Ben Harper now a 48-year-old office manager for a major auto insurance company. He had reintegrated back into civilian life with relative success. Because of what happened during his tour of duty he was prohibited from ever discussing his wartime experience. The ghosts of the past were his alone to confront, and he thought the best way to exercise those demons was to act like they didn't exist. He perfected the emulation of a placid expression. Normalcy was simply an act and to Ben with discipline all those behaviors and mannerisms could be identified and imitated.
They were all gathered for exhibition in a glass room. Reporters looked on with the same fascination children watch primates at the zoo. Ben surveyed the crowd. He was the only one left from his platoon. The virtual reality helmets were distributed. Ben slid the digital veil over his eyes and when he blinked he found himself under the vast void of a pale blue sky that blanketed the Central Asian valley. The whole landscape, everything from the spiked peaks to the cracked, barren ground were colored with a bland washed out pallet. The simulation was accurate down to the last detail. The only added frill was a light powdery snow that gently fell from the sky but never accumulated on the ground. The village was transformed into a scene from a Christmas greeting card. Red and green lights were wrapped around the goat skin huts, wreaths hung in all the entrances, and a large elaborately decorated pine tree was placed in the center of the village.
It was a well-crafted scene. The people watching at home were meant to believe the Marines had brought Christmas to the war zone. The soldiers mingled over non-acholic egg nog and plates of Christmas goose. Many were thrilled to inhabit their younger forms, even if it was only an illusion. The living made merry with the dead. These digital aberrations were simulated by the program. Ben wasn't sure if it was because he already knew they weren't there but something seemed off about them. Their eyes seemed empty, their expressions vacant. They were simply algorithms that created Ptolemaic images of people, simple hollow renderings.
Ben looked out to the horizon and wondered how far off he could walk before he reached the borders of the binary reality.
“Hey, Harper get over here!” Beckoned a friendly voice.
Ben approached cautiously. Suppressed memories were bubbling to the surface of his consciousness with the pressure of an exploding guiser. The memories of the carnage seeped through into his perception. The aftermath of the massacre was only visible to him. The phantom remains of the mass violence were all around him now. Where the others saw a buffet table he saw a line of lead shredded bodies, the soft glowing lights on the huts became forked flames, he stumbled over bloody heaps of human remains. He saw a group of children playing. The tallest one stopped and locked eyes with him. Ben was instantly transported back into another memory. He saw the same boy rushing towards his Humvee. His hate filled eyes fixed on him with a laser-like before exploding into a ball of flame.
His heart raced, and a cold sweat broke across his brow. His breathing became labored, and his knees turned to rubber. A second later he was on the ground paralyzed by panic. His comrades rushed to his aid. Except for the simulated ghosts who could only continue to play out preprogrammed actions and responses.
“Get me out of here!” Ben screamed. “Get me out of here!”
The simulation was terminated, and the cameras were shut off. The delirious soldier threw the helmet against the wall. His thumping heart strained, and the blood rushed to his face. He ceased his chest and fell to the floor. He was dead in a matter of minutes. His memories vanished with him as did any alternate account of what happened in that lonely valley.