"Yes captain. The last effects of the exchange have finally worn off. He is ready for questioning."
"What environment have we placed him in? Is it one he will be comfortable with?"
"Of course sir. We have simulated an American courtroom from the late twentieth century, something we took from the broadcasts as part of their primitive legal system. He should be very familiar with the setting."
"Very well, allow me to speak with him."
"Sir, just remember that when confused and disorientated humans can be aggravated and violent."
"I will keep that in mind ensign."
Thomas shook his head, trying to clear the last of the cobwebs from his mind. He was in a courtroom that looked as though it had come directly out of a television show. Everything was familiar except for the constant, lingering sense of disbelief that gnawed in his thoughts like a dog on an old bone. A second ago he had been flying his X-3 right into the middle of the greatest space battle in recorded history. Now he was in an old courtroom the type of which hadn't been built in some thirty years. Even the American flag was outdated, with fifty stars instead of the usual fifty- five.
"What is your name?" The voice was loud and booming. It echoed around the empty courtroom like the voice of some unseen god. Thomas blinked nervously.
"What is your name?" The voice repeated the question with out any change in sound or emotional pitch. Thomas groped for words. "I am, uh, I am Lieutenant Richard Thomas of the United States Space Fleet."
"What is the United States Space Fleet?" asked the voice, again with no change in pitch or range.
"Who's asking?" inquired Thomas, getting to his feet shakily. The room was still empty except for himself.
"We are an ancient race of beings and are curious to learn about our neighbors. Now, what is the United States Space Fleet?"
"It's the group of bone white ships circling the planet Mars currently." Thomas' voice was shaky. There were no other beings in the heavens besides man. During the Fielding Administration scientists had conclusively denied that any presence of aliens in the universe existed. His mind raced for possible explanations, that the Eurasians had developed a new way of interrogating soldiers, or had built some super weapon. But none of it made sense when he thought them over in his mind. Still, he was determined to remain cautious.
"And these are the United States?"
"No, the United States is a confederation of different governments on Earth and Mars. The Space Fleet is the arm of the military that protects them against their enemies." Thomas paused for a moment and then spoke again. "Now, who are you?"
"As I have said already, we are an ancient race of peoples-"
"-Cut the bullshit already. There are no ancient races of peoples in the galaxy, only humans. Stop trying to trick information out of me and just interrogate me like any other prisoner. Give a good soldier at least that honor."
"You are a soldier? What is a soldier?" Confusion, the first emotion Thomas had been able to detect in the voice jarred him out of the anger that had momentarily possessed him. Being emotional would only play into the hands of his captors. He would have to reign in his feelings in order to safe guard any information that might be of use to them. "Technically I am a pilot, but I consider myself a soldier of the United States Military. A soldier is a person who is trained to fight and die for a particular government or, I suppose, an organization."
"Soldiers must fight and die for an organization?"
"Ooh, a quick learner," accidentally Thomas allowed sarcasm into his voice, he continued on, hoping the other would ignore the slip. "Yes. They are paid to fight and to die for an organization or government. I have pledged my allegiance to the United States and they pay me to fight for them."
"I do not understand this. Why must you fight?" Thomas frowned for a moment. What the hell were these people getting at? He rested his arm on one of the pews before answering. "Everybody must fight, it's the way of the world. Someone must defend the United States from her enemies and I have chosen to become one of those defenders."
"What are enemies?"
"Those who wish you harm or ill will." Thomas ambled over to the defendant's chair and sat down on the hard wooden seat. At least his captors had allowed him some freedom of movement.
"But who would wish you harm or ill will?" Thomas shook his head. At some point this was going to get annoying. In fact, he decided, it already had. How stupid were these people? "Other people, other governments, other nations or organizations. There are plenty of enemies on Earth."
"Is this what you are doing right now? Are you fighting with one another?" For the first time Thomas thought that maybe he really was dealing with people from another world, another galaxy out there in the heavens. "We call it war. Right now my nation and her allies are fighting a war with another alliance of nations. This is what is called a world war, a fight with thousands of peoples on many different worlds and continents. What you are seeing here is only one part of that war. On Earth there are armies, giant masses of soldiers, shooting and killing one another in an attempt to subdue the other nations." A large clear screen rolled down from the ceiling; it looked like a giant piece of glass. Thomas was staring at it when the screen suddenly flickered to life. Images he had only seen in history books were thrown onto the screen. There were cave paintings of warriors and Stone Age battles, etchings of Greek hopelites, of Egyptian and Persian archers. He saw statues of Roman Legions and tapestries of European knights. The images began to come more modern and came more rapidly. There were paintings of crusades and of early firearms, murals of Napoleonic battles and naval clashes from Alexander the Great to John Paul Jones. Finally came the photographs, the dead at Gettysburg, the dying at the Somme and the videos of Normandy and Hiroshima.
"What are you showing me?" asked Thomas as clips of German soldiers abusing prisoners flickered on, followed by the bombing campaign over Vietnam and the invasion of the Falklands.
"We have downloaded and compiled this from human media sources since first arriving in this area. Is this war?" Thomas heard the hint of sadness in the beings voice and felt a twinge of it himself as the screened filled with the images of the first interstellar war between the Chinese and the Allied Fleets and the thermonuclear warheads being used against the Chinese colonist ships heading for the far side of Mars. "Yes," he said softly. "This is war."