It was later than we expected. Two men--large men--supported a third as he hobbled unsteadily toward the chosen location. They were big guys, those human crutches, but the man between them much bigger. Even from a distance I could see his injuries. Or at least the bandages and stitches that held them closed.
His face was without any kind of covering, as per our demands. I knew it was him long before I could see it. The body language was right, the shape of him familiar. It was Patrick.
And it wasn't.
Without a doubt the physical body in front of me was him. I'd even say the hard glint of recognition in his eyes, a spark of hope so faint but beautiful it nearly made me weep right there, was even him. But God, what changes. Pat lost a lot of weight over the last few years, but a diet heavy in protein and a lot of hard work made him muscular for the first time. No longer. His frame was slimmer than I'd ever seen. He had been starved.
And cut on. Tortured. The marks were plain to see, within and the ones that were skin deep. I've been in dark enough places to know when a person has given up looking for the light. I saw that in him save for that brief flare of hope.
I was tense until Pat was in the modified wheelchair we'd brought with us. I was tense after that, too. But when I saw him I realized how much hate a human being can have in them. Every moment of anger, every instance of lashing out the undead for the horrors they'd caused, all of them put together didn't approach a fraction of a percent of what I felt when I saw him. Not just the injuries to his body; the brokenness of him as a person. Pat always soldiered on, seeing the beauty and good angles to everything.
The UAS took a piece of art and shattered it. The man who could make anyone laugh and fill children with hope no matter how grim the day was gone. Rage unlike anything I've ever felt flooded through me as the others approached to bundle Pat off to our truck. My grip on the dead man's switch was so fierce I thought I might break it. I wanted to. I wanted to let the explosives do their work. I wanted to see the bodies fly, pieces tumbling through the air. Not just objects in space but proof in living scarlet that the enemy would suffer in turn for the suffering they caused.
I didn't, though. My mind has always been that way. The more worked up I get the stronger that bastard little angel on my shoulder becomes. Not that he advocates good for its own sake. He just screams consequences at me. Doing this would just make things worse. It would prove that the Union wouldn't work in good faith in its own dealings. It would show a profound lack of honor to the rank and file members of the UAS that might be on the fence about this war.
So I held back. I got in the truck and Becky switched detonators back over, handing the new one to Kincaid .
As we left the area, just at the outside of the effective range of the thing, Kincaid smiled at me. And said, "We did it."
Then he hit the switch.