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The dream was a fine web-like structure in a fog of mindless wandering. When he concentrated on it, it dissolved to chaos. When he wasn't thinking about it, it wouldn't materialize. It was best activated through a type of suppressed subconscious desire he couldn’t master. He had to want it, but not try for it. He had to feel the dream occurring without altering the flow of his sleep. When the elements clicked into place, he found himself plopped into the middle of it as if he'd walked into a theater in the middle of the show.

It was never repetitive. He didn't remember a beginning. It was discontinuous. Each time the dream came to him he seemed to experience a flow of action that persisted when he wasn't there. He saw bits and pieces. Each time there was something new that had happened when he hadn't been dreaming. It was a life unto itself.

The dream always left him with strong emotions: love, hate, fear, happiness. There were times he'd spend hours in bed longing for its return. There were nights he stared blankly at the glowing TV fearing sleep and the possible onset of the life within sleep.

This time it came upon him suddenly. It had been years since the last time. In his mind he was sitting on the worn sofa in the living room. Even though it was daylight, he knew his family was asleep in the rooms behind him.

Across the coffee table was the pale man. His skin glowed white. At first, Carlos thought there was wheat flour caked over the gringo's skin. Then he remembered something long forgotten--something about the effects of projection, something that made a man glow almost blue like a street lamp at night.

“Show me your motive projection,” the man said. Carlos couldn't place the accent. He sounded almost Asian. Not quite.

He wondered what the man meant as he watched his own arm shoot out toward the front door, palm out. The door knob creaked. Chain locks jumped from their secure positions. Bolts turned. The door opened.

“Very good. Well done,” said the glowing man. Carlos was pleased. An image flashed before him--the door flinging open, splinters flying from long hinge screws that were wrenched from the wood--a prior failure.

He was trying to accomplish something. Then he thought the lesson was leading to control--to achieve automatic control without intent of the flesh.

As dream remembrances solidified a thought developed in Carlos's mind like a parasite he couldn't kill. It had been with him for as long as he could remember. It was always the same. It marked the end of the dream, the return to everything solid.

THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE IN THE CONTROL PORT.

Then he was adrift.

Carlos woke.

* * *

The three men circled an imaginary pivot on the sidewalk leaving an unconscious gap between Espinosa and Nguyen. They moved in a coordinated daze, fighters in formation, an empty space for a fallen comrade. The previous day they had put Gomez in the ground. They had taken his grieving family in their arms, stroked the hair of his widow, promised a bright tomorrow they didn’t believe but could imagine. They didn’t know what had killed Gomez. There was so little of him left Espinosa thought they were burying an empty casket and complained to the undertaker. They hadn't made a mistake. Senora Gomez wanted the full casket. They buried the almost vacant box and the next day milled in a circle on the white concrete sidewalk waiting for work, avoiding talk of their fallen friend.

Under a fuming sun they stood in their jeans and work boots, their shirts opened to mid-chest to expose heat-toughened flesh to a scarce breeze, earning furtive glances from suburban executives passing in glistening BMWs. Clean shaven, their hair combed neat and slicked back on their scalps, they waited for work to meet them by chance. One day it would be a farmer needing a few hands to pick avocados. Another day it would be a wealthy homeowner looking for someone to mow an expansive lawn. They took what little money they were given and fed their families with the desiccated fruit of their labor.

Times were hard. Money was tight. Gomez had been killed and they didn't know why or how. Now there was his family to feed and no one to feed them but those who remained on the street corner.

Nguyen broke the silence. “Man, he shouldn't have gotten into that making deliveries for Formentini's dudes,” he said to Espinosa. “That's what's wrong with you Mexican people. You don't think.”

Espinosa stopped milling and squared-off against the shorter, thinner man. “What are you saying? You don't know it was the Italians. You disgrace the name of an honest man. Apologize.”

“I'm not apologizing for anything,” said Nguyen. “What else could it be? He got in with those people and they wasted him. That's all it could be, man. You guys are all the same." He grabbed at his crotch and took a step backward.

“We don't take no work from criminals,” said Espinosa. “And I don't take no shit from a zero like you.” He clenched his fists and cocked his arms at his sides. Nguyen took a step forward and raised his hands aligning the knuckles of his fingers.

Hernandes stepped between the men and held his arms out. “Cut this shit. Just cut it out now. We don't need to be fighting among ourselves when we need solidarity.” He grabbed each man by the shirt and pulled them toward him.

“We don't know what happened to him. Do you understand me? None of us takes work from the machine. We can't let this destroy our friendship. We're all we got. Now we gotta work extra for Cel's family."

He pulled Raoul Espinosa toward him until they were face to face. Raoul looked down, avoiding the gaze of the stronger man. Then he turned toward Bihn Nguyen.

"Apologize for starting this shit.”

Bihn took a breath as if to argue, then looked toward the ground and said, “Sorry, man. All right?”

“Me too,” said Raoul. “I didn't mean what I said.”

“Right,” said Bihn. Carlos released them.

They kicked at stones on the sidewalk. An old pickup pulled up to the curb and they stepped toward it.

Through the opened passenger side window the driver said, “I need one man who can climb for some tree work. Pay is three dollars an hour.”

Bihn stepped toward the pickup, put his hand on the open window frame, and stuck his head inside.

“That's not even minimum. Minimum's four seventy-five.”

The driver took his foot off the brake. The truck started to roll. Bihn kept his hand on the door and stepped with it.

“Take it or leave it,” said the driver.

“Okay, okay,” said Bihn. The driver flicked a thumb toward the rear and Bihn got into the pickup bed.

“Half for Gomez, right?” Carlos said as the truck began to pull away. “Just till we figure out how to get some more family here from Cuba to take care of them.”

“Right. Sure,” said Bihn. As the truck pulled into traffic, Bihn looked away from the two men left standing at the corner.

“What did you tell the cops?” Raoul asked when Bihn was out of sight.

Carlos shrugged. “I told them what I know, which is nothing. What about you?”

“Same. I was down in Salinas packing avocados then, remember? What could have done a thing like that?”

Carlos shook his head. “There wasn't enough of him left to put on a fucking teaspoon."

“Know what I think?” said Raoul. “I think it was that witch lady did it to him, that's what.”

“Cut that shit out. I don't want to hear it.”

A clean brown Cadillac pulled up to the curb and Raoul trotted to it. He put his hand on the roof and leaned over looking into the window. The woman inside the car watched him for a moment, then waved him off and drove away leaving him with his hand in the air.

“You scared her,” said Carlos. “When are you gonna learn to smile a little?”

“I smiled,” Raoul said. “Jesus, these people hate us. I'm not going to beg, Carlos. I got my honor.”

The men walked away from the curb and stood in silence. The sun rose higher. The morning traffic thinned to a stream of housewives and children off to the grocery store. Another day was slipping away from them. Carlos thought of his own family back in the apartment. For the first time in months he was dangerously close to missing his rent payment. Esperanza didn't know how low the funds were. She had weaned the baby too soon for Carlos' s liking and now his third son was literally eating into the rent.

Cars passed them. He had forgotten his hat. The sun burned his neck.

Raoul said something that sunk into the roar of a passing truck.

“What?” Carlos blurted without thinking.

“I said, he was having those dreams again.”

Carlos looked at his friend hoping his stare would stop the conversation. Raoul waved his hand as if batting off an annoying gnat.

“He was having those dreams so he went to the witch down on Senter. He thought she would cure him. I think she killed him, holmes.”

“Will you cut the crap? I can't believe you take it serious enough to even say that to me.”

“Nobody's gonna figure out shit,” said Raoul. “You anybody cares another home boy gets wasted? They'll chalk it up to gang killing; another stinking drive-by. Box him up and that's it. This isn't any rich white man we're talking about. You think these people care? We gotta figure this out ourselves, brother. You and me. Maybe Bihn too.”

Carlos felt a bolt of rage flash up his spine. It exploded in his head and ignited his gut. He stood toe-to-toe with Raoul and ground his gaze into the other man's eyes.

“Look. I’m gonna say one thing about it and I never want to hear about it again. Okay? I'm not going to that witch on Senter. Just let it die.”

Raoul was silent. He sighed and kicked at the ground.

“There's nothing today,” said Raoul.

The men walked to the park on the far side of town where they would stay till evening. When the sun went red and low they'd return home, their stomachs growling, telling their wives they'd already had their supper after having spent the day praying for work in the morning.

* * *

“You need a better mastery of local dimension matter control or you won't be able to escape. I want you to practice. You should be able to do it in your sleep.” The white man laughed. Carlos felt good. The man was optimistic about his progress.

“How do we do that?” The voice was beside him with the same accent as the glowing man, but different voice. Someone he knew.

“Do I have to explain everything? Come on, let's go.”

“What?” Carlos asked. “Where are we going?”

“Carlos, man. Let's go. Wake up.”

He opened his eyes and felt Bihn's hand on his shoulder.

“Wake up, dude,” Bihn said as he shook him. “They want all of us. Artichokes. Three bucks an hour.”

Artichokes?” said Carlos. He rubbed his eyes and tried to drive the sleep from his system. “I hate artichokes.” The tree he had been leaning against left a knot in his back and he stretched.

“Me too,” Raoul said, climbing into the back of the waiting pickup. “You wanna take your chances on the street or are you comin?”

Bihn hopped into the truck. Carlos followed, barking his shin on the side of the pickup as he climbed in.

“I'm not with it today.”

“You look like shit, holmes,” said Raoul. “You get any sleep last night?”

Carlos shook his head as the pickup rumbled south to the growing fields.

“You gotta learn to relax better,” said Bihn. “You got to get on with life. Stop thinking about Cel. Shake it off, holmes. Shake it off.”

“Frigging dream is killing me. I can't stand it anymore. It's getting so real it's like it's...it's like it's taking energy to sleep. I'm more tired when I wake up than when I go to bed.”

Bihn elbowed Raoul. Carlos saw the move intended to be a private signal.

“What?” he said. “What's going on?”

The two men turned away and watched cars pass them on the highway. Carlos reached with his boot and kicked Bihn.

“What? Tell me.”

“You're getting like Cel, man. Dontcha remember? He started getting the same way, all hyper and nervous all the time. He never did sleep more than two nights a week. Remember how he was at the end? Remember that last job we all did together in Hollister? He was dead on his feet. I had to lie to get him paid when all the homey did was sleep under a tree all day.”

Carlos rubbed his eyes. “Well, it ain't me,” he said. “I ain't like that, comprende?”

Raoul said, “There's more than one of us what's got that problem, hermano.”

Carlos raised an eyebrow.

“I gotta be thinking about that lady on Senter. Pilar says bad dreams come from el Diablo. Only the witch lady can stop it.”

“You stay away from that bitch,” said Carlos, bristling. “Women's superstition gets a man in trouble every time. Stop listening to your wife. She screw you up, man.”

Raoul looked down. He said, “Okay.”

Carlos forced a smile from under the sleep covering him. “Good. Okay,” he said.

Bihn said, “None of this intruders in the cockpit shit either, okay? Don't you two go south on me.”

Carlos was going to nod when the shiver in his spine stiffened his neck to a solid rod.

“What did you say?”

“That's what Cel was mumbling when we took him home that day. Dontcha remember? You were there.”

Carlos stared into space feeling the truck rumble under him. He knew Raoul was scanning his face. There was nothing to say.

He heard Bihn say, “Jesus, man. Not you too.”

He answered with silence.

* * *

Starlight winked dark as he circled into the shadow of the moon. Relying on direct neural stimulation he took input from the targeting agent and made his decision. Twelve millisecond delay--enough to confuse. He banked the ship and went into a strafing run, firing before he crossed the terminator. The shots impacted harmlessly on the barren rock below as the weapons emerged into full view of the enemy projection. The particle beam traveled at 0.9 c and covered the distance before their weapons agent could react. Radiation tore into the enemy projection and tunneled to their control space dissociating the constituent atomic structure to vapor. What was once living was now lifeless plasma.

There was a sound from behind. A voice. He couldn't hear what it said. Was it Command? Were they pleased with his performance?

The targeting agent drove an immediacy bulletin through his system. He felt the adrenaline hit him. It was on his plane. He gave the weapons agent permission to arm. The navigator laid a flanking course. The voice came again. He was hearing the sound in his ears. It was with him. On his plane. It could touch him. Only one of his own wing could be in the control port with him--who could it be?

THERE IS AN INTRUDER IN THE CONTROL PORT.

The targeting agent would do a neural print and isolate the being’s thought patterns. It would know the difference between one of his wing men and an intruder by a simple neural scan, and only a wing man could have gotten past the security at the pyramid entrance. How could an intruder have gotten behind him? It was impossible.

He reached for the weapon on his ankle. He stopped when the targeting agent issued another warning: WEAPONS FIRE. Another moment of delay.

They were being fired upon. He had been distracted and lapsed control of the squadron long enough for them to catch his guard down.

The sound came from behind him again. Shuffling. A grunt. The sound of a particle weapon charging. His moment of self-preservation betrayed them all. The being behind him would kill him. Delayed by that thought he unconsciously stalled his computerized weapons and targeting agents that were annexed to his mind. They required his full attention to function. The wing required his full attention to execute a coordinated battle plan. In milliseconds of indecision he had failed them all. How had the enemy gotten so close--close enough to touch him?

There was an instantaneous request from his wing men. They sensed what had happened.

PERMISSION FOR BAILOUT.

Their request was drowned in the repeated warning from the targeting agent.

THERE IS AN INTRUDER IN THE CONTROL PORT. The words flashed into his head. He made his decision. First for the wing, most certainly doomed by the hail of radiation about to descend on them.

RANDOMIZE BAILOUT GRANTED. EXECUTE.

He turned and faced his foe. Light from the enemy had barely struck his retinas when his next orders took effect.

RANDOMIZE. BAILOUT.

“Now we have the bailout device,” the being said. It was someone he knew. Someone he trusted. He had been betrayed. As the projected him the final words from his targeting agent rang in his mind. If only there had been time to kill the spy.

THERE IS AN INTRUDER IN THE CONTROL PORT.

* * *

“Man, we gotta talk. Somebody comes today--you let Bihn go by himself.” Raoul grabbed Carlos's forearm. His eyes were wide, his dark brown irises drowned in a sea of bloodshot white. Raoul hadn't been sleeping.

“What is it? Look. I'm not gonna turn down work...”

“For me, hermano. For me. Please. I'm asking you as a friend. I'm begging you as a brother. You gotta stay with me today.”

Carlos waited a heartbeat, long enough for whatever was bothering Raoul to infect him. The excitement lit a tiny fire in him. He pulled his wide brimmed hat off, wiped his brow with his wrist, and put his hat back on.

“Okay, man. But you don't know what you're asking.”

“I know what I'm asking. I won't forget you. On my children's heads, I won't forget you.”

Carlos nodded. When Bihn showed they paced the sidewalk silently. A pickup pulled up looking for men to load fruit in Fresno. It would be an overnight run and they weren't sure they would be fed. Carlos and Raoul declined. Bihn got into the truck bed and joined four other men sitting there.

“Somebody's gotta pay for Gomez's widow. You guys forget?”

“Next one,” said Carlos. “We owe you.”

“It's always the next one with you guys. That's the problem with you people...” Bihn was still complaining when the pickup took off.

Raoul led Carlos down the road toward the park on the far side of town.

“There’s something about that guy doesn’t sit right,” said Raoul.

Carlos nodded.

Raoul said, “Man, do you think I'm crazy?”

“No,” Carlos replied. “There is something strange about Bihn. I don’t know why we stick with that guy.”

“Not that,” Raoul said. “I mean me. I don't feel crazy. I mean everything seems normal to me. Like always.”

“You're not crazy, Raoul.”

“I can’t figure these dreams. What are they about? Please, tell me why they come to me.”

They crossed a street. Carlos waited until they were out of earshot of a group of grocery shoppers before he began.

“What happens in your dream?” Carlos asked.

“What happens in my dream? Come on. You know what. The same fucking dream as you and Cel, that's what.”

“Tell me.”

Raoul looked to either side and lowered his voice, “Like this white guy comes to me. Only, he's not Caucasian white, but he's white-white, white like basketball socks white. And he's telling me he's like, undercover, right? Like, he's the undercover rescue guy or something. And like, listen to this Carlos, are you with me?”

Carlos nodded.

“He says he caught our signal and he's here to help us escape. I say to him, 'What the fuck am I escaping? This is my house. This is my wife. These are my kids. Here is my fucking glass of beer. Why do I need to escape my own house?'

“And he tells me not to worry, that he's been in deep cover for a thousand years helping our people get back when they're downed behind enemy lines. I should keep my cover until they come to pick me up because we'll be in trouble if they discover we're here.

“I say, 'Who's gonna get me? Who are you? Go away and leave me alone. You're fucking me up.'"

“Then I wake up and Pilar is all pissed and scared because I'm moaning in my sleep. She thinks I need to see an exorcist. Carlos, she wants me to go to the witch lady. She's gonna call that bitch over to our house. What am I gonna do?”

They walked into the park and sat on a green wooden bench in the sun. Senior citizens strolled by. Children kicked large rubber balls around a lush carpet of grass.

Raoul's story triggered something in Carlos. Calm settled over him. Though he could think of no reasonable explanation, he found logic in Raoul's dream. It meant something to him. There was something to do. Someone who needed his guidance.

“Okay, first calm down. You aren't going to solve anything by worrying like this. You're a wreck. Look at you, you're shaking like a scared child.”

Raoul clenched his fists and released them.

“Now you listen to me and you listen good,” said Carlos. “You keep away from that witch. She's bad news, man. Very bad. What we gotta do is find a way to get in touch with this glowing white guy...”

“What the hell are you talking about? Find the white guy? You're nuts too.”

“Listen. It's simple. A baby could figure it out. Cel dreams about this guy, I dream about this guy, you dream about this guy. We're all having the same dream. Same guy. I figure he must be real. He must be doing something to us. Maybe he's hypnotizing us and making us believe we're sleeping when we're really not. We gotta figure out whether what he's saying is true or not.”

“Carlos, man, are you trying to help me or push me over the edge? What are you talking about, dude? Do you know how long I've been dreaming about this guy? Since I was five fucking years old.”

“Me too,” said Carlos. “That doesn't mean jack. It doesn't mean he isn't real. You tell me what happened to Cel. Nobody fucking knows, hermano. One minute he goes off on a job, the next minute we're burying him in a thimble. Who do you think did that? You think the mafia did that? You think the Silver Hand came up from L.A. and rubbed him out? No way, man. This ain't no gang thing. They'd have left a big mess for everyone to see. Whatever happened to Cel happened because of that white son-of-a-bitch and the witch lady. We gotta get to the bottom of this before something happens to us too. You with me?”

“This is crazy, man. That witch lady, she...” There was a siren on the street. It followed the panic that ran up Carlos’s spine and drowned out the sound of Raoul's voice. Carlos tried to relax himself. He focused his thoughts on work, on getting a job the next day, on how much he hated picking artichokes. When it was quiet enough to speak, Carlos looked at Raoul. “What did you say to that woman?”

“Nothin, man. I swear. I never saw her.”

“Don’t you lie to me. I’ll wring your neck. I know when you're lying and you're lying now. Tell me what you said. The truth. Tell me everything you said and she said.”

Raoul wrung his hands and stared into his lap.

“Come on, man. . .” said Carlos.

“All right. All right, look, I needed help. I couldn't afford no doctor. I don't want to go to no crazy house to die, Carlos.”

“What did you tell her?” Carlos could feel the muscles in his back tighten to painful rigidity. “I told her about the white man in my dreams. I told her all about the flying stuff.”

“What flying stuff?” Carlos said.

“You know. The star wars stuff. The guns and the spaceships. Part of the dream. You dream that too, right?”

“And what did she say, Raoul? What did she tell you?”

“Just shit, man. All kinds of superstitious bullshit. It don’t mean nothin.”

Carlos took a breath and held it. He could feel himself begin to shake. The panic began returned as if he knew he were in the cross hairs of a hunter's weapon. He let the breath out slowly.

“Tell me, man. Just fucking tell me what she said.”

Raoul took his hat off and held it on his lap. When he looked at Carlos, there were tears in his eyes. “I don't understand this, Carlos. I'm a simple man. I don't know what any of this means. She started talking about Indians. The Mayans and the Aztecs. She showed me some pictures of Mayan pyramids, pictures of strange drawings carved in stone. I didn't know what she was talking about, Carlos, I swear.

“She told me the Indian warriors used to do battle from rooms inside these pyramids. That the stone pictures were of Mayan warriors in their control ports, controlling these automatic ships that could fly around anywhere in the universe, faster than light from the sun, faster than anything. Only, they weren't really flying. They were just projecting their thoughts into outer space with these pyramid machines.

“They used to have wars with people from other planets who were flying the same kind of thought ships--enemy guys in their own ships on their own planets. And the ships would fly around and shoot each other. When bullets hit one of the thought ships, the bullets would come into the pyramid where the driver was and get him. Can you believe that, Carlos? Man, I didn't know what the fuck she was talking about.”

Carlos listened silently. The words rammed into his mind and occupied his consciousness until he could think of nothing else.

Raoul said, “See, I told you it was all bullshit.”

“What did she say about you? About your dreams?”

“She said the war took place in all different dimensions. Places that are the same place as here right now only you can't see it. I'm probably the spirit of one of the warrior Indians. She said that's where the dreams come from. Can you believe this? What am I supposed to do if I’m the spirit of an Indian warrior who got shot down in his pyramid. It's a load of crap, that's what it is. I feel even worse now than before I went to her. I feel like something's really going wrong and I need to do something about it. But I don't know what, man. I'm scared to death and I don't know why, or of what.”

Carlos put his hand on the man's shoulder briefly and let it drop.

“What are we going to do, hermano?” said Raoul. “What do we do?”

Carlos leaned back on the bench and stuck his feet out. He slouched, crossed his arms over his chest, and pulled the brim of his hat down. There was nothing else to do.

“Relax, my friend. We get out of this mess the way we got into it.”

“But I can't sleep now. I'm too wired.”

“Calm down,” said Carlos. “Your body knows what to do. It will find a way.”

* * *

He was formless as he drifted. There was no sound, no sensation. For a moment he thought he should be breathing. The urge passed. He wondered if his eyes were opened but couldn’t remember how he had been able to move his eyelids. He remembered at one time he was able to control a corporal form. Now the action seemed senseless, distant, irrelevant.

Unlike the simulated bailouts he had done in battle school he was able to keep his sense of self. The procedure was cloaked in such secrecy even the recruits it was supposed to save weren’t allowed to experience it first hand. During those simulations he had been drained of all thought. They were given a disorienting electrical stimulus and severed from sensation for a brief period. The instructors explained the actual sensation would be different. It was.

Now he knew who he was. The past was real to him. Only the present and future seemed amorphous. The battle hardware would randomize a location and install him in corporal form. He would have a new identity and history. He would exist until they were able to find him. They would send him a contact who would plot his escape. Until then he would wait under a cloak of secrecy, his mind washed completely of its prior existence until such time as he could come back into the battle. It would be a while before he could return home.

He remembered the traitor and prayed he hadn't been successful in obtaining the bailout device. The enemy would decode the encrypted projection parameters and locate him. Then it would only be a matter of time before they found him.

The void solidified around him, squeezing him to a finite shape he couldn’t identify. He became aware of sounds. Darkness became form, reminding him of the sensation of sight. There was pain. Pressure. Suddenly light, coolness, the flood of air into his lungs. He breathed and heard a sound like an animal crying. The remembrance of movement flooded him. Then there was nothing but the moment. He was solid.

Carlos Hernandes was born.

* * *

Carlos woke on the park bench to the sensation of something at his feet. He peeled an eye open and found a child picking up a large red ball that had hit him in the shoe. The child stopped. Carlos smiled and lifted the brim of his hat. The child ran away.

Raoul snored beside him. The sun dipped orange in the sky signifying the end of the wasted work day. He scratched an itch on his side and thought. He couldn't remember if he had a dream. There was no memory of having fallen asleep. Raoul snorted and Carlos elbowed him.

Raoul jumped, still full of sleep. “Yo? Que pasa?”

“Come on, man. We slept the whole day away. Time to go home so we can eat dinner and go back to sleep. Better luck tomorrow, eh?”

Raoul rubbed his palm against his nose and spit. There was a ritual to his waking activities, clearing the phlegm in his throat, stretching his neck, rubbing his eyes. It was a ritual like an eternal river disturbing the air with its rippling, refracting the sun's light in its passing to oceans beyond. It was that sense of continuous movement that came to a rapid cessation as if the light switch to Raoul Espinosa’s life had been flipped.

Carlos turned his head and reacted before he could understand what he was seeing. His legs pushed him backward. He found himself standing, reeling backward, his hands in front of his face as he tried to make sense of the image.

Raoul was bathed in a beam of blue light that emanated from above. His clothing and skin flooded with growing blackness like a sheet of paper carbonizing in a flame. Carlos took another step backward. A monotonous sound like the humming of a large electric transformer obliterated the sounds of everyday movement around him. The children playing, the cars on the street, the adults strolling--all were absorbed in the hum. A bright blob of light hovered over them, blotting out the sky.

Then Raoul was nothing in the beam. His body stretched to a cable of blackness that ran from the park bench to the light above them. It thinned to a thread drawn into the light above--narrowed to a hair's width until Carlos could no longer see it. Then it disappeared, dissolving in the blue light.

“Madre d' Dios,” he muttered, stumbling backward. He crossed himself in his mental chaos and fell to his knees. “Jesus, protect me.” He folded his hands in prayer and lowered his head bracing for an impact.

He felt a warmth on his neck. Suddenly there were sounds around him again as if a lid had been lifted. The humming was replaced with the rushing of air, the rush of cars passing on the street behind him, people shouting.

“Oh my God, I saw it,” someone said.

“It was a UFO. Did you see that? That was a UFO.”

Carlos got off his knees and looked up into the cloudless blue sky. His mind filled with parasitic thoughts. Something forged a train of thinking through the fog of confusion. He couldn't go home. They would find him there. He couldn't force the dream to converse with the glowing man. There was only one move left.

The house on Senter street was the hulk of a building that may have once housed a family. Now it was no more than a simple shelter against the elements. The front yard was dirt punctuated by stiff brown weeds. Tea-colored water stains ran from the roof, down the stucco exterior, and onto the driveway. Tarred roofing shingles blew in the wind and dotted the grounds. Screens in the windows were stamped with fist sized holes. An aluminum door sat askew on its hinges, erratically covering the rectangular entrance.

He pushed the door aside and walked in. Carlos walked toward the rear of the house. The doorway to a darkened room was draped in hanging plastic beads. He walked through, flinging the beads out of his way. Black paper covered the windows. A single candle stump stood burning in globs of wax on the floor. A woman sat in front of the candle staring into it. She looked up at him for a moment, then closed her eyes. Carlos stopped when he saw her.

“What have you done to Raoul?” he demanded. “What did you do to Celimo? Talk to me, witch. Talk now before I kill you with my bare hands.”

The woman said, “Welcome. It was only a matter of time. Now here you are, in the open.”

Carlos stared. Her words weighed on his stomach making him sick. They meant something he couldn't remember. His thoughts reeling, Carlos could only stand mute and unmoving while he tried to understand what was happening. A spell. The witch had cast a spell.

She said, “Compliments on your bailout machine. It's clever. We almost missed you here in human space. It took several hundred generations to obtain permission to use the mechanism on ourselves. It only took a few after that to locate you. Persistence pays the patient soldier.”

Carlos tried to speak, but couldn’t. A confusion of words jammed his mind. Words of fear and anger were pushed aside by a calmer, more calculating train of thought that seemed to come from somewhere else.

The woman continued, “Captain Annunaki, I ask you to imagine the irreparable damage you have done to the history of this place by bringing our conflict here, to these innocents. I have every intention of bringing you in alive to stand trial for your crimes against the Gods and the natural order. This is forbidden ground. This is hallowed space.”

Carlos spoke and heard words from his own mouth he didn’t understand.

“So you are Istar,” he said. “And they sent you, personally? I'm flattered.” As he heard the words a familiarity overcame him. He knew this woman. But how? From when?

“Do you have any concept of the severity of your crime?” she said, ignoring him.

“Why are you here, Istar? Is it the impact of the bailout or the need for secrecy that brings you here?”

War crimes in any space must be punished,” said the woman. She stood and for the first time Carlos could see her long flowing hair. She wore a brilliant white robe that glowed as he remembered the white man glowing.

“You must be disappointed. Your wing wasn't as strong as a leader might have hoped. With their help and the sacrifice of Colonel Harash we can now put an end to this episode.”

Carlos gritted his teeth. He heard a noise behind him and turned. The sight of the familiar face calmed him.

“Bihn,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

The woman said, “You're still stuck in your insideous bailout. Don't you remember Chitqunquotal Harash, Colonel of the second army of the Toltec nation?”

Bihn didn't wait for Carlos to speak to begin.

“I infiltrated your command during initial training. I was the stowaway in your control port. When the Mayans shot you down you left quickly, like the coward you are. Their missiles left enough of your station intact to leave the bailout device unharmed. It projected you here. Then I simply walked out of the damaged control port.

“After sending a copy of the device to my Command for analysis, I secured permission and used your device on myself knowing it would send me to you. I never expected to find myself in this body in the time and space of homo-sapiens. I never dreamed your people would reach to such depths of immorality. To bring our war to this world is a crime beyond known punishment. Do you know how long it took for us to gain our Gods’ approval for the Toltec army to send a representative to retrieve you and your wing members?”

Carlos felt the air warming around him. The room seemed small and shrinking. The clothes on his body felt confining. He longed to see the white man again. Surely, this was a dream like the others.

As if reading his thoughts the woman said, “That won't help you. We neutralized your spy along with the remaining two members your wing. They've been sent back for trial. Same as you.”

The woman held her hand up. Something pushed him. A pressure like a steam hammer forced him backward against a wall. The beams cracked against his back.

He couldn't breathe. He was confused.

Carlos shook his head. “No,” he said, grunting to release the air to speak. “It's not me.”

“Yes, it is you, Seth-Annunaki. The bailout device has very effectively made you human and erased most of your memories of your life as an officer of the wing. We will simply kill this body and take you back. It's time to go.”

The room filled with a strong vibration. A brilliant blue light bathed them.

Terror covered Carlos. Through his confusion he thought of his wife and children. He thought of the Gomezs, the Espinosas. Who would take care of them? The feelings thinned like smoke dissolving in a clear air. Undiluted anger replaced them.

He saw his arm jut forward as he had in his dreams of the white man. Without thinking, he imagined the woman thrown through the wall of the house.

And it was. They could not anticipate the depth of the training he had been given. The wall broke in a hail of dust and splinters as the body blew backward. The impact tore deep scarlet gashes into her. As sunlight poured through the opening in the wall, the humming and the blue light disappeared.

He saw himself turning toward Bihn. A look of horror crossed the man's face.

Training pays the studious soldier,” he said. Again the arm shot out. There was a crack as a ceiling joist split and pinned Bihn to the concrete slab floor. One half of the joist pressed through his chest. He squirmed trying to release himself as a puddle of dark viscous liquid expanded under him.

Carlos stepped through the hole in the wall and walked past the shattered remains of the woman's body. It would take both Ishtar and Harash another lifetime to bring themselves to corporal form on Earth. By then his plan would be mature.

People gathered lining the streets of the residential neighborhood. As Carlos passed, he felt contempt rise within himself. The sight of people disgusted him. How had he allowed himself to be brought to such a place, such a cesspool of organic sludge and suffering? What difference did it make if he and his men had come here to escape the grasp of their enemies? There was a war. In a war, a soldier did what he had to win.

He stopped a passing car using the motive projection the spy master had taught him in his dreams. He pulled the driver through the windshield, cutting the body to strips of sinew and fat as it rolled off the hood and onto the street in front of the moving vehicle. The car stopped, its front wheels on the man.

Ea Seth-Annunaki drove to the assigned meeting place. Memories renewed themselves as if he were leafing through a book of his past life. Per plan, he would uncloak his thinking patterns when discovered. Targeting agents of both sides would instantly identify him. With his mind uncloaked both sides would violate interstellar law to reach the senior war strategist in the army of Ra. He smiled as the car’s rearview mirror sent him an image of Carlos Hernandes, a peaceful man working for scraps among the underdeveloped souls of the universe. It was Carlos they would find--man become immortal.

The armies of the Gods would fight to reach Carlos Hernandes. They would violate treaties, invade peaceful territories, kill millions of innocents in the crossfire. It would make no difference which army found him first. He would simply name his price as the structure of law tumbled. As he had in the time of the Sumerians, he would bring the war to planet Earth. All humanity would watch their skies glow blue with the plasma of disintegrating warriors.

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