The taste was still on his lips. It was a sweet and tangy raspberry that lingered like the days of summer. He remembered sitting by the bed of the lake. Somewhere a teenager was strumming a guitar listlessly in the background, accompanied by a chorus of giggling girls. He liked that memory. It was the kind of thought that kept him calm at night and sane in the day.
He rubbed his thumb across his bottom lip as he thought of it and of her. The single crimson streak in her dark auburn hair seemed even more prominent with the raspberry electricity of the kiss fresh in his mind. The way she didn’t open her eyes until she’d fully pulled away caught him by surprise for some reason. She kept her hand gently against his cheek the entirety of the moment. A moment was all it was, but it’d felt like a lifetime. A lifetime that had him in a house nestled against that lake of his childhood, his fictitious sons and daughters playing tag in the front yard as he and his wife looked on from the wrap-around wooden porch, embraced arm-in-arm. The spring flower scent of her hair would drag him back and forth between love and lust; the raspberry taste of her lips fresh against his lips; her auburn hair with the crimson streak now accompanied by mild strands of sophisticated gray.
But that was not life. As vivid as it may have seemed, that was just a dream, and he knew it. The bombardment of distant artillery fire in the dark night quickly made sure he knew it. He stopped on the decimated street, its crumbling asphalt at his feet and stale smells of ash and weapons fire embedded in his nostrils. He bent down to tie his loose boot lace. As he rose he looked onto a horizon of black sky filled with dilapidated skyscrapers, mere remnants of true civilization. Bright orange and red flashes popped overhead as aircraft engaged in dogfights and anti-aircraft guns from hastily fashioned, makeshift installations did their best to keep the enemy at bay. To date, none of it had worked. It would not work. Only one solution remained. He allowed himself another brief respite from the present, just for a moment. A quick blink – eyelids closed: his mind saturated with her, with beautiful Augusta.
Eyelids open: he began marching down the broken avenue. Griffin Street was once a bustling center of commerce for the metropolis. Now it was just mounds of dirt and lost dreams. Graffiti of the long and hard fought repelling of the invasion of ships – splashily deemed the Approach by the media – still covered the sides of the abandon urban towers.
We Shall Rise! We Shall Win! #BattleTheApproach
Catchy hashtags for social media activism had yielded many reposts but very little in the way of action. Many fled the city when the ships first appeared overhead; many more that stayed to fight were immediately laid to rest. New York fell, than Los Angeles. Soon thereafter Chicago and Miami and Seattle. Washington, DC had held out the longest but it too would eventually fold to the other-worldly enemy.
He continued to march and reminisce thinking of the kiss, reminiscing about the lake. He remembered the time he cut school at the end of his junior year to go hang out there with Janny Stevenson, a girl he’d had a crush on since the third grade, and his mother found out and grounded him for a month. He’d kissed Janny that day and it’d become the best day of his life, and remained so throughout his adolescence. That kiss still didn’t hold a candle to Augusta. Then his mother’s stern yet warm face flickered in his mind for a moment. He remembered the last time he saw her, years ago. He’d lost her in a crowded square and she’d called out to him. He’d looked in the direction of her voice just in time to see that stern warmth and gentle smile before a flash of light came down from the clouds and everything within a hundred feet of it disappeared into vapor. He shut his eyes tight now, shook his head softly and tasted his lips again. He clung to the tang of raspberry and walked forward.
A few empty blocks later he passed by a small one-family home. He could see light rising out of the windows, and the faint sound of a generator somewhere nearby. The door flung open and two young children came tumbling down the short concrete stairs towards him.
“I told you it was him!” the small girl shouted. Her clothes were tattered and she wore a dingy, stained pink coat. Her hair, however, was meticulously tended in two thick and tight raven ponytails.
“That doesn’t look like him!” the boy with bushy black hair in a pants that were more of a patchwork than a garment and a faded Cleveland Cavaliers hooded replied. “He’s way bigger than that!”
The girl reached his feet and stared up at him with big brown glossy eyes, her cheeks somewhat flushed from her short jog. She couldn’t have been much older than five or six. “Are you him?” she asked in a high pitch whisper as though she were keeping a secret. “The man in the pictures?”
He smirked. Kneeling, he replied, “Depends on who he is, ma’am.”
“She’s askin’ if you’re the Keeper Clint Kyzer,” the boy told him.
He nodded. “Yeah, that’d be me.”
“Papa said you’re gonna kill the monsters,” the girl told him still in her whisper voice. “He said they don’t have a chance. They just don’t know it yet.”
On the porch now Clint saw two adults embracing. He read surprise and shock on their faces through their contorted, gaping-mouth stares.
“You tell your Papa he’s right. The monsters aren’t coming for you, little one,” Clint finished with a smile and a soft touch to the girl’s button nose. “They don’t stand a chance.”
With an elated smile and laughter the girl turned back to the house and ran full speed toward her parents shouting, “I told you, I told you it was him! It’s the Keeper, Papa. He said he’s gonna get the monsters!” Her brother followed close behind.
Her father scooped the young girl up in his arms. Clint could see the mother was crying now and the father as well. He stood and waved to them both. Through their tears they both nodded and returned the gesture.
“God bless you, Keeper. With all our heart God bless you!” the man shouted before the full family of four disappeared back into the house.
“Bye bye, Keeper!” the little girl with the ponytails waved as the door shut quietly behind them.
Clint saw his fictitious children again and his mother in the red light and Augusta in her future grace. The kiss still lingered, he moved forward.
Loudspeakers positioned throughout the city blared into the night. He imagined it was closer to the Hold Site – the last piece of ground they were able to protect, the last piece of ground from which they would launch the assault. He wasn’t far now.
“Tell me about these Keepers, Jim,” the voice requested. It was Bentley Rodgers, recently deceased host of a now-defunct cable news talking head program. Once the Approach began Bentley traded in his punditry for the human cause and had been the voice of repelling the invasion. He was the man that everyone looked to for information and comfort. They were able to broadcast on one frequency they’d managed to protect from the enemy’s jamming capabilities for some time. Once they could no longer broadcast a satellite signal they turned to radio, then to the loudspeakers. This particularly broadcast had been filled with information leadership deemed important for the morale of the citizenry.
“Of course, Bentley.” His guest was Dr. Jim Marriot, an astrophysicist and budding xeno-biologist that used to work for Virgin Galactic before the world went to Hell. “From what we can tell somehow some of us –“
“Us being humans,” Bentley clarified.
“Yes,” Jim agreed. “Us being humans – are entangled, or linked to these beings most of your viewers know as the Blind Men.”
Bentley elaborated. “Yes. For our viewers at home, just to clarify, every one of the known eleven recovered bodies of these aliens are, anatomically speaking, nearly identical to humans with the exception of a few significant differences. They are all on average much taller and larger than us, averaging seven and a half feet in height –”
“Yes,” Jim agreed. “Additionally, they wear a blindfold. We assumed they were able to see through them, and used the cloth as some type of wearable smart device or perhaps as a shade to protect their eyes from our sun. But when we examined the bodies we immediately saw the real reason: these beings don’t have eyes. There were no eye sockets. And we have been unable to discover anything special about the cloth. It seems to be a material similar to our wool. We can only speculate that they blindfold was worn for some type of cultural or ceremonial reason or perhaps in dealings with other sentient species that might find the sight of them off-putting. Again, however this is all speculation.”
“Of course, of course.” Bentley refocused the conversation.
“Also, it would appear – and again, this is to our best understanding of a completely new phenomenon – that these Blind Men are able to communicate through some kind of telepathy that provides them with a sonar-like sense. Wherever they may have evolved –”
“Or were created, doctor,” Bentley corrected him.
Jim laughed. “We aren’t going down this path tonight, but yes, Bentley, for brevity’s sake I won’t argue. Or created – without traditional sight, and they instead have this ability. Why is this important? Well, after additional research and testing it seems that it may be more than simple telepathy as we understand it. It may be some type of biological mutation of String Theory. That is to say, on a quantum level of sorts, these beings are connected and that has affected some of our human brothers and sisters on an atomic level. They are linked.”
“And you determined that how?”
“During testing one of our lab researchers began to display intense changes to his physical chemistry the longer he was exposed to the alien remains. His strength increased, his memory, his ability to retain knowledge, his reflexes, his very molecular structure was altered. He even gained the sonar ability; that’s how we determined it existed.”
“And through testing –”
“Yes, through testing we determined that some type of field the Blind Men projected on an atomic level affected certain human beings, this young researcher being the first. They entered a quantum entanglement. It heightened his senses beyond anything we could have imagined. Through the processing of stimuli he would engage in memory recall as vivid as though the action was taking place in real time –”
“I don’t mean to cut you off, doctor, but many of us have often heard the Keepers can see into the future.”
“Not exactly, Bentley. Our subject could see multiple possible outcomes. He would never know which was more likely to take place until he had additional evidence supporting one theory over another. Different stimuli triggered different patterns. We still don’t fully understand the science behind it. It’s more about the probability of events rather than truly seeing the future, however.”
Bentley asked, “You said different stimuli triggered different patterns. Stimuli as in a smell or a touch?”
“Or a taste,” Marriot responded, “Yes. Additionally, his biochemistry and physical characteristics changed on a molecular level – strength, speed, stamina, tissue regeneration. As far as we can tell, the Keepers are virtually indestructible.”
“This young researcher – ”
“Yes. Dr. Clinton Kyzer.”
“How is he doing? And have there been others?”
“I believe the government – or should I say, what remains of our government – placed him along with others into a training program.”
“So there are others?”
“Absolutely. And more being found daily. It’s important for your viewers and listeners to know that hope is not lost. We are doing all we can to repel this invasion, and we continue to make new strides in the sciences every hour to aid in this fight. They must know and truly believe that Dr. Kyzer and others like him are doing all they can to keep us safe and keep harm at bay. As many of our younger scientists have begun to say, these Blind Men will not see what’s coming at them until it’s too late! The enemy approaches and when they reach our shores we shall be ready.”
The propaganda piece always ended there only to repeat from the beginning. It was their call to arms. It was the reminder that the Keepers were doing all they could. Clint worried that whatever little they could do wouldn’t be enough. On a nearby building he saw the hashtag battle cry again. This time, beneath it was a spray painted silhouette. It was a man with slightly spiked hair and a fist raised towards the sky. Keeper CK sat beneath it in tall red letters. He stared at it and contemplated the task at hand. Clint believed it was different this time. Maybe that was just the hope talking. He tasted her kiss against his lips again. He could see a large light at the far end of the block: the Hold Site. Even in the safe zone shining lights giving away your position was risky. He was almost there, and they apparently saw him coming.
“It’s him, Lawson!” he heard a young lookout shouting. “It’s Kyzer! Keeper Kyzer!”
Others began rushing to the gate. Multiple spotlights were shining down on him. He had to lift his hand to shield his eyes. Twenty feet from the gate horns sounded, signaling him to stop.
“Subject, identify yourself,” Clint could tell it was Lawson’s voice crackling through the loudspeaker.
“Dr. Clint Kyzer, Keeper zero-zero-zero-one, group alpha, requesting permission to enter.”
There were many thieves and gangs rising up in the wake of the Approach. So there was a pause as they verified he was who he claimed to be through scans, then finally: “Enter. Welcome home, Keeper Kyzer.” The electronic horn buzzed again and the heavy metal gates slowly slid open. Clint navigated around concrete barriers blocking the entryway as hundreds of people within the camp looked on. Some seemed to be in shock, many others seemed relieved with scattered cheers and applause. Prayers and thanks echoed all around him. Children ran up to him grabbing his legs and cheering while adults thanked him for returning. He smiled and waved to all of them and continued up the road.
At the end of the path was a yellow Victorian two story home, which likely once held an upper-middle class family comfortably. Now it was a dimly lit tactical operations center. Standing on its steps with thick folded arms across his barrel chest and a semi-trimmed white beard was Lawson. He leaned against the porch’s wooden pillar as though he was holding the house up against his back. Clint couldn’t tell if he was smiling or had his usual grimace. It was probably a little of both.
“Nice of you to join the party,” Lawson muttered.
“Said I’d be back. Had to take a walk,” Clint replied.
Lawson nodded. “And we should have known better than to doubt you.” He reached out his hand to Clint.
“I appreciate that.” Clint took his hand and shook it. “How much time?”
“About twenty minutes. You’re right on schedule, I guess.”
“Yup, that’s what I was planning for.”
“Clint!” the voice appeared from behind. Lawson disappeared into the house as Clint turned to see short, stocky Boomer barreling towards him. “Son of a bitch. You made it back.”
“Yep,” Clint said as he gave him a quick hug.
“Did you see her?”
“Well, did you tell her?”
Shook his head. “Nope. Kissed her goodbye.”
Boomer’s brow furrowed. “That’s it?”
Clint touched Boomer on the shoulder as he passed. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“All of that for a kiss? You were gone four days.”
“Yes,” Clint agreed.
“How many miles?”
“One way? Two hundred, I think.”
Boomer huffed. “You could have run that in a few hours.”
“Yes. Could have. But I didn’t. Took my time. I enjoyed the scenery.”
“The scenery?” Boomer scoffed. “All the majestic beauty this countryside has to offer? And all for just a kiss?”
“Yeah, Boom Boom. Something like that,” Clint rubbed his bottom lip, practically smelling the water off of the lake, hearing his fictitious children in the yard.
Together the pair walked to the makeshift launch pad where an experimental teleporter stood ready to disassemble their atoms and reassemble them somewhere in space. Clint stood there staring at the technology stolen from the Blind Men that they barely understood. He knew the plan to board the central ship in orbit of Earth, but was still more skeptical than he wanted to admit. They would destroy the ship with no real idea of how it would affect the linked Keepers. Even if it didn’t, there wasn’t really a plan for finding a way home. Truthfully, they all knew when they agreed to it that getting back down was going to be a long shot. He wasn’t expecting to return. He tasted the raspberry still lingering there, he thought about the kids. He always wanted to name a son Walter.
“There’s no chance we’re coming back from this, is there?” Boomer whispered.
Clint shook his head.
“Maybe I should have gone and gotten a last kiss from someone, too, ya know?”
Clint faced him, hands in his pockets, shoulders back, chest out. “She didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?” Boomer frowned.
“It’d be the last kiss. She had too much going on and –”
“You didn’t tell the woman you’re in love with that you love her and may never see her again?”
Clint shook his head in the negative again.
They stood there in silence together with their eyes affixed on the wires and tubes and smooth nameless metal of the control boxes that would perform the science fiction few people understood. It was the science upon which their elaborate scheme of narrow victory hinged. And in that quiet moment of reflection on pending doom or victory Boomer leaned over and asked. “But how do you know?”
“Know what?” Clint signed.
“What that kiss meant to her?”
Clint turned to answer, but then realized he had dozens of outcomes, each one just as probable as the next. He didn’t know what this Augusta was thinking. He thought about explaining what he’d been holding on to but decided that in this moment, whatever he needed was real enough for him.
Lawson reappeared on the operations center’s porch. “It’s time, people! Meeting in ops, now!”
Clint rubbed away the last remains of the gloss from his lip, as he and Boomer jogged together to the house in the center of the makeshift base. Everything was on his mind, all of it, especially the raspberry.