The Other Side of No-Man's-Land

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"They never told you, did they? How someone can spiral so far, so fast? How it feels to lose everything? How it feels knowing you spent your entire life fighting for the wrong side?"

Her eyes swept up to meet mine, swirling clouds just beyond the deep gray pools that bore into me.

"They never told you how they made their own villains did they?"

She slammed her fist down on the table, her mood suddenly changed. A deep breath escaped her lips, her knuckles white.

“I did what they said to do. I played by the rules. I had my doubts - we all did - but I kept my mouth shut. I knew my place, kid. I knew where I belonged - and I knew I was one of them. The good guys. Or at least I thought I was.”

Her voice broke into a half-hearted chuckle.

“I really thought I was a hero.”

Her stooped figure cast an eerie shadow on the table that separated us. But suddenly I couldn't decide if I was afraid of her power or if I pitied her. Or if I should even believe her.

But I could feel her pain. She was on the breaking point and I knew it - even she knew it. Her body shook as she stood up straight, one finger trailing on the table as she strode towards me.

"I was like you once you know. Young, powers still foreign to me. Trusting. That's how they got me-" the dam behind her eyes looked ready to burst "- and that's how they got you too, kid."

I shouted then, an anger I hadn't expected boiling in my veins and I strained against my binds. "You don't know what you're talking about! They took me in! Taught me - us, to control our powers and use them for good!"

She stared at me for a moment, resting against the table. "It's all propaganda, this whole war is nothing more than-"

"-And what would you know!? You're a crippled villain, disowned by the very people who promised you nothing but love and support!"

I regretted the words the moment they left my lips. I saw them stab into her like a million shards of glass, tear through her heart.

She stepped away from the table. Her back was facing me, shoulders slumped.

I stammered, "I-I'm sorry, that's - that was too far, I -"

"Yes!" she snapped. "Yes it was too far! And you wanna know why?" She spun around with a vigor I hadn't seen since our last battle. "It's too fucking far because they did this to me! You're right, I was abandoned by the people who were supposed to protect me and care for me. But I was sixteen fucking years old! I shouldn't have been left on my own! I didn't deserve that kind of punishment, that kind of torture, that, that..." She searched for the words. "That kind of fuckery! Gods!"

Silence echoed through the room.

I gulped. "...what did you do?"

Her gray eyes loomed over me like a guillotine as she spoke, never once blinking or taking a pause.

"What did I do?" she scoffed. "I learned the goddamn truth about the war is what I did. And I told them. Told them I planned to show the whole world the ruse they'd been living under. And you know what I got for it? What your beloved heroes did?" Her hand reached to her shoulder, pulling her shawl and shirt aside.

A deep, deep scar ran across and down her back.

"They paralyzed me so I could never fight again." She let her shirt fall back into place. "Didn't work of course. Well, it did for a while. But they underestimated me."

She walked to the end of the table opposite me again. "How did you survive that kind of...attack?"

"Oh, I almost didn't. They left me for dead in no-man's-land. Told everyone back home I had died. The so-called enemy found me, stitched me back up, healed me with their experimental tech. When the team saw me alive again, they told the world I was an evil incarnate that had been lost to the dark." her laughter returned. "And you dumb fuckers of the world believed that bullshit." Shaking her head amusedly, she walked out the door, only to return a moment later with a glass of water in hand. She leaned against the door frame, sizing me up I guessed. I hardly noticed. I was lost in jumbled thoughts.

My whole life has taught not to believe the woman standing in front of me. My whole life I've been trained to take down the person standing in front of. Told what a horrible human being she was, or rather that she was no longer a human, not after being lost to the other side. But after everything I've seen and heard today...

It was all too much.

"Let me out of here. I'm no use to you."

"Oh, but aren't you? Look kid, I'm trying to help you. And save the world. A bit of a two for one, really." She swirled her glass, making the ice clink. Now she was the one lost in thought.

Suddenly she broke from the doorway, set her glass down on the table, and released me. Am I hallucinating?

"There. You're free. Go do what you want, be what you want. Hero, villain - in this world there's no real difference, not anymore. But I want to show you something if you'll let me."

She backed away from me, her eyes soft. Against my better judgement, I stood, rubbing my wrists, and followed her out of the room, down the hall, down a spiral staircase - and into a whole new reality.

I stood gawking at what was before me. "Is.. Is this what I think it is? Are all these people...?"

She put her hand on my shoulder. "These are all people abandoned by your side. In no-man's-land. Just like me. Some are heroes, like you. But some? Some are just civilians who asked too many questions about the war, saw things they weren't supposed to."

I looked around the room, and I broke. There were children. Beaten. Battered. Bruised. Fighting for their lives. I recognized some of them from the lists of war casualties that played each evening. They were all supposed to be dead. Killed by the enemy.

But who was the real enemy?

I fell to my knees. Later she told me I had wailed, mourned, cried. I don't remember any of it. I only remember the pain I felt when I realized the truth.

I thought I had been struck down by the other side - her side - and she was simply claiming her prize when she took me from No-Man’s-Land. I couldn’t remember how I ended up there at first. But now - now it came back to me. How the maps and the casualties and the losses and the triumphs just weren't lining up with what I actually saw happening. I had never seen the prosperity the news swore we had every night. I only saw the starving families and sick children. It didn't add up anymore, and I knew it. I had spoken up - spoken out against the heroes and their propaganda. Next thing I knew, she was plucking my damaged body from the sands of No-Man’s-Land.

Now I stood in an enemy hospital where no one was really acting like the evil villains they were painted to be. The doctors gave every patient exactly what they needed whether they were a hero or a civilian, rich or poor, young or old. I couldn't say as much for the makeshift nursing tents we had on our side.

Silently, I left the hospital, wandering my way around a base I had no knowledge of. Going nowhere, but somewhere better than where I had been. She didn't follow me.

A few hours later, I made my way back to the little room where I had previously been restrained. There was food set out for me. A bed had been placed in the corner with a fresh change of clothes. A note lay on the table on top of a map, a map of how I could get home.

I gingerly picked up the note. Then the map.

Where was home? Who was right? I felt the answer in my heart, but my head couldn't accept it. Not yet.

I changed into my new clothes, laced up my boots.

Before I left, I read the note again.

I didn't have the luxury of returning home, kid. Maybe you do. You're free now, after all. You can fight for what you think is right.
I know we could do a lot of good together and end this war once and for all.
The question is,
whose side are you on?

"I guess I'm about to find out."

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Lisa Rae · ago
Love your vivid imagery!
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