The Invisible War
He sits on the hard floor of this prison cell because he's been denied a chair, a table, a bed, anything of any comfort at all. A dim light burns in the center of the room, suspended from a high ceiling. Morning has long since broken, and they've denied him a meal for the third time. He picks at pieces of food left over from the other night, trying to make it last.
He knows he should be frightened as he sits in their prison, terrified, for in a few hours they are going to execute him--again. But oddly enough he feels a strange calm, like cool waters upon a placid lake. He sits, expectantly, shuffling sounds crawling behind that steel door....
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pans back and focuses on a beachfront, water at low tide.
Karyn's yellow, sun-bleached hair wraps around her neck in the wind like a scarf. A baggy uniform does little to mask the curves and softness he knows are under there, had felt the night before, wants to feel again.
"Council has ended deliberations," she says, forcing a small smile. "Jon."
He nods gravely and looks at the deep well of sky, at the stars coming out now against the fading blue. They point at him, as if accusing him of some dark tragedy. He winces.
"I see," he says flatly, not so much to her as to the sky.
Off in the distance, by the now sleepy shore, the remnants of the city stretch, charred, broken, in ruin yet still used. He can just make out the thin smoke columns of fires, burning steady against the rising evening wind.
He sucks it in, the wind, lets it caress his face this one last time before he must give it all up to the Dhijad, the wind, water, sands of his homeworld. He curses his artificial eyes for the clarity of memories.
"I suppose the order comes effective immediately," he says going through the motions, knowing the answer.
"Yes," Karyn replies. "The transports have already begun the evacuation." She walks over and places her hands on his shoulders. "The clans are in unison, Jon. There is no other choice, of that we all agree. The eco-system is all but destroyed, the ozone has been burned away, the water unfit to drink-- " she stops. "We only have a short time to make the escape window."
A bird cries overhead. He considers it for a moment.
"And so we fall back again," he mutters to himself. "Oh, if you only knew the truth!"
Karyn continues, unhearing, his words falling off her like leaves. She brushes a hand over his face and meets his eyes with a look of quiet longing. "There's plenty of time left," she says. "I'll be leading the first fleet away from Lyra at mid-sun tomorrow." She pushes her softness into him. "Your favorite dinner is waiting," she whispers. "And more. Let's make it last."
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The memory of Lyra is now haunted for him, and there is something, something he can't explain that laments the city's broken back, the voices echoing into the night where only the spirits of the dead now wander. He can feel it in his heart and in his bones, a swirling band of sadness and peace, as elusive as the evening mist, yet as perceptible as a fever.
Fires twinkle in the city below, while the stars shine hard and silent like sentinels in the sky. He can hear the water licking at the shore, the thrum of a vehicle down a dark and narrow street. The air seems pensive. How long now? How long would it be before they come? This time he tries not to remember....
Karyn shovels a forkful of leftovers into her mouth from a plate near their makeshift bed. The candles still burning and wiggling in the moving air, casting an eerie glow and producing quick shapes his eyes could hardly record properly.
He can hear them, his eyes, their tiny machinery whining and clicking in his sockets.
Karyn lies flat on her stomach, her legs entwined in his, the plate on the floor. "The last time I will see these stars with you," she says, eyes fixed up, her back to him. "And then we'll meet at Point Ryaan--"
He smiles inwardly. "Why don't we take the boat out tonight, into the harbor? You and me under these stars?" He'd always secretly wanted to, that night, to let it all slip away, fall behind him as if he'd never been a part of it. The Great Burning.
She carries on as if he hadn't said a word. She sat up, and he saw the smooth skin of her back, reached out and touched it.
"Karyn..." he breaks off.
She turned to him, soft eyes betraying concern. "Why do you do this to yourself?"
"I don't know," he says, wanting to pull the eyes out of his head; the eyes they had given him. But his brain remembers as well as his eyes.... "I guess I expect to rewrite it all. Or to push delete and wipe the sad song Lyra plays away."
"Everything must play itself out," she says. "Just as it should."
She smiles somewhat wickedly. "Just for you, Jon."
Her face resumes the composure it had before, before the shift in conversation, the way it had been that night. She gets up, the blankets rustle down, exposing her flesh to the moonlight, cold and pale and ghostly. She walks to the window. She glances back over her shoulder, eyes hard, accusing.
"Karyn, I wanted to tell you.....I wanted to say...."
He closes his eyes and keeps them shut. But he can never keep them shut for long.
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He hears the boats rocking in the docks, the soft groaning of the hulls in his ears. He opens his eyes. The water glows silver in the pale light of the moons in the crystal sky. He sees her form on the quay, silhouetted and haloed in a ghostly moonlit aura.
And he can feel them out there, hidden behind the velvet of night, ready to come bursting forth from the quantum bubble and set fire to the night.
He shivered. He had been there, on Perigrine, when they'd come, set fire to it, watched it burn. And he'd seen Carrion reduced to ash and steam from a distance as the clan ships hurtled away from the bloody massacre.
But he was supposed to help stop it, stop it all. Wasn't he?
The knowledge of his course of action came to him the day the Dhijadians had knocked out Skylight Station. His homeworld to be spared by surrender. And it would be the only way to stop the advance, wouldn't it? To give in? To give it up to them, to fall back into the Realm from which his people had come? That's what they wanted, isn't it? The Dhijads. That's what they used him for. Right?
He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head. (Scene interrupt....) He opens them, wet, glossy. (Scene continue....)
"I know we don't deserve a second chance," she says, "after our failure here.... But the people of Point Ryaan seem content enough to let some of us settle there."
He suddenly grows cold, shivering. "Karyn," he says. "I want to hear you say it."
"They've allocated a large portion of the southern continent for resettlement," she continues. "A grand gesture even for them."
"Kayrn." His heart pounds. The moment is fading.
"It would be nice," she says, her smile distant in the moonlight. "To finally stay somewhere together. You. Me."
"I need you to say it."
"I've got a little secret," she said, smiling mischievously. "Want to hear it?"
"Oh God, please say it!"
"I've bought a little place by the shore on the peninsula for us," she says. There is a crashing in his brain. "Just for us. You like the sea, the boats." She reaches out for him to join her on the quay like he should, like he had done that night before they had come, unannounced, known only to him, through Lyra's defenses, known to them through his eyes....
"My gift to you, Jon," she says.
He quivers slightly and remains where he is, takes a long, deep breath and awaits the inevitable, the lightning crashing to earth. Again.
"Goodbye, Karyn," he says.
She doesn't hear. She watches the stars.
But he swears, swears that this time as she looks back, hand still outstretched, before the night becomes day and the water in the bay boils and the little shanty town built upon the ruins blows away in the fire wind, that she is smiling at him. Smiling.
And he waits for the scene to fade, for the vision to smudge and swirl into base colors and finally turn black.
Through the playback he can hear shuffling sounds behind that steel door....
And he waits longingly, in the dim light, for that promised peace that seems to never come, that final resting peace where at long last he can relinquish countless hours of playback.
The peace of the dead.
Carl Rafala, an Adjunct Professor of English at Quinnipiac College, spent five years in South Africa and has just finished his MA in English. He has had minor success in getting a collection of short stories out briefly. He is currently working to get the collection re-published under a new title with new stories added.