The travelling man stood at the window and stared out at the line of people. He wiped his hand across the grimy glass and sighed. The queue hadn’t moved at all since the night before, or it had grown longer. He couldn’t tell. The weather was only going to get colder as well, and while some of the people in the line had multiple layers of clothing on, there were more that didn't. Some didn't even have shoes.
He knew, intellectually, that their plight wasn't his fault; that they had been victims of others actions that he had no control over, but emotionally, he couldn't help but feel responsible. He frowned and stepped away from the window.
He stepped into a back room and peered through another, equally grimy, window and wondered which direction the people he was supposed to meet would come from. He suspected they would come out of the city, through the checkpoint, but they had been patrolling no man’s land lately, so he wasn’t about to be caught unaware.
Not that it ended up mattering, the two soldiers who eventually arrived made so much noise, he would have heard them from a mile away. He made sure he was sitting comfortably when they burst in the front door, sweeping their weapons across the room.
“Whoa, easy there fellas,” the travelling man said, holding his hands up in the universal gesture of ‘I’m not holding a weapon.’
“You’re alone!” one of the soldiers said. Said, rather than asked.
“As I said, I don't do groups these days. Just me.” The soldiers exchanged a look and sat down at the table across from the travelling man. “Well?” the travelling man asked. “Helmets?”
One of the soldiers sighed and unclipped the chinstrap and moved to pull the helmet off his head.
“Are you sure you should be doing that?” the other one asked.
“Just take it off,” he replied and put his helmet on the table.
“Oh,” the travelling man said in pleasant surprise. “I know you.”
“You know him?” the other soldier, one whom the travelling man did not recognise, asked in what was almost offended shock.
“Whatever it is that's going on out there,” came the reply, “it started long before you realise, and this guy was always there, trying to stop it. I don't trust him, but I will listen to him.”
“Thank you,” the travelling man said. “I'm not asking for your trust, at least, not completely. I hope to earn it, however.”
“Why should we listen to you?” the unfamiliar soldier asked. “After what happened last week.”
“Hey, man, that wasn’t me. I don’t roll with those guys anymore. Besides, I have an alibi, as your leaders already know. I was at your little summit.”
“And that,” the familiar soldier said, more to his colleague than to the travelling man, “is the only reason we are allowed to take this meeting.”
“Fantastic,” the travelling man said with a clap. “Shall we get to it then?”
“What is it you want?” the familiar soldier asked, visibly relaxing.
“Information, at least for now that's all I want.”
The travelling man paused. He knew this was a thin line to walk. Neither of these two would know what it was that he was after, but if he played his cards right in the next few days, someone higher up than them would get wind of what he wanted, and that was all he needed. He just needed to make sure these two were naive enough to talk about this back at their base.
“Please,” the unfamiliar soldier said impatiently after a moment, “do elaborate.”
“Something has happened in the city,” the travelling man said. “We all know it. But as I am stuck out here, I have no way of knowing what it was that happened. I would very much like to know because I fear it will involve me sooner rather than later.”
“You know we can’t tell you whats happening in the city,” the familiar soldier replied.
“Why would we anyway? You're not one of us.”
“I am trying to stop whatever is on the other side of no man’s land, same as you. It wasn't me who sent me out here, remember? We’re on the same team.”
“I'm not on any team you're on, you freak,” the unfamiliar soldier spat. “Come on, we’re done here.”
The two soldiers put their helmets on and left the building. The travelling man watched them walk back to the checkpoint through the same window. He, again, wondered if the line of people was even moving. A shivering and alone man, barely dressed at all tried to get the soldiers attention but all he received was the butt of the rifle to his chest. The travelling man couldn't tell which of the soldiers had done it.
There was nothing more he could do here. He had played his hand and now it was up to the whims of fate to play theirs. He laughed coldly and the irony of it all.
“Right then,” the travelling man said pulling his wallet from the back of his pants and pulling out a passport sized photo of himself. “Back home we go.”
He set the photo down on the table and touched it with his finger and was immediately sucked into it.