Half the people in this room watched him send Edwards through two and a half building skeletons before his body turned to a gelatinous, bloody mush, smeared about the path of trajectory. Steel and concrete turned to dust, as Edwards shot on through what was left of midtown. He wasn’t thrown or stuck. The man hardly swatted at him. Less than what would be applied to a slightly bothersome housefly.
That’s what you get for sneaking up and trying to attack the man found sleeping naked at the direct center of a nuclear blast crater. I told him it was a bad idea. The guy watched too many old action flicks. From days long past.
The man in the crater seemed unsure how he was able to turn Edwards into fast moving jelly so easily. He was not, however, showing concern. Just a bored wonder.
His thoughts were elsewhere.
Likely the same place they were as he sat, at the table. Eyes cast down upon his tension free hands. Unmoving.
They covered him with a robe when we arrived back at the perimeter base. He went willingly. Obviously. There wasn’t a thing we were able to make him do that he had not decided to do.
We got to the gate. They opened it. The guards hadn’t seen what we had. They still pointed their guys towards a potential hostile.
They walked him down some hallways, talking all the while he stayed silent.
They brought him to a cold white room.
They sat him at a cold, steel table.
No other company in the room, aside a small camera in the southwest corner of the room. We all watched him sit there, as his two soon-to-be interrogators waited outside the door. Pumping themselves up. Making him wait. Dramatic effect. Of an age now gone. Probably from some old television program. While people and many other living things had not survived, entertainment from before was beyond abundant.
It wouldn’t make a difference. If he decided to speak, he would. It had nothing to do with the questions that were asked.
He didn’t give a name, the naked, silent man. He either couldn’t remember or didn’t care to tell us.
After Edwards was blasted, Mac and Brooks fired a good few dozen rounds at the man in the crater. It was hard to tell how many hit through our fogged up facemask of the radiations suits. Fucking things sucked but the area was still littered with air that could kill.
That’s why to see a naked man in an area that has been totally unapproachable, let alone habitable for at least two decades. It was still unsafe to be there without protection.
Yet there he was. Impossibly alive. Which provoked many to feel the urge to make him dead.
If any shots made contact, the naked man did not care. Or even seem to notice. Until he lifted his eyes upon his assailants. It wasn’t rage or revenge. He just seemed perturbed, behind blue-grey eyes. They seemed to move within themselves. Though the iris were some gaseous giant filled with storms, adrift in the dark of space.
His first two steps seemed eerily light. His third, did not touch the ground. He took one and a half more steps in air until his legs ceased sway and his body floated just above the tattered earth of the manmade hole.
We all began to back away during his slow approach. Considering the hole was a few hundred feet deep and twice as much wide, he was likely moving faster than any of us could on foot. It just looked so effortless. It happened that we had retreated to a perfect half circle as he reached the level ground. And so, the bare feet touched earth again.
I know I have never witnessed, nor ever will again, a moment of such pure silence.
Through the fogged plexiglass, he seemed to glow. An inch or two of light, wrapped all around. When I finally got the grip enough to turn the defogger on, I saw that light clear as day. A kind of light I had not seen in fifty-nine days.
That was the last time the clouds broke enough to let some sun beams in. Nobody works on those days. We all stop and soak. It only started happening five or so years ago.
“Who the hell are you?” stammered Franz. Squad commander. Fearless leader. Blubbering idiot of a coward.
The man only looked to Franz, who recoiled pathetically in fear. His eyes then scanned the circle, looking for the brave soul with some answers. They found me.
I’ll never fucking know.
“What happened here?” said a voice made of tin and vapor.
It is amazing what a lack of understanding can do to the mind. At first, I could not even recall a single word of any language I’d ever even heard.
But when asked a second time.
“What happened?” he asked again.
Warmer this time. Almost human.
“Lots of stuff,” I confessed. “But right here, a good while ago- bombs. A whole mess of them. That’s what made the hole you were sleeping in.”
“Yes,” with a chill in his voice again. “I remember.”
And now he sat and waited.
They were going to wait one more minute before going in there. The time would make him more willing to give up information. They thought.
Just as one of them placed his hand upon the doorknob, the man spoke.
“Don’t bother,” he told them.
Shocked and still, they waited. As though for instructions from whom they thought was their captive.
We watched from the screen as his wrists began to glow more than the rest of his body. Only for a few seconds, until the sound of metal on metal over the speaker rang sharp. Then, like a gentleman, he pushed his chair backwards, stood, and tied up his robe.
“I would like some pants,” he added as he stepped to the door.
When he opened it, the two idiots still stood frozen.
“Move,” he said. “Please,” he added. It got them all across the room in less than an instant.
And again, without knowing we were doing so, a perfect half circle formed around the nameless man. All attention on him. Everyone wondering and hoping there was a way to be appreciative of his power. Awe, I believe they called it.
“I’m going to leave now,” he said looking around. His eyes stopped on Greggs. “You there, give me those pants. I imagine you have more. I have none. Please. Thank you.”
Somehow, through the trembling, Greggs got his pants off and handed them to the man.
“Please don’t try to stop me. You won’t be able to, and I don’t believe I’m in the mood. I don’t care what you’re doing here, so don’t care about where ever it is I go.”
He paused again, scanned the faces around the crescent moon of men. He stopped when his eyes met mine.
“I’d like to talk with you,” he asked, seeming strangely passive. “Outside, if that’s alright.”
“Sure,” I said.
So, I followed him through the doors and down the web of hallways. I thought I was going to have to guide him on how to get out of this maze. He seemed to know his way just fine.
I thought that it would be perfectly reasonable to be terrified. But, I wasn’t. I felt fine.
Once outside, he walked to the service road a few dozen feet ahead. He sat upon the concrete barrier between the road and the courtyard entrance of the lab.
“Come on,” he said. “Sit down. I’m not going to hurt you. I don’t think I’ll be hurting anyone else today. I didn’t think I’d be hurting anyone at all.”
So, I walked up and sat down. About three feet between us. His robe hungover the back, open now and flapping in the coming storm. Storms every day. Some bad. Some not so bad. They used to be worse. Right after the big winter.
“I think,” fell slowly from his mouth. “I need to try and get this last bit of human out of me. And for whatever reason, you seem to be the one who has to hear it.”
I said nothing.
“That’s just how it goes,” he continued.
“So be it,” I conceded.
“It may be hard for me to explain to you what it is I feel,” he started. “But I will try.”
A deep breath from him. Deep breath from me.
“When I close my eyes, I see stars birthing and dying. All the time. Everywhere. I see colors unseen that make up matter and energy otherwise invisible. I see life blossom and wither millions of millions of times over in more places and times than your mind can wrap around. I can see your heartbeat in your chest. I can see you as a child. As an old man. As a corpse.”
“I see all of that, and could not care less.”
“Because I can still remember the last moment.”
“Of whoever I was before this.”
“Sort of. But not quite. I looked the same, without the glow. I was average, or normal, or something like that. I had a name and all of that.”
“And then the bomb?”
“And you remember that?”
“I do, sort of. It was extremely painful, but I mostly ignored it. Whatever was left of my mind was elsewhere. It went between night and dark and here and there. Then and now and forever, all at once, but never happening. I was being torn to pieces and put together again and every state of matter known and those not passed in and through and with what was once my body.”
I wanted to say wow, but it seemed inappropriate.
“But that’s not what bothers me.”
“Right before. The bomb. I was happy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was with her. We were holding hands. Going to see a play. It was her birthday.”
“I couldn’t really understand love. Or rather, the man I was before. He could never get it, romantically. At least never for long.”
He went silent again.
It wasn’t not having the courage to speak. I just wanted to respect the pause.
“I still don’t. Whoever I am now. I still don’t understand love. I can see time and flip through eons like a television set. But all this sight cannot see what comprises love. It just sees that face.”
“You loved her?”
“We were holding hands. We heard a noise. We looked up. We saw something coming. She looked at me. Bright and blue and welling with tears. I knew what was coming. I knew there was no hope. I dropped to me knees and held her close. I lied to her. I said she would be alright. That I would keep her safe.”
He said nothing. Just sat there. Almighty, all knowing and sad.
“Your wife?” I broke the silence, trusting that it would not end my life.
He shook his head.
Silence hung heavy in the air.
“My daughter,” he confessed.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered.
“So am I.”
He stood. Looked at the swirling grey blanket above.
“I’m going to leave now,” he said without turning.
His feet lifted off the ground. Hovering, he turned to look again at me. I still sat. The look wasn’t anger. Nor sorrow. He didn’t quite grin, but it wasn’t a scowl. It seemed a part pity, both for me a being so unknowing, and, for himself with the curse of knowing so much. There was a twinkle of envy, I could have sworn. Jealous of the simpleton I must seem. And the simpleton he used to be. Happy and loved.
“I think I’ll go see if I can breath in space,” he said, turning back towards the sky. “It shouldn’t be a problem. I think I’m able. If so, I’m likely going to keep going until the urge strikes me otherwise.”
“Well,” I said, standing up. “Alright.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“Good luck,” I said.
He shot air from his nose and pulled the corners of his mouth up.
A laugh. And smile.
“That’s funny,” he explained.
A moment later, there was a bang. Tremendous yet succinct. I was knocked on my ass and ten feet away.
He was gone.
And in the clouds, the biggest opening that had been seen in years. It seemed to spread outwards still, slowly. And in poured the deep orange of a setting sun. Our sun.
Still there, after all these years.