The dream changed. The world, Earth, appeared. A globe of green and blue, spinning the vast blackness of space.
But Justin was seeing it as he never had before. The world was as it was in photographs, but an unearthly blue halo seemed to surround it. Like the blue of the ocean through a thin mist, it seemed to be crawling across the lands and seas, a living neon miasma collecting at some points, filling the divots and crevasses, climbing the mountains. Fleeing others.
Justin took the woman’s hand. But he wasn’t controlling his own body. His mind and body fragmented. It was being shunted aside, like so much refuse.
His voice spoke to the woman, but it was deeper and far gruffer than his normal tone. “I am here.”
The woman sounded relieved. “They have their Seeker on our tail. We need to move.”
“Justin? What’s going on?” Wayne’s thumb was on the call button. 911 was undoubtedly dialed. His other hand, formed into a fist, was raised to ward off the woman.
Justin’s eyes moved, again without his command, to look at his friend. His mouth opened, issuing the same, gruff voice, “Nothing. I am—”
Anger flooded Justin, the real Justin. He fought for control of his tongue, and managed, “Wayne—get away—it’s not me. It’s not my—”
Wayne, hearing Justin’s regular voice and seeing the struggle in his face as the being within Justin took back control of his body again, pressed the button, backing away towards the door.
But the woman was too fast, reaching his side. He swung at her, but she struck him swiftly, hitting five seemingly random points of his body. His eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed.
“Is he injured, Amber?” Justin’s voice rumbled again.”
“No. Unconscious. They’ll ignore him. He’s as safe as he can be. Now—we need to move.”
There was another crash downstairs and the sound of something thumping on the stairs.
The woman, Amber, kicked the window, shattering the glass. She didn’t seemed to mind the bloody streaks that appeared on her hands as she pulled the shards away to make a hole big enough to pass through. She levered her body through and Justin, his body beyond his control, followed with a smoothness and coordination he had never had in his life.
They moved quickly, silently, to the edge of the roof. Justin’s mind—not his body—felt sick as the woman jumped, followed by himself. His body grunted as it landed and for a moment Justin realized something. The feeling for numbers. The OCD. It was gone. Normally it lurked at the edges of his mind, waiting for a moment of weakness, wanting to rule his body.
So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
Sun Tzu—The Art of War. His mind was strong—but his opponent was stronger. He was exhausted simply from saying those few words to Wayne. He was being suppressed. His mind was being beaten down. So his weakness, his body would be his attack, his strike.
He began thinking of numbers. Passwords, birthdays, school codes, the number of tiles in the bathroom at school. The number of pens on his desk. The angle of his desk lamp. The number of users on his conspiracy forums.
It was revolting, trying to bring it on purposely. His body was sprinting up the street. There were shouts behind him. Another shattering of glass. And he had no control.
The woman, Amber was behind him, glancing over her shoulder while running. She pointed to a lone car in a driveway and his body altered course, heading for it. It was unlocked. The front door of the house was open—no doubt the owner was carrying in groceries or bought wood to fire the furnace for the swiftly darkening winter evening. Not many people on his block had gas heaters.
The woman slid into the driver’s seat and ripped open the hatch under the steering wheel. Hotwiring the car.
Justin was vaguely interested, but he was still counting. Faster and faster, adding more and more numbers to the sequence. His mind was falling into the rhythm, taking the place of what his body usually did.
Then, as the car started, his arm convulsed. The woman revved the engine, ducking as a sound rang out. A gun shot? She didn’t notice him.
His body began to thrash, and the number began spilling out of his mouth, alternating between his voice and his opponent. The woman noticed, but kept driving. Whatever was behind them concerned her more than the convulsing young man in her—stolen—car.
Justin’s eyes began to close, and in the final moment, he felt the other mind, the other presence fade away. He was blacking out—but he felt a surge of triumph despite it. He was being kidnapped by a woman he had never seen before, was being chased by gun-wielding foes of the woman, and his mind was fighting with something—someone—else beyond his understanding. But he had conquered.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
The Art of War. He had won—but only barely. He knew himself, and that had been enough. But next time he needed to know the enemy.
Or he would be defeated.