“Approaching drop site.'
“Sir, is this your stop?'
Leonard woke up with a start. He reached for his laser, and then stopped. Of course, he didn’t carry a laser anymore. He was on the grav-train, heading home. When the light on his chair had turned green, he stood up and headed towards the exit. His prosthetic hand fumbled with the handle of the door. His doctor had told him that the hand had twice the strength of a normal human hand, and yet he somehow couldn’t make it open a simple latch. Someone behind him cleared his throat loudly, and Leonard quickly opened the door with his other hand.
After leaving the baggage claim, Leonard checked his watch. It was getting a bit late, and he wanted to arrive before dark. He placed his left hand against the scanner plate, and waited for his suitcase to come out of the slot in the wall. To his surprise, the slot slid open almost immediately, allowing him to pull his case out and continue on his way. Obviously, the station had made some improvements since he was gone.
After leaving the station, Leonard walked briskly over to the screen by the sidewalk, trying to relax. He was done with his military service, and he was going to enjoy his civilian life as best he could. Once he had reached the screen, he scrolled through the various options, and selected the taxi icon, fumbling a little, as he was still using his left hand. He then placed his suitcase on the ground beside him, and let his mind wander.
He was sitting in the HTV with his squad. Each man and woman had an almost identical grim expression on their faces. The captain’s voice came over the radio. “Approaching drop site.' He felt the floor dip as the vehicle reached approach altitude. He nodded, and the soldiers around him prepared their weapons.
“Incoming, we have incoming!'
Leonard suddenly came aware that someone was honking a car horn at him. Looking up, he saw a familiar face behind the wheel. “Oscar! Is that you?'
“The one and only! How ya been? Need a lift?'
“It’s good to see you Oscar.' Leonard sighed, climbing aboard.
“You know where I live.'
Oscar paused, “Uhh, about that, we need to talk.'
Five minutes later, the pair of them were sitting in The Black Dog, the local bar. “So, she re-married?'
“She thought you were dead! We all did. I guess she decided that it was time for her to move on in her life. When we found out… I mean.'
“I understand.' Leonard sighed. “And the house?'
“Sold. Torn down. I think it’s a mall now.'
“Great. Just wonderful.'
“Listen, you can stay at my place tonight if…'
“No, no it’s fine. Just take me to a hotel.'
“Listen, I hate to ask, but is it true….?'
“No. It was terrorists. You can’t believe everything you read.'
“Uhh… right. The hotel hasn’t moved, it’s still in the same spot. Do you want me to drive you or…'
“No. It’s fine. I can walk. Neither of us should be driving.'
On his way over to the hotel, several people pointed and stared. One little boy tugged on his mother’s sleeve while insisting, “Look mommy! It’s him! The man who fought the aliens!'
“Now honey,' his mother replied, “That’s not true. There’s no such thing as aliens. This man is a hero for fighting terrorists. You can’t believe everything people tell you.'
Inwardly, Leonard sighed. They couldn’t hide the truth for the public much longer. Even so , he wasn’t about to betray the oath of silence he had taken. When the time was right, they would know. Until then, he would do his best to uphold the story the government had spread about a massive terrorist attack. In a way, he supposed it was partly true. His thoughts were interrupted when he realized that he had arrived at the hotel.
The clerk at the desk refused to let him pay. “No charge for a hero!'
Leonard didn’t really care. Money wasn’t really going to be a problem for him, so it didn’t matter either way. He thanked the clerk and made his way to his room. Once he had settled into his bed, he sank into an uneasy sleep.
He was lying a few yards away from the burning wreckage of his vehicle. Somehow, he had been flung free, but the rest of his squad was still inside. He swore loudly as he tried to stand up and felt a sharp pain from his ankle. Propping himself up on his rifle, he began to hobble over to the HTV.
Suddenly, his ears were pierced by a deafening explosion. He was thrown back from the vehicle by the force of the blast. He tumbled under a ruined car, and lay still. He knew whatever had caused the explosions was still out there, and if he left his cover without locating it first was as good as a death sentence.
He shifted his body under to get a better view, and felt a sudden stab of pain in his right hand. He shuddered involuntarily as he realized that a piece of shrapnel was embedded in his right hand. He resisted the urge to pull out the shrapnel, and crawled forward using his elbow, keeping his hand in the air. He froze. There was something moving outside. Suddenly, a foot stepped directly in front of his face. It was a clawed foot, with three toes, and covered in some kind of segmented metal armor.
“Wake up call!'
Leonard blinked at the light flooding the room.
“You may enjoy a complimentary meal with your stay!' said a disembodied voice somewhere in the room.
Leonard sat up in his bed. One thing you never lose from service in the military was the ability to wake up in the morning. He located the source of the voice, a small touchscreen on the wall, and muted it. After getting dressed, he went downstairs and checked out of the hotel. No sooner had he walked out the door than he realized that he had absolutely no idea what to do with himself. He thought about trying to find Oscar, but he was probably at work by now.
Without anything better to do, Leonard began to walk aimlessly along the sidewalk. He hadn’t made it very far before he realized that he was being followed. A sleek black car was slowly coasting along behind him, making no effort to conceal its intentions. Leonard didn’t even break a sweat. If the people in the car wanted something from him, they were going to have to come out and confront him. Otherwise, he was just going to continue on his path as if nothing was out of the ordinary. As Leonard continued to walk, he began to notice that he was heading into an increasingly less populated area of the town.
After what seemed like ages, the car pulled over next to Leonard. He realized that the streets around them were clear; it was a completely unpopulated area. The window on the car rolled down. “Unit 5567?' Came a voice from inside the shadowy interior of the car.
Something from inside the car flashed. Leonard collapsed. When he awoke he was sitting in a chair, in a dark room, with a bright light pointed at him. “What is this?' Leonard snarled as he discovered that his hands were restrained to his chair.
“I’ll be asking the questions' said a voice from the shadows, the same voice from the car. “On the fifth of March last year, you were deployed in the city of..'
“Hang on now! Who are you!? I don’t have to answer these questions!'
“Code Delta Seven.'
Leonard froze. “Of course… but, why all this? Why not just ask me to come with you?“
“We are dealing with technology hitherto unknown to mankind. We have no idea what kind of effect it could have on the human mind. These are safety precautions, nothing more. Now, back to the debriefing. On the fifth of March, you were deployed to fight an unknown threat. We had no idea what we were dealing with, so we went to you. You survived numerous battles in World War III. You became one of the most decorated men in history. You, along with a team of other famous American heroes, were the obvious choice for us when dealing with the unknown threat that emerged in the city of Cincinnati. We lost contact with your squad when your vehicle was destroyed. Now, we have read your account of what happened next. However, we would prefer a more… detailed recount. Would you agree to submit to a mind scan, to allow us to see what happened firsthand? It is within your rights to refuse, of course. “
“I-I’ll go through with the process.'
Leonard realized that two men in black suits had brought in a table with a sinister metal box centered upon it. The men began attaching electrodes to Leonard’s head, and one of them released whatever was binding his hands. The other man handed him a small controller with a button positioned by his thumb.
“Now, if you wish to end the procedure at any point, just hit this button, “came the voice from out of the darkness again. “Begin procedure.'
Leonard stared at the strange foot that had come to a rest inches from his head. He dared not move or even breathe. Suddenly, the foot tensed. Then, in a flash, it was gone. Something landed with a distant thump. Leonard reached into his pack and pulled out an old pair of binoculars. Almost nobody used them now that the newest scanners had come out, but Leonard knew there was value to going dark. After all, that HTV was one of their newest stealth vehicles, and it had been easily shot down. As for his life signs, whatever was out there had already passed him by. Maybe the engine had shielded him, or some other thing in the car. It didn’t matter.
He raised his binoculars to get a better look at his assailant. What greeted him was a creature so otherworldly; the only thing that kept him from crying out was his intense military training. Its shape was vaguely humanoid, but twisted in a way that no human could ever be. It’s back hunched at a crooked angle. Its legs bent in two places, like a dogs. It was entirely covered in some kind of segmented metal armor, with a black screen in place of its face and a strange weapon in its hand, like a rifle but made out of constantly shifting metal plates. The creature was slowly moving its head side to side, making it obvious that it was scanning.
Leonard reached down and slowly pulled out his revolver. Another “outdated' item that he still chose to bring along, but still would prove useful. The heat emissions from a laser would be a dead giveaway. However, unlike a laser, a pistol would only produce heat after it was fired. He brought the pistol up and aimed it directly at the creatures head. Then, he pulled the trigger. The creature seemed spasm sideways as the bullet struck the side of its head. Leonard raised his binoculars for a better view.
The creature had somehow managed to keep its footing, despite the impact of the bullet, skittering sideways to avoid falling. The segments of armor on its head seemed to be rearranging themselves to repair whatever damage the bullet might have done. The creature paused for a moment, and then turned to face directly at Leonard. It raised its weapon, which had shifted into a longer shape, and aimed it towards the underneath of the car.
Leonard rolled out of the way as the creature fired. There was a flash of blinding yellow light which forced Leonard to cover his eyes. When he looked up again, there was a hole melted directly through the car and the pavement underneath. He quickly looked back at the creature, and was shocked to see that it had disappeared. He did not have time to wonder where it had gone, as it slammed into the pavement directly in front of him. Leonard was about to raise his gun for another shot, when he noticed that the creature didn’t seem to be looking at him. It completely ignored Leonard and walked carefully over to the car he had been hiding under. One of the lights was still miraculously on, and that seemed to be what was attracting the creatures attention.
“It doesn’t notice organic creatures!' Leonard realized. “It’s only interested in machines!'
Leonard began to slowly get up, when his shirt snagged on something. Leonard fell to the ground with an audible crash. The creature still didn’t notice him. It seemed to have no sense of hearing. Leonard quickly looked around at his surroundings, and then began to formulate a plan. Seeing that the creature was losing interest in the car, he quickly reached into his bag and pulled out his portable scanner. He hesitated for a moment, and then switched it on. The creatures head immediately snapped towards him, its weapon once again changing in its hand. Leonard threw the scanner as hard as he could towards a nearby tank trailer. The creature immediately leaped after it.
“Please be a gas truck, please be a gas truck,' Leonard muttered to himself as he aimed his pistol. He fired a shot into the side of the tank. Nothing happened. “Damn!' Leonard yelled, before he could stop himself.
The creature paid no notice to the gunshot or Leonard, but looked up a couple seconds after both went silent. A thin trickle of grey liquid was leaking out of the side of the tank and onto the creature. The trickle grew into a stream, and then into a jet that forced the creature back. The creature fell on its back as the force of the jet grew. Then, the flow of liquid began to slow, but the creature still didn’t get up. Cautiously, Leonard limped over to see what had happened. He laughed as he realized what he had done. The creature was gone, covered completely by a thick coat of quick-dry concrete.
Leonard suddenly jerked awake. He realized he was back in the dark room with the Delta Seven Agents. “Why did you stop?' Leonard asked.
“We know what happens next. You were trapped in the warzone for months before looking for more of the aliens. When you eventually realized that there was only one, you returned to society. “
“So now what?' Leonard asked.
“Let us worry about that.' Something flashed in front of Leonard, and he lost consciousness.
“Wake up call!'
Leonard blinked at the light flooding the room. “You may enjoy a complimentary meal with your stay!' said a disembodied voice somewhere in the room. Leonard sat up in his bed. One thing you never lose from service in the military was the ability to wake up in the morning. After months of fighting terrorists, he was glad to return to a normal life.
When he went downstairs to enjoy his complimentary meal, he passed a screen playing the morning news. “…and the government still denies rumors that an alien invasion took place…' Leonard shut off the screen.
“Alien invasion?' He laughed to himself. “What will they think of next?'