We lived in blinks, a few seconds here or there, never more than a minute. You just pop back into existence, like you’d only been daydreaming. You’re always welcomed by a chemical odor reminiscent of burnt plastic or fat liquefied in a microwave, a smell that’s coming from you. They don’t bother rematerializing your stomach contents, so the first thing you feel is hunger. Who knows what else they leave out? They told us we’d keep everything essential. There were even some vague allusions made of an imminent technology that might make a full restoration possible after the war ended. None of us held out hope. There was a consensus among the soldiers that they were dumping everything unrelated to combat. It was hard to know, because you never had time to take stock. You only had time to reorient and fight like hell, fire on an enemy ship, peel scaled fingers off your throat, inflict as much damage as possible on whatever was in front of you. You might only have ten seconds to fight, so there was no thought of conserving energy.
The Scuzz had developed blink technology first, and that had caused the darkest, bloodiest thirty-six-hour period in human history. They could out-maneuver us at will. They’d appeared at our weakest points and cut off our retreat. It was a slaughter. Thankfully, our technology was advanced enough that once we knew the objective – people and things could disappear and reappear in the same general area – we could make it a reality rapidly, thirty-six hours almost exactly.
And so, the Blink War began. The battlefield was roughly equal distance from both home planets, and we were playing for all the marbles, for all the lives, for everything there ever was and ever would be. We popped in and out of each other’s formations and ships, probing for weaknesses. The generals back home were the ones really controlling the fight, this was always true, but even more so now. They coordinated where we rematerialized, where our ships rematerialized, and maybe we were in them, maybe we blinked back in an enemy ship. The generals controlled the relocation of their approximately two billion soldiers. They had a radius of about one hundred yards for every soldier’s blinking, a greater distance than that risked losing too much of the person. The game was anticipation, because they had to factor the blinking of every enemy soldier and ship as well. The possibilities were limitless. It was like playing a million chess games simultaneously.
I blinked back. I heard Ralph first, crying out in anguish. He was slumped over in a chair, his hands covering a massive wound in his stomach. He was dying, had been dying for several blinks now, a couple of minutes for us, maybe weeks in real time. I looked up and into yellow eyes, many of them, dozens. The Scuzz and I looked at each other for a moment without recognition, and then it whipped me across the face with its tail like blades and sandpaper. My training guided my movements; I crashed into the beast and used all my bodyweight to shove. The Scuzz were clumsy and top heavy. It couldn’t stop the momentum and came tumbling to the ground, sliding on its thick scales. Its torso looked like a giant pine-cone. I landed on top of it to pin it down and immediately went for the only weakness in its exoskeleton, its mouth. I jammed my fist into it hard and used surges of force leveraged with weight to push deeper into its throat. It bit my forearm with its beak, very painful, but I already knew it wasn’t powerful enough to do real damage. All of its eyes looked panicked now. It was recognizing this was the end, and then the Scuzz disappeared from beneath me. My body fell to the floor, through the space where it had been.
I blinked back again, and some weak-looking, gray-haired man was on the monitor saying something about, “The Scuzz fleet is retreating. Make your way home, boys.” I was sitting there, the longest time materialized since the war began, wondering what my name was and which way was home.
Cameron Hunter is an Alabamian. He spends his time delivering mail, writing, and performing as a Dungeon Master for friends.
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