Eddie Solomon frowned as the shutter on his camera flickered. Life as a private investigator was not what he wanted, but right now he was out of options. Surveillance on someone cheating an insurance company was a far cry from what he used to do. He thought back to when he worked as a detective for the LAPD. Life was a lot better then, at least until three years ago, but he didn’t want to relive that moment. The thought of it caused anxiety. If an attack came on, he’d be useless until his medicine kicked in. Just another headache to add to the list. He packed up his camera, ready to put an end to another miserable day, when his brother called.
Great, I wonder what he wants now.
He sighed as he picked up the phone. “Hello, Lester.”
“No need to sound like that,” his brother replied. “Are you getting those pics to me today? The client’s all over me to get proof of this guy doing things he shouldn’t. And they want it sooner, rather than later.”
Eddie rolled his eyes and tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. “I have plenty of pictures that should make everyone happy, except, of course, Mr. Davis. I’ll be at your office in about an hour.”
“Don’t be late. I’m calling them as soon as I hang up.”
“Lester, have I ever been late a day in my life? No. I’m early for everything.”
“Yes, yes. Bye.”
Eddie’s phone went dark. He started his car and made the trip back into the city to his brother’s law office. It was a small practice, only him, but that’s the way Lester liked it. He first started at a big law firm right out of college. Things went well for a while, but Lester was a type A personality. He didn’t like following someone else’s lead. He stole a few clients from that firm and began his own law practice.
When Eddie quit the LAPD, he was adrift in a sea of pain and misery. He kept everything bottled up inside and refused to burden anyone else with it. When Lester reached out to him, it came as a surprise. Eddie always kept that part of his life separate from his life in Philly. Lester offered him to come home—an offer he didn’t jump at right away. But after a few weeks, he realized Los Angeles held too many memories, the good and the bad. Eddie came home to Philly and took the job as a private investigator for his brother’s firm. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it paid the bills, kept a roof over his head, and kept the dark thoughts of LA at bay… mostly.
He pulled up to Lester’s office and put on his best fake smile.
Blair Benson greeted Eddie when he came into the office. She jumped up from behind her desk and embraced him in a warm hug. She always made him feel appreciated.
She pulled back, grabbed his arms, and looked him in the eyes. “I’m so glad you’re here. Lester’s been pacing ever since he called you. I’ve tried to get him to calm down, but he just won’t listen. He’s worried about this fraud case, you know. I hate seeing him like this.”
Eddie gave her a look of sympathy. “I’ll talk to him. I’ll offer to buy dinner. That always puts him in a good mood.”
He walked around Blair and into Lester’s office. If there was one thing Eddie admired about his brother, it was his attention to detail. From the way he decorated his office down to his appearance. He always dressed like he was about to try a case in front of the Supreme Court. Tailored suits, polished shoes. His hair was receding, but he kept it short enough so it wasn’t too noticeable. He even tried to get him to wear a suit. Eddie stood his ground—jeans and dress shirts. Lester conceded, reluctantly.
“Les, I have the pictures. You can stop worrying,” Eddie said. He tossed an envelope on the desk and sat down.
Lester stopped pacing and straightened his jacket. He turned toward Eddie, his eyes cold and flat. “Don’t call me Les. You know I hate that.”
“Yeah, well, I needed to get your focus off of brooding and on to other things. It worked, didn’t it?”
“Don’t do it again.” Lester glared at him once more before he lightened up and offered a smile. “How’d the pics turn out?” He fanned through the envelope.
“There’s no way Davis can get out of this. How long has he been defrauding the insurance company?”
Lester sat down and tapped some keys on his laptop. “Almost two years. Every time they tried to nail him, he’d admit himself to the hospital and claim another injury.”
“Between the pictures and the doctor I found helping our Mr. Davis, he’s done for.”
Lester clapped his hands and stood up. “This is great news. Tomorrow a representative from the company is coming, and we can begin our next move.” Lester walked around his desk and put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Did I hear you say something about buying dinner?”
Eddie Solomon wasn’t happy. But sometimes a little bit of happiness got through, and he felt almost normal.
* * *
Fire trucks screamed by the restaurant, and Eddie snapped his head up. The mere sound of sirens was enough to cause an anxiety attack. They didn’t happen often, but every now and then they snuck in. Eddie’s chest tightened, and it felt like his heart was about to be crushed.
Both Lester and Blair looked at each other.
“Where are your pills?” Lester asked.
Blair dug through Eddie’s jacket, found the bottle, and fished out a pill for him. He swallowed it dry. Lester cringed. Eddie sat still, trying to control his breathing, and thought about his ‘happy place.’ He was desperate to maintain his composure. But he was just getting worse. His anxiety sometimes hijacked his common sense, and he let dark thoughts flood in and overwhelm him—like the guilt. He felt guilty for letting himself feel happy, even for a moment.
He looked up and found Lester, Blair, and several other people watching him.
Eddie felt flush and excused himself from the table. He made his way to the men’s room and splashed cold water on his face. How long would this plague him? He leaned over the sink and gazed at his reflection.
* * *
“I’m going to check on Eddie,” Lester said to Blair and then headed to the restroom. He found his brother staring into the mirror. “Blair’s paying for dinner, and we’re calling you a cab. You’re in no shape to drive right now.”
“I’m fine!” Eddie snapped. “I can get myself home!”
Lester didn’t like being talked to like that. He knew Eddie could get defensive, yet he was here trying to help. That deserved a little civility. He fought back the urge to argue.
“I know you can,” he said and put a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “You go home and take it easy. The insurance rep will be in tomorrow, and I’ll be busy with paperwork the rest of the day. Stay home and rest.”
Eddie looked over at Lester with red, bloodshot eyes. Then his face relaxed. He actually seemed relieved. “Thanks. I have a lot on my mind.”
“I can tell. You have not been yourself tonight. You want to talk about it?”
“No, this is something I need to do myself.” Eddie turned to leave. His shoulders were slumped, and he had a faraway look in his eyes. Lester put his arm around his brother as they walked out.
Blair was waiting for them by the door with Eddie’s jacket. He took it, thanked Blair for her help, and gave her a peck on the cheek. She blushed and pushed a lock of her blonde hair behind her ear.
Lester took a friendly jab at Eddie’s ribs. “You trying to steal my girl?” he said with a smile.
Eddie gave him a look and shook his head. “I’m not trying anything.”
Lester shrugged and glanced at Blair.
“Well, you made me smile,” she said.
The night air was muggy for May. Eddie carried his jacket and walked toward the waiting cab. “Thanks for covering dinner, Blair. I owe you one.”
Blair held out her arms to give him a hug. “Aw, don’t even worry a—”
Out of nowhere, a blue beam of light tore through the sky and struck Eddie. Lester and Blair stumbled backward. It hit him on the top of his head and shot through to his feet. Eddie lifted almost a foot off the ground. The blue beam ran through him for almost a full minute, and Eddie looked like he was in terrible pain. In a pugilistic pose, his face contorted in a mask of twisted agony.
Eddie readied himself for another one of Blair’s hugs when a sharp, stabbing pain pulsed through his head and everything went dark. A moment later, he opened his eyes and found himself standing in a large, dark room lit only by blue light flickering through the walls. It reminded him of the movie Tron but not so angular. The light moved through the walls like small bolts of lightning. He surveyed the room to see if there was any immediate threat. The room wasn’t too hot or too cold. It had no distinct smell to it either.
He went to look around, but nothing happened. He couldn’t move. He wondered if he had a stroke or seizure. He stood there for what he thought was an hour when two shadowy figures appeared. They seemed to float over to him and stopped a few feet away, keeping their appearance hidden. Eddie squinted his eyes. They almost looked like aliens—at least what everyone says aliens are supposed to look like—but something was off.
“We are the Eoch,” said the figure on the right.
“You are our champion,” the left figure said.
Eddie heard them clear as day, but their mouths didn’t move. Did they even have mouths? He couldn’t tell. They spoke directly into his brain.
“What do you mean, champion? Where am I, and who are you?” Eddie demanded. He continued to struggle against his invisible restraints.
“We are the Eoch,” the first figure said again.
And again, the other one said, “You are our champion.”
Eddie’s head spun with confusion. None of this made any sense. Aliens were something the tin foil hat guys believed in. They weren’t really real. Maybe this was just a reaction to his medicine.
The two aliens started to make strange clicking noises, and Eddie heard this with his ears, not his mind, this time. The aliens began to vibrate. Small sparks of the same blue energy from the walls emitted off their hands. They vibrated even faster and fused into one.
The sole alien pointed at Eddie. “All will be revealed.” Energy bolts erupted from its fingers and engulfed Eddie in an electric blue cocoon. His entire body tingled and vibrated like his captors.
No sooner had the beam hit him than he fell and hit the sidewalk.
“Call 911,” Blair shouted.
Lester ran over to him but stopped short. “You think he’s electrified? Eddie! Are you all right?”
Eddie lay where he had fallen and took stock of how he felt. I don’t see any blood. I don’t feel sore or burnt, and my shoes are still on. He had seen the effects of lightning damage firsthand in Los Angeles when he was at the scene of an accident. A man tried to finish up a home improvement project just as a storm rushed through and boom!—second-degree burns on his neck and arm where he was hit, his shoes blown off as the lightning exited him. Unfortunately, the man didn’t survive.
And while Eddie still wasn’t sure what exactly happened to him, he knew he didn’t want to go to the hospital. Wooziness pressed its way in.
* * *
The street became a beehive of activity. People pushed in to take pictures and videos of Eddie. Lester heard sirens in the distance.
Eddie struggled to get to his feet. “Help me up. I’m not going to the hospital. I don’t want to be here when they show up,” he said.
Lester went to his brother. He wanted to do the right thing, but he didn’t want to get on his brother’s bad side. He and Blair helped Eddie into his car, and they left the scene as fast as they could.
Eddie was in and out of consciousness on the drive home. They maneuvered him through the living room into his bedroom. When they dropped him on the bed, he started to mumble. It was difficult to understand. It sounded like one side of a conversation. Blair turned off the light, and they both walked back to the living room. Lester kicked off his shoes and sat down on the sofa.
“Aren’t we going to do anything?” Blair asked.
“Nope. He wants to do things the hard way.” Lester put his hands up. “He’s never liked hospitals. I’m not about to have him wake up in one and realize I’m the guy who made that decision.”
Blair returned his look with one of concern. “If he wakes up at all.”
* * *
Eddie’s knees buckled. He braced himself for the fall, expecting a hard landing.
“What is this? Like some kind of spongy mat,” he said.
He looked up, and no one was around. Instead of seeing the inside of his house, there was a vast expanse of space. This was not Earth’s sky. It couldn’t be. With a sickly green moon and countless spaceships firing on each other, this had to be a dream.
As he got back to his feet, one of the ships exploded, causing him to fall again. He brought his hands up to protect himself, but the debris passed through him as if he were a ghost. Eddie patted himself down and felt for any injuries or blood. But there was nothing. He got up again and found himself floating through the wreckage. Now he was sure this was a dream. No heat emanated from the fires around the downed ship. And it was eerily quiet. Eddie pulled at his ears, thinking they might be clogged.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, human.”
Eddie spun around to find a large blue ball floating in front of him. It flickered with electricity like the interior of the alien ship. He reached out to touch it, and a bolt flew off.
“Ow.” He shook his hand, trying to lose the tingling sensation. “Well, something seems real here.”
“You must have a lot of questions.”
Before Eddie could answer, two tentacles grew out of it. They reached out and touched his head. Another shock went through him, and the vision of warring spaceships vanished. In its place was empty space—nothing but stars and swirling galaxies. Eddie’s stomach churned at the sudden shift.
“What is going on?” he asked. He felt small electric shocks at his temples. The thought of this being a dream quickly faded. Now he was sure he was going mad.
“You are fine, human. You are not losing your mind.”
“Then what’s happening to me?” Eddie tried to reach up and remove the tentacles, but his arms were forced down to his sides.
“You have been chosen to fight for the glory of the Eoch Empire.”
“Abducted is more like it.”
“Call it what you will. You have been picked to act as the Eoch’s champion. You should feel honored. With over seven billion humans on this planet, you were chosen.”
Eddie attempted to move again, but his arms and legs were frozen. “So I was chosen,” he said. “What does being the champion mean?”
The orb started to pulse. The energy coming off it increased and once again the view turned back to the battle he saw before.
“As far back as time itself, the Eoch and Thiar waged war. Two great empires wanting nothing more than to defeat the other and expand their reach. Over and over, one side would gain the advantage only to have the other match it and retake control. The war came to a standstill. The Eoch and the Thiar had become equal and nothing either side did could move the other.”
Eddie watched as the fighting overhead played out along with the orb’s narration. Ships of all sizes came in to sight only to be destroyed. Countless lives lost. What a waste.
“With the war being deadlocked, the two sides sent emissaries to discuss ways of breaking the stalemate. A solution was found. It was not accepted right away, but as both sides continued to lose resources and citizens, they came to an agreement. It was called the Omega Solution.”
The scene adjusted again. Eddie still wasn’t used to the sudden change of view. He thought about the wildest roller coaster he ever rode. This was infinitely worse. Planets and stars whizzed past him. It picked up in speed until everything was a blur of light. The scene stopped abruptly, and Eddie thought he was about to fly off into space. His body jerked and his knees felt like they would give out, but the orb kept him on his feet. Once he got over the change of scenery, he recognized the planet they stopped at. Earth.
“The Omega Solution called for both sides to search the universe for a planet far outside their borders. One that was underdeveloped and primitive. They didn’t want to encounter any hostile aliens that might hinder their plans. This planet was selected.”
“This planet is Earth. Are you saying that out of all the known universe, Earth is the most primitive?”
The orb simply continued. “Once here, each side chose a being to be their champion. The process of choosing was not random. You were chosen not only for your sense of fairness but your deep, dark pathological scar.”
Eddie laughed. “My wh—”
“You know exactly what we are referring to. There is a darkness in you. The Eoch feel this will give you a keen focus.”
Eddie stopped smiling and took a deep breath. How could they know about that? He did everything he could to hide it from everyone. Even himself. Yet somehow the Eoch were able to drill down into his psyche and pull up the most secret parts of his soul.
The orb as usual did not elaborate. “And combatants are altered to give them an advantage.”
“I thought you said they were deadlocked. How can they give anyone an advantage?”
“While the Eoch and Thiar are equal in battle, you humans are not. Your species possess a savage unpredictability that will aid in combat.”
Eddie hung his mouth open in shock. Hearing that he was chosen because he was, in essence, a wild savage was more than he could handle. He struggled harder to free himself, but the orb increased the electricity. His head flung backward, and his jaw clenched up. The orb released its hold, and Eddie fell to his hands and knees. The ground still had a soft, spongy feel, and he was grateful for that.
“The champion who emerges victorious will determine which side finally wins the war. The Eoch and Thiar will have their armadas orbiting your world. The winner will open fire and eliminate the other. They will be eradicated from the universe, leaving the victor to return and claim the others empire for themselves.”
“And what happens to us?” Eddie struggled to get to his feet. He stared at the orb as it bobbed up and down like a beach ball in a pool. “Well,”—he rolled his eyes as the orb stayed silent—“all that, and you have no answer?”