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A short story by

Robert Brooks

No. It wasn't possible. Shane risked a glance at the podium. The hologram was gone.

No, not again, Shane thought. They're all gone again; I know it...

He turned on his heels in a panic, ready to flee. The faces of nearly one thousand Dominion citizens stared back at Shane.

He froze in place. His head hurt. His eyes darted left and right. Were the other recruits also staring at him?

No. They were not. They were gone. Every eye in the packed assembly hall focused on him. He noticed the expressions on the faces in the crowd: Disgust. Fear. Horror. Anger. Curiosity. They looked at him as if he were a monster.

And what exactly did I do to deserve that? Anger flared deep within him. Again. "What are y'all looking at?" Shane asked quietly. They continued to stare.

Awful, dark impulses bubbled up into his mind. Visions of death ran gloriously wild. His anger felt cleansing, wonderful, natural and comfortable and righteous.

A glimpse of a silhouette at the back of the room caught Shane's eye. Was someone standing up? No. It was simply a large, bulky figure sitting down in a seat far too small to hold it.

It was a marine in full combat armor.

Shane's legs carried him down the aisle at a full sprint. The pain and fury in his head boiled over and his words shattered the silence as he ran.

"—I'll kill you I'll burn you crispy—"

In his rage, he didn't notice that the expressions of the crowd stayed exactly the same. Their eyes tracked him. They seemed oblivious to his outburst.

Shane closed in on the motionless man in the combat suit. He wanted to leap at him straight on. Tear at the armor and destroy the person within.

"Let us help." The marine spoke the words softly, yet they cut through Shane's hoarse raving.

Shane skidded to a stop only a few scant paces away. He stared in disbelief. The marine had spoken with Shane's voice.

The man in the armored suit hadn't moved. He continued to look down at the ground. "Let us help," he repeated.

Shane didn't know how to respond. The phrase meant nothing to him. Help with what? "Who are you?"

The marine raised his head, regarding Shane through the combat suit's transparent faceplate. He didn't answer. He didn't need to. Shane saw his own face, scarred by war, looking back at him.

Some horrible truth crawled just out of Shane's understanding. He knew the answer, but something kept it from surfacing. Something had corralled it away from his mind's eye. The silent crowd continued to look at him. Just him. All eyes on Shane. The pain in his head grew.

"This is a dream," Shane said. Snippets he had heard from an old vid with stuffy doctors talking about dreams floated into his mind. "You're the junk in my brain that I don't talk about. My subconscious, right?"

The marine shook his head. "We are not you," he said, "yet."

"We?" Shane's voice was calm. His emotions were not. "Who is we?"

The marine raised an arm and pointed toward the windows on the east wall. Shane glanced over and saw nothing but daylight. He gave the marine a hard look before walking over to the windows. The eyes of the crowd followed him.

Shane stopped a couple paces from the east wall. "What am I looking for?"

"Us."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

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