How can someplace you've never been feel like home?
Story by Calypso Woodhaven
The light summer breeze stirred, ruffling his hair. It felt so good walking in the sun. The illumination at the Compound precisely replicated the natural spectrum and was more than adequate for the needs of the humans contained within, but it never felt like this.
Riley walked through the uneven rows, his hands outstretched. The tips of the stalks just barely kissed his palms. It tickled and made him smile.
He couldn’t remember the last time he smiled. He couldn’t remember much of anything. It was why he was here. Iowa was the one place that seemed to call to him. It felt like home.
He’d expected wide open farm land and acre upon acre of corn as far as the eye could see. He didn’t know why he imagined it that way; he’d only seen it look like that in the history section of his holo-pad. But he hadn’t given up.
It had taken a weeks of walking and avoiding HST’s, rogue human settlements and as well as patrols, but he’d finally made it.
The rusting frame of a long abandoned combine lingered in the overgrown field. Riley couldn’t help but touch it, feeling the weight of its age sink into his flesh. He imagined he could feel the hum of the engine coming to life, startling small birds and field mice out of hiding.
Technology in the Compound was state-of-the-art, light years ahead of this decaying machine. The military’s premier elite fighting force wanted for nothing. Except freedom.
The military worked because everyone knew their place. Major Riley Finn followed orders and made sure his men were well trained. He excelled at both.
Riley never considered questioning orders until there had been a mix-up with his daily meds. He didn’t know that at the time, but he began feeling as if he’d been walking around with his VISOR down in full-tint mode, and now it was lifted.
He tried to ignore it, to fall back upon his training. If his superiors seemed to be making irrational decisions based upon paranoia, he told himself it only looked that way because he didn’t have all the data.
That was when the dreams began…calling him. They spoke of a simple life on a farm, of church and family and home. Sometimes there was a beautiful girl, golden hair kissed by the sun.
By the time that the infirmary had realized that there had been a mix-up, Riley didn’t want to give that dream world up. So for the first time he defied orders and palmed his meds and late one night, after lights out, he’d heeded the call.
“The nice thing about being in the middle of nowhere is that it’s easy to tell you’re your perimeter is breeched.”
Riley whipped around unable to believe he’d let his guard down for even a second. He slipped his weapon out from his waistband and trained it on the intruder.
“Whoa. Calm down – I’m just here to talk. ” The stranger raised his hands, and something about his voice seemed so damn familiar.
Riley squinted in the sunlight. “Who are you?”
“Don’t you recognize me, Ri?” The man took a step forward, and suddenly the glare wasn’t so harsh.
Riley gasped. “Miller, what happened to you?”
The man in front of him looked like his best friend, but had to be in his late forties, possibly early fifties. Laugh lines crinkled around blue eyes that twinkled with mirth, set deep in a careworn face. “I got older.”
Riley’s jaw tightened. “In a few weeks? That’s impossible.”
Graham shook his head. “They’ve been lying to you Ri. But you already know that. It’s why you’re here.”
Riley frowned. “What do you know about me being here?”
Graham held his gaze with a smile. “Tell me you didn’t dream of this place: the fields, the sun, the smell? Her?”
Riley’s mouth went dry. The girl with the golden hair. “How can you know who…what I dream about?”
“You’re gonna have to take a chance, bro. The Riley Finn I knew wasn’t afraid of anything. He barreled in where angels feared to tred.” Graham chuckled to himself as if this was kind of an inside joke.
“You talk like you know me, but I know I left Graham Miller behind. So you better start talking and have some damn good answers.”
“There is a war, the end is coming - we need you. It’s not about Hostiles against humans – it’s about good and evil. ”
“Funny, that sounds like just what I’ve been doing all my life.”
“This time, the fight can make the difference,” Graham answered quietly.
Riley bristled. “What I’ve done, the men I’ve lost, they’ve made a difference. We’ve taken out hundreds of hostile nests.”
“Do you really believe that now that you’ve been on your own? You see how people live – is it anything like Walsh told you?”
Riley didn’t answer, he didn’t have to. He’d expected to see the world in ruins, rubble strewn about as it was where he touched down in the hotzones: hostiles walking around with captive humans in tow. It was nothing like that at all. It wasn’t like it was in the holo-pads either, but everywhere he went there were enclaves of humans carving out normal lives for themselves.
“You have any idea how long your war has been going on? Hundreds of years.” Graham prodded. “They send you off to fight against impossible odds and when you don’t come back, they grow a new batch. It’s pointless.”
Riley frowned in confusion. “What do you mean, grow a new batch?”
Graham brought his arms together, slightly. At Riley’s brief nod, he tugged up his rough hewn sleeve. “Remember when we got this?
Riley felt his blood run cold. He’d seen Graham’s digital dog-tag hundreds of times; they’d been assigned at the same time, by the same dour faced sergeant. He knew the numbers by heart - 716-0068
Except now they read 612-0034
Graham looked disgusted. “Cloning. They have our DNA. I’m sure there’s another set in stasis right now, learning their lessons and soaking up our memories like good little soldiers, waiting to be activated when the current team fails its final mission.
“So what do you say? Ready to join the good fight for real?”
The story that Miller had spun seemed so unbelievable, Riley couldn’t believe he was considering it. Except deep down, it felt real, felt right. Like all the missing pieces in his life were finally coming together. Still he hesitated, needing something more – some larger bit of proof that he was right to listen to his gut, when it went against everything he’d been trained .
“Her name is Buffy.” Graham conceded. “The girl in your dreams. She’s one of the good guys, at least she was.”
The name opened up a floodgate of memories: football on the beach, patching injuries, the feel of her skin, slaying hostiles.
Things began to blur together, coming so fast, Riley couldn’t hold on to anything. When they finally stopped, he looked at Graham in wonder. “She was a slayer. We met in Sunnydale.”
Graham smiled. “You remember.”
“Yeah, everything.” Riley nodded shakily, lowering his weapon. “I’m in.”
Miller held out his hand, and Riley took it. “Welcome aboard, Riley Finn.”
Graham turned, heading out of the small clearing, clearly expecting Riley to follow.
Tucking his weapon into the small of his back, Riley took a last look back over the fields. They were beautiful and for the first time in his life, he felt at peace.
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