
You will not be able to forget that you're different.
You will meet adults with eyes that are younger than yours, and you'll wonder what they see when they look at you.
You will meet children who will hate you, who will think you're frightening, a freak, who'll want to run away from you, or worse hurt you, and you will hurt them back.
You won't like being alone, won't like talking and not immediately being understood. You'll miss the unity of Manticore, of being with your siblings, and you'll wonder where they are and how many got out and if you're the only one.
You won't ever love your foster parents or the other children in the house, but you'll come close when they send you back, and every time it happens it will hurt just a bit more until you hate yourself because you're a weak soldier. Then you'll harden your heart even more toward the next family, and it will all happen the same way again.
Zack will show up one day out of nowhere, and you'll catch him looking through your things and your family's things when he thought you weren't home and you'll be angry because you'll know he didn't mean for you to see him. You'll beg him to stay and ask him questions about the others, and when he won't answer you'll understand that immediately, and the fluttering of contentment in your heart will make up for any disappointment.
Then there will be a short week where you'll be happier than you've been since Manticore, and only then will you realize that you miss it. Zack will leave you when he decides you're safe, when he knows you don't need him and you're okay, and it won't matter that you love him and he loves you because there are more out there he has to see.
You'll ask him, once more, where they are, and he'll leave and even knowing he'll come back isn't that comforting.
Maybe one day, if your genes mixed together the right way in that test tube and you came out a girl, you'll suddenly look at the boys and men around you a whole other way, and you'll only be twelve, thirteen if you're lucky, but your body doesn't care how little you are or who you grab, just someone, someone now, and it could be a boy your age or a man twenty years older, and you'll like it and you'll cry late into the night.
And if the genes mixed together in the right way in that test tube and you turned out a boy, and if you're lucky enough to run into one of your sisters somewhere out there, you both might just complicate everything for yourselves a whole lot more. But it won't matter, not for long, because Zack will show up, and he will separate you, and you'll be scared and alone again and you'll cry late into the night like she will.
You'll be beautiful and that will help a lot because you're strange enough to these people without being ugly. You'll never be unpopular, and someone will always be calling you, asking you to do something, go somewhere, but you'll never quite grasp the rules of these children that have never been afraid. It'll take a while, but the calls will stop.
Someone at your high school will die just before graduation and the other kids will cry out to someone, you don't know who, why life isn't fair. You'll stare at them, off to the side, and you'll wonder who told them it was supposed to be.
You'll graduate and wonder why you bothered because you're still working the same job you have been for two years and Zack comes around every few months anyway with a wad of cash. Then he'll come with more, news of Lydecker, and a growl to get out of wherever you are. You'll obey because it's Zack, because of course he knows, and because even though this world makes no sense it's better than going back there.
If you're lucky, you'll learn to pretend. You'll act like they do and talk like they do and use all your training to make them believe you're one of them. Maybe you'll even marry one, settle down, have a child that you're terrified for. Zack will get colder if you go that route, and even though he still loves you and he still looks out for you he's always angry and guilt about that doesn't help when you're already guilty about the lie that's become your life.
If you're not so lucky, you'll get sick. You'll feel your hands shake sometimes late at night and you'll know it's not a seizure but you won't know what it is, and hospitals are out of the question. Your hair will turn white and you'll get scared, and you'll somehow, instinctively want to be cold. You'll run but not very fast and they'll catch you and cure your body as they steal your mind, and you'll be as good as dead.
If you're very unlucky, you won't be able to fit in. You'll stare at the people that move in and out of your life and they'll look the same as you but everything else will be different. Everything you are that they can never be will come down to that mark you have that they don't, those little black lines that you can feel every second. And not only will you not fit in, but you'll want to, desperately, you'll want to be like them and not afraid anymore, and you'll be angry at Zack for taking you out of Manticore, at the world for not being how you wanted it. You'll snap one day and you'll kill, and that will make you feel better, so you'll keep doing it, again and again, until you finally see one of your sisters and hope for peace. But you'll somehow, terribly, have become just as different from her now as you are from them. You'll fight and it will be exhilarating but she'll win and you'll go down and only when you're helpless will you realize you never want to go back there again. So you'll ask for a favour that she won't want to give, but she will because she loves you, and at the end you'll feel the most peace you've ever had in your life.
Even if you're one of the lucky ones, you'll find out that lies don't last forever, that even the best ones can be compromised by other people. That life you had, the child and the happiness, it will all go away and you'll be alone and just you again, but you won't want to be who you are anymore. And you'll run away because it's what you were trained to do, but you love your child so you'll go back and do what they want. And Zack will be so angry but you won't care because this is your life, your family, and he of all people should understand that. You'll do anything they want and you won't care what it means for you because this is your child and that's the way it has to be. You'll breathe your last breath from a tortured body and get some comfort from the fact that you died a loving parent and not a freak.
If you're one of the ones who manages a normal life, as normal as possible for you at least, you will hear about the ones that didn't make it, sometimes from Zack, sometimes from others you'll meet along the way, and once or twice from the news. You'll wonder where they are and if they're happy and you'll try to believe in the Good Place again, but you'll realize that once you change you can't go back, and the Good Place left you when you broke out of Manticore.
You'll learn that the outside world is about survival and love and loss, and you won't remember what you thought it was going to be but you know it wasn't this. You'll wonder how long you have to live between always running and getting older and not knowing if there's a self-destruct hidden somewhere in those black lines. You'll tell yourself that this world is better, that it isn't as bad as Manticore, but even though that's true it won't be much comfort.
There will be a day when you won't want to keep going, and you will stop and you will sit and think about what type of gun you should use. You'll hold it in your hands and maybe even put it to your head but you won't pull the trigger, not ever, because it's too contradictory to everything you are and everyone you love. You'll put the gun away and you'll be angry at yourself for more reasons than you want to think about, and you'll call Zack and tell him you need him and for once he'll actually come, immediately, right away. You'll be glad that he can tell from your voice when it's serious and he'll come and stay with you for a while and things will be better.
He'll leave after a month, and that will be the last time you'll see him.
One day, if you're still alive, you'll hear that Manticore is gone, and you won't believe it, not for a long time. But when it's public and when there are others like you on the streets and in the cities, you'll realize that it is true, and Zack will have been missing for months by then. You'll wait for him to come but he won't, and you won't know what to think about that even though the answer is more obvious than you want to admit.
You'll live, as long a you can, as long as they let you, and you'll know you can never really escape the people that made you, even if they die, even if you disappear. One day, some day that's not even very special, you'll think about that and it won't make you so scared anymore. You'll remember your brothers and sisters, the ones who disappeared, the ones who never made it out, and the ones who didn't survive on the outside, and you won't feel so sad. You'll think about Zack, and you'll remember all the times he frustrated you, everything he ever did or didn't do, and everything he ever said or didn't say. And you won't be angry at him.
You will have felt like a freak for your whole life unless you were with one of the others, but one day you'll finally realize that you're actually better than most. You'll live your life being thankful for everything, and yes you'll steal and maybe murder, but only bad people, and for good reasons. You'll have an objectiveness that the people outside lack, and you won't watch anyone suffer because you've suffered. You'll make sure people aren't hungry because you've been hungry, and that they sleep well because you haven't always slept well.
You'll watch sunsets, and help old women carry their groceries, and you won't ever put up with even a toy gun in the hands of a child. You'll make impressions on the people that you meet and you'll realize that in some ways immortality is possible. You'll smile and laugh with friends and you'll fall in love and have a life that's yours and nobody else's. You'll realize that there is absolutely no such thing as normal, and that you're not the only person who's different.
You'll die, one day, breathe your last breath. But you won't mind because you were allowed, somehow, to live, to have a life, to see the world, and that's all you ever wanted.