A lie revealed in blood and tears,
A spark to part the dark despair,
The lost may yet be found, or not,
But in fine form or past repair?
The blackness of deep sleep grew red as the sunlight filtered through Aric’s eyelids. He was aware of his sudden consciousness, but reluctantly so, maintaining closed eyes as he tried to think of nothing and drift back to sleep. Of course, thinking of nothing never quite works out. A faint odor, strangely foreign, hung in the air. He sniffed. What’s that? The buzzing of flies came to his ear, and he expected it to fade as they passed overhead, but it subsisted. Hmm, weird. Why do they stick around? He stroked the blanket on his chest. It was soft and comforting but grew, abruptly, hard and crusty beneath his fingers. What the hell?
These accumulating mysteries were finally enough to persuade him to abandon his attempt at sleep and open his eyes for some answers. First, there was the initial glare of direct sunlight, bringing a deep pain upon the backs of his eyeballs, causing him to wince and peek through the shade of his lashes until he was adjusted. Once that came, he was staring up into the blue sky where a fallen leaf was drifting on the breeze, and further up, a pack of birds careened in gentle circles. Remnants of clouds lingered as cirrus strings that rippled and faded, growing nearly transparent as they slashed, subtly, the perfection of an untainted canvas. The air was cool, but only in the way that newborn mornings are. In hours, it would be warm.
These observations came within the first seconds of his waking, processed and understood but not remembered since he had questions to answer. Quite quickly, he turned toward the source of the buzzing, and this was when he jumped and screamed, rolling reflexively away and pulling, with him, the blanket that covered them all.
At the sound of Aric’s cry, and the sudden chill as his blanket was yanked from his body, Raiden stirred from sleep, quite violently at that. His legs kicked, and his arms flailed, and he yelled “What, what, what?!” as his eyes struggled to find his SWUN amidst the blinding light. He’d been sleeping right next to it and was holding the weapon within a second, but dropped it to his lap at the sight of Aric’s mortified face and the bloody, fly-covered heap that was Lexus just beside him. “Oh my God” was all he managed to say, which was more than Aric, who was sobbing uncontrollably.
Raiden felt his own tears begin to rise, for although death was no new prospect, he had never been one to endure, unmoved, the sight of another crying. Especially a friend. Especially a grown man.
Aric lunged forward to tend to Lexus. Maybe she was still alive. Maybe she could be saved. Raiden looked away. One of them had to keep their cool, and with the way Aric was so frantically pumping at her chest and breathing into her mouth and pumping some more, he was about to lose it. The kid’s determination was inspiring, but Lexus wasn’t coming back. This was a harsh truth that Aric didn’t seem to register, or more likely, wasn’t willing to accept.
After a full minute hearing the sounds of Aric’s hopeless rescue attempt, Raiden walked to the Arthian’s side and pulled him back. He didn’t have to rip the man away, just simply placed hands upon his shoulders and gently tugged with a whisper: “She’s gone, Aric. She’s gone.”
Aric wrapped the giant, Raiden, up in tired arms and burrowed his tear-drenched face into the Fraquian’s chest. Something to hold on to, to embrace: that’s what he needed. Without it, he felt like he would fall to the ground and not get back up.
Why? Why was Lexus dead there, killed in her sleep and left to feed the fucking flies? What had she done? Her, with her delicate face and tiny body and unrelenting, sarcastic denial of every advance he’d ever made. So what if she was difficult and, at times, downright mean? She was a beautiful person, and he was quite sure that the energy between them had been strong and real and ready to grow. This growth is what he wanted, is what he’d been looking forward to.
But now there would be none. Now, he had but his dreams of what they were going to be and what they were to do and experience together. He could not touch her again, because now she’d lost her warmth, and her scent, and her softness. She was cold and stiff and in no state he wished to remember. He’d look away and keep his distance, because the memory of her beauty and allure is what he wished to preserve, not this grisly image of a victim of an evil crime.
Yes, a crime, that’s right. A murder. And every murder has a murderer.
Luthor. Where is he? Aric tensed up, for he’d been deceived by a demon’s act—a killer with the guise of friend—and now Lexus lay with an unbeating heart and no one to answer for it.
“Luthor!” Aric yelled, his voice low and hoarse from crying. The truck was still sitting off to his right where it had been the whole time. “Come out. I know you’re out there. What the fuck did you do?” Aric spun in circles, waiting for some kind of movement, hoping that the man might have the balls to show himself. He hadn’t taken the truck in the midst of the night and gone. That had to mean something. “I said come out here!”
His words echoed through the forest and out across the plain toward the distant mountains, so loud that Raiden thought an avalanche would commence. “Aric, be quiet. There may be enemies around.”
Aric turned to him and stomped his way over till their faces touched, or would have touched if Raiden weren’t over a foot taller. He spit when he talked. “Oh, there’s an enemy out there all right. He killed Lexus. While she slept. She didn’t even have a fighting chance.”
Raiden looked down, not at Aric but farther, down to his feet. “I know.”
Aric’s breaths were escaping brisk and raspy, his anger just strong enough to obscure the sadness beneath. “He executed her, man. Shit.” His exhalations were beginning to whine. Sobs were trying to escape.
“She was an enemy!”
Aric and Raiden looked up as Luthor’s voice drifted from within the trees.
“She was going to kill us. Just as soon as she knew our plans.”
Aric scanned the trees but saw no face. He yelled to them, blindly. “What are you talking about? Are you crazy? She was a friend. You knew that.”
“No, what I knew was that you thought she was a friend. And, at first, I thought so too. But then she started asking too many questions, and I got suspicious. I sensed that something was wrong. During the night, I had a chance to look into it, and my suspicion was confirmed. She’s not a human. She’s a Grey.”
A Grey? Aric scoffed. How ridiculous. Impossible. “That’s it . . . you are crazy. Did you not see her? That’s no Grey. Not in a million years.”
“The Greys are masters of deception. Some of them can disguise themselves. All they need is a little DNA, and they can become whatever they want to whoever they want.”
“That’s insane. I don’t believe you. How could you possibly know that?”
There was a short bout of silence. “I have my ways. Consider me a Zeta Reticulan fanatic. I know a lot about them.”
“The Greys had her locked up in a cage. If we hadn’t saved her, she’d be dead right now. She’s a human. There’s no other way.”
“I’m coming out. I’m unarmed, so don’t shoot.”
A pair of hands suddenly appeared from behind a trunk deep off to the left, and behind them came arms, and Luthor’s head, and finally the rest of him. He held his hands high as he approached. His face was straight, his eyes fixed on Aric’s the entire way. Aric knew what he was doing. He was staring him down, assuming that Aric didn’t have the guts to kill a man that was looking right at him in such a way. What a fool.
When Luthor had passed out of the forest 20 feet ahead, Aric raised the rifle that he’d been holding. This psycho didn’t deserve another second of life. No way. Not after what he’d done. Luthor stopped in his tracks, his face drooping, growing scared and helpless: pathetic. He didn’t speak, though. He didn’t make an argument for his life. He just gave a slight head shake as if to say “Please, don’t” and then closed his eyes, trembling.
Aric had the rifle aimed for only a matter of seconds before Raiden placed a hand slowly on top of the barrel. The weight of it was all it took to cause the gun to lower. Despite how badly Aric wanted to shoot, he knew it wasn’t happening. He was glad that Raiden had intervened. Now, he could maintain the illusion that he would have shot otherwise.
When death didn’t come, Luthor opened his eyes and saw the two standing before him, their weapons at their sides. He released a breath, his hands still hovering by his ears. “I promise you. She wasn’t your friend. I can prove it.”
“Then do it,” Raiden said sternly. “But don’t make any stupid moves. I stopped Aric this time. I won’t do it again.”
“Yeah, of course.” Luthor dropped his hands and walked hastily past the men, stopping to kneel at Lexus’ side before calling them over. “The technique is called cloaking, and it’s carried out with the use of an artificial energy field called a cloning cloak. This is advanced shit, so try to keep up with me.”
Raiden and Aric looked to each other curiously and then back to Luthor.
“Only some of the Greys are capable of the trick. They’re known as ‘shamans.’ All that’s needed is a DNA sample of the specimen to be cloned. With that, the shamans are able to construct an energy field that contains in it the vibrational frequency of the specimen’s physical appearance. When they surround themselves with this ‘cloak,’ you don’t see them; you see the specimen. When you touch them, you don’t feel them; you feel whatever it is you think you’re feeling. When you hear them speak, you hear the voice you expect to hear. They play with your mind and your senses. Do you see what I’m saying?”
The men looked to each other to make sure they were on the same page and then nodded.
“Okay, good. There is one flaw in the cloning cloak, though. The Zeta Reticulans are very much an evil race, and as a result, they carry within their hearts a dark energy that seems to both fuel their evil and feed off of it. This energy is unable to be masked by that of a cloning cloak. Because of this, there will always be a portion of the Grey that can be seen just superficial to the heart. Take a look.”
Luthor reached toward Lexus’ chest and began to rub, stopping to spit a glob of saliva between her breasts and then continuing.
“Hey, what the fuck,” Aric snapped.
“It’s too dry,” Luthor replied without pausing. “I’ve got to get the blood off.”
A few more blobs of spit and some heavy scrubbing finally had the red crust parted enough to reveal the skin below. Raiden and Aric leaned in to look and rubbed their eyes to make sure they were right in what they saw. It was grey skin: a small, amorphous patch of it nestled down within her—its—cleavage.
“What?” Aric mumbled.
“I told you. This is a Grey. There’s no doubt.”
“It’s convincing,” said Raiden, “but could just be some kind of tattoo or skin disorder. How can we be sure you didn’t make this story up after killing her and seeing that there?”
Aric grew hot again. He’d nearly been fooled, but Raiden was right. This didn’t prove a damn thing. “Yeah. Why should we believe what you’re saying?”
Luthor looked surprised, but not nervous. “Tough crowd,” he said with a chuckle. The others didn’t laugh. “Well, there’s more, actually. Although the cloak is simply an aura of energy, it is somewhat organic in that its life is linked directly with the shaman that wears it. Once the wielder dies and his life energy ceases to radiate, the cloak dies as well and begins to wither away until nothing of it remains.” Luthor lifted the blanket covering Lexus’ feet and then pulled one of her boots off. What was revealed was far from what her tan legs predicted: a small, grey foot with extended toes ending with swollen tips, no nails. “As you can see, the field is already beginning to degrade. In a short while, there will be nothing left of Lexus: just a very dead Grey.”
“My God,” Raiden said beneath his breath.
So it’s true, Aric thought. She’d been a Grey the entire time. I was sleeping with the enemy, quite literally. I’m so stupid.
Luthor must have seen the look on Aric’s face. “Don’t feel stupid. This is what they do. They’re good at it.”
“I know,” Aric replied. He should have been happy, at least slightly, considering the fact that Lexus hadn’t been murdered. But something still hurt. It was the fact that he would never meet her. This woman he felt so strongly drawn towards, that he was so mesmerized by. He would never be with her because she didn’t exist . . . or did she? “Wait a second. You said that a DNA sample is needed to create a cloak.”
He said it as a statement, but Luthor took it as a reconfirming question. “Yeah, that’s correct.”
“So that means that Lexus is a real person: that she’s somewhere out there right now.”
Luthor saw where Aric was going with this. “Yes, it means that she’s a real person. But for her to still be out there somewhere is doubtful. If the Zetas took her DNA, then she’s probably dead.”
Aric’s eyes, which had been aflame with new hope, darkened and closed. It’s true. I’ll never see her.
“But wait,” Raiden suddenly said. “There’s nothing to say that we’ve been traveling with this Grey the entire time.” Aric looked up, confused but intrigued. “We rescued her ourselves. We watched her partner get killed. Those were humans. I’m sure of it. The woman we saved from the tunnels was the real Lexus.”
Luthor appeared to be following. “Yes, that would make sense. But that means, then, that the DNA had been extracted before her rescue and she was swapped out at some time during your journey, before you met me. Was there a time when she was separated from you?”
“At the ruins,” Aric blurted. “She was pulled into a hidden passage at these ruins back near where we found you.”
“That’s right,” Raiden said. “And there were Greys all over the place. That had to be it. That had to be when they took her.”
“I’m sure of it,” Aric said. Whether it was his true self speaking or his optimism, he wasn’t so sure of. “She had been acting way different ever since the ambush. I thought maybe it was just that time of the month, but really it was because it wasn’t even her.” The three men stared at each other and realized what they had to do. “We’ve gotta go back for her.”
“I knew you would say that,” Luthor said, “but I’m afraid she’s more-than-likely dead. It’s been an entire day. They’d have no reason to hang on to her.”
“They held on to her before,” Aric pointed out. He was going to fight for this one, even if the chance was slim. “They had her caged up, not killed. Why? There had to have been a reason.”
“Because they want information,” Raiden said. “That’s what the imposter was after. It was asking about our plans, but we didn’t say anything. Now, it’s dead, and the Greys are no more informed than before. They must have realized the operation could fall through. They must have held on to Lexus in case it did, so they could get the information directly from her. Make her talk.”
“Shit!” Aric said. “They’re gonna torture her.”
“Not yet,” Luthor assured. “They can’t know that the shaman’s been killed yet. The plan may still appear to be in progress. But I do imagine there is a time when the mole was to report back. When that is, we can’t be sure, but once it comes and passes and their general receives no word, things could start to get ugly for the real Lexus.”
“Then we need to go. We need to get back there now.”
“I agree,” Raiden said.
The two men looked to Luthor for a response, and the Arthian shifted eyes between them. He took a deep breath and released it in a drawn-out whoosh. “Well, shit. I’m in. Looks like it’s time to go save us a princess.”