Synopsis: Beyond War
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Missing in action. That's what the report said. Just like Timothy and everyone else in the unit.
Walking through the city left me along. Too much to say and no one to talk to about what happened.
My eyes didn't bother me the next day. Everything looked as it had before that night. But something was still off. People. The people. The way they moved. The way they talked. It was like the whole world was in slow motion. Trauma, I thought. Just trauma. Nothing more.
Someone would come looking. The old house, bills. Not much time left. And no one I knew to go to who would not be questioned. Still, sitting alone - awkward. A walk, perhaps. Just a brief walk, and then a chance to get my head together.
Sitting at the bar, tucked away in a table that looked as if it would fall apart if I put my drink down, I again got that uneasy feeling. Warm. Like a buzz before I even had a beer.
Before I could stand or shake it off, a short blonde in a little blazer sat down. Narrow features, dark skin, thin lips. The hair, too light to be a cheap job, almost natural despite the complexion. "Too much money," I thought, trying to slide away quietly.
"Wait," she said. Pushy much, but too much at stake to be polite. This was a mistake. She just took me for someone well off, blowing through the last of my account I guess - too much cash attracts trouble.
"Wait. It's me."
I looked up, afraid she was from the force and about to make an arrest.
She didn't look familiar, no uniform, and I'd remember seeing someone like that before. Wrong person?
"It's me. It's Tim."
Everything froze. Was I dead? Was this some trip, and I was laying in a field bleeding out, or high as a kite in a field hospital. I stared and then wanted to blot out the image. Maybe I misheard her. Trauma can do that sort of thing.
"Sit down. It's okay. It's me. Just sit."
Maybe I hadn't gotten away after all. Maybe the thing was still holding on to me - messing with me - and everything was a dream? I sat.
"Sorry for the shock. I know, right? You probably think you are dead."
"Stop staring," she muttered, a little angry now. "You don't get to think that and this is temporary."
I stopped myself, realizing how wrong this was on a few levels, including mine. "How?"
"He saw you. He saw you see me. And he tossed me over the wall. I didn't know what was going on until the others held me down a few and the shock wore off. He got the others, every one. Every one but you. They are all waiting. Everyone but you. So he sent me to come fetch you."
"He," I thought. "What do you mean 'he'?"
She stared for a moment, as if processing, those weird little eyes, like I had at the face... at the body.. still waiting to wake up. "He is an officer. Their unit is pulling back. He's leaving and taking us with him. That is, if you want to go. And you do want to go. Or you will... once you know."
"Way to be cryptic?" I knew we were fighting the war and losing, but no one else knew that. The public least of all. Nothing about the losses were even on the news at home. It was as if nothing was wrong. As if no one was going home at all. "What do you mean leaving? And what the Hell are you?"
She started to speak, then paused. "I could show you, but first I should tell you - once you know, you won't stay here. So you deserve a choice, and this may sound insane. These people, his people, can put on a body the way we put on a uniform. They can change any living thing into their own kind, and they were made as weapons for a war that will destory this planet."
I think I was happier at feeing guilty I hoped this was all a joke and Tim had a nice ass five seconds before that. I must be in a hospital somewhere, dying on the table.
"Like I said, this isn't permanent - so don't get any ideas. I just needed to see you and this was the fastest way. People don't ask questions and are more afraid of staring than you are."
If I was going to take a trip, at least I would take a good one, so I said, "Fine, show me. It can't get any stranger than this."
"Hold out your hand."
I hesitated... expecting a fade to black and a magic carpet ride with a tiger any minute.
Tim gently touched me on the hand, and a creepy image of me holding my best buddy's hand in boot camp as he lifted me over the obstacle washed over me like a tidal wave of images and sounds, laughter, screaming, flashes, stars - warships in space, on fire, planets burning, monsters the size of buildings breathing fire and things the size of whales walking down main street - and I think there were wizards, and dragons, and a bunch of little people with booze. It was all a jumble like a thousand years of pay per view dumped into my head.
"Now drink," she said. The whole thing. It will eat up your fluids until your body absorbs the new information. At least, the portal to the mainframe. You are on the network now, and that was the teaser.
"The fuck!?" I tried not to jump, but people noticed. It was like I was there in every moment of those memories, standing in the middle of what seemed like Hell at times, and the only person on the planet before any people at others... what was it.... ten, twenty.... forty thousand years? It started to come together, just like remembering my childhood. In order, but some moments stronger than others. All of them, just as if I was the one living them.
"These are his memories. Just his. There are thousands more like him. They have been here since we walked upright. But now that we know - and others know too - he and his unit are pulling back - leaving." She paused... a little concerned for the attention I drew. "We have to go. There's only one of him left now, and if we don't it will mean a fight that most of these people will not survive. So..."
I was coming to the part of the memories of the last few days now, still lost in them - even though the images flew through my mind like a search result - instantly - so much time. I saw the cadre I served with, the men I thought were dead, standing in the line. I knew the question already Tim was asking, remembering him tell her to find me. "Yes." "Very yes. Let's go."
I had seen the fighting before we got there. The things that showed up for 'our side', and the face of the things that sent them. This was a war that was already on and we were just in the way. The man I saw had decided to leave, but he needed men - so he hit our unit, sent home any who didn't choose to stay, and everyone stayed. I was just beginning to understand why. Some had wives, children, most had family. But what I saw, what was coming if they failed - what was already here, would destroy them. I didn't decide - I knew - if we were going to have a chance, he was our only option.
"So," I whispered as we left, "how long are you going to be like this?"
That angry stare was worth everything. "Shut the fuck up and keep walking. I may remember how to walk in high heels because of this but they still hurt like hell and you have no chance. As soon as I get back in my old body, the better. Now you've just made it creepy."
That settled it. That was the Tim I knew from basic. And this was our war now.