"Doctor!" the nurse shouted. "His eyes are open!"
A flurry of activity, lights in his eyes, hammer to his knees. Blood pressure cuff tightened and removed. Where was he? Why was he here? Thinking was fuzzy.
"You've been in a coma," the doctor said at last. "But you're going to be all right now. Your nightmare is over."
He was wrong.
Cassidy stood by the corner of the building, peering around. He thought he had lost his pursuers, but he wasn't quite sure. He had ducked into a doorway, turned his reversible jacket inside-out, and put on a baseball cap to cover his eyes, and now he was trying to see if any of them had caught on.
Two guys in business suits and shades, standing in front of the laundromat. They were talking quietly, turning their heads from side to side. Looking for him.
Cassidy took a step back, and a deep breath. Then he stepped boldly into the street, walking like he owned the place, walking right past them.
It worked. He turned the corner and ran four blocks, turned two random corners and walked five more, and finally started breathing easily again.
Okay, he thought. You've lost them. Again. But they always seem to home in on you. How do you get away and stay away?
Cassidy didn't have an answer to that question, but he wished he could meet someone who did.
He paid cash for a motel room, and flopped on the bed without getting undressed. He had called his mom to let her know he was all right, and seen the first shades within an hour. That had to be it. Government agents, perhaps, didn't they run around in suits and shades, or was that just in the movies...?
They had first appeared after he posted his...vision? Prophecy? Whacked out dream?
Whatever you wanted to call it, he had posted it on his blog, and the next day, he was running and hiding. He was running out of time, though. Cash was getting harder and harder to come by, and using a credit card would be a sure way to call them to him. He couldn't risk contacting friends, and didn't have anyone to turn to.
Slowly, with many twitches and panic moments, he drifted off to sleep.
Cassidy stood on a tall hill overlooking San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge was gone, fallen into the bay; what little was left was burned and melted. Lights flickered in the sky, and a moment later, a tremendous lightning bolt crashed from the sky, hitting a skyscraper thirty floors up. Above the damage, the rest of the building toppled.
"Remember." The voice was deep, and echoed through his skull.
Cassidy knew this wasn't the only city under attack. This wasn't a dream, it was a memory.
One of the soldiers marched up the hill towards him. He couldn't move, couldn't run; he was only a spectator in this vision. The creature stopped in front of him. Humanoid, at least six feet tall, it carried a bloody sword in one hand--a hand that had far too many fingers. It had no eyes or sockets.
The soldier strode away in search of victims. Behind it, a man approached, much shorter. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet with a silver face screen, and in his hand was a lightning bolt, nearly as tall as he was.
"Trust," came the voice.
The motorcycle helmet came closer and closer. When he was standing right in front of Cassidy, he could see his own face reflected back at him. The man reached up with both hands to remove the helmet, and the vision went away, before he could see the face behind the helmet.
"Hold your freedom!" echoed in his ears.
Cassidy came awake instantly. He was up and packed and ready to leave in moments.
His blog post had attracted the attention of someone, that was certain. Except for a couple of downloaded songs, he had never done anything illegal in his life--certainly nothing worth the chase these suits were giving him. Maybe changing cities would put some more distance between them, give him some breathing room. He wandered the city for hours, doubling back on his trail, watching for shades, and finally felt safe enough to walk into the bus station.
It was a mistake.
The suit was hiding in the crowd near the ticket counter, and Cassidy didn't see him until he was within arm's reach. He froze, eye to glasses, panic rising; he thought he could feel the sheer hatred emanating from the man. Then he turned and ran, shoving people out of his way, heading for the exit. There was another suit there, blocking his way out, so he doubled back and went out one of the doors to the loading bay, then down to the end, where the bus drivers would stand and smoke their cigarettes. He stopped there, waiting for his heart to stop pounding, knowing he couldn't have lost them that easily.
A hand covered his mouth and dragged him backwards. He fought, bit the hand, struggled--and froze when a suit came around the corner. The shades blocked his eyes, but he knew the man was looking right at him. The agent reached into his pocket--
...and collapsed to the ground.
Cassidy stared at the woman who had been standing behind him. She gave him a wink, knelt down, and put her taser to the chest of the man on the ground. He jerked and spasmed and made noises that couldn't have come from a human throat. The hand over his mouth loosened, and then released him. "Go, take a look," he heard whispered in his ear.
He walked up to the suit, lying motionless on the ground. The glasses were out of place, and what was behind them looked...odd. He reached down with a trembling hand and flicked them away from the face. The eyes behind them weren't even human; they were red, and faceted like a gemstone, or a bug's eye.
"They can almost look like us," the woman said, "except for the eyes." She held up one of his hands, pointing to the scar along the bottom. "Extra thumb removed." She stood up, brushing dirt off her knees, and zipped up her leather jacket. "They have a weakness for electricity, though. Zap 'em enough, and they melt into goo."
The man who had pulled him aside was nursing a bleeding hand, but he didn't seem upset with Cassidy. "Come on," he said, "let's get him to safety."
The bus headed into the night, far from city lights.
"I went out with some friends," he heard himself say. He hadn't told this story to anyone. Well, not the full story, anyway. Marnie, the woman with the leather jacket, was listening intently.
"Ken was driving, Jay was riding shotgun. I was in the back. Ken lost control on an icy bridge. Well, that's what they tell me, anyway, I remember getting in. The car went into the drink, Ken and Jay washed away; they fished me out of the ice about two hours later. I closed my eyes, lost two friends, three months of my life, and woke up...into a nightmare."
"You had a near-death experience," she said. She didn't make it a question.
"Yeah," Cassidy sighed. "Cities destroyed, people under attack." He still shuddered at the memory. "Prophecy? Warning? I didn't know what to make of it, so I wrote it up and put it out on my blog for anyone to comment on. And that's when the agents showed up."
"They're advance scouts. They know that psychics will warn people that their main attack force is coming, so their job is to scan the 'net and find people trying to give warning."
"Not that it matters," Victor said. He turned around, putting his bandaged hand over the seat. "The human race is pretty much made up of sheep who don't care who's in charge as long as the beer keeps flowing. Giving the warning would get you labelled a crackpot at best--and if the warning was true, you'd get blamed for the disaster when it was all over."
"Get some sleep," he said. "We'll be home in the morning.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let me be the first to welcome you to..."
Cassidy struggled awake, yawning over the rest of the sentence. They were somewhere in the middle of nowhere, flat land all around. Victor was still talking.
"...on an abandoned missile silo, giving us one hell of a basement. The buildings are concrete domes, six or seven inches thick--which keeps down the utility bills, letting us live off the grid, and hopefully playing hell with any thermal scans." Cassidy could see the dome now, painted to look like the surrounding scrubland. "Over there, we've got a nice big bank of solar cells, also camouflaged. We've got food, weapons, whatever we need to last quite a while, and we're far enough away from any cities that we probably won't even notice the war."
"I'm sorry," Cassidy said, "I was just waking up. What did you say the name of this place is?"
Victor smiled at him. "Welcome to Freehold," he said.