Just like that, the entire world froze, every single person on Earth, all except for Matthew Harris, a brilliant, young software engineer student in enemy occupied Colorado. At first, it's all fun and games as he takes advantage of what appears to be an incredible opportunity to act without consequence, but as the weeks wear on, he begins to wonder if this is going to be his new reality. There's something off about all of this, though...He just has to figure out what it is.
“You’re telling me that before last week, you would just go about your day and everyone would move around you, ignoring you? There wasn’t a single person who saw you?”
Kim shakes her head and grabs a handful of popcorn from the lady in the theater seat next to her. “Nope. No one. Not for a year, two months, and twelve days. You could only imagine how that feels.”
Trailers for upcoming movies show on the big screen, with E.A. propaganda reels regularly interjected in-between. Most people usually boo when those come on, but they’re pretty cool sometimes.
“What did you think when everything stopped?”
Kim chuckles. “Honestly, I thought I had finally lost my mind. It was awful. I had just come to peace with my new reality, whatever it was, and then when the Pause happened it made me think that I was just going to slowly deteriorate away to nothing.”
I grab the drink in the cup holder on the armrest to my left and take a swig. I know how she feels, to a small degree, though I can’t even begin to imagine what a whole year would have been like. Shudders run through my body at the thought.
“What about you? You’ve only been here since the Pause?” Kim says, her speech muffled by the crunching of popcorn.
“Yeah, just the past week.”
She shakes her head and leans her seat back. “I mean, that can’t be a coincidence, right?”
“No, it can’t be.”
“How did it work for you?” she asks. “You know, when did it all begin? Was there something out of the ordinary that made it happen?”
I shake my head, reflecting back on that day. I mean, it’s not every day I’m invited to develop anti-insurrectionist software for an occupying nation, but I can’t see how any of that caused a—what are we calling it now—time Pause? That part is just entirely unreal. In any case, I’m not sure I want to reveal what I was up to. It’s not exactly a shining moment of mine.
“No. I was just walking across the street. What about you? How did it all begin?”
“It’s a bit of a long story,” she says dismissively. “Not sure if you’d want to hear it all.”
I turn my head and give her a sarcastic expression. “Yeah, you’re probably right. It’s not like we have all the time in the world…”
“Har, har. Fine, you asked for it,” she says, though with a smile. “So, you know I’m from the north boroughs.”
“Well, specifically, I’m from Valley View, over near the Commerce Center. At the start of the invasion, the E.A. did a bunch of bombing runs over the boroughs, civilian residences, apparently to pave the road for their tanks and whatever, and my neighborhood was one of the worst hit. All I remember was coming home from school one day—it was a Friday, I remember, because Friday is churro day and I bought one to eat on the walk back—and then halfway home, the bombs began dropping, just like that, as if out of thin air. Let me tell you, I’ve never felt so powerless and exposed as those few, eternal minutes. I watched as my best friend’s block got blown to powder in less than a second, and then there was a whole shopping mall that collapsed with everyone still inside. Fires broke out everywhere and it was just chaos, absolute chaos.
“Anyways, I saw a group of people fleeing to a nearby park, so I followed them and was seconds away from taking cover underneath a picnic table when they dropped a cluster bomb on us. After that, I don’t really remember a whole lot. Just a lot of blood, mostly mine I think, and paramedics. I woke up in a triage center and was one of the lucky few that got a bed in the ICU, because of my age, probably.”
The movie begins, but I don’t pay it any attention as Kim continues her story.
“I was there at the hospital for a little while, but I wasn’t getting any better from what they told me, so the doctor came in with my mom one day and said they were going to have to put me to sleep for a little bit, just until they could figure out what was going on. So, they hooked me up to all sorts of tubes and wires and transferred me to another room, and I was expecting to just fall asleep instantly, kind of like you do for surgery, but I was sitting there for a while. Eventually, I got curious, so when the nurse came in, I asked if it would be taking much longer, but he just ignored me and continued on his business. I just thought he was being rude, so I asked the next nurse who came in, but she ignored me too.
“After a whole day went on like that, I got fed up with it and decided that I didn’t care if I died; I was in so much pain anyways. So, I stood up and went to go find my parents, but along the way I kept getting the same strange reaction; people passed me by like I didn’t even exist, no one even looked in my direction, and when I finally found my mom in the waiting area, I tried talking to her, shaking her, forcing her to look at me, but nothing worked. That’s when I knew something was wrong.
“At first, I thought there was something wrong with my brain, or that maybe something had gone wrong when they tried to put me under, but the longer it lasted, the more I lost hope that I’d ever understand what was happening. And, well, that was a year ago now.”
“Jeez…” I mutter under my breath. “I don’t even know what to say. Do you still feel pain from the bombing?”
“No. I don’t know what the rules are with all of this, but I just know the pain faded after a few days; mostly nowadays I’m just numb. I feel a little, but nothing like I used to.”
“Man, I’m sorry. That would be awful. I can’t even imagine having your parents so close and them not even knowing you’re there?”
“Yeah, that’s not fun,” she admits. “But I’ve mostly gotten over it. And I still visit them sometimes to see what they’re up to, though I haven’t much recently.”
There’s still something that’s nagging at me, like something small and persistent hitting my subconscious, trying to get me to realize something, but I just can’t seem to figure out what it is. It makes me feel uneasy, though, almost nauseous. The whole story is so surreal and out of this world, I just can’t seem to make heads or tails of it all.
“Well, at least you’re not alone anymore,” I say comfortingly with a smile, pushing aside my discomfort. Kim gives me a warm, wide, genuine smile back and takes me by the hand. My heart flutters, and I’m hit by that same, strange feeling from before, the feeling that I’ve known her much longer than these past couple days. Like we were meant to know each other, to be here together.
“Yeah,” she says, turning back to the screen. “We’ve got this.”