The part Helie hates most is when her family dies.
That's stupid, really. It's happened enough times that she should be used to it by now. The important part is what comes later, after all; they always come back. There are plenty of people whose families don't do that.
Helie loves her life. She does. She loves the wind in her face and the open road; she loves the broken places even though they make her a little sad, the abandoned gas stations and the empty diners, that feeling like she gives them meaning just by walking into them.
She loves her family, Frankie laughing in her ear and Gerard pointing out constellations he doesn't know the names for, Mikey comfortably silent beside her when they let her drive, always there because everyone else either gets too jittery about it or ends up making her too jittery herself. She loves her dad, with the hair he gave her and the way he winces when he shoots that she got nothing of, with his smile that can warm you when it's freezing even close to the fire and his wistful eyes. She loves all of them. She wishes she could give them meaning, too.
It was easier when she was younger, when she could aim a bazooka and not know that next time it might be aimed at them. When she could forget that they'd died as soon as it happened -- as soon as they were there again, and it was like it didn't matter at all.
It's not completely true, though. The part she really hates the most is that they forget.
She'd tried talking to Gerard about it, once. She'd been twelve, maybe, or thirteen. (Dates on the road between the fields of sand have very little meaning -- mostly, birthdays are a thing that happens when you can get candles and a cake.) She'd tried it slowly, tried working her way up to it, sort of. The same as she'd worked her way to the realization that being shot in the head meant staying where you were, for most people. That there was something wrong in the way Pony wouldn't say a word about it, how Diamond Jack pursed her lips when Helie asked.
So she asked Gerard, not sure what she was asking, because her family always explained and always told her the truth. And she kept going when he looked confused and then completely lost, kept going closer to what she was really asking until she could see, even the little kid she was, that he looked scared. And she'd said, "Never mind, I was just making up a story."
It was okay, really. He forgot all about it the next day.
The clues had been there all along, and in the end she learned to see them. How she never came close to dying even when she was right there. How they were always running or chasing, always fighting, even if she couldn't always remember what it was they were trying to do. The way Korse looked at Gee, that smile he had, his spotless cuffs and bloodless face, the mutants with their masks and their bad aim. The way they came back, every time, and the Killjoys came back, too.
She's have figured it out younger, she thinks, except she didn't have any basis to go from. You don't play cops and robbers out in the desert, not when you live in the middle of a car chase. She knows about games; she grew up with four people who spent way too much of their time trying to make her smile. But she didn't know about this kind of game, not exactly, because she'd grown up in it, stretching too far in all directions for her to see that it could be one.
There are things she's not sure about, too. She knows about people who make things, because she grew up surrounded by them, words and music and guns that didn't come from any vending machine. She knows about making things come into being that haven't been there before.
She'd never seen a movie, because it's dangerous these days, but they're another thing she grew up with; bedtime stories and words to fill long rides, the one long ride that never ended. She knows every evil empire has something to fight against. Better living means having a purpose, too. It means a reason to get out in the open air and have some fun. It means somebody needs to be threatening your quality of life.
BLI made the mutants. Dad thinks it was an accident; Frank says it's just their sense of humor. Helie thinks he's right.
Korse shoots Mikey again. He smiles over at one of his crew, and the mask moves a little, like maybe it's smiling back. He looks back down at Gerard and shoots him in the chest.
Helie is hiding behind the gas station, pretending she can't tell they're pretending not to see her. She doesn't want to get taken in today. She just wants this to end and to be in the car and for everything to be all right.
Gee has blood coming out of his mouth, but he's still breathing, just a little. She imagines the sound, burbling and horrible, air trying to fill a punctured balloon. She's heard it before.
Korse holsters his gun and steps over dad, not sparing him a glance. The mutants turn to follow. She's too far away to really hear, but she knows well enough to imagine his last words, too.