by Barry B. Longyear
It was aimed at him, as so many others had been aimed at him. It found its mark, as so many others had found their marks. He died, as—
"At any point in time," interrupted the psychiatrist, "you are who you are and you are where you are."
A soft voice, half-bored, reciting the party line, moving space debris through his office pod, doctors crazier than their patients. If there was anything Jere Suiter knew, it was that he wasn't who he was and he certainly wasn't where he was.
Endless frost, colorless, deep and killing,
Gales that blacken skin, the Sun defeated—
"Where are you, Jere?"
Jere Suiter forced his eyes open. The doctor was behind his transparent titanium desk. His uniform was deep blue with iridescent stripes of mother-of-pearl across the left shoulder. Medical captain. Frazier.
Something wrong there, though. It was as if Jere had always known the psychiatrist but had just figured out his name. It was as if he had always been sitting in that chair, but just noticed it. It was as though he was where he was, but where that where was wasn't where it was—
—or something like that.
A line or two of poetry: "As if through a dark glass—" he muttered, shaking his head. No, he thought to himself, concentrating, chipping the scale from ancient memories:
As if through a glass and darkly,
The age-old strife I see.
For I fought in many guises, many names,
But always me.
Confused images of the Stone Bridge, a jungle trail or two, the hell of that French forest, that smell along the west wall in the summer, calling out the watch signs that long, lonely night in Beth-horon, knowing the morning sun would bring with it torture, death, and desecration.
"But men!" he heard an ancient voice cry. "We are soldiers! We are warriors!"
And the voice was his.
Somewhere, a gleaming white bridge across a star-dusted abyss—
It was home, thought Jere. My home. The home of my fathers. That's where I'm supposed to be.
But was home the jungle, the forest, the prison, the Stone Bridge, that gleaming white bridge? all of them? none?
Someplace other than this, that was for certain. Jere was supposed to be elsewhere. Perhaps the else in elsewhere, the when in somewhen, had gotten misfiled. Then is then, now is now, but he wasn't persuaded. His certainties were breaths in a fog.
The walls of the office pod were flat gray. Dr. Frazier kept his walls opaqued. But they told Jere that if he believed them to be clear, they would be clear. They were opaque because Jere believed them to be opaque, which was so much butt blow, thought Jere. They are opaque because that's the bloody way Capt. Frazier bloody well keeps his bloody walls.
Jere looked from the walls to the psychiatrist. "Doc, there's a poem. I can't remember the poet's name. It goes like: '—The age-old strife I see./For I fought in many guises, many names,/But always me.'"
"You're hanging onto the past, Jere."
"If you don't know who wrote it, doc, just say so."
"It was written by George S. Patton, Jr."
"Patton. The general from the Twentieth Century wars?"
Jere Suiter shook his head and rubbed his temples. "Am I crazy, doc? Dumb question, considering where I am. How crazy?" He lowered his hands and glanced up at the doctor. "Am I going to come back?"
"You've had a nasty shock, Jere, that's all. Give it some time."
Jere giggled. Black Pulse; nasty shock. Like telling Marie Antoinette she just had a little crick in her neck . . . .
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