There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call "The Twilight Zone".
I woke up, disoriented. For a moment, I didn't know where I was – but that quickly passed as I looked around. I was back on base, but something was...odd. I looked around, but I didn't see anyone. "Hello?" I shouted – or thought I did, but nothing answered me, not even an echo.
Who is this person? Just a soldier, one of many. They all saw something bigger than themselves, and bravely faced up to it. Many of them are now dead. But for a few, death doesn't lead them on. It leads them into...The Twilight Zone.
I was a little unnerved, but I could work with this. I set off, intent on finding my CO and reporting in. If nothing else, reporting in would restore a bit of my peace of mind – even if I did get chewed out for reporting late. The base was eerily quiet as I walked – too quiet, in fact, for a military base. Maybe I had been captured by Decepticons and put in another base for some reason?
At that heart-stopping thought, I whirled around and ran to the mess hall. There was food there – some of it was even sitting out, like someone had been having a meal and had stepped away for a moment – and the poster of Optimus someone had photoshopped into the old WWII "I Want YOU For the US Army" poster. But there was something wrong here, too. Besides the fact that there was no-one here, and that I hadn't seen anyone on my mad dash through the hallways. Something was off, and I couldn't put my finger on it.
But the mad dash and the mess hall were enough to convince me that I was indeed in the Autobot NEST base. Then where was everyone? Where were the the guards, the off-duty soldiers, the on-duty soldiers, the civilian specialists, the Autobots themselves? A sudden thought occurred to me – maybe I could raise them on the radio? It was worth a shot, anyway. With that in mind, I turned and started making my way toward the communications suite.
It didn't take me long to get there, and my unease grew with each passing moment. As I'd walked through the hallways, not only had I noticed the lack of people but a lack of noise. Where was the hum of the AC fans? The boom and crack of ordinance being fired at Boomtown? I made a beeline for the radio as soon as I reached the communication suite, but when I picked up the mic, nothing greeted me. All the lights were on – though, oddly enough, they were all white instead of their usual green. It wasn't a big enough difference for me to worry about, but try as I might, I couldn't even get static on the radio. Throwing the mic down in frustration, I thunked myself down into one of the empty chairs to think.
One, I was back at the NEST base in Diego Garcia. But I couldn't quite remember how I'd got here, or indeed where I was returning from. Two, I was totally alone on base. The walk through the base was enough to convince me of that – I'd had to go from the human quarters in one corner of the base to the communications suite it the Autobot hangar, and all the things in between. Three, there was something weird going on with the base. I hadn't been able to quantify it before, but now that I was calmly sitting and thinking things through, I noticed it. I hadn't seen one colour anywhere. I couldn't smell anything – even the usual diesel fumes and oil slick smell were gone. I couldn't hear anything – no AC, no ordinance, no lights humming, nothing. But I had heard myself, when I'd talked.
For some reason, some niggling of intuition told me that I'd get answers for items two and three if I could just find an explanation of one – where had I been, before I'd returned here? With that thought in mind, I stood up and headed for my quarters. Maybe I'd find some clue there.
I reached my quarters, and stopped dead. My bunk was empty. Not just empty of occupants, but stripped of sheets and pillows, with the mattress rolled up. Like it was waiting for a new person to come claim it – or like I had never been there. Frantically, I dropped to my knees and searched under the frame. My footlocker was gone, as were most of my other boxes that I'd used to keep my stuff, but - "Aha!" I shouted, jubilant as I pulled a small, dusty box from the furthest corner. Once again, my voice failed to echo, but for the briefest instant, I thought I heard whispers – is it time? Not yet. I stood up and listened harder, but I didn't hear anything else.
Really rattled now, I opened the box. In it, as I'd known they would be, were my father's medals. Honour, courage, bravery, sacrifice – all here, all reaffirming that this had indeed been my bunk. Then why did they strip it? I wondered. And they'd taken all my possessions. But they wouldn't do that, not unless – memory hit me over the head with the force of a sledgehammer.
The hot South African sun burned down, boiling us under our pounds and pounds of equipment and armor – but the heat was a small price to pay for the safety that the armor and the equipment provided. Nobody was taking advantage of the fact that the Autobots had excellent air-conditioning in their cabs – we were drawing close to the Decepticon that our satellites had placed in the area, and no-one wanted to see the results of an Autobot going from vehicle to robot with a passenger inside. My squad leader held up his fist. That was the signal; we were within a hundred meters of the target. Safeties were flicked off, grenades primed. The squad leader held up his fist again, three fingers extended. He put them down one by one. When the countdown hit zero, we charged and -
I rocked back on my heels. That was my answer then. I looked down at my hands, for the first time really looked. There was the colour that was missing from everywhere else. Except the only colour was red. My breath started hitching as I registered, finally, what was on my hands. There was no way there could be that much on my hands unless -
"Am I...dead?" I whispered, knowing the answer already but fearing confirmation. I nearly jumped out of my skin – what was left of it – when I actually got an answer. "Yes. Took you long enough." I turned around slowly, and almost immediately wished I hadn't. I wasn't exactly in the finest of shape myself, but he was missing pieces. When I finally composed myself enough to look him in the eyes, he seemed amused by my discomfort. "Are you...Death?" I finally asked, fearing the answer and welcoming it at the same time. He merely shook his head. "If I was, we both wouldn't be here. I'm just the Sergeant, and before you ask I died in one of the first joint Autobot-NEST mission by falling into a Decepticon that was just beginning its transformation sequence." I winced – it wasn't a pretty way to go, but the way he'd said it forbade comment. "What is this place?" I said as I gestured around, emboldened at his answer to my first question. "What does it look like?" he parried, answering my question with a question of his own. "The base," I hazarded.
He didn't nod or shake his head, or really acknowledge my answer at all. After a moment, I realized why – it was my own question I'd been answering. He must have seen something of this little revelation in my eyes, because he turned and started walking, gesturing for me to follow. I couldn't see a better course of action, so I did. We walked toward a smallish, unremarkable door that I could have sworn wasn't there a few minutes previously. He opened it, and gestured me through first. I stepped into an almost dormitory-like area. It was a very long room, with two rows of beds (one along each wall) with an aisle down the middle. On each bed sat or lay a horribly – fatally – wounded soldier. And I recognized them. Some of them, anyway. I looked at the sergeant, a question in my eyes.
"We're all alike here," he said. "We couldn't move on because our countries, our homes, our families, still need us. So we'll wait here until we're called. There's room for you – a bed down at the end." I looked, and could just make out a bed where he was pointing. I started slowly walking down the center aisle, the men on the beds either unable to see me or just ignoring my presence. It didn't matter; we were all the same here. I could feel the truth of it in my bones – I knew these men and they knew me, no matter if we talked or not. There was no need to hurry to the bed at the end – I was already there and in every bed I passed.
Just a soldier, one of many. Killed in service to kin and country. And yet, still ready to give. Ready to defend and protect. Like so many others, that soldier waits for the call to serve...in the Twilight Zone.
I own neither the Twilight Zone, nor Transformers