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Boom Boom Kitty

 

Boom Boom Kitty

G. S. Monks

August 10, 2009, 10:30 AM Central Time Zone, GMT

3 Miles Northeast of Anaheim, Saskatchewan, Canada

Helmut Muller, retired farmer, aged 67, sopped up the last of the yolk from his plate with his last triangle of toast, just as he had done every morning since his retirement, rinsed his dirty dishes, set them in the rack, poured himself a cup of coffee, then joined his wife, Edna, at the picnic table on the rear patio. A dry, cool breeze was blowing in from the west; high, thin cloud streaked the pale blue sky, giving it a greyish cast. The hay fields surrounding the old farmhouse undulated in the wild, untamed wind like green ocean waves. It was as typical and usual a day as could be imagined.

At the end of the picnic table, the portable twelve-inch television-set blared. Edna, who was quite deaf, leaned toward the set in rapt attention, caught up in the trite, contrived doings of soap-opera actors pretending they weren’t bored to tears with the tired drivel that passed for a script. Helmut read his morning paper, oblivious, but paused now and then to sip his coffee, or pat the head of his old yellow dog with gruff affection.

When asked about it later, he claimed that it was either the whine of his dog or his wife fidgeting with the television that first caught his attention- he couldn’t remember which.

‘What is it, boy? What’s buggin’ ya? Eh?’

He winced as Edna slapped the plastic box of the television, hard. He had told her many times that smacking the set would not help with bad reception. If anything, it would serve only to knock something in its electronic innards loose.

‘Damned thing always picks the worst time to go all cockamamy,’ Edna griped. ‘See if you can fix this thing, will you . . .’ the expression on her husband’s face stopped her. Both he and the dog were staring skyward. To the south of them, high in the sky, was a brilliant fireball, from which emanated a deep rumbling. Edna stared, trying to make sense of what she saw. ‘Is that a plane in trouble, d’you think? You don’t think it’ll hit the house, do you?’ Then, after a few moments, ‘I think it’s coming this way. D’you think it’s coming this way? Maybe we should get in the car . . .’

‘I think maybe you’re right,’ Helmut said, getting to his feet. ‘You go and get in the car. Take Tippy with you.’

‘Where’re you going?’

For an elderly man, he was still very spry, attesting to the years of labour he’d put into the family farm. ‘Can’t drive without keys,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘Nor without the cat.’

As he entered the dimness of the house, he was struck by an ominous feeling. There was no sign of the cat. It took him a moment to realise what the ominous feeling was- the moment he went back outside, the reason for it seemed everywhere. The low rumbling had become a prolonged peal of thunder. The air shook. The ground shook. The portable television set fell onto the concrete patio with a dull crash, followed by his coffee cup. Everything was beginning to look peculiar. It was then that he noticed that he had two shadows, one from the sun, one from . . .

‘Dear God Almighty!’

The falling object was now become a blinding ball of light that seemed to fill the lower southern sky. Fighting panic, he fumbled his way to the driveway and got in the car. He wife was watching him, wide-eyed. The dog was hunkered down on the floor, whining, trembling with fear.

He put the key in the ignition, turned it-

-nothing.

He turned the key back and forth a few times, watching the dials on the dash. They didn’t move. He switched on the radio. Again, nothing.

The noise outside had risen to a deafening, ear-splitting crescendo. The light was now so bright that they could feel their exposed skin burning.

And then, something massive passed between them and the sun, something impossibly huge that seemed to plunge to earth, just over their heads, though the illusion of proximity was wrought by the incredible size of the thing. At the same instant there came a new sound, like that of ten thousand jet engines screaming.

The elderly couple gaped as the object seemed to slow just before it hit. Abruptly, a black cloud erupted from the earth, followed by a heart-stopping concussion as the blast-wave reached them. And then, but for the black cloud, there was silence, and only one sun once more.

August 10, 2009, 10:47 AM Central Time Zone, GMT

Northern Outskirts, Anaheim, Saskatchewan, Canada

After spending seventeen minutes in blackness, trying to fumble the lock of the cellar open, Jack Moore kicked the door open with a curse and began climbing the stairs. Everything had gone dark the instant his house was shaken by an explosion. Several things were running through his mind. Was it a terrorist attack? Did someone drop a bomb on us? Was it the Americans? Was there an explosion at the plant?

When he got outside, everything was in an uproar. His neighbours were all outside, staring towards the northeast where a black column of smoke arose. The teenaged son of his neighbours, Jason Whyte, was piling into a pickup full of his friends. ‘The space shuttle’s gone down!’ David yelled to him excitedly. ‘We’re going to go see where it hit.’

Jack frowned. ‘The space shuttle landed two days ago, didn’t it?’

‘Well, maybe the space station crashed, then.’

‘Sure it wasn’t a meteorite? Or a plane or something?’

‘It was big!’ Jason told him.

Jack felt his innards curdle. ‘How big? You mean, really big, like a jetliner? The shuttlecraft is pretty small, about the size of a small jet.’

That gave Jason pause. He knew that Jack would know about such things, because he had been to the States and seen the shuttles take off. ‘This was really big.’ The implications seem to hit home, then, and the looks on the young men’s faces changed from excited to grim. ‘We saw it go down. There was a big explosion. If it was a big jet . . .’

Jack nodded into the young man’s sick expression. ‘Then a lot of people are dead out there.’ He appraised the young men, who examined this thought morosely. ‘Still want to have a look?’

Jason looked up at him, and this time there was a more mature look of resolve in his eyes. ‘If there’s survivors, they’re going to need help.’

‘Then you’d better load up on blankets, water, food, a first-aid kit if you’ve got it. Anything else you can think of that might come in handy.’

The young man appraised him. ‘Are you coming?’

Jack thought a moment, then, ‘Your friends are overloaded as it is. Maybe you should come with me. I’ve got some fire extinguishers . . .’

Even though the line of pickup trucks was speeding, raising a white cloud of dust on the unpaved grid-road, they slowed to allow the line of fire trucks pass on their left, sirens screaming. Jack brought them to a stop as they came to an intersection, and got out to take a look at the column of black smoke, that now rose high into the air.

‘We’re going to have to turn left here, then right after a few miles-’ He stopped as Jason tugged on his sleeve, pointing. From the south were coming a line of aircraft, all of them black. ‘Jeez! Those are army planes.’

Within seconds a line of jets roared overhead in the direction of the black cloud. As their thunder receded, the air was filled with the thump of helicopter blades. The occupants of the trucks paused to watch the progress of the helicopters. A flicker on the horizon caught their attention then.

‘Look at all the emergency lights!’ Jason exclaimed. ‘It must be really bad.’

‘Let’s get going,’ Jack told him. They got back in their trucks and got back under way once more, this time with as much speed as they could safely manage.

August 10, 2009, 1:01 PM Central Time Zone, GMT

Crash Site, Greenwater Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan, Canada

Though it was dispersing, the black cloud now darkened the air to the furthest extent of their visibility. Now and then Jack turned on the wipers to clear black grit off the windshield. The air smelt of fire and brimstone. As the little convoy crested each rise and looked down into each new low-lying area, they expected to have come in sight of the wreckage, but as before their goal was still in the distance.

‘Looks like everyone has the same idea,’ Jason commented. The traffic had become heavy. They were passing through the town of Porcupine Plain, which was experiencing its worst traffic jam in living memory.

‘We’ll be running out of road, soon,’ Jack told him pointedly. ‘I hope the crash site isn’t someplace too inaccessible. That’s Greenwater up ahead.’

Jason groaned. Parts of Greenwater Lake Provincial Park were densely forested. ‘Or worse. Maybe they ended up in Marean Lake!’

They crested the hill, fully expecting to see the crash site still in the distance, when Jack was forced to come to a stop. The traffic was no longer moving. The road was blocked with traffic. People were milling about, some of them running on ahead. To either side lay dense forest. Directly ahead, a thin column of black smoke writhed. Somewhere just ahead, something was burning.

‘Looks like we’re here,’ Jack said carefully. The two of them sat for some time, watching. Every now and then, emergency vehicles came barrelling by, pulling right off the shoulder and crashing right through the brambles and brush lining the sides of the dirt road. Jack had just opened the door, but pulled it shut again when a line of heavy camouflage-painted vehicles came trundling up the road.

‘Look,’ Jason pointed. In the back of the trucks were soldiers, each of them holding a rife.

Jack was beginning to feel uneasy. Turning to the younger man, he sensed that Jason felt something akin to his own unease. At last, Jason spoke. ‘Is it just me, or does it seem odd that they would bring guns to a plane crash?’

‘I was just thinking the same thing.’

‘Look at the way the trees are bent over,’ Jason breathed. ‘They’re all leaning in the same direction . . . I thought it was just a few, maybe, but look on ahead . . . it just keeps on going-’

‘Like they were all flattened by a huge blast,’ Jack finished for him.

There was a tap at the window. The others had left their vehicles, and were prepared to move on up the road. A young man Jason’s age said, ‘You guys coming or what?’

‘I think,’ Jack told him, ‘that we should maybe stick together, and just have a look-’

They all scuttled off the road between the vehicles and onto the shoulder as a line of firetrucks hooted, honked and blared their way through. Jack frowned at the sight of them.

‘That’s impossible,’ he muttered. To the question in the young men’s eyes, he said, ‘Did any of you see where those trucks were from?’

‘Yeah, it said “Saskatoon” right on them,’ one of the young men said, stating the obvious.

‘So how the hell did they get here so fast?’ Jack demanded. ‘And how the hell did all those army trucks drive all the way here from Dundern in such a short time? They must’ve known ahead of time.’

Unconcerned, the younger men had become impatient and were moving off up the road. Jack began to follow, but kept his distance, thinking. Jason hesitated, watching his friends go, then fell into step beside him.

‘So, what do you think, Mr Moore?’

Jack gave him a look. Jason hadn’t called him Mr Moore since he was a kid, a sure sign that he was afraid.

‘I think,’ Jack told him succinctly, ‘that the closer we get, the less enthusiastic I feel about this.’

‘What do you think is up there, then?’

‘Something that made the army show up with guns,’ Jack told him pointedly. He stopped, bringing Jason to a halt beside him. ‘Look, Jason, I want you to promise me something.’

The younger man swallowed and said nothing as he waited for Jack to continue.

‘If I say “run”, then we run. Okay?’

Jason took a look up the road, reluctance showing plainly in every line of his frame. ‘You still think we should have a look?’

Jack sighed. ‘Well . . . I don’t see why not. I don’t see any roadblocks, or any sign of the police or the army turning people away. I think based on that that it’s safe enough.’ He shifted his gaze to the flattened, blasted trees. ‘I think what’s going on here has probably already happened.’ But he found that his sense of unease was still there.

August 10, 2009, 2:03 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT,

Marean Lake area, Greenwood Lake Provincial Park

Jack and Jason slowed their pace as the trickle of people began bunching up.

‘Looks like there’s quite a crowd here already,’ Jason commented. He was about to speak again, but the look on Jack’s face stopped him. ‘What-?’

Grabbing the front of his jacket, Jack pointed, mutely. There, looming high overhead above the treetops, rose the massive tail of some sort of aircraft.

‘That is one big jet,’ Jason said in awe.

Jack looked at him as though he had three heads. ‘Jet? You think that’s a jet plane?’

‘Well . . . yeah. I mean, what else could it be?’

‘Jason, whatever that thing is, it’s at least ten storeys tall!’

The younger man stared his incomprehension. ‘So?’

‘So the tails of jets do not come ten storeys tall! With a tail that big, the rest of that thing . . . my God!’ At once, a compulsion seized him and he surged forward, broke into a trot.

They hadn’t gone a hundred feet when the air was shattered with the roar of military jets passing low overhead.

‘Those are US planes,’ Jason breathed. ‘What the hell are they doing here?’

‘I think we’re about to find out,’ Jack told him. Fifty feet ahead the forest came to an abrupt end. People milled about there, held back by police. Beyond these throngs were emergency vehicles, their emergency lights flashing. Firetrucks were at work, hosing down something the forest concealed to their right. Working their way left, sidling past the onlookers, at last the two found themselves able to see.

‘That’s not a regular plane,’ Jack muttered as he gazed along the length of the fuselage. ‘Nobody makes a plane almost a quarter mile long.’

‘Looks broken in a couple of places,’ Jason observed.

‘Wings that short,’ Jack muttered to himself, ‘are only good for supersonic flight. But there aren’t any engines. This just doesn’t make sense.’

‘Hey look!’ Jason said, pointing to a knot of emergency vehicles that were gathered on the far side of the vehicle. ‘Maybe there’s survivors.’

Jack assessed the crowd control situation, judged that the cops were preoccupied, took Jason by the sleeve, and began moving to the left so that they could get a look at what the emergency vehicles were up to. They passed through the shadow of the massive tail section to the other side. Emboldened by not having been challenged, Jack decided to move in for a closer look.

As they drew near, they could see that at one point, some distance along the fuselage, a man in coveralls was attempting to cut through the metal with a cutting torch. At least a hundred soldiers stood ready behind him, guns at the ready.

‘Jack?’

He felt something akin to relief when the man lifted his welding face-shield and shook his head. Apparently the cutting torch couldn’t contend with whatever the fuselage was made of.

‘Jack?’

He noticed, too, that the soldiers standing ready seemed to slump in relief, or relax, or both.

‘Jack!’ Jason persisted, grabbing him by the sleeve to get his attention, ‘look!’

There, on the ground not twenty feet away, lay a number of bodies that appeared to have been ejected from the fuselage when the huge craft crashed. But that’s not what had their attention.

The bodies at first glance appeared to be human, but something about the features was off. ‘Stay here,’ Jack ordered as he moved to investigate. Jason’s presence at his shoulder told him that the boy had ignored his order. Fine, he told himself. The kid’s old enough to see this.

Jack knelt by the nearest bodies, of what appeared to be two young women. The eyes and mouth of the one nearest were slightly open.

‘They look like glass,’ Jason said, staring at the death-transfixed eyes. ‘I mean, they look like our eyes, except they look like coloured glass. Look, you can sort of see right into them . . . then again, maybe you can’t. It just looks like you can.’

‘Her teeth, too,’ Jack said, pulling down the lower lip to expose too-perfect-looking white teeth that looked almost to be made of milky-coloured glass. He frowned.

‘I wonder if they’re maybe robots, or androids, or something,’ Jason speculated.

‘Androids and robots don’t bleed,’ Jack said distractedly as he examined a cut on the young female’s head. ‘Looks sort of like blood . . . except it’s too orange. The hair looks funny too. Look at the pattern of the hair-line.’

‘Look how thick her hairs are !’ Jason blurted, arraying a handful of strands over his palm. ‘They look like thread- JEEZ!’

Jason startled like he was shot as a hand closed on his wrist.

The alien female was still alive.

August 10, 2009, 2:37 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Crash Site

It was not like observing her getting to her feet. To Jack and Jason alike it was as though she were a dead thing come unnaturally to life, an inhuman thing like a doll that was suddenly, impossibly, alive and breathing.

Jack had to fight the urge to strike it down again, so violently did something in him recoil in fear and disgust. He was struck at once with a visceral loathing, an instinctive desire to kill a thing so unnatural.

But then, in the back of his mind, it occurred to him that this a living being, not a thing, that his reaction was primitive and ugly, a throwback to a time when anyone or anything not clan was the enemy.

The creature looked from one of them to the other, slowly, as though trying to make sense of what it saw. It raised its eyes to the downed craft, saw the soldiers, saw the growing crowd of onlookers.

A small sound got all their attention. The alien creature knelt down to the still form lying on the ground. It, too, was coming back to life. Within moments, both of them were standing, scanning the their surroundings. They took a long look at the others that had been ejected from the downed craft, but Jack knew with a leaden feeling in the pit of his belly that they were indeed dead.

The creature that had first awakened took its companion by the arm. And then, the two began backing away.

Jack reached out and took the nearest creature by the arm, forceful enough to hold her, gentle enough, he hoped, that she would not think that he meant to harm her.

The creature pulled free and the two of them began running, though unsteadily. Jack hesitated a moment, then decided to give chase.

The two didn’t get far. The short distance was ringed with people. They came to a stop, looking about like trapped animals for a means to escape.

Jack and Jason caught up with the pair, and began considering the situation.

‘I think we should try getting them out of here,’ Jason said in a low voice. ‘Someone might hurt them.’

Jack stared at him as though questioning his sanity. ‘Get them out of here? And then what? Who’s going to look after them? You? Where? How? With what? What are you going to feed them? Our food might be poisonous to them.’

‘You’ve got a house,’ Jason told him. ‘You can keep them there. Look, they can breathe our air. I’ll be they can eat our food, too.’

‘If you or I got caught . . . I don’t think you realise just how much trouble we’d be in.’

‘So, what, we just hand them over to the military? You’re the one who’s always saying they’re a bunch of paranoid freaks. I’m afraid they’ll hurt them, or kill them.’

‘They need to be with their people,’ Jack told him reasonably.

‘And what if their people are all dead?’ Jason said, watching his reaction carefully. ‘They’ll probably do things to them, like they’re just animals, or an experiment!’

Jack found that he did not have an answer to that. Instead, he removed his jacket. The alien creature nearest didn’t resist as he put it on her and put the hood up. Instead, she, too, seemed to be watching him speculatively.

‘There. If no one looks too closely, she could pass for one of us.’

‘Are you nuts? Her eyes are a dead giveaway!’

Jack considered her a moment, then remembered. He went into a pocket of the jacket, retrieved a pair of sunglasses, and put them on her.

‘No, don’t take them off,’ Jason said quietly, pushing her hand away.

As he watched the two, what struck Jack immediately was that with her disguise, she looked pretty much like any human girl. No, he thought, considering, any young human girl. Was she as she appeared to be, age-wise? She looked to be somewhere between sixteen and eighteen.

‘Give the other one your jacket. And your sunglasses. Take her by the hand, and make sure she doesn’t get away from you.’

Jason stared. ‘What?’

‘You heard me. Take her by the hand, and try to look natural. If the two of them don’t panic, we may just be able to pull this off.’

Turning to consider the crowds of people, he saw that more police and military had arrived.

‘Damn! We’re on the wrong side of the line.’

Jason saw the problem, too. ‘What’ll we do?’

Jack sighed, deeply. ‘We’ll just have to take our chances.’

As they approached the line of soldiers, Jack almost panicked. The soldiers were oblivious, their attention focussed on the gathering crowds. There was always the chance that someone in the crowd would see the alien females for what they were.

At last a soldier spotted them. He gestured, curtly, an opening appeared in the line of soldiers, and they were though!

All the way back to the truck, Jack was certain that he hadn’t breathed, once. His trepidation at how their refugees would react to getting into the truck turned to relief, as they seemed to understand, and got in when Jason opened the door, and sat quietly in the middle.

‘I was afraid we’d be blocked in,’ Jack confessed as he started the engine. ‘Lets hope our luck holds out.’

They hadn’t got far when they came to a military roadblock.

‘Oh, crap,’ Jack muttered. Drivers were being questioned, then told to pull off the road, to where a line of army vehicles waited.

He pulled ahead as the young soldier waved, rolled down the window as he stopped.

‘Where you coming from, Sir?’

Jack thought, fast. ‘We were trying for the golf course at Greenwood, but something seems to be going on, there.’

‘Did you reach the golf course?’

‘Couldn’t get anywhere near it.’

‘Have you come in contact with anyone from the golf course, or from Greenwood Lake Provincial Park?’

Jack looked a question. ‘I’m not sure what you mean. We passed people on the road, I guess-’

‘Did you speak with any of them?’

‘I was driving,’ Jack answered, dryly.

‘Have you seen or heard anything out of the ordinary?’

Jack smiled. ‘I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard about the plane going down. It’s been all over the news.’

‘Did you or your companions happen to see this plane go down.’

‘Well, not exactly,’ Jack was able to say somewhat truthfully. I was working in the basement at the time. I just got told about it, later. The boy and his girlfriend, here, missed it too. They were in the rumpus room-’

‘Did you hear or see anything from this rumpus room?’ the solider interrogated Jason.

Not good at lying, Jason flushed, tried to speak but no sound came out.

‘I think these two were a little too preoccupied with each other to notice much else.’

The soldier was silent a long moment. Jack’s heart almost stopped. He was staring at the alien girls! If he asked them any questions-!

‘Did either of you see anything? Miss?’

There was an agonising silence. Jack’s insides turned to ice as the soldier put a hand to his holster.

‘I asked you a question, Miss!’

‘She can’t hear you!’ Jason blurted, almost shouting. ‘Both these girls have a hearing . . . they’re deaf, okay?’

There was a long silence as the soldier considered. Jack’s heart sank as he pulled out a pad of paper, scrawled the numbers 10, 10 on it, and pointed to a line of military vehicles further on down the road.

‘See that yellow marker? Stop there and hand this to the first person to approach your vehicle.’

‘Oh, great, they’ve made us!’ Jason cursed as Jack began moving towards the yellow plastic marker.

Jack sighed. ‘Well, at least we tried.’

As he slowed, Jack was prepared for the three of them to be hauled roughly from the truck at gunpoint. A number of armed soldiers stood watching them as they approached. The biggest of them came to the driver’s side window, held his hand out for the piece of paper. Jack handed it to him.

The soldier glanced at it, curtly, left them, and went to a table where a number of soldiers sat. On the table were piles of paper, printers, and coloured cards. The soldier picked up a pink card, wrote something on it, and returned to the vehicle.

‘Put this on your dash, please, Sir.’

Jack did so, wondering what was coming next.

‘Any subsequent check points you come to, Sir, stay in the left lane. Have a nice day.’

‘Um . . . thanks,’ Jack muttered, and pulled away, trying to drive like he was not running away.

The reason for the pink card soon became obvious. At each subsequent check point, they were waved through without incident. It seemed to take forever, but at last they were in sight of Anaheim.

Jason exhaled a long stream of air.

‘I didn’t think we’d actually make it! Well, see ya later-’

Jack stopped the younger man with a hand on his shoulder.

‘And where do you think you’re going? This isn’t over with, not by any stretch of the imagination.’

‘Well, but I’ll be expected home. It’s almost supper time.’

‘Cry me a river! Tell your mom you’re having supper next door. Then, you’re coming back over here, and we’re going to try to sort this mess out, together.’ He looked the young man over appraisingly. ‘You didn’t think you were going to get me involved with this, just so you could walk away, did you?’

‘My parents’ll get suspicious!’ Jason told him. ‘If I have dinner at your place, they’re going to want to know why.’

The simple truth of it gave Jack pause. But at last, he smiled. ‘Okay, we’ll make it tomorrow. In the meantime, tell them my nieces are here.’

‘They don’t look anything like Caitlin or Beth!’

‘Well, these are . . . other nieces. I do have other nieces, you know.’

Jason gave him a pained look. ‘Yeah, and I’ll bet they’re from Mars, too.’

August 10, 2009, 5:53 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack paused briefly before his front door, feeling in that moment that he was about to burst the bubble of his former life which lay untouched, just on the other side. He withdrew the key from his pocket, felt a great weight of reluctance as he unlocked the door, ushered the two alien females inside, then closed and locked the door behind him.

‘First things first,’ he muttered to himself, leading the two to the bathroom where he kept the first-aid. Fortunately, the head cut on the one was minor, more blood than actual damage. A little disinfectant and water was all that was required. The two were otherwise scuffed and probably sore, but by some miracle it seemed that both had escaped any major damage.

He led them to the kitchen, and with some trepidation began fixing a supper of pork chops, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. His guests seemed at loose ends and nervous, so he led them to the living room, sat them on the sofa, went to his home-entertainment system, turned on the television, and . . .

‘Oh, great!’

It was the same on every channel. Lurid headlines proclaiming “Alien Invasion!”, “Earth Under Attack From Space!”, “Are We At War With Invaders From Another World?”, and other such nonsense. The news hounds must have arrived at the crash site in force, because in the background of every shot was the downed craft. Jack turned the set off when he noticed the effect it was having on the two visitors.

‘Sorry . . . you didn’t need to see that. Come,’ he said, gesturing for them to follow him back into the kitchen. ‘You’re lucky the crash didn’t kill you. Let’s just hope Earth food and my cooking don’t, either.’

Any fear Jack had that Earth food would harm the two was allayed as both tucked into their supper with gusto. They seemed to have no trouble using the utensils. Perhaps such things were universal, he speculated. Or maybe they were just hungry.

‘Mu i na isto nai i’allima bit,’ the female with the minor cut on her head said in a quiet voice to her companion.

The other, whose hair by contrast was a golden blonde, leaned closer so that their heads were almost touching. In an equally quiet, confiding tone, she muttered, ‘Na? Pu lo anai s’olo urientima va-la kienta . . .’ she glanced briefly in Jack’s direction, then, ‘ . . . alivraintena ubietsen a sa i kieno. Urut tu lo s’amma nai.’

‘So, we’ve now established that you can talk,’ Jack said ironically. Then, pointing to himself, he said, ‘Jack.’ He pointed to the dark-haired female and made what he hoped would to them be an enquiring face.

‘Kiko,’ she responded.

‘Yelina,’ her little blonde companion responded without having to be prompted.

Jack thought of trying to communicate further, but decided against it for the time being. The two now looked tired, the sort of tired that came from being over-wrought.

When they were finished supper, he led them to the washroom once more and explained by pouring water and gesturing and flushing what the various fixtures were for. He wasn’t sure if the two understood him clearly or not, so he led them to the guest room which had a double bed, a single and a dresser, for members of his family when they came to stay with him. He showed them once again how to turn the light on and off, then turned down the double bed for them. He checked the dresser and found that one or more of his sisters had left flannel nighties in the top drawer, in case of an emergency. He proffered the garments, nodding at the bed at the same time, hoping they would catch the drift of his meaning.

The question is, he wondered to himself, do you even sleep?

The question was answered for him when he left the room, heard the two changing into the nighties, and crawling into bed. A half-hour later, when he came back to check, he found that the two of them were fast asleep.

Jack sighed deeply as he headed to bed himself. ‘What a day this has been. And this is only the beginning!’

August 11, 2009, 04:14 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) Temporary Field Office

Near Crash Site

The man in the black suit and sunglasses waited for the assembled team of experts to seat themselves. He fully expected the glances of hostile suspicion he’d received. The identities of all the higher-ups, including himself, were withheld from those brought in to study and advise on the alien craft- a fact which nettled people used to freedom of access and information.

But these were unusual times . . .

The athletic young scientist with the beard, glasses and backpacker’s outfit cleared his throat and began. His name-tag identified him as Dr Ian Woodbridge. ‘You guys still don’t get the message. You’ve got to make the military back off, so that anyone inside that thing will feel safe enough to come out.’

‘This meeting hasn’t yet begun,’ the man in the black suit cut him off.

‘Go fuck yourself,’ Woodbridge said as though he hadn’t heard him. ‘Right now the problem is you funny-bugger types and the military. Without you, we would be making progress.’

The usual cross-talk began then, with security-types addressing one another as though the scientists weren’t there, and vice-versa.

‘We’ve identified a potential problem,’ another black-suit wearing sunglasses said to the one in charge.

‘Go ahead.’

‘When we finished collecting and identifying remains, we found evidence that two bodies may be absent. They were either moved, taken, or-’

‘Good God! You think they might still be alive?’ This from an attractive young scientist named Dr Arley Tattersall.

Ignoring her, black-suit #2 said, ‘Assuming two or more aliens remain alive and at large, I suggest we implement Contingent 713.’

An older professor, a man well-used to dealing with authoritative types, whose name-tag identified him as Prof. Frederick Sutter, put a restraining hand on Ian Woodbridge’s arm, to prevent his emotional outburst. ‘Let me get this straight. You want to instigate a shoot-on-sight policy against crash victims who are probably wandering about terrified, in shock, on a strange world in a strange environment, with no food, no shelter, no water, and no one to help them? Are you really that much of an ignorant monster?’ He huffed. ‘And here I was thinking you were merely a bunch of inept but harmless fools.’

‘The threat must be neutralised,’ black suit #1 told him. ‘They’re from a highly advanced civilisation- we know this because they’re here, which makes them vastly more advanced than ourselves. This means that their weaponry and their technology will be likewise advanced. Disarming them may turn out to be as difficult or impossible as killing them, and to prevent retaliation, killing them is the only option.

‘There is also the question of biological warfare or outbreak. They may naturally carry disease or other contaminants that may be lethal to all life on this planet. Your own scientists have raised the alarm on that score-’

‘Unlike you, we never made the inference that such contamination would be deliberate, or that any such problem exists,’ Sutter cut him off.

‘Being more advanced than ourselves, it goes without saying that any such introduction of hostile biologicals will have been intentional-’

‘It does not go without saying!’ Sutter interrupted. ‘Everything you’ve said so far is based upon assumption and prejudice.’ He made an angry noise. ‘I’m afraid we just can’t allow your continued involvement in this matter.’

‘Should you do anything rash,’ black suit #1 warned, ‘the lot of you will be placed in confinement, with absolutely no recourse.’

Professor Sutter smiled without amusement. ‘Ah, I see. So it’s going to be like that, is it?’

‘You obviously don’t realise the danger, here,’ black suit #1 told him.

‘Oh, I am well-aware of the dangers and the risks we all face,’ Sutter told him, blandly. ‘I am also aware that people like you live in a make-believe world of the imagination, which you try to impose upon the real world and the real people who live in it. That’s the only real danger we’re facing right now.’ He sighed. ‘What about the rest of the people in that craft, assuming any are still alive? Are you going to shoot them all on sight, too?’

‘They have made no attempt to escape,’ black suit #2 told him.

‘That’s what worries me,’ Sutter said quietly. ‘That you may not make any distinction between “surrender” and “escape”. That in itself is the greatest problem you people have created here: these people are visitors from another world- the most important event in world history. Words like “surrender” and “escape” have no place here. We should be greeting them with open arms, not guns.’

‘They invaded our world,’ black suit #1 told him. ‘If they had initiated some sort of contact, first, then we wouldn’t be having this little discussion.’

Arley Tattersall stared at him incredulously. ‘They crashed , you moron! Their ship is wrecked! There are dozens of known casualties! Look, you can’t have it both ways- on the one hand you say they’re more advanced than we are, which in your minds is the very reason they’re a threat. On the other hand, if they’re so goddamned advanced and dangerous, then why is their ship laying busted up in the middle of a golf course?’

‘Yes, and when do we get to examine the bodies, wise-ass?’ Ian Woodbridge cut in, bolstered by Sutter’s unflappable presence. ‘We have the equipment and containment-procedures to take care of dangerous biologicals, not you! So what are you up to, that you don’t want us looking over your shoulder?’

‘You don’t know what you’re dealing with here,’ black suit #1 told them. ‘You don’t know anything about that ship or the beings on it. For all you know, the two missing aliens may already have begun their work, helping prepare for future invasion. For all you know, the downed ship could just be a decoy. After all, why go looking for two aliens when you’ve got a whole possible shipload of them, right where you can see them! I say “possible” because it hasn’t yet been established that anything is alive in there.

‘For these reasons, and a lot of others I’m not about to share with you, any uncontained aliens will be shot and killed on sight. Is that clear enough for you?’

August 11, 2009, 7:45 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack arose, checked on his charges, found them still fast asleep, had a quick shower and breakfast, then sat down at the kitchen table with his coffee to read the morning paper.

‘H’m. Not your typical Tuesday paper. There’s actually more writing than advertising.’ After a cursory glance, he put the paper down in disgust. It was all speculation about the downed alien craft. Apparently, no one had yet figured out how to get inside it. The ruptured sections were empty and sealed off, attesting to the fact that someone on board was still alive. Other than endless photos showing the craft from every possible vantage, it was all talk and speculation, from “experts” who knew nothing of substance, to kooks who assumed a War of the Worlds scenario was soon to take place.

Jack sighed. ‘They’ve probably sealed themselves inside because they’re terrified. Who wouldn’t be? They’re surrounded by enough high-tech military equipment to start a bloody war!’

He checked the time, decided to look in on the two alien girls again to make sure they were only asleep.

As he pushed the door open, the sight of the two gave him pause. In repose they looked perfectly human, though their features were unusual in a way he couldn’t readily define. He realised that it was when they were animate that their differences really stood out. Part of it was their unusual clothing, the cut of their hair, endless little things. Although, he mused to himself, in that way, they’re not much different than people from a really foreign culture.

He moved closer to make sure they were alive. The blonde-haired one, the smaller of the two, Yelina, made a little sleep-noise, shifted position a little, and was soon breathing the breath of deep sleep once more. She was sucking her thumb. The other, Kiko, stirred as she was disturbed, but didn’t waken.

No, Jack thought to himself, watching them, after a while, you don’t look alien at all. But maybe that’s the way with all strange things . . . they’re only strange until you get used to them.

Jack had to smile to himself as the two did finally waken. They shuffled in the general direction of the bathroom, eyes still glued shut with sleep, and closed the door with a thud. Soon there came the sound of running water, in the sink, in the bath; the toilet flushed three or four times. All the while he could hear the two talking quietly together.

It was almost an hour before they made an appearance, still wearing their nighties, looking fresher, their hair still slightly damp. Jack made them a breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and orange-juice.

They had just started eating when there came a knock at the back door. It was Jason.

‘Hey, you eaten yet?’ Jack asked him.

Jason shook his head.

He looks tired, Jack thought. ‘Here, sit down and have mine. I’ll make some more.’ He moved to the stove. ‘You look like you’ve been up all night.’

‘Dad’s back in jail,’ Jason muttered. ‘He just got out, and now he’s . . . what a stupid, fucking bastard!’

‘Language, kid,’ Jack admonished, though gently. ‘What’s he done this time?’

Jason almost choked on his emotion, though his tone of voice was empty. ‘The cops told us he’s killed someone . . . some poor old guy who owned a store.’ He was silent for several bleak moments. ‘Mom says that’s the end of it. She’s talking to a lawyer right now, asking how she soon can get a divorce . . .’

Jack didn’t let it show, but all he felt was relief at this news. Carl Whyte was a drunken, vicious lout and a thug who had beaten and terrorised his wife, and his children as they came along. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Jack had intervened a number of times, especially of late, as Carl had come by in violation of the restraining order against him. The last time he had been armed with a rifle, and had taken a shot in Jack’s direction. If he hadn’t been blind, staggering drunk, he probably wouldn’t have missed. Jack and another male neighbour had wrestled Carl to the ground as Jason’s mother called the police.

And now that he was freshly released from prison, he had straightaway committed murder . . .

‘Here, have some sausages,’ Jack said quietly, forking a number out of the frying pan onto his plate. He gave some to his guests, who appeared to be still interested in food, and some fried, sliced apple to go with them. He put the pan back on the cooling element, reseated himself, and had a bite of apple and sausage. ‘You were right about one thing- they seem to be able to eat what we eat. By the way, this one with the dark hair is Kiko, the little one is Yelina.’

‘They’re both pretty small,’ Jason smiled. Then, ‘Hey, how’d you know their names?’

‘Because,’ Jack said, finishing his orange juice, ‘they told me.’ He pointed to Yelina. ‘Yelina.’ He turned to her companion. ‘Kiko.’ He turned to Jason. ‘Jason.’

‘Jay-sun?’ Kiko tried.

‘Jason,’ he corrected.

‘Jason.’

Jack set to washing up as the three tried conversing. From time to time he had to smile to himself, not so much at what they were saying, but at the awkward silences that left them at a loss.

‘I don’t suppose you’d like to keep them entertained for a while?’ Jack asked Jason. ‘If I gave you my credit card, d’you think you could maybe take my truck and drive them to Saskatoon? Get them some clothes and stuff?’

Jason brightened immediately, but as suddenly the bubble burst. ‘Sure! But . . . I don’t know anything about girls’ clothes.’

‘So, maybe take Carly with you?’ Carly was Jason’s twelve-year-old younger sister.

Jason rolled his eyes at that. ‘Okay . . . I guess.’

Jack smiled at that and handed him the keys, credit card, some money and a piece of paper. ‘There’s money for gas and something to eat, my card, and my contact information in case anyone thinks you stole either my truck or my card. Don’t lose that piece of paper! It’s probably the most important thing on you right now. If you get in trouble, call. And see if you can find them something to wear for now. Don’t let them go outside in the clothes they were wearing.’

Jack finished cleaning up, then went to his office, a former spare bedroom, the smallest of the three. He’d made his money in Nortel stock, years ago, before the tech bubble had burst. He’d been one of the lucky ones, had sold his Nortel stock some time before the corporation imploded. Pretty much all he did now was some minor juggling and maintenance of his assets.

His broker had been horrified to find him still living in Anaheim, in a very average three-bedroom house in a very average neighbourhood in a very average town, driving an unremarkable old pickup truck.

‘You could be living in a palace!’ his broker had told him.

Jack had given him a withering look. ‘This is a palace. You’re not talking about a palace. You’re talking about excess, about a bunch of junk I don’t want and don’t need.’

Sometimes, he reflected, it seemed like some people were from other planets.

August 11, 2009, 11:43 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, The Mall At Circle & Eighth

With a sigh, Jason handed over Jack’s credit card and contact information to Carly, aware that he was about to unleash an unbridled frenzy of girl-shopping on an unsuspecting department store- an event he wanted to be as far away from as possible.

‘I’ll be in the arcade-’ Carly’s interrupting response was, ‘Yoink!’ as she liberated card and contact information, and disappeared with the two alien girls into the crush of people.

‘Everyone remember where we parked,’ Jason muttered to the three who were no longer there.

To his lasting relief, his favourite game, Death Zone, was unoccupied. He went to the counter, converted twenty dollars of the money Jack had given him into the Canadian dollar coin known locally as “Loonies”, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work killing fantastical fictional bad guys.

‘Hold still!’ Carly ordered as she got out a pair of scrunchies and tied Yelina’s hair into pig tails. She stood back to appraise the effect. The alien girl’s hair now complimented the little-girl-style jump-suit. Awed by the success of her own efforts, Carly announced that Yelina was now “perfect”.

The saleslady smiled and prompted, ‘Would you like to pay for those now, so I can remove the tags?’

‘Yes, please,’ Carly rejoined as she looked over a revolving metal stand proffering a dizzying assortment of Rasta-style knit tams. ‘And I want . . . Kiko, try this on!’ She selected one and pulled it on the alien girl’s head. ‘Hey! These are so cool!’ An overpowering surge of envy prompted her to add one for herself.

‘You know . . .’ the saleslady said, ‘I have an idea that this one would look good in a tube skirt . . . one of these dark ones . . . and we have these new Rasta blouses-’

‘Wow, do you ever look pretty!’ Carly cooed as Kiko came out of the dressing cubicle. ‘Let’s go get you some sandals. Yelina . . . nah, you look better in runners. C’mon!’

Jason checked his watch and tried to remind himself that girls didn’t just select and grab what they needed. They fiddled and fussed and dithered, sometimes interminably. With a shrug, he loaded another Loony into Death Zone and began blasting away at the Living Dead.

Carly no sooner paid for everything at the counter when she turned to find Yelina missing.

‘Yelina! Kiko, did you see where she went?’

As mystified as she, Kiko began looking about, apprehensively.

They spent almost half an hour scouring the store for any sign of the little blonde alien girl, and were stopped a number of times for their trouble as store security checked their bags over. At last, an older woman, having overheard Carly’s description of the missing girl, said, ‘I think I may have seen your friend wandering out into the mall, over by the pet store.’

Sure enough, they found Yelina, but inside the pet store, with something in her arms, her expression a transport of delight. ‘Kitty!’ she blurted with excitement upon seeing the two. Nearby stood a salesman who watched the girl with suspicion. It was he who had told her the animal was called a “kitty”, and he watched her carefully, anticipating that she might try to steal it, because she had made it clear that she very much wanted it, but had shown no inclination to pay.

‘Yelina!’ Carly admonished, ‘we were looking all over for you! Now, put the kitty back! We have to go find Jason.’

Chagrined, Yelina let Carly take the kitten from her and replace it in the glass display-pen with the others. Carly was oblivious to the way both kitten and Yelina regarded each other forlornly.

‘ Finally!’ Jason breathed as they entered the arcade. ‘I was just about to go looking for you- what’s wrong with Yelina?’ The alien girl looked absolutely crestfallen.

‘It’s nothing,’ Carly told him.

Jason wondered about this a moment, then said, ‘Okay, well, let’s go to the food court and get something to eat.

‘Kitty?’ Yelina queried plaintively, misunderstanding.

‘You can’t have a kitty,’ Carly told her a little too unkindly. ‘Jack would probably have a cow.’

‘Boom,’ Yelina said, her eyes wide, as yet another brilliant flash illuminated the sky outside, followed by a deep rumble. “Boom” was a newly acquired word.

Though it was nearing noon, it was nearly dark outside. The four were sitting in a portable table and chair set nearest the windows lining Acadia street, watching the storm. Both of the alien girls were transfixed by the electrical storm and fierce winds. There had even been a couple of funnel clouds that looked as though they might touch down and become tornadoes.

A simultaneous flash and deafening peal made the four of them jump. The lights dimmed, went out, the emergency lights came on.

‘Big boom,’ Carly said with a giggle, watching Yelina’s reaction. ‘You mustn’t be used to lightning where you’re from.’

The two alien girls were now dressed in suitable earth-girl clothing, although Jason thought Carly’s influence had led to Yelina wearing styles that were too young for her. She was wearing what to him looked like a little kid’s jump suit, although Carly assured him that the saleslady had said that it looked perfect on her. Carly had even taken a pair of scrunchies and tied Yelina’s hair in pig-tails.

Kiko, on the other hand . . . he tried not think about the way she looked just yet. She was wearing a calf-length tube skirt, a pretty blouse, sandals, one of those small, close-fitting, Rasta-style, knit tams . . . all of which just seemed to accentuate the girl wearing them.

They had several bags of clothes and oddments. Carly had decided the alien girls needed . . . well . . . girl stuff.

The four were eating American-style Chinese food. As the main power came back on, the two alien girls began talking quietly together, which was not out of place. There were people of many diverse ethnicities in the food court, speaking a babble of languages.

‘Where’s they get those cool contacts?’ Carly asked her brother for the hundredth time.

‘You can’t get them around here,’ Jason told her, trying to think of a way to dissuade her from the subject of the alien girls’ eyes’ natural appearance.

‘Well where, then?’

‘You can only get them in . . . New York,’ he lied, trying to sound convincing. ‘They don’t make them any place else.’

Carly kicked her feet, absently. ‘Rats! Will Jack be mad because I bought a tam like Yelina’s?’

Jason smirked, knowing that if she hadn’t bought the tam, she would have pined for it, and he wouldn’t have heard the end of it.

‘Jack won’t mind-‘

’Hey, look! The news is coming on. Maybe they got those space invaders to come out.’

Jason felt his heart sink as the news came on on the monitors which hung all around the food court. He noticed that Kiko and Yelina watched the monitors with a sick expression. The first thing they showed was close-ups of the bodies that had long-since been taken away.

‘Mialla!’ Yelina choked, her mien aching at what she saw.

‘Yeah, they do look pretty weird,’ Carly agreed, misunderstanding completely. ‘Hey! They look a bit like Kiko and Ylp-!’

Jason clamped a hand over her mouth, hoping no one had overheard. “Mialla”, he guessed, was the name of the dead alien, someone known to Kiko and Yelina.

‘Jason . . . ?’ Carly said when he’d removed his hand.

‘Not now,’ he said, getting to his feet. ‘Let’s get back to the truck.’

‘They’re from that shp-’

‘I said not now ,’ he whispered fiercely, clamping his hand back over her mouth. ‘Got it? Not another word until we’re back in the truck- hey! Where the heck did Yelina go?’

They looked to Kiko, who sat with an odd expression on her face, lips pursed, trying to appear nonchalant, as though she well knew Yelina’s whereabouts.

‘Oh, great!’ Jason got to his feet and urged Carly and Kiko to gather up their booty. ‘We’ve got to find her, right now, and get back to the truck!’

They didn’t have to go far. They headed back the way they’d come, and ran into Yelina who was walking quickly towards them. She looked like she’d been outside- her light jacket was zipped up, her hands thrust into her pockets. She seemed to be almost running from something.

Jason grabbed her by the sleeve. ‘Come on! Let’s go out this way.’

The walk back to the truck was pure torture. Jason was sure people were staring at the two girls in recognition. He felt the metallic taste of fear in his mouth, even after they piled in the truck and got under way.

‘Now can I talk?’

Jason had forgotten that he’d forbidden Carly to utter a word. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, trying to calm his rattled nerves. ‘Yes. It’s okay now.’ He stopped at the light in the left lane, which would take them to the on-ramp and the highway.

‘So they’re space aliens, for real.’ It was not a question but a statement.

Jason’s heart was suddenly in his mouth as a police car came hurtling through the red light in front of them, slowed to get through the traffic, then raced off, engine roaring, lights flashing, electronic siren ululating. He hoped it was nothing to do with them, but the police car did go straight to the part of the mall they’d just exited.

‘Yes, they’re for real,’ he allowed as the light changed and he turned left, got in the right lane, and turned right onto the on-ramp.

Carly thought about that for a moment. And then-

‘Cool! Are they going to, like, stay with Jack for good?’

‘As long as they don’t get caught,’ Jason told her meaningly. ‘If anyone finds out, they could get hurt.’

He didn’t need to explain. Carly had seen all the military activity on television.

They were back on the highway now, heading north. Eventually they would turn east and towards home. Jason was able to relax a bit, until the sound of an electronic game started up. Yelina was totally engrossed, the tip of her tongue sticking out between her lips.

Jason and Carly were gaping at her.

‘Where’d she get that? Did you buy if for her?’

‘Oh, no! She must have stolen it,’ Carly said in awe.

Jason shook his head. ‘I don’t believe this!’ If this wasn’t bad enough, he found himself becoming apprehensive because of the weather. They were driving right back into the thick of the storm. The rain was coming down hard, reducing visibility so that he had to slow right down, even with the windshield wipers going full tilt. Beside him, Kiko gasped as a bolt of lightning touched down, not a hundred feet away to their right.

‘Big boom,’ Yelina said in awe as a deafening peal of thunder shook the air. She stopped playing with her game. Aroused by the thunder, a little furry face poked out of her shirt to investigate.

‘She stole the kitty!’ Carly blurted, caught between dismay and misplaced admiration.

Jason felt like sinking into his seat. ‘What? Oh, no! Jack is going to kill us!’

The kitten began mewing, loudly, as another close lightning strike shattered the air. Yelina nuzzled the creature to calm it, and said, ‘Boom-boom kitty.’

Carly choked with laughter. ‘Boom-boom kitty!’

‘The only “boom-boom” is going to be what Jack lowers when we get back,’ Jason warned.

Carly was transfixed, however, watching the alien girl as she went back to playing her new electronic game. ‘Wow! She’s on level six already!’ She watched in amazement as Yelina went back to manipulating the game with virtuosity. The alien girl was chewing gum and blowing enormous pink bubbles at the same time. Carly had introduced her to this new phenomenon, and had purchased a whole bag to keep the two stocked up.

‘Oh, crap!’

Jason pulled off to the shoulder as the golf-ball-sized hail began pelting the vehicle and the ground in earnest, bouncing as it hit. The windshield fogged over almost immediately. Though visibility was suddenly near-zero, a line of vehicles kept passing them, heedless. Jason turned the heater on, as the air had suddenly gone chilly, moved the lever to “de-fog” and turned the fan on full blast to clear the windows. As he leaned ahead and tested the temperature of the air-stream with his hand, he froze. A line of police cars screamed by, lights flashing, sirens wailing and ululating. He swallowed, waited until all sight and sound of them was gone.

It was several long minutes before they were under way once more, but at last the hail turned to sleet turned into a steady but manageable downpour. Jason pulled ahead slowly, watching for something to his left. Without warning, he slowed and veered left off the highway, onto a grid road.

‘How come we’re going this way?’ Carly blurted.

‘Oh, because there’s probably an accident or something ahead,’ Jason told her evasively, not referring to the roadblock he suspected lay in their path.

Zig-zagging his way back by way of grid road and farm lane, when at last they finally pulled into Jack’s driveway, Jason thought he’d never been so glad to make it back in one piece.

August 11, 2009, 5:43 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Anaheim, Saskatchewan

‘ All right, Sport, empty your pockets!’ Jack watched with wry ire as the little blonde alien girl retrieved her booty from the pockets of the light jacket she’d got from the mall. As the pile on the table grew, Carly and Jason watched with frank astonishment. Kiko didn’t seem surprised that Yelina had stolen- it seemed that she was more impressed than anything by the sheer quantity of misappropriated merchandise. Jack had to restrain himself from chuckling out loud, amused by the girl’s lack of repentance, if not her determination to keep her ill-gotten gains.

‘No wonder she wanted a jacket with so many pockets!’ Carly intoned. ‘Look at all this stuff!’

When Yelina stopped and looked up at Jack enquiringly, he cleared his throat and made a “continue” motion with his hand. She took the hint with such a big sigh of reluctance that he couldn’t help but chuckle aloud.

‘You little imp!’ he said, shaking his head as she began emptying more pockets. ‘You’re as bad as a magpie!’ He turned to Kiko. ‘What about you?’

Looking caught, Kiko flushed scarlet, reached into a pocket, and retrieved an object which she placed on the table. Then, she burst into tears.

Jack stared, and gave it back to her. ‘For pity’s sake! You’re all repentant for picking a plastic barrette up off the floor when your friend here is the real klepto.’ He considered the two, and sighed. Yelina had picked up the kitten off the floor and was holding it to her cheek, watching him apprehensively. ‘I know I shouldn’t let you get away with this, because I know you know you stole this stuff . . .’ He pulled out his wallet, handed Jason some money. ‘Would you mind going to the store before it closes? We’ll need cat food and kitty-litter. In the meantime, I’ll cut the bottom out of a cardboard box and line it with a plastic bag.’

‘You’re not mad?’ Jason asked him, disbelieving. Unspoken were the words, “My dad . . .”

Sensing this, Jack said quietly, ‘I’m not big on the “big person doesn’t like what little person is doing, so big person hits little person” thing. Yelina didn’t really hurt anything or anyone. What she did was wrong, but there was no malice involved. If there had been,’ he directed at her, hoping she would get the gist from his tone of voice, ‘then she’d be over my knee right now!’ He gave her a light swat on the derriere for emphasis. ‘Bad Yelina!’

She turned a comically appealing look up at him, as though she hoped, in a manipulative way, for clemency.

‘You,’ he said, wagging a finger, ‘are a little devil, and you don’t fool me one little bit.’

It did not go unnoticed by him that her eyes strayed to Kiko’s, and that, for a fleeting instant, she appeared both abashed and caught. But he tousled the kitten’s head to show her that he wasn’t about to take it away from her.’

With an odd, reluctant sort of feeling, Jack went next door to tell Jason’s and Carly’s mother that they would be staying over for dinner. He never felt comfortable speaking to Donna Whyte; she always seemed a bit vague, somehow lost and baffled in a world that wasn’t what she’d been brought up to believe and expect. “Carl’s handiwork,” Jack often called it, though he wasn’t certain this were entirely true.

Jack endured the stench of cigarette smoke, her battered, bathrobe-clad demeanor, the smell of booze on her breath, her tired whispering voice, with passive forbearance. He tried not to feel guilty as he disengaged himself from her clinging, lonely presence, left her aching on the front porch like the unanswered appeal of a child abandoned so long ago that even her name was forgotten . . .

With a wry expression, Jack took the video game away from Yelina as the young people sat at the dining-room table. ‘Not at the table,’ he told her, knowing she couldn’t understand his words, but suspecting that she otherwise well understood the situation. He put the game over on the buffet in plain sight so she would realise that it hadn’t been confiscated permanently. He smiled as she pouted, fidgeting, and gazed longingly at her new toy from a distance. He shook his head. ‘Just a few days on our world, and already we’ve managed to corrupt her . . .’ a movement in her shirt got his attention. ‘All right, no kitties at the table, either.’ He held out his hand. With great reluctance, she handed over the little grey tabby. He placed it on the floor, opened up a package containing assorted jingle balls, rolled one across the floor, and grinned as the little ball of energy went pelting after in hot pursuit. Along with the litter-box and cat food, at Jack’s suggestion Jason had picked up an assortment of cat toys.

‘Can I turn the stereo on?’ Carly asked him.

Jack kept his expression carefully neutral. ‘Only if you keep it down to a dull roar.’ There was a coded subtext between them that said that she could indulge her taste in popular music only so long as it was kept to a near-inaudible level. Jack’s taste in music began at the sixties and ended at the eighties.

With alacrity, Carly made her way to Jack’s stereo. She was in awe of the powerful old leviathan, and adjusted its controls with a naive reverence. Within moments, she found what she was looking for- what to Jack’s ears sounded like “Boom, boom, boom, boom,” with a lot of sequencers and electronic percussion going, an electronic keyboard bass grinding along, and very little smacking of humanity.

He smiled ruefully at Yelina’s enthusiastic response.

‘Boom!’

‘Yeah, lots of boom,’ Carly grinned.

‘Boom-boom-kitty,’ Yelina said as the kitten stopped in front of one huge speaker and stared as though trying to comprehend the odd noises emanating from it.

Jack laughed at that, shook his head, and began serving supper- a bowl of borscht with sour cream and rye bread, perogies and cabbage-rolls and good kolbassa sausage.

‘Kiko and Yelina really like music,’ Jason told him.

‘Yeah, you should have heard them at that store that sells all those keyboards,’ Carly blurted excitedly. ‘They were playing some really cool stuff!’

Jack looked to Jason for explanation.

‘They were, like, playing drum stuff on these two keyboards.’ He shrugged. ‘It sounded really neat.’

‘Drum stuff, eh?’ Jack said, almost to himself. ‘H’m. Anyway, you did good in the clothes department. Next time, make sure Carly gets some new runners, okay? By the way, did you run into any trouble along the way? I mean, besides the little shoplifting incident?’

‘I don’t know for sure,’ Jason told him directly, ‘but a cop car passed us when we left, heading for the mall. Then we saw a bunch more when we were stopped on the highway, waiting for the storm to let up. Might’ve just been heading to an accident somewhere, but . . .’ he shrugged.

‘But-?’ Jack prompted.

‘I’m not sure . . . but, well, I thought they might have been setting up a roadblock up ahead, so I turned off and took the grid roads instead. Looked to me like it was more than just shoplifting they were interested in.’

Jack digested this in silence for several long moments. At last, he said, ‘Well, if they’re looking for someone or something, then they probably only have a very general idea of what they’re looking for, otherwise they’d be kicking the door down. But the big question is, if they are looking, what are they looking for? There’s been nothing on the news- not that that’s surprising. But it does make me wonder if maybe there were other survivors, or if someone figured out that they’re minus two bodies.’

‘What’ll happen if they come looking?’ Jason asked him seriously.

Jack considered the two alien girls a long moment. Yelina was watching as Kiko stirred a dollop of sour cream into her borscht, turning it into a swirl of blood-red, pink and white. For a fleeting instant the sight reminded him poignantly of mangled flesh, blood and bandages.

August 11, 2009, 11:07 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan

Arley Tattersall gasped in alarm and almost fell off the sofa as she lifted her head from Ian Woodbridge’s chest and saw the dark silhouette at the door.

‘What the hell-’

‘Sh! Someone’s at the door!’ she hissed, struggling into her clothes in near-darkness.

Dressing unhurriedly, Ian went to the door and opened it without checking who was there. To Arley’s relief, Frederick Sutter came in the door. His dark blue-grey fedora and light grey raincoat were sodden and dripping. The thunder and lightning had abated for the time being, and now the rain was falling in slashing torrents, turning the streets into rivers, grates and drains into gurgling whirlpools and eddies.

‘Here, let me hang those up for you,’ Ian told him.

Arley savoured the smell of the garments as Ian walked past her. She loved the smell of mens’ clothing, wet, soiled or smoky. She found such things to be comfortingly and sensuously masculine. She even like the smell and feel of Ian’s beard.

‘What-’ Frederick curtly gestured the pair to silence as he began going over the room with an electronic device. He went from room to room, taking his time, until at last he’d checked over the whole house. In the meantime, Ian had ground coffee, fired up the stove, and begun whipping up the lattes he was famous for.

‘Well?’

Frederick shook his head. ‘None, but the operative word is “yet”. They probably haven’t had an opportunity, yet, thanks in part to the amount of time the two of you have been here exchanging fluids.’

Arley tried not to appear nonplussed. ‘What makes you think-?’

‘You smell like a bordello, my dear,’ Frederick said with a wry smile as he accepted a latte from Ian. He chuckled as the young woman turned crimson with mortification.

‘Have you heard from Holcomb?’ Ian asked him.

‘Perhaps,’ Frederick rejoined with a smile that was not a smile, which stated clearly that the matter of Holcomb was strictly off-limits. ‘In any event, time is of the essence. We have to act; now.’ To Arley, he added, ‘That means “in the morning”, so you’ll have your young man all to yourself for at least the night. I suggest you use the time wisely, and sleep.’

‘Do we even know where to begin?’ Ian asked him.

‘I’ll keep a close eye on the military,’ Frederick told him. ‘If they get any leads, I’ll do what I can to outguess them.’

‘They don’t trust you,’ Ian said warily.

Frederick smiled at that. ‘They probably suspect that I mean to run interference, and will, in all probability, try to pull on me what I intend to pull on them. So we’ll be two crafty old foxes waiting at the same rabbit hole.’

‘So, what should we be doing?’ Arley asked innocently, drawing a smile from the older man.

‘The two of you should keep an ear to yellow journalism, and an eye to the tabloids,’ he told them. ‘Keep track of every rumour, no matter how outlandish or foolish.’

‘I do not fill my head with that sort of . . . trash!’ Arley enounced succinctly, making a conscious effort to avoid swearing in order to set some ground rules for her brand-new relationship.

‘My dear!’ Frederick chided, ‘the first and most effective course of action of good detective work is going through the trash. People can no more not throw things out than they can keep their mouths shut. People throw things away that tell you everything about their lives, and people gossip. Criminals get caught because they can’t not brag about their escapades. Politicians, policemen, rich people and actors alike make fools of themselves every day because they can’t not talk about the very things that will land them in hot water. Now, it could very well be that our alien visitors are careful and close-lipped, but the people they come in contact with are another matter entirely.’

‘We don’t even know what we’re dealing with here!’ Arley protested. ‘What if they’re really dangerous? If they are, we’re not the right people to go looking for them.’

‘That’s funny-bugger talk,’ Frederick said patiently. ‘In actual fact, we have a good idea what we’re looking for. You’ve seen the video and photos of the aliens’ remains. They look a lot like us. They have hair and skin and eyes and noses and ears and fingers and toes. Dressed like us, they could probably pass for one of us. The few that may have survived and escaped will have left on foot. Think about that! This means that they had to have blended into the crowd, because the crash site was entirely surrounded by people.’

‘You think they had help?’ Ian asked him in surprise.

Frederick shrugged. ‘Perhaps. Perhaps before they crashed, perhaps after.’

Arley gaped at this. ‘Before!? But that means . . .’

‘That their people were already here?’ Frederick finished for her. ‘Yes, there is that possibility. However . . .’ he made a disparaging noise. ‘I do not buy into that possibility. I have no evidence to support my assertion, but I offer the lack of evidence for or against as evidence in itself. Remember what I said about people’s inability to keep secrets!’

‘In that case, someone smuggled them out,’ Ian mulled, working things out. ‘In which case, they were taken away in a vehicle, and passed through every checkpoint.’

‘But that would mean that they’re with someone who’s looking after them,’ Arley said in disbelief. ‘That’s not the sort of thing you can keep secret for very long . . . oh!’

‘Bravo!’ Frederick clapped his hands, lightly. ‘And now, I think the two of you know exactly what to do, in order to find our alien visitors before the military catch up with them and kill them out-of-hand.’

August 12, 2009, 01:10 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack was a heavy sleeper, but the bone-jarring blast of thunder was so close and deafening, that for a moment he feared the house had been struck. Opening one bleary eye and looking around, he realised that it wasn’t the house that had been hit. The power was off.

He had just turned back over with a grunt when a sound got his attention. There was a scurrying of feet in the hall, his door was pushed open, and there stood Yelina, the kitten in her arms, snuffling. Without seeking his assent, she went to his bed, dove under the covers, and clung to him like a frightened child. She was literally trembling with fear. It was in his mind to get up and put her back to bed, when another presence at the doorway got his attention.

‘All right,’ he mumbled tiredly, ‘but just this once.’ He lifted the covers obligingly for Kiko, who didn’t need to be prompted.

The storm was directly overhead now, the flashes and rumbling non-stop.

Jack dozed fitfully throughout the storm, aware that the girls, though calmed by his presence, remained awake through most of it. At last, at around a quarter after three, the storm gave way to a torrential downpour, and soon the lowering clouds were utterly spent and moved off, revealing a rain-washed sky full of bright stars. Jack fell deeply asleep on his back, an arm protectively encircling each of the two girls, the kitten curled up into a ball on his chest.

August 12, 2009, 9:34 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack was wakened by the beeping of his digital radio-clock whose display blinked, “12:00, 12:00, 12:00 . . .”. He surmised that the power must have just come back on.

Moving Yelina’s kitten and extricating himself from the two sleeping girls, he went and took a quick shower, retrieved his paper from the front stoop, made himself a cup of coffee, sat at the kitchen table, scratched his freshly shaved cheek, and decided to take stock of things.

So far, it seemed, he’d been pretty much running on autopilot, having given very little thought to problems and consequences. But time was pressing. August would soon be over. September meant . . . with a cold feeling of shock, he realised that for the two girls, September meant school, and a whole new set of problems. Fake ID, getting them enrolled . . . and how the hell were they going to deal with the language barrier? Looking down, he noticed that the hands on his coffee cup were unsteady. Forcing them to stillness with a conscious effort, he mused, ‘The best way to keep them hidden is to keep them in plain sight.’

But other thoughts soon encroached on his consciousness. What if something happened? What if something happened to him? Who would look after the girls then?

The paper forgotten, he found himself whiling away the morning, thinking deeply.

For the first time in ten years, Jack opened the garage and took stock of the mountains of accumulated junk topped with a thick layer of dust and grit. And with a feeling of determination, he set to removing every last piece of it to the kerb. He was almost half-way done when he heard his neighbour’s door slam shut. ‘Want some help?’ It was Jason.

Jack gave him a look, knowing how much “help” teenagers usually were. ‘Okay, if you’re into it. It’s all going out to the kerb.’

To his surprise, Jason threw himself into the task as though he needed the distraction.

‘Where’s Kiko? And . . . Yelina?’ he added belatedly.

Ah, Jack thought wryly to himself as he dropped a box of junk by the garbage can, I wondered if he wasn’t becoming a little enamoured with her! ‘Probably still sleeping,’ he said aloud. ‘Storm kept them up a good part of the night.’

‘Was she . . . were they scared?’

Jack smiled at that. ‘Pretty much.’

‘You’re not throwing those out, are you?’ Jason asked in alarm. In the back were a pair of dilapidated old drum kits, relics of Jack’s and his older brother’s teen years. Against a back wall hung a guitar missing most of its strings.

‘As I’ve told you many times, you want ‘em, you take ‘em.’

Jason sighed. ‘Mom would never let me.’

‘Not even with your dad gone?’ Jack asked him gently.

But Jason shook his head. ‘She can’t stand any kind of noise. All she’ll allow is to have the radio or the tv turned on all day so low you can barely hear them.’

‘She still drinking a lot?’ Jack asked quietly.

‘All day long until she passes out at night,’ Jason muttered matter-of-factly, his visage bleak.

‘She feeding you kids right? Is there anything in your fridge? Or is she leaving you to fend for yourselves?’

Jason shrugged, not looking at him.

Jack sighed. ‘You remember how Family Services had me looking after you guys when you were small? When both your dad and mom were . . . pretty much out of control?’

Jason nodded, remembering.

‘My wife was still alive, then, but I think we can still make that same arrangement, have you guys stay with me, with your mom right next door where I can keep an eye on her, and you can visit her any time you like. Does that sound like a plan?’

Unexpectedly, looking him in the eye, Jason said, ‘Do you miss her? You’ve never said anything. You just kind of . . . stopped talking for a while . . . and then you put all this stuff out here in the garage, and you stay in your house all the time. You’re not going to get like mom or dad, are you?’

Jack stopped what he was doing, shocked by this revelation. How long had it been since he’d gone out, hung with friends, visited someone or been visited, except by relatives, who themselves came by less and less often.

‘That’s why I’m cleaning out the garage,’ Jack told him, hoping he meant it. ‘All the old stuff . . . all the old pain and all the old memories . . .’

‘But not the old music stuff?’ Jason pleaded.

Jack chuckled, and smiled broadly. ‘What, you want to start a garage band? Be my guest.’

Jack was just beginning to wonder whether he should wake the girls, when Yelina came out the side door of the house, kitten on her shoulder, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that oozed grape jelly with every bite. Kiko soon followed, munching on an apple. Yelina’s eyes widened when she spotted the drum kits, which stood side-by-side on the carpet Jack had unrolled to cover the concrete floor. Without seeming to consider whether she should ask for permission, Yelina sat at the nearest drum set, the remains of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her mouth, picked up a pair of sticks, and began methodically tipping and tapping each drum head. Something about the kick drum pedal seemed to annoy her, but she thumped it a few times to get the measure of it. She tapped a cymbal or two, wrinkled her nose, got up and moved them away from the kit. Jack watched in wonder as she arranged things to her own satisfaction. She considered the assortment of sticks, grimaced at the sight of the slender tips, turned the sticks around so that she was holding them butt-end forward, handed the kitten to Kiko, and then . . .

Jack knew enough about percussion to realise that the girl was methodically going through a set of rudiments . . . but it was no set of rudiments he was familiar with! The sound she beat out was at once primal and primitive, yet nuanced, complex, flowing. And the way she was holding the sticks, often with the backs of her wrists facing the drum heads! And the sheer power she was generating! She ended with a final flourish, but it was plain in her face that the set didn’t meet with her approval. She got up, and instead of going to the other kit, Kiko handed her back the kitten and took her place, but not before replacing the cymbals. As Yelina had done, she methodically tried and tested everything, but spend some time getting used to the cymbals. Jack had to show here how to operate the hi-hat, the set of mechanical cymbals that opened and closed like a clam shell, operated by a foot-pedal.

Unlike Yelina, Kiko didn’t eschew the use of the sticks’ tips. And her technique was wholly different, with recognisable rolls, flams, paradiddles, flamadiddles . . . but her style! Loose, complex, fast, breezy . . . Jack could hear echoes in it of another music, of unfamiliar tonalities and harmonies, complex structure, echoes of another world . . .

‘Okay, well, I won’t be playing in this garage band,’ Jason said wryly as he watched Kiko execute a complex pattern between snair, toms and floor tom.

Jack put a hand on his shoulder. ‘If it’s any consolation to you, I can’t do half of that stuff either.’ He chuckled. ‘Maybe you ‘n’ me’ll end up just being roadies.’

On the entire drive into Saskatoon, Jack was mum about where he was taking the three, but Jason realised where they were going as soon as they hit Circle Drive.

‘We’re going to Mike’s Drum World? I thought you said you’d never set foot in that place!’

‘Yeah, well,’ Jack admitted, ‘I knew if I ever walked through the front door, there would be big-time temptation staring me right in the face, and my credit-rating would never be the same again.’

They found Mike in the back, assembling a set of his own custom-made and designed drums. He stopped what he was doing when he noticed Jack. He was a huge man, in every dimension, his shaggy mane streaked with grey.

‘I thought you said you were never coming near another set of drums!’

‘Not for me,’ Jack told him, though he felt a twinge of regret. ‘These two.’

Mike looked the two girls over. ‘Okay . . . you want something compact . . . electronic, maybe?’

‘What I really need is something for Yelina here to really wail on. She doesn’t play conventional North American drums. She needs something bigger, sturdier. And there’s something about the pedals she doesn’t like.’

Mike frowned, sceptical. ‘Like what, for instance?’

‘Got some paper and a pencil?’

Mike made a face. ‘Do they still make pencils?’ He opened a drawer in the counter, withdrew a scratch pad and a pen. ‘Okay, kid, show me what you want.’

She just stared at the pad, mystified, until Jack pointed at a kick drum, then drew a rough pedal.

Giving him an uncertain look, she took the pad, and began sketching. As she worked, the two men began talking. Kiko and Jason, meanwhile, wandered off into another section of Music Mart, a mini-mall consisting only of musical instruments and equipment, of which Mike’s Drum World was but one store.

Jack parried Mike’s question about the girl’s language by saying, ‘Oh, it’s one of those Middle European languages-’ he was stopped by Yelina, who handed him the pad.

‘What the hell kind of drum kit is that?’ Mike blurted. ‘And what kind of scale are we talking, here?’ He showed Yelina her drawing and pointed to one of the drums. ‘How big?’ he said, indicating the drum head, then holding his hands up in the universal gesture of “this big”, his face supplying the question. Yelina showed him. ‘Hold that pose,’ he told her as he got out a tape measure and calculated the distance between her palms.

‘What is it?’ Jack asked him, seeing the expression on his face.

‘Well, if this is really what she wants, this’ll be one big sucker of a kit . . . what the hell kind of kick pedals are those? She’s got two on each drum . . . and they’re not what I’d call a kick drum. She’s got some kind of wooden stick on each one, and . . . what the hell! Would you look at this! The two “kick-sticks”, or whatever you call ‘em, are set differently, and have a different type of mechanism. One hits high, and one hits low . . . actually, that makes sense,’ he huffed, ‘if you were playing Japanese Taiko drums with your feet!’

Jack looked on, blankly. ‘Can you build it?’

Mike gave him a withering look. ‘‘Course I can build it! It’d be an expensive puppy, but I can build it.’ He pointed. ‘Look . . . see how all the drums are curved, down, then outwards? They’ll have to be made of wood, steamed and bent.’

‘How long will it take?’

‘If you’re serious about this, I can make you two sets- a cheap facsimile for her nibs to wail on in the meantime. I can do that in a week. But the wooden version . . . that’ll take two, maybe three months.’

‘Okay,’ Jack told him, ‘Let’s do it.’

Mike put his hand up. ‘Hold on, just a minute. Let me slap something together out of what I’ve got around the shop. I want to see what this kid can actually do, first., before you go wasting your money on some sort of expensive contraption no one can actually play. C’mere, Short Stuff,’ he indicated with a finger, ‘let’s see if we can’t get some idea of what you can do.’

It took an hour to set up the oddest-looking drum kit Jack had ever seen. Mike had mounted every long, skin-headed drum that could be mounted into a “C”. As he worked, Yelina’s excitement was becoming palpable. When he was finally done, she fairly bounced on the drum stool . . . but then she began examining it, trying to get it to do something it wasn’t made to do.

‘What, you want something that’ll tip forward a little? Just a sec . . . I’ve got a stool with adjustable legs . . . here it is.’ He showed her how to shorten the legs, left her to it as she got the idea.

The stool sorted, she began looking over sticks, apparently unsatisfied with everything she saw.

Mike made a “big fish” gesture once more. ‘What is it? You want big sticks? Is that it? Big like this?’ When she nodded, he left, went into the back, rummaged around a bit, then returned with an assortment of heavy-duty drum sticks.

‘What the hell are those?’ Jack asked him in disbelief. ‘They must be an inch thick! And what are they . . . about eighteen inches long?’

‘Close,’ Mike told him. ‘These are for Taiko drums-’

The two men stared as the little alien girl found a pair of sticks to her liking and began twirling them, through the fingers of one hand, then through the fingers of the other, back and forth. Then, as though she were rolling up her sleeves to go to work, she went to the newly assembled drum kit and began tip-tap-tomming, getting the feel of it. They were just beginning to wonder if she was actually going to play something, when suddenly she let loose with a thunderous volley, sticks and arms a furious blur of motion.

Jack and Mike exchanged a look, and simultaneously mouthed, Oh-my-god!

At that same moment, a girl, a smaller but sturdy carbon-copy of her father, poked her head out the workroom door. ‘Wow!’ She disappeared from a moment, then returned dragging a heavy amplifier, with a full-scale bass tucked under her arm.

‘Whatcha think you’re doing, Honey?’ Mike asked her.

‘Whatsit look like I’m doing!’ she scolded, hastily plugging things together. ‘This I have got to try out!’

‘Um . . . Tina,’ Mike hemmed and hawed, ‘this may not be the best time-’

‘Out the way, Daddy!’ she ordered, cranking up her bass until it was one decibel short of squealing feedback. ‘I gotta try this.’

Jack had heard of Tina’s uncanny virtuosity on “slap” bass, but had never before heard her play. There was no fumbling around, no searching for an opening, no trying to find something that sounded half-way musical- she just jumped right in, instinct and performance-ability allowing her to do effortlessly what other musicians only dreamed they could do.

In response, Yelina let out a sound of pure delight, and like a seamless machine, the two threw themselves into their own private world of musical shapes and ideas, a world of concussions and rolling thunder, of rumbles and complex polyrhythms.

‘Okay,’ Jack heard Mike mutter to himself over the din, ‘this is really different.’ He watched in disbelief as Yelina switched from hands and feet to feet only, using the multiple foot-pedals to pound out complex rhythms that shook the floor. Tina responded instantly, dropping to her lowest string which was thick and heavy as wound piano wire. It was a six-string bass, so the low note was a bone-jarring low B, and Tina matched Yelina’s complexity with complex polyrhythms of her own.

Eventually it occurred to Jack to seek out Kiko, to make sure she didn’t end up feeling left out. He found her in another section of the mini-mall with Jason, trying through him to communicate with three girls her own age.

Two of the girls were sisters, Mary and Penny, the other was a friend of theirs, Asta.

The three shared something in common. All three were child prodigies faced with a life downhill from there. There was no place for them in the world of pop music, except as eye-candy, and none of them felt the call of jazz or classical music, though all three had extensive musical training.

The three were killing time, wistfully checking out the fabulous electronic toys they couldn’t afford, and thinking dreamily of what life would be like, if only . . .

‘I can’t figure out what she’s trying to tell me,’ Jason told Jack. ‘Something about that xylophone thing, and that electric drum kit.’

Jack stared as Kiko gestured. He did understand, but had no idea how it could be done.

‘Got another project for me?’ It was Mike who had come to join them with his daughter and Yelina in tow.

‘She wants to somehow put electronic drums pads and a xylophone together, I think,’ Jack told him.

Mike shrugged. ‘Not a problem. All it would take is cutting up a bunch of electronic pad material and making a xylophone-controller, which you’d use to play modules.’

‘You’ve lost me,’ Jack admitted. ‘I’m just a dumb ex-drummer.’

‘It’s simple,’ Mike explained. ‘It’s like that electronic drum-kit, there. There’s no sound in the pads. They’re just controllers that transmit your playing information into a signal that in turn passes through a module, which can contain any kind of sounds you want. You can use a drum-controller to play drums, or bells or piano or wind chimes or violins, or whatever else your little heart desires.’

Jack reconsidered the situation. ‘Okay . . . so what am I missing here?’ This, to Jason.

‘Kiko was watching them play xylophone,’ Jason shrugged. ‘They were all playing together a few minutes ago- Kiko was playing those electronic drums- and then she wanted them to somehow get electronic sounds of them.’

‘We suggested synths,’ the one named Penny told him, ‘but I think she wants us to play something bigger . . . something we can really hit, that’s got more oomph.’

‘Both of you girls play xylophone?’ Jack asked them.

‘He’s been living in a cave,’ Mike apologised for him. ‘Jack, Mary and Penny here play piano, violin and xylophone. They haven’t had much experience with electronics, but I’ve heard them wail on synths, too. Asta, here, plays guitar and fiddle in Tina’s garage band. And,’ he added pointedly, ‘they don’t have a drummer, or drummers, plural, or synth players.’

‘That’s kind of an unbalanced lineup, don’t you think?’ Jack asked him seriously. ‘It’d be a little heavy in the percussion department.’

‘H’m. Something tells me not,’ Mike told him, considering. ‘Anyway, I’ve got stuff to do. You want me to build that set? Yes? And you want an electronic set with all the bells and whistles for the other one? Okay, what about this electronic xylophone idea? I’m willing to go halfers, just to see if there’s something to the idea.’

Jack shrugged. ‘In for a penny, in for a second mortgage, as they say.’

Mike gave him a look. ‘Given what you made on Nortel stock? Please! Don’t kid a kidder. Anyway- so what do you kids say? You want to try and play together as a band?’

Those who understood, nodded. Yelina and Kiko watched him expectantly.

‘Okay, be here at seven on Monday. The place will be closed up, but I’ll still be here with the key. Sound good?’

All the way on the drive home, the two girls turned around in their seats from time to time, trying to get a glimpse of their new toys. Jack found that he was smiling, broadly, simply because he felt good.

Jason chuckled. ‘Well, we think about playing in a band, and end up putting a girl-group together instead.’

‘It’ll be fun,’ Jack told him. ‘I’m not sure how musical it will be, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy themselves.’

Jack lifted his arm to allow Yelina to lay against his side with his arm around her. She had nodded off and was snoring, quietly.

As they neared Anaheim, they could see a flickering light against the clouds. Feeling apprehension tighten his belly, Jack slowed down and skirted around his home. As they neared the end of the block, they could see emergency lights. Jack felt a surge of panic, until he realised that they weren’t parked in front of his house.

They were parked in front of the house next door. The Whyte’s house was in flames!

August 12, 2009, 2:17 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Tech Shack, CSIS Ops Centre, Location Classified

The man in the black suit and sunglasses straightened his tie as he and his men climbed out of their unmarked black Hummers and headed for the Tech Shack which only hours before had been declared up-and-running. Within lay batteries of television monitors showing live feed from almost a hundred satellites, some of them so powerful that they could track the progress of a single ant on the ground.

Scores of technicians were scanning recorded feed from the crash site, searching the ground for bodies in hopes of discovering what became of a handful of them that were suspected to be missing.

‘Ah, Professor Holcomb,’ the man in the black suit said, extending his hand and smiling from the teeth. ‘Have you made any progress?’

The man in the black suit despised scientists on general principle. Anyone who freely shared information was potentially dangerous, not to be trusted. In this regard, scientists were the worst offenders of all. They seemed not to comprehend that all power structures depended upon, not the freedom of information, but the absolute control of information, and the manner in which it was either disseminated or withheld. After all, information was power, and having power therefore meant controlling information.

But Professor Holcomb was a rare exception to the rule- a scientist who understood power and its uses. The man in the black suit did not trust Holcomb- but for other reasons entirely. Holcomb had his own agenda- he wanted access to the technology within the alien ship which, in his view, was there for the taking. It would, he assumed, catapult Canada and its scientific community to a level of power unattainable by any other organised body on the face of the planet, including the government of the United States. Including, the man in black added mentally, his own Canadian government.

The man in black was otherwise not overly concerned with whatever dark dreams consumed the small-minded soul of Professor Holcomb. The lust for power was something he understood, and that was enough. Through that desire, the professor would be easy to control.

‘You,’ Holcomb muttered in response, irritated by the distraction as he watched a monitor over the shoulder of a technician. ‘What is it this time?’

‘You know what I want. Have you managed to locate the missing bodies?’

‘We’re looking!’ Holcomb bit off, tersely. ‘As it stands, we haven’t yet been able to bring up an unobstructed view of the ground, just subsequent to the crash. There’s too much smoke, too much debris. The heat alone has rendered infra-red imagery all but useless. We’re attempting to clean up the images using the latest spectro-chromatography and x-ray imaging software, but it’s a tedious process.’

‘Why?’

‘Because there’s no colour or contrast differentials, you smirking little cretin! Using this technology, we can see the ground, but we don’t yet know what it is we’re looking at, because this method renders everything viewed as monochromatic. It’s the same problem one encounters when attempting to teach a computer to identify the world around it for navigation purposes. The computer has no way to differentiate any one thing from any other thing it encounters. It sees everything equally, with nothing to draw its attention because it has no concept of significance.

‘These programmes we’re using are intended to teach our computers to discriminate, so that they can tell a rock from a tree from a body.’

The man in the black suit and sunglasses bit down on an overpowering urge to crush the professor’s larynx for his uppity attitude, if not his sarcastic remark. In a dangerous tone, he said, ‘You told us, when we allowed you to become a part of this project, that you’d been using this type of software for years!’

‘Our software is in the forefront of this type of technology,’ Holcomb told him, unruffled. ‘All that is required is that we find the right combination of algorithms- a process that will be greatly hurried by your conspicuous absence! If you want your bodies, I suggest you leave us to our work, in peace!’

The man in black digested this in silence, toyed with the notion of bringing in another team, quashed the idea. Whatever he thought of the professor, the man was right- some processes evolved at their own pace.

But the idea gave him no comfort. He wanted the job done, and his superiors wanted it done yesterday. His orders were simple- kill the aliens, wherever they were, get his hands on the ship, use Holcomb to unlock its secrets.

Only two obstacles stood in his path- finding the missing aliens, assuming there were any, and keeping the Prime Minister in the dark until they had their hands on the aliens’ technology. This was the one problem that could blow up in his face: were the Prime Minister to discover that aliens were still very much alive inside that thing, there would be hell to pay, and they might be forced to share their secret with the world.

To that end, negotiations were under way to acquire a nuclear device from his Secret Service counterparts in the US. A messy solution, perhaps, but it was the only sure way to ensure that the aliens’ technology remained under his control.

August 12, 2009, 3:11 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

In front of the Whyte’s home

Jack grabbed Jason by the collar before he could open the truck door and go charging over to the ambulance. He held the young man back until he finally had his attention.

‘You’re staying right here!’

‘But Mom and Carly-!’

‘Carly’s standing right there, by the back of the ambulance. She doesn’t look too shaken up, so I think it’s a safe bet your mom’s okay. Now- listen to me! You’re not going charging out there! There’s nothing you can do. Now, I’m going to get Carly and send her here, and I’m going to check and see how your mom is doing, and find out what’s going on. Okay? But for now, the best thing you can do is keep it together and look after your sister and the girls. Think you can do that for me?’

Jason didn’t answer, but seemed to sag.

Jack got out of the truck and was immediately stopped by a policeman and two firemen.

‘That’s my house next door,’ he told them, ‘and in situations like this, I’m responsible for my neighbours’ kids. You see that girl there, by the ambulance? She’ll be coming with me until we get things sorted out here. So you’re going to have to let me through.’

The cop was not about to let him through, but one of the firemen lifted the yellow plastic tape for him and said, ‘Come with me.’

Just as they were nearing the back of the ambulance, the fireman took Jack by the elbow and led him to one side. ‘Look, we haven’t told the kid yet, but we don’t think her mom is going to make it. She’s lucid, for now, but that’s how it is with serious smoke inhalation- the calm before the storm. Conditions inside her lungs are such that only the early signs of failure are detectable, but once the damage sets in and really takes hold . . . well . . . I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.’

Stunned by this news, Jack ventured a look inside the ambulance. ‘If it’s as bad as you say, then why aren’t you making every effort to get her to hospital as fast as possible?’

‘It’s more for the kid’s sake,’ the fireman confided in a low voice. ‘I have to tell you, it doesn’t matter what we do. The mother’s probably not going to last till morning. Sure, we could go all out, making our best time, sirens blaring, lights flashing, but that won’t help anything, and the kids won’t get a final change to say goodbye.’

The shock of this left Jack speechless; at once, everything felt unreal. After several long moments, he found his voice. ‘My God . . . what am I going to tell her kids . . .’ The understanding look on the fireman’s face stopped him.

The fireman placed a hand on his shoulder, made steady eye contact. ‘Look, in my experience, the best thing with kids is to give it to them slow, let them figure out as much of it as possible on their own. You tell that kid her mom’s dying, and all you’ll do is send her into crisis-mode. Look, she’s a smart kid- she’ll know something’s up. That’ll buy a little time- help her to deal with the inevitable. Then, when the shock comes, at least she’ll have a better chance of being able to handle it. And she won’t be left with feelings of guilt, of having said something she didn’t mean as her last words, or that she didn’t say goodbye.’

Jack stood rooted to the spot in silence for several long moments, trying to get his head around the reality of the moment. Donna Whyte was dying, right there before him in the back of that ambulance. Carly seemed shaken up but otherwise unhurt, dressed only in t-shirt, runners and jeans, hugging herself for warmth in the cool night air. The fire was all but out, the Whyte house reduced to a burnt-out blackened shell.

When Carly finally noticed Jack, her tear-and-soot-stained visage suddenly became animate once more. She threw herself into his protective embrace and began bawling. She smelt strongly of smoke and tears.

‘I couldn’t wake her up! Her bed was on fire, and I couldn’t make her wake up!’

Jack said nothing, but led her to the driver’s side door of the truck and lifted her in beside the sleep-muzzied Yelina. Wiping briefly at her tears, he said, ‘Just sit tight for now, okay. I’ve got to talk to Jason, and we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do.’

As he and Jason walked slowly over to the back of the ambulance, Jack struggled with what the fireman had told him, trying to decide how much or how little to tell him.

‘Is my mom going to be okay?’

Jack almost lied, then . . . almost, toyed with the lie, but found himself unable to say it out loud. ‘She’s breathed in a lot of smoke,’ Jack told him. ‘Right now, they’re getting her ready to take her to the hospital. They want you to talk to her before they go.’

When they got to the ambulance, Jack was surprised to find Donna awake and alert. Had the fireman’s assessment been wrong? Was he overcompensating in order to make good news sound better?

But the looks on the ambulance attendants’ faces told him the grim truth- that Donna Whyte was living on borrowed time.

‘Hi, Mom.’

Donna’s face was a ruin of soot and tears, her mortality laid bare for eyes to see that would. ‘Oh, Jason . . . they said you weren’t coming.’ Her breathing was hoarse, laboured, shallow. For a long moment she stared at him with the desperation of a drowning swimmer. ‘They’ll be taking me to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. You’ll be able to visit me there, maybe tomorrow morning, if Jack will drive you.’

‘I’ll look after everything,’ Jack told her quietly. ‘The kids’ll be right here, next door.’

‘Carl’s going to be so angry with me,’ she said very quietly, closing her eyes. ‘He’ll kill me when he sees what I’ve done.’

‘Dad’s in jail, Mom,’ Jason said gently. ‘He doesn’t even have to know.’

‘Nothing I ever did was good enough for him,’ Donna said, from some private place that was slipping away. ‘My whole life . . . just wasn’t good enough . . . I’m sorry . . . I always wanted to do better for you kids . . . but where was I . . . where was I . . .?’

Her eyelids fluttered as she slipped into delirium. This seemed to act as the signal the ambulance attendants were waiting for.

‘Mom-!’ His eyes bleeding tears, seeing the truth but not wanting to believe it, Jason tried to take her hand . . . but the sight of her mutilated hands caused him to choke on his grief. ‘Oh, Mom!’

‘It’s time to go,’ the one working on Mrs Whyte said quietly to Jack.

He nodded, the doors were closed with a thud, and the ambulance was away, bearing the last flickering embers of Donna Whyte’s soul away from the burnt-out remnants of her home.

In the dark, left by the absence of the ambulance’s flashing lights, Jason’s crumbling visage was as bleak as death. Jack knew as the boy looked at him that he saw the truth on his face. ‘We won’t see her at the hospital tomorrow morning, will we.’ It was a statement. ‘She’s . . . she’s dying, isn’t she.’

Jack put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, and swallowed. ‘We’ll see what happens. For now, I think you should think about Carly.’

Jason shook his head in sudden rage, and cried, ‘Why couldn’t this have happened to Carl? Why did it have to happen to Mom? She’s never hurt anyone . . . not once in her life! As least-’ he choked on a sob, ‘at least [i]he[/i] would have [i]deserved[/i] it.’

‘It was an accident,’ Jack told him very quietly. ‘Just a horrible accident. It could just as easily have happened while you kids were asleep, in bed. You could all have died from smoke inhalation without ever waking up.’

Jason took a look at the burnt-out ruin, from which only a wisp of smoked remained, and shook his head in disbelief. ‘Our [i]house[/i] is gone!’

‘You have a home right next door,’ Jack told him.

‘We got no parents, now.’

‘You’ve always had me, kid.’

‘Do you always have to be so damned positive?’ Jason shouted at him through his tears. With that, he lost his composure altogether, threw himself into the older man’s arms, and wept.

Wednesday, September 31, 2009, 9:05 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT,

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack chuckled to himself as Yelina came running out of the school, shouldering her backpack, as though fleeing a dose of cod-liver oil. How Yelina hated school!

The two alien girls had become almost fluent in English in an unnervingly short period of time. Unfortunately, Jack mused wryly to himself, much of what they’d “learned” had come from television. Although . . . Jack mulled the thought over like mulch . . . perhaps some of the blame resided in school life. Already Yelina had been busted twice for selling and smoking pot. In some ways, Jack mused, this was a good thing. For one thing, it proved that the girls’ fake ID could withstand any amount of scrutiny . . .

Jack suspected that Yelina had been a handful before her arrival on earth, especially considering Kiko’s unsurprise at the little blonde girl’s behaviour. She was an unrepentant kleptomaniac. She had been caught shoplifting a number of times. Her particular favourite was electronic gadgets, including a very expensive satellite phone, which she promptly wrecked by disassembling in order to figure out how it worked . . .

She had been caught smoking and selling pot, and no amount of counselling or reasoning seemed to dissuade her from her habit. She was now smoking. She had come home drunk, twice that he knew of. She had been arrested for vandalism . . .

And she beamed when she saw him, and ran all the way to his new crew-cab, opened the door, slammed it shut, greeted Boom-Boom Kitty who didn’t get away this time and climb a tree, and demanded a big hug from him . . .

Yes, she was a handful . . . and Jack wouldn’t have had it any other way. For all her problems and all her personal baggage, she had become Jack’s special little girl, his little ray of sunshine.

‘Did you remember your homework this time,’ he asked her, placing an ironic stress on “remember”.

‘Ye-es,’ she said evasively, making him smile.

He chuckled, watched her hug her poor kitty, who wanted to go to the window and watch for Jason, Kiko and Carly. ‘Well, you probably won’t get much done after band practice tonight anyway.’

‘We going for pizza this time, for true?’ she asked him suspiciously. The last time they went for supper, he had taken them to a burger joint that didn’t have pizza on the menu.

‘I thought we’d go to Boston Pizza on 8th street-’

She let out a squeal of anticipation and hugged him.

‘I wonder what’s taking the others,’ Jack mused rhetorically.

Yelina gave him a look. ‘Jason will be trying to kiss Kiko, Kiko will be trying to let him, and Carly will being a smart pest and no let them hide.’

Jack groaned, inwardly. In some ways Yelina, for all her problems, was easier to deal with than the interplay of hormones taking place between Jason and Kiko. The two had become intimate shortly after the death of Jason and Carly’s mother; Donna; and it was “intimate” in the carnal sense. Jack turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the fact that the two were making out, downstairs when they could get away with it, and God-knows-where when the pair would sneak off for some privacy.

The upside was that the alien girl had the same chance of getting pregnant as a cat making out with a toaster. It was, in a word, impossible. Jack had considered allowing the two to sleep together [i]with[/i] his consent, but dismissed the notion as he took their age into consideration.

Jack smiled to himself as the two made an appearance, holding hands but looking annoyed, with Carly tagging along looking smug. She caught Yelina’s eye and grinned. Yelina grinned back, conspiratorially. With Yelina holding on to Boom-Boom Kitty, the three got into the back seat of Jack’s new crew cab, despite the fact that Jason and Kiko would have preferred that Carly ride in front. This was just as well, because Boom-Boom Kitty’s litter box took up part of the front floor.

Jack put the truck in gear and eased it away from the kerb, and through the milling teenagers issuing from Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School, smiling to himself because the autumn weather was beautiful, his young charges were chattering away happily, and because he hadn’t felt this good or this young in years.

Jack looked on with amusement as Kiko, Jason and Carly watched Yelina in awe as she piled her slice of ham and pineapple pizza high with chili peppers and Parmesan cheese, and went to work on it.

‘That makes my eyes water just looking at it,’ Carly said. Her own slice was virtually invisible beneath a mound of Parmesan.

Jason was trying to be neat, in an unconscious bid to emulate Kiko, who ate her vegan pizza demurely with a knife and fork.

Not one for peppers or Parmesan, Jack tied unselfconsciously into his usual ground beef, onion, black olive, mushroom and green-pepper special.

Boom-Boom Kitty was neither being deprived nor forgotten. He had eaten his can of Whiskas Choice Cuts with gusto, curled up in Jack’s spot, and gone to sleep.

Jack was soon full, and took the time to sit back and appraise his charges.

Jason and Carly had dealt with the death of their mother very differently. For a time, Jason had become moody and completely withdrawn, and it was during that time that he and Kiko had bonded. Carly, on the other hand, had turned to Jack so completely that she may as well have become his own flesh and blood.

At first, Yelina had not responded well to losing her best friend to Jason. Her problem behaviour, her pot-smoking, drinking, shoplifting and vandalism, Jack knew, was her way of acting out. Though she was the same age as Kiko, her behaviour became far less mature. And she had bonded with Carly in an odd way, like an older sister who adapts to her younger sister’s behaviour.

But, Jack reflected, the regression wouldn’t kill her. In fact, it was probably good for her for the time being- a safe zone from where she could regroup and redefine herself. She’d grow out of it soon enough.

For all their estrangement from each other, both girls were very popular at school. Kiko’s steps were haunted by a string of jealous young men who planned to be there, should her relationship with Jason show signs of fraying. She had become thick with two of her band mates, the sisters, Mary and Penny Iverson, and their tight-knit circle of friends.

Yelina had become fast friends with Mike Johnson’s daughter, Tina and her grunge-band-mate, Asta Sjoenmann, and their friends. They hung with a very different crowd, namely the girl-jocks. Under their expert tutelage, Yelina had become a good skater in short order. Her own natural talent meant that she had the most feared slapshot in the girl’s hockey league.

Jack snapped out of his reverie when it dawned on him what Jason was talking about.

‘ . . . the school auditorium just isn’t big enough. Besides, they’ll turn it down so far that, well . . . it just won’t sound very good.’

Yelina made a face. ‘The auditorium sucks bad, anyway.’

Kiko gave her a sharp look but said nothing. Jack frowned, seeing the implicit warning there, but held his peace.

‘You need something bigger . . . the only place you can really do it is a concert hall.’ He sagged as he said this. ‘It’d cost ‘way too much.’

‘It will still suck bad,’ Yelina said, her mouth full.

Jason gave her a wry look. ‘Okay, well, how can we make it [i]not[/i] suck?’

Ignoring Kiko’s worried glare, Yelina said, ‘Need one speaker, every note. Two types PA sound, local and elect-’ she fumbled, trying to pronounce the word, ‘. . . e-lec-tron-ic. Need both kinds. Two boards, one set speakers . . . speakers set in a big ball-’

‘Yelina!’ Kiko hissed.

Intruiged by Kiko’s reaction, Jack ignored her, instead concentrated on what Yelina was saying.

‘A big ball? How can you do that?’

Yelina shrugged as she took another prodigious bite. ‘Gotta hang speakers so they make a big ball. Gotta have two systems. Electronic system, each note gotta have its own speaker. Amplified acoustic system uses same speakers, but runs off different board. Gotta pen?’

Jack took a pen out of his pocket and held it up. ‘You can have this when you say “got to”. You know what I said about stuff like “gotta”-’

To his unsurprise, Yelina snatched the pen out of his hand, turned over her paper place mat, and began drawing. Jack watched in mute astonishment. At the same time, he couldn’t help but notice Kiko’s fearful mien.

‘Okay,’ he muttered when she was done, taking the finished drawing and examining it, ‘I think this will be another project for Mike.’

‘Are you serious?’ Jason asked him incredulously. ‘No PA is that complicated! The cost would be ridiculous!’

Jack gave him a look, considered Kiko’s sudden sullen silence. ‘The cost I can handle, regardless how ridiculous. But I want to hear this.’

‘It is a bad thing to do,’ Kiko blurted unexpectedly. ‘It will say to the world, “Yelina and I are here! Come get us.”’

‘Kiko worries too much,’ Yelina jibed. ‘Ow!’

Jack watched with wry ire as the two got into it. ‘Stop, both of you.’ He didn’t raise his voice. Through much practice, he had learned to pitch his voice in such a way that the two stopped and watched him apprehensively.

‘It is still a bad idea,’ Kiko said sullenly.

Redirecting her attention, he said theatrically, ‘You know the best way to hide something, Kiko?’

Watching him with suspicion, trying hard not to smile, she said, ‘Hide it good! No . . . hide it [i]well[/i].’

Jack shook his head. The expression on his face had the desired effect, evoking a giggle from her. ‘How, then?’

‘You hide it right in plain sight,’ he told her, and smiled as he watched the wheels go ‘round.

‘You mean . . . you disguise it?’

He shook his head again. ‘No, I mean you put it right where everyone can see it.’

‘That is not hiding!’ she rejoined with a scowl.

‘It is if everyone takes it for granted,’ he told her.

He grinned as he watched realisation dawn. ‘People will just think it is a new band with a new invention! They will notice it, not us! At least, they will not notice us for what we are! Ah . . . I think this is a good idea, now.’

‘Speaking of good ideas,’ Jack interrupted, turning to Jason, ‘you and your friends helped set up at a few rock concerts, didn’t you? Yes? Well, how’d you like to take charge of this? With Mike’s help, of course. Think you can handle it?’

‘I’ll do better than that,’ Jason told him with the conviction of the very young. ‘I know how to do the promotion and stuff, too.’

‘Heya, Short Stuff,’ Tina greeted Yelina familiarly as she held the music-store door open for them.

‘Heya, Bear,’ Yelina rejoined.

As the girls began setting up, Jack pulled out Yelina’s place-mat drawing and handed it to Mike, as Jason looked on expectantly. Mike whistled, thinly.

‘Jeeze! What a setup! You really want to try this?’

‘I want Jason to do this, with your guidance.’

Mike clapped the young man on the back. ‘Well, you’re in the right company, kid! We may not be great musicians, but we do know the business.’

Jack marvelled as he did every time at the gear the kids wheeled out. Mike had figured out how to save hours of setup time by putting each “work station”, as he called them, on a platform and wheeled them out. Yelina’s massive drum kit, the temporary one, was made of transparent blue plastic, and was wheeled out in two sections. The trip of a lever caused each section to settle to the floor, forming a huge “C”, with just enough room in the centre for her drum stool. Kiko’s electronic drum kit, though smaller, was still of a daunting size and complexity.

The sisters, Mary and Penny, each had a pair of the new electronic xylophone-controllers, plus racks of keyboards, an electronic violin, viola and cello each, and racks and racks of electronic effects and gadgets. Each also had another new invention- a theremin-controller to play electronic sounds and effects in real time.

Tina had all she needed- her six-string bass, and Asta had her electric and electric-acoustic guitars, electronic fiddle and a rack of keyboards.

And within moments, they were plugged in and ready to go.

Each girl put on a microphone and earphone set, they took a moment to tune up, and then-

Jack, Jason and Mike listened as the girls began with the number that always came first- a medley whose working title was “Overture.” It began with Asta holding a single thundering, subsonic bass note on her keyboard, as Penny and Mary began setting off an eerie series of background special-effects, that to Jack’s ears reminded him of the vast reaches of space.

At once, the six girls began singing in high, pippy, staccato falsetto voices, imitating the sound of an electronic sequencer playing arpeggios and staccato melodies, broken by thunderous volleys supplied by Yelina. This was one of Penny’s compositions. The girls had tried it out one day, and taken it to their hearts.

Gradually there came a low rumble, then a huge burst of electronic special-effects that cascaded and coruscated and tintinnabulated all around them. By degrees a marching beat emerged, and Jack listened with anticipation as the seamless transition led into their signature song, “Rocket”, one of Kiko’s first compositions. And then, the girls began to sing in unison-

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!”

then Kiko sang, her eyes never leaving Jason’s

“What new worlds of wonders, do you think we’ll see?

How far will you trust me? Will you come with me-e-e-e?”

back to unison

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!”

Kiko

“Place your hand in my hand, I won’t let you fall!

Lets fly through the Heavens, let’s answer the call!”

unison, chords

“Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

To the stars! To the heavens and back,

See the stars? See the galaxy spinning,

Spinning on its track, oh,

What do you see-e-e-e?

What do you see-e-e-e?

How do you fe-el?

Is it all real? Oh,

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

unison

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!”

Kiko

“The new worlds of wonders, do you realise?

The new worlds of wonders, are stars in your eyes!”

unison

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!”

Kiko

“We’ll both go together, we’ll go, you and I!

We’ll fly through the Heavens! We’ll fly through the sky!”

unison-chords

“Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket !

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

To the stars! To Heaven and beyond!

See the stars? See the Great Beyond? Oh,

What do you see-e-e-e?

What do you see-e-e-e?

How do you feel?

Is this for real? Oh,

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!”

unison-chords

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!”

Saturday, October 10, 2009, 03:23AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack Moore’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan, Canada

Jack smiled to himself as he draped blankets over the kids in the downstairs rumpus room. Jason and Kiko lay spoon-fashion on one couch, Mary and Penny lay with their feet intertwined on another, Carly and Tina lay on the third, Asta was curled up on the bean-bag chair she had taken over, and Yelina lay dangerously close to the edge of one of the two half-size couches, Boom-Boom Kitty asleep on her chest. Jack shifted the sleeping girl into a less precarious position, kitten and all, and covered them. He then turned off the televison, dimmed the lights, and returned upstairs.

‘Told you they’d all be asleep,’ Mike smiled as Jack joined him at the dining room table. Mike was studying the stadium and PA model Jason had spent the past week building. ‘Damn that kid is good! I can’t get over the detail. And now that I see it, I get it.’

Jack rubbed the back of the sleeve of his plaid work shirt over his eyes, tiredly. ‘Really? I don’t.’

‘Look,’ Mike said, pointing, ‘you see how the speakers are set up? In sort of a ball, all the way around, underneath and over the audience? For one thing, the sound will be really physical. For another, it will be true three-dimensional stereo, which to date has only been done with special headphones and experimental rooms.’

Jack gave him a look. ‘Where do you get this stuff?’

‘Studio mags they sell in the music mall,’ Mike told him. He smiled. ‘Boy, have you ever fallen behind the times!’

Jack stretched, trying to stay awake. ‘Tell me about it. But you can’t tell me that this stuff isn’t new, even to you.’

‘The ideas behind them aren’t new,’ Mike said, yawning, ‘but you’re right- there’s never been anything like this on earth before.’

‘Yeah, well, I still don’t get what it’ll sound like.’

Mike puffed out his cheeks. ‘Okay, well . . . it will sort of sound like you’re right inside the sound. It won’t just sound like it’s all around you. It’ll make you kind of feel like you’re suspended in space, with sounds moving around you, like they have physical feel and shape and texture. And . . . okay, look at this, see how Short Stuff has got the lights set up?’ (“Short Stuff” was his nickname for Yelina. “Bear” was everyone’s nickname for Tina). They’re under the floor, they’re attached to the speakers, they’re under, around and at the back of the stage! When the girls play a note on their instruments, if the instruments are electronic, each note has its own speaker and set of lights. The lights shift with volume and timbre. It’s a different story with the acoustic instruments. They make the “mood” lights change and pulse and flash. Most of the “mood” lights are on all the time, the greens, the blues, the reds, the yellows. They’re in clusters, mounted on each speaker, and they can be set up like pixels on a television or computer screen- and I intend to do just that with them! Create images! It’ll be a wiring nightmare, but nothing like it will ever have been seen or felt or experienced in history!

‘I mean, look at this! When Bear and Short Stuff start pounding out the rhythm, the floor will pulse with sound and light, and the sound will come out all the speakers in three dimensions, and the mood lights will pulse in time with them. Then, when Kiko starts up on the electronic drums, it’ll set off sparkles that go shooting out in circles, from floor to ceiling. And then, when Mary and Penny start up with the electronic stuff, the sound will set the whole light system to sparkling and flashing and spinning, and then Asta’ll come in with that grunge electric guitar of hers, and that’ll set the mood lights off, and that’s when we can fire up an image-generator, maybe like a psychedelic three-D Jumbotron, and the place’ll just go nuts!’

Unable to imagine any of this, but caught up in his friend’s enthusiasm nonetheless, Jack tried his best to understand, and nodded his enthusiasm. ‘Okay, well, how long before we can actually get a show happening?’

Mike leaned forward. ‘I was hoping you’d ask that. Look, buddy, this may be pushing things a little, but we can do this now. The kids have enough tunes together, and I can make everything work. Young Jason’s got a real talent for running the show. The only bug will be that we’ll have to rent the stadium ahead of time so’s we can spend a full day getting everything working right.’

Jack frowned. ‘Why so long?’

Mike rolled his eyes in exasperation. ‘It’s only the most complicated sound and light system ever devised, that’s all.’

Jack chuckled at that. ‘I’m going to bed! You can stay up all night if you like. Okay, so we’re putting on the show of the century.’

‘Y’know, old buddy,’ Mike told him seriously, ‘that might not be too far off the mark.’

Sunday, October 11, 2005, 6:09 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Porcupine Plain, Saskatchwan

Arley Tattersall stared with a sick expression at the deadly things Frederick Sutter placed on the table and pushed towards herself and Ian Woodbridge. They looked like small, palm-sized hand-guns, except that their rounds were ejected by powerful yet silent bursts of air.

‘They’re a work of art, really,’ he told the young couple, his expression ironically reverent. ‘The air-cartridge aperture is computer-designed to impair the formation of vortices, resulting in near-non-existent audible noise.’ He shrugged. ‘Trust the military to invent such things.’

‘I don’t want it,’ Arley told him in a flat voice.

‘I don’t either,’ Ian Woodbridge seconded. ‘If we find the aliens, the very last thing I’m going to do is kill them.’

‘I didn’t say “use them”,’ Frederick told them reasonably. ‘I merely asked you to accept them. They are from our military “friends”. To stay in their good graces, and thereby gain access to some aspects of their knowledge and resources, we must at least make a show of going along with them.’

‘It’s not that simple,’ Woodbridge bit off tersely. ‘It’s never that simple. Having a weapon doesn’t just mean that you’re armed. It also means that you’ve become a legitimate target for someone else who’s armed. You now how these military creeps think! There’s no telling if these things are just a way to murder innocent people. They may also be used as an excuse to eliminate [i]us[/I]!’

‘Now, now,’ Frederick soothed, ‘do you really think that I’d expose yourself or this young woman to that sort of danger?’

‘Maybe not willingly,’ Woodbridge muttered. ‘Maybe not wittingly.’

There was ice in the older man’s eyes and in his voice at that. ‘You think me that inept?’

Woodbridge felt an ice-pick of fear staring into those eyes that had changed suddenly from warm and affable to . . . what? Deadly? Menacing? Was Frederick Sutter not what he appeared to be? A well-meaning, reasonable and concerned older man?

Suddenly, as though what he’d witnessed had been only an unfortunate trick of light and shade, the Dr Frederick Sutter he knew was back again, his old, affable, wry self.

‘Come now, Ian, I’m not as blind and foolish as that! I know the games these men play, and the risks they’re willing to taking. Murdering civilians is hardly in their purview. They’re fools, not monsters.’

Woodbridge almost felt relieved . . . at his side, he could tell from Arley’s exhalation of pent-up breath that [i]she[/i] was relieved . . . but still, a niggling worm of doubt and worry remained. But making a mental decision, Woodbridge smiled and held out his hand. ‘Well, no harm, no foul, right?’

Though small, the weapon was very heavy. Woodbridge found himself having to resist the seductive feel of the thing, the power over life it represented, its smooth, rounded lines that caused to feel like a natural extension of the hand. He depressed a metal button on the grip, popped the device open, and stared in surprise.

‘Yes,’ Frederick told him as realisation set in, ‘the two gasses come together in that chamber and are ignited. The expanding gas expels a metal dart one centimetre long and as thick as a pencil lead. The dart disintegrates just after impact, releasing a powerful neurotoxin that brings instantaneous paralysis and death.’

‘There’s no antidote?’ Arley asked him.

Frederick grimaced. ‘Even if there were, the subject would be dead before the antitoxin could be administered.’

‘These things don’t look like they’ll disintegrate on impact,’ Woodbridge remarked. ‘In fact, if anything, they look pretty darned sturdy.’

‘They are sturdy,’ Frederick told him. ‘Very sturdy. You could fire one of these right through a quarter inch of plate steel. A minute sensor inside the dart can tell the difference between its having impacted wood, concrete, steel, or flesh. If and when it decides that it has impacted upon flesh, a microprocessor then sets off a tiny explosive which disperses its payload. And just like that, there’s a tiny bang and you’re dead, instantaneously.’

With a conscious effort of will, Woodbridge pushed the thing away. ‘All right. What’s this I’ve heard about a possible lead? Is there any truth to the rumour that the missing aliens have been located?’

Frederick responded with a disparaging look. ‘Please! There’s a working theory; nothing more.’

‘Which is?’ Arley prompted, curious now.

Frederick sighed, considering. ‘Well . . . it goes like this. Satellite imaging wasn’t able to penetrate to the ground because of the amount of heat and debris in the air, but we were able to track all incoming and outgoing traffic. It’s a needle in a haystack, but what they’re doing now is going back to the records, tracking each and every vehicles’ movements, and doing a follow-up.’

Arley and Ian exchanged a wide-eyed look and leaned closer, waiting for more.

‘I’m afraid that’s all there is to it,’ Frederick said, spreading his hands.

‘But all the vehicles in the area were noted and tracked by way of the checkpoints!’ Arley prompted. ‘Surely there is a statistical method we could use to narrow down the scope of the search?’

Frederick smiled at that. ‘Actually, I was hoping the two of you would have some ideas in that department.’

‘Well-’

‘We might,’ Ian said evasively, cutting Arley off. ‘But we’ll need a little time in order to come up with something useful.’

‘All right,’ Frederick said, getting to his feet, ‘I’ll give you two weeks. Fair enough?’

Ian watched through the curtains until he was certain that Frederick Sutter had left. At last, he let out a long, pent-up stream of air. ‘That right bastard!’

‘You think he’s one of them?’

He turned to consider her. ‘What, the military? I’m not sure. But . . . I don’t know. There are times when something about the guy just doesn’t ring true.’

‘What, like he’s lying to us?’

Ian fixed her with a look. ‘No, Sweetie, like he’s dangerous. I mean [i]seriously[/i] dangerous. I think he’s trying to pressure us into finding and killing those people.’

Arley shook her head. ‘I don’t understand you. Why would he do that?’

‘In military circles it’s called “plausible deniability”. You get someone from outside your organisation to do your dirtywork, so that [i]you[/i] won’t be answerable. You then either turn on your co-conspirators and let them get hung out to dry, or you take them someplace remote and kill them’

‘You’re freaking me out, Ian!’ Arley blurted, afraid and angry now. ‘What are we getting ourselves mixed up in, here? Why don’t we just get out while we can?’ Ian’s disappointed look stopped her. ‘Okay, forget I said that. You’re right . . . we can’t let these freaks have their way. We’re going to have to try to get to the aliens first.’

Ian breathed his relief and took her in his arms. ‘That’s my girl.’

From his vehicle, Frederick heard every word through his headphones, and chuckled to himself. ‘Yes,’ he echoed to no one, ‘that’s my girl!’

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 6:32 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) Temporary Field Office

Near Crash Site

The man in black suit and sunglasses grimaced to himself in satisfaction. They were weeks behind schedule, but at last his field officers had full control over the entire area. Nothing got in or out of the crash zone, and the resident civilian population was now removed to a distance of not less than five miles.

The irony of it was that the army was the chief source of gossip that leaked to the press, and was a continuing source of trouble for his security measures. The soldiers routinely disobeyed orders where controlling the civilian population was concerned. They refused to arrest trespassers and the curious, they refused to arrest and detain people for gathering around the perimeter of the crash zone, they refused to arrest, detain and question locals who spoke openly to strangers and foreigners about the downed alien vessel.

However, now that the crash site itself was under the control of his field officers, and the army was removed from the immediate vicinity and given the task of policing the perimeter, things were beginning to run smoothly. At last, he was able to move his true operations out into the open.

His special forces operatives were set and ready, laying on their bellies within sandbag-fortified foxholes dug in near the tail section of the craft. Their attention was focussed on a single portal near the tail, a door that had resisted all attempts to cut, burn or pierce it. Now they were set to blast it open and storm the alien vessel [i]en masse[/i].

The entire edge and frame of the door was rigged with high-explosive plastique so powerful it would rip the fame open like a can-opener.

His associate nodded. They were good to go.

The man in black leaned back in his chair to watch the monitors in anticipation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 6:35 AM, Cental Time Zone, GMT

Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan

‘[i]Jesus H. Christ[/i]! What the hell was that?’

After-echoes of the blast rumbled like ruin and damnation.

The young couple struggled into their clothes in darkness. The power was off. Every window in the house seemed shattered.

‘You don’t think the ship exploded?’ Arley asked him.

Ian gave her a look. ‘More like the bastards blew it up! C’mon, let’s go find out what the hell is going on!’

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 6:55 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

‘Jack! Jack! Get up! Wake up!’

‘What the hell, Jason? What time is it-’

‘Never mind that! Just get up! Now!’

Moments later, Jack stumbled bleary-eyed into the living-room . . . and stared in shock at what was going on on the television. ‘God damn it to hell! What do those bastards think they’re doing? There’re [i]people[/i] inside that thing!’

Kiko was weeping inconsolably. Yelina looked to him hysterically. ‘We have to stop them! We have to stop them! My mom is in there! Jack, please! Do something!’

‘Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!’ Jack unconsciously repeated the words like a mantra as he stared in horror at the scene as it was replayed again and again by the news helicopter cameras. There was a brilliant flash, and a ball of fire, and the impossible bulk of the massive craft bucked down its whole entire length from the force of the blast. ‘Those monsters! How could they do that? There’re people in there!’

As in a dream, a motion outside his front window drew their attention, as his crew cab went careening into reverse with a roar, slammed into the cars across the street, burned rubber and sped off.

‘[i]Yelina[/i]! Jesus fucking Christ! This isn’t happening!’ Moving at a run, he ran outside and jumped into his old pickup-

‘I’m coming with you-’

‘No, Jason,’ he said through the open window, ‘you’re staying here and taking care of Kiko and your sister! No arguments! If I don’t come back, take your sister and Kiko and go to Mike’s place and stay there! Understand?’

Feeling as though his little world has been ripped apart at the seams, Jack went after Yelina in his old pickup truck, trailing a plume of blue smoke.

As he suspected he would, he soon caught sight of the crew-cab barrelling along on the grid leading north from Anaheim. With his heart in his mouth, he watched the way the truck careened drunkenly from side to side as the little blonde alien girl tried desperately and inexpertly to control it.

Jack was forced to slow down as the dust thrown up by the crew cab blinded him.

‘Shit!’ Jack slammed on the brakes and slewed to a stop in a cloud of dust. The road had ended abruptly at a “T” intersection. He turned around in his seat, looking left and right down the paved country road as the dust cleared. But there was no sign of Yelina. She was gone.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 10:17 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Near Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan

There being nothing else he could have done, Jack had driven like a maniac all the way to a point just south of Porcupine Plain on Route 38, had stopped the truck, and now waited with anxiety gnawing away at his guts, and watched the northbound traffic in his sideview mirror. There was no guarantee that the little blonde alien girl hadn’t already rolled the truck. Worse! She could be anywhere, badly hurt, somewhere off the road where no one could find her.

Images flooded through Jack’s mind, all of them bad. Yelina, trapped in the burning ruin of the wrecked crew cab; Yelina run off the road by highway cops and arrested at gunpoint; Yelina being examined in a hospital emergency room, a panicked emergency room doctor on the phone to the authorities . . .

‘[i]Damn, damn, damn[/i]!’ Jack slammed his fists on the steering wheel in frustration. Why couldn’t he at least have bought cell phones, for himself and the kids? How could he have let this happen? How could he have let everything slide so badly? Why hadn’t he got to know the alien girls better? To date, he hadn’t once asked them a single question about the ship, about their loved ones, about their other lives. How could he have been so insensitive? So very blind?

Hours passed, and Jack was just about to start up the truck, turn around, and head for home, when with a wrench of anxiety he spotted the crew cab. The little blonde alien girl seemed to have better control of the vehicle now. It wasn’t careening, but jerked slightly from side to side in small increments that kept it generally between the line running down the centre of the road and the shoulder. Jack started the engine, put in the clutch, put the truck in gear, waited . . . waited . . . waited for her to pass-

‘JEEZE!’

He almost blind-sided a little blue vehicle that was trailing the crew-cab in hot pursuit. Jack stared in shock! There was no mistaking the tell-tale plume of blue smoke belching from that rusty, dented old Honda Civic. It was Mike! Careening back onto the highway, spraying gravel as he went, Jack stomped on the accelerator and gave chase.

Jack was just beginning to wonder whether Mike’s old Honda or his own old truck was up to catching the crew cab- had she floored the accelerator, and had she been a more experienced driver, Yelina could easily have lost them- but by degrees, the Honda inched up on the crew-cab until it followed in the wake of the fishtailing vehicle.

And then, Mike made his move! His little blue Honda dodged into the left lane and belched smoke as Mike stomped on the accelerator. Jack was just beginning to wonder if Mike was going to be able to overtake the crew-cab after all, when the Honda suddenly veered in front of the fleeing vehicle. Jack hit the brakes as the crew-cab’s brake lights came on. As the vehicle came screeching to a halt, he parked himself right up against the rear bumper to prevent Yelina from taking flight once more.

In a lightheaded daze, Jack stumbled out of his truck to the crew-cab door and wrenched it open. As in a dream, he watched as Yelina tried pulling away from him, screaming at him.

‘No, Jack! Let me go! I want my mom! I want my mom!’

And then, she was in his arms, weeping hysterically.

Jack couldn’t read Mike’s mood, but there was something ominous in the way the big man led Yelina to his car, went to the back, opened the hatch-back and produced a tow-bar, pushed it roughly into Jack’s grasp.

‘I’ll meet you back at your place. Then we’re going to have a little talk.’

Jack was stunned. How had Mike known? And why was he so angry?

Wordlessly, Jack obeyed, backed his old truck up and hooked it up by the tow-bar to the crew-cab, got the vehicles turned around, and headed back towards Anaheim.

For Jack, time seemed broken somehow, moving in jerky sequence from mid-scene to mid-scene. Almost unaware of how he had gotten there, he found that he was back at home, sitting at the kitchen table, the kids banished to the basement. Mike was standing, furious, pacing.

‘Goddamn it Jack, WAKE UP! This has gone on long enough!’

Jack found that his insides were like broken glass, full of unuttered pain. He shook his head. ‘Why are you being like this?’

Mike stared at him as though he were mad. ‘Haven’t you been paying [i]any[/i] attention to what’s going on around you? That kid could have gotten herself [i]killed[/i]!’

‘Oh, so it’s [i]my[/i] fault?’

At that, Mike appeared angry enough to floor him. ‘It [i]is[/i] your goddamned fault!,’ he roared into Jack’s face. ‘She’s out of control! She coming home drunk every other goddamned night, she’s into drugs and God knows what else, she’s [i]selling[/i] drugs, and from the beginning you’ve done nothing! Kiko and Jason have been clinging to each other like grim death because you haven’t been there doing your job! Carly’s like a little ghost these days-’

Jack got to his feet, furious. ‘I’m doing the best I know how-’

‘You’re doing jack-shit!’ Mike roared down into his face. ‘These kids need a father! Not a friend who buys their affection-’

Jack put up his hand. ‘We’re not even going there-’

‘Oh, yes, that’s exactly where we’re going,’ Mike told him. ‘These kids are [i]desperate[/i] for a father, or at the least, a father figure-’

‘I’m doing the best I know how-’ Jack tried to protest.

‘You’re doing [i]nothing[/i]!’ Mike thundered. ‘You’re not giving these kids what they [i]need[/i]. Yelina [i]wants[/i] you to punish her, to ground her, to warm her little backside when she’s bad, to shower her with love and affection the rest of the time. They [i]all[/i] want that. They all [i]need[/i] that. But instead, you’re just coasting, hanging around on the sidelines, where you’ve been ever since-’

‘Mike, please don’t-’

‘Ever since the [i]accident[/i],’ Mike pressed on. ‘Well, pal, you can’t keep coasting like this- not any more. These kids need you, Yelina and Kiko now more than ever. They need us to figure out a way to save the people inside that ship-’

Jack almost fainted, felt the earth tilt as the implications sank home.

‘How the hell did you know about that?’

‘Because the kids came to me and told me. Ages ago,’ Mike said into Jack’s disbelief. ‘They told me, because they couldn’t tell [i]you[/i]! Christ, Jack, don’t you even have any idea what’s been going on around here with that crashed ship out there? Haven’t you once turned on the television and seen the crowds of protesters and wack-jobs, from all over the world, camped out around the crash-site? Look at me! Don’t you have [i]any[/i] idea what’s going on?’

Jack sat down, shaken. ‘I can’t-’

‘Do you even remember what you called Yelina when you pulled her out of the truck?’

Jack gaped, feeling sick. He found himself unable to speak.

‘You called her “Angie”, Jack. You called her your little Angel.’

All at once, to Jack’s aghast mind came unbidden the unthinkable- the mangled, burnt-out vehicles, the charred bodies of Mike’s wife and his own, Ellie, and the charred, mutilated remains of his little girl.

In a quiet, roughly gentle voice, Mike continued. ‘It was an accident, Jack. Just a stupid, horrible accident. I lost my wife, and you . . . you lost everything. And then you crawled up your own ass and tried to die, and you’ve been there ever since.’

‘Oh, God!’ At once, the grief he’d held back for so long, that had lain in wait for him all these years, suddenly erupted, seized him by the throat. ‘Oh, God!’

‘You have got to stop fighting it,’ Mike told him gently, as Jack came apart at last. ‘Don’t hang onto it any more. I’m here for you, buddy. The kids are here for you. They need you- not a broken shell of a man, but [i]all[/i] of you, alive and whole. It’s time to let it go.’

Jack wept for Ellie, the lost love of his life; for Angela, the light of his life, gone out forever. His little angel. Jack wept for them, for his irremediable pain, for the life that had been torn from him . . . and for the first time in many years he felt the analystic balm of healing touch his scarred emotions like cold water poured over a burn.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 11:03 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) Temporary Field Office

Near Crash Site

Behind his black sunglasses, the man in black was consumed with black rage. The explosion had hardly made a dent in the alien ship. To make matters worse, the sound of the blast had drawn news helicopters from all directions like blowflies to a murdered corpse. His phone was ringing off the hook. The provincial premier wanted to ask what the hell was going on. The light on the prime minister’s direct line blinked ominously. A hundred news stations were demanding answers. And as the morning wore on, first thousands, then tens of thousand, then hundreds of thousands of people began calling, jamming the switchboard.

‘Sir?’

How he wished he could order those vultures shot out of the sky. He toyed with the idea, briefly.

‘Sir! The Prime Minister is on the phone! He wants to talk to you. Right now!’

Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 7:37 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

A.C.T. Ice Arena, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Jack smiled wryly to himself as hungry teens liberated his burden of hot dogs and pop. Kiko smiled shyly at him, and Carly snuggled up against him as he joined them. Jason seemed much more mature, more sure of himself. How things had changed this past week!

He had laid down the law, feeling absolutely horrible, like a traitor . . . and the kids had responded to him, instantly, opening up to him, talking to him about themselves, their angst, their dreams, their fears, their wants . . .

Yelina he had given a good-old-fashioned hiding when he caught her with some stolen merchandise- had marched her right back to the store and made her return her booty and apologise. He had felt absolutely wretched for doing it . . . but instead of the exacerbated rebellion and anger he expected, she had been contrite, had [i]stayed[/i] contrite, had taken up the chores he’d given her with diligence and enthusiasm, had stopped her bad behaviour altogether.

And only last night she had come to him on her way to bed, had plunked herself down in his lap as he watched television, had hugged him long and hard like a little girl, and cried and told him how much she loved him.

All in a week, he mused . . .

She waved to him and grinned from her position at the left-wing face-off circle, before turning her attention back to the game, to the referee standing with puck in hand, ready to slam it down onto the face-off circle between the opposing players. And then the whistle blew, and Yelina, with legendary ferocity, picked off the puck before it could touch the ice, and drilled it right at the opposing team’s goalie, causing the fans to yell, “OH!”. Quick as lightning, Yelina dove on her belly, right through the players milling around in front of the net, corralled the rebounded puck, and snapped it home with a backhander from a kneeling position. The crowd was on its feet with a roar, and the Holy Cross team’s fans began chanting, “Ye-li-NA! Ye-li-NA! Ye-li-NA!” But Yelina had eyes only for Jack, and for his approval, and as their eyes locked, she knew she had it at last.

As she emerged from the dressing-room, hockey-bag slung over her shoulder, gabbing excitedly about the game with Tina and Arley, she was stopped by the biggest boy she had ever seen.

‘Nice moves.’

For perhaps the first time in her young life, Yelina found herself tongue-tied.

The young man smiled broadly, and left with his friends, leaving Yelina to gape after him.

‘Wow!’

Tina gave her a look. ‘So [i]that[/i]’s what it takes to make you notice boys. One, anyway.’

‘Who is he?’

Tina and Arley exchanged a pained look. ‘That was only Matthew Thunderchild, aka Super Chief, the most talked-about hockey-player in all of Saskatchewan.’ Arley told her. ‘He plays for one of the all-native teams. They say he’s the best player ever from their league.’

‘They’re in town to take on the Wolves,’ Tina said. ‘They’re playing here tomorrow night.’

Yelina sighed, and wondered if Jack would agree to take her to see the game.

Jack couldn’t help but chuckle at Yelina’s transparency as she made her request, after they got home.

‘You want to see the boys play. I see. Is it any boy in particular?’

She flushed crimson. ‘Ja-ck!’

‘Okay,’ he said, laughing, ‘we’ll all go.’

She bit her lip. ‘But I want just you and me to go.’

‘We’ll all go,’ he told her firmly. ‘It’s only fair, especially considering the way you and Carly hound Kiko and Jason.’

‘But I want just [i]you[/i] there,’ she pleaded.

Jack sighed and put his arms around her. ‘I see. Is it so I’ll be there, just in case.’

She nodded. ‘I don’t want to look stupid in front of Kiko.’

Jack smiled at that. ‘Just me, eh?’

She giggled. ‘Yup. Just you.’

Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 7:00 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

AC.T Ice Arena, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Jack smiled wryly from where he sat halfway up the stands at centre ice. The arena was packed to capacity to see this exhibition game between the visiting Cree River Warriors and the Saskatoon Wolves. Yelina had left him with her half-eaten smoky-dog and half-drunk pop, and was now down in the corner at ice-level with Tina, Asta, and three of their team-mates. It was difficult to tell who the girls were cheerleading- whether it was one of the teams or certain of the boys on both teams- probably the latter.

The game got off to a bruising start. There was a lot of hitting. Jack got the impression right away that there was a history of bad blood between the players. The star of the Cree River Warriors was a big, athletic young man, Matthew Thunderchild, who stood out like a grown man among boys. It wasn’t just his size that made him stand out. It was his poise, his grace, his athleticism, his intelligence-

The crowd stood up with a roar!

-his booming slapshot, that had found its mark from just over centre ice!

‘Whoa!’ a man in front of Jack said to his wife, ‘that kid’s going all the way to the NHL! Just you watch!’

Jack watched with wry wonder as the young man waved to his fans- no hamboning, no pretentious, overblown emotional display- skated to the corner, and began speaking to the girls. And to Yelina. Jack chuckled at the sight, and found that he was smiling, foolishly.

‘You [i]could[/i] have a fresh one,’ Jack said as Yelina rejoined him and promptly ate her cold smoky-dog and drank her flat pop.

She shrugged, her mien thoughtful. ‘Can I have some friends over tonight?’

‘Until eleven, sure,’ Jack told her. ‘But not past eleven. It’s a school night, remember.’

She sighed, elbows resting on knees, chin resting on her cupped palms, her expression dreamy. ‘Okay. Can I have an ice-cream bar?’

‘Sure, if you bring me one, too.’

To Jack’s unsurprise, Yelina cadged a ride, along with Tina and Asta. They went with Matthew Thunderchild, who owned a beat-up but well maintained light-blue Chevrolet pickup. Once back at the house, of course, the kids disappeared into the basement.

As eleven o’clock drew near, Jack heard quiet drumming coming from the erstwhile carport, that was now converted into a band room. He didn’t mind the kids making noise this late at night, as with the Whyte house gone, the nearest neighbours lived a block away.

Going to the band room to remind the kids of the time, he was surprised to discover that it was only Yelina and Matthew, and that it was Matthew who sat at Yelina’s massive drum kit.

‘Sorry, Sir, was I making too much noise?’

‘Call me Jack,’ Jack told him to put the young man at ease. ‘No, you’re not bothering anyone. I just came out here because it’s almost eleven.’ He looked over the musical equipment, wistfully. ‘I used to play a bit myself. He nodded at the Taiko sticks Matthew was holding. ‘How’re you making out on that thing? You sounded pretty good.’

Matthew nodded in Yelina’s direction. ‘Short Stuff here can really wail on this setup! I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought I was pretty good, but-’ he huffed. ‘She really kicks my butt!’

‘You’ve got fast feet,’ Yelina told him. ‘I could teach you.’

Matthew smiled at that. ‘What, drum lessons? Sure . . . that is, if your dad doesn’t mind.’

There was an awkward silence as Jack and Yelina struggled a moment with that, but at last, with a sigh, watching Yelina’s reaction carefully, Jack said, ‘No, he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind a bit.’

Saturday, October 31, 2009, Central Time Zone, GMT

Park Hill Hotel Restaurant, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Professor Holcomb joined Dr Frederick Sutter in the Park Hill Hotel Restaurant without a word. It never occurred to either man to exchange pleasantries.

‘You’re sure they’ve checked every lead?’

Frederick Sutter yawned, took off his glasses and massaged his tired eyes. ‘They were thorough. The army just wrapped up its own independent investigation. Same result. You have something to add?’

Holcomb’s stare was blank, emotionless, like those of a killer. ‘You know how difficult a time I had obtaining information about the bodies and body parts found at the crash site. Don’t be surprised if the information I gathered isn’t . . . [i]flawed[/i].’

Frederick knew what he meant. Any leaked “information” might turn out to be deliberately leaked mis- or dis-information.

‘I understand. What have you heard.’

Holcomb sighed his anger and frustration. ‘I have heard two conflicting reports: that the aliens are close copies of humans, and that the aliens are some sort of modified humans.’

Frederick frowned his scepticism. ‘What do you make of this. Do you think it may be an attempt at a cover-up?’

Holcomb’s response was icy. ‘I won’t think [i]anything[/i] until I’ve seen the bodies for myself.’

Frederick Sutter and Holcomb both looked to Sutter’s right hand. In his clenched fist his knife was clutched, bent back on itself. Frederick laid the utensil on the table in a controlled manner that nevertheless belied his inner turmoil.

Drawing his eyes from the ruined knife with an effort, Holcomb asked, ‘What of your two young friends? Have their efforts in tracing the movements of the survivors met with any sort of success?’

Frederick’s answering smile was one of reptilian remorselessness. ‘As a matter of fact, yes. They’ve narrowed the search down to less than two dozen possibilities.’

Holcomb’s visage became stony, a precursor to an unleashing of violence. ‘This matter is far too important for you to have waited for the asking. How long have you known?’

Frederick’s response was equally menacing. ‘I only learned of their well-educated hunch in the past six hours. They have not yet commenced their search, so the present is soon enough for you to have learned of this.’

‘You fool! My team is not yet mobilised-!’

‘I have no intention of allowing your team to mobilise at this time,’ Frederick told him mildly. ‘Not until the aliens have been located. I suggest you learn to control your anger, and your arrogance. You draw too much attention to yourself, just as your much-vaunted team will draw unwanted attention to [i]it[/i]self, once it is mobilised. We want the aliens to disappear, drawing as little attention to the occurrence as possible, remember? If civilians see your team in action, there will be talk, and there will be rumours, and as we both know, rumours tend to have a life of their own.’

‘You want them for yourself,’ Holcomb said on intuition. ‘You have no intention of killing them just yet. Why?’

Frederick’s only reaction was to raise an eyebrow. ‘You should have guessed that by now. Getting our hands on the alien technology is one thing, but if all we’re left with is a crew of dead aliens, then there is the possibility that we will not be able to unlock the secrets of their technology. We might be left with a situation akin to Bronze Age people trying to puzzle out the intricacies of quantum mechanics. Besides, the missing aliens will probably be able to gain entry to the ship. That in itself would give us a decided advantage.’

‘Possibly. But what if the fugitive aliens turn out of be nothing more than janitors or mechanics?’

Frederick shrugged. ‘We will have to be satisfied with what we get. Even a janitor knows what things do and what they’re for. Any janitor can change a light bulb, or rewire a light switch. Besides, if this is the precursor to an invasion, the aliens will be able to tell us something of what to expect in the future.’

Holcomb frowned. ‘It was my understanding that you had dismissed the notion of invasion.’

‘I had,’ Frederick admitted, ‘but the longer the aliens remain holed up in their ship, the more I begin to wonder what they’re up to.’

Holcomb sighed, looking pensive. ‘If we can prise the means to enter the ship from the missing aliens, it would mean diverting the attention of both CSIS and the military away from the ship, long enough for us to enter and secure it. Subsequent to that, after killing the ship’s inhabitants, we would require time . . . perhaps unlimited time . . . in order to assimilate the aliens’ technology.’

Frederick smiled at that. ‘All we need do is gain access to the ship. From there we could simply remain in the ship as the aliens are doing. In essence we’d be turning their ship into a Trojan Horse.’

‘Assuming it isn’t one already,’ Holcomb told him seriously. ‘You don’t know what we’ll find in there! The aliens may have weapons beyond anything we’ve ever encountered.’

‘That is the hope,’ Frederick replied cryptically.

Monday, November 2, 2009, 7:09 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan.

Yelina awoke, feeling refreshed, and glanced at the electric clock on her night-stand. Only 7:09! With a sigh and a yawn, she stretched, sat up, arranged Boom-Boom Kitty on her shoulder, who likewise stretched and yawned, and headed for the bathroom.

She decided to take a bubble bath, a game that was a favourite of Boom-Boom Kitty. He loved batting at the soap-bubbles, and chasing the bubbles Yelina made using thumb and forefinger as a bubble-maker.

Yelina decided to wait for Jack to get up and make breakfast. Her few attempts at cooking had led to near-disaster, so she was content to leave well-enough alone.

‘C’mon, Boom-Boom Kitty! Let’s go walkies!’

Boom-Boom Kitty made a game of trying to avoid being caught and strapped into his harness, but Yelina expertly corralled him, got dressed in her down-filled jacket and pants and fur hat and snow-boots, and they were off into the snow.

There was no clear demarcation between the end of Jack’s property and the forest beyond. Boom-Boom Kitty went bounding ahead through the four inches of show until he was straining on his tether, eager to begin exploring the nooks and crannies and secret places concealed in the forest by the new-fallen snow.

Suddenly, Yelina felt an odd sensation. She looked about in alarm, but there was nothing to be seen.

She was about to relax when the sound of a stick breaking made her stand stock-still! In an instant, her sylvan winter-wonderland had become a place of menace and fear. She picked up Boom-Boom Kitty and stuck him in the top of her jacket where he hunkered down without protest, attuned as he was to his mistress’ mood. Yelina scanned the evergreen thicket where the noise had come from- and gasped in alarm as a dark shape detached itself from a clump of fir trees! A woman, dressed in a dark brown fur parka with the hood up now stood there, watching her.

‘Hello,’ the woman said in a low voice, as though she didn’t want to be overheard, and began walking towards her. ‘Do you live here?’

Yelina swallowed, and considered running. There was something alarming about the woman. She seemed to be trying to control something- was it anger? Was she dangerous? Or was it excitement?

‘My name’s Arley,’ the woman said, stopping when she noticed Yelina’s reaction. ‘Arley Tattersall. What’s your name?’

‘Yelina,’ Yelina responded. It came out sounding like a question. At the sound of the woman’s voice, Boom-Boom Kitty stuck his head out to investigate.

‘That’s a pretty name,’ the woman said with a smile, coming closer. ‘May I pet your kitty? She’s really pretty.’

‘This is Boom-Boom Kitty,’ Yelina responded, removing him from his cocoon and warming up to the woman, her fear dissipating. ‘He’s a boy kitty.’

The woman chuckled at that, and tousled the kitten’s head. ‘Aren’t you cute! I’d like to take you home with me.’

Yelina had by now learned that this was just a saying, and accepted it with a smile.

The woman became serious then, and held Yelina with her eyes. ‘I’ve been looking for you, Yelina. For you and your friend. There are bad people looking for the two of you. Do you know what I’m talking about?’

Yelina swallowed, suddenly conscious of how far away she was from the safety of Jack’s house.

Noticing the direction the girl’s eyes strayed, Arley sighed, and tried to smile to put her at ease. ‘I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to help, if I can. Yelina, there are bad people looking for you and your friend. They want to hurt you. Both of you. My boyfriend and I . . . we’re trying to find ways to keep them from finding out where you are.

‘But I have to tell you the truth, and the truth isn’t good. They’re beginning to figure out where everyone went after they left the place where your ship crashed. That means that they’ll eventually come here. And if that happens, they’ll hurt you and your friend, and the people you’re staying with.’

Yelina bit her lip in apprehension, uncertain what to do. She was about to speak, but cried out in alarm as a man’s strong hand clamped onto her shoulder. She tried to scream, but a gloved hand clamped itself over her mouth. In her terror, she watched as two black figures detached themselves from a stand of trees behind Arley and overpowered her. Yelina felt a sharp pain in her neck, and all at once everything became warm and fuzzy and dim. She felt herself falling as from a great height . . . and then her senses began leaving her altogether as she felt herself lifted and thrown like a sack over a man’s shoulder.

Monday, November 2, 2009, 7:33 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

The two men in black snowsuits prised open the aboveground basement half-window with the silent skill of professional killers. The first slid in silently, down into the dark of the basement, and was soon joined by his companion; two black non-shadows that stole through the darkness like avatars of death.

The first cursed silently as he surveyed the boxes overflowing with junk that stood between them and the door; evidently they’d entered a storage room. He gestured curtly at his eyes to warn his partner, who nodded. With that, they began wending their way towards the door, mindful of anything that might snag or catch on their outer clothing.

Jack woke, opened his eyes, stared at the clock, and frowned. Only 7:37? He never woke up before his alarm went off! Not unless something-

He sat up, suddenly wide awake, feeling that something was terribly wrong.

The man in black tried in vain to stifle a cry of pain as the young woman he’d tried to take unawares on the sofa unexpectedly sank her teeth into his hand as hard as she could. It had never happened like this! Always, they were too surprised to react in self-defence-

He roared aloud in rage as she groined him and evaded the device he tried to jab into her neck. At the same instant, his partner lunged for the young man who lay spoon-fashion behind the girl, aiming for the young man’s neck with his tranquillizer device, only to find himself slammed to the floor by a man who erupted out of the dark, swinging a baseball bat.

The man in black flung the girl off, slamming her into the wall, and squared off with the intruder, ready to break the man’s spine with moves learned in covert ops- then felt a chill as he never had before as the man stood prepared and ready for him, unafraid and deadly, silent, poised and watchful.

‘Ghuh-?!’ he had time only for an unintelligible outburst, caught by surprise by the young man who stuck him in the leg with his own tranquillizer device. The world turned fuzzy at the edges, and as it faded to a muzzy grey, he slumped unconscious to the floor.

‘Kiko!’ Jason went to her, reached up and turned on the light. She moaned, holding her arm in pain, but got to her feet, otherwise unhurt.

They flinched as a crash came from upstairs. Something heavy slammed against the floor, followed by the sound of running feet; and then there was a percussive sound, like punches being thrown, some cursing, the sound of a struggle, and another crash as a body slammed onto the floor.

‘Gimme that thing!’ Jack ordered, snatching the device from Jason’s hand. He rammed it into the face of the second man who was regaining consciousness. ‘Lights out, Sunshine!’ Hefting the bat, he ran for the stairs.

He was about to use the bat on the man in the kitchen until he realised that, unlike the others, he wasn’t dressed in black. The man held one hand to his head to stanch the blood that coursed from his temple and into his brown beard; the other he held up to ward Jack off. Carly stood behind him, dressed in her nightgown, looking shaken. She ran to Jack and buried her face against him.

‘Whoa! I’m on your side!’ the man said. On the floor, to his side, lay another man in black, unconscious.

‘Yelina! Where’s Yelina-?’

‘They got her!’ the newcomer said brokenly. ‘They got her and my girlfriend.’

Jack surged forward and grabbed his jacket, unkindly, held the bat upraised in threat. ‘Who got them? Who are these people? And who the hell are you?’

‘My name is Ian Woodbridge. I’m a scientist. My girlfriend and I thought we were working for some division of CSIS, but the bastards lied to us! We tried to get to you in time to warn you- Christ, will you put that thing down? We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do here! These people are killers!’

‘What do they want with Yelina?’ Jack demanded.

‘They have orders to kill every alien from that ship!’ Ian told him, desperately. ‘We have to stop them!’

Jack gaped in horror. ‘What are you talking about? Why the hell would they do something like that?’

‘They’re after the aliens’ technology,’ Woodbridge told him. ‘These guys are nuts! They’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on it.’

Jack lowered the bat, took a fresh look at the young scientist. ‘Get yourself cleaned up. The bathroom’s there, just down the hall. The first-aid’s hanging on the wall. I’ll get the trucks warmed up. All right?’

Woodbridge nodded, looking none too steady on his feet, and moved off towards the bathroom.

Jack thought a moment. Then, ‘Jason, you’re going to take Kiko and Carly to Mike’s, okay? Tell them to stay there.’

‘I want to come!’ Kiko blurted.

‘I do too!’ Jason seconded. His features were touched with the type of anger that made him look older than his years.

‘I know you do,’ Jack replied softly, putting a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, ‘but Carly’s too young to be involved in this.’

‘I’m not!’ Kiko said, lifting her chin in defiance.

‘You need to be with Jason,’ Jack told her. ‘You have to understand that we might not be coming back.’

She wilted at that, tears welling in her eyes. ‘But I want to help! I want to get Yelina back!’

‘I know you do, Sweetheart,’ he said, taking her in his arms. ‘I know. But this time, you’re going to have to leave it up to us. Okay?’

She began weeping in earnest, and clung to him. ‘I don’t want those men to hurt her!’

‘If I have my way,’ Jack told her, ‘it’s those men who’ll get hurt.’ His heart sank as he said those words, however, and in the pit of his stomach, he wondered if he’d be coming back.

Monday, November 2, 2009, 11:03 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Undisclosed Location, Near Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan

By degrees, Yelina’s mind regained consciousness, but it seemed as though her body were still asleep. She couldn’t move nothing except her eyes, but she could feel[/i] everything . . .

She lay on a dark blue carpeted surface- what from the sound and feel of motion she could tell was the floor of a van. Judging by the speed they were travelling, and by the smoothness of the road, she reasoned that they were on the highway. She shifted her gaze, looking towards the front of the vehicle, and saw that the sunshine was coming from the southeast. That meant they were travelling generally north-

Boom-Boom Kitty! He was still in her jacket, curled up in a ball against her chest. He was very still. It occurred to her, then, that like herself, he was awake, aware of what was going on around him.

Yelina lay with her feet toward the rear of the vehicle. In front of her lay the woman she had been talking to. Her wrists were bound before her with some sort of white plastic tie, like the type used to close garbage bags. From the feel of her own wrists, Yelina could feel that she was likewise bound.

Even as the little blonde girl looked at her, the woman’s eyes opened. They were glassy, as though her consciousness had not yet fully surfaced. And yet . . . and yet the eyes were looking straight at her! They blinked once, slowly . . . then again. Feeling a surge of excitement, Yelina responded in kind. The eyes remain fixed on her, steady.

In the front of the minivan were two men dressed in black snowsuits, both of them wearing dark sunglasses. They occupied the driver’s and passenger’s seats like reflections of each other. Neither uttered a word.

Yelina shifted her focus and began concentrating on her breathing. She took in deep breaths, as deep as she could hold, then expelled them until there was no air left in her lungs. And then she breathed in deep again . . . and out again . . . raising the level of oxygen in her blood in order to shake off the effects of the powerful soporific she’d been injected with. This made her feel light-headed, but she could feel control seeping back into her leaden limbs. The woman’s eyes widened. After a few moments, she began matching Yelina’s breathing, breathing in deeply through her nose, out through her mouth . . .

Yelina wished they could speak to each other . . . to . . . to [i]Arley[/I]! That was the name the woman had given her. Her name was Arley Tattersall.

Abruptly, Yelina heard the pitch of the engine drop, felt the pull of gravity as the vehicle braked, turned, accelerated once more, but only slightly. They were on an unpaved surface now, probably a grid-road. With her ear to the floor, Yelina could hear gravel whacking and rattling against the bottom of the vehicle, the scrunch of the tires.

The sun was now just to the right, to the southeast, Yelina noted, so they were now travelling generally east.

A radio cracked. “Unit Two, over?”

The man sitting in the passenger seat reached forward, pulled a microphone from its clip and keyed it. ‘Unit Two.’

“Unit Two, what is your ETA?”

‘We’re just ten or fifteen minutes out.’

“How long for units One and Three?”

The man paused. ‘They should be right behind us.’

“Is your subject in custody?”

Again, a slight hesitation. ‘We have two subjects.’

This was met with a prolonged pause. “Say again? You have [i]both[/i] subjects?”

‘No,’ the man replied carefully, ‘we have [i]one[/i] subject, and one of Sutter’s people.’

The radio went dead for several long, tense moments. And then, “Understood. You know what to do.”

The man in black went very still, and wiped sweat from his upper lip. ‘Roger that.’ He hung the microphone back on its clip.

Yelina caught her breath at that. Something was wrong! Something was very wrong! And it was about to happen! She fought to move . . . and this time her muscles twitched! She was beginning to be able to move again. But would she recover enough to try to do something about the terrible thing she knew was soon to happen?

Monday, November 2, 2009, 11:13 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Northbound on route 38, Greenwater Lake Provincial Park

Jack spotted a rough patch on the road ahead and drove through it deliberately, watching in the rear-view with satisfaction as the three men tied up together in the box were tossed roughly about. He hit the brake for good measure, slamming the trio in the back of the passenger’s quarters of the crew cab. Ian Woodbridge braced himself against the dashboard, looking a bit green. ‘Okay, I think you’ve made your point.’

‘I’m not letting up until I get Yelina back,’ Jack growled. ‘Until then, I’m making those bastards suffer.’

‘I’ve got a stake in this too, remember!’ Woodbridge hurled back at him. ‘These people are dangerous! They’ll shoot us if we confront them in a fair fight. We’ve got to be smart about this, or we’ll never get the alien girl or my girlfriend back.’ Four firearms hung in the gun rack before the rear window- two shotguns and two high-powered rifle with scopes.

‘I know,’ Jack bit off, trying to control his rage. ‘I know; you’re right. I’m not thinking straight right now. Damn, I wish my old buddy Mike was here. He’s always good in a tight corner. Fast on his feet, with his fists [i]and[/i] his head.’

‘Why’d you bring so damn-much ammo and so many guns?’ Ian asked him. ‘Are you going to get help?’

Jack shook his head. ‘I want those bastards to think the reserves have been called in. Four different guns’ll make ‘em think there’s at least four of us. There’s the two hand-guns, too.’

‘You’re making a mistake,’ Ian told her for perhaps the tenth time. ‘These guys are ex-military! There’re probably sharp-shooters amongst them. And even if you manage to pick all or some of them off, all that’ll do is land us in big trouble, assuming we survive! You’ll have the army [i]and[/i] the police after us, let alone CSIS!’

Jack thought about that. And then-

‘What’re you doing?’ Ian asked as Jack pulled out his cell-phone.

‘Calling in a favour,’ Jack told him cryptically as he dialled. ‘If what we’re going to do is going to stir up a hornet’s nest, then let’s fight fire with fire, and bring in a hornet’s nest of our own.’

Monday, November 2, 2009, 11:17 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Undisclosed location, near Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan

Boom-Boom Kitty sensed that his defining moment in life was about to come. He had sensed it from the moment his mistress was taken down by the bad men.

By some stroke of fate they had missed his presence as he lay quietly against his mistress’ breast; [i]still[/i] had not found him as they bound her and tossed her into the back of the minivan like some dead thing.

During the whole time he lay quiet and concealed, his mind had been flooded with memories and feelings: of his mother being torn apart by a dog as she defended him; of wandering about for almost a week afterwards, mewing from hunger and fear and loneliness; of the cruel young man who found him and had ostensibly given him to his girlfriend, only to torment and torture the kitten whenever he was drunk and his girlfriend was not around; of the sick “game” called “spin-the-kitty”, when the young men and his evil-minded friends used to lay him on the linoleum and spin him around, then laugh as he tried to running to safety, unable to do so because the world spun sickly around; of the time when he was given to the death-place, a place full of cages where sometimes, by a miracle, an animal would be taken away to be loved . . . but where more often animals were taken from their cages and stuck with a thing held by a human that would cause them to go limp and heavy with death; of the day the man had come and taken him away, along with a number of other animals; of the pain of leaving all the others behind, most of whom he knew would soon die; and last of all, that day, that miraculous day, when his mistress had come by and seen him, had looked into his eyes . . . had [i]really[/i] looked into his eyes, and had understood.

His wild hope had seemed dashed when he was taken from his new mistress and placed back in the pen, and for a time his world had gone black once more . . . but then his mistress had returned for him! Returned for him and had watched until no one was looking . . . and had taken him from his prison and rescued him!

Not a day went by that he didn’t feel incredibly lucky; that by some miracle, some grace, some [i]one[/i] had come for him, had chosen [i]him[/i] from amongst all those who were lost.

In his mind’s eye there were but two kinds of people and animals- those who liked kitties, and those who were [i]mean[/i] to kitties. Those who liked kitties were very few in this world and in this life . . . and to be [i]chosen[/i] by one of those few . . . well . . . what was that, if not a miracle?

But there was something else, something that had tormented him for all of his short life: he had watched his mother be torn apart. She had hidden him in a bed of irises, and he had obeyed as he did every time they played the “hide” game. But this time it was no game. He had done as she bade him to do- he had remained hidden . . . and from his place of concealment he had hidden like a coward, had watched and done nothing.

How he had dreamed of doing something! Of fighting back; of turning on the evil young man who used to spin him around until he couldn’t stand . . . how he wished that he’d turned on him, had sunk his claws and teeth into him . . . why had he always been such a coward? Why couldn’t he be brave, at least once?

With such thoughts mixed indelibly with shame running through his mind, he lay quiet, and he waited. And he remembered his mother, and the way he’d done nothing to help her . . . and he remembered the cruel young man, and how yet again he’d done nothing. And now someone had come along and hurt his mistress! His miracle! Someone was trying to take away the one thing that gave his life meaning!

He lay very quiet, and he waited. And as he waited, safely hidden against his mistress’ breast, he wondered what he would do: would he bolt and run to safety, once he was discovered? Or would he just cower in fear and shame, as he always did, and hope and pray that someone would come to his rescue?

He felt the vehicle turn a corner, and it was then that he felt a change in his mistress. She wasn’t dying, after all! She was awake?

But why was she being so still? What was going on?

And then, it dawned on him: she was preparing herself. She was readying herself to try to deal with her captors, just as his mother had once done as she prepared to fight to the death to protect him.

Boom-Boom Kitty took a deep breath, and decided then to try to emulate his mistress. But born coward that he was, he didn’t know whether he would fight or run. And as he lay there in his dark cocoon, he tried to imagine what courage felt like.

Monday, November 2, 2009, 11:33 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Undisclosed location, Secret Ops Temporary Facility

Professor Holcomb could scarcely contain his excitement as he watched the black minivan approach the temporary facility that was essentially a trailer park. At last, one of the aliens was within his grasp!

And yet he sensed right away that something was amiss.

‘Where are the other two?’ he asked, curtly.

One of his aides, who sat at a computer console, pointed at something on the screen. ‘According to the GPS, the other two are still in Anaheim.’

‘What the hell’s taking them so long?’

His aide shrugged. ‘We don’t know. We haven’t been able to raise them.’

Holcomb swore under his breath. ‘Well, find out! They should have returned together.’

Yelina was thankful for one thing- her captors hadn’t thought to check through her coat’s many pockets. Having regained some movement, she reached deep into a pocket and retrieved something. She thought of digging out her Swiss army knife and cutting her bonds, but some instinct changed her mind. Instead, she dug out something that under the circumstances was far more useful- her brand-new cell phone.

Jack jumped involuntarily as his cell phone bleeped, shrilly. It was the first time it had ever rung. He fumbled it out of his pocket, popped it open with some difficulty, and answered.

‘Hello?’

‘Jack?’

‘Kiko? Is something wrong?’

Ian Woodbridge watched him in silence, listening to half a conversation that made no sense, until Jack closed the cell up again and replaced it in his pocket.

‘What’s up?’ Woodbridge asked him in alarm as Jack pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.

‘I’m not sure,’ Jack replied, seemingly as mystified as he. ‘That was Kiko. She told me to pull over and stop.’

Ian stared. ‘But why?’

The answer arrived within minutes. It came in the form of Matthew Thunderchild in his pickup, and a hundred other young natives in an assortment of beat-up vehicles, all of them armed with rifles and shotguns. Pulling up alongside Jack and Ian, Matthew leaned over so he could see around his passengers.

‘Hi, Mr Moore. Yelina tells me you’ve got a problem with some two-footed coyotes.’

‘This could get ugly,’ Jack told him seriously. ‘People could get hurt.’

Matthew grinned- not a smile, but a young warrior’s promise of violence. ‘Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go bag us some bad guys!’

‘Sir? Sir!’

Holcomb had gone outside to meet the van containing the live alien. Frederick Sutter had arrived only moments before, and the two scientist were practically rubbing their hands with glee in anticipation of information that would allow them to enter the alien ship and begin work on understanding and assimilating its technology.

But suddenly the impossible was happening! Hard on the heels of the returning minivan came an armada of vehicles, many of them pickup-trucks bristling with firearms!

‘Get the alien inside!’ Sutter roared. ‘And kill that bitch you brought with her! You should have done that back at the house in Anaheim, you idiots!’

The men in black opened the back door to the van and began dragging the woman and the young alien girl out, when one of them noticed something odd about the girl’s jacket. Mystified, he reached to her throat and began pulling down the zipper-

‘Nga-a-a-ah!’

-only to have his hands shredded by Boom-Boom Kitty, who had at the man in black like a miniature Fury with the heart of a lion.

‘Uhgkk!’ the man in black made an unintelligible noise as Arley groined him.

Momentarily spellbound by the fact that his prisoners were inexplicably free of their bonds, the other man in black gaped stupidly as a grey dervish sprang from his companion, straight into his face.

‘Aa-a-a-argh! Sonofabi-!’ he was silenced by Arley with a tire-iron that clanked as it bounced off his head.

Unnoticed in the confusion, Holcomb and Sutter grabbed the alien girl and dragged her inside the building.

Monday, November 2, 2009, 11:37 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Inadvertently disclosed location, Secret Ops Temporary Facility

Holcomb gnashed his teeth in rage as he stared in disbelief at the monitors. An armada of media vehicles had added itself to the riot surrounding his Secret Ops Centre. At the sight of the news cameras, his men had lowered their weapons like guilty schoolyard bullies caught in the act.

‘Now what?’ Frederick Sutter demanded, his tone dripping with sarcasm.

‘We’re not done yet!’ Holcomb rejoined testily. He went to a radio, picked up the mike. ‘Air unit one.’

“Standing by.”

Holcomb gave Sutter a triumphant look. ‘Get that chopper here, now! We’ll be on the roof.’

“Understood.”

Unnoticed for the moment, Yelina stared with wide eyes at the array of sophisticated electronics.

Sutter raised an eyebrow. ‘I take it there’s a destination involved?’

Holcomb gave him a withering look. ‘Going on the lam without a plan is for common thieves and imbeciles. I intend to remove this creature to a secure location where we can work, uninterrupted. I suggest you help me get it up onto the roof.’

‘I’m not a “creature”,’ Yelina scowled, ‘and I’m not an “it”, and I’m not going for a ride in your stupid helicopter.’

‘You’ll do as you’re told!’ Holcomb snapped, though he appeared rattled that Yelina had spoken to him in plain English. ‘If you give us any trouble,’ he added, pulling out a hand-held taser and arcing it menacingly in front of her, ‘you’ll get a taste of this!’

‘You’re nothing a big meanie!’ Yelina rejoined. ‘Jack is going to kick the crap out of you!’

‘I think not,’ Holcomb said, prodding Yelina in the small of the back, urging her to proceed him to the ladder on the wall which led to the roof. From outside they could hear the helicopter nearing, fast, coming in for a landing.

With a reluctant sigh, Yelina began the ascent.

Reaching the trapdoor, she shoved it open-

‘Hey!’

‘Hiya, Short Stuff!’ It was Matthew Thunderchild, who deftly reached down, grabbed her by the back of her pants, and hoisted her onto the roof. ‘Bye, asshole!’ He kicked the trapdoor closed, sending both men tumbling to the floor.

Yelina jumped up and down, clapping her hands, and hugged him. ‘Yay! My big, strong warrior hero!’ On the roof with them were a dozen well-armed young native men. Above, the helicopter hovered in frustration.

‘Let’s go back down the ladder!’ Yelina urged.

Matthew gave her a look. ‘What? Whadja want to go back in [i]there[/i] for?’

‘I wanna go back and kick some butt!’

Matthew’s answering grin was like a scimitar. ‘Okay, but let me an’ the boys go in first! We’ll soften ‘em up for you.’ He lifted the trapdoor open with the toe of his boot. ‘Hey, assholes! Incoming . . .’ thirteen young native men began letting out a war-whoop like Indians in an old cowboys ‘n’ Indians flick, and one after another went sliding down the ladder.

In their younger days, both Holcomb and Sutter had been deadly martial artists, and even in their middle age they managed to parry the blows that rained on them from all sides, but age soon began catching up with them as they became winded.

Meanwhile, Yelina disappeared through a door labelled Control Room.

Realising they were done, in his arrogance Holcomb produced a gun from a hidden holster. At the sight of it, the young men took him down, hard, slamming him to the floor. As his colleague went down, Frederick Sutter tried to salvage what remained of his dignity, stopped fighting, and straightened his professorial tweed sport coat. Fearing a ruse, Matthew slapped an arm-lock on him and bent him over a desk.

‘Unhand me, you-’

‘Shut up, you cowardly piece of work,’ Matthew bit off tersely as he checked Sutter over for weapons and released him.

The young man’s poise and diction threw Sutter a moment, causing him to reappraise what he had presumed to be an unsophisticated lout.

‘Look,’ Sutter tried sounding reasonable, ‘there seems to be some misunderstanding-’

‘Don’t talk,’ Matthew rejoined with a grimace. ‘You’re a snake and a liar. That’s all I need to know about you.’ He noticed Yelina’s absence, then. ‘Hey, Short Stuff! Where’d you get to?’ Her continued absence causing him some alarm, he left his companions in charge of the two prisoners, went to the Control Room, and opened it. And gaped. ‘What is all this stuff?’ The room was filled with sophisticated electronic gear, all or most of it of unguessable purpose. ‘Hey! Short Stuff! C’mon, let’s get out of here!’ He went to her and tried to dislodge her from a rack of hand-held equipment whose entire compliment of artifacts she seemed determined to stuff into her pockets.

‘This isn’t a good idea!’ he said, propelling her to the door. ‘Yelina!’

She gave him the slip, momentarily, grabbed a prodigious piece of equipment, and began stuffing it up underneath the front of her jacket.

‘Okay, that’s all you’re taking!’ he ordered, not taking “no” for an answer this time. At that moment, he wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or not that she seemed satisfied with what she had.

As the young people exited the building with their two prisoners, they were spotted by a crowd of reporters surrounding Jack and Ian. Jack was saying, ‘There she is! There’s my niece, and those are the freaks that kidnapped her!’

Sutter and Holcomb tried unsuccessfully to hide their faces from the news cameras that were shoved in their faces from all sides. With their hands tied behind their backs, it was impossible for them to cover up.

‘Why did you kidnap this girl?’ a woman shouted, thrusting a microphone in Sutter’s face. Sutter’s appearance acted on the reporters like dog-dirt to flies, and he tried using his distinguished looks to gain some advantage.

‘I am a professor of physics,’ he said, summoning his dignity, ‘and I am in the employ of the federal government! It is I and my colleague who are being illegally detained by this gang of common thugs!’

‘You’re a big fat liar and a meanie!’ Yelina shouted, bursting into tears. ‘You stuck me with a needle, and you beat me up and hurt my kitty!’ Arley had arrived with Boom-Boom Kitty as she spoke, and with a surreptitious wink handed the little grey furball to his mistress. You could almost hear the reporters collectively say, “Aw-w-w-w-w!” Rising to the bait, they turned their cameras and their attention to Yelina.

Sutter became apoplectic with rage. ‘She’s a filthy little liar! I did absolutely nothing of the sort-’ He groaned in frustration as the little alien girl turned on the waterworks with renewed gusto.

‘You- you’re j-just a mean, ugly old man! What did my kitty and I ever do to you-?’

In no mood for any further duress to be inflicted on his mistress, Boom-Boom Kitty shifted in her arms, tail and hair bristling, and hissed at the object of her distress. Mesmerised, the camera operators jostled to get the best view of this phenomenon.

‘Cat’s don’t lie, you sonofabitch!’ the woman reporter challenged. ‘They don’t know [i]how[/i] to lie! Maybe you’d like to explain why this animal doesn’t like you?’

It was then that Sutter made his fatal error. ‘It’s just a dumb animal, defending its owner-’

‘Oh, so you [i]admit[/i] you attacked her, then!’

As the feeding frenzy commenced, Jack took the opportunity to extricate Yelina from the circle of reporters. To his surprise, she was glad to see him, but uncharacteristically only gave him a furtive, cursory hug.

‘Nice going, kid. You almost had me convinced.’

She grinned. ‘We buried ‘em with baloney!’

They were joined by Arley and Ian. Ian could barely conceal his excitement upon seeing the little alien girl, but Arley was more subdued. Before Ian could speak, she said to Yelina, tousling Boom-Boom Kitty’s head, ‘This cat of yours saved the day.’

‘He’s not a [i]cat[/i]!’ Yelina protested. ‘He’s a kitty.’

Ian sobered at that. ‘Well, he saved my girlfriend’s life. Look, Jack, we really need to talk.’

Jack took stock of what was happening with the reporters. The police had arrived, and were nervously trying to figure out how to handle the situation. When it was revealed that CSIS wasn’t forthcoming about the kidnappers’ relationship to their organisation, the police made what everyone sensed to be a show, of taking the offenders away in handcuffs. Jack heaved a sigh as he watched the men in black handcuffed and deposited in the back seats of the police cruisers.

‘Okay, let’s go back to my place and talk.’ He looked Ian and Arley in the eye, then. ‘But let’s be clear about something: this is not over. In my opinion, it’s just beginning.’

Friday, December 11, 2009, 4:12 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Credit Union Centre, formerly Sask Place

Jack shook his head, smiling wryly, feeling warmth and admiration towards young Jason who supervised the technicians as they finished their assembly of the most complex sound and light system ever constructed. Because of the way the sound-system was set up, the audience would be small- only around one-thousand. This was because the speakers and lights were set up in a half-sphere which surrounded the audience on all sides. The stage itself was set just inside this dome of lights and speakers.

The speakers and lights hung from a specially-made lattice that in turn hung from the ceiling. Each light module consisted of coloured lights that in turn were controlled by a single computer. At the flick of a switch, the lights could morph or dissolve into images or shapes, could pulse with the music, or both simultaneously.

At the centre of the floor were seats, one section of which made Jack feel a twinge of anxiety. As word had got around, bigwigs from all over the world had purchased advance tickets. Several critics from Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, South Africa, Brazil and the United States, were going to be present.

Jack was thankful for one thing, at least- they didn’t expect anything from the band, so the pressure was off the girls. No, what the concert-moguls, critics and sound-experts were interested in was the sound and light show.

Jack chuckled to himself as he spotted Yelina, on stage, sitting on a folding chair looking bored, keeping Boom-Boom Kitty amused by means of a laser-pointer. As usual, the little furry ball of energy never tired of chasing the elusive and enticing red dot that frustrated his best attempts to catch it. But he kept on trying his best . . .

Kiko, Tina and the other girls, too, looked bored as they waited for Jason’s signal that would begin yet another sound and light check.

It was three hours before the concert, which would begin at 7:00 PM and end roughly at 9:00. Jack checked his watch yet again, and decided it was time to order supper.

Jason’s decision to continue doing light- and sound-checks until the last minute was rewarded as yet another previously-undetected problem was discovered and sorted out. He checked his watch: it was now 6:47 PM, and despite the small audience, the auditorium buzzed with excitement. He stood atop a platform on the outside of the sound/light dome, and grimaced as he surveyed the big-shots sitting in the expensive seats that had been brought in just for them. What a bunch of assholes! It seemed every one of them had some put-down to offer. Saskatoon was a backwater town; the girls were a bunch of untried amateurs who didn’t know the first thing about professional showmanship or performance; the band was going to flop for any number of reasons: the name was crass and lewd, the girls were going to choke because of their lack of experience, the untested system was going to break down . . . it seemed there was no end to the slights they could concoct.

He sighed, went back to the control table and sat down, gave the panels one last glance, reopened his pizza box, uncapped his pop, and nonchalantly began eating a cold slice and washed it down. He caught Tina’s dad’s, Mike’s, eye where he sat before a rack of monitors. Mike’s answering smile was as confident as his own. These out-of-towners were going to get a show all right- something never before seen on the face of this planet!

Friday, December 11, 2009, 6:55 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

VIP Section, On the floor of Credit Union Centre, formerly Sask Place

James Coontz, critic for the New York Times, winced as he caught a glimpse of a young band member peeking out excitedly at the audience. They were all young girls dressed in cat costumes- hence the band’s moniker, Boom-Boom Kitty. He’d learned through an acquaintance that the band’s name was not intended to be lewd, that it was, in fact, the name of a pet belonging to one of the band’s members.

Boom-Boom Kitty! He shook his head and sighed. What the hell was he doing here? He’d been pulled off an assignment at the Met! For this! A group of rank amateurs whose knowledge of music probably extended no further than a handful of major chords, and even fewer keys! He turned . . . and frowned. An acquaintance, Brian Forsythe, was standing, staring intently at something.

‘What the hell kind of drum kit is that?’

James followed the direction of his gaze and raised an eyebrow. ‘One far beyond the pretensions of its player, I suspect,’ he offered, acerbically. ‘Based upon its general appearance, I doubt very much that it serves any genuinely musical function.’

‘No, you’re wrong,’ his colleague said. ‘And where the hell is the P.A.? And the lights?’

That got James’ attention. Brian was right! There was no P.A., no lights! His colleague had been a classically-trained percussionist in his younger days, as well. It was doubtful he would be mistaken about the massive and peculiar-looking drum kit. Studying Brian’s reaction carefully, James said, ‘Well . . . what do you make of it?’

Brian Forsythe shook his head. ‘I’m not sure, but we’re about to find out.’

Both men leaned forward as the house lights dimmed, and a new set of lights, previously unnoticed, came alive, all around them.

Saturday, December 12, the New York Times

Strictly Music, by James Coontz, former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic

Fellow lovers of fine music, it is my great privilege to tell you of the experience that is Boom-Boom Kitty. Yes, that is the name of this musical organisation- Boom-Boom Kitty! Take note of that name, for soon it will be everywhere!

I must tell you that only last night, as I waited to hear this group, I was torn by feelings of impatience and disappointment: impatience, because I wanted to be a thousand miles away from what I was certain would be an act that was beneath my notice; disappointment, because I had been pulled off a classical assignment I’d been looking forward to for several months!

Don’t be fooled by the name of this musical organisation! The name is not intended to be lewd or suggestive. The band is named for its mascot, a kitten that belongs to one of the group’s two drummers.

Yes, two drummers! And that is only the beginning of what is unusual about this band:

The sound and light system are something wholly new and never before seen. Lights and speakers alike surround the audience, and the sound is unlike anything ever heard. There are no words to describe what I experienced- you will have to be patient, and be sure to see this act for yourself when they perform at a city near you.

Prepared for disappointment, the gallery of critics and other professional experts was wholly unprepared for the awe and wonder that is Boom-Boom Kitty. This band did not merely begin to play. No “power-chords” or other cheap, trite devices began their performance. Instead, Boom-Boom Kitty thundered to life like a machine made of sound and light and virtuosic pyrotechnics. And something happened then that I have never before experienced: all of we jaded, tired old experts, every last one of us, were out of our seats and running for the stage, in order to get as close as possible to this [i]im[/i]possible experience!

The centrepiece of this organisation is the youngest girl of this six-member group, Yelina, who from the centre of the most massive drum-kit ever built, sallied forth with a physical, visceral, throbbing, pulsing beat that in itself seemed a living thing. This blonde, pig-tailed, gum-chewing, massive-stick-swinging little girl, besides having the “cute”-factor going for her, is the heart and soul of this organisation, while the other drummer, Kiko, who plays a daunting array of electronic percussion, is the captain.

The rudder of the good ship Boom-Boom Kitty is the bass-player, Tina, a sturdily-built girl who is a true master of the 6-string electric bass. The remaining three members, sisters Mary and Penny, and Asta, performed on a variety of instruments, some of them new, some of them electronic adaptations of known instruments, such as the xylophone and an early form of synthesiser known as a “theremin”, that consists of a small wooden box on legs standing waist-high, that has two aerials protruding from it. This instrument is played by the artful manipulation of the hands and arms through the magnetic field that passes between the two aerials . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009, the Chicago Herald-Tribune

What’s New In Music, by Amanda Llewellyn

Keep your eye on Entertainment Tonight and Entertainment Weekly, because Boom-Boom Kitty is coming to a town near you!

The six-member all-girl band made their debut in the small northern town of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada, and though they played only to a small select audience of one-thousand, they may as well have been Jimmy Hendrix performing live at Woodstock!

The Boom-Boom Kitty experience is unlike anything you can imagine. The sound and light system are new and different from anything ever assembled, as are many of the instruments the girls perform on.

Each of these youngsters is a virtuoso in her own right, and though much of their gear leans heavily towards things electronic, they do not go in for such paraphernalia as beat boxes, sequencers, or pre-recorded tracks. Every note is done live, every effect is controlled by the musicians, not the equipment.

Boom-Boom Kitty is entertainment for all ages. Parents, bring your children; children, bring your parents! This is a show that will be enjoyed by all, no matter your taste in music or form of entertainment . . .

Sunday, December 13, 2009, the London Times, the Sunday Times

Arthur Harrow, music critic

At last! A form of popular entertainment that is a perfect blend of quality, virtuosity, showmanship and appeal!

Two days ago I was afforded the rare privilege of witnessing an exciting new music dragged forth by the scruff of its neck into the limelight by six very young and talented musicians. What at first glance appeared to be nothing more than a young girls’ pyjama-party turned out to be the performance of the century- a claim I do not make lightly.

In interviewing the girls back-stage I learned that, not only are all of their amazing compositions original, but all are written solely by the members of their group. No outside songwriter or arranger or composer is the brains behind this little operation. They do it all themselves, including all the effects and electronic sounds, which are generated in real time from the stage.

Their simplest song, which is their anthem, is a march titled “Rocket”, which is preceded by a spellbinding medley titled “Overture”. Overture blends seamlessly into Rocket, a simple march that serves to set the tone for the rest of the concert.

While all of the girls are amazing and obviously classically-trained singers, it is young Kiko Moore whose heart-seizing voice commands the attention and moves the audience to wonder or to tears. A quiet-spoken, thoughtful young woman who somehow remains unimpressed and unmoved by the trappings of stardom, she seemed to be taking the band’s sudden and explosive success in stride with a maturity beyond her years . . .

Christmas Day, 2009, 5:04 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Near Jack’s House, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Matthew Thunderchild’s senses tightened as he watched the black van come into view, pull over to the side of the road, stop, and turn its lights off. Invisible from his position, hunkered down beneath a stand of evergreens whose thick branches swept to the ground, he put his earpiece back in and keyed his radio.

‘Got a coyote here.’

‘I got one here, too,’ a voice replied.

‘I got another one, pulling off the road ‘bout five minutes North.’

Matthew’s mind raced. The windows of the vans were tinted. Each might hold one or two occupants and a lot of sophisticated surveillance gear. Each might hold five or six men armed with automatic weapons, or worse.

‘Crap, they’re getting out!’ the first voice said. ‘One of them’s talking into his collar, so they’re wired.’

‘What about it, Hank?’ Matthew asked the first voice, his younger brother. ‘Can we listen in?’

‘I’m on it. Okay, got it! They’re using a digital signal . . . and it’s scrambled. Which shouldn’t be a problem . . . okay, I’m in. Tom, you there?’

Their massive cousin shifted his bulk, from where he lay concealed within a show drift next to a fence post, and keyed his radio. ‘I’m here.’

‘They’re saying something about more vans, and spreading out. You see anything?’

Tom frowned, pulled out a powerful pair of binoculars, and scanned the field of view.

‘Got a pack of coyotes here! Repeat, I got a whole pack of ‘em! They’re spread out, crossing the field.’

Matthew grinned a warrior’s grin. He’d fibbed to Yelina, telling her he was going up North to spend Christmas with family. He’d also had a bad feeling they were being spied on, that someone was waiting for the right moment to move in.

‘Give ‘em a little taste of ACDC, Hank.’

From inside his rusty, powder-blue van, Hank grinned and gave his buddies the thumbs-up. He then proceeded to load a CD of ACDC’s Thunderstruck, cranked up the volume to ten, and then . . .

As one, the dark forms crossing the snow-covered field stopped in their tracks and began frantically pulling out their earpieces.

‘Make ‘em dance, boys!’ Matthew said into his radio, raised his shotgun to his shoulder, and fired a blast of rock salt at the butt of the last armed man to leave the black van.

At once, the silence surrounding the outskirts of Anaheim was shattered by a volley of shotgun blasts. After a few minutes there came the roar of engines as a dozen black vans sped off into the dusk like carrion-fowl startled off a kill by the ripping teeth of a predator.

Matthew Thunderchild took a deep breath and schooled his nerves to calm. In orderly fashion they had put the run on the bad guys without killing them, had then preceded to blast away at the vans, marking them to arouse suspicion. Each one now had only one headlight. There was now the chance that they’d be pulled over before they got back to base, which Matthew suspected was somewhere in or near Porcupine Plain. He keyed his radio.

‘They goin’ back your way, Tom?’

‘Yup. All of ‘em in a line, like ducks in a row. You sure you want us to stay put?’

‘Don’t you even think about going anywhere!’ Matthew told him. ‘Let the boys handle them at the roadblock. These bastards are smart, and they’re dangerous. They’re as liable to double back as they are to go back and regroup.’

‘I think you’re right about that, bro,’ Tom told him. ‘A couple of ‘em just stopped. They’re turning around. Now they’ve pulled over and stopped again. Looks like they’re thinkin’ ‘bout tryin’ their luck again. The rest of ‘em’ve stopped now, too. I don’t like the look of this.’

Matthew cursed under his breath and pulled out his satellite phone. ‘Guys, it’s me. We ran the coyotes off, but they’re not going your way. They’re coming back. I’m calling in the cops, but it’ll be maybe an hour before they get here. Remember, pin ‘em down, but try not to kill ‘em. This time it’s war. You copy? It’s war.’

Christmas Day, 2009, 6:00 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s House, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Kiko laughed as Yelina bolted from the room, wanting nothing to do with a makeover. Mary and Penny were likewise sprawled on her bed, checking out Kiko’s arsenal of cosmetics.

‘Wow! Check out these nail polishes!’ Penny showed her twin sister. ‘Lookit! They change colour when you move around!’

‘Jack got me these for Christmas, too,’ Kiko told them, proffering a transparent plastic pouch full of tiny oddments. ‘Arley must’ve shown him.’

‘Rad!’ Mary breathed, jealously. The pouch contained a dizzying assortment of tiny stick-on nail accessories, from faux precious gems to patterns to gewgaws of every type and description. ‘Can I use some eyes?’ There were plenty of these. ‘Wow! They look so real!’

‘I got a new streaking kit, too,’ Kiko said proudly. Her hair was already streaked and highlighted to the limit, as was Mary’s and Penny’s.

‘We should corner Yelina and do her up,’ Penny suggested.

‘Don’t even go there!’ Kiko pouted. ‘She’ll punch and bite and kick. We need more than just three of us to hold her down.’

‘Let’s get Tina to hold her down,’ Mary grinned.

Kiko and Penny gave her a withering look. ‘You want to get our asses kicked?’ Penny said incredulously. ‘Tina’d never go for it.’

‘And anyway, I have to live with her,’ Kiko griped.

The object of their conversation rejoined Tina and Asta in the downstairs rumpus room. They were playing a head-to-head video game, using the enormous wide-screen television as a screen. Tina’s avatar was a chicks-in-chainmail warrior, Asta’s was a grotesque alien gargoyle with super powers.

‘Who’s winning?’

‘Hiya, Short Stuff,’ Tina greeted her, not taking her attention from the game as she kicked the alien-gargoyle into the wall. The gargoyle rebounded and began flailing away at her with its fiery whip.

Yelina watched for a while, then, bored, she went hopefully back upstairs and to the kitchen, where Jack, Ian, Arley and Mike were working on supper. Jack smiled when he saw her.

‘Gettin’ hungry?’

‘I am hungry,’ Yelina pouted, prompting chuckles from the others.

‘Well, we got the bird started late, so we’re a little behind schedule,’ Jack told her. ‘It’ll be ready in half an hour.’

Yelina dithered a few moments, looking with longing at all the food already laid out on the table, including the black olives she’d been filching until Jack put the run on her, then shrugged and made her way to her room.

She found herself wishing that Jason and Carly were back from their errand: they’d gone to pick up some more firewood. With a sigh, Yelina closed her door, propped a chair under the knob to keep the others from intruding, went to her closet and opened it, and dug out one of her projects.

After Jason and Carly’s mother had died, Jack had rebuilt the house, expanding it in all directions. Each of the kids now had a private room, although it was no secret that Kiko rarely slept in her own bed.

Yelina’s “projects” were ongoing: they were devices she was making from the cornucopia of electronics she’d stolen from the Control Room of the Special Ops’ base. The one she selected was nearly finished. And she intended to finish it- now.

The urge was upon her because she found that she was worried. Matthew had seemed funny, somehow, when he told her he was going up north to visit relatives. His brother, Hank, had also seemed funny, like they were hiding something from her.

Fine! She was determined to find out what it was.

With jewelry screwdriver-set, soldering-gun and duct-tape, she began disassembling the old and assembling the new.

Christmas Day, 2009, 6:45 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

On the outskirts of Anaheim, Saskatchewan

The man in black gaped in disbelief as the monster appeared before him out of thin air. It advanced, hissing menacingly, something long and fiery trailing from each of its four arms.

‘Sonofa- Jesus Christ! Open fire! Open fi- Ngaa-!

The air was suddenly sizzling and frying with energy, as with a roar the beast began flailing its whipcord arms and the flaming whips it wielded.

From inside a black van, a man in black heard his mens’ screams, keyed his radio in alarm.

‘Unit Four, report! What the hell is going on? Unit Four, talk to me!’

[_ ‘We’re . . . attack . . . -der attack! Get us . . . hell out of here-’ _]

‘Unit Four, talk to me! What’s going on?’

sters! They’re everywhere! They’re . . . oh my God! It’s . . . air . . . they’re . . . out of the air!’

‘Unit Four, I can’t understand what you’re saying! Say again! What’s going on?’

‘ . . . out of here! They’re coming out of the air, goddamnit! They’re coming out of the air! We can’t stop them-!’

‘Jeeze-!’ Something heavy suddenly slammed into the van, sending the man in black sprawling from his seat. A sound got his attention, then . . . something low and ominous. He pulled out his revolver, his heart pounding-

The man in black gasped in fear as a glimpse of something terrifying passed the window. He could hear it outside as it moved slowly around to the rear doors. His hands shaking, uttering little fear-noises that escaped unbidden from his lips, he scuttled to the rear of the van on his knees, locked the doors-

He backed away as something impossibly heavy thudded into the back of the van, began trying the door. And then- nothing.

He listened. Still nothing. He held his breath, afraid to breathe or make any noise.

Still nothing.

Letting his pent-up breath out in a sigh, he let himself relax. And then-

He stared in disbelief as something grabbed on to the door handles, began pulling . . . metal groaned, the doors began bending outwards-

His screams and the sound of gunfire was drowned out by the roar from the nightmare thing that tore the doors off the van and came for him.

‘Okay, now that’s really messed up,’ Matthew Thunderchild muttered as he watched the impossible scene play itself out.

‘You guys seeing this?’ Hank muttered over the radio.

‘I quit drinkin’ eight years ago,’ Tom’s voice said over the radio in a strange tone. ‘You don’t think you can get the DT’s after all this time . . .?’

‘It looks like a video game,’ Matthew observed with a frown.

‘Yeah, it does, kinda,’ Hank agreed.

‘Well, at least the bad guys are running,’ Tom said.

Matthew stared, open-mouthed, as one of the hideous forms appeared, right before him. It said some words . . . and then he smiled.

Christmas Day, 2009, 6:34 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s House, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

‘Yelina!’ Tina began pounding on the door once more. ‘Yelina! You little bugger! Give it back!’

‘I’ll give it back in a minute,’ Yelina said distractedly as she operated the controls.

‘You’ll give it back right now!’ Asta shouted. ‘We were on Level Ten! Level Ten! O-o-h, we are going to pound your guts into the ground when you come out of there!’

The two girls stood aside, arms crossed, as Jack joined them.

‘What’s up, kids?’ To his unsurprise, they said nothing, their expressions cross. ‘Okay . . .’ He put his face close to the door and tried the knob. ‘Yelina? Yelina! C’mon! Put down whatever it is you’re doing and come to supper!’

There was the sound of Yelina doing something, getting off the bed, crossing to the door and removing the chair that barred it. She opened the door, and handed something to Tina-

What the hell did you do to my game?’

Scooting past her with alacrity, to the relative safety of where the adults were, Yelina said, ‘I had to borrow it.’

‘Borrow it?’ Tina accused incredulously, holding up the duct-taped ruin as evidence. ‘What the hell! Just look at this! You wrecked it!’

‘It works better now,’ Yelina said evasively, sitting at the table and reaching for any food that was within arms’ length, only to be headed off by Jack.

‘Sit tight. We’ll start by passing things along,’ he raised his voice for the benefit of Jason and Carly who had just come in by the front door, both carrying an armload of firewood, ‘just as soon as Carly sits here, and Jason sits there- hang your coats up please, kids . . . Mike, you can sit at the head of the table, John, Rose (Mary and Penny’s parents), you can sit next to Mike on that side, Knut, Tanya (Asta’s parents), you can sit on the other side . . . and if you kids don’t stop fighting, we’ll have to split you up-’

‘Yelina started it!’ Tina and Asta said loudly together.

‘You can punch her lights out after supper-’ Jack said with a straight face, sitting beside Yelina.

Ja-ack!’

‘Yes, Yelina? Remember what I said about using that whiney tone of voice? Here, have some mashed potatoes-’

‘Yucky! I want some stuffing, and some cranberries-’

‘You’ll get plenty of that, too. Here, stick some black olives in your mashed potatoes and slather lots of gravy over it-’

‘Ee-e-w!’

‘Here, look! Stick ‘em all in a row . . . like this . . . and you’ve got a mouth . . . and here’s some eyes-’

‘What this-?’

‘That,’ said Jack, rescuing the tiny bottle from her, ‘is something you will most definitely hate.’

‘What is it?’ she persisted covetously, wanting at least a little of everything on the table.

‘It is very hot mustard, for those of us who prefer ham,’ he told her judiciously.

‘I want some!’ she pouted.

He gave her a look. ‘How ‘bout you have a little taste, first?’

Before he could stop her, she dipped in her finger, and . . .

From across the table, Tina and Asta watched with relish as her eyes began to water, her expression turn to scandalised horror.

Jack sighed and shook his head, and to her empty and overturned chair, said, ‘You just can’t do things half-way, can you?’

Arley chuckled at the sight of the little blonde alien girl as she ran a continuous stream of tap-water into her mouth in the bathroom sink. On the counter in front of her, looking for some opening to somehow make a game of it, Boom-Boom Kitty watched in fascination.

‘You’ve got some guests.’

‘Bleh,’ Yelina said, examining her tongue in the mirror for damage.

‘You’ll live,’ Arley told her, turning the girl about and propelling her from the bathroom. ‘Matthew and his brother and a cousin are here. I set up a card table and put your dinner on it with theirs-’

‘Ith my thungue goith to be burtht?’ Yelina asked, pulling on her tongue, trying to look at it.

‘Mashed potatoes and gravy is the best thing for a burnt tongue,’ Arley told her as they reentered the living-room, somehow managing to remain deadpan.

‘Reah-ry?’

Arley separated the girl’s fingers from her tongue. ‘Really. Now go sit with your boyfriend and eat your supper.’

‘Thanks,’ Jack said when Arley reseated herself.

‘You need a wife who knows about kids, Jack,’ she replied matter-of-factly. ‘You’re doing okay . . . but . . . you need help.’

Jack squirmed. Arley’s advice, as always, was right on the money, and she always seemed to know more about him than he did himself.

‘It’s been so long since I . . . you know . . . even went looking . . . I just don’t know where to begin any more. Especially not with my life the way it is now.’ He looked to Mike for help.

Mike shrugged. ‘Don’t look at me, buddy. It’s really tough for guys our age- and don’t try telling me it’s not, Miss Smarty Pants-’ he cut Arley off, ‘I live inside this body, so I know a few things you don’t, such as how women act around guys with half-grown kids! A lot of the time, it’s not a pretty sight.’

‘I was going to agree with you,’ Arley conceded. ‘I was just going to add that the same is true for women. Having kids makes forming relationships very difficult. I have an older sister who’s in the same boat. Her asshole husband ran off to the States with his secretary, leaving her with two teenaged kids, and he’s never paid a nickel of child supp- sonofabitch!’ She put a hand to her mouth and fled the table.

‘I told her it wasn’t Dijon,’ Ian offered, carefully schooling his features to be free of any trace of “I told you so”. ‘Wow, this stuff sure is hot! Really cleans out the sinuses.’

‘Explains how she’s able to relate to Yelina,’ Jack said, pretending to concentrate on his sweet potato.

Ian stuck his fingers in his ears. ‘La-la-la! I hear nothing!’

Mike grinned and clapped the younger man on the shoulder. ‘Son, you’ve learned the first lesson in “how to have a long and happy marriage”!’

Mary, Penny, Tina, Carly, Jason and Kiko almost spewed their food across the table as Asta showed off her new contacts. Their huge size made her eyes look like a manic Anime cartoon character. For added effect, she’d chosen blue, and tied her hair into pigtails like Yelina. And she was deliberately chewing with her mouth full-

‘Yelina, look!’

Without turning around, Yelina gave them the finger.

‘She does look really funny,’ Matthew said, laughing. He paused for a moment to marvel yet again at Yelina’s appetite. The boys had loaded up yet again, but that was nothing compared to the pile of food on the little blonde alien girl’s plate. ‘I thought you didn’t like mashed potatoes?’

Yelina shrugged. ‘I like ‘em with olives ‘n’ gravy.’

‘So-o-o-o . . . you wanna tell us about the monsters?’

Yelina paused to chew a moment, looking from Matthew to Hank to Tom. ‘Maybe.’

Matthew gave her a look. ‘What were they? A hologram or something?’

Yelina shrugged, began shovelling stuffing and gravy. ‘Maybe.’

Hank breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Man, I thought maybe you had monsters on that ship!’

Matthew gave his brother a warning look. ‘We don’t talk about the ship. Remember?’

‘Why is that?’ asked Tom. ‘Everybody talks about it, all the time.’

‘Yeah,’ Matthew told him, ‘except nobody knows anything. Nobody except . . . some of us.’

Tom gave him a look. ‘So why not me?’

Yelina, Matthew and Hank gave him a disparaging look.

‘What you looking at me like that for? I can keep a secret-’

Their renewed disparaging look had its effect.

‘Okay, so I blabbed just that once . . . okay, okay, maybe twice-’

‘By the way,’ Hank interjected, talking to Yelina, ‘how come you turned down that cat food ad?’

‘Because,’ Matthew answered for her, as her mouth was full (she, doing a pantomime play-by-play, fork in hand, as he spoke), ‘the plans for the new concert hall are so expensive that the only way to raise enough money for construction is if all the cat food sponsors get together and pool their money. Besides, Yelina doesn’t want to commit to any one company because Boom-Boom Kitty is a four-legged walking garbage-can- OW!- I mean, he’ll eat anything- OW! OKAY!- he likes everything!’

‘-anyway,’ Asta said, removing the second contact and putting it back in its case, ‘these are the only ones that got approved, and we have to make sure only ophthalmologists or optometrists are in control of them.’

‘I wish we’d thought of it ourselves,’ Mary said, becoming serious. ‘It’s so obvious that when kids saw Kiko’s and Yelina’s eyes that they’d want their eyes to be the same. But then all those crooks started making them, and that poor little girl in Maryland! Her parents still haven’t been able to get those guys into court.’

‘Like the lawyers told Jack,’ Penny said, ‘this isn’t something you can patent or even control. You sort of can, but they’ll just get around by creating other looks. And that means the crooks will stay in business, and kids will buy them because they’re cheap, and we’re get more cases of little kids’ eyes being hurt.’

‘The fund Jack created is helping some,’ Jason said. That girl in Maryland got the best team of surgeons money can buy. Still,’ he sighed, ‘it doesn’t change the fact that it was an awful thing to happen.’ Kiko put her hand on his as he said this.

‘Have you guys tried out the Boom Floor at the lab?’ Tina interjected, changing the subject.

She was answered by knowing grins from both sides of the table. ‘Like, Mom and Dad had to practically drag us out of there!’ Penny said.

‘I almost peed myself at first!’ Asta burst in excitedly.

‘I know!’ Mary seconded. ‘It’s like you’re going to fall if you look down, and it goes down forever! Carly did pee herself-’

‘I did not-!’

‘Ha! I was beginning to think you’d forgotten how to talk!’

‘It is scary at first, though, until you start bouncing, ‘cause . . . I don’t know, it’s like you’re bouncing off the lights-’

‘It does look like that, doesn’t it?’ Tina agreed. ‘Although,’ she added thoughtfully, ‘this is probably old stuff to Kiko and Yelina.’

Kiko said nothing, but her responding look was non-committal.

Friday, January 8, 2010, Central Time Zone, GMT

The Boom-Boom Kitty Portable Stadium, North of Houston, Texas, USA

Though like the tens of thousands of other fans, ten-year-old Tara McNaughton was stuck in line, flanked by her parents, she was already bouncing with excitement. To keep the fans in the lineups from getting bored, huge jumbotrons had been placed at each entrance. And there on the screen was her hero, Yelina, talking about kitties, and how it was only a good idea to get them if you planned to take good care of them, and rescue them from animal shelters like the SPCA, and have them spayed and neutered. Like hundreds of thousands of Boom-Boom Kitty fans, she had dutifully done just that, just as she had dutifully donned her Yelina kitty costume, had dutifully tied her hair in pigtails, and dutifully wore a brand of prescription contacts endorsed by the Boom-Boom Kitty organisation.

Her parents exchanged a broad smile. Despite all the hype and the marketing and the commercialism, everything about Boom-Boom Kitty was good and wholesome and entertaining, and downright good fun!

A roar went up from the crowd as the sky was suddenly ablaze with fireworks! Yet another sign that their idols were thinking of them, spending money they didn’t have to on making every aspect of a Boom-Boom Kitty concert as memorable and enjoyable as possible.

Though the wait in line had taken hours, to ten-year-old Tara the time had flown by, and now they were inside the giant portable stadium, which from the outside looked like a gigantic ball, a cat-toy. Everywhere she looked there were kids her own age, kids wearing Boom-Boom Kitty cat costumes and great big contacts and Boom-Boom Kitty cat makeup. And there were parents and grandparents and ridiculous-looking teenagers and adults caught up in the Boom-Boom Kitty craze. And the floor was littered with popcorn and ticket stubs and food wrappers, and there were vendors hawking Boom-Boom Kitty paraphernalia and memorabilia and food.

Her parents noticed, as she did not, the heavy level of security. They had heard of this, that all of the security people and a large number of the staff were native people from Canada. Each child received a unique ink bar-code on their left wrist, as did each parent or guardian, and the warning that the bar-code would take a few days to wash off. And every parent and guardian and child was instructed on a simple procedure, should they become separated, of finding one another. Lost people trying to find each other were to go to any security person, who would scan them and wait for a response.

To cap it off, everyone would be scanned upon leaving. No one could leave without their child, or with someone else’s.

The main reason for these security precautions became apparent once they passed into the inner domes. There was a huge stadium-like seating area outside the dance floor where parents and non-dancers could sit and watch. The children, on the other hand, headed straight for the dance floor.

As Tara and a mob of kids her own age swarmed onto the dance floor, many of them began bouncing on its springy surface. Tara stopped to inspect it, but soon lost interest. After all, it only looked like translucent greyish, rubbery plastic. But it was incredibly bouncy! Everywhere she looked there were young girls like herself in kitty costumes, bouncing across the floor. Looking around, she could see that up in the semi-darkness, high, high up, there were things hanging everywhere so that they made a ball around the dance floor.

She looked towards the stage area and beheld a mob-scene! Everyone, it seemed, wanted to get as close to the stage as possible! But that was where she wanted to be, so off she went, bouncing along the springy floor-

And stopped in surprise as the lights came on, and there was pandemonium! She was about to rush towards the stage, when a voice stopped her! It was her hero, Yelina, who had appeared on the stage wearing a headset-microphone!

Listen up, fellow Boom-Boom Kitties! I want you to spread yourselves out on the Boom Floor! That’s it . . . make sure everyone’s got room! Now, we’re going to turn on the Boom Floor, and while we do that, I’m going to explain what it does.’

There was a collective catching of breath as the Boom Floor was turned on. To Tara, it looked as though she were standing high, high up in the air. Below her, seemingly forever, were repeated and shifting geometric shapes.

‘Now,’ said Yelina, ‘I want all of you to bounce when I say THREE! One, Two, THREE!’

Tara gasped in amazed pleasure as she landed on the floor’s surface. She was rewarded with a pulsing light that gave her the illusion it was bouncing her off the floor and into the air, even as its perceived reflection seemed to go downwards where it coruscated into the depths.

‘Wo-ow!’

And then, Yelina was at her massive drum kit, and the band was ready to go, and the huge stadium was suddenly pulsing with light and sound! Tara burst out laughing as she realised what they were singing.

“[_ Meow- meow- meow- meow, _]

[_ Meow- meow- meow- meow, _]

[_ Meow- meow- meow- meow, _]

[_ Meow- meow- meow- meow _]!”

At once, tens of thousands of bouncing, kitty-costumed kids began singing along, and suddenly the older ones didn’t quite feel so silly, and joined in, laughing.

Tara paused a moment to take stock. Everything was astonishment and delight! The band, the lights, the Boom Floor . . . and the sound! It came from everywhere! Each and every note and sound came from a different place inside the great ball, and it made you feel like you were inside the music, and when you jumped you were bouncing on the light; bouncing on the light inside the music!

And then the song was over, and everyone began chanting, “Rock-ET! Rock-ET” . . . and soon the words became “Rock-IT! Rock-IT,” and then the familiar opening began as the girls began singing in high pippy voices like a sequenced synthesiser, punctuated by thundering haymakers supplied by Yelina and her massive drum kit. And then, they began to sing:

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

What new worlds of wonders, do you think we’ll see?

How far will you trust me? Will you come with me-e-e-e?

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Place your hand in my hand, I won’t let you fall!

Lets fly through the Heavens, let’s answer the call!

“Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

To the stars! To the heavens and back,

See the stars? See the galaxy spinning,

Spinning on its track, oh,

What do you see-e-e-e?

What do you see-e-e-e?

How do you fe-el?

Is it all real? Oh,

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

The new worlds of wonders, do you realise?

The new worlds of wonders, are stars in your eyes!

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

We’ll both go together, we’ll go, you and I!

We’ll fly through the Heavens! We’ll fly through the sky!

“Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

To the stars! To Heaven and beyond!

See the stars? See the Great Beyond? Oh,

What do you see-e-e-e?

What do you see-e-e-e?

How do you feel?

Is this for real? Oh,

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!”

Friday, January 15, 2010, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack was just about to sit down and turn on the television when the door to the basement slammed- not closed hard, but slammed shut in fury. To his surprise, it was Kiko, who fled to her room, sobbing, slammed her door shut . . . he heard her throw herself on her bed.

Mystified, he set his freshly made and as yet untouched coffee down and went to investigate. He got as far as the door to the basement, frowned as something caught his attention, then paused to listen. The kids were doing something in the basement. Every so often there was a pause, and then together they would shout, “Whoah!” or “Wow!”

Jack paused for a moment, indecisive. Kiko was sobbing her heart out . . . why had she left the basement? What were the kids up to down there?

Deciding that the answer to Kiko’s behaviour lay downstairs, he opened the door.

When he got to the bottom of the stairs and saw what they were doing, he stopped in open-mouthed astonishment. He was about to say something . . . but something stopped him. As silently as he could, he went back upstairs.

He didn’t knock, but went to Kiko’s room, opened the door, went in, and sat beside her on the side of her bed.

He entered the kids’ rooms seldom. Kiko’s room looked pretty much like any teenaged girl’s room, except that it had a too-neat, unused look about it, attesting to the amount of time she spent in Jason’s room. And yet something about her room said, “Anywhere but here.” Frowning at this perception, he put her hand on the girl’s back, rubbed it a bit.

‘Wanna talk?’

She turned on her side to consider him, but said nothing.

‘I saw what they were doing downstairs,’ he said pointedly.

‘Yelina shouldn’t be showing them that!’ she sobbed. ‘It’s not allowed!’

Jack sighed, reached over and got a Kleenex from the box beside her bed, and dried her tears. She took the hanky from him, unable not to smile at his awkward attempt at fatherliness, and wiped her nose. ‘That’s why your people won’t come out of their ship, isn’t it,’ he said. ‘It’s because of the technology.’

‘The stupid crash wasn’t supposed to happen!’ she sobbed. ‘No one was supposed to see us! But something went wrong, and the ship was all shaking, and everything was flying all over the place . . .

‘Mialla and Yelina and me . . . Yelina’s mom made us go into an escape pod, just in case . . . and she was strapping us in . . . but then there was this explosion . . . and the next thing I knew we were outside, and . . . and . . . and then later, we were at the mall, and they were showing the crash on teevee, and I saw Mialla and she was dead!’ She began weeping.

His awkwardness forgotten, Jack gathered the girl in his arms and held her close. ‘Yelina’s mom . . . was she-?’

‘I don’t know. We didn’t see what happened to her. Yelina thinks she’s still alive, but . . .’

‘But?’

Kiko heaved a shuddering sigh, and was long in considering her answer. ‘I don’t know.’

Jack nodded inwardly to himself, thinking, But you suspect. ‘Okay, well, I’m going to go confiscate Yelina’s little invention and have a talk with her.’

‘She won’t stop!’ Kiko told him angrily. ‘She just keeps doing things, and she just doesn’t think.’

Jack chuckled at that. ‘Yes, well, she does have a little way of making things happen.’

In desperation, Tina hit the “morph” button, selected “HammerHand”, and threw her changed avatar back into the fray. No longer was this just a game played out on a screen. The avatars were now real, battling for supremacy in the middle of the den floor. Asta’s “HellFlailer”’s fiery whips hissed and snapped and left the air smelling of ozone as they blazed away at the charging, hammer-wielding ogre. From the couch, bouncing up and down with excitement, Mary, Penny, Carly and Jason cheered them on. Yelina, meanwhile, worked the control panel to keep the game alive. As Jack looked on, it became evident to him that Yelina’s duct-taped contraption was a makeshift facsimile that, although it worked, did so imperfectly. The avatars tended to flicker and waver as they pounded away at each other, and the little blonde alien girl had to struggle constantly just to keep them from-

‘Oh, no!’ Tina wailed, ‘it’s jammed up again-!’ The kids stopped what they were doing as they registered Jack’s presence. Without a word, he confiscated the image generator, the controllers and the control panel. Yelina bit her lip, looking caught.

‘C’mon, kiddo. You an’ me are going to go have a little talk.’

Yelina sighed her relief as Jack pulled into the Humboldt Kentucky Fried Chicken.

‘I want a Big Crunch combo!’ she said as they stood in line. ‘And ribs! And root beer!’

‘You sure that’s all?’ Jack said ironically.

‘Well . . . maybe nuggets. Can I have some chicken nuggets, too?’

Jack smiled and shook his head. ‘You can have whatever you like.’

‘Really? Can I have a bucket of chicken to take home, too?’

Jack finished his chicken nuggets and took a sip of his coffee, and smiled to himself as Yelina ate her Big Crunch chicken breast sandwich self-consciously, waiting for him to speak.

‘That thing you made looks like a lot of fun.’

‘I had to pay Tina back for wrecking her game!’

Jack nodded. ‘I figured out what you did. And . . .’ he sighed, ‘I also know that there really wasn’t any other choice. The bad guys were coming, they had guns, and you put the run on them without anyone getting hurt. But sweetie, the problem is, now they know. Or at least, they’re going to suspect. And that’s going to make things a lot worse.’

‘They don’t know it was me!’ she protested.

‘Yelina, they were coming for you and Kiko, and no one else on this planet has access to that kind of technology. Putting two and two together is a no-brainer.’

She stopped eating, looking very unhappy. ‘Well . . . maybe they’ll leave us alone, now.’ It came out sounding like a question.

‘No,’ he told her seriously, ‘now they’ll be a lot more dangerous. And we’re going to have to figure out some way to deal with them the next time they come around-’ he stopped in embarrassment as she started crying.

‘I want my mom! I want her to come out and get me! I want to see her!’

‘I know, sweetheart,’ he said softly, moved over to her side of the booth and took her in his arms. ‘I know. That’s why you stole all those electronics. You’ve been trying to call her.’

She gaped at him in disbelief. ‘How do you know that?’

He gave her a disparaging look, and a little squeeze. ‘I’ve heard you. We all have. Usually late at night, when the house is quiet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. I heard you talking, and it’s not like you could call her on the telephone. Besides, it’s not like that stash in your closet is a secret-’

‘Kiko had no right to narc on me!’

Jack chuckled at that. ‘Nobody was spying on you. What happened was you were spending a lot of time in your room, alone, busy doing something.

‘I wasn’t alone!’ she scowled. ‘Boom-Boom Kitty was with me.’

‘Ah, yes, your accomplice. Well, we all knew you were up to something. When you tried calling your mom, we figured out what it was.

‘So, that’s how I know they haven’t been answering. Which is why I’ve decided that it’s time you and I had a long talk.’

She heaved a shuddering sigh and began attacking the remains of her meal. ‘About what?’she said, her manner evasive once more.

‘About everything,’ he told her. ‘I want the whole story, about you and Kiko, about the ship and your people . . . everything.’

Saturday, January 16, 2010, Central Time Zone, GMT

McGuire’s Pub, Saskatoon

‘ . . . anyway,’ Jack concluded, ‘that’s why the ship doesn’t have any engines. It doesn’t need them. They just towed it towards this sort of “Gate” thing and let momentum do the rest. But, like I say, it was a one-shot effort that had never been tried before. They weren’t even sure it would actually work. And even though it did, evidently they guessed wrong . . . but still, considering all the variables, it’s a miracle they actually managed to pull it off at all.’

Mike, Ian and Arley digested this in stunned silence for several long moments, each lost in their own thoughts.

‘My God,’ Ian muttered. ‘My God.’

‘I feel like I was better off not knowing,’ Arley muttered with a sick expression. She took a deep, shuddering breath. ‘I mean, what are we going to do? What can we do? If those people couldn’t figure out a way to save themselves, then what the hell chance have we got? They’re the ones with the technology, and it didn’t save them! And now we’re in the same boat!’ She sighed, thinking. And then, her expression changed. ‘Those poor kids! What a horrible thing to do to them! A lottery for a chance to get away, on one ship that may or may not survive the end of the world, and their families are torn apart, their fathers and grandparents and friends are all left behind . . . and then everything goes wrong, and now they can’t leave the ship! The whole thing is so cruel!’

‘Yeah, but it makes sense,’ Mike said. ‘When you think about it, leaving the men behind allowed them to cram maybe three times as many people on that ship. Look, if each woman was pregnant, as Short Stuff says they were, that means at least one child for every woman, and when you figure that they can just keep artificially inseminating themselves from their sperm bank, then their population would go up maybe five times in, say, five to ten years, and by that time all the kids would be old enough to start producing children of their own. But now . . .’ he sighed. ‘Goddamn it! They’re stuck on that ship with no way off . . .’ realisation caused him to go very still and pale. ‘Jesus! They may already be dead. What did Short Stuff say would happen if they were found out?’

‘She doesn’t know,’ Jack told him. ‘I’m guessing they kept a lot from the kids, including a plan for mass suicide if they were detected.’

Ian shook his head, his eyes full of dread. He swallowed. ‘They must already be dead. Why else won’t they answer when Yelina calls them?’

‘She’s certain they’re still alive,’ Jack said. ‘She showed me with that communication device she made. Everything inside the ship is still operational. But everything is passive, not active. If they’re alive in there, then they’re listening . . . listening and waiting.’

‘Sure that’s not just wishful thinking, Jack?’ Mike asked him, reasonably.

Jack was speechless for several long moments. At last, he muttered, ‘I don’t know. It may be.’

‘Wouldn’t they have shut everything down, or destroyed the ship?’ Ian put in. ‘I mean, I don’t think they’d kill themselves but leave their technology intact. After all, that’s why they haven’t come out, isn’t it? To keep us from destroying ourselves by meddling with their technology? Yelina didn’t say so in so many words, maybe, but reading between the lines, that’s the impression I got.’

‘There’s something else,’ Jack told them. ‘Yelina says she can get inside the ship.’

The others’ eyes lit up with hope and despair.

‘Oh, that’s just great!’ Mike bit off. ‘How the hell are we even going to be able to get near it?’

‘I think,’ Jack said, ‘that that’s what we have to figure out. And I mean have to. We need that technology if we’re going to have any chance ourselves.’

Sunday, January 17, 2010, 3:00 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

All was quiet within the Moore house. The tap dripped occasionally in the sink downstairs; Kiko sighed contentedly in her sleep, a half-smile on her lips, her cheek pillowed on Jason’s shoulder; buried beneath her blankets with one bare foot poking out, Carly slept like the dead, despite the music that poured from her headphones; Jack snored like a man trying to compete with a buzzsaw; Yelina dreamt of happier times, of a day with her mother and father at the beach. On her chest, Boom-Boom Kitty, curled into a little grey furry ball, made little satisfied smacking sounds as he dreamt of sitting on his Mistress’ shoulder and being fed delicious morsels from whatever it was she was eating. His ears twitched independently from each other from time to time, tracking any tiny noise, pausing to be sure the last thing heard was usual and safe, then relaxing once more.

And then, one of his ears caught something! Automatically, it tracked, waiting to hear more. Again there was a sound, and this time the other ear perked up. The third occurrence triggered him awake and alert. At the same instant his eyes snapped open. He sat up.

The noise was odd . . . kind of like the thing downstairs, the one all the strange noises came out of . . . but when it was almost silent, when the low sounds came out of its insides. It was more vibration that sound . . . he could feel it, somewhere nearby.

With a yawn, he stretched, then stumped his way to the edge of the bed. Whatever was making the noise, it was underneath.

With a dull thud, he landed on the carpet, and stared! There, underneath the bed, was that funny thing his Mistress spent so much time fussing with, and it was it the low sound emanated from.

The mystery solved, not much interested in a grey plastic box that never did anything, he thought about exploring in the dark for something to do. But suddenly the hum changed, and a tiny bright green light came on!

Hoping whatever was happening to the grey plastic box would turn into a game, he stumped over to it and began exploring-

He startled as there was a click, and more lights came on, green, yellow, red, blue and white. With an electronic whine, an almost invisible tendril of light began waving around like the antenna of an insect, up and down and back and forth . . . like the red laser-pointer his Mistress used when they played the Chase Game! His eyes went wide in anticipation, his pupils dilated until they were enormous, and then he pounced-

Yelina came awake with a start, and with a start realised that Boom-Boom Kitty was not in his usual place! She froze! And then, from somewhere in the room, there came an unusual sound . . . something she had never heard before.

And then, with a cold feeling of shock, she realised what it was! It was Boom-Boom Kitty, growling at something!

‘Pst!’ she said, and Boom-Boom Kitty was instantly silent. His Mistress had trained him well. He knew exactly what that signal meant! It meant, “Don’t make a sound! Don’t be seen! Come back to me right now!”

Yelina strained her ears, listening . . . and then there came a reassuring sound from close by; a low purring pitched so that only she could hear. Suddenly, there was an electric-arc flicker of harsh bluish light and a crackling noise from inside her closet! She sat up in fear, clutching Boom-Boom Kitty to her chest. And then, she let out an animal sound of pure terror as the closet door splintered to pieces, and the HammerHand avatar hurled itself straight at her!

Sunday, January 17, 2010, 3:03 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Yelina dove our of her bed, even as the HammerHand’s massive cudgel smote her bed and crushed it to splinters. She flung open her door and ran out into the hall. Within seconds the house was in an uproar as lights were turned on with the same haste that pajamas and bathrobes were donned.

‘Yelina!’ Jack yelled, ‘what the hell was-’ He stared in dumbfounded shock as the little blonde girl’s room’s door exploded outwards, and the HammerHand avatar stepped out, kicking slivers and shards of wood out of its path as it went.

At the same instant the door at the other end of the hall opened, revealing Kiko and Jason blinking sleep out of their eyes. Hearing them, the avatar turned. Its piggy red eyes fixed themselves on Kiko a moment, then swivelled back to Yelina, who stood trembling in front of Jack. Suddenly it wheeled around, raised its massive hammer-hand, let out a terrible roar, and went charging toward Kiko.

‘Leave her alone, you big ugly thing!’ Yelina cried, running toward it a few feet.

The avatar stopped in its tracks, wheeled around and faced her.

‘Come on!’ Yelina taunted. ‘Come after me ! Come af- YIPE!’ with a squeal of fear, she went charging towards the stairs.

Jack thought about standing his ground, then wisely decided to follow.

‘We’ve got to trick it,’ Yelina panted as they ran downstairs. ‘I’ve got to get past it so I can get back upstairs and turn it off.’

Jack stared. ‘What? Then who the hell is running it?’

‘Someone on the ship!’ Yelina said as they got downstairs and waited for the avatar to catch up.

Jack stared at her in consternation. ‘What ? Why would someone from the ship do this- JEEZE!’ Jack jumped out of the way, just in time, as the avatar vaulted over the railing and would have landed on him, had he not thrown himself clear.

‘Get it to chase you!’ Yelina ordered.

‘But-’

‘I’ve got to get past it!’ Yelina yelled at him. ‘I’ve got to get at the generator and turn it off!’

‘Okay,’ Jack said ingenuously as the avatar reared up, raising its hammerhand, and scrutinised him. ‘Point taken.’ He yelled at the thing as it turned its attention back to Yelina. ‘Hey, you! C’mon! Pick on someone your own size!’ He picked up a large candle off the dining-room table and hurled it at the face of the electronic menace.

Jack wasn’t sure what he expected to happen in that instant. Part of his mind told him that if the thing was merely a hologram, it would flicker momentarily as the chuck of paraffin passed through it. Instead, his eyes widened in surprise as his missile slammed into the avatar’s face.

‘Sonofabitch! Okay, ugly, now that I’ve got your attention-’

He didn’t have time for any further reflection or speech-making because the avatar roared in fury and came after him.

‘Okay, downstairs is away,’ Jack muttered to himself as he ran down the basement stairs with the avatar in hot pursuit. He flicked on the lights as he got to the bottom of the stairs. And then, standing in the middle of the rumpus-room floor, he considered his options. At once, he realised his mistake. He could go left, he could go right, but his options were only the utility room, the laundry room, the downstairs bathroom, the storage room, and the adjoining rumpus room the kids called the “party” room.

His choice was made for him as the avatar hurled itself at him, missing him with its hammerhand by mere millimeters- with a shiver Jack felt it graze the fabric of his bathrobe over his shoulder.

Jeeze! Yelina, now would be a good time! I hope you’re about to turn this damned thing off!’

And then, as he yanked open the party room door, he slipped on a throw-rug that lay on the linoleum floor and landed with a grunt on his belly, knocking the wind out of himself. Sobbing for breath like a wounded accordion, he rolled over on his back and stared in horror as the Hammerhand avatar reared over him, raised its gigantic maul, and then-

‘Jack! Jack!’ Sobbing, Yelina pelted into the room, began checking him for damage. ‘Did it hurt you, Jack? Where did it hurt you?’

He lay very still a long moment, glad for the moment to still be alive. ‘It got me,’ he said quietly.

Horrified, Yelina started crying in earnest. ‘Where? I don’t see anything!’

‘No?’

‘No!’

‘Well . . .’ he drawled, ‘that’s because you can’t see my wits. Or my pride, for that matter. Is everyone upstairs okay- boof!’

‘You meanie!’ She punched him in the belly. ‘I thought you were squished!’

‘I was- almost!’ Jack told her seriously. ‘Now, is everyone else okay?’

‘Carly is crying,’ she told him.

‘Well,’ he told her, getting to his feet, ‘if that’s the worst of it, then we came out okay. In the meantime, you’d better tell me what happened, there.’

She bit her lip.

‘Yelina,’ he told her, lifting her chin to make her look in his eye, ‘we had a deal, remember? No more secrets! Now, what was this all about?’

Looking guilty, she admitted, ‘I told you they were still alive! Now they’re mad because . . .’ she shrugged.

Realisation dawned on Jack. ‘They’ve been listening to us through that communication device you made! Now they’re mad at you because of that thing you made. But why,’ he shook his head, faintly, ‘would they come after you like that? They weren’t just trying to scare you, were they.’ It was a statement.

‘They were going to squish Kiko and me, and then make it burn itself up,’ she admitted.

Jack gaped at her. ‘Isn’t that a bit extreme? Why didn’t they just call you and tell you to take it apart?’

‘Because talking’s against the stupid rules!’ she scowled. ‘Everything’s against the stupid rules!’

Jack sighed and allowed himself to relax. ‘So that thing you made is turned off, for sure now?’

‘I took it apart,’ she told him. ‘I broke it good.’

Jack grumbled tiredly and tousled her hair. ‘Okay. Let’s go back to bed, then. We’ll deal with this in the morning.’

Yelina gave him a look. ‘What bed?’

Sunday, January 17, 2010, 4:46 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Undisclosed location

The man in black opened the front door and stared in surprise.

‘What do you want?’

‘We need to talk.’

The man in black thought about that a moment, then stood aside to allow his guest to enter. His guest went straight to the kitchen table of the little house and seated himself. The man in black joined him.

‘All right. Talk.’

His guest sighed, seemed to struggle with himself a moment. And then-

‘I don’t think the aliens are as benign as we thought. In fact, I think they may be dangerous.’

The man in black’s face was blank for several tense moments. He gave nothing away. ‘Explain.’

His guest nodded. ‘All right . . . they made an attempt on the lives of the two staying at the Moore house. You’ve see this before: they’re somehow able to generate holographic images that have physical substance. The two at the Moore house put the run on your men this way. But early this morning the aliens tapped into whatever device the ones staying at the Moore house had used, and used it to try to kill them.’

The man in black frowned. ‘Intriguing! Why would they do that, I wonder? Unless . . .’

‘My guess is that the two that got off the ship weren’t crash victims. I think they, and the others that were found dead, were actually trying to escape.’

The man in black shook his head. ‘Escape from what?’

His guest shrugged. ‘The ones that escaped appear to be kids . . . but I don’t buy it.’

‘Because-?’

‘Because they could be anything!’ his guest said with some heat. ‘With technology as advanced as theirs . . . we don’t know what[/i] they are. And this band they’ve started! They’re up to something! I know it!’

‘We’ve wondered the same thing,’ the man in black told him. He seemed to consider something a moment. And then, ‘All right, this is strictly confidential. Have you ever read the Pied Piper of Hamelin?’

His guest frowned. ‘A long time ago. What’s that got to do with anything?’

‘Think about it!’

His guest stared in shock. ‘No! You don’t think-!’

‘Oh, but I do,’ the man in black told him. ‘I think either they came here for our children, or else they mean to brainwash our children [i] en masse[/I].’

‘But why?!’

‘Why, to take over our world,’ the man in black told him. ‘Why else?’

Sunday, January 17, 2010, 8:03 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Credit Union Centre, formerly Sask Place

Yelina skated in circles, bored, as she waited for the exhibition game to begin. What a waste of time! The game didn’t mean anything! So why bother doing it?

They were up against the Czech Republic men’s team, ostensibly to play a game, but in truth to act as cannon fodder, to keep the mens’ teams from getting rusty as they waited for the World Cup to begin.

She paused to size up the Czech players. It wasn’t fair! They were too big, too fast, could cover too much ice. They would control the centre and the corners. They would be tough to move in front of the goalie. They had longer sticks and a longer reach.

Yelina sighed. This was going to suck, big time!

She skated over to where Tina and Asta leaned on their sticks, talking quietly together.

‘Heya, Short Stuff,’ Tina greeted her.

‘Heya, Bear. ’

‘You ready to kick their butts?’

Yelina scowled. ‘As if!’

‘Well I’m[/i] going to try to beat them.’

Asta gave her a look. ‘Yeah, right!’

‘I mean it!’ Tina told them. ‘They’re boys, right? So I say play ‘em like boys!’

‘You mean hit ‘em?’ Asta asked her incredulously.

‘Sure,’ Tina grinned. ‘It’s not like they’re gonna hit us back or anything.’

Yelina stared. ‘You mean I can hit ‘em good, and they’re not gonna hit me back?’

Tina’s grin only widened. ‘Hey, look, we’re just a bunch of kids, right? What are they gonna do? Punch us out?’

The whistle blew, and as they skated to their positions, Yelina mulled this over.

Asta didn’t even look up at the giant Czech centreman before her, who like her was tensed for the faceoff drop at centre ice that would begin the game. Her sole focus was the puck in the referee’s hand-

At a speed two shades faster than the human mind’s ability to comprehend its own powers of sight, Asta picked off the puck before it even hit the ice, batting it in Yelina’s direction.

The little blonde alien girl caught the Czech right-winger entirely off-guard as she dove between his legs, picked the puck out of the air with her stick, and skating with the puck balanced on her stick like a lacrosse-player, took off down the ice like a dervish, spinning away from checks, lobbing the puck over chagrined players and catching it again as she passed them, and then somehow, impossibly, she was bearing down on the opposing team’s goal-

The crowd was on its feet with a roar as she spun counterclockwise, deked out the goaltender, snapped the puck home at an impossible angle, and slid back-first into the boards on her rear. Her teammates cleared the bench as though they’d won the game, and the camera and news crews, prepared for boredom, came to life as though they’d witness the crime of the century committed right before their eyes. The CBC crew scurried to get a better camera to centre ice. The main network had carried the start of the game, only because Don Cherry and Ron McLean were there to talk to the Czech players, and to talk about the upcoming World Cup.

‘Holy Mackerel!’ Cherry exclaimed to the camera. ‘I don’t know who that kid is, but that was one of the prettiest goals I’ve ever seen in my life!’

‘This just in,’ Ron McLean put in, ‘I’ve just been told that they’re giving us a little more air-time . . . so let’s see what happens as we get back under way!’

The girls couldn’t help but notice the change in their opponents. They swallowed collectively, wondering if they hadn’t stirred a pit bull awake.

As before, Asta ignored the player before her- but this time he jostled her stick! This, to let her know just how strong he was, and that he had her full attention this time! Fine! He wanted rough? She could do rough! She nodded to Yelina, giving her the heads-up.

Again, she picked the puck out of the air- but this time she nailed it, blasting it off the boards!

Yelina picked the puck out of the air on the rebound and sped up the ice; no horsing around this time: now she was all business. She faked a long shot, flipped the puck over to Tina who sped down the right wing.

The Czech defenceman hesitated, wondering what to do. Normally he’d just ride his check into the boards or run into him. He shrugged. When in doubt, clutch ‘n’ grab- he winced in disbelief as the ref caught it and raised his arm, whistle at the ready.

Tina didn’t hesitate. She squirted past him, taking full advantage of the delayed penalty. And suddenly the crowd was on its feet, and they had a three-on-one! She passed to Asta, who flicked it to Yelina who was already zooming in in full flight! The little blonde girl cut to the left of the goalie, flicked the puck out in front at an impossible angle, caught the goalie out of his net-

‘Are you guys seeing this?’ Don Cherry hooted, playing colour-commentator to McLean’s impromptu play by play. ‘This place is going nuts! Just listen to this crowd! I wish Hayley Wickenheiser was here to see this! What a play! What a goal!’

‘Just listen to this crowd!’ Ron McLean said to the CBC camera. ‘I don’t know, Don, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything quite like this! The Holy Cross girl’s team is up two nothing against the World-Cup contender men’s team from the Czech Republic!

‘For those of you just tuning in, the Holy Cross girl’s team has just scored their second unanswered goal against the Czech Republic men’s team, and there is pandemonium here in Credit Union Centre, Saskatoon.’

‘Oh man, oh man,’ Cherry said rhetorically, ‘who are these kids? That little Yelina Moore is only as big as a minute, and here she’s already got an unassisted goal and an assist! The centre, Asta Sjoenmann already has an assist, and Tina Johnson on right wing, she looked like the Great Gretsky out there as she put in that second goal!’

‘I can help wondering what’s going to happen next,’ McLean cautioned. ‘This Czech men’s team looks absolutely stunned! I think it’s a safe bet they’re going to come at these kids now, and show them what they’re really made of.’

‘You’re probably right,’ Cherry seconded ruefully. ‘This ain’t Cinderella. These Holy Cross kids may have got lucky, twice, but they’re just a bunch of kids up against a professional men’s team. Still, this is hockey, where anything can happen!’

Asta resumed her position at centre, and once again she prepared herself for the faceoff. The puck was dropped-

It took her an instant to realise what happened. The bastard slashed her! Doubled over in pain, she dropped her stick and her glove, clutching her arm. The whistle blew, and the play stopped.

‘Are you all right?’ Tina and Yelina asked her as they skated over in concern.

‘Sonofabitch!’ she cursed. ‘Son-of-a-bitch, that hurts!’

‘Where’d he get you?’ Yelina asked her.

‘Right here, just above where the glove doesn’t protect you.’

‘He did that on purpose!’ Tina glared. ‘At least they’re two men short, now. Can you still play?’

Asta flexed her hand, wincing, but nodded, and waved off a line change as their coach got their attention. ‘Okay, for some reason they’re doing the faceoff down in their end, so here’s how this is going to go down. Yelina, I want you to take the faceoff. And- remember what we said about that “one-man-team” stuff? Forget it! Just do your thing! Okay?’

‘Jeeze, would you look at this!’ Don Cherry hooted. ‘For those of you who are just tuning in, here we are, the Czech team is down two nothing to the Holy Cross High School girl’s hockey team, and now they’re two men short and the faceoff is deep in their own end! Who’d a thought it could happen?’

‘For some reason,’ Ron McLean said, doing the play-by-play, ‘possibly because Holy Cross centre Asta Sjoenmann is still smarting from that slash right off the faceoff, little Yelina Moore is taking this faceoff to the left of the Czech goaltender. There’s the drop-

‘SHE SCORES! Right off the faceoff! Can you believe it? Can you believe it? The crowd is on its feet again, and believe you me, they have reason to cheer! The Holy Cross girl’s hockey team is doing the impossible here tonight at Saskatoon’s Credit Union Centre. We’re less than five minutes into the first period, and already they’re up three nothing!’

‘I don’t believe what I’m seeing!’ Cherry crowed. ‘This ain’t a hockey game! This is a rout! Just look at the stunned expressions on the Czech players’ faces! They can’t believe it either! They’re just shaking their heads in disbelief!’

‘Don, I’ve got Hayley Wickenheiser on the line,’ Ron McLean said, adjusting his earpiece. ‘Hayley, are you seeing this at home?’ There came the sound of cheering in the background.

‘Yes, Ron and Don, we’re watching! They’re showing the replay right now . . . wow! I wish you could see this! That was a one-timer, right through a crowd in front of the net! Boy, I wish I was there with you guys!’

‘What do you think of this Holy Cross team?’

‘Well, in a way I’m not surprised. They’re first in their league, you know. All three forwards, Yelina Moore, Asta Sjoenmann and Tina Johnson, they’re the three leading point-getters.’

‘Hayley, what do you think of their chances, here? It’s still early in the game. D’you think they have a chance of actually winning this?’

There was a long pause. And then, ‘Well, to tell you the truth, Ron, the rest of their team hasn’t even been tested yet. You’ve got their star line out there, and yes, because of them they’re up three goals . . . but there’s fifty-five minutes of hockey left in the game, don’t forget. But you can tell them for me, we’re pulling for them!’ A cheer went up in the background.

‘That was women’s hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser,’ Ron McLean said as the game set to resume. ‘We’re about to face off at centre ice. The Czech men’s team still has one man off serving a penalty for slashing, so anything can happen!’

Sunday, January 17, 2010, 8:43 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Credit Union Centre, formerly Sask Place

Yelina was tensed to deal with the outcome of the faceoff at centre ice when a shout got her attention, causing her teammates and herself to stand down from their preparedness and skate over to the bench.

Assessing her players, their coach gestured for the girls to gather ‘round. In her hand was a clipboard, and she showed them the diagram she’d being working on.

‘Okay, listen up! Here’s what we going to do:

‘Do NOT try to skate with these guys! Don’t chase them, don’t try to check them, don’t do any of that stuff.’

‘Then how are we, like, supposed to play them?’ Tina asked to a chorus of assent.

‘Like we’re two men short and killing a penalty,’ the coach told them. ‘Look, we can’t check them. They’re too big and they’re too fast. We can’t chase them. They’re too big and they’re too fast. We’re going to have to let them control the play and keep the puck in our end most of the time. That’s going to happen anyway, so there’s no point in fighting it. What we CAN do is plug our end, protect our goalie and our lead, and wait for breaks.’

Their goalie groaned aloud. ‘I’m gonna get killed! They can, like, shoot really hard, ya know!’

Their coach sighed. ‘I know. There’s nothing we can do about that. But what we CAN do is try to protect our lead, get between them and our goal, and try to get breakaways.’

Yelina gave her a look. ‘You said we’re not supposed to hog the puck!’

‘Forget what I said,’ their coach told her. ‘Forget everything I ever said about how we’re supposed to play as a team. This is different. If we’re going to have any chance of winning this, then we’ve got to play by a whole new set of rules. That means you hog the puck as much as you like, and score as many goals as you can.’

Yelina, Asta and Tina exchanged an impish look.

‘Re-e-e-e-ally?’

Fed up with these young upstarts, the Czech centre cast off all restraint and fought the Holy Cross centre of the puck, won the draw, and took off down the ice in full flight. To his surprise, the girls had kept three players well back of the play, who bolted for the front of the net, forming a screen in front of it. He faked a slapshot, skated towards the corner to draw the screen from in front of the goal, intending to backpass to the player shadowing him who would drill the puck home through the opening.

He banged his stick on the ice in frustration as his pass was neatly picked off by a player who wasted no time in turning the play around, passing to a forward who all alone drove towards his goaltender, with only one man back.

That one man back did his job, checked the girl skating in on net and took the puck from her, made a long cross-ice pass to the left winger as he streaked down the ice.

But again the team of girls scrambled back to form a screen, and again the play was broken up.

The Czech left winger dug in the corner for the puck, took control and flipped it out in front, to the centre who muscled his way into the centre of the girls trying to control the play in front of the net. The crowd shouted “OH!” as he hammered it at the net- but the goalie, playing far beyond herself, made a spectacular save, picking the puck out of the air.

The Czech team let down for only an instant, expecting a whistle and a stoppage in play- but the goalie caught them off-guard, dropped the puck and fired it towards the open wing!

The winger, Carol Arsenault, was a third-stringer, a girl who despite an utter lack of talent had made the team on sheer guts and determination. When she saw the puck doing the impossible- coming her way through a crowd of players, suddenly the fact that she was badly out of position became her chance of a lifetime! Normally she was not a fast skater, but to the men vainly trying to chase her down, she was suddenly become a fury of flying ice-chips and elbows! And then the crowd was on its feet with a roar, and she was flying in on goal so fast she was almost falling over her own feet-

For the rest of her life, the rest would be a blur. Somehow- she didn’t remember how- the goal had been scored, and she was laying on her back, semiconscious, surrounded by her teammates and tended to by the club doctor, who pronounced her dazed and bruised, but otherwise undamaged.

Monday, January 18, 2010, Cental Time Zone, GMT

The CTV News, with Lloyd Roberts

“ . . . and finally, before we leave you tonight, we have this story, about the high school hockey team everyone is talking about- the Holy Cross girls’ hockey team from Saskatoon Saskatchewan.

“As you know, as the participants of the World Cup hockey season get ready to prepare themselves for competition, a number of the top world teams have been playing a series of exhibition games with local minor-hocky-league teams, in order to promote World Cup hockey in rural areas that otherwise would never get to see the world’s top players, live.

“The talk of the town in Saskatoon, however, is of the Holy Cross High School girl’s team, who last night defeated- yes, defeated- the men’s team from the Czech Republic, by a score of seven to four.

“Here is Don Cherry’s post-game interview with the players, in the Holy Cross dressing-room.”

laughter, at the manic sight of Don Cherry who is wearing Boom-Boom Kitty contact lenses

“Friends, here I am with the Holy Cross girls’ hockey team . . . couldja kids hold it down a minute? Let’s keep it down to a dull roar for a few minutes, so’s we can tell the people at home, and all the nay-sayers, about the incredible thing that happened here tonight.

“Okay, let’s try this again. Friends, you shoulda been here tonight, ‘cause in a hockey game anything can happen, and miracles do happen, and there was one right here, tonight, let me tell ya.

“Let’s roll the first clip . . . okay now watch this, you kids at home . . . watch, we’re going to roll it forward . . . just look at this! Asta Sjoenmann beats the big Czech centre for the puck, and look what happens! Already little Yelina Moore is heading down the ice like she was shot out of a cannon- look at this! One, two, three, she beats three checks, and here she goes, driving for the net . . . just look at those moves! And there, she does the spinnerama, and look! Look at the goaltender! He’s lookin’ all over the place, tryin’ ta figure out where that puck’s going to come from, and boom! In it goes like it had eyes!

“Okay, roll it forward again- we got time for this? I hope we got time for this, because this goal by centre Asta Sjoenmann is a doozie, right out of the text book. Okay, watch this! Watch how Tina Johnson skates down the right wing, skates down the right wing, and just look at this! The Czech player doesn’t know what to do! She’s just a girl, so he can’t hit her, right? So he tries a little clutching and grabbing, get’s called for it, and look at this! Just look at this! The ref’s got his arm up for delayed penalty, so what does Tina Johnson do? I hope you kids at home are watching this! Does she stop and let him touch the puck! Not on your life! She does the smart thing- just look at this! There she goes, she turns on the afterburners, and there’s the pass to Sjoenmann, and just look at this! Back it up a bit and lets watch this again. Here we go . . . Johnson sees she’s running out of room, so she passes to Sjoenmann, and what does Sjoenmann do? Does she stop the puck! No, she does not! Boom, she flicks it over to Moore, who catches the Czech defence napping, and just look at this! They look like they’re all having a heart-attack at what’s goin’ on here, and they all scramble after her, and little Yelina Moore just goes a-burning down the left wing . . . and wouldja look at this! She’s got the whole Czech team lookin’ at her, and she just flips it out in front, and boom! Asta Sjoenman bangs it in with a beautiful one-timer, just like a pro!

“Anyway, before we run outta time, I just wanna tell ya that these three here with the crazy eyeballs are members of Boom-Boom Kitty-”

pause for the screaming to die down

“-the best damn band on the whole damn planet, and I gotta tell ya, kids, I’m a big fan of yours, an’ I think you’re doing great things, making good old-fashioned wholesome family entertainment, an’ doing great things for unwanted pets, an’ I don’t think it was any accident that you’re playin’ on the number one line of the hockey team that handed one of the world’s best mens’ teams their butts! Ya got anything to say to your fans out there? What’s that, dear?”

Yelina went very red, and whispered something in his ear.

“An autographed picture? Kid, you can have all the autographed pictures you want! I should be me askin’ you for [i]your[/i] autograph!

“Anyway, they’re tellin’ me that’s all the time we got, so Hayley Wickenheiser, if you’re watchin’, the girls got something they wanna tell you. All together, now:”

Hayley! This one’s for you!

-back to Lloyd Robertson, who is chuckling and shaking his head.

“And that’s the kind of day it’s been, on this Monday, January 18th, two-thousand and ten. Good-night, from all of us here at CTV.”

Monday, January 25, 2010, Central Time Zone, GMT

The Crash Site

The young soldier stamped his cold, aching feet to get some feeling back into them, slung his gun carelessly over his shoulder, lit another cigarette, inhaled deeply, and risked not being spotted sitting down for a few minutes. He sat on the lower rail of a small wooden porch than fronted a long, galvanised-roofed Quonset hut, which had been built to house the heavy equipment used to study the alien craft.

It was so cold out that his eyes would tear and freeze shut if he put his hood down. The air was full of glittering, rainbow-hued ice-crystals. The trees were covered by a white rheum of hoar-frost. It was pretty, but it was damned cold!

The government people were still arguing back and forth over who was to keep an eye on the massive alien craft. When it had first crash-landed, the army was ordered in to secure the crash site. Soon after, the Security Service suits had taken over. Now, the army was called back in to do all the grunt work.

In the beginning, the area had been crawling with soldiers and bristling with guns. But as time and the fear of imminent invasion had passed, terminal boredom had set in. The guns were still there, hidden from view in hopes of making the aliens feel less threatened, but the attentions of all but the scientists had become desultory.

Why else? Nothing at all had happened for half a year. The crumpled bulk of the massive ship lay adjoining the edge of the forest like a beached whale, perpetually near death.

Yet life had been detected, flickering deep within its insides. Even if no one was alive in there, its machinery was still going-

The soldier spat out his cigarette in alarm and surged to his feet, gun at the ready! The small door on the side of the ship, the one the men in black had tried to blast with explosives, was open!

‘Sonofabitch! Jesus Christ!’ His hands shaking, he keyed the mike on his shoulder. ‘Watcher One to Base! Watcher One to Base!’ When Base didn’t answer, he tried again. ‘Watcher One to Base! The Ship’s open, goddamnit! I need some help, here!’

Watcher One? Say again-?”

‘The goddamned ship’s open! I need some help!’

He stared in alarm as a sound came to his ears from inside the ship. Instinctively, he raised the rifle to his shoulder, prepared to shoot at whatever emerged from the gaping black emptiness.

Je-sus!’

Even if he’d intended to, he couldn’t have got off a shot at the thing that came shooting out of the hole, turned in an arc, went shooting off down the length of the alien ship, then was lost to sight as it turned and disappeared into the forest.

The door behind him burst open as alarmed men began emptying from the guts of the building, guns at the ready.

They stared, open-mouthed, as they heard shouting coming from the ship! A dozen grey-clad aliens boiled out of the opening, some of them calling after the thing that had come shooting out of it.

The young soldier could tell at a glance that they were very much taken aback by whatever had just left their ship.

‘Hold it! Put your damned guns up! They’re not interested in us!’ he yelled to the others, getting their attention. ‘Look, they’re not even armed! Put your damned guns up before you kill someone!’

As they watched, the aliens were arguing heatedly amongst themselves. One raised its voice, the arguing stopped, they reluctantly went back inside, the door was closed once more.

‘You seem to know what’s going on,’ his superior demanded. ‘So what were they interested in?’

‘Something came out of the ship,’ he replied in a rush. ‘It was moving fast.’

‘Jesus H. Christ!’ his superior bit off. ‘What did it look like? Was it some sort of weapon?’

‘It was almost too fast to tell what it was,’ the young soldier replied, ‘but I think it was one of them, riding a thing . . . it kinda looked like a motorcycle with no wheels. It went down that way, to the left, and then turned into the forest.’

‘Great,’ his superior grumbled as he keyed his radio. ‘We’re gonna get blamed, big time, for “lettin’” it get away!’

Monday, January 25, 2010, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Enjoying a little quite time to himself with the kids away at school, Jack put the kettle on the stove, fired up the burner, sat down at the kitchen table, and groaned with relief. Everything seemed to be going okay, with no untoward complications. He glanced at the security system on the wall behind him, next to the door. All was quiet. All was peaceful.

Fraction by fraction, he allowed himself to relax. He opened out the paper, had just begun to read, when the sound of mail box clanging shut got his attention. With a sigh, he got to his feet and went to check.

He grinned at the site of a long tubular object poking out of the mailbox, and knew automatically what it was. It was stamped “NHL” and it was addressed to Yelina. The rest was an armload addressed mostly to Boom-Boom Kitty. Pushing shut the front door, sealing the arctic cold outside, he went back to the kitchen to sort through the day’s load of fan-mail-

‘Put up your hands, and do not move.’

Jack obeyed. The back door stood wide-open. Before him stood an alien from the ship! In her hand was a device that thrummed with power- he assumed from the way she pointed it purposefully at him that it was some sort of weapon.

‘My daughter, where is she?’

Jack stared, at once recognising the familiar features, but in adult form. The woman had spoken to him in heavily accented English. She wore a one-piece grey outfit that left only her face showing. It looked to be heavy, like a snow-suit. In her free hand was something like a ski-mask and goggles.

‘You’re Kiko’s mother!’

‘Answer me!’ she hissed, pressing the device against his chest. ‘Where is she?’

‘She’s in school.’

School,’ the woman bit off, scornfully, as though his primitive culture was beneath her. ‘You will take me to her!’

‘Your daughter is a long distance from here,’ he told her. ‘There are two-thousand other kids in that school. What are you going to do? Walk in their with that thing pointed at me, and just go in and get her?’

‘I will do what I must!’

Jack considered her demand, but said, ‘I don’t know where she is in the school! It’s a big place. If you try getting her out at gunpoint, the authorities will be called in. That thing you’re holding may be a weapon, but I don’t think it’ll protect you from bullets. It won’t protect Kiko, either.’

She considered his words in tense anger for several long moments.

‘Look, if you just wait until this evening,’ he told her reasonably, ‘she’ll come back here on her own, without you risking both of you getting captured, or shot.’

‘I do not have time for this!’ she told him. ‘I must get back to the ship!’

An ugly thought occurred to him. ‘What about Yelina?’

For an instant, the woman was unable to look him in the eye.

‘You mean to tell me that you came here to grab Kiko, but that you’re going to leave Yelina behind?’ he asked her incredulously.

‘Yelina is in serious trouble!’ she snapped.

‘I don’t care!’ he snapped back. ‘She’s been desperate to get back inside that ship of yours! She broke your rules and made that communication device because she wanted to talk to her mother! You are not just going to take Kiko and leave Yelina behind!’

She held the device under his nose. ‘I will do exactly that!’

‘Over my dead body!’

At that, she paused to reconsider him. Her mien was somehow both icy and fearful, and he was reminded of his first impression of the girls, of how alien they had seemed at first. Those impressions came back in a flood of emotion as he stared at the alien woman holding a weapon just inches from his face.

‘Um . . . if you don’t mind, I’d like my security system turned back on,’ he told her. It came out sounding like a question. ‘There are people who are trying to get at your daughter and Yelina. You’re kind of leaving the barn door open.’

She took out a small hand-held device the size of a fat pen, pointed it at the security system, and pushed a button.

‘This device is again operational,’ she told him.

Suddenly, Jack frowned as it dawned on him.

‘How did you get here?’

‘I used a vee-ped.’ Into Jack’s incomprehension, she said, ‘A vee-ped is a vehicle for transporting people. It is there, beneath that tree.’ She pointed outside.

Jack gaped. There, beside a blue cedar in back of his house, was what looked a bit like a motorcycle without wheels. Hanging suspended in the air, four feet off the ground!

‘Are you nuts? You can’t leave that thing out there where everyone can see it! Geeze! Let’s get it inside before someone sees it!’

‘When will my daughter return?’ she demanded.

‘She’ll be at school all day,’ he told her. ‘She won’t be back until supper time.’

She switched the weapon off and stuffed it into a pocket.

‘They I will wait.’

Monday, January 25, 2010, 6:07 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack’s feelings were mixed as he heard the truck in the driveway, the doors slam, the front door open and the kids file noisily into the house. Normally he welcomed those sounds. He tried to take pleasure at the sound of Yelina’s squeal of delight as she spotted the roll of NHL posters waiting for her on the dining-room table. There came the sound of her excitedly tearing it open, even as Kiko walked into the kitchen, and froze at the sight of her mother.

Her reaction was wholly unexpected. At the sight of her mother, her expression became set. Jack knew that look, and wasn’t surprised when she fled to her room and slammed the door. Her mother stood where she was, looking anguished and helpless.

From the dining room came sudden silence. Yelina came to the kitchen to investigate. The woman watched her as she made her way to Jack, like a child seeking the safety of an adult. Yelina was staring, wide-eyed, at the weapon the woman had in her holster.

‘Is my mom coming to get me?’

Jack put his arm around the girl. She was trembling with emotion.

The woman tried to look at her but couldn’t. ‘She is in another part of the ship, one that is sealed off.’

‘Then she’s alive?’

The woman looked to Jack, as though trying to convey something she didn’t dare say out loud.

‘I do not know, Yelina,’ she said quietly. ‘Some parts of the ship remain sealed off. We haven’t been able to access them.’ She did look at the girl, then. ‘You are in a lot of trouble.’

Yelina said nothing, her features suffused.

‘She was trying to call her mother,’ Jack said like an accusation.

‘There are penalties for revealing our technology,’ the woman said flatly. ‘She did much more than attempt to communicate with her mother.’

‘What-ever!’ Jack snarled, unconsciously imitating the parlance of the kids. ‘What you’re accusing her of is being a kid!’

‘You do not know what it as stake!’ she shot back.

‘As a matter of fact, I do!’ he told her. ‘The whole world is at stake! There’s it’s all out in the open! No secrets, no lies, no beating around the bush! This planet is doomed! You’re here to try to save it and us, and yourselves in the bargain-’

The woman gaped at him incredulously, then glared at Yelina, murderously.

‘You stupid, stupid, selfish, irresponsible little-’

‘She is selfish and irresponsible,’ Jack cut her off mildly, ‘but she’s anything but stupid. She saved all our lives. In fact, she saved your daughter. From your own people,’ he added pointedly.

Monday, January 25, 2010, 6:07 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack’s feelings were mixed as he heard the truck in the driveway, the doors slam, the front door open and the kids file noisily into the house. Normally he welcomed those sounds. He tried to take pleasure at the sound of Yelina’s squeal of delight as she spotted the roll of NHL posters waiting for her on the dining-room table. There came the sound of her excitedly tearing it open, even as Kiko walked into the kitchen, and froze at the sight of her mother.

Her reaction was wholly unexpected. At the sight of her mother, her expression became set. Jack knew that look, and wasn’t surprised when she fled to her room and slammed the door. Her mother stood where she was, looking anguished and helpless.

From the dining room came sudden silence. Yelina came to the kitchen to investigate. The woman watched her as she made her way to Jack, like a child seeking the safety of an adult. Yelina was staring, wide-eyed, at the weapon the woman had in her holster.

‘Is my mom coming to get me?’

Jack put his arm around the girl. She was trembling with emotion.

The woman tried to look at her but couldn’t. ‘She is in another part of the ship, one that is sealed off.’

‘Then she’s alive?’

The woman looked to Jack, as though trying to convey something she didn’t dare say out loud.

‘I do not know, Yelina,’ she said quietly. ‘Some parts of the ship remain sealed off. We haven’t been able to access them.’ She did look at the girl, then. ‘You are in a lot of trouble.’

Yelina said nothing, her features suffused.

‘She was trying to call her mother,’ Jack said like an accusation.

‘There are penalties for revealing our technology,’ the woman said flatly. ‘She did much more than attempt to communicate with her mother.’

‘Whatever!’ Jack snarled, unconsciously imitating the parlance of the kids. ‘What you’re accusing her of is being a kid!’

‘You do not know what it as stake!’ she shot back.

‘As a matter of fact, I do!’ he told her. ‘The whole world is at stake! There’s it’s all out in the open! No secrets, no lies, no beating around the bush! This planet is doomed! You’re here to try to save it and us, and yourselves in the bargain-’

The woman gaped at him incredulously, then glared at Yelina, murderously.

‘You stupid, stupid, selfish, irresponsible little-’

‘She is selfish and irresponsible,’ Jack cut her off mildly, ‘but she’s anything but stupid. She used your technology to save all our lives. In fact, she saved your daughter. From your own people,’ he added pointedly.

She regarded him, sceptically. ‘My people were here?’

‘No,’ he told her, ‘your people tried to kill us using the image-generator Yelina used to modify the video games.’

‘That is a lie-’ she stopped herself, obviously realising that no one else possessed the technology. And then, realisation set it. ‘They had no right! Not to harm my daughter . . .’

‘Speaking of your daughter . . . ’ Jack said, reminding her. ‘I think you should go talk to her. In the meantime, I’m going to get supper ready.’

‘I will take her back with me, now,’ the woman replied evasively.

‘But- what about me?’ Yelina wailed. ‘Don’t I get to go back to my mom?’

‘I cannot access the part of the ship your mother is in,’ the woman replied impatiently. ‘But if you like, I will take you back with me.’

‘I don’t want to go with you!’ Yelina cried, bursting into tears. ‘You’re always mean to me!’

‘Fine, stay then!’ the woman glared.

At that, Yelina fled to her room and slammed the door shut. Jack had to suppress a smile as Boom-Boom Kitty went thumping down the hall after her in hot pursuit. The door opened to admit him, then slammed shut again. The woman, meanwhile, gaped as she saw the kitten.

‘What- that thing, what was it?’

‘That was Yelina’s kitten,’ Jack told her as he busied himself to prepare supper. He could hear that Jason and Carly watched television in the dining-room, quietly. The woman could just see them from where she was standing.

‘You have children of your own.’

‘No . . . well, sort of,’ Jack told her. He quickly explained the situation.

‘You have no wife of your own?’

Jack sighed, and as quickly explained the absence of his wife and daughter.

The woman digested this in silence. They, she left him to collect her daughter.

Monday, January 25, 2010, 6:32 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

Jack was about to put supper on the table when he heard Kiko’s bedroom door open. The girl appeared soon after, her eyes puffy from weeping, a snail’s track of tears on each cheek. She went straight to him, threw herself into his arms, heaved a great sobbing sigh.

‘Tell her to go away!’

Her mother stood at the hall entrance to the kitchen, looking shaken.

‘I can’t do that, Sweetie,’ he said quietly. ‘She’s your mother.’

‘I don’t care! I want her to go away, and leave us alone! It’s all her fault!’

Jack frowned. ‘What’s her fault?’

‘I wanted to stay!’ Kiko sobbed. ‘I wanted us to be together, but she took me away! And now everything’s gone, a-and everyone’s dead!’

‘Kiko! Sweetie!’ he sat her down and sat beside her. ‘It’s not her fault everyone’s dead. You shouldn’t blame her for that-’

‘I’m not losing everything all over again!’ she shouted. ‘I’m not going back to the ship just because we’re all supposed to die in there!’

Jack looked to her mother, his features carefully neutral.

‘What’s she talking about?’

The woman stood rooted there as though she were suddenly struck blind. She said nothing.

‘I heard them talking one time,’ Kiko told him, her tone empty. ‘If someone saw us land . . . they were supposed to do something . . . to make all of us die. Then, the ship was supposed to get hot, until it burned itself up.’

‘You agreed to this?’ Jack asked her mother.

‘There were . . . conditions,’ she told him. She looked pale and drawn, as though her heart were hoarding blood. ‘I didn’t have any choice. I had to agree . . . or else we had to stay behind.’

‘Well . . .’ Jack sighed, gave Kiko a fatherly squeeze. ‘You have a choice now. And your people still have a choice-’

‘There is no choice for them-’

‘As long as they’re living,’ Jack bit off, ‘they have a choice.’ A thought occurred to him, then. ‘Are your people still alive because survivors were ejected from the ship?’ Seeing her expression, he said, ‘That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why you’re not keen on Yelina’s returning with you. As long as she’s here . . . she’s your little insurance policy.’

And then, it dawned on him. ‘But that’s why you were mean to her before, wasn’t it? So she wouldn’t want to come back . . . except it didn’t work! She still wanted to go back to her mother-’

Angry tears welled in her eyes at that. ‘Yelina’s mother was very cruel to her. But nothing she did would drive her away. Yelina was so hurt . . . but she just took it, and took it . . . her mother asked that I drug her and put her in an escape pod . . . she didn’t want to do it! It hurt her to be so cruel to her own daughter! But we drew lots . . . at first it was to have been Mialla, but her mother couldn’t bring herself to do it. And then it fell to me . . . but I . . . I tried for a while . . .’ she lost her composure and wept. ‘I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Oh, my baby . . . I’m so sorry!’

Kiko went to her, then, and threw herself in her mother’s arms.

‘And then something went wrong,’ Jack finished for her, quietly, ‘and you had to put the girls in the escape pod. And all the cruel things you did to them were for nothing.’

He sighed, deep in thought. ‘Well, I’m putting supper on the table now.’

‘I’ll get Yelina,’ Kiko said quietly. She raised her head and look her mother squarely in the eye. ‘And I’m going to tell her everything.’

‘I’m Jack, by the way,’ he said when Kiko had left. ‘The boy’s name is Jason. His sister’s name is Carly. C’mon, kids! Soup’s on!’

The woman took her first good look at him.

‘I am called Satu.’

‘Well, Satu, I suggest you stay for supper. After that, I suggest we have a long talk.’

Monday, January 25, 2010, 7:01 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

-

Satu, Kiko’s mother, entered Yelina’s room and sat on the side of the girl’s bed. Yelina lay facing the wall, snuffling quietly, tousling her kitty’s head. In their own tongue, Satu said quietly, ‘Jack is very concerned that you will not join us for supper. And,’ she admitted, ‘he is very angry with me.’

When the girl remained silent, she said, ‘Who is the man in the picture?’ She indicated a large poster at the head of the girl’s bed. On it was a photograph of an older man dressed in a loud red plaid suit, gesturing with his thumb up.

With a snuffling sigh, Yelina sat up, holding the kitten in her arms. ‘That’s Grapes! He’s a famous hockey guy. He came and watched us play, and he even gave me his e-mail address! He’s my best friend in the whole world!’

Satu smiled at that. ‘Jack has told me about this “hockey” game you play. He says that you are very good at it, and that you have made many friends.’ She reached out, then, and with a mother’s tenderness brushed away the girl’s tears. ‘Your mother was always so worried that you never had any friends. Perhaps things have turned out for the best for you, after all?’

‘D’you think Jack would like my mom?’ Yelina asked her.

Satu smiled at that, and at the girl’s naïveté. Carefully skirting any mention of the girl’s mother, she said, ‘You very much like having Jack as a father, don’t you.’ It was a statement.

Yelina said nothing at first, but sighed and hugged her kitty. At last, she replied, ‘I want my mom to like him. She would like this house, and all the snow, and the horses! When Boom-Boom Kitty and I go walkies, we go to see the horses, just through the forest behind the house, and out across the field.’

Satu considered the kitten with a quizzical smile. ‘You call this animal Boom-Boom Kitty?’

Yelina scowled. ‘He’s not a animal! He’s a kitty!’

Satu chuckled at that. ‘I see. So he lives with you?’

‘He sleeps with me, and I feed him and take good care of him,’ Yelina told her. ‘He’s good at spotting Bad Guys! He saved me and Kiko and everyone when some dumb-bum from the ship tried to use Tina’s video game to squish us!’

Satu frowned at that, but said nothing. And then, ‘Do you still have the communication device you made?’

‘Sort of,’ Yelina rejoined evasively.

Satu gave her a look. ‘You either do or you do not.’

Yelina sighed, put her kitty down on the bed, got up and went to the closet, stood precariously on top of the clothes’ hamper to reach up to the shelf, and brought something down. It was half in pieces with its innards hanging out. It looked like a duct-taped piece of junk.

‘I took it apart,’ Yelina told her. ‘But I think I can make it go again.’

Satu looked it over, one eyebrow raised in wonder. ‘All right . . . well . . . let’s not keep the others waiting any longer. We’ll go have our supper, and then we’ll see about putting this back together. All right?’

Tuesday, January 26, 2010, 8:24 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

-

Satu awoke feeling strangely tired yet refreshed. She stretched, rolled over on her back, and considered the grey light of a new day.

‘Hello, you,’ she said wryly to the intruder who had awakened her, extending her hand to Yelina’s kitten who dutifully checked it for treats.

The house was very quiet. The children had left for school hours earlier- she had been half-aware of their morning preparations, had been half-awake and listened for a time as they readied themselves.

She sighed. She was wearing a heavy flannel shirt Jack had loaned her to sleep in, that came to her knees. Bunching the front of the shirt over her face and inhaling, deeply, she felt a twinge of disappointment that there was no man-smell. But it did smell wonderfully clean!

With Yelina’s kitten in tow, she made her way to the bathroom and luxuriated in the first hot shower she’d had in months. The girls had donated a few necessary toiletry items, and she finished by drying and brushing her long black hair.

Jack was reading the paper as she entered the kitchen. She had time to scrutinise him as he finished the article he was reading.

Jack looked to be somewhere in the thirties, trim and in fairly good shape. He looked practical and strong. His hands appeared strong and marked by years of manual use. His nails were short and clean, his dark brown hair fairly short, thick and unruly. The jeans, boot socks and red plaid flannel work-shirt gave him a comfortable, well-worn sort of look.

He had an interesting face . . . as though the kids had erased years of careworn creases from his features, leaving the impression of a man who had come back to life from some dark place. His smiles were crooked and humane, his eyes kind, yet seemingly incapable of surprise at the turns life could dish out.

His expression became wry as Boom-Boom Kitty latched onto his socks like a burr. He detached the kitten, claw by claw, and picked it up.

‘I take it you were wakened by the resident “alarm-cat”.’

Satu smiled and accepted the kitten from him. He got up and began making her breakfast.

‘You do all of the cooking?’

Again that wry smile. ‘I try.’

Satu sat down with the kitten in her lap and considered the grey day. It was snowing, hard. The black intaglio of the forest swayed and shuddered in the wind.

‘Listen, I’m sorry about taking my anger out on you, yesterday. I know none of it was your fault. I was just . . . angry. And not thinking straight.’

Satu sighed deeply at that. ‘You’re right, though. We’ve got to convince my people to leave the ship. They’ve been cooped up in there for so long now that they’re not thinking straight. When I spoke with them last night, I tried to impress upon them the importance of getting out in order to gain some perspective. Things do not appear as hopeless from the outside.’ She put the kitten down as he placed her breakfast on the table. Boom-Boom Kitty took off like a shot, pounced upon and began mauling one of his catnip mice.

‘The girls told us you’d been listening. I’m guessing that’s how you picked up our language.’ He winced. ‘I hope you haven’t been watching our television stations . . .’

Satu laughed at that. ‘Coronation Street. Law and Order. All the daytime shows-’

‘I dread to think what opinions you’ve been forming!’

‘It’s mostly the advertising we find interesting,’ she told him. ‘Some think it tells us a lot about you, while others argue that it is entirely skewed.’

‘I suppose both are true,’ he said. ‘Are you done? I want to loan you something to put on, and take you into town to get you something decent to wear.’

‘I meant to ask you,’ she said with a quizzical expression, ‘why does Yelina’s animal receive written correspondence?’

Somehow managing to maintain a straight face, Jack replied, ‘Well, people like to ask him for advice. He’s very popular. Receives a lot of fan-mail.’

Satu considered the feline in open-mouthed wonder. For all of two seconds.

‘Ow! What was that for?’

Tuesday, January 26, 2010, 9:17 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Market Mall, Saskatoon

-

‘I don’t know why Jack picked on me to help you pick out clothes,’ Arley admitted to Satu as the two women shared their bafflement over things feminine. ‘I’m strictly a jeans ‘n’ sweatshirts type.’

‘I like the clothing you call “jeans ‘n’ sweatshirts”,’ Satu grinned impishly. ‘It’s so comfortable! I could get used to them very easily.’

‘That’s what they’re about,’ Arley told her. ‘I can’t hardly walk in heels!’

‘Heels?’ Satu queried.

‘Those things,’ Arley indicated, pointing to a nearby display.

Satu’s eyes grew wide. ‘Those are shoes? How on earth does one walk in them?’

‘One learns,’ Arley grinned. ‘Here, look . . .’

‘They look positively lewd!’ Satu gasped in comprehension.

‘Yes, well, they look even lewder (is that a word?) if you wear something slinky . . . although you’d look good in a gunny sack . . . h’m. Hey, I know! Your daughter wears these tube skirts with rasta blouses and sandals. They’d be perfect on you, too!’

Satu gave her a look. ‘I will if you will! I don’t want to look conspicuous all by myself!’

-

‘- anyway,’ Ian pressed, ‘is that all the technological stuff she brought with her? Just the hover-bike and the gun?’

Jack didn’t like to admit that Ian’s probing was for some reason putting him off, but he replied, ‘She called it a vee-ped. I think you’re confusing it with something you saw on The Simpsons.’

‘This gun,’ Ian persisted, ‘what does it look like? Did you see her use it?’

‘Look Ian, I don’t want to be rude, but let’s drop it for now,’ Jack said pointedly. ‘This isn’t the time or place.’

Ian obeyed, reluctantly. Jack found that for some reason Ian’s manner was making him very uncomfortable.

-

Jack caught Satu’s eye, and the two chuckled to themselves at Ian’s expression.

‘Earth to Ian. Haven’t you ever seen your girlfriend in a dress before?’

‘Oh-my-god! No! I mean-’

Jack tried not to think about either woman’s appearance as he cleared his throat to get Ian’s attention.

‘Well, I think we’re about done here for the day. What say we try that Indian restaurant?’

Arley gave him a look. ‘You a mind-reader or something?’

‘Indian?’ Ian queried. ‘Last time I tried Indian food, it was like bird-seed and vinegar.’

‘There are many different kinds of Indian food,’ Jack told him. ‘This place specialises in curry.’

‘I thought curry was just a spice,’ Ian said with a frown.

Jack gave him a scandalised look. ‘I can just barely cook, and even I can tell you that that’s a myth. Curry is a type of dish. There’s no such spice as “curry”.’

‘Um . . . what kind of dish,’ Ian asked suspiciously.

Arley interlocked arms with him. ‘Come along, dear. You’ll be okay. I promise.’

-

On the way home, as the two women chatted in the back seat, Satu said suddenly, ‘Yelina likes you very much.’

Arley smiled crookedly at that. ‘We’re sort of on the same wavelength. I was a lot like her as a kid. I’d jump into a hole with both feet without checking first to see if the hole had a bottom or not.’

‘I wonder,’ Satu said thoughtfully. ‘What was your mother like?’

Arley was silent for several long moments. At last, she said, ‘I don’t usually talk about my mother. She was sick all the time when I was a kid. She was pretty mean to everyone around her, as though she resented their being healthy. I did things to try to make her proud of me . . . and most of the time she’d just resent what I did, and put me down.

‘But she had these moments, when she be sorry and she’d try to make it up to me. They never amounted to anything . . . but at least she tried.’

Satu digested this in silence for several moments. ‘That sounds very much like Yelina’s mother.’

‘Is her mother alive, d’you think? It’s been very hard on her. The uncertainty, I mean.’

‘We’ve heard nothing from the sealed sections of the ship since the crash ,’ Satu told her. ‘But the power is still on, and being used. So we’re hopeful.’

-

Ian and Arley visited for much of the afternoon. That evening, Jack took Satu to the kids’ rehearsal, and she heard with wonder the band her daughter and Yelina performed in. She sat with Carly much of the time, and the two warmed to each other.

‘You must be pretty used to this type of music,’ Jack commented as they listened.

Satu gave him a look, and shook her head. ‘No, I’ve never heard anything like this!’

Jack couldn’t conceal his surprise. ‘But the drums-’

‘Oh, yes, the drum part!’ she told him. ‘But the music itself? I’ve never heard anything like it!’

Jack listened to the girls with renewed wonder. ‘Huh! We always kind of assumed that they were playing the sort of music they’d grown up with.’

Satu shook her head. ‘I hear echos of our music if I listen hard enough . . . but this? This is altogether new to me.’

-

That night, feeling deliciously drowsy, Jack went to bed expecting a good night’s sleep. But after an hour of listening to Satu’s restless movements in the guest room, he decided to check and see if anything was wrong.

He knocked on her door. She opened it.

‘Is something wrong? I’ve been listening to you opening and closing drawers now for over an hour.’

‘It’s gone!’ she blurted, running a hand through her hair in frustration.

Jack stared. ‘Gone? What’s gone?’

‘My weapon!’ she blurted. ‘It’s been stolen!’

Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 2:17 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack’s house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan

‘Yelina!’ Satu bit off under her breath. ‘Out of my way, Jack!’

Jack barred her way with his arm. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘Well I do!’ she said vehemently, trying to duck under his arm.

He caught her by the waist and held her there. ‘I think I know who has it,’ he told her, tiredly. ‘I think I know where it is.’

‘You think!’

‘Listen, Satu,’ he said in an unreadable tone of voice, ‘I want you go stay here and hold the fort. I’m going out for a while-’

‘I am coming with you!’

‘If I’m not back in, say, two hours,’ he pressed on, ‘I want you to wake up the kids and get Jason to drive all of you to my friend Mike’s, and I want you to stay there.’

She eyed him, narrowly.

‘What do you suspect? What will you do?’

‘What I suspect, I don’t want to even think about,’ he told her. ‘As to what I’m going to do . . . I have no idea. I’ll know when I get there.’

Jack killed the lights on his old truck a block before he arrived as the house Ian Woodbridge and Arley Tattersall shared. Ian’s brown Volvo was gone, but Arley’s beat-up old pale-blue 60’s vintage Volkswagen stood in the driveway.

Jack felt an ugly pang of unease. The front door was slightly ajar. Fearing the worst, he left his engine running, turned on the lights, hit the high-beams, and aimed them and the car at the front door, illuminating the front of the house. As a precaution he reached down to the floor and got the heavy tire-iron.

As he ascended the three front stairs, he was struck at once by the ominous quiet that seemed to radiate from its interior. He pushed the door open, turned on the porch and hall lights.

‘Arley! You there? It’s Jack!’

Stepping into the living-room, the ugly feeling gnawing at his guts only intensified. The remains of something porcelain were strewn across the floor. In the middle of the floor was a dark ochre-coloured stain, what appeared to be drying blood.

‘Oh, Christ!’ Jack muttered under his breath. ‘If you’ve hurt her, Ian, I’ll kill you.’

He found her in the bedroom, crumpled into a corner as though hurled there. He feared at once that her neck was broken . . . that she was dead. Forcing himself to move, he checked her unnaturally still form for life.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 3:04 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Mike’s house, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Satu couldn’t help but stare. Jack’s friend Mike was a huge man, in all dimensions. She found herself blushing like a fool when he offered to take her coat. He had been absent from the rehearsal she’s attended, and she had wondered, upon seeing his daughter, what sort of man he was.

‘Jack just called,’ he told her as he ushered the kids inside. ‘Jackass must’ve driven like a maniac all the way out to Arley and Ian’s place.’

‘What are you not telling me?’ she prompted, seeing the expression on his face as he hung up the coats.

‘Arley’s hurt bad,’ he told her quietly, drawing her aside so the kids couldn’t hear.

‘What? Who did it? Not Ian!’

‘Right now, we’re not sure who did what,’ he told her. ‘Yelina’s boyfriend, Matthew Thunderchild, got his gang together and took a little trip up towards Porcupine Plain, to see if Ian hadn’t taken your little toy with him to hand over to the Bad Guys. They got about half way and found his car parked in the middle of the road with the engine still running and the driver’s door open. If he hurt Arley, then he’s paid dearly for it.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, little lady, that somebody emptied an automatic into his face. Blew his head to pulp.’

Satu put a shaky hand to her mouth and almost fainted. ‘No! This is all my fault!’

‘Oh, for pity’s sake, quit your blubberin’! he ordered, handing her a hanky. ‘C’mon, let’s go in the kitchen and have some hot soup. It’s good for what ails you.’

With the kids banished to the basement, where they were supposed to be asleep, when the two were seated at the kitchen table, Mike said, ‘Stop, okay? It’s not your fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it ours, for not keeping a closer eye on Ian. He’s been acting funny for a while, now.’

‘Who are these Bad Guys you and Jack and the others keep referring to?’

Mike sighed. ‘They’re creeps who sort of work for the government, and sort of don’t. They want the technology in your ship in a bad way. If they get their hands on it, it’s a cinch they’ll keep it for themselves, instead of turning it over.’

‘This is exactly what we were warned would happen,’ Satu told him bleakly.

‘Let’s not even go there!’ Mike told her. ‘You’re not taking the girls back to the ship, just so you can all commit mass-suicide.’

Satu stared. ‘Does everyone know about that? It was wrong of Jack to tell you!’

Mike huffed. ‘Jack didn’t tell me squat! Give me some credit. I figured that much out for m’self.’

Satu heaved a shuddering sigh. ‘How badly hurt is Arley? I can’t imagine Ian trying to hurt her!’

‘This is just a guess,’ he told her, ‘but I think the Bad Guys came to the house. I think maybe they came to the house just after Ian left, attacked Arley, then chased him down and killed him, and took the weapon to their little hideout near Porcupine Plain.’

Considering Satu, who looked absolutely stricken, he said quietly, ‘Look, we’ve gotta know . . . how dangerous is that thing? If someone decides to use it, how much damage can they do, and how long will it last before it runs out of juice?’

‘It can be used continuously for up to an hour before it must be left to recharge itself,’ she told him.

‘And just how many times can it recharge itself?’

Satu shrugged. ‘Three times, perhaps.’

‘Okay, why are you looking like that? What are you not telling me?’

‘I am afraid!’ she told him. ‘I am afraid that they will use it to cut into the ship.’

Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 4:04 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Royal University Hospital, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

‘Are you the husband?’ the young doctor asked Jack.

Jack was about to say “no”, then realised he’d be told nothing if he claimed otherwise, and would probably be forbidden to see Arley.

Hoping his body-language was conveying “yes”, he said, ‘How bad is it?’

The doctor hesitated fractionally, then said, ‘With this type of injury, it appears that your wife’s attacker was interrupted before he could finish her off.’

Jack frowned. ‘How can you made that sort of determination?’

‘Her injuries are consistent with those inflicted by someone who is a martial-artist; someone who is trained to kill. The type of injuries she’s sustained are those meant to incapacitate before a fatal blow is administered.’

Jack stared. ‘Meaning whoever did this to her-’

‘You were very lucky,’ the doctor told him. ‘They probably meant to return and finish her off. Which means if you hadn’t got out of there when you did, we wouldn’t be standing here now, having this conversation.’

‘Look,’ Jack said in a low voice, drawing the doctor aside, ‘I think I know who did this-’

‘You should be telling the police this,’ the doctor cautioned.

‘The problem is,’ Jack pressed on, ‘that the people who did this, I’m certain, are the kooks who are sitting on that alien ship.’

The young doctor’s face twisted in angry comprehension. ‘Oh, this crap again! You wouldn’t believe how many complaints we’ve heard about those guys! Pulling people out of their cars at gunpoint and violating their rights! Slapping people around and intimidating them! Just last week they strip-searched a young mother right in front of her small children! But- why would they go to your house?’

‘We live in the area,’ Jack lied, telling the truth insofar as Arley did live in the downed craft’s vicinity. ‘They’re like Nazis! They’ve been breaking into people houses in the middle of the night-’

‘Like that old couple last week,’ the doctor nodded, taking the bait. ‘The old fellow was having a heart-attack, and they tried to stop the wife from calling an ambulance!’ He sighed, angrily. ‘Look, your wife is pretty banged up, but she’s good to go, so long as you let us take her home by ambulance and keep her in bed a couple weeks. The thing is, I’d get her out of here if I were you. Those government types may try to barge their way in here and try to interrogate her. My advice is, take her to a relative’s, and don’t tell anyone where she is. It’s the only way we can be sure she’s going to stay safe. After that, I’d lay low until that pack of rabid dogs loses interest. After all, they seem to have a short attention-span.’

Jack thanked the doctor, made the arrangements for Arley’s transport, then went in to see her.

To his surprise, she was awake. He was wholly unprepared for the anguish and desperation he saw in her eyes.

‘He tried to kill me!’ she wailed in disbelief, and began weeping, bitterly.

Jack was unable to conceal his shock. ‘What? Ian? But I thought . . .’

‘I trusted him! I thought he loved me! How could he do this to me? H-mf!’

‘Shush,’ Jack said quietly into her ear. ‘We’re getting you out of here in a few minutes. It’s not safe here. Do you understand me?’

She nodded, wincing, her mouth muffled by his hand.

‘Sorry- you must be in a lot of pain! No, don’t try to take this plastic collar off! Leave it! It’s there for a reason. Your neck’s hurt. You’re pretty banged up.’ He removed his hand.

‘That bastard! He stole that thing from Satu! I told him to give it back, and then . . . I thought he was going to kill me!’

Jack thought about telling her how he met his end, but decided it had better wait.

Saturday, February 13, 2010, 2:12 PM, time zone withheld

Undisclosed location

Carly lay on her belly, risking splinters from the rough wooden planks of the sunwashed floating dock. In her left hand was a red-painted wooden frame wound with green fishing line. From her right hand dangled a length of line, weighted by a piece of lead in the size and shape of a split pea. She could just barely make out her baited hook in the murky depths below. Around it swirled a chiaroscuro of disinterested fish.

‘Here, fishy, fishy, fishy,’ Yelina said, leaning on her elbows and looking over her shoulder. ‘Come get your nice nummies.’

Kiko leaned far over the water and stared into its depths. ‘Wow! Just look at them all! Why aren’t they biting?’

‘We could just go down there and catch one and put it on the hook!’ Yelina pouted.

Their eyes got very large as something massive drifted through the depths beneath them.

‘All right,’ Kiko told her, ‘you go down there, then!’

They were joined by Tina, who was munching a bag of salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips. She made the mistake of proffering them. Its contents were promptly set upon and vanished in a chorus or rapid crunching.

‘Hey! Leave me some-!’

‘We’ll give you some fish,’ Yelina said distractedly, wiping crumbs from her mouth with the back of her hand.

‘What fish?’

‘One of those fish,’ Kiko said distractedly as she peered into the depths. ‘Just as soon as Carly catches one.’

Tina gave them a look. ‘You ain’t never gonna catch one a those! At least, not using . . . what is that? What are you using for bait?’

‘A piece of doughnut!’ Carly said in annoyance. ‘Hey! Give it back!’

‘Fish don’t eat doughnuts!’ Tina told her, crossly. ‘They eat stuff like this.’ She retrieved Carly’s line, removed the soggy ort of doughnut clinging forlornly to its hook. She then reached down into the water, pulled a mussel free from a clump attached to the wooden pier, pried it open, yanked out its contents, rebaited the hook, and tossed it back into the water, to a chorus of “Ew-w-w-w-w-w” from Carly and Kiko.

Almost instantly something struck!

‘Pull it in! Pull it in-!’

‘Don’t let it get away-!’

‘You got something-!’

They all yelled simultaneously.

Carly got to her knees and began reeling in her catch, with the other girls yelling excitedly and cheering her on.

Sceptical at the true emergency of the shrill screams they were hearing, Jack, Mike, Arley and Satu went to the window of the beach-front cabin to investigate. The four bikini-clad girls were shrieking as much from fright as delight at the sight of something that flopped and writhed and wriggled upon the dock. From a shed to their right, Jason appeared, and approached the creature purposefully to show the girls that he was not afraid of a mere-

Jack and Mike laughed out loud at his reaction, watched as he unsuccessfully tried to master his fear and loathing.

‘Oh, please!’ Arley disdainfully left them and went outside and onto the dock to rescue the poor eel Carly had captured.

The kids watched in awe as Arley fearlessly strode up to the writhing creature, held its head down while its body wrapped its slimy length around her arm, neatly removed the hook, and calmly placed it back into the water.

Carly gaped. ‘But I wanted it!’

Arley chuckled at that. ‘What, you were going to eat it?’

‘No,’ Carly pouted. ‘I just wanted it to look at.’

‘Look, if you kids want to catch something for supper, here’s how you do it-’

‘She’s very good with the children,’ Satu said with a knowing smile to Jack as she and Mike went back to the table where their tea waited.

‘H’m? Oh, yeah,’ Jack said distracted, belatedly rejoining them.

‘She looks pretty much recovered,’ Mike offered, watching Jack carefully.

‘Yeah, I suppose.’ He sighed. ‘It’d be nice to buy this place . . . stay here for a while. Except . . . well . . . the kids have school. And band. And hockey. And all their friends. And a million other things. There’re just so many . . . distractions.’

As Arley came back inside, Mike said meaningly to Satu, who nodded in response, ‘I think there’s just one distraction right now that needs dealing with.’ Pretending not to notice, or smile, they watched the awkward manner in which Arley and Jack responded to each other.

‘They’re even dressed alike!’ Satu observed. ‘I’ll bet neither of them even noticed.’

Mike gave her a look.

‘What, this?’ she said, indicating the sweater she wore with an impish grin. ‘It looks just like yours for a reason. It is yours!’

Saturday, February 20, 2010, 10:42 AM, time zone withheld

Undisclosed location

Taking a page from the locals, Satu had decided to set up a sort of blog- her “Satu Cam”, an ongoing video log, that she recorded using Yelina’s duct-taped communications contraption. When she had a little time, she got the device out, did some video-editing, and sent the results back to the ship.

The others didn’t know it, but Satu had placed mini-cams all around the resort, so that she could keep track of everything that happened. Satu smiled to herself as she replayed the girls’ antics, as Carly caught her eel, and the girls had scattered, squealing in delighted fright. It was hard for her to watch her daughter alone with Jason . . . hard and painful to watch her young daughter’s first love . . . but, she reasoned, the people back on the ship needed to see this, to be reminded of this and all the other things they were missing.

She finished up, sent the result, and left the bedroom to rejoin the others. To her surprise, everyone had gone out . . . everyone except Jack, who sat alone, staring off into space before the front window. He stirred when he heard her.

‘Sorry! I thought you were out with the others.’

She joined him, frowning at what she had seen in him. ‘You looked so sad just now . . . almost I wanted to cry, seeing you in such pain.’

Looking caught, he seemed about to say something. Then, to her surprise, he turned away abruptly, unable to look in her direction. ‘It’s these damned memories,’ he choked in a dry voice. ‘They won’t bloody leave me alone. It seems the better things get . . . the more they’re trying to get out. But I can’t . . . !’

Satu left him, abruptly, and went in search of Arley.

She found Arley with the girls, turning over rocks on the beach. Seeing her expression, Arley stopped what she was doing. ‘Satu? What’s wrong? Has something happened?’

Drawing her aside, Satu said, ‘Jack needs you right now-’

‘What-?’

Satu related what she’d just seen and heard.

Arley gave her a look. ‘Why me? Why don’t you?’

‘You know why,’ Satu told her, looking directly into her eye. ‘Because I can’t give him what he needs.’

Her features suffused, Arley choked, ‘I can’t! Not now . . . not yet! It . . . it’s too soon-’

Satu gave her a look. ‘You never loved Ian. Not really. I see it in your eyes, each and every time I see you with Jack. Ian held up an image tailor-made for you, and you jumped at it, and now you’re feeling hurt and wretched and used, and you’re angry at yourself for having been used . . . but that image of Ian was a ghost, Arley! It wasn’t real!

‘Jack is a flesh-and-blood man, and he needs you, and you love him- don’t you try to deny it! I’m a woman, just like you! I’ve seen how your eyes follow him . . . how you look at him.’

Arley shook her head. ‘Satu . . . what you’re asking . . . I can’t! I just can’t!’

‘But you can hold on to the false ghost of a false man,’ Satu said ingenuously. ‘Is that what you’re telling me? You’re going to let men like Ian and Holcomb and Sutter win? Is that it?’

‘You don’t understand!’ Arley choked. ‘Somewhere deep down, I knew the truth about Ian. Don’t look so surprised! Yes, I knew it all along. But I went along, because it made me feel like I could still be in control when it was over between us. There, I’ve told you. So now you can all hate me-’

‘Go to Jack,’ Satu told her very quietly.

‘I can’t-!’

‘You can,’ Satu told her firmly. ‘You can and you will.’

Arley choked back a sob and raised her eyes to the cabin beyond. And like a blind woman in search of sight, she began making her way, stumbling, towards pain and soul-release.

‘Damn,’ Mike muttered to the darkness. And again, ‘Damn.’

Satu giggled. ‘I hope the others couldn’t hear us.’

‘You kidding?’ Mike rejoined, a broad smile in his voice. ‘I bet they heard us all the way to Lighthouse Point!’

Satu made an inarticulate noise that was part mortification, part pure pleasure. ‘I feel so ashamed! But . . . I can’t stop laughing!’

‘Shoosh! You’re gonna wake up the kids.’

Satu stifled her laughter long enough to choke out, ‘I don’t care!’

Mike shook his head in the not-all-concealing dark.

‘Women!’

Kiko wriggled with pleasure as she lay spoon-fashion with Jason in post-coital bliss, his arms comfortably and securely around her.

‘M-m-m-m-m.’

‘I can’t believe you were right!’

She smiled blissfully to herself. ‘Toldja.’

‘But . . . I don’t get it! I thought for sure that Jack and your mom . . .’

‘Think outside the box,’ she intoned, and giggled. ‘You left Arley out of the equation.’

Jason sighed, and gave her a squeeze. ‘Okay, I give up. Me heart, you brain.’

‘We soul . . .’ Kiko said happily as they drifted off to sleep.

‘You all right?’

Arley left off staring at the tropical-moon-limned night water bracketed by palm trees, her nude argent silhouette an outline of softness and pain and desirability, and came back to bed and to Jack’s embrace.

She heaved a shuddering sigh and got comfortable once more.

‘You haven’t said a word all night. I was starting to get worried.’

‘I’m . . . good,’ she breathed, as though in awe and wonder that she could feel that way at all. ‘I feel like . . . like I’m awake, for the first time in a very long time.’

Jack was silent a long time, thinking. And at last, ‘Me too.’

‘But I’m scared, Jack. If I let myself go . . . if I let myself go . . . I keep seeing these images, like my old self is hanging on to my hand, and I can’t hold on any longer, and it’s falling away into the dark . . . and I’m left a complete stranger . . . am I making any sense?’

‘Not a complete stranger,’ he told her. ‘You’re the same person, but changed, now. Growing. Moving on with your life. Letting go of the past.’

‘You feel it too, then.’

‘Yes.’ He smiled. ‘Good-bye, old Self.’

She, too, smiled. ‘Yes, good-bye, my old Self. It’s hard parting with you . . . but it’s time.’

Alone in the dark, weeping bitterly, Yelina groped around until she found another stone, pried it loose, and hurled it out into the darkness of the bay. She listened for a moment, until she heard it plunk into the water.

‘You were supposed to marry my mom!’ she screamed brokenly into the darkness, weeping. ‘You were supposed to marry my mom, and we were supposed to all live together!’

As the others lay asleep in their beds, oblivious to her pain, Yelina sat alone on the beach in her misery, huddled into herself, feeling herself falling into some dark place.

March 1, 2010, Time Magazine: Portrait of a Troubled Teen

by Nathan Philips

Fans of the girl-group Boom-Boom Kitty, and hockey fans alike, are collectively holding their breath as they wait for news, good or bad, on the fate of young Yelina Moore, who three nights ago went on a wild rampage that culminated in a high-speed chase that ended tragically when the young teenager lost control of the vehicle she was driving and hit a parked car.

Friends and family alike are asking themselves: How did it come to this? How did such a promising young girl, with her life and her career ahead of her, go from being at the top of her game, to quitting the sport she loves, to breaking up the band she helped form, to forming a new group that is the antithesis of everything Boom-Boom Kitty stood for, and in the end, in an alcoholic, drug-induced haze, led the police on a high-speed chase that ended in an horrific, fiery crash?

Though her family and friends are refusing to speak to the media, the picture that is emerging is that of a troubled young girl whose estrangement from her mother has succeeded in tearing her life apart. The whereabouts of her mother are unknown, but it is hoped that news of her daughter’s condition will reach her before it is too late . . .

Monday, March 1, 2010, The Globe & Mail, Canada’s National Newspaper

Headline: Boom-Boom Kitty Star Taken Off Life-Support

The meteoric career of Yelina Moore seems destined to end today, as she was taken off life-support at a little after three this morning. Doctors hold out little hope that the former drummer of Boom-Boom Kitty will live out the day, although we have received one report that she is breathing on her own, at least for now.

Friends and family of the stricken star are refusing to speak to the media, although a friend of the family has told us that it was the young pop star’s estrangement from her mother that caused her to go over the edge, speculating that the horrific crash was an attempted suicide . . .

March 1, 2010, 8:12 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

City Hospital, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

It had been five hours since the doctors had taken Yelina off life-support. The world had seemed to move in slow-motion since then. They were gathered around Yelina’s bed in silent shock and grief, watching the monitors and waiting for the inevitable.

Satu had left hours earlier . . . she didn’t say why. Kiko kept a desperate vigil at Yelina’s side, thinking that as long as she watched the monitors, that she could somehow will the little blonde girl to stay alive. Matthew likewise sat at her side and refused even once to let go of her hand.

A million images flashed through Jack’s mind of Yelina’s self-destruction over the past week.

‘All in a week?’ he wondered. ‘How could so much possibly have happened in so short a time?’

She had quit playing hockey . . . had broken up the band and restarted its remnants, still calling it Boom-Boom Kitty . . . but it was the antithesis of everything it had been, a sort of dark, Gothic image and sound that sprang from a dark place. She had reformed the band with Tina and Asta as a three-piece, playing a hard-driving brand of chaos, angst and thunder.

Kiko, meanwhile, had taken the remnants of the band, the twins, Mary and Penny, and formed her own three-piece, calling it Cham! after the three-girl-group from the Japanese anime Perfect Blue, directed by Satoshi Kon, and Jack worried and wondered about that, too.

Like Yin and Yang, the two groups sprung from the original shot off in opposite directions, Kiko taking with her all that was light, and Yelina spiralling into the abyss with all that was darkness.

Yelina’s path to self-destruction seemed to have begun that fateful night in that far-off tropical paradise. Jack had seen the warning signs, but had misunderstood or underestimated them. The little blonde girl had become unusually quiet and withdrawn. Jack was too wrapped up in his brand-new relationship with Arley to notice that Yelina had withdrawn herself completely . . . had stopped communicating with everyone-

Everyone in the room gasped as something hit the hospital window with a loud bang. It was Satu, astride her vee-ped in front of the window, who gestured at them, frantically! Mike, who was closest, threw open a window.

‘You must break the glass! These windows are too small! Wrap her warmly and hand her to me! Do it! We haven’t much time! Kiko, get your jacket on!’

With a curt nod, Mike ordered the others to get her ready, picked up a heavy chair as though it were matchwood, and used it to smash out one of the larger panes of glass. In an instant, the unconscious Yelina was handed out the window into Satu’s waiting arms. With Jack’s assistance, Kiko stepped out the window and got on the machine behind her mother. And then, with a roaring whine, Satu hit the accelerator and they were off!

The doctors, nurses, orderlies and news people who burst into the room to investigate saw everything. Slowly, still gaping, they turned their attention to Matthew, Mike, Jack and Jason for explanation.

‘Oh, crap,’ Matthew said, for everyone’s benefit.

March 1, 2010, 8:17 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

City Hospital, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

‘Now what?’ Jack said rhetorically, turning to Mike, Arley, Jason, Carly, and Matthew Thunderchild.

As though he had long prepared for this moment, Matthew pulled out his cell phone. ‘I think it’s time I called the boys together, and we went and got those people to come out of that ship.’

As though taking some pre-rehearsed cue, Jason and Carly took out their cells, too.

Jack, Mike and Arley watched them in surprise.

‘Um . . . and who are you guys calling?’ Jack asked them.

‘We’re calling the band back together,’ Jason told him, ‘and then we’re putting a call out to all the fans to meet us at the crash site.’

Jack stared at him as though he were mad. ‘Are you nuts? What do you think you’ll accomplish?’

‘It’s the End Game,’ Carly told him. ‘Don’t worry- we’ve had it all planned out for months.’

Jack, Mike and Arley exchanged a baffled look. ‘End Game? What the hell is that supposed to mean?’

‘It means we’re taking over from here,’ Matthew told him. ‘It means we’re tearing up the rule book and doing things our way!’

March 1, 2010, 10:59 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Roadblock, just south of Porcupine Plain

Frederick Sutter, Professor Holcomb and the man in black received the news that the escaped alien had returned to the craft with the two missing aliens with satisfaction and relief. At last, all of the aliens were accounted for, and were right where they were supposed to be- trapped within the alien craft! Trapped and surrounded! Now, all that remained was to use the captured alien weapon to cut through the craft’s tough exterior, storm the vessel, kill all the aliens, and take control of the technology contained within.

But- first things first! Those who had harboured the missing aliens were on their way North, towards the crash site. Sutter, Holcomb and the man in black had no idea why the people who had harboured the fugitives would want to walk right into their waiting arms to be arrested, but the why didn’t matter. They would be arrested, dealt with, and then at some point would conveniently disappear!

Sutter, Holcomb and the man in black left the portable control station and went out to the roadblock, where they could watch Jack Moore, Arley Tattersall and their friends and acquaintances be taken down like dogs and dealt with.

March 1, 2010, 11:17 AM, Central Time Zone, GMT

The highway, just south of Porcupine Plain

‘Listen up!’ Matthew Thunderchild’s voice boomed through the portable megaphone, ‘let’s take it slow and easy! We’ve got to give people time to catch up, so’s we’re not spread out and disorganised! Anybody with a gun, get a ride in a pickup! We’ll run the pickups out in front. That way, we’ll make damned sure they see we’re coming, and that we mean business!

‘It they shoot at us, well, you know who your targets are. Take out that Sutter character and Holcomb, and that other guy, that man in black. Those guys are killers, the type who get other people to do their dirty work. If their guys start shooting at us, you be sure and take them out first. Remember, it’s like dealing with a scorpion! Don’t worry about the stinger and the claws- go for the head.

‘If they get a few of us, just remember, we’re not stopping! We’re going to keep going until we either get what we want, or they kill us and have a war on their hands!’

The road behind them, as far as the eye could see, was choked with traffic, and each and every vehicle was full of Boom-Boom Kitty fans dressed in cat costumes, and each and every kid had out their cell phones and blackberries and every other kind of electronic contrivance, and were calling everyone they knew.

Jack couldn’t believe what he was seeing! He wanted to stop this madness, prevent these kids from getting into serious trouble. Going up against the army and the men in black . . . they didn’t seem to realise that they risked being killed!

He stared helplessly at the surreal event being played out; at the endless line of cars filled with kids in cat costumes, all of whom were too young to drive!

It was incomprehensible! It was madness!

And why was he going along with this, driving the lead pickup in the vanguard, with Carly, Jason, Mike and Arley with him? In the cars behind him came Asta, Mary, Penny and their parents, and with them rode Tina. And behind them were the trucks bearing a portable band shell and Boom-Boom Kitty’s equipment.

And yet he knew why. This event, strange and surreal as it was, had taken on a life all its own. Boom-Boom Kitty was on the march, and it seemed that nothing could stop it.

Monday March 1, 2010, 12:43 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

The Road Block

Frederick Sutter, Professor Holcomb and the man in black stood at the centre of their semicircle of black vans that blocked the road like a black eyelash over a baleful black eye, and glared at the line of vehicles emitting a cacophony of Boom-Boom Kitty music.

The line of vehicles stopped. A young native man stood up in the back of a pickup truck, bullhorn in hand.

‘Out the way, boys, or we’re going right through you!’

There was a collective catching of breath as a hundred high-powered rifles were pointed directly at him.

‘These men have orders to shoot to kill!’ Sutter told him. ‘Surrender now, and there will be no bloodshed-!’

In orderly fashion, two-hundred young native men took up flanking positions, armed with rifles, shotguns, even old bolt-action rifles.

‘You fire a single shot,’ Matthew hurled back, ‘and not one of you assholes is walking out of here alive! You take me out, fine. But you, and you, and you,’ he gestured to Sutter, Holcomb and the man in black, ‘are gonna get it first! Then, we’re going after your buddies, here, and we’re going to skin the lot of ‘em!’

‘Shoot them, you idiots!’ Holcomb yelled. ‘Shoot them!’ He raised his arm-

Only to have it locked in a vice-like grip by the man in black.

‘Shut up you idiot! There are children in those vehicles! Hundreds of them!’

‘That’s not our problem!’ Sutter barked, cursing.

The man in black sighed. ‘Put down your weapons. All of you. Look, these people are going to the ship to get it open. Isn’t that enough for you?’

‘We need to get our hands on that ship, you idiot!’ Holcomb yelled at him, furiously.

‘I wonder,’ the man in black said very quietly. ‘Well, I think we’ve all waited long enough. Let’s move out!’ he yelled for the benefit of his men. ‘Let’s go find out what’s really inside that thing.’

Monday, March 1, 2010, 2:33 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

The Crash Site

Sutter and Holcomb got out of their black minivan, cursing. The area surrounding the crashed alien vehicle was become a vast parking lot full of children dressed in those idiotic cat costumes! Men in black and soldiers alike stood around looking baffled, weapons upraised like hands thrown up in a gesture of helplessness.

Sutter went directly up to a man in uniform.

‘Who’s in charge here?’

The soldier gave him a look. ‘Does it look like anyone’s in charge?’

‘Why haven’t you secured the area?’ Holcomb shouted, becoming apoplectic.

‘Take a look around, dumb-ass!’ the affronted soldier shouted back. ‘There must be a hundred-thousand kids here, and there’s more coming, from all directions.’

News helicopters overhead hovered with cameras sweeping the scene. As though through the lens of the camera, Sutter and Holcomb saw a vast sea of children dressed in Boom-Boom Kitty cat costumes.

Holcomb looked to Sutter. ‘What the hell are we going to do?’

Sutter’s look darkened. ‘Let’s get to the entrance, that door on the ship that’s been opened twice. My guess is that if any door to the ship opens, it’ll be that one. We’ll let these fools do our work for us- get the aliens to open the ship. Then, as soon as the door’s open, we’ll storm the ship and take it.’

Monday, March 1, 2010, 3:07 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

The Crash Site

Like the parting of the Red Sea, the crowd parted for the Boom-Boom Kitty vehicles, allowing them access to the alien vehicle. Working like fiends, Jason and his crew went to work erecting the temporary band shell, running cables, setting up generators and equipment. Matthew organised their security, keeping a careful eye on every move made by the military and the men in black.

Meanwhile, Jack, Carly, Mike, Arley, Tina, Asta, Penny and Mary, made their way to the door of the alien ship. Carly had Yelina’s kitty in her arms.

Mike sighed. ‘Okay, we’re here. Now what?’

‘I don’t like this,’ Jack said, looking around nervously. ‘Why are they letting us do this? The army . . . the men in black . . . look at them. They’ve backed off, and how they’re watching us.’

Mike took a look around himself, and frowned. ‘Ditto. I don’t like the looks of this.’

The five girls stood huddled together in front of the door. Tina, Asta, Mary and Penny were wearing their band costumes. Carly wore her official Boom-Boom Kitty cat costume and contacts.

‘What do we do?’ Mary asked. ‘There’s, like, no door-bell or anything.’

‘Maybe they’re watching us,’ Asta said doubtfully. ‘Do you see a camera or anything?’

‘I don’t see anything,’ Penny said in disappointment. ‘There’s, like, nothing, except for those burn marks, from when they tried blowing the door up.’

‘I don’t think they’re gonna come out,’ Tina said with a resigned sigh. ‘I think maybe we did all this for nothing- Hey! Carly! What are you doing?’

They watched as Carly made her way to the door of the ship. She shifted Boom-Boom Kitty to her shoulder, raised her hand, and knocked.

At the sight of the young girl approaching the door, all had become silent. She rapped on the door . . . once . . . twice . . . three times . . .

When nothing happened, she turned, and gave a rueful little shrug.

And then- the door opened!

March 1, 2010, 3:17 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Before the open door of the alien ship.

Before they could react, uniformed, armed men dressed in full body armour came charging out of nowhere, led by Frederick Sutter, Professor Holcomb and the man in black.

Not knowing what else to do, fearing for the girls’ safety, Jack ushered them into the ship, followed by Mike and Arley.

They found themselves in a dark unlighted space of unguessable size, but Jack judged by the sound of their echoing feet that it was a large chamber. There seemed to be a door at the far end to the left, dimly lighted to one side by what appeared to be its operating mechanism.

‘This way!’ Jack ordered, taking Carly’s hand and practically dragging her along.

He had reason to be greatly concerned. In Sutter’s hand he had seen Satu’s weapon, and the man brandished it purposefully, murderous intent in his eyes.

‘Where the hell is everyone?’ Mike demanded as they came running up to the door and began trying to figure out how to open it. ‘The place looks deserted.’

‘Damn, damn, damn,’ Jack cursed, staring at the dimly lighted panel to the door’s right, trying to make sense of it. Behind him, drawing ever nearer, was the sound of dozens of booted feet.

‘It’s now or never, buddy,’ Mike prompted, trying not to sound desperate.

‘I can’t! Jack choked, slapping the panel in frustration. ‘I don’t know how it works!’

The eight of them turned around as they heard themselves surrounded by their pursuers. It was over. They were trapped!

Even in the semi-darkness, Jack could just make out the lunatic glint of Sutter’s eyes as he raised he alien weapon and pointed it at the centre of Jack’s chest.

‘End of the line, Moore!’ he rasped as the armed men took up their positions. ‘This ends, now!’

There was a collective intake of breath as he pressed the weapon’s firing mechanism.

March 1, 2010, 3:22 PM, Central Time Zone, GMT

Inside the ship

Everyone startled as the weapon in Sutter’s hand made a peculiar sound. At the same instant, a bright yellow light on the far wall began pulsing on and off, and the silence was shattered by the blaring, punctuated bursts of some sort of alarm. The lights came on. The door behind Jack and the others opened. And there stood a figure whose presence caused Sutter’s and Holcomb’s mouths to drop open in shock.

‘You know who I am, then,’ the man said, stepping forward. He extricated the weapon from Sutter’s grasp and tossed it to someone standing in the doorway. ‘I’m told these things can be switched off, if they’re within range of the ship. Good thing, too, if you ask me.’

‘Who are you?’ Holcomb asked darkly, reaching for a nearby soldier’s side-arm.

‘I am exactly who I appear to be,’ the man said, glaring down into Holcomb’s eyes. He was a good half-a-head taller than either Holcomb or Sutter. ‘And if you so much as put your hand on that soldier’s gun, you’ll find yourself living in a ten-by-six cell for a very long time.’

‘But . . . how?’ Sutter choked in thwarted malice. ‘And how did you get in here?’

The man smiled, and gestured to a small form standing framed in the door, who stepped forward and joined him.

Jack, Mike, Arley and the others stared.

‘You!’ Jack blurted, unable not to smile. ‘I remember you! We thought you were dead! You must be Mialla, Yelina and Kiko’s friend.’

‘There were three ejected from the ship when it crashed,’ the man said. ‘All three were a bit bruised and battered, but no one was killed.’

‘But- the bodies!’ Holcomb spluttered.

‘There were no bodies,’ the man told him. ‘That was just a diversion, to keep all of you preoccupied while my office and I got things sorted out.’

‘Yeah, but, who are you?’ Carly asked, innocently.

After a moment’s throat-clearing, Arley told her. ‘This man is the Prime Minister. Of Canada.’

Carly gaped and went very red, her mouth a silent, “Oh.”

The Prime Minister glared at Holcomb and Sutter and shook his head. ‘What a pair of creeps! I should have you both locked up for good!’ He turned to Jack. ‘You’re here about the little one, aren’t you.’ It was a statement.

‘Is she still alive?’

The Prime Minister considered Jack a long moment. ‘I’m not going to lie to you; she’s not in very good shape. The doctors here tell me it’s not the injuries she received in the crash. The physical injuries they can fix, up to a point. It’s the emotional injury done to her . . . she won’t hang on unless something is done about that, and soon.’

‘Her mother?’ Jack said, dreading the answer.

‘Dead,’ the Prime Minister told him very quietly. ‘She died in the crash. I’m very sorry.’

‘Yelina?’ Jack took her hand, and swallowed in a dry throat, feeling how cold it was. ‘Yelina . . . baby girl . . . please, wake up.’

Yelina opened her eyes, and looked at Jack in wonder. ‘Are you crying?’

‘Of course I am!’ he choked. ‘You’re the most important thing to me in the whole wide world!’ He lost it then. ‘Oh, Yelina! I can’t lose you!’

Tears welled in the little blonde girl’s eyes. ‘You still want me? After I stole the car, and . . . everything?’

‘I don’t care about the damned car!’ he choked. ‘I only care about you. I just want you to get better, and come home!’

She stared, as though she’d never heard the word before. ‘Home?’

‘Yes, home!’ he told her. ‘Home, with Arley for a mom, and me for a dad, and Carly for a sister and Jason for a brother!’

‘And Boom-Boom Kitty!’ Carly blurted impatiently, pushing through them to the side of the bed.

‘You brought my kitty!’

‘‘Course I brought him! He’s been sitting in the front window every day and all night, waiting for you to come home!’

She was too weak to sit up, but Arley helped her into a sitting position so she could hold Boom-Boom Kitty.

‘We’ve got some more surprises for you,’ the Prime Minister told her with a broad smile.

Mialla!’

The missing girl went to her and the two embraced. And then, Yelina blurted, ‘Grapes!’

‘Oh-my-God!’ Jack and Mike blurted together.

‘None other!’ Don Cherry said with a broad smile. ‘They told me you weren’t doin’ too good, so I thought I’d better come an’ see you. Actually,’ he said, giving Yelina a big wink, ‘I wuz just foolin’, so’s I could get a look at the inside of this ship o’ yours!’

‘I got your picture, an’ your posters, an’ everything!’

‘We-ll,’ he drawled, ‘an’ now I want something in return!’

‘What’s that?’ she asked suspiciously, seeing the humorous glint in his eye.

‘I want you to get better,’ he said, becoming serious. ‘Look, kiddo, you might now know it, but millions of kids are depending on you. They look up to you, you know. You’re famous, now, and when you’re famous, well, that comes with a lot of responsibility. With kids, it’s “monkey-see, monkey-do”.’ He sighed, sat on the side of her bed, and for a moment he suddenly looked very old. Old and tired. ‘I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to lose someone you love very much. And I know what it feels like when they’re suddenly gone, and all of a sudden, nothing feels right any more . . . and it feels like nothing’s ever going to be all right, ever again.’ He smiled, then, a boyish smile that made him suddenly look young again. ‘But kid, when you got people who love you, who stay up at night worrying about you, and who die a thousand times when they think you’ve been hurt . . . honey, when you got that, as bad as you’ve been hurt, you’re going to get through it. And when you’re surrounded by friends, friends who see you for the person you really are, and who see past all your faults, why . . . then, you’re the luckiest person in the whole wide world!’

He smiled, then. ‘And now, seein’ as how you’re awake, we’ve got a little surprise for you! Bring it in, ladies!’

Two of the ship’s crew wheeled in a large screen and set it at the foot of Yelina’s bed. They turned it on, and Yelina stared in wonder!

‘Look, Boom-Boom Kitty! It’s our band! And there’s Matthew! He’s playing drums for me!’

‘I don’t understand,’ Holcomb grumbled, where he and Sutter stood at the back of the room. ‘How can this be happening? They’re aliens!’

Hearing him, the Prime Minister turned around. In the background they could hear the concert starting up. ‘Actually, they’re not.’

‘What? What are you talking about?’

The Prime Minister nodded towards a clock on the wall. ‘Look familiar?’

‘It’s just a clock,’ Sutter said. ‘So what?’

‘That’s right,’ the Prime Minister told him. ‘A clock. Just like ours.’

‘What? That can’t be!’

‘The time . . .’ Holcomb muttered. ‘The time is the same as ours . . . but it says GMT. Greenwich Mean Time . . . I don’t understand!’

‘This ship was towed into a Time Portal at 10:13 AM, Greenwich Mean Time, around thirteen million years in the future. By some miscalculation, the times were identical, but the location around the planet wasn’t. The clocks, all over this ship, are set to Greenwich Mean Time as it will be around thirteen million years from now.’

‘But- but that means-’

‘It means that these people are not only not aliens,’ the Prime Minister told them, ‘but they are our future. Doubly so, because the earth was destroyed in a collision with a rogue planet from another solar system, shortly after they entered the Time Portal.’

Seeing their crestfallen looks, Satu approached the two and said, ‘In thirteen million years, we didn’t even make it to the stars. Oh, we sent out a number of probes, some of which lasted the hundreds of years it took to get to their destinations . . . but no human being, I’m afraid, will ever set foot on another world circling another star. Science has limitations. The inability to surpass the speed of light is one of them.

‘But,’ she added pointedly, ‘in thirteen million years, a rogue planet will collide with Earth. We didn’t have time enough, after this body was discovered hurtling towards the Earth, to save ourselves. But you, gentlemen . . . you have all the time in the world, if you put your minds to it.’

Sutter and Holcomb exchanged a long look, and said nothing for several long minutes. At last, Holcomb broke the silence.

‘Well, I guess any technology you have will come in handy after all- as a starting point. That is, if you’ll have us.’

Sutter sighed, deeply, and said very quietly and sadly, ‘You must think me something of a monster.’

‘I think,’ Satu told him thoughtfully, ‘that you’re a man who needs some sort of mission in life, and that you chose badly.’ She shrugged. ‘But I don’t think that any man who can feel regret is a bad man at heart. I won’t hold it against you.’

Crying tears of happiness as she held Boom-Boom Kitty and waved at the camera and heard the roar go up from the crowd in response, Yelina said into the microphone Carly held for her, ‘Oh, wow! This has got to be the best day of my life! I lost my mom, and I thought my life was over . . . by I got a mom again, and a dad, and a house to live in, and a brother and a sister and all my friends, and Boom-Boom Kitty-’ a roar went up from the crowd as she held up Boom-Boom Kitty for the camera. ‘An’ I’ve got all of you! You’re my friends, too . . . each and every one of you!’

She became quiet and thoughtful then. ‘And my friend Grapes is here, and the Prime Minister . . . and . . . and I learned something very important:

‘I learned that there’s a dark place we can all fall into, that’s just waiting to get each and every one of us. But I’ve learned . . . that things can be very confusing, and that sometimes, when you listen to your heart . . . there are times when your heart can be wrong . . . when it can tell you to go to that dark place, instead of to the light.

‘I read somewhere that without the dark, there can be no light, and maybe that’s true . . . but I’ve learned that the dark is not a good place to be . . . that there’s nothing there . . . no friends, no family, no people who care about you, no . . . people . . . that you love more than anything else in the whole wide world.

‘So . . . all I can say, is . . . go to the light . . . always go to the light. I know that’s where I’ll be from now on.’

Jack and Arley could see that she was becoming sleepy. They tucked her into bed, and sat with her as she drifted off, a half-smile on her lips. Meanwhile, Boom-Boom Kitty thundered to life.

And then, they began to sing-

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

What new worlds of wonders, do you think we’ll see?

How far will you trust me? Will you come with me-e-e-e?”

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Place your hand in my hand, I won’t let you fall!

Lets fly through the Heavens, let’s answer the call!”

“Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

To the stars! To the heavens and back,

See the stars? See the galaxy spinning,

Spinning on its track, oh,

What do you see-e-e-e?

What do you see-e-e-e?

How do you fe-el?

Is it all real? Oh,

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

The new worlds of wonders, do you realise?

The new worlds of wonders, are stars in your eyes!”

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e!

We’ll both go together, we’ll go, you and I!

We’ll fly through the Heavens! We’ll fly through the sky!”

“Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket !

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

To the stars! To Heaven and beyond!

See the stars? See the Great Beyond? Oh,

What do you see-e-e-e?

What do you see-e-e-e?

How do you feel?

Is this for real? Oh,

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!

Let’s ride the rocket, ride the rocket, ride the ro-cket!”

“Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!

Come fly away, Co-me fly a-way with me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!

With me-e-e-e-e-e!”

Here ends Boom-Boom Kitty


Boom Boom Kitty

A gigantic space ship crash lands on Earth, unleashing an international firestorm of hostility and suspicion. Two of its occupants hide among Earth's population. In order to convince the ship's occupants to come out, with the help of their new friends the two occupants create a girl-group named Boom Boom Kitty.

  • ISBN: 9781310672415
  • Author: greg monks
  • Published: 2015-09-07 03:40:10
  • Words: 63222
Boom Boom Kitty Boom Boom Kitty