Allan didn’t need the glasses to read and he didn’t even need them to survive, not anymore. He had written an app so that it accessed the camera on his phone, letting it perform the task of detecting his adversary automatically.
He took a seat in the back of the coffee shop where he had a clear view of everyone coming and going. He had ordered the establishment’s trademark latte more to blend in than because he liked it.
To the world around him, he looked like a middle-aged man, blond, athletic, bronzed from the sun. He could have just finished a game of tennis or golf.
In front of him was a mystery novel by a well-known author whose name was, as they say, a household word. And yet Allan couldn’t have told you any other books the writer had penned. Like the latte, it was camouflage. Even his name was misdirection and subterfuge.
He’d modified his phone’s camera to perform periodic 360 degree sweeps of the area, not unlike radar. He used to have to wear special glasses to see the enemy’s true form. Now his custom designed app did that for him.
Allan didn’t have to look up from his book as long as he kept the phone in front of him. No one would notice him glancing down at the screen attempting to detect the telltale sign of his adversary.
The camera’s special lens displayed the world with a slightly yellowish tinge on the screen, but the people still looked like ordinary people.
He didn’t have anything against them. In fact, Allan was quite neutral about the inhabitants. This was simply the environment chosen as the battlefield.
Allan had gathered intelligence last night that said his adversary would be coming here for a refreshment this morning, in a few minutes in fact. He reached into his pocket. The object was small and deadly. This was a war he intended to win.
He pretended to read his book, regularly turning pages between sips of his nondescript latte. Wait! The adversary. No. He was at the door but something must have tipped him off because he walked away before Allan got a good look. The projection on the screen let him view the adversary as an aura of yellow and orange light. He’d have to look up to see the outward appearance.
Maybe he forgot something. Was he wearing the special glasses or worse, had he also adapted a phone as Allan did? He shouldn’t have been suspicious. Allan left no clue he had laid a trap.
Wait or leave? If the adversary were warned off, Allan would have to come up with a new plan to track him. However he decided to stay a little while longer. The image on the screen. It couldn’t tell him the adversary’s exact location, but it did indicate he was somewhere nearby…and getting closer.
He felt an impact from behind, but it wasn’t an attack, not yet. His half consumed latte spilled on the book’s open pages as well as the phone’s screen.
“Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t…Allan! What a surprise. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”
Allan quickly put a hand over his phone. “Cynthia. Uh, I just stopped off for my morning latte. What are you doing here?”
Cynthia was his informant, not that she knew it of course. After a great deal of research, he discovered that she worked for the adversary as some sort of assistant or scheduler. She was aware of his movements and, feigning romantic interest, Allan had seduced her last night to acquire information. He knew the adversary regularly visited this establishment but Cynthia had failed to mention she also patronized the shop.
“Oh, the Boss was running late so he asked me to pick up his coffee for him.”
“How did you…I mean, I didn’t see you come in.”
“I’m parked in the alley so I came in the back way.”
That’s how she came in and that’s what he had detected.
“I’ve really made a mess. Here, let me get you some napkins for this,” she waved a hand at the spilled latte and the stained book pages.
“Really, it’s no…”
But she’d already gone to the counter. As she was retrieving the items, he started reaching into his pocket. She turned back toward him while fetching something from her purse.
“It’s too late, Cynthia.” He had his weapon pointing at her chest. A few drops of coffee and milk couldn’t hide the image on the screen. Cynthia was the adversary.
“It’s a stalemate, Allan.” He saw she was also pointing her weapon at his head, though the people around them were unlikely to recognize the tiny objects they held as such.
“How did you find out, Cynthia?”
“Simple enough. I created the fiction of an employer with enough of the correct characteristics to make my adversary suspicious of him. When you started asking questions I decided to let you, how do they put it, ‘take advantage’ of me. Once I got you back to my apartment, all I had to do was open the app on my phone and there you were, the only other non-human sentient being on the planet, less than five meters away pouring us drinks in my kitchen.”
“I admire your cleverness. Why didn’t you finish me then? I was completely unaware.”
“I could have, Allan. I almost did. But then that would have been too easy a victory. I wanted a challenge, to give you a chance on the battlefield.”
“What shall we do now, Cynthia? The fate of both our worlds hangs in the balance.”
She pondered for a second. If she stood there much longer, she’d look conspicuous, especially since they were both pointing what looked like small flashlights at one another.
“A truce, Allan. A temporary cessation of hostilities. We let our commands choose a new location for our conflict and new identities for us.”
“Very well. Agreed.”
Unlike human beings, both Allan’s and Cynthia’s species had a code of honor, so he put his weapon away with no fear of betrayal. She did likewise and sat opposite of him. She even handed him the napkins she’d gotten at the counter so he would wipe off his phone and book.
“Of course, it will take several months or more for reassignment…a year if they choose an entirely different planet. What shall we do in the meantime, Allan?”
“Perhaps what we were only pretending to do last night at your place…enjoy each other’s company. After all, we have much more in common with each other than with the humans around us, and we’re stuck here with each other until we receive new orders.”
She chuckled and then smiled. “I’d like that. Meet me after work? There’s a little restaurant around the corner that serves something called ‘shawarma’.”
“6 o’clock, then. It’s a date.”
Long ago, both of their races had learned that rather than attempting to settle differences using vast armies and mutually destructive weapons, they instead would send two soldiers, one from each side, to land on a neutral world, in this case Earth, and act out the conflict between them. They were confined to a single geographic area, a city, and then they attempted to discover one another’s identities. Accomplishing that, would make every effort to terminate their adversary.
In this first round of the contest, they would have mutually destroyed one another, but that would not have ended the war, only postponed it while another two soldiers were selected. Tonight, the war would be set aside as two beings who were considered enemies got to know one another better, not as aliens disguised as humans and playing a role, but as themselves.
Without realizing it, they might find a way to end the war and discover peace found in mutual attraction and love.
Last night I couldn’t sleep and I started thinking about the story. I realized that in 2017, Allan and Cynthia wouldn’t use clumsy glasses. They’d consider smartphone technology and, being quite advanced, write an app that would let their phones detect one another.
But that would make it really easy for them to find each other, so their conflict would become more complicated. I was trying to decide who would finally get the drop on the other when I realized neither one had to die. If they declared a truce, maybe not only these two soldiers might live, but both their worlds would have a chance to survive.