The driver of the utility truck had received his load from the larger supply truck and was making his way over the rough road back toward their camp. Franklin had time to watch for awhile to ensure the truck got out into open territory before breaking down his nest. It didn’t take that long, but his aging body didn’t appreciate any attempts to hurry down from the bluff, nor to that longish hike down to the road with the load of equipment.
He set his gear in the back of the truck, but kept the pulse rifle in his hands. Climbing into the passenger side, he settled into the front seat. The driver was the chief’s second and senior technician, Joe. He was the only one on the team that insisted on clipping off the end of Franklin’s name.
“Frank, how do you do it? I know you aren’t like those snipers with no soul, the guys who kill for the fun of it. You’re friendly. You have a heart, like with that little boy the other day. How do you manage to shoot women and children without going nuts the way so many contract snipers do?”
Franklin didn’t interrupt his scanning of the terrain to say, “I don’t suffer much from Western social mythology.”
Joe grinned. “There you go again, sounding like a philosopher. I know you aren’t the average guy from back home, but you always seem to keep a lot of yourself back. I mean… You don’t hide your background. I know your wife left you and stuff like that, but even after three months of sleeping in the same space, I feel like I don’t even know you.”
Franklin glanced at him with a half-smile, then resumed his watchful scanning for threats as they trundled along the bad road, their bodies jolting now and then inside the cab of the truck. “I live in the same society as you do, and I understand it well, but I don’t belong to it.”
Joe craned to see over the hood of the truck some visual obstacle in the road, then sank back down and shook his head. He stopped, twisted in the seat and reversed the truck, and then turned back to take a different path forward. His face showed a genuine curiosity as he turned again and asked, “Where do you belong? Is it like another country or something?”
“Another world,” Franklin said absently.
Joe was silent for a moment. “You’ll have to explain what you mean by that.”
Franklin gave that half-grin again. “I’m part of a parallel society. It’s not based on geographical location, but internal orientation. We share an added component that affects everything we do, though it’s usually subtle. For us it holds the typical chaotic human nature together, provides an internal sense of order, and helps us make sense of this crazy world.”
“Sort of like a religion?” Joe offered. “I’ve seen you do stuff that looks like prayer rituals.”
“It includes religion, but the religion is an effect of, not the source of, the difference. My religion is my own personal thing, but it points back to something everyone in our society shares.” Franklin was never what anyone would call “animated,” but something in his demeanor seemed more relaxed, as if he were in total command of the situation.
Joe mulled that over for awhile. Jokingly he said, “You make it sound like you and your friends have been taken over by aliens.” Then he added, “I’m educated enough to know you are referring to a different world view, but I wonder if you could sum it up before we get back to the camp.”
Franklin never seemed to lose track of the task at hand, scanning with his eyes. “Maybe I can get across the single key element,” he said, then took a deep breath.