I debated whether or not to show this story to the world. Sandoval became a figure far beyond my expectations, in the way characters often do, and as an almost mythical character, his voice had no place in Crucible itself – he existed best through others’ eyes.
When I stumbled across my concept notebook, however, this piece hit me afresh. This is Sandoval’s story.
“It was a mercy.” The words sounded very far away. “You could have killed far more.”
“That doesn’t make this a mercy!” His voice was tight with grief. “What, because we spared the children—so that tonight, their parents won’t come home to them? The earth is soaked with blood, how is this a mercy?”
“You think because lives were lost, this is monstrous?”
“You think that because it could have been worse, this was mercy?”
“Anyone else would have taken out the city!”
“That doesn’t make this—“
“Benito.” Alex put his hands on Sandoval’s shoulders. “They started it, they rebelled, and you crushed their army without killing civilians. Whether you want it or not, you’re going to be a hero.” He stooped to look into Sandoval’s eyes. “I think you are. I do—”
“No,” Sandoval said, but his friend did not stop.
“—Yes. And when you get back to Delphi, you’re going to have to take your damned medal and make a speech and shake hands. Yes, you are. This is going to be one for the history books.”
The tentative smile died when Sandoval hefted his pistol. He thought he was going to choke. He could see the parade in his mind’s eye, and the strong handshakes of the commanders past their prime, reduced to snatching glory from another man’s brutality. They’d praise him. Alex was right, and right now the only thing he could think now was to put a bullet in his brain—as if, knowing he’d done that while looking at the battlefield, they might see, somehow, a piece of the horror. As if they might ever see this differently.
Mercy. Oh, god, he was going to be sick. The gun was shaking in his hand, slick with sweat.
Forty years later, he would still sleep with the same pistol on his nightstand, and in the mornings he would hold it and consider—and know that the moment was past. He’d lost his chance.