Aman walked hastily through the lobby of a crowded hotel. Without realizing, he entered the hotel’s casino wing. He turned to gauge the position of his pursuers and stumbled into a blackjack table. Regaining his footing, he looked up briefly and moved swiftly past the slot machines and card tables. Although the casino was hosting an unusually large night crowd, the man spotted his pursuers effortlessly. When he glanced back, two men were closing in on him from both sides of the coin slots. The four men were dressed in black-and-white army fatigue pants and black T-shirts. He was sure of their identities because of the clothing they wore.
The pants were held in place with black belts, each with a gold buckle bearing a symbol: one large star that took up the entire right half of the buckle, and three smaller planets of varying sizes in the shape of a triangle. The planets were on the top left of the star. The largest of the planets was bluish green with white clouds. The second, closest to the star, was blue and pink with white clouds. The third planet was the farthest from the star and red-orange. Under the planets were the letters R and T, to the right of the E.
The man increased his pace as he scanned the crowded room for another exit, spotting one leading directly to the parking lot. With fear in his eyes, he turned to see that he was still being chased. Suddenly, he stumbled and fell over a large decorative plant, a crystal cylinder falling out of his pocket and landing to the right of the plant.
A woman bent to help him up as she came in through the sliding-glass doors. “Oh my goodness, are you OK?” the woman asked, helping him to his feet.
“ Yes, thank you,” he said as he looked anxiously behind him for the location of the men following him. To his surprise, they turned and left the chase just as the woman’s friends also rushed to his side. Feeling safe for the moment, the man climbed to his feet, holding the woman’s hand. He quickly scanned the room again for his pursuers and smiled, seeing no one.
“Do you need any help?” the woman asked, her eyes darting everywhere as she searched for a casino attendant.
“No!” he responded, loudly enough to regain her attention. He then leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. He began to pull away, but suddenly grabbed the back of her head and pulled her closer for a more passionate kiss. The woman didn’t resist, but her eyes bulged in surprise to her own reaction.
“Thanks again,” the man said on his way out the door. Shocked and out of breath herself, the woman was speechless. She followed and watched the man run through the casino parking lot. Her friends joined her with equally shocked expressions as they looked on.
The man noticed two of the four men coming toward him from the rear of the parking lot. He stopped suddenly and took up a defensive stance, at which point he noticed the other two men coming toward him from the hotel’s front entrance, which was to the left of the parking lot. He ran directly for the two men in front of him at full speed.
One of the men behind him lifted his hand to speak into a walkie-talkie. “He’s charging,” the man said with amazed disbelief. The women reached the parking lot in time to see the man leap forward and bend at the waist just seconds before reaching two arms that threatened to clothesline him. As he rolled onto the ground, he grabbed the ankles of one man, pulling him down as well. Just before rolling onto his side in an effort to get up, he kneed the fallen man in the face, breaking his nose. The second man reached for him as he stood, but missed his opportunity, as he rolled to safety and got up.
The men faced each other, and the fight began. They both kicked and blocked at the same time, forcing their legs to touch with a force that might have sent a person on the receiving end of it ten feet back. The other two men quickly joined in the fight, but it was apparent that the stumbling kisser was capable of holding his own, as another man fell to the ground after being kneed in the chest and hit in the back of the head with a double fist. As the man leaped forward toward his third target, he was sideswiped by someone who knocked him onto the ground.
Others quickly surrounded them and placed the kisser under arrest. Both his hands and feet were bound behind his back with a set of oversized copper bracelets and anklets. There was a bridge between the cuffs connecting all four of them together, requiring his legs to be bound bent toward his hands. There were tiny, blue lights along the length of the bridge that connected the cuffs together. Once the man was secured, they placed him in the back of a SWAT truck and pulled away.
Small clusters of people gathered to watch the man being carried away. They all gasped at the scene and wondered what he had stolen. One of the woman’s friends looked at her and said, “Well, Jen, at least you gave him something to think about on those long, lonely nights locked away in a jail cell.”
“Shut up!” she replied a little too loudly, blushing red as the other women joined in with laughter.
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you guys drag me out tonight.”
“Well, you certainly wouldn’t have been able to make some weir- do’s night had ya stayed in, would ya?”
“Yeah, ’cause they’re all attracted to me, right?”
Again the women burst into laughter as they continued on into the casino.
“At least he was cute,” one said.
“I wonder what he did,” Jen continued, “and why the hell I kissed him back like that.”
“It’s just your body’s way of protesting,” another commented through laughter.
“Yes. If you gave in to simple pleasures more often, you wouldn’t have let him touch you like that, no matter how cute he was. I on the other hand may have,” she said with a smirk, and the women burst into laughter again. The ladies enjoyed each other’s company, laughing and joking through drinks and games, as Jen had provided plenty to discuss. A couple of hours later, Jen decided to leave the casino.
“Why?” a friend complained. “We’ll knock it off, won’t we, girls?” “Speak for yourself,” another added. “Little Miss Perfect deserves it.”
Jen sighed. “Come on, guys. You know I’ve got to get back on the road tomorrow, and I’m not feeling so good right now...” The ladies looked questioningly among themselves before turning toward Jen with calm faces so fast that she almost imagined the brief exchange.
“You know you should have flown,” one of the women complained, cutting her off.
“I know. I just get so sick the moment I get on a plane that it’s not worth it.”
“Don’t worry, Jen,” the woman who’d called her Miss Perfect said. “I’ve got to hit the sack too. Long day tomorrow. The day before the concert is always the worst. Come on. You can give me a ride.”
The two wished their friends a goodnight and retired for the evening. As time continued forward, another woman left, and only three of the original six women remained in the casino.
The short drive with her friend was not enough to make Jen feel any better, so she headed for the shower when they walked through the door. As she wiped the mirror clear of condensation and examined her reflection, Jen sighed and pulled her toothbrush out of the bag. She brushed her teeth quickly and, once finished, wiped her mouth and reexamined her reflection. Meeting her own eyes, Jen moved closer to the mirror, frowning. For some reason, her eyes seemed brighter around the pupils. Jen blinked several times as a response to the sudden blurriness she experienced. Exhausted, she shook her head as her vision returned. “I’ve got to get more sleep.”
Donning her nightgown, Jen made her way to bed, turned out the light, and climbed in contently. Sleep found her quickly.
Standing in the driveway of a large suburban home, Jen looked around, confused. Where am I, she wondered. I’ve never been here before. The sur- rounding homes were all brick. “Suburbia...what the hell.”
Jen took a step toward the house and was suddenly standing in the master bedroom, watching a couple kiss. She closed her eyes tightly, wondering how she got here and hoped they did not see her. Abruptly she opened her eyes at the sound of voices.
“Have a good day,” the woman said, walking past Jen without acknowledging her presence.
Jen now realized that she was dreaming and followed the woman to the front door. She watched her get into a car and drive away. Jen’s curiosity was fueled only by the fact that the woman was wearing a US Air Force uniform. She lifted her foot in an effort to follow her further, but was interrupted by the sound of voices coming from the bedroom. Lowering her foot, she turned to walk back into the bedroom, but found that she was suddenly standing in the master bathroom right behind the man. She was confused. He was watching a group of people in the mirror. Jen squinted, looking into the mirror. No, she thought, not in the mirror. They’re on the other side of the mirror. Jen raised her eyebrows and stepped closer. She suddenly froze as she really got a good look at the people. Before she could find her voice, one spoke.
“What knowledge have we gained so far?” a feminine voice asked. The males on the other side of the mirror appeared to be aged with long, white hair flowing down their backs, some even touching the floor. Simple white bands were wrapped around their heads. The backs of the bands appeared to be braided into several strands of hair that flowed down to the floor. The women too had long, flowing, white hair that appeared to touch the ground; however, their fore- heads were adorned with intricate strands of braided hair. The braids connected to the sides of their temples and then flowed freely from there.
All of the individuals had eyelashes but no eyebrows. Their eyelashes were the same shade of white as their hair. On the sides of their faces where ears would normally be, there were several rows of arched bands that encircled a triangular shape that appeared to have no entry or exit point. Their eye colors varied in shades of brown, from zinnwaldite to fallow. The bridges of their noses were covered in several tiny layers of miniature scales. The skin on their faces was varying shades of tea green, with lips that were a darker moss green. Their skin resembled the texture of a morning-glory- flower.
“To date,” one of the males said, momentarily bringing Jen out of her examination of them, “we know that Earth holds a molecular structure similar to our own.” He pressed his hand on the table in front of him, and an image of Earth appeared along with an earthlike planet Jen had never seen before.
“The protective layer around it,” the man continued as he gestured to the magnetic field around the planet, “provides adequate safety for its resources. Additionally, the behavior of its star suggests that this planet is safe from implosion for perhaps another several thousand epochy. With the information Vishnu has provided, we have an accurate composite of the natives’ military behavioral patterns. Combined with what we have already discovered through informants placed on this planet, I would say we are victorious well before the battle commences.” Pleased with himself, the male sat back, smiling.
Jen was surprised by the form this dream had taken. She stepped closer to the mirror to see the others better, but stopped short and gasped when she saw the features of the man sitting in front of her. He was the strange man that had kissed her in the casino earlier tonight. Gasping, she woke, sitting up swiftly and examining her surroundings.
“You OK?” a familiar voice asked. “Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.”
Jen recognized the voice of her friend Cara Johnson. She was just getting into bed and was wearing a pink-and-white tank top with matching pajama pants.
“Yeah, I’m OK.” Jen shook her head. “You didn’t wake me. I just had a...dream.”
“Oh, you wanna talk about it?”
“No,” Jen replied as she got out of bed. She walked out of the room, heading for the kitchen. What the hell was that about? she wondered while gulping down a glass of water. I didn’t understand any of it. The only thing I can figure is that somehow the man from that casino is involved with this. But
that can’t be—I don’t even know him. She visited the lavatory once more before returning to bed. Moments after she closed her eyes, dreams overcame her.
Jen found herself flying over a vast body of water. The light from a not- too-distant star reflected her image off the water’s surface. Looking past her reflection, she could see movement beneath the surface. Several gray-and-white clusters were moving in unison with her. Curious, she looked closer and saw a school of creatures that had an almost disk-like shape with tree-limb patterns sticking out of the rounded middle. The animals reminded her of jellyfish, but she’d never seen jellyfish move this way. They were moving in a circular motion, almost like saucers flying underwater. The closer she got to them, the closer they seemed to get to her, until suddenly several jumped at her.
Jen moved back swiftly, barely missing the creatures’ advances as their attempts continued. She suddenly found herself on the beach, gasping. It didn’t take long for her to notice her surroundings. The sand was Nassau blue. There were vast hills as far as she could see, and the trees were a mixture of green, white, and blue. Their limbs all pointed upward with blossoms that reminded her of broccoli. The planet was close enough to its star that Jen felt like she could reach out and touch it. Strangely, she did not feel like she was in an inferno. The temperature was comfortable, but she noticed goose bumps on her arms as the wind blew.
Taking a step further to investigate her surroundings, Jen found herself at the base of one of the far hills. There were voices coming from the top of it. Looking in that direction, she noticed two people... Wait, not people. They’re different. They looked like the individuals she’d seen in the mirror. Suddenly, Jen realized she could get as close to them as she wanted without them noticing her, so she took a step closer and was directly across from them, watching as they looked down at something.
They both had long, white hair, but it was held away from their faces. The female had a crown of braids that hung from her hair onto her forehead. It almost covered her eyes. Both were wearing black pants that covered the heels of their shoes, and matching jackets that covered only the top half of their arms. The jackets were held closed by several golden wires and polished jade stones. There was little difference between the designs. Both individuals were covered from head to toe in blue, as they had been digging in the dirt. Directly at their feet sat a large, cylinder-shaped, silver contraption that had a white glow coming from its core.
“It needs to be replaced, Skyke,” the male said. “That makes seventeen all together.” He looked out over the hillside. “If they are not replaced soon, it will mean a loss of two centimeters. It’s hard enough to keep these running. We may not have time to post anymore if the rate of consumption persists.”
“I know, Madafski.”
“We have to inform the council. Our increased demand is pushing the current resources beyond their capacity, even with farming twenty- four planets.”
“We may have to consider the possibility of—”
“No,” Skyke cut him off. “We cannot abandon our home, not until we have completely lost the battle. We will just have to keep farming until we find a suitable replacement to run the generators.”
“OK, then what do you propose we tell them?”
Skyke sighed. “The truth. But we’ll have to make them see the im- portance of finding a more suitable replacement.”
“I’ve heard news that scouts just found a deposit of detritus on Oororah-9.”
Jen woke with sweat-drenched pajamas. Getting her breathing under control, she decided that she’d had enough rest for one night. She immediately got up and gathered her things together. It took several trips, but she soon had everything neatly packed in the trunk of her car. When she returned to get dressed, Cara was awake.
“Is everything all right, Jen?”
“Yes.” After a long moment, she explained. “I’m just having a hard time sleeping tonight. I’m gonna get on the road. Maybe I’ll get back in time to catch that frat party Zackary has been going on about.”
“You don’t have to go, Jen. Your dreams won’t scare me off.”
Jen smiled and looked at her friend. “I know, Cara...it’s just...these dreams make no sense to me, and I have no idea what they mean. I’m sure they’re important, but I just don’t know how, and I’m convinced that I’ll have another one the minute I close my eyes.”
“Why don’t you tell me about them? Maybe I can help.”
“Remember the dream I had about your parents when we were in high school?”
Cara nodded, remembering the warning Jen gave—that her parents were going to win the lottery and meet with an unfortunate accident two weeks later while the family was on its way to a vacation in Fiji. When they’d actually won, Cara claimed to be sick and convinced her parents to stay home with her rather than taking the planned trip. On the day of their scheduled flight, the plane was hit on takeoff by another trying to land. Investigators said the weather had made visibility difficult.
“Yeah?” Cara raised an eyebrow.
“Well, it’s not like that. I feel like it’s important, but I just can’t see how. I’ve been dreaming about an alien world, and that guy we thought was crazy just might be from there.” Cara’s eyes bulged as she suppressed a laugh, but she could not help smiling slightly. “See?”
Cara breathed deeply. “It’s not that I don’t believe you. It just sounds a bit...off, that’s all. I mean, aliens, Jen. Come on...maybe your dreams are a bit off because you’re exhausted. You’ve been having long days since you got here, and driving all the way here was a big factor.”
“I know it sounds crazy, Cara, but I feel like they’re important somehow.” She shook her head. “I just have to get going, Cara. It’s not too early for me to get on the road, and I couldn’t sleep a wink, even if I tried.” She shrugged.
“All right, but I want you to be careful. I couldn’t forgive myself if something happened to you.”
“I know. I’ll be careful.”
Cara walked her friend to her red Honda. Yawning, she hugged Jen and said good-bye. Jen smiled. “Get some sleep.”
“The minute you’re out of sight.”
They hugged again, and Jen started her long drive back to Florida.
The SWAT truck pulled up to a remote area in the desert. The door opened, and the bound man was carried into the facility with an individual holding each of his limbs. With lowered brows, he noticed where he was. The building appeared to be a warehouse from the outside. It was nestled deep in the hillside and taller than any factory he’d ever seen. There were six floors and more tiny windows than any one place should have. As he was pulled into the building, he noticed that they were one-way viewers, and from this side, it appeared as a wall of glass.
When all the men were inside, they shuffled him down a long hallway to the right of the main entrance. This hallway had several small rooms, each with a tiny window of its own and a keypad entry. At the end of the hall, he was carried through a set of double doors. This portion of the building looked more like a research facility and also had several smaller rooms. The man was pulled into one of them just a short distance from the entrance and placed into a large metal chair, where his binds were removed.
He was swiftly cuffed to the chair, his hands and feet immobilized. The chair was in the middle of the room. A woman covered from head to toe in white scrubs approached the man and turned on a digital handheld device that beeped and flashed red. The device was quickly passed over the man’s head and chest, but it did not change in size or color. Puzzled, the examiner reviewed his entire body, stopping at the man’s neck when the machine gave off a constant beeping sound while flashing yellow. The examiner called for the authorities who were chatting outside of the door.
“What’s the problem?” they asked with surprised expressions.
“It’s not here,” she replied, confused.
“Impossible,” a man said in a deep, raspy voice as he entered the room. “I scanned him myself, just before he entered the casino.” “Locknoff!” the bound man screamed angrily, shaking the chair as his fists rumbled in anger.
“You must return for it,” the woman said, interrupting him.
“There’s no time to lose.”
Locknoff looked at the man bound in the chair with pitying eyes.
“You left me no choice, brother. Taren, I am sorry for your suffering.” He then swiftly walked toward the door with several other men following close behind. As they reached the doorway, the woman asked, “Where is the scan of the woman? Without the orb, that will be our
best starting point.”
Locknoff turned and responded coldly as he looked at Taren. “An adequate scan was not possible. The orb is our only chance now.”
The woman’s brows lowered, but she said nothing. Locknoff and the others walked out of the door, and the woman walked over to Taren and took a vial of his blood. She handed it to an assistant. “Scan it. I
want to be thorough.” The assistant nodded and took the blood away.
Locknoff walked into the security screening office and looked around. It was stocked with so much high-tech equipment that it could protect
a small bank, rather than a hotel. At his side were two other men from the capture team. One had a bandage under his eye, decorated by a purplish-blue bruise. A security officer directed them all to a monitor without saying a word. He loaded the entire evening’s security foot- age, and Locknoff directed him to begin at the point when Taren had entered the casino. They watched Taren’s actions up to when they saw him stumble over the plant. When they spotted the cylinder, Locknoff ordered the security officer to pause the tape.
“There!” he said a bit too loudly while pointing at the screen. “Where is that?”
“Near the parking entrance of the casino,” the security officer replied. Locknoff hurried out of the office with the other men close behind him. As they entered the casino, people started to stare and whisper at the sight of the bandaged man. Two of Jen’s friends noticed them and started laughing. The men ignored the whispers and snickers as they headed directly for the plant. It did not take long for them to find the cylinder. When they did, however, they quickly noticed that its contents had been removed.
Locknoff growled loudly and clinched his fist around the cylinder. Suddenly his cell phone rang. “Taren has chosen to make this more difficult,” he said through clenched teeth while grabbing the cell phone from his pocket and checking the number. “Return to the security tapes—we must have missed something. Find whomever he’s touched.”
The men hurried toward the security office as Locknoff answered the phone. “Yes Sariah,” he answered angrily.
“We may have a problem,” a feminine voice replied. “It looks like Taren has given the orb to one of the casino guests. A young lady who is one of a group.”
“We will find her,” Locknoff replied impatiently.
“Hurry,” Sariah replied, “there’s no time to lose.”
“Would you like to do my job, Sariah?” Locknoff growled.
“I’m sorry. I—”
“I can handle my responsibility,” Locknoff interrupted. “Just be
sure you’re ready when we get back. The council is waiting for an update.” Locknoff shut the phone without waiting for her response. He then hurried back to the security office.
As he entered the secured area, Locknoff noticed that his partners were shaking hands with the security officer. They had several papers in their hands and were headed toward the exit. He waited patiently for their reunion, knowing some progress had been made. Locknoff was handed the papers a short distance from the door, and the three men walked out together. They stopped just shy of the lobby and began discussing the photos on the pages Locknoff now held. The first was of a woman with ash-brown hair that flowed just past her shoulders; she had royal-blue eyes and cheeks the color of pink rose petals. As Locknoff reviewed it, one partner pointed at the photo and said, “This is the woman Taren kissed, and the others were traveling with her. Three of them are still in the casino.”
Locknoff looked briefly at the other five photos. Three of the women had dark-brown hair and brown eyes, one had black hair and brown eyes, and the other had green eyes and jet-black hair. He returned to the first photo and stopped, looking over it once more, and then headed for the lobby. The other men followed quickly after him, saying nothing.
When he reached the front desk, Locknoff asked to see the manager after placing the stack of photos on the desk. The attendant quickly called the manager and stepped slightly to the right to help the next customer in line. The moment the manager saw Locknoff and the others, she directed them to follow her. Locknoff grabbed the pages and complied.
“How can I be of assistance, Locknoff?” she asked once inside her office. “Please sit.” She gestured to a couple of chairs on the other side of the desk as she took her seat. Locknoff handed her the photos.
“We need to find them.”
“Certainly. Let me check the guest log.” The manager turned to her computer and compared the photos against the guest log. She recognized only one of the six women and explained while printing off an information page.
“This young lady,” she said, holding up a photo of the woman with jet-black hair and green eyes, “is Emily Townsman. Her license is registered in Los Angeles, California. Her hotel registration was part of a flight and hotel package online.” The woman pulled a sheet of paper from the printer. “Her address is 3300 Overland University Drive, Los Angeles, California, 95151. She is registered as a guest here until noon tomorrow. Her room number is 417. As far as the other women...” She stopped, holding one of the photos. She turned it around to show a woman with brown hair and eyes and pointed to the printed line of information at the bottom of the page. “This one is Cara Johnson. Her license is registered here in New Mexico. The address is a short distance from here. The rest of them are not in our database.”
Locknoff took the photos and printed information away from the manager and said, “Thank you, Feleet. You’ve been more than helpful.” “You’re very welcome, Locknoff. Please let me know if you need anything else.”
Locknoff and the others stood to exit the room. “Call me the moment Emily Townsman returns to her room.”
“What now?” the bandaged man asked as they headed for the car. “The council will decide, but I have a feeling we will be on recovery tonight.”
Locknoff used the drive back to consider the day’s events.