(Content warning: This story has some pretty intense violence and themes, please don’t read it if that might upset you -Max)
*John is well known around these parts for his charity work. He helped found a town not far from here and takes in everyone he can. He is a well-regarded and liked man. He came to me when he heard I was recording recent history. I offered him a drink to help his nerves, but he declined, he stated that he wanted a clear head for the story he was going to tell. This is his story, quoted verbatim *
The fact I have a reputation for the good I have done in this new world is not an accident. It’s what I want my legacy to be, I will continue to do it until the day I die.
Because if there is a God and a Heaven, the only chance I have of getting there is to make amends in this new world for what I did in the old one. Before I talk about everything back then, I really need to stress that I am a different person now, that I have helped people, a lot of people.
That is very important.
How many years has it been now? I lose track, enough that we should all really be at peace with how things are, right? We all went through Hell to get here, but things are getting better now, right? And we all helped make that happened.
I believe that.
I have to believe that.
*John gave out a long sigh and his incredibly tense shoulders began to sink. *
I’m sure I am not alone on this, but I still dream of the old world, every single night. I dream about the things I did.
When you think back on it with a clear head, well as clear as your head can get on that, you realise that the whole thing played out over years, even though it felt like moments. You look back and it is so obvious that it was going to end the way it ended. But when the moment came, I mean the exact moment, when we crossed the line and we knew there was no way back, it happened in the blink of an eye. At least, it felt like it did.
Years and years of build up to get to us to the Rubicon, but it only took us one afternoon to cross it.
*John took in several deep breathes before nodding his head*
Ok. I’m ready.
You must understand that I didn’t know where all of this was going when I started working for the government. I spent my twenties working shit job to shit job, always just hoping for a break, I took a few security courses hoping it would just get me somewhere a little better. And it did. I got my first role as a security guard at a government facility. I did well there and eventually I got a job working for Customs. That was the first time in my life that I started making real money. Plus, we got that uniform and I felt powerful. I liked it.
I was in it for years, and the change in directives was so slow none of us really noticed the direction we were heading until we got there. At first, they told us the refugees coming to our country might be harbouring terrorists, then after a while the rhetoric simply changed to the refugees were terrorists. I’m still amazed how few people had questions, even those of us on the frontline who interacted with them.
We knew better than anyone how desperate these refugees were. But there was a culture in that place, the orders from the top were always so dramatic, like we were the frontline of protection for the country, shit like that, but it was endless, every morning briefing, every email, it always told us we were heroes holding back the tide of danger and terror from our communities.
And we started to believe it, or at least, we made ourselves believe it.
When I joined that place the most important part of our job was stopping dangerous goods from being imported, you know large quantities of heroin or illegal weapons, that sort of thing. Within a few years we were mandated to treat human beings as effectively illegal. At the time I was so proud of how good I was at it. Eventually I got another promotion.
I became one of the directors of the newly created IIA. The Illegal Immigrant Agency.
I ran one of the camps.
*John took in another deep breath*
We all had to undergo top secret security clearances and sign non-disclosure agreements. We all gleefully did so, we had been in this organisation for years, we bought it all by that point, believed in what we were doing. That’s how propaganda works you know. It doesn’t matter if the narrative of the brainwasher makes sense, you just need to hear it for long enough and be isolated from any conflicting viewpoint, and that is exactly what had happened to us. Before we were flown out to an island hundreds of kilometres from the mainland.
When we landed, we got new uniforms and a belt full of non-lethal weapons, we looked like riot cops more than Customs officials, we started to get a little bit nervous then. We were there to guard and administer a new super maximum-security detention centre. The place was impressive. Looked like a fortress. We all wondered how dangerous these terrorist refugees would be.
A few days after we set up, the first plane came in and we drove to the airfield in our armoured buses to get them. We all surrounded the plane and the ramp went up to the door.
We all held our breath; we were tense and ready.
And then they appeared.
The handcuffs barely even fit them; they had this chain that went from their hands to their shackled feet.
They cried, they screamed, they were terrified.
I remember, at that moment, I audibly gasped, I vividly remember that moment, when my humanity so desperately tried to escape. But it only lasted a second our training had been thorough, and we knew we had to do our job to protect our country.
It was all so full of shit.
I witnessed every manner of cruelty you can imagine, I signed the orders, I did it myself. And no, I won’t go into specifics.
Not even for history.
I’ll just say this, whatever horrible things you can imagine a bunch of angry, indoctrinated heavily armed guards, with zero liability, and no witnesses would do, we did.
There were lots of moments where I questioned what I was doing. But after a while it just took on a momentum of its own. You could feel how much power and money was behind it all, you knew that if you spoke up, you wouldn’t be heard. And you certainly knew it wouldn’t make a difference.
One of the guards did snap, once. He was quiet and dejected in the locker room, he got into his uniform and put on his weapons particularly slow that day. His feet were shuffling as he began his shift. He took one look at the cages with all the broken little faces in them, and he just ripped that weapons belt off, threw it down and crumpled to the floor sobbing.
We got him out of there, quick. First flight back to the mainland. We didn’t do that for his sake, we did it for ours. A lot of us felt that way inside, but you couldn’t let yourself think about it. Not if you wanted to stay sane.
So the days went on, the weeks, the months. The longer we stayed there the less reason there appeared to be for us doing so. And everyone started to show their true colours. After a while it became clear which guards tortured those kids because they were ordered to and which ones enjoyed it.
So many of them enjoyed it.
And then the day came.
On the island we had no idea the bombs had dropped except for the frantic radio traffic in those first few orders.
It was just panic on the airwaves, and we found it impossible to get any concrete news or updates. Then it just stopped altogether, we couldn’t reach anyone on the mainland. No internet connection, nothing.
At first everyone was calm, our training kicked in and we put the whole island on lock down, we had no idea what was happening, so we prepared for the worst.
That keep people calm for about half a day.
I say we prepared for the worst-case scenario but that’s not true. We considered the worst-case scenario to be something like a large-scale prison riot that managed to take over the island.
Like a bunch of kids were ever going to overpower heavily armed guards.
Well the worst-case scenario did happen, and I was not ready for it at all.
Enough of the radio traffic had managed to get through that we understood some sort of attack had happened. That scared us, but the lack of contact is what drove us mad.
We all started to drown in panic, and it spread to everyone. We knew we had been attacked, and we wanted to get home immediately, all of us, but we couldn’t just abandon our post, especially since the attacks seemed to confirm everything we had been taught to fear about our detainees. Our imaginations went wild, and fear turned to hate.
And of course, we had been on this island so long, our attention naturally turned to the children, the rumour and then perceived truth that somehow these children were a part of our enemy’s plan.
God help me.
*John began to hyperventilate and broke down sobbing at this point in his story*
I didn’t know what else to do.
My office was filled with panicked guards. They were all screaming different things at me, some wanted to just leave, others said it was their duty to stay, but there was a third group that slowly got louder until it drowned out the others.
They told me to unlock the armoury and they would solve the problem.
You must understand.
I was panicked too, I wanted to go home and find my family, I wanted to leave, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
I don’t even remember doing it, it was more like I just watched myself do it.
My hand unclipped the keys from my belt and dropped them on the floor.
God help me.
Everything after that is a blur, no linear time to the events. I just remember moments.
It was fucking pandemonium. I saw guards dragging kids into rooms. I remember yells of terror and howls of pleasure. I remember how unbelievably loud automatic fire sounds in a closed corridor. I remember the smell of gunpowder and blood; I remember a guard running around naked laughing with giddy excitement.
I remember their screams. God help me. I remember their little screams
*John went silent for nearly a minute before wiping away his tears and composing himself*
A few of us loaded the emergency boat with supplies and we just left for the mainland. We knew it would be days or even weeks before we got there. We didn’t care. We just had to leave.
We got on the boat sometime around midnight I think, and we took off. We could see the silhouette of the camp glowing around the fires, the gunshots still echoing across the water.
I never did find my family.
I ended up joining one of the waves of refugees flee the city. That seemed fitting to me.
We didn’t make it far out of the city before some of the sicker people started to fall behind. Radiation sickness and burns, eventually they couldn’t go on. They begged for help from the column of people that streamed past, no one stopped, and I understood that, everyone was desperate then. There is no right or wrong way to act in a situation like that.
But I stopped, I didn’t have any destination anyway. I set up a makeshift aid-station and helped where I could as the column went by, people would give us bits and pieces, some cloth here, a bottle of water there. After a while the station was semi-permanent, and we stayed there long after the column had finished.
And here we remain today.
*John looked up at me through teary eyes and forced a smile he hoped I would return. *
I hope, over these past years, I have done enough good in this world to earn my soul back, or at least, maybe God will have some mercy on me. Maybe.
But I know one thing for sure.
I’ll never forgive myself.
*End of recording*
*John left the bar without another word. He went straight back to work tending to the sick in town. Two weeks later, we found him dead. After his funeral, I released his recording to the community. I assume that was why he came to me. I hope he found peace*
Max Black 2020