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Wars Not Yet Dreamed Of

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It has gone beyond being very late and is passing into being very, very early. The street is deserted; it’s over an hour since the last patrol passed them. He wonders, not for the first time, what the patrols are intended to achieve. They don’t appear to be actively seeking him and Ray. True, if they are spotted there will be no hope of mercy but otherwise two Human survivors amongst the remains of civilisation are apparently not worth pursuing. He suspects the patrols are the equivalent for Them of his own long vigils on the Consulate doorstep in the days before. Some days – most days – he longs for the mundanity of standing guard or collecting dry cleaning or auditing old receipts for expense claims long forgotten.

The rest of the time he remembers how he used to wish for long, silent hours alone. Just him and Ray.

Even here, deep in the city, there is little noise other than the occasional pak! of a toxic raindrop hitting the rusting car shell they are concealed within. That and the sounds of his own body and the body of the man beside him: his blood rushing through his veins, his heart beating steadily. The hiss of his breath as he draws the grimy air in.

Ray’s right elbow is two inches from his own left. He can hear Ray’s breath clearly. If he glances sideways discreetly, he can mark the passage of time by the pulse in the hollow of Ray’s throat.

Even when they are this close, though, even when the night is this silent, he can’t hear Ray’s heartbeat. He’d have to rest his head upon Ray’s chest to do that, to press his ear against Ray’s bare ribcage. From there he’d see Ray’s sparse chest hairs tremble with the passing of Fraser’s breath. If they were in Ray’s old apartment – on his bed, perhaps – then the sweeping searchlights would throw a distorted image of the window frame onto the ceiling. He would lie there listening to the sounds of Ray’s body and watching the shadows play tag from wall to wall.

Perhaps Ray would settle one hand on Fraser’s head. Perhaps he would cup Fraser’s cheek in his fingers and lie still, for once at rest.

Perhaps...

Perhaps his other hand would hold Fraser’s; perhaps Ray would let him run his thumb back and forth over the bony protrusions of Ray’s fingers and wrists. Perhaps they would lie there for hours, undisturbed. After all, there is nobody left to disturb them; no-one to judge them, to condemn, to pass remark, even. They could lie there just so, forever beyond fear or favour.

The vision of such simple intimacy threatens to overwhelm him. He struggles for a moment to draw his next breath, and forces himself into calmness. He looks at Ray and wonders if he would ever dare express such a wish.

He lifts his hand, not at all sure what he intends to do with it. Ray looks at him curiously.

“Tell me a story,” says Ray.

***

Fraser wakes abruptly. Ray glances over.

“Okay there, bud?”

Fraser nods automatically. “Quite well, thank you. How long...”

“’Bout an hour.”

“Oh my. I apologise.”

“Nah, we’re good.” He nods towards the apartment window across the road where a battered set of Christmas lights, half the bulbs blown, twinkles forlornly in the darkness. “Looks like another wasted evening anyway.”

The car radio is on, the volume at its minimum, too low for him to identify the song which is playing. He shuffles himself upright, having apparently slid down in his seat while he slept, and frowns, trying to catch the elusive tails of his dream.

“End of the world again?”

“Yes.” He has these dreams a lot at the moment. His mind reconciling his decision not to transfer back to Canada just yet, still adjusting to being voluntarily so far from home. A subconscious expression of his displacement; of his own, alien nature.

“Bad one?”

“No, not really. Strange, rather. Something about an invasion. We were the only two survivors and we were sitting here, waiting for, for something. And something about your apartment. I don’t remember.”

“Something, huh?”

Fraser shoots a sideways glance at Ray. His hands, his throat, his face. He is looking out of the side window but there is a suggestion of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth that tells Fraser he has been caught peeking.

“Oh yes,” he adds. “And you asked me to tell you a story. I think I was about to...”

He waits, but the memory refuses to come. “Well, to do something, and you asked me to tell you a story.”

Ray laughs soundlessly, huffing silent breaths into the stale air. He looks at Fraser who is suddenly, intensely aware of the utter rightness of this moment, of the two of them sitting alone together, Ray gently teasing.

“Let me check this. I asked, actually asked you to tell me a story? No shit, it was the end of the world.” A wide grin flashes across his face and is gone, leaving a confiding smile behind.

Fraser smiles back, the dream forgotten.

***

The searchlight sweeps over their heads. He and Ray press their backs harder into the wall. If the light drops an inch lower, two at most, they will be revealed and all will be lost.

It moves on. Ray’s voice, barely a whisper, reaches him, brushing the fine hairs on the tip of his ear.

“Let’s go after the next sweep. We can make it to the basement.”

Ray is right; there will be time to make it to the basement of the hardware store which has become their base. And then what? They have scavenged enough food for three days, four if they are prudent. They will hunker down among the remnants of civilisation, eating cold, old food from tins, sleeping in turns, talking in murmurs, saying nothing of import, doing nothing worthy of note. Except surviving, of course. Living and listening and remembering.

When Ray managed to reconstruct a working radio from the cannibalised remains of other radios, scavenged from a hundred cars and homes and offices across this dead city, they hardly expected to hear anything. They couldn’t hope for anyone else to have lived but perhaps there was some station still broadcasting an automatic emergency playlist, over and over. They certainly didn’t expect to hear a message, a deliberate, purposeful message, aimed at them: People of Earth...

Others are coming, slowly. The message says that they couldn’t prevent the War, as they describe it – the librarians’ grandson thinks that Massacre or Apocalypse would be more apposite; Genocide, certainly – but they want to salvage what they can of Earth’s history and culture. They will dispose of the patrols and then they want to store the memories of all the survivors.

As far as Fraser knows that’s just the two of them. So they do what they have to do, which is to live.

It gets tedious after a while. Every four or five nights they leave the basement. They wait for the rain to stop, avoid the patrols and stay out of the searchlights.

They find another shop, force the doors or shutters and loot it for any preserved food or bottled water it contains. They return to the basement, hiding behind walls, sheltering inside abandoned vehicles if the rain comes, ducking into darkened doorways when it ends. The same every time, month after undifferentiated month. With so little variation in external stimuli the mind wanders inwards, finding new subjects to fix upon, appropriate or otherwise.

For example, Fraser is well aware – not from experience, mind, but still – that there are many things two consenting male adults can do together in the privacy of an apartment, or an office, or a basement. Things of the flesh, of the body, things of sweat and saliva and semen. Wild and exhausting and beautiful things. He remembers the day they met and spends long hours contemplating Ray’s inner calf and thigh, considering their every detail. Is the skin there thin, and delicate? Does his body hair taper out to leave smooth patches that Fraser’s lips could move over? Is Ray ticklish there? Could he pillow his head upon Ray’s belly and watch his fingers trace pathways across Ray’s legs for hours, while Ray slept, unknowing – or woke to watch him, his eyes wide? While Ray watched his own fingers tangle in Fraser’s hair? While they listened to nothing but the sound of two men breathing?

Would Ray let him?

He wonders what keeps him from asking the question now, at the end of the world. What difference would it make? He thinks about the question, and about not asking the question, and about little else any more. And every time he thinks about it, it seems to mean less. He seems to mean less. They are nothing any more, he and Ray, except receptacles for their memories of the Earth’s past.

They check their hands constantly, looking for the first signs, knowing they’ll have only minutes to react if they find them. In the others, six billion others who went before them, it showed in their hands first. It is easy for Fraser to conceal that he is also checking whether he has become transparent yet, whether he has begun the physical process of fading away, matching the nothingness he feels inside.

Why doesn’t he ask? he asks himself, over and over again.

***

His eyes open upon Ray his gaze fixed on the muted TV as he watches Rutger Hauer on a rainy rooftop. Ray's fingers are curled around coffee now, not beer, and he looks exhausted. The phone is on the table by his feet, stubbornly refusing to ring.

Ray has thrown a blanket over Fraser during the night. He pushes it down and frees an arm.

“Hey,” says Ray.

“Hello,” he replies. “What time...?”

“Nearly four. The verdict should’ve been in by now.”

He does a quick calculation; it must be after lunchtime in Moscow. It occurs to Fraser how much of their time, for all the wildly bizarre things that happen in between, they spend just sitting, waiting.

“They’ll call. You should sleep.”

“Nah.” Another of those unreadable, flashing smiles. “You’re sleeping for both of us. Same thing again?”

“Yes.” The trailing edges of the dream whisk in and out of his memory. “We were scavenging for food and going back to the basement where we were hiding out. I was feeling... strange.”

“Uhuh? Strange how?”

“Just... strange. Detached. Like I was disappearing. Disconcerting.”

“What, you or the dream?”

“The dreams. All of them. Why do I never dream anything else anymore? Why always that? Why the end of the world? What does it mean? My father once told me that his grandmother had the second sight. Premonitions.”

“Yeah, I thought we agreed that your dad was batshit. They’re dreams. Why do they have to mean anything?”

Ray pats Fraser’s forearm, and lets his hand rest there. The dreams don’t mean anything at all, of course. Fraser reaches for his water and watches Harrison Ford drive off into an uncertain future. Ray’s hand is warm against his cold arm, Ray’s common sense warm against his cold fears.His eyes open upon Ray his gaze fixed on the muted TV as he watches Rutger Hauer on a rainy rooftop. Ray's fingers are curled around coffee now, not beer, and he looks exhausted. The phone is on the table by his feet, stubbornly refusing to ring.

Ray has thrown a blanket over Fraser during the night. He pushes it down and frees an arm.

“Hey,” says Ray.

“Hello,” he replies. “What time...?”

“Nearly four. The verdict should’ve been in by now.”

He does a quick calculation; it must be after lunchtime in Moscow. It occurs to Fraser how much of their time, for all the wildly bizarre things that happen in between, they spend just sitting, waiting.

“They’ll call. You should sleep.”

“Nah.” Another of those unreadable, flashing smiles. “You’re sleeping for both of us. Same thing again?”

“Yes.” The trailing edges of the dream whisk in and out of his memory. “We were scavenging for food and going back to the basement where we were hiding out. I was feeling... strange.”

“Uhuh? Strange how?”

“Just... strange. Detached. Like I was disappearing. Disconcerting.”

“What, you or the dream?”

“The dreams. All of them. Why do I never dream anything else anymore? Why always that? Why the end of the world? What does it mean? My father once told me that his grandmother had the second sight. Premonitions.”

“Yeah, I thought we agreed that your dad was batshit. They’re dreams. Why do they have to mean anything?”

Ray pats Fraser’s forearm, and lets his hand rest there. The dreams don’t mean anything at all, of course. Fraser reaches for his water and watches Harrison Ford drive off into an uncertain future. Ray’s hand is warm against his cold arm, Ray’s common sense warm against his cold fears.

***

They’re in the tiny basement room. Ray unplugged the batteries, so it’s quiet once again. Fraser still hears the looping words in his head, though, behind the silence. The room is so quiet that Ray’s sharp intake of breath echoes from the bare walls.

He is preparing food, his back to Fraser. Fraser thinks: no, maybe he just cut himself.

Ray turns, and Fraser looks at him, knowing what he will see before he sees it. Ray’s expression is unreadable; he holds up a hand, and the skin is turning green and yellow – the first sign. Fraser must end it now, or it will be too late, Ray will die slowly and painfully and horribly, and he will bring the patrols down upon Fraser in his dying insanity.

If he kills Ray then he truly will be alone; the last man standing. The last man ever. But if he doesn’t then the consequences will be unimaginable. The last witness to the world, lost because he didn’t dare end it all, here, now, this instant. The artefacts of the Earth will remain, the words and pictures, the things. But the experiences, Man’s living perception of the world will be gone, all gone.

Like tears in the rain.

There is a crowbar in the corner of the room. Fraser seizes it. Ray’s eyes are black now, alien; they widen, and he flees. Fraser pursues him out of the basement, up into the hardware store that they have made a home beneath. Ray vaults the counter, shoulder charges the front door, and is through it in one movement, Fraser two steps behind him all the way. Out into the street, into the daylight – it is months since either of them has seen daylight, and Fraser’s eyes take a moment to adjust. Ray needs no such indulgence, he is pulling ahead, turning the corner to the hotel car park, and Fraser knows where he is going. Strange, the instinct of all creatures in mortal peril to turn to that which is familiar.

He reaches the car park and sure enough, there is Ray, leaping and dodging and vaulting the obstacles in his way, over the carcass of a Jeep, past the ghost of a minivan, making for the last rusty car shell before the wall. The crumbling remains of that which used to be a GTO.

Ray is trapped now. The GTO has long since rusted to a shell, the doors seized shut and the tank drained of fuel. The battery was used to light their makeshift home, the wiring cannibalised for a dozen futile projects. The creature that used to be Ray struggles to pull the driver’s door open as Fraser advances; he - it - turns to face him, too late to flee again, its features contorting.

Fraser hefts the crowbar and swings it once, twice, a dozen times, until he is certain it is over.

***

In a darkened hotel room, on stakeout, Fraser wakes. This is Chicago: the night is far from silent. Ray is silhouetted against the window, leaning on the tripod and perversely holding the camera with its long lens in his hands. His eyes are fixed on the office window opposite. Fraser rises quietly, and joins him.

“Anything?” he murmers.

“Some guy arrived five minutes ago. Don't recognise the car.”

He indicates the side window, looking towards the car park. Fraser looks with a feeling of sick recognition in his stomach. Here they are in the hotel; parked outside in a row are a Jeep, a minivan, and Ray’s GTO. Over to the left, just out of sight around the corner is a hardware store; he went out and bought batteries there earlier.

There is a sound. A low, buzzing hum. Ray stands upright, frowns, and looks at him.

“You hear that? Sounds like a chopper. Must be low.”

It’s getting louder. Fraser can’t take his eyes from Ray, the memory of green and yellow skin clear in his mind. Ray bends, looks out of the window, up towards the sky. Fraser already knows how he will look when he sees it, the expression of disbelief on his face, the way he will say the words.

“The fuck? But that’s... Fraser, it’s...” says Ray, over the sound of the invading fleet, the gentle patter of biochemical rain already sounding on the cars and rooftops.

Fraser has lived this already, night after endless night. He knows now that he can’t bear for them to go through it all again; watching the world end around them, waiting, waiting, and all the time knowing what will come. He steps up behind Ray, who is transfixed by the apparition in the sky.

Unobserved, he reaches out to Ray, pulls his Glock from its holster and does what he has to do.

***

Fraser wakes to silence and darkness. He lies on the narrow bench in the strange - alien - room, and waits.