Book One in The APE Series...

 

WARNING: This book contains swear words. So if you are offended by the F Bomb, then this is not the right reading material for you.

 

PLEASE NOTE: This is a first draft. There will be errors. As much as I love your enthusiastic help, please don't bother letting me know when you find an error. There will be at least one rewrite on this and then it will go to my editor.

 

Chapter One
What the Fu*k Just Happened

 

The fly, bored with exploring the surface of my face, ventured into the opening of my left nostril. I woke with a start, groaning as I sat up.The ground was hard and uncomfortable and a dream, a mere wisp of memory, dangled tantalising close to my mental grasp. I reached for it as the fly made another dash for my nostril.

There had been a man. And lots of stars and…

‘Garrrrrrr.’ I snorted the fly back out of my nose and the memory abruptly vanished.

The shadows were long, far longer than they had been when I had ‘just closed my eyes for a moment’.

‘Shit.’ I pushed myself up, dusting the red dirt off my hands onto the back of my pants.

Joel was going to be waiting for me back at the motorbikes. He was going to be royally pissed if I made him wait too long. We had a work thing to go to that night. His work, not mine, and he knew I wasn’t keen on rubbing shoulders with his macho, chauvinistic peers. He was going to think I was late on purpose.

I grabbed my camel pack and took a swig of the water. ‘Urghhkkkkk.’ I managed to swallow some of the stale, musty water, but the rest I spat out.

‘Note to self,’ I muttered as I grabbed my metal detector, ‘sterilise your water bladder.’

Joel was always bitching about how I needed to take better care of my things. Perhaps on this thing he was right. If all it took was a couple of hours in the sun for my filtered water to taste like that, well, there must have been some nasty bugs living in that bladder.

I swung the vest housing the battery to my detector over my shoulders and clipped it up. The camel pack went over the top. I shoved the headset into a pocket on the vest.

It was tempting to put them on, to detect on my walk back to the bikes. But I knew if I got a sniff of gold I was going to have to dig that bad boy up. And that took time. Time I didn’t have.

‘Shit.’ I’d only found one lousy little piece of gold. Joel was going to have found more than that for sure.

It wasn’t that I minded him beating me; it was more that I had wasted hours of detecting time lying in the shade of that tree. Fast asleep. Like a newbie.

I shook my head as I checked my GPS. It was two and a half kilometres to the bikes. Gack. Joel was going to be livid.

I toyed with the idea of pulling out the two-way radio we carried for emergencies.

The decent thing to do would be to let him know I was on my way. And yet, that would mean the tongue-lashing I had coming would start that much sooner.

Hmmmm. The purpose of the radios was for emergencies, and well, this wasn’t exactly an emergency. More an oversight. It would be wrong to use the radios for this. Joel might panic, thinking I’d been bitten by a snake if I called in. It would be cruel to put him through that.

Smiling at my flawless logic, I stuck the radio back in my pocket and set out across the hard-packed red earth towards the meeting point.
My long legs ate up the two and a half kilometres, but it was still another twenty minutes before I arrived back at the meeting point.

Joel wasn’t there. Neither was his bike.

‘Un-bloody-believable.’

I really wasn’t that late. Only three quarters of an hour.

If I had been onto a deep nugget I could have easily ended up that late. Had in fact been later than that in the past. And so had he.

‘What a hypocrite.’ I shrugged out of my back pack and detector vest as I strode towards my motor bike. ‘I mean really.’

I could feel my anger mounting. What if I had been bitten by a snake? What if I had fallen and broken my ankle? When you were out in the bush your detecting buddy’s safety came ahead of any personal need. Him leaving in a huff, was unforgivable.

I strapped my equipment to the rack on the back of the bike and then brushed at the seat. Dead flowers rained down to join their brethren leaning up against the front wheel.

Joel’s idea of a practical joke no doubt. I always bitched when he gave me flowers about how I would just have to throw them out in a week when they were dead. Now a nice new gun or some boxing gloves, well that’s the sort of present a girl could get excited about.

I threw my leg over the bike, twisting the throttle as I punched the start button. She coughed and spluttered a few times before I finally got her to fire.

The back skidded out as I shot off down the dirt path towards home. I eased back on the throttle. I was grading for my Bushidokai Second Dan that week and the last thing I needed was a broken arm. Something like that would set me back a year.

My temper cooled during my ride home, changing from white-hot heat to cold-tempered steel. It was a good thing. My best friend, Lorna, was currently living with us and I knew she got uncomfortable when Joel and I had ‘spirited conversations’. She complemented my fiery spirit with an almost ethereal peace.

By the time I was turning onto the main road into Kalgoorlie I had achieved a scary level of calm. The car was still in the drive when I pulled up in front of the house. A small tricycle lay on its side by the rear tire.

I sighed as I moved it to the side. It would not do to run over the neighbour’s kid’s toy. Relationships there had been frazzled since I’d asked her how many weeks left till the birth of her second child. It had turned out she wasn’t pregnant.

I stalked to the front door and dug around in my back pocket for my key. Shit. It was gone. It must have fallen out while I slept.

I felt along the inner edge of the window sill next to the front door. There was a large crack there in which a spare key lived.

It wasn’t there. Great. I was going to have to knock and wait like a stranger. It didn’t help my mood at all.

I took a deep breath to calm my anger and rapped on the door, tapping my foot up and down until the door was pulled open.

Lorna stood in the doorway. Her normally smooth bob was pulled back in a messy ponytail and she looked tired. Her eyes widened as she looked me up and down.

‘I know.’ I shook my head. ‘I’m a mess.’

‘Siccy.’ She stopped and licked her lips. ‘What are you…where have you been?’

‘Didn’t Joel tell you?’ I pushed past her into the house. ‘We went out past Old Jacob’s mine.’ I kicked a stuffed toy out of my way. ‘Did the neighbour’s kids come over to play?’

A Lego structure sat unfinished in the lounge room. It looked like it might have been going to be a dinosaur. Or a car. One or the other.

‘No I mean….’ She shook her head as she placed her hands over her stomach. They cradled a small bulge.

‘Have you been eating bread again?’ It was my turn to shake my head. ‘You know what that stuff does to you.’

‘What?’ She moved her manic gaze from me to her hands.

‘Lorna, you don’t look so good. Are you okay?’

‘Is it really you?’ Tears filled her eyes. ‘I thought I’d never see you again.’

‘Do you have a fever?’ I strode towards her and placed a hand on her forehead. ‘You don’t feel hot.’ I looked over my shoulder towards my and Joel’s bedroom. ‘Joel,’ I yelled. ‘I think Lorna might be sick.’ I felt a surge of triumph at having a valid reason to miss the dinner that evening.

The bedroom door opened and a small child wrapped in an overly large towel, burst from the room. ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy,’ she cried as she raced towards us.

‘What the?’ I danced back out of the way as she threw herself into Lorna’s arms.

‘Daddy washed my hair and I didn’t even cry. Does that mean I am a big girl now?’

‘Yes, Sicily.’ Lorna’s voice was strained as she pulled a corner of the towel up and wiped at the little girl’s face. ‘You’re a big girl now.’

Joel appeared in the door, another towel in his hands. He had an exasperated look on his face. ‘I haven’t finished drying her hair.’

‘Joel.’ Lorna cleared her throat and nodded her head towards me.

‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’ He smiled and walked towards me. ‘I didn’t realise we had guests. Are you the new…?’ He froze a few paces from me, his hand half-stretched towards me while his mouth opened and closed like a goldfish’s.

‘What…the…hell…is…going…on?’ I looked between the two of them. ‘Is this some sort of practical joke to pay me back for being late?’ I cocked my head to the side. ‘I mean I’m surprised at you, Lorna, for playing along.’ I turned back to Joel and closed the last few steps between us. ‘I can’t believe you didn’t wait for me. What if something had happened? What if I had been hurt?’

‘Siccy? Is it really you?’ Joel ran one hand through his hair as he stared at me. Silver flecks in his sideburns glinted in the hallway light.

‘Of course it’s me. Who were you expecting? Santa Claus?’ When did he start going grey? ‘Honestly, Joel. I never would have believed you’d leave without me. It’s not what we do.’

‘Shit.’ He reached out a touched my arm. ‘It is you. How? Where?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘For goodness sake, enough already. Why didn’t you wait for me?’

‘I did wait. You have to believe me Siccy.’ He reached out and took my hands in his. ‘I waited for you. But there’s only so long I could stay out there searching.’ The intensity in his voice was mirrored by the look on his face.

I flicked his hands away. ‘Don’t be silly. ’ He was freaking me out. ‘I was only forty-five minutes late.’ I looked at Lorna. Her arms hugged the child tight against her body. She looked older and softer than when I’d said goodbye that morning. ‘An hour tops.’ A cold wave ran up my body, goose bumps followed in its wake.

‘They told me you couldn’t have possibly survived out there with so little water. But I knew if anyone could make it you could.’

This time when he grabbed my hands I didn’t pull away. ‘What?’ My voice was rough. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘It’s been five years, Siccy.’

I let out a laugh. ‘Don’t be silly.’

‘I’m serious.’ His face crumpled. ‘Five years to the day since you went missing.’

I stared at him, waiting for him to burst out laughing and tell me that he was joking. He didn’t.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘So I was only five years and forty-five minutes late. That’s not so bad.’ My voice was stiff, a cardboard cut-out of its normal self. I looked between the two of them. ‘You guys.’ I shook my head. ‘This is too much. You must have planned this for ages.’

‘Siccy.’ Joel let go of my hand and crossed to the bookshelf. He pulled our joint photo album off it and handed it to me. ‘Here.’

I crossed to the lounge and perched on the edge, balancing the album on my knees. It was my home, but subtly not. The rug was different, the television even bigger, and kid’s toys lay scattered around a large plastic box.

They had gone to a lot of trouble, indeed.

Lorna sat next to me as I flicked open the album. The child scrambled up into her lap, her wet hair making her curious eyes look even bigger.

Photos of Joel and me; of us graduating school, riding our motorbikes, getting our karate belts, camping. Oh, there were other people there as well, but mainly it was the two of us, as it had been for as long as I could remember.

We’d been together since the first day of kindergarten when I had punched him in the stomach for laughing as he’d called me a big sissy.

We’d always had a tempestuous relationship. And a competitive one. I was going to have to think long and hard on how to beat this practical joke.

I smiled as I turned the pages. I hadn’t looked at these photos for too long.

‘Look at the back page.’ Joel stuck his hands in his pockets and then took them out and ran them through his hair.

I turned to the back. It was stuffed full of newspaper cuttings.

The top one had a photo of me smiling into the camera lens with the caption, the search for Sicily Green was officially called off today. Her fiancée, Joel Cunningham, claimed he will never stop searching for her.

My hands shook as I leafed through the articles, reading about my disappearance, my memorial, how much I would be missed.

I checked the date of the clippings. They were from tomorrow, next week, next month’s papers. From a time that hadn’t happened yet.
‘Tell me this is a joke.’

Joel knelt down in front of me, peered up at me as he said, ‘It’s no joke Siccy. This happened. We lived through this.’

I looked back at the papers. Impossible. I shoved them back into the album and stood. ‘I don’t believe it.’ I shook my head.

Joel stood as well and took my hands.

‘You could have had those clippings printed off.’

Except he hadn’t. I knew his facial expressions better than I knew my own emotions. He was deadly serious.

And those serious eyes? Well, the crow’s feet next to them radiated farther than they had that morning.

I let go of one of his hands and brushed my fingertips over the grey in his sideburns. ‘When did this happen?’

He smiled. ‘Worry will prematurely age you. So will waiting.’
The words I’m sorry were on the tip of my tongue, even though I wasn’t sure what I would be apologising for, when Lorna cleared her throat.

Joel grimaced, let go of my other hand and went to stand next to Lorna.

‘Lorna and I, well, we both waited.’ His arm went around her shoulders, comforting the silent tears that trembled on her lashes.

I looked between them. The little girl had Lorna’s heart-shaped face, her big blue eyes. She also had Joel’s dark hair and olive skin.

‘Until you couldn’t wait any longer.’ I nodded my head. ‘And then you shacked up together.’

‘Siccy.’ Lorna let go of her little girl, her and Joel’s little girl, and rushed to me. ‘It wasn’t like that. Please don’t think it was like that.’

‘Well, what was it like?’ I raised my eyebrows at her. ‘I mean you couldn’t have waited that long.’ I looked down at their daughter. The little girl had to have been about four.

‘We named her after you.’ Her crying wasn’t so silent now. ‘In memory of you.’

‘Ahhh, yes, well that makes it all so much better.’

It know it seems dysfunctional that I was more concerned with the fact that they were now a couple than the fact that I had apparently lost five years. But the betrayal, I could fathom.

The other bit? Well, let’s just say I was pushing that bit of information into the smallest, deepest corner of my mind. I couldn’t comprehend it, even with the visual evidence.

‘Where have you been?’ It was Joel’s turn to be angry. ‘How could you put us through that? Did you think it was funny?’

I let out a bark of laughter. ‘Really? You think this is some sort of elaborate game of hide-and-seek?’

I could feel the tears building. Not pretty tears, like Lorna was crying. No, this was going to be a gut wrenching, snot-snorting bout of tears and I’d be damned if I was going to do it in front of the two of them.

‘Well, I can see that I’m intruding.’ I dug my nails into the palms of my hands and concentrated on the pain. ‘I should leave you to your evening.’ I walked around Lorna’s outstretched hands to the front door.

‘Wait.’ Lorna’s fingers latched onto the back of my shirt. ‘Please, don’t go.’

I turned back towards her. My beautiful, kind, gentle friend was begging me to stay. ‘How many weeks?’ I asked.

There was no place here for me. Even through the film of shock I could see that.

‘What? Oh.’ She glanced guiltily at her stomach. Turns out she hadn’t been eating bread after all.

‘Twenty.’ She pulled at her shirt as if trying to hide the offending bump.
I felt my anger crack. I had never been able to stay angry at her. I pulled her into a one arm hug.

Joel hovered behind her, his hand resting on their daughter’s head. She was holding onto her towel with one hand and sucking the thumb on the other.

My body stiffened as I broke the embrace. Him I could stay angry at forever.

‘Good luck,’ I whispered. ‘Don’t let him bully you into things you don’t want to do.’

‘Where are you going to go?’ she asked.

I pulled a face. There was only one place I could go. ‘Mum’s.’ I let out a sigh. ‘I’m going to Mum’s.

 

***

 

Mum’s house, a small dwelling a few kilometres out of town, still looked the same. Same tired paint. Same half-dead garden. Same falling down fence.

I flicked out my bike’s kickstand and paused before heading up the path to the front door. Mum and I had always had a difficult relationship. It wasn’t that she was mean or horrible; she was, in fact, a wonderful person. I’d just never had time for her level of weird.

I didn’t bother wrestling with the gate, stepping, instead, over the white picket fence. I strode to the front door and twisted the knob. It was unlocked, as normal. It was oddly reassuring that that also hadn’t changed.

It let me think that maybe I hadn’t really been missing. That perhaps I’d just been caught up in some weird time-continuum bubble that had enveloped my house.

Yeah. It’s a good day when you find yourself hoping that that is your reality.

I pushed open the door and peered into the lounge. Mum wasn’t there. Clattering noises coming from the kitchen told me where she was.

I looked at my watch. She would have had her dinner by now.

‘Hello,’ I called out as I walked through the lounge. ‘Mum?’

Her head poked around the edge of the doorway into the kitchen.

‘Sicily.’ Her face broke out into a huge smile as the rest of her followed her head. ‘Darling. How are you? I bet you’re dying for a nice, hot cup of tea.’

My mouth opened and closed a few times before any sound emerged. ‘A cup of tea?’

‘Yes, Darling. It would be a long time since you’ve had one of them. I’m guessing they don’t drink tea. Or maybe they do. Ohhhh.’ She clasped her hands to her chest, the look on her face almost jubilant. ‘You’ll be able to answer all those sorts of questions about them for me, now.’

‘Who are you talking about?’

‘Why Sicily, the aliens of course.’

‘Aliens?’

‘Yes love. The ones who abducted you.’

I started to laugh, and then I couldn’t stop laughing. I clutched at my stomach as I sank onto the couch. And then the laughter changed, and the gut wrenching, snot-snorting tears took over. I bowed over my knees and I cried as Mum rubbed my back and made all sorts of soothing noises.

Five years. Somehow, I had lost five years. I had no memory of it.
It felt like just this morning that I had gone gold prospecting with my fiancée. But, now I’d come home to discover he’d had children with my best friend.

I couldn’t get my head around it. Didn’t know where to start. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t know what to do.

Was it possible?

The evidence said so.

But if so, how?

A time warp? A coma? An alien abduction?

I didn’t believe in aliens. But then I also didn’t believe in time warps.
And I wouldn’t have survived a five-year coma without life support.
I felt as if my absolutely-practical mind was about to blow a gasket.

And Joel. My Joel. My soul-mate. He had cheated on me. Had given up on me.

That stupid bastard.

The flash of anger brought a halt to my tears, but then it was gone, washing away to leave me lying on the sand like a dying fish.

I was exhausted. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally.

I slumped sideways and pulled my legs up onto the couch.

Mum’s hand, stroking through my hair, allowed my swarming thoughts to settle. ‘There, there,’ she crooned.

I closed my eyes, seeking refuge in the numbness of sleep. It wasn’t long before it found me.

 

***

When I woke, Mum sat in the single-seater, a book nestled in her lap. The corner lamp threw a soft light over her and out into the room.

I rubbed at my eyes. ‘How long?’ I asked.

‘Have you been asleep, or were you gone?’

I sighed. So it hadn’t all been an awful dream. ‘Both.’

She glanced at the wall clock. ‘You’ve been asleep about an hour. You were gone five years.’

I nodded as I sat up. ‘That’s what Joel said.’

I still couldn’t fathom it, but I suspected if I tried it might break me. And I didn’t want to be a crazy person, rocking in a corner for the rest of my life. So I did the only thing I could. I accepted it. Accepted I had been gone for five years, no questions asked.

‘What are you reading?’ I asked.

‘Chariots of the Gods.’ She turned the book so I could see the cover.

‘What’s it about?’

‘It basically hypothesizes that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by ancient astronauts.’

‘And when you say ancient astronauts, are you talking about really, old men in space suits?’

She placed her reading glasses on the coffee table as she laughed.
‘You’re inability to look past your own nose is astounding. Especially considering what has happened.’

I shrugged. ‘Just ‘cause I was missing doesn’t mean there are aliens.’

‘Well, at least you’ve accepted you were gone.’

I nodded. ‘Doesn’t seem to be much sense in denying it.’

‘That’s feels better doesn’t it?’ Mum said. ‘Just easier to accept what has gone.’

I sniffed and then wiped at my nose with the back of my arm. I really needed a tissue.

‘It’s why they would have picked you of course. Your ability to accept things and get on with it.’ Her hand rubbed circles on my back. ‘Not one for highfalutin dramas. Not my Siccy.’

I shook my head and stood up. ‘There were no aliens.’

‘Well, how do you explain it?’

I shrugged. My eyes felt puffy. I’m sure they looked it too.

She sucked on her lower lip for a few seconds, her face telegraphing her wish to continue with the conversation. But then she nodded and said, ‘How about that cup of tea?’

‘You know what?’ I said. ‘I could really do with a beer.’

‘Thought you might.’

I followed her to the kitchen and took one of the two seats at her little kitchen bench, watching while she dug around inside the fridge. She emerged with a can of Cooper’s Pale Ale.

‘When did you start drinking beer?’

‘I don’t.’ She pressed the kettle button on and then took the seat across from me. ‘Told Roger at The Thirsty Camel you’d be home today. Of course he couldn’t tell me what your favorite beer was seeing as how he didn’t work there five years ago, but he said that this was one of their best sellers.’

‘You knew I’d be home today?’

‘Aliens work in cycles of five. When you didn’t come home after five days, weeks or months, well, I knew today had to be the day.’

I didn’t argue, intent, instead, on wrestling the lid off the bottle of beer. It tasted amazing as it flowed into my mouth. I took another swig of it then sat the bottle down on the table.

‘So,’ I said to Mum, ‘what’s new with you?’

She shrugged. ‘Same, same really.’

‘You still doing volunteer work?’

‘Not at the old people home.That got a bit depressing. Like I was looking into my own future. So now I work a couple of days a week at the second-hand store.’

‘The Vinnies?’

‘No, we’ve got a Salvation Army now as well.’

She hopped up to pour boiling water into her mug.

‘You know what’s weird?’ I said. ‘I turn up on Joel and Lorna’s doorstep, apparently after five years, and they just let me walk away.’

‘They’d be in a bit of shock, luv.’

‘Yeah, at first. But I would have thought that Joel at least would have followed me here.’

‘You think he doesn’t care?’

‘Something like that.’ I picked at the edge of the beer bottle label. ‘They looked pretty cosy together.’

Mum let out a snort. ‘Of course they do. They’re a family now.’

I stared more intently at the beer bottle label, trying to concentrate on that, and not the nausea that had set up in my gut.

Mum leaned over and rubbed my shoulder. ‘Hey. Not like you to feel sorry for yourself.’

‘I’ve been missing for five years. I think I get the right to be a little morose.’

‘You’re only thinking of what you’ve lost, not what you’ve gained.’

I left off on the label and met Mum’s calm gaze. ‘I haven’t gained anything.’

She patted my hand. ‘There, there. They wouldn’t have returned you if you weren’t ready. Which means you’ve gained a lot.’

I rolled my eyes and started working at the corner of the label again.

‘Fine. If you want to keep feeling sorry for yourself do, but don’t for a second believe they weren’t cut up about you being gone. Why did you think your bike was still working? Because Joel went out and turned it over every other week, that’s why.’

The corner of the label gave up its grip on the bottle. I seized it and pulled. A long strip tore off the edge.

‘And Lorna always took out flowers and left them there for you. And why did they do it? Cause they love you.’ She shrugged. ‘And just in case your crack pot of a mother was right and you did come home again. I said you needed a way to get back to Kalgoorlie. The whole town left that bike alone as a memorial to you. Joel made sure it still worked.’

The emotion in her voice got my attention more than her words did. Her eyes were bright with tears, reminding me that I wasn’t the only victim here.

‘Hey.’ I hopped up and pulled her into my arms. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s not your fault,’ she mumbled into my shirt, her arms pulling me in tight.

‘No, for being so self-centred.’
She looked up at me. ‘And stubborn?’

I laughed as I released her. ‘I’m not apologising for being stubborn. That’s a personality trait.’

I sat back down and had another sip of my beer.

‘So what are you going to do now? You can’t stay here.’

‘Why not?’ I was sure I’d be able to get my job at the camping store back. They were always short-staffed.

‘Well…everyone thinks you’re dead.’

‘And?’ I drained the last of the beer out of the bottle and hopped up to look for more.

‘There’s going to be quite a hullabaloo. The media are going to have a field day.’

I paused in the act of opening the fridge. I had been envisioning just quietly slipping back into my old life. Mum was right. There was going to be a total media circus if they got wind I was back.

And what was I going to tell them? I lay down for a little nap and woke up five years later? They would hound me, accuse me of setting the whole thing up, and basically make my life miserable.

And then the whole country would know about it. Any chance of anonymity would be gone.

‘Ahhh, shit.’ I twisted the lid off the beer. ‘You’re right.’

She shrugged. ‘I’ve had five years to think about it.’

I plonked back down into the seat opposite her. ‘Where should I go?’

‘East Coast somewhere. Big city. Sydney. Maybe Melbourne.’ She took a sip of her tea. ‘Chances of anyone even remembering the story, let alone recognising you would be remote.’

I frowned as I started work on the edge of the new label. I didn’t want to move to a big city. There was a reason I had stayed in Kalgoorlie. I liked the warm climate, but more than that I liked the friendly culture a small town bred.

I liked being able to go up the road and be able to greet people by name. I liked being able to go to the local pub for a counter meal by myself, knowing I would find friends there. Big cities left me cold.

There was a knock on the front door and then a familiar voice called out, ‘Glenda?’

Joel. He had followed me here. He did care.

‘Now, now, Siccy.’ Mum held her hand out to me as I leapt from my chair. ‘Let’s not forget about Lorna.’ She gave me a look that told me to stay, and then went to greet Joel.

‘Hey, Joel, isn’t it wonderful?’

‘Not sure what’s so wonderful. Just came to see how you were holding up. What with your whole five-year theory and everything.’

‘But…Joel.’

‘I know Glenda. It’s hard, but at some stage we’re going to have to accept that she’s gone.’

Joel was pulling Mum into a hug when I entered the lounge room. He patted her on the back as he said, ‘I miss her so much, but we’ve just got to get on with our lives.’

‘Well, I think knocking up my best friend, twice I might add, shows that you’ve had no trouble getting on with your life.’ I put my hands on my hips and glared at him.

‘Siccy?’ His arms stayed where they were around Mum as he stared at me over her head. ‘Siccy? Is it really you?’

‘Oh, for goodness sake,’ I said. ‘We’ve already done this.’

His arms fell limply to his side as Mum pulled away from him. ‘That’s what I was trying to tell you,’ she said. ‘I was right.’ She slapped her hands together as she grinned.

I guess it was only fair that she got to feel smug about the whole thing. I mean the whole town would have been muttering words like, ‘Cuckoo’ and ‘Nutter’, behind her back. I know I would have been.
‘But…,’ he walked towards me, ‘how?’

I shrugged. ‘Really? I told you already. I lay down for a nap, hopped up to find you gone. Came home to find you’re a…,’ I waved a hand at him as I pulled a face, ‘father.’

He captured my hands in his and stared down into my eyes.

He was one of the only men in town to be able to do that. Look down, I mean. Not into my eyes.

Obviously, they could all look into my eyes if they wanted to, but, being 6 foot 2, not many of them were tall enough to look down at me.
I stared back into his rich brown eyes. The little wrinkles at the corners, the ones that hadn’t been there that morning, only added more depth to his emotions.

I could see the rawness of his pain, the years of not knowing, of wondering where I was, of missing me

My heart clenched in my chest, the pain radiating out through my rib cage. I sucked in a breath and stepped back, shaking off his hands.
He was my soul mate all right. But he wasn’t mine.

‘Where were you?’ His jaw muscles clenched as he closed the distance between us again and reclaimed my hands.

‘Over near that big old timer’s camp. You know the one near the bend in the creek?’

He nodded.

‘Thought I’d see if I could handle the noise from all the tin junk.’ I let out a laugh. ‘Turns out I couldn’t.’

That was the annoying thing about metal detecting for gold. The miners who had been there during the gold rush had camped where the gold was. They had also had a lot of tin cans with them which they hadn’t bothered to take with them when they left.

Over the years, these tins had broken down and now tiny shards littered the area. The noise they made through a detector head seat, a raw, shrill sound, totally blocked out the softer sound that gold made.
If you had the time and the patience, you could painstakingly remove the iron, and then hunt for the gold. Large nuggets had been found that way.

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘Where have you been all these years?’

‘I haven’t.’ I shrugged my shoulders.

‘So…,’ he threw Mum a speculative look, ‘this is the same day for you?’ He sucked air in and blew out his cheeks, then let it all go in a puff. ‘I’m not sure who I feel more sorry for.’

I cocked my head to the side. ‘I don’t get you.’

‘Me for having to go through thinking you were dead, or you for coming back to this.’

‘Me.’ I felt the corners of my lips pull up. ‘Definitely feel more sorry for me.’

We stared into each other’s eyes as shared our moment of humour.
‘So the old timer’s mine,’ he finally said. ‘I searched there.’ He bit at the corner of his lower lip. ‘Found your fly net under a tree.’

‘Oh.’ My hands slipped from his grip as they flew to my head. My fly net. I had totally forgotten about it, but he was right. I’d been wearing it when I’d gone to sleep.

‘I still have it if you want it back.’

I shook my head as I looked at Mum. I wouldn’t need it where I was going. ‘Keep it for a spare,’ I said.

‘You’re not staying.’ It wasn’t a question.

I swallowed, trying to push the lump in my throat back down to my stomach.

The raw pain was back in his eyes. I suspected mine looked the same.

‘Can’t,’ I whispered.

One quick step and then I was in his arms, crushed against his chest. I buried my face into his neck as the tears came again.

‘I miss seeing your beautiful blue eyes first thing in the morning,’ he whispered into my ear. ‘I missed you so much.’

I nodded my head. Even through my anger I knew he would have. Lorna was soft and beautiful. She was giving and easy to be with. But their relationship would not have the fire and ice that we had thrived on.

I sucked in a deep breath, and then another, hardening myself against the coming pain. When I was ready, when I thought I could take it, I stepped back.

‘Lorna makes a beautiful Mum,’ I said. ‘You should do the right thing by her and marry her.’

I tried to smile, but I’m betting it looked more like a grimace as pain and jealousy tore at my insides.

He looked at his feet. ‘Yeah.’ He nodded. ‘She’s a great Mum.’

‘And she was there for you when you needed her. You were there for each other.’

‘But….’ He lifted his gaze back to my eyes and I placed a hand over his lips.

Even though a part of me was clambering for it, to hear the words, ‘I still love you,’ I stopped him. It was going to be hard enough to leave, without hanging onto a secret what if.

Five years had passed. Five years in which they had created a history. Memories in which I did not exist. If they were to have a chance at long-lasting happiness, I had to keep it that way.

‘Love you long time.’ I used our joke sentiment as I broke the embrace.

He nodded his head. ‘Love you long time too.’ He grimaced and glanced over his shoulder at Mum. ‘I’d better get back.’

‘What are you going to tell Lorna?’ Mum asked.

‘The truth.’ He turned back to me. ‘Will you see her before you go?’
‘Of course.’

‘I’ll ring tomorrow,’ he said. ‘Once she’s had time to get over the shock.’

I walked with him to the front door, proud of my ability to stop my treacherous hand from reaching for his. I didn’t relax my self-control until he had started up the car and driven off into the night.

My body was screaming for one last kiss, but my mind knew that was a terrible idea. I had never been able to stop at one.

‘You did a good thing,’ Mum said when I shut the door.

‘Yeah? Well then why does it feel so sucky?’ The pain in my chest was not letting up one iota.

‘Pain is growth,’ Mum said.

I didn’t reply as I followed her back to the kitchen. Truth be told I had looped back to the part where I was having trouble processing the whole deal. It was all too surreal.

I was making my way through my third beer when we heard another knock on the door. I stayed where I was as Mum went to answer it. It was way too timid to be Joel.

‘Lorna,’ Mum said. ‘What a surprise.’

‘I just came to see how you where?’

‘Couldn’t be better, why?’

‘I must apologise for Joel. He said he was going to come over himself to see how you were, but he went up the road and got a case of beer instead.’

‘But,’ Mum’s voice held the confusion I was feeling, ‘he was here half an hour ago.’

‘Really?’

‘He didn’t tell you?’ I asked. Perhaps he had decided to wait until the morning. Lorna had never dealt well with surprises.

‘Siccy? Siccy?’ Lorna’s face was anguished as she took a step towards me, but then her eyes rolled back into her head and her body crumpled to the floor.

Mum got her arms around her in time to stop her injuring herself.

‘Ahh, crap.’ I reached down and picked up Lorna’s feet. ‘I see the whole fainting thing hasn’t improved for her.’ To be quite frank I was surprised she hadn’t gone down when I had seen her at the house.
We placed her on the couch with her feet up on the armrest.

‘Better ring Joel,’ Mum said. ‘She’ll be in no state to drive herself home.

I grabbed my beer and sat on the floor next to the couch to wait for Lorna to wake up. She was always disorientated when she came out of a faint.

‘Hey Joel,’ Mum said. ‘Lorna’s here.’ She paused while he spoke. ‘No, that’s all right,’ she said. ‘No need to apologise. I’m quite all right.’

Another pause. ‘Yes, I agree. It’s time to let go. We need to move on.’ She ahhhahhed a few times. ‘Yes well I’ll send Lorna home after we have a cup of tea. See you soon.’

She hung up and turned towards me. ‘He doesn’t remember being here.’

‘What do you mean?’

She laughed as took a seat on the single seater. ‘It means they’re here.’

‘Who’s here?’

‘Whoever took you.’

‘Mum….’ My voice had the whine of a recalcitrant teenager.
‘Oh, Siccy. Just for a second suspend your disbelief.’ She shook her head a tutted a couple of times. ‘There is no other explanation.’

‘I…I….’ I opened and closed my mouth a few times. When she put it like that.

‘You were gone for five years. You lived those five years, you just don’t remember them. Now someone is altering Joel and Lorna’s memories of you. It has to be them.’

I’d lived those five years? In my head I had just kind of jumped them, not lived them. It threw a whole heap of panic onto the embers of worry, causing a blaze to break out.

Where was I? What did I do? What happened to me?

I could feel my breathing picking up the pace to stay in time with my racing heart.

‘There, there.’ Mum leaned over and patted my hand. ‘I’m sure it will all come back to you.’

‘What if it doesn’t?’ My voice was shrill. ‘What if I never know?’

‘It didn’t seem to worry you a few moments ago.’

‘That was before I realised someone had been messing with my head.’

‘So you acknowledge you were abducted by aliens?’

‘What?’ I laughed. ‘No, of course not. Someone must have drugged me and kidnapped me.’

Good God. What if I’d been forced to work in a brothel? I stared at the inside of my forearms searching for signs I’d been doing drugs.

Had I even been in Australia? They could have shipped me anywhere.

Mum let out a sigh and picked her book up again.

‘Siccy?’ Lorna’s voice was weak. ‘Is it really you?’

I put a mental blanket over my panic fire and turned towards her, pushing up onto my knees so I was facing her. ‘Hey, beautiful. How are you feeling?’

Tears filled her eyes and trailed down her cheeks. ‘I’ve missed you,’ she sobbed. ‘Missed you so much. But I’ve got something awful to tell you.’

I held a hand up. ‘It’s okay. I know.’

‘That Mr Tabby passed away?’

‘Mr Tabby? The neighbour’s cat?’

She nodded. ‘I know how much you loved him.’

Loved him? I’d kept a squirter bottle on the back porch to use on the little bastard whenever he’d come into our yard. I could tell by the hissing that the feeling had been mutual.

‘Oh and I thought you were going to tell me that you were pregnant with Joel’s baby.’

‘Oh.’ Her hands clutched at her belly as she blushed. ‘Yes, about that.’

I held up a hand. ‘No need to explain.’

I really didn’t want to hear about how they had fallen in love while comforting each other. I might be forced to throw up.

She struggled into an upright position. ‘That’s not all.’

‘I know about your little girl, too.’

‘Oh.’ Tears filled her eyes. ‘I’m sorry.’ She put her hands over her eyes as deep sobs broke forth.

‘Hey, it’s okay.’

‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘It’s not.’

‘You weren’t to know I was alive.’ Good grief. I was comforting her for stealing my boyfriend. Could this day get any weirder?

‘The thing is Siccy.’ She pulled a face as she lowered her hands. ‘I’ve always loved Joel.’

My breath left me in a whoosh, forcing me back onto the floor. I could feel my face stuck in a look of disbelief.

‘How could I not?’ She shrugged a shoulder. ‘He’s wonderful.’

And stubborn. And annoying. And in so much trouble the next time I got my hands on him.

Except…he wasn’t mine to berate anymore.

Rage filled me, forcing tears to my eyes. She had betrayed me all along. Moving into our house. Pretending to be my friend while coveting my man. And then the moment I was out of the picture she had moved in. I mean I’d seen the age of their child. It must have only been months till she had been in my side of the bed.

My mouth twisted, readying for words I never would have thought I would launch at my friend. My fists clenched as I readied myself to change everything between us forever.

The front door burst open and a mountain of a man stepped into the room.

‘Really?’ He shook his head. ‘I thought you’d be more careful than this.’ He took three steps to the couch, squatting down in front of a stunned Lorna as he pulled a small box out of his pocket. ‘Ten minutes ought to do it.’ He punched at the box and held it up in front of Lorna’s face. A red light flashed and she flopped back onto the couch as her eyes slid shut.

He tutted and turned towards me. ‘I’ve been following you all over town doing that. Do you have any idea how annoying that is?’ His English accent twanged at the air.

It seemed I had been wrong about the day not getting weirder.

I shook my head as I peered up at him. It wasn’t just his height. It was his girth as well. His skin was the colour of shiny ebony as it flexed over muscles the hulk would have been proud of.

His teeth gleamed almost translucently in comparison as his lips pulled back. ‘What’s wrong with you? You don’t look at all pleased to see me.’

‘I…I….’ I shuffled back across the floor away from him.

‘Siccy?’ Lorna said. ‘It is really you?’

He sighed and shook his head. ‘Would you mind going in there while I sort this out?’

I shook my head as I scrambled to my feet, almost tripping over the coffee table in the process. My shoulder banged painfully in the edge of the door frame as I stumbled into the kitchen.

‘Ahhh,’ Mum said, ‘where do you want me?’

‘You stay right where you are Glenda,’ the mountain said.

He stooped his head to clear the doorway as he stepped into the kitchen. I pressed myself up against the cabinetry on the other side as he turned towards me.

‘Siccy? Is it really you?’

‘There, there Lorna,’ Mum said. ‘You’ve had a bit of a dizzy spell is all.’

‘Oh.’ Lorna’s breath caught in a hitch. ‘I thought…I thought….’

‘What’s that, Dear?’ Mum said.

I could hear Lorna starting to cry. ‘I thought she was back. And I wanted it so very badly, but at the same time….’ She stopped talking but she didn’t need to finish the sentence for me to know what she had been about to say.

The man help up a cautionary hand as I pushed away from the cabinetry. He tilted his head to the side and mouthed, ‘What’s wrong with you?’

It was all too freakin weird. Suddenly I just wanted to push Lorna off the couch so I could lie down.

‘Joel rang,’ Mum said. ‘I told him you would be home shortly.’

‘Oh. Yes. Well, I’d better be going.’

‘Lovely of you to pop round,’ Mum said.

I waited for the sound of the front door closing before I turned to the stranger.

‘Siccy,’ he said, stepping towards me. ‘You’re behaving like a new recruit. Give you a bit of oxygen and you go all crazy on me.’

I looked up, and up, and up till I was staring into his gleaming onyx eyes, and then I said the only words that would formulate in my brain. ‘Who the fuck are you?’

***

‘You don’t remember me?’ The corners of his lips pulled into a mocking little smile.

I crossed my arms across my chest as I shook my head.

‘Not even a little?’ He loomed over me as he moved closer. ‘I mean, I’m pretty hard to forget.’

‘There’s no disputing that.’ The edge of the kitchen bench pressed into my lower back as I tried to maintain our distance.

‘Got to say Sicc, as much as that disappoints me, it’s made the game a whole heap more fun.’

‘Don’t call me Sicc.’ I balled up my fist and slammed it into his gut.

The force I generated should have been limited by my lack of space, I mean I wasn’t even expecting to make a dent on the big man, so I was surprised when he let out an, ‘Ooophhh,’ and staggered back a few feet.

A smile stretched his face as he flexed his head from side to side. ‘Oh, so kitty wants to play?’

He dropped into a fighter’s stance and I felt my body mirror his.

‘I’d appreciate it if the two of you didn’t wreck my kitchen,’ Mum said.

‘Later.’ The man winked as he straightened and turned towards Mum. ‘I do apologise Glenda.’ He gave her a little bow. ‘I have been rude.’ He walked towards her and swept one of her hands up. It disappeared inside his massive ones as he pressed the back of it to his lips. ‘Elliot Shakespeare at your service.’

‘Elliot.’ Mum’s cheeks were flushed as she smiled at him. ‘So lovely to meet you. Would you like a beer, or…can I interest you in a nice cup of tea?’

‘English breakfast?’

‘Of course.’

‘That would be wonderful. It’s been years since I had a good cup of tea.’

I rolled my eyes as I pulled the fridge open and grabbed another beer. The remnants of my last one would be warm by now. I hated warm beer.

‘I mean we get tea,’ he continued. ‘But it’s just not the same when it’s not grown on Earth.’ The kitchen furniture looked like a children’s play set as he settled into one of the chairs. It creaked in protest but withstood his weight.

I let out a, ‘Pfhhhhh,’ as I stepped over his outstretched legs to get to the far side of the table.

‘Ignore Siccy,’ Mum said. ‘She’s normally quite sociable, but she’s had a bad day.’ She reached up into the top cupboard and pulled out the teapot she reserved for special guests.

Having a bad day,’ I mumbled as I pressed the beer bottle to my lips.
‘Oh, I know,’ he said. ‘Siccy and I go way back.’ He winked at me before turning back to Mum.

I let out another, ‘Pfhhhhhh.’ He was really starting to get on my nerves. What with his bulging muscles and his annoying English accent. And the way he smiled at me, like he knew me really well.

Well, I had no schmucking idea who he was, and if I had my way it would stay like that.

‘So,’ Mum sucked at her bottom lip, not doubt torn between which question to ask first, ‘where else do they grow tea?’

‘A lot of planets grow tea, well a variant of tea. We think it’s the higher oxygen levels here that cause the difference in flavor.’ He scrubbed at his short-cropped hair with one hand. The tiny curls made a bristling noise as he disturbed them. ‘Of course no-one has actually studied it. I’ve considered it a couple of times, but the cost of setting up a lab big enough to allow me to grow tea in different environments mimicking the oxygen concentrations of the different planets, well, it is prohibitive. And then there is the time involved, and the fact that perhaps it’s not the oxygen. Perhaps it’s the different fluid molecular structure, or the gamma ray outputs from the suns.’ He shrugged. ‘And it would take years. It’s not that I don’t have the years, it’s the time I don’t have.’

‘Fascinating.’ Mum placed the teapot onto a small wooden board in the middle of the table. Two of her best china cups, a small jug of milk, and the sugar pot followed. She shifted her weight from foot to foot as she eyed the seats, trying to work out where to sit.

I sighed and shuffled onto the seat by the wall so she could sit opposite Elliot. There was no way she was going to fit next to him.

‘Thank you, Dear.’ She patted my knee and then reached for the pot, swirling it around on the board a few times.

‘Oh, a tea swirler.’ Elliot nodded his head in approval. ‘I haven’t seen that done in decades.’

‘It’s the best way to get the flavor to diffuse,’ Mum said.

Decades? I took another chug from my beer bottle while trying to surreptitiously check out Elliot. He couldn’t be more than, what, 35, surely.

‘So Elliot,’ Mum poured tea into a cup and passed it to him. ‘What part of England are you from?’

‘London.’ He took the tea and added a splash of milk but no sugar. ‘The poor quarter.’ His teeth where brilliant white as he flashed her a smile. ‘Or that’s what it was called in the day.’

‘Yes, I guessed by your accent you weren’t from the posh part of town.’

Elliot threw his head back and laughed. ‘It’s not quite Cockney,’ he said. ‘But it’s close. I think these days they call it Estuary English.’

‘So…,’ Mum poured her tea and added her milk and a pinch of sugar, ‘What year were you born?’

His giant hands looked like they might crush the delicate porcelain of the cup as he lifted it to his lips. He took a sip and then closed his eyes as he swallowed. A small sigh of appreciation preempted his response to Mum’s question. ‘I was born in 1790.’

The words coincided with my next pull from the beer bottle. Liquid shot into my nose as I snorted in surprise. I clutched at my face as pain seared, ignored by both of them as their conversation continued.

‘I didn’t realise that Africans had made it to England that early.’

‘Oh yes. The first Africans actually arrived as attendants with Catherine of Aragon. Of course Henry VII, no doubt not to be outdone, got himself some African trumpeters. That’s the line I’m descended from. It’s a fascinating history, you should read about it sometime.’

‘Oh I will.’ Mum took a sip from her tea as she nodded. ‘I’ve been a little busy ready books on the Ancient Astronauts. Would you mind awfully if I asked you some questions about all that sometime?’

‘Madam, it would be my great pleasure.’ He nodded his head at me. ‘But now, we need to sort out some business.’

‘Yes of course. Do you want me to leave?’

‘I don’t think that will be necessary.’ He took another sip of his tea before turning to me. ‘So Sicc, you going to stop running around exposing yourself, so I can stop running around mopping up your mess?’

I could feel the muscles of my face bulging as my teeth clenched together. ‘And by mopping up my mess,’ I said, ‘you mean doing whatever it was you did with your little magic box?’ I raised my eyebrows at him.

‘Magic box?’ He let out a guffaw as he reached into his pocket. ‘You mean my wavelength mind map atomiser?’ He held it up for me to see.

‘Yes, your wavelength thingamy majiggy.’ I waved a hand at it.

‘Oh, Sicc.’ One of his massive feet nudged me under the table. ‘You always did have a way with words.’

I tucked my feet under my chair and slid back so that he couldn’t reach me. ‘So what is it with that thing anyway?’

‘Pretty simple really.’ He held it up in front of his face and stared at it. ‘I can take away, and give back, people’s memories.’

‘So…,’ I chewed at my bottom lip, my eyes narrowing as I stared at the box, ‘you’ve been zapping Joel and Lorna with that thing?’

‘Yes.’ He let out a low growling sigh. ‘And it’s starting to get tiresome. You’re going to have to relocate till we find out what our mission is.’

I know that only an hour ago I had been ready to leave, but that was before I knew about the magic box. Now, all of a sudden, there didn’t seem to be any real need to rush off. I could just keep doing what I was doing and Elliot could keep ‘mopping up my mess’. The fact that it was annoying him did add a certain something to the plan.

‘No,’ I said.

‘No?’ His eyebrows rose as he scrubbed one hand through the short, tight curls crowing his head. ‘Well, you’re going to have to stay indoors. Could be weeks, even months.’ He shrugged. ‘Your call.’

‘No. I mean I’m not doing any silly mission with you.’

He leaned forwards in his chair. ‘What do you mean you’re not doing any silly mission with me?’ He made little air quote finger movements as he said the work silly.

‘I’m not quite sure which part of that sentence was difficult to understand.’ I shrugged my shoulders and slouched back into my seat. Annoying Elliot was turning out to be the best part of my day.

‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘I understood the general grammatical formation of your sentence, what I’m having trouble grasping is the level of stupid you layered into it.’

I felt my chin jerk to the side as I gritted my teeth again. ‘I don’t know who you are, or what organisation you work for, but considering you’ve already drugged and kidnapped me once, you would have to be stupid to think I would go anywhere or do anything with you.’ I waved a hand in the air. ‘Did I escape? And now they’ve sent you here to recapture me? Is that it?’ My voice was cold, hard ice.

He leaned back in his chair, the pointing finger on his left hand beating out a staccato rhythm on the table as he stared at me. His face was expressionless except for a little twitch in his jaw muscles.

Mum cleared her throat. ‘Perhaps it would be best if you gave her a few days to get over the shock.’

Elliot didn’t take his gaze from my face as he answered her. ‘We don’t have a few days.’

‘You just said it could be weeks or months,’ she replied.

This time he turned to look at her. ‘Weeks or months till we find out our purpose for being here. Not weeks or months till the alternate factions decide to eliminate an unprotected asset.’ He looked back at me.

‘Am I the unprotected asset?’

‘That’s agency terminology. I think of you more as an unprotected pain in the arse.’ The corners of his lips twitched up.

‘You haven’t answered any of my questions.’ I crossed my arms.

‘You already know who I am.’

I let out a snort. ‘Who you claim to be.’ I took a sip of beer. ‘Okay. Let’s just assume that your name really is Elliot Shakespeare and that you really were born in,’ I shook my head before finishing the sentence, ‘1790. What organisation do you work for and what interest do they have in me?’

‘I work for APE.’ He crossed his arms and sat up straighter in his chair.  ‘Sicc, we both work for APE.’

‘What does APE stand for?’ Mum asked.

Elliot’s face softened as he looked at Mum. ‘Alien Private Eye. APE was initially set up to protect the interests of Earth and all those living on it. It’s reach is a bit broader than that now.’ He cut his gaze back to me. ‘Sicc you were actively recruited, but you had a choice. You chose to join APE. Nobody forced you to. You’ve been a rookie for the last five years, training to work as my partner.’

I could feel my smile stretching my face. It was all too good. All too ridiculous. ‘So,’ I let out a laugh, ‘you’re saying that I chose to go with you and train to be an Alien Private Eye?’

‘Actually,’ his finger took up the drumming on the table top again, ‘you trained to be one of their elite assassins.’

I started to laugh. ‘Elite assassin? Oh, this is too good.’ I pointed a finger at him. ‘And, you’re my partner?’

The muscles of his jaw twitched again as he nodded his head.

‘So what exactly do we do as elite assassins.’ It was my turn to use the air quotes.

‘Well, normally we kill people, aliens, whoever we need to, to achieve our mission.’

‘Kill people?’

‘Mostly aliens. But yes, kill does seem to be the word that is normally associated with assassins.’

‘Well, now I know you’re lying.’ I shook my head. ‘I would never kill anyone.’

‘Really? Not even to save your own life?’

‘Well….’ I shifted on my seat. ‘That’s a totally different ballgame. That’s self-defence.’

‘Killing is killing. It’s all just a matter of perspective.’ He shrugged a shoulder. ‘But if you want to look at it like that, our job is in self-defence. We defend the Earth and kill anyone who threatens it. And word has come to the agency that the biggest threat the Earth has every face is underway. It is our job to find that threat and neutralise it.’

It sounded almost plausible when he said it like that; in his deep booming voice with an expression of pure seriousness on his face.

I stared at him for a full five seconds before I started to laugh again. I put my beer bottle down on the table and stretched my arms above my head. ‘Well, it’s been one hell of a day. I might hit the sack.’ I pushed my seat back from the table and stood.

His eyes bulged as his jaw dropped open. ‘That’s it? You’re going to bed?’

‘I’m tired. That’s normally what I do when I’m tired.’

‘Sicc.’ He scraped at his scalp with both hands. ‘This is deadly serious. I can’t protect you if you abdicate the team.’

‘You just said I was a trained elite assassin.’ I let out a laugh. I mean seriously, did he really think I was going to go for that? It was preposterous. ‘I’m sure I can look after myself.’

‘A trained elite assassin who apparently has no memory of her training. You don’t know what’s coming at you or how to counter it.’

‘I’ll work it out.’

‘Really? What’s the best way to eliminate a Slurping Napacoon?’

‘Hmmmm.’ I tapped the tip of a finger against my bottom lip. ‘I normally find the best way to eliminate anything that slurps is to remove the straw and scull it. ‘

His seat crashed into the kitchen bench behind as he shot to his feet. Fear and fury danced together on his face. ‘Damn it Sicc. I can’t protect you if you aren’t with me. They can tell. If we are not a unified team, they can tell. They’ll hunt you down and take you out.’ His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘And that’s not something I’m willing to risk.’

I’d be lying if I was said he didn’t have me rattled. The intensity of his voice, his face raw with fear; it was a pretty potent mix.

I felt my hands clenching and unclenching as I stood transfixed by his piercing stare. His almost-black eyes, bored into mine, pleading me to reconsider.

My gut twisted with irrational guilt as I forced my suddenly dry mouth to swallow. ‘Well,’ I finally said, ‘that’s a risk I’m going to have to take.’ I didn’t know this man. I didn’t owe him anything.
He flopped back into his chair; a deflated iron balloon. ‘Sicc.’ It was a pleading moan. ‘Don’t do this. Please, don’t do it. We’re a team.’

Pain lanced through my chest. Joel. He had been my team mate. The only one I would ever want.

‘Sorry, Elliot.’ Tears trembled in the corners of my eyes as I backed towards the door. ‘But, I had a teammate. From now I work alone.’

The look on his face, like I’d slapped him, made be pause for one beat of my heart before I turned and fled the room. It seemed I was not done with crying yet, and I really didn’t want to do it in front of this giant stranger.

 

Chapter Two

 

I slept better than I thought I would. It seemed there had been enough crazy in my day to offset my subconscious having to join the party.I lay still for a few moments, taking in the changes in my old bedroom. The wardrobe was the same. So was the chest of drawers, but a new mirror had replaced the tarnished one of my youth.

A wooden stool sat next to the wardrobe, a brightly-coloured sarong draped over it.

The single bed, pressed into the corner, still had the same bedspread. One that my late Grams had made for me when I was still a toddler.

The bedside table still held a clock radio, and the small lamp from my childhood. It turned on and off when you clapped your hands, and I had nagged Mum for weeks to get it.

Stocktake finished, I climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom. The water from the shower felt amazing as I washed off the last of the grime from the day before.

A raid of the cupboard and drawers in the spare room revealed some of my clothes. Mum must have got them from Joel.

A dull ache set up in my gut. I pushed it to the side but it remained, a nagging reminder of what was no longer mine.

Mum was already in the kitchen when I entered. She looked up from the book she was reading and said, ‘Pancakes?’

‘Nah.’ I shook my head. ‘Might duck into town and get a coffee.’ Mum made a great cup of tea but she had never progressed past instant coffee.

‘You sure that’s wise?’ She glanced towards the back yard as she said it.

‘He’s here? You let him stay here?’

I stalked to the window and peered out. Mum’s old caravan still sat where it had five years ago.

‘Of course.’ She sounded surprised. ‘He had nowhere else to go.’

‘He can go to hell in a hand bucket,’ I mumbled as I turned back to look at her.

Her lips compressed as she folded her arms. ‘Siccy. What if he’s right? What if there are aliens that are going to try and kill you?’

‘Oh please.’ I turned my back on the window. ‘I’m not sure what weird game he is playing but I intend to find out.’ If I could find out that, then I could work out where I had been the last five years.

She shook her head as she sat back down at the table and picked up her book. She’d moved on from Chariots of the Gods to Alien Agenda.

‘Need anything in town?’ I asked as I picked up my backpack.

‘Hmmmm.’ She stood and crossed to the fridge, muttering to herself as she looked at the contents. ‘I’ll take the car in this arvo and pick up what we need.’ She finally said. ‘Need a bit more than you can handle on your bike.’ She glanced guiltily towards the backyard again.

Oh great. So we were going to have the pleasure of his company for meals.

‘Here.’ She handed me a bank card.

‘What’s that for?’

‘I got Joel to move your money into a separate account. This is the card for it.’

‘Oh.’ The nagging ache gave me a couple of sharp jabs. ‘Thanks.’

‘Pin’s your birthday.’

‘Birthday, right.’ I dumped my backpack onto the kitchen table and wrestled out my wallet. I removed the old cards and threw them in the bin. They’d expired a few years ago. So had my driver’s licence.

I shrugged and jammed it back into my wallet. I’m sure if the cops pulled me over they’d be more interested in how I had come back from the dead than that my licence had expired.

‘Siccy,’ Mum said as I headed for the front door. ‘Wear a hat, and…be careful.’

‘Careful’s my middle name.’

She snorted and shook her head.

I grabbed a cap from the hooks by the front door and stuffed it into my bag. While I thought the whole me being attacked by aliens thing was hysterical, she was right about the hat.

The morning air was crisp as I raced through it on the way to town. I breathed it in, the feel of it filling my lungs more satisfying than normal. It was clean and fresh and one more reason I wasn’t going to move to a big city.

I checked over my shoulder a couple of times but there was no sign of Elliot following me. Big phony was probably still fast asleep in Mum’s van.

I parked Bessy on the main cafe strip, grabbed my backpack off the back, and stuffed the cap on my head. Then I headed for Relish. It had been my favorite cafe so I was pleased to see it still existed.

The waitress hustled over to me with a smile and I gave her my coffee order as she showed me to a table. It was pretty busy for the early Sunday morning, making me glad of my hat and sunglasses.

I grabbed a paper off the empty table next to me and opened it in front of my face, pretending I was reading while I checked out the people around me.

Good grief. Was that Eleanor Lamby with her daughter Priscilla? I had only see them yesterday, but now Priscilla was a few inches taller and was sporting an impressive set of boobs.

And over there was little Jimmy, a few marks the only sign of the horrendous acne the poor kid had been battling with. He smiled shyly at the young girl sitting opposite him as he reached for her hand.

A movement across the street caught my eye. Elliot sat at another cafe. He shifted on a little stool, a highschooler trying to get comfortable in kindergarten.

I snorted. I never understood why cafe owners thought that stools were superior to a chair with a backrest.

He smiled and wiggled the tips of the fingers of one hand at me. I offered him the back of the middle finger of my right hand in return. It only made his smile wider.

The waitress deposited my long black in front of me. The smell of the coffee whacked me in the face and I moaned as I took my first sip. It had been far too long since I’d had a good…

I pulled myself up before I could finish the thought. Where the hell had that come from? It seemed only yesterday that Joel and I had grabbed a coffee before we had continued onto prospect.

I forced the thought to the side. It did no good dwelling on stuff I couldn’t change.

As if on cue, the biggest thing in my life that I couldn’t change appeared hand in hand a few shops down.

Joel and Lorna, with little Sicily, heading for Relish.

Damn them. Why couldn’t they get their coffee fix somewhere else?

I slouched lower in my chair as the waitress put them at the table next to me, depositing a bottle of water before taking their drink order.

Suddenly, my hat just didn’t seem big enough.

Elliot appeared to be enjoying a coffee on his side of the street, but his posture was more alert than before. No doubt he was getting ready to use his little magic box. It was time to test my theory.

I smiled and turned towards Joel and Lorna. ‘Hi,’ I said. ‘I just wanted to tell you what  a lovely couple the two of you make.’

A glance over my shoulder showed me Elliot rising to his feet. The people at the table nearest to him stopped talking to stare.

He might have been a giant pain in the arse but even I had to admit he was impressive. It wasn’t just his size or his muscular form, but more the way the sun glinted off his perfect skin. He looked like a larger-than-life, ebony statue.

‘Ummmm,’ Lorna said. ‘Thank you.’ She peered at me. ‘Do I know you?’

‘You could say that.’ I removed my sunglasses and looked at Joel. ‘Surprise.’

‘Siccy?’ He jerked back from the table, the movement causing the bottle of water to wobble precariously. ‘Siccy?’ His voice went up. ‘What? How?’ He shook his head.

Elliot’s walk ate up the distance between us. He had on his business face, his mouth pressed into an unhappy line. My breath caught in my throat and I had an urge to start giggling like a naughty school girl.

‘So,’ I said to Joel, ‘how long exactly did it take before you decided Lorna made a good replacement?’

‘Siccy.’ He bounced to his feet. ‘It wasn’t like that.’

‘No, it wasn’t, was it?’ I turned my attention to Lorna. ‘You wanted him all along didn’t you?’

‘I…I….’ Her mouth opened and closed a few times.

‘I thought you were my friend.’ Bitterness made my voice rough.

Joel’s head swiveled between the two of us.

‘What are you talking about?’ Lorna’s voice quivered.

‘You know exactly what I am talking about. I thought you were there for me, but it turns out you were there because of Joel.’

‘That’s not true.’ She shook her head but her eyes flickered sideways to Joel.

‘Tell me Lorna, what were you going to do if I hadn’t disappeared? Would you have been brave enough to make a move?’

I hadn’t planned to have a go at her, but seeing her there, all innocent and sweet, with her child and my man, it brought back my anger from the night before.

Elliot reached the cafe and stopped, he held the black box in one hand as he watched.

Lorna pushed her seat back and stood. Her face hardened as she looked up at me. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I would have made my move. You didn’t deserve him. Everything always had to be what Siccy wanted.’ She clenched her fists as she leaned towards me. ‘He wasn’t happy with you. He never was.’ Her voice rose to a shout. ‘Like now. You’ve been gone for five years and you turn up at a cafe and berate us because we didn’t die with you. Because we still have a life. You were always a selfish bitch.’

Her words slapped into me, hurting me far more than her fists ever could.

‘Well if you think you can just waltz back in here and take up where you left off you’ve got another thing coming. Joel’s mine now.’ She tilted her head to the side and jutted her chin out.

‘Ummmmm.’ Joel looked between us again.

Elliot shook his head and walked towards us but I put up a hand. I knew the memory of this would be gone for them, but I had to know.

For me, I had to know.

I turned towards Joel. ‘Is that true? Were you unhappy?’

He looked at Lorna for a few second, shaking his head before turning back to me. ‘No, Siccy.’ His voice was low. ‘It isn’t true. I loved you.’ He sighed and shook his head again. ‘I’ve never stopped loving you. But….’ He turned towards Lorna. A man torn between two lives.

‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I get it.’ I picked my sunglasses up and put them back on. ‘Water under a bridge.’

‘Siccy.’ Joel reached a hand towards me. ‘I’ve missed you.’ He cleared his throat. ‘We’ve missed you.’

Lorna glared at me, tears making her blue eyes glassy. With her mouth twisted into a frown, she didn’t look like she’d been missing me. No, she looked more like a lioness guarding her pride.

I smiled at Joel and then swung my backpack up over one arm and turned towards the exit. The entire cafe stared at me, disbelief stamped on their faces. Elliot had his work cut out for him.

‘Mission accomplished,’ I muttered, but the victory was hollow. Lorna’s words twisted in my gut, the venom killing any joy I might have felt at pissing off Elliot.

Was it possible that she had never been there for me? That it had always been Joel she wanted? From that first day in the school yard when we had become a trio?

I blinked at the tears, forcing them away as I wove my way through the tables.

‘Siccy? Is that really Siccy?’ The murmurs followed me but I ignored them. Soon this would just be my memory. Mine and Elliot’s.

Bessy’s roar complemented the confusion I felt as I pulled away from the curb. Already my mind was pulling up memories, looking at them from different angles, looking for evidence of an alternate reality. I had been naive in my confidence.

I knew I had my flaws. I was pushy and stubborn, and if I was totally honest, a little too confident and cocky. But the one thing I wasn’t was deceptive. And Lorna’s long game left me floored.

Of course my self-pity was my undoing. So wrapped up in my thoughts of the past that I didn’t see the kangaroo bounding out from behind the bush until it was too late.

I hit the brakes, the back of the bike skidding to the side as I braced for impact.

Except, it wasn’t a kangaroo. It scuttled more like a dog on its spidery limbs, but no dog that I had ever seen had had two heads.

It reared up onto its hind legs and a second pair of arms unwrapped from around its body.

‘Holy shit.’ I twisted the throttle again, leaning to the side as it aimed a gun at me.

Bessy responded, pulling her previously wayward rear tire back into line as she bucked forwards. I felt something bounce off the back of my shoulder as I raced around it. So not a gun then. Or not a very powerful one.

Another creature ran at me from the other side of the road. It stepped into my path, aimed its weapon and fired.

I swerved to the left, but this time pain lanced in my neck. I reached up and pulled a dart from the side of my throat.

‘What the fuck?’ I stared at it for a second before throwing it to the side.

The road in front of me flickered into two lines of bitumen. I shook my head and they became one again.

‘Ahhhhh, shit.’ I blinked and looked back over my shoulder. The two-headed creatures raced up the road behind me. They were fast, but no match for my bike.

They flickered, and for a second I could see four creatures.

I shook my head again. I just had to hold it together long enough to get home. Just had to put enough distance between myself and whatever-the-fuck-they-were so that I would be safe.

Elliot’s words rang in my head. ‘They can tell. It we are not a united team they can tell.’

I pushed it to the side. It was ridiculous. These weren’t aliens. They were just some weird, mutant dogs. With dart guns.

The road in front of me flickered, but this time no amount of head shaking made it blend back into one.

I laid off the throttle and started braking instead as the world around me swayed. It would do no good to kill myself in a motorbike crash.

My breath came in short sharp pants as I struggled to hang on, but my body felt so heavy. My limbs were like lead.

I put my feet to each side, guiding Bessy off the road as she rolled to a stop.

I needed to sleep. For a thousand years.

For a millenium. For a gabazillion…

I toppled to the side, crashing to the ground with Bessy. She pinned my left leg, the pain a distant sensation, like it was happening to someone else.

I stared at the sky. It was the bluest of blues. The sun’s rays felt warm on my skin.

My eyelids drooped. I tried to keep them open. I wanted to look at the pretty, pretty sky.

Four head replaced my view. Enormous eyes stared down at me. A long, triple-jointed finger poked my cheek. I tried to slap it away, but my hands refused to move.

I wanted just one more look at the sky. Just one more look at the…

My eyelids slid closed, and then the rest of my senses joined the strike.

Blackness cocooned me. A coffin from which I could not escape.

 

***

 

The blue, blue sky was back. I smiled as I stared up at it. So very, very pretty.

A shrub drifted past. And then another. And it occurred to me that perhaps it was me that was moving, and not the shrubs.

Pain accompanied that thought. Sharp and moving, dragging up my spine. My helmet bumped over something hard. A rock?

I lifted my head and blinked a few times. The mutant dogs had taken an ankle each and were dragging me across the hard-packed, red dirt. They hadn’t noticed I was awake.

I flopped my head back down and closed my eyes. No need to ruin the element of surprise. It appeared to be the only advantage I had.

The journey continued for another few minutes making me glad I had worn my Draggin jeans that morning. If the arse of my jeans wasn’t reinforced by Kevlar, the persistent rocks would have ripped a hole by now. As it was, the bruises were going to make sitting painful.

The motion stopped and I debated whether or not to keep playing possum.

It didn’t seem to be a productive plan if their motive was to kill me. But if their motive was to kill me, why would they have dragged me off into the wilderness? Not like they would care if they were seen. Unless for some weird reason they didn’t want my body to be found. But that theory didn’t seem plausible.

Unless…the were planning on eating me and didn’t want to be disturbed.

My eyes shot open as I jerked my legs in a crossed scissor action.

There was no way I was going to be a first-class meal to any critter.

They were still holding my ankles so my movement threw them into each other. Heads clanged, church bells vibrating in the still of the day.

I made a mental note not to try and damage their skulls. Whatever they were made of, they were hard. Their bodies, on the other hand, appeared wizened. White and pruney, like they had spent a couple of hours bathing before the attack.

They dropped my feet, their many hands clutching at their many heads.

I jerked my legs back towards myself, jumping to a stand. I wobbled a little, but it seemed the majority of the drug was out of my system.

They were still preoccupied with the ringing of their skulls when I launched my attack. I picked up a rock and charged towards them. I might not be able to damage their skulls but I could sure as hell keep that ringing going. By the way they were cringing I was guessing it was painful.

The first creature let out a squawk as I cracked the rock down on its head. A second tone joined the original.

I grabbed another rock with my other hand and with two quick thrusts of my fists set off another couple of bell tones.

The second creature dropped to its knees, a low moan whistling through its tiny mouth. I would have felt sorry for it if I hadn’t spied a row of needle teeth. Had they been planning on eating me?

I spun back to use the first creature as a bongo drum but it’s lower arms whipped up and grabbed my hands. I jumped, kicking both legs into the creature’s stomach.

My feet made contact but instead of hitting something hard, the white torso flexed like a rubber band. My legs disappeared into the flexible body up to my knees before I hit the end of the elasticity. Then, I was flung back, my body sailing out behind me like a kite in a strong breeze.

I managed to stick the landing but the mutant dog still held my hands, and now he was flung towards me, flipping in an arc high over my head.

‘Ahhh, shit.’ I couldn’t twist, I couldn’t turn so I did the only thing I could think of to stop my back from being broken.

I flipping backwards, the creature’s motion carrying me high into the air. I spun through a back flip and my steel capped motorbike boots came down with an almighty clang, one foot resting on each of the dog’s two heads.

It shuddered in time with the noise, and the dart gun slid out of a flap on its back. I scooped it up and fired a dart in between its shoulder blades.

The second dog, recovered from its orchestral performance, had pulled its own dart gun from its skin pocket. I dove to the side as a dart flickered past my face, returning fire as I flew through the air.

My dart hit it square in the chest. It let out a distressed sound as it plucked out the metal barb, and then its eyes rolled up and it flopped to the side.

I recovered its gun and fired another dart into each of them. It wouldn’t do to have them wake up and track me down before I could return to my bike. Then I placed one of the guns in my jacket pocket and the other into the waistband of my jeans.

A quick self evaluation revealed a sore left leg from where the bike had landed on it, and bruises on my bottom and back. Nothing permanent or dangerous. I had been lucky.

My body’s drag marks led the way back to my bike. I was lucky on that count too. If they had carried me, rather than dragged me, my chances of finding the road would have been dramatically decreased.

I had been trained in bush craft and navigation (It was stupid to go out prospecting without that sort of knowledge. Your life was only as good as your GPS batteries and your ability to navigate.), but on a hot day without any water, time was your biggest enemy.

I pulled off my helmet and dragged my fingers through my hair. It was slick with sweat. The jacket I unzipped but left on. If there were any more dart-wielding mutant creatures out there it offered me important protection.

I wished I had my hat, but it was in my backpack strapped to my bike. And yet, if I tried to make the trip in this heat with a helmet on, well, I may as well just lie down now and wait for them to wake up.

I checked the dogs, kicking their limp, elastic bodies a few times. It appeared that they were down for the count so I began the long walk back to the road.

So…Lorna. Friend or enemy?

My emotions had been running hot on the subject but now I pushed them to the side.

A purely clinical analysis of the situation, of the years of our friendship, some of those when Joel had been off in Adelaide studying, told me that it hadn’t all been about him. What had been between us had also been true. And yet, she had been adept at covering up her secret yearning for Joel.

What would I have done in a similar situation?

I let out a snort. I wouldn’t have been in a similar situation. My nature was more for direct confrontation than a stealth campaign.

So…she wasn’t an enemy. Not really. But was she a friend?

I sighed as I looked up at the sky. Not even one small, fluffy cloud. Just the way I liked my weather.

What had those things been? With their stretchy skin and their hard heads. What animal could they have started out as? What environmental hazard had warped them into that? Was one of the mines using something in their processing they shouldn’t be?

The hard metal of the dart gun pressed into my hip as Elliot popped into my head. I ignored both of them and went back to my prior pondering.

Lorna had been there for me when I needed her far more than I had even been there for her. She was a natural giver, and, if I was being entirely honest with myself, I was a natural taker.

I sighed again and kicked at a rock.

So, could I blame her for going after the one thing she had always wanted once I was out of the picture?

A tiny bitter part of me resisted the answer but eventually it caved, falling into line with the rational part of my mind.

No. Of course not. I would have done the same thing.

It hurt to admit it, to let her off so easily, but it also brought me a peace I had been missing.

A truck thundered by in the distance and I picked up my pace.

So what was I going to do about Elliot? I wasn’t sure what his game was. What exactly was he trying to achieve with his ridiculous story?

I rounded a stand of thick shrubby bushes and saw the focus of my thoughts standing next to my downed bike. He was kneeling with his back to me, running his fingertips through sand.

I pulled the gun out from my jeans and slipped it into the other pocket of my jacket. No need to give him any more ammunition for his wild story.

‘I hope you’re not planning on stealing my bike?’

He went from kneeling to standing in a blink of an eye. ‘Sicc. You’re okay?’

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ I walked towards him.

He looked at the bike and then at the drag marks before turning back to me.

I shrugged. ‘Had to pee.’

‘You had to pee?’ He enunciated the words carefully.

‘It happens sometimes.’ I grabbed the handle bars of my bike and wrestled her into an upright position. It seemed she had escaped unharmed.

‘So…this,’ he held up a small metal dart, ‘has nothing to do with any of this?’ He waved his hand at the bike and the drag marks.

I took the dart from him and pretended to examine it. ‘Someone’s being playing darts out here?’ I looked around as if expecting to see a dart board. ‘Weird.’ I shrugged and handed it back to him.

His fingers scraped along the skin of my neck as he pushed my hair out of the way. I jerked away from him, but not before he saw what he had been looking for.

‘You get bitten by something?’ He gestured at his own neck.

‘Not that I know of.’ I peered down as if trying to see my neck. ‘Is there a bite there? Must be a mosquito. They’re bastards at this time of the year.’

‘Mosquito. Riiiiggghhht.’ He nodded his head.

‘Anyhoo, got to get going.’ I pulled my helmet back onto my head and threw a leg over Bessy.

He didn’t move as I kick started her, and a glance over my shoulder as I merged back onto the road showed him staring after me. I wiggled the tips of my fingers at him in a mocking little wave.

It wasn’t till I had parked my bike and was climbing over the little fence out the front of Mum’s that I realised something weird.

Elliot hadn’t appeared to have had a vehicle with him. There had been no bike, no car that I had noticed. It was like he had appeared out of thin air.

I shook my head at my own stupidity. He must have parked back further along the road. On the other side. Behind a stand of trees.

‘Siccy, is that you?’ Mum poked her head around the door from the kitchen. ‘Did you have any, urrrr, problems?’

‘No, Mum.’ I unzipped my jacket and hung it up on the hooks by the front door.

‘See Elliot,’ she said. ‘ I told you she would be fine.’

Elliot? What the...?

I strode to the kitchen and stared. Elliot had taken the same seat from the night before, his body dwarfing the table. His legs stretched across the room so that they were almost touching the fridge.

‘Hey Sicc.’ His smile stretched across his face as he lifted his hand and wiggled the tips of his fingers at me.

 

***

 

I really wanted a cup of tea, but Elliot was still in the kitchen with Mum, no doubt filling her head with nonsensical lies. And she’d be lapping them up. I didn’t think I could stomach watching that. So, instead, I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling.

What had those animals been? And, more importantly, what had they been planning to do with me?

Why don’t you ask Elliot?

I pushed the errant thought to the side. There was no way I was going to march out there and demand to know what the hell those two-headed, elastic beasts had been.

I would be lying if I said they hadn’t freaked me out. What with those teeth. Rows and rows of needles. I imagine they would be adept at tearing flesh off bones.

I shuddered. Still not going to ask.

So if Elliot was not to be a source of information where could I go?

The library. I could go to the library.

I pushed to my feet and scooped up my backpack just as there was a knock at the front door. A familiar voice called out, ‘Glenda?’

It was Joel. I played with the strap on my backpack. Should I answer it?

He would have no memory of the cafe scene, plus my former anger had morphed and was now mixed with a little shame. It had not been a nice way to spring on them that I was still alive.

‘Joel.’ The hinges squeaked as Mum pulled the front door open.

‘I came to tell you that Siccy’s bike was gone, but, well, I see it’s parked out the front.’

‘Yes.’

Their voices moved past my door into the lounge. ‘Well, I guess it’s about time it came home. You should have told me, I would have got it for you.’

‘Oh, Joel. You’ve got enough on your plate already.’

‘How are you holding up? I know you were hoping she’d come home yesterday. But, well, Glenda, I think it’s time we all accept that that’s not going to happen.’

‘Oh please.’ I stepped out into the hall. ‘Have a little faith. You think five years in the bush could finish me off?’

Joel turned towards me, his mouth flopping open as he stared at me.

‘Siccy? Is that really you?’

‘Yes, Joel. It’s me.’

He looked so good. So very, very safe. I took a couple of steps towards him, wanting to feel the warmth of his arms around me. To bury my head against him and let him be my rock.

I groaned as Elliot bent his head and stepped through the doorway from the kitchen.

‘Really?’ he said. ‘You couldn’t just hide in your bedroom?’

I jutted out my chin and gritted my teeth. He was so annoying.

‘I mean what is it with you? Do you have some sort of perverse ego mania complex? Always got to be the centre of attention?’

Joel spun towards Elliot. His gaze traveling up higher and higher as Elliot walked towards him. ‘Who are you?’ he asked.

‘Nobody you need to worry about.’ Elliot pulled the black box out of his pocket and poked a finger at the front of it.

‘Have we met before? You look familiar.’ Joel’s voice held a confused quality.

Elliot glared at me over Joel’s head. ‘No mate. Never met you before. I’d remember if I had.’ He held the box up and a flash of red light illuminated Joel’s head. ‘Do you mind?’ He crossed his arms and stared at me.

‘I’m out of here anyway.’ I reached for my motorbike jacket.

‘Leave the bike,’ he said. ‘No need to confuse the poor guy anymore than he already is.’

My fingers flexed around the strap of my backpack but I had to concede he was right. Damn the man. So instead, of fleeing the house, I backed into my bedroom and pushed the door closed.

The conversation started again a few seconds later.

‘I came to tell you that Siccy’s bike was gone, but well, I see it’s parked out the front.’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, I guess it’s about time it came home. You should have told me, I would have got it for you.’

‘Oh, Joel. You’ve got enough on your plate already.’

‘How are you holding up. I know you were hoping she’d come home yesterday. But, well, Glenda, I think it’s time we all accept that that’s not going to happen.’

‘Yes.’ Mum let out a dramatic sigh. ‘It’s time. I know that Joel. Just let me do it in my own way.’

‘Of course, Glenda. Of course.’

Joel’s footsteps moved back to the front door. ‘If you need anything,’ he said, ‘just call me.’

‘Thank you Joel. I will. Give my love to Lorna.’

Joel must have nodded his answer cause I didn’t hear a response. Just the sound of his boots heading back down the front path.

I peeped out between my bedroom curtains, watching as he climbed over the fence and then pulled on his helmet. He’d gotten a new bike sometime in the last five years. This one was shiny and black and didn’t need to be kick started.

He swung a leg over it and, within seconds, was racing away up the road.

I kicked off my boots and sat on the edge of my bed. I could almost feel his embrace. The hardness of his body crushing me against him.

I missed that. I missed it so much.

I’d never realised how much having his support had meant to me. An integral piece of the complex puzzle of who I was.

I’d thought I was strong, but he had been the foundation that had allowed me to be strong. And now that foundation was gone.

I flopped back onto the bed as a nagging pain set up deep inside. I rolled onto my side and pulled my knees to my chest.

It didn’t help.

The pain stole any reason for being. Any motivation for movement.
I knew eventually I would have to get back up. To find a reason to go on.

But for now, I just wanted to lie there.

The library wasn’t going anywhere. Tomorrow I could concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. On putting time between myself and this nightmare.

For now, I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening.

I closed my eyes, the dullness of misery pressing down over me, and eventually, I managed to sleep.

 

***

  The red numbers on the bedside clock said 2:35 A.M.

I’d managed to sleep the entire day, and most of the night away. But that wasn’t what had woken me.

The front door hinges creaked again as the front door closed. I waited for Mum to say something, but, instead, I heard her twisting the handle of my bedroom door.

She was no doubt worried. I hadn’t lost an entire day in misery-induced sleep since Joel had moved to Adelaide to study.

I peered towards the doorway, expecting to see her outline. Instead, a cluster of small shapes moved soundlessly into my room. I tried to make out how many there were. Five, maybe six. Each the size of a small cat.

I doubted that whatever they were they had come to see if I wanted breakfast in bed. Which could only mean one thing.

I threw back the sheet and jumped from the bed, landing in a fighting crouch. Two quick claps of my hands, and the bedside light flicked on.
The creatures scattered in different directions, their movements explosively fast.

One landed on the light shade, another on top of the wardrobe. The third and fourth swung from the curtains while a fifth disappeared under my bed.

The sixth launched itself in a direct assault, a snarling hiss making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Talons extended towards my face as the creature twisted; a living, writhing, knife.

‘Shit.’ I ducked at the last second, my right arm coming around in a knife hand strike which caught it in the side.

I felt a crunch and it let out a howling mew as it changed direction, colliding with the wall with a thud before sliding to the ground. It looked pretty pissed as it lay there, shaking its head from side to side, but it stayed where it was, its lips pulling back in a snarl that revealed a set of bright red teeth.

The two attached to the curtains let out yowls as they leapt at me. I whipped the bedspread off the bed, swinging it around like a bullfighter’s cape. Their knife-like talons caught in the fabric, trapping them for long enough that I was able to wrap them up in the soft cage. I had a couple of seconds to feel remorse as they ripped at the material before the critter on top of the wardrobe sprung.

I swung the bedspread bundle, using it as a barricade to block the attack. It let out a shriek and tumbled to the ground, green liquid spurting from a wound. It appeared those talons were as sharp as they looked.

I raised the bedspread above my head and slammed it to the ground, once, twice and a third time. The bundle stopped writhing on the fourth go, green liquid oozing through to stain the material.

The creature on the light shade sprung to the side, using the wall as a springboard to launch itself at my head.

I dove under it into a somersault, raising my hand in a palm strike as I came back to my feet. I missed and the creature landed on my bed.

‘Oh, come on,’ I said as it raked at my pillow. Feathers puffed up into the air, giving a Christmas-in-July feel as the floated back down.

Red teeth glinted in a sneer as it plunged its blades into my mattress.

‘That’s not very nice.’ Mum was going to be shitty as hell if I let it ruin her mattress.

It waddled to the wall, looking over its shoulder as it lifted a front, bladed paw to the plaster.

‘Not the paint,’ I said.

It let out a chuckle as it dug its talons into the plasterboard. Chunks of material rained down on my bed and I could see a small hole through to the lounge room.

‘Right, that’s it.’ I grabbed the wooden stool and advanced on the animal.

It let out a hiss, but continued in its efforts to deface the wall. I raised the stool above my head and it let out a mocking chuckle. Pain lanced in my ankle as the creature I had forgotten about, the one under my bed, made its move.

‘Shit.’ I staggered backwards as blood gushed from the wound.

It rushed at me and I jammed the stool down, narrowly missing its head.

Its blades hacked into one of the legs, digging deep into the wood and I whipped the stool up. It flung up into the air, its neck bending at an odd angle as its head smacked into the ceiling. There was a sharp cracking noise and then it plummeted like a brick to the floor.

The creature on my bed let out a howl of rage as it sprung at me. I whirled with the stool, bringing it up like a baseball bat, my aim true as I connected with it. Its body flexed around one of the stool’s leg before it soared across the room to smack into the wardrobe. It slid to the floor, green oozing from a gash in its head.

My breath came in sharp pants as I scanned the room. The only animal still moving was the first one to attack.

I limped to it and stomped the stool down on its head, grimacing as green gook squirted out onto the wooden floors.

Then I repeated the procedure with the other five animals. I wasn’t going to fall for any dead possum tricks.

When I was sure that none of them would be coming back to haunt me, I bundled all their bodies into the ruined bedspread.

I was pretty sure Grams would have been pleased to know that the bedspread she had made me had saved my life (from the little I remembered of her she’d been a feisty, old bat), but it still felt wrong to throw it out. It had kept me warm most of my childhood and some of my adulthood.

I mulled it over as I dug through the first aid kit in the bathroom. My wound was more wide than it was deep. I’d had far worse injuries using the pick and shovel while out prospecting. A quick wash, a lick of betadine followed by a couple of Band-aids and I was done.

I transferred the bodies to a garbage bag before taking them out to the bin. I wasn’t ready to part with my bedspread.

It, I placed in a bucket with some washing detergent. The green fluid floated to the top like pond scum. That was promising.

The mattress was relatively unscathed, but the pillow followed the creatures into the bin.

I’d pick up a Gyprock rapid repair kit for the wall at the hardware store that day, and I was pretty sure Mum would still have the can of paint I had used. That just left cleaning the floors.

The red numbers on the clock said 3.13 when I climbed back into bed. I clapped my hands twice, closed my eyes, and promptly fell asleep.

 

Chapter Three

 

Elliot was back at his normal spot in the kitchen by the time I hopped up that morning.

‘Darling.’ Mum jumped up from the chair opposite Elliot. ‘I was about to make some bacon and eggs. You interested?’

I stood in the doorway, weighing up my hunger against my desire to be as far from the man as possible. My hunger won out.

‘Yes, thanks.’ I limped into the room and took the seat against the wall, wiggling back so I was as far from Elliot as possible.

Elliot peered under the table at my leg, his eyebrows raised as he looked back up at me. I ignored him. Truth be told the wound wasn't anywhere near as painful as I had thought it would be.

‘Elliot was just telling me some fascinating facts about the moon,’ Mum said.

‘Really?’ I injected as much enthusiasm into my voice as I would if I’d just been offered a chance to take a class of kindergartners to see Bambi.

‘Yes.’ My sarcasm was lost on Mum. ‘Apparently it was formed a billion years before the Earth.’ She stopped in the process of pulling the bacon from the fridge and turned to look at me. ‘A billion years. Can you imagine?’

I shrugged one shoulder. I was still struggling with having lost five years let alone attempting to contemplate a billion.

‘And its too large to have…hmmm…Elliot dear, how did you phrase that bit?’

‘Too large to have been captured by the gravitational force of the Earth?’

‘Yes, yes and the next bit.’ Her eyes shone bright as she put the eggs on the bench.

‘Oh, that the chances of such a capture having been effected with the moon then taking up a nearly circular orbit around the Earth are too small to make such an eventuality credible.’

Mum let out a sigh. ‘Fancy that,’ she said as she flipped the frying pan onto the stove top. ‘So that means that someone put the moon there.’

‘What?’ I’d been doing my best to pretend disinterest, but that was far too ludicrous to let go. ‘Somebody,’ I used air quotes, ‘put it there? What, like a marble?’

Elliot rolled his eyes. ‘It was steered here from millions of light years away.’

‘Oh course it was.’ I shook my head.

‘Well, how do you explain its positioning?’

‘Perhaps there was a second planet involved in the capture.’ I wasn’t sure where that came from.

‘It would have made the relationship far too unstable. The moon would never have been placed in such a static position with the same side always facing the Earth.’ Elliot leaned forwards and placed his elbows on the table and raised his eyebrows at me.

‘But it would explain the fact that that it is in that geometrically stable orbit while the moon’s centre of mass is actually 2.2 kilometers closer to the Earth than its geometric centre.’ I put my hands on my hips. ‘And also the fact that it doesn’t rotate around the equator like all other satellites, but is inclined to the Earth’s ecliptic by more than five degrees.’ I raised my eyebrows at him.

‘Yes, but what about the moon’s bulge?’ Elliot asked.

‘Oh, please.’ I shook my head. Honestly, it was like debating with a school kid. ‘Even you have to agree that the fact that the moon’s bulge is away from the Earth negates the idea that it could possibly be caused by the Earth’s gravitational pull. It instead backs up my theory of a second planet having been involved.’

‘You are, of course, discounting the fact that the moon is the exact distance from the Earth to completely cover the Earth in an eclipse. That is too precise a measurement to have occurred by chance. There is no astronomical reason why the moon and the sun should fit so well.’

‘Don’t quote Asimov at me.’ I smacked my hand down on the table top. ‘He may have been a scientist but he was also a fiction writer with a fantastical imagination.’

‘Siccy.’ Mum’s eyes were wide. ‘How do you know all that?’

‘I…I….’ I opened and closed my mouth a few times.

Elliot’s mouth stretched into a wide, mocking smile as he leaned back in his seat.

‘You know what?’ I stood up. ‘I’m not that hungry after all.’

‘Where are you going?’ Mum looked from me to the stove top where the bacon crackled merrily.

‘For a ride.’ I felt like my head was about to explode. Like there was something in there trying to get out.

‘You will be careful, won’t you?’

‘Of course.’ I tried to smile at her, but it was a pretty feeble attempt. My face felt like it would crack before a normal smile graced it again.

I dropped my wallet into my backpack and changed into my riding gear. My leg was sore, but nothing that would hinder me. My desire to get out of there was far greater than any pain.

I needed to feel the rush of the air speeding by me.  Everything else in my life had become far too weird. I needed something normal. Something I had always known. Riding had always helped me to forget about my troubles.

‘Oh, Sicc.’ Elliot appeared in the doorway from the kitchen. ‘You’ve got a little something, something….’ He indicated his own left cheek.

I stared into the hallway mirror. A smudge of green stained the skin in front of my ear. I licked the cuff of my jacket and rubbed at it.

‘Be careful,’ he called as I pulled the door shut.

He wouldn’t have been able to see the finger I held up over my shoulder as I hobbled out to my bike, but it still made me feel a whole heap better.

 

 

***
 

The ride didn’t help as much as I had hoped it would. My mind was still roiling when I hit the decreasing speed limits that told me I was almost in town.

I eased back on the throttle, trying to ignore the nagging questions.

Who was Elliot really? How had I known all that stuff about the moon? What was with those animals and their red teeth?

My plan when I left home had been to keep on riding through town and out the other side, but instead, I found myself indicating left at the first major intersection and heading for the library.

It seemed I needed answers more than I needed fresh air.

I pulled my hat low on my head as I entered the building. My precautions were unnecessary. I didn’t recognise the young, blonde lady sorting through the books at the front counter, and there appeared to be no one else there.

I gave her a smile and a wave as I headed in the direction of the computers. Mum had never seen the need for one, and I was guessing my old laptop was long gone.

My first search, Elliot Shakespeare, brought up an academic paper on T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare (yawn) and some Facebook profiles. I’d never bothered to get a Facebook account so I was unable to view who they were, but I was guessing they weren’t this Elliot.

From there I moved onto searches on weird creatures seen in Kalgoorlie.

That brought up some disturbing photos, but nothing that had actually been found in Kalgoorlie, and even then, none that looked even remotely like what I had seen.

Kalgoorlie mine fined for environmental damage. Mining pollutants produce mutant creatures. Mining effluents damaging environment. Mining effluents speed up evolution.

My searches were coming up empty. There wasn’t even a whiff of a mining scandal to follow.

Two-headed dog sighted near Kalgoorlie. Animals with red teeth and green blood.

I sighed and pushed back from the computer while I thought.

‘You’re asking the wrong questions.’

‘Fuck,’ I yelped, swinging around to glare at Elliot. ‘Don’t you ever knock.’

He leaned forwards and wrapped his knuckles on the table top a couple of times.

‘Smart arse.’ I swung back to the computer and erased my latest search. ‘So,’ I said, ‘what is the correct question?’

‘Any question directed at me.’

I stared at him, desperately wanting to beg him for answers. I was sure though, that he was a big part of whatever that answer was, and while he may have charmed my mother, he certainly wasn’t charming me.

‘Not going there.’ I stood up and grabbed my jacket off the back of the chair.

‘You know….’

I backed away as he reached a hand towards my face. The edge of the computer table dug into the back of my thighs.

His fingers grabbed a piece of stray hair, sliding along its length till the very end. ‘You really should have showered before you left home this morning.’

He rubbed his thumb and fingertips together and then held them out to me. Green stained the skin there. ‘Are you sure you don’t have any questions for me?’

‘Nope.’ I shook my head as I stepped sideways. ‘Nahaaa. Nothing. Zip.’

He let out a chuckle as he shook his head. ‘This is going to be so much fun.’

I paused in the process of turning towards the exit. ‘You and I obviously have very different ideas of fun.’

‘Oh, no, fun for me, not for you.’ He pulled a face. ‘I’m not even one hundred percent you have what it takes to survive. I mean look.’ He flicked a hand at my damaged leg. ‘You barely survived a gang of Narwhats. What are you going to do when the Flying Terrors show up?’

Flying Terrors?

I stiffened my spine. ‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’

‘Oh they’re massive. Wingspan the size of small staduim. They have this cry…kind of like a cross between a cheetah screaming and nails being dragged down a blackboard. The sound of that alone has been known to take a man to his knees. Their favourite method of killing is to bite your head right off.’ He shrugged. ‘At least it will be quick. Now the Scarcorns on the other hand, well, they like to take it slow.’

I turned back towards the exit. The librarian was looking in our direction, a frown on her face. I resisted the urge to give her the finger, it wasn’t her fault I was in such a foul mood.

Instead, I plastered a smile on my face as I marched towards her. ‘So sorry about the noise,’ I said.

‘What are you going to do Sicc?’ Elliot’s voice trailed after me.

The librarian’s frown grew even frostier.

Honestly. I wasn’t sure what her problem was. It wasn’t like there was anybody else even in the damn place.

A cry like a cross between a screaming cheetah and nails being dragged down a blackboard?

A gun. I was going to need a gun. And not any gun. I wanted my guns.

No doubt they were still locked in the gun cabinet at my old house. Which meant either breaking and entering, or having to see Joel and/or Lorna.

I shrugged. Either way meant Elliot having to clean up after me.

That put the first smile on my face that I’d had all day.

 

***

Both Joel’s bike and a shiny, new SUV I was assuming was Lorna’s kid-safe car, were parked in the drive.

I sighed. Why couldn’t it be easy? Maybe I should just come back another time when they were out?

Now the Scarcorns on the other hand, well, they like to take it slow.

Nope. It had to be now.

I didn’t feel like knocking on the front door and going through the whole Siccy-is-it-really-you dance. That was getting old, fast.

Instead, I slipped down the side of the house to the backyard. A small sandpit, and a slippery slide and swing set were new editions. I let out a puff of air as I stared at them.

It should have been me.

I should have been the one to have children with Joel.

Not that we had had any plans to yet.

We’d still been young. Just in our early thirties.

And while everyone else we knew had started to pop out babies years ago, we had both agreed we’d had plenty of time.

There had still been so much we had wanted to do. So many places we had wanted to see. There had been no room for children yet.

Was it you, or Joel who hadn’t wanted kids yet? I froze as the thought popped into my head. It had been both of us, I hissed back.

I turned my back on the sandpit and moved toward the back door. A new, larger outdoor setting sat on the back porch. A crisp, white table cloth was pinned down by some plates and cutlery, and a small posy of flowers sat in the middle.

I pressed myself against the wall and peered through the back door. Little Sicily sat in the lounge, a pile of Lego at her feet. Monday was obviously not her day to go to kindergarten.
The gun cupboard was kept in the office. But the keys were in the kitchen. It would take a miracle to get in and out without detection.

Lorna appeared in the doorway from the kitchen into the lounge, hovering as she checked on her offspring. Apparently satisfied that all was well, she disappeared again.

I reached out a hand and tried the sliding door. It moved enough to let me know it was unlocked. Great. Now all I had to do was come up with some sort of distraction that would give me the minutes I needed.

I heard Lornas’ voice through the glass of the door.‘Sicily, breakfast is ready. Come help me.’

Sicily pivoted to look toward the kitchen. She looked back at her Lego creation and then back at the kitchen.

Now, Sicily.’

Defiance crossed her little face for a second before her shoulders slumped in defeat. She put down her Lego and jumped to her feet, but she dragged the tips of her shoes along the floor as she went.

Joel walked through the lounge to the kitchen, wearing his prospecting clothes. Was he going out today?

I waited for him to disappear into the kitchen and then I slid the door open wide enough for me to enter. I shut it again and then squatted down behind the couch. Problem was, they were in the kitchen, which was where the keys were.

Should I just march in there and get them?

‘Such a nice day,’ Lorna said. ‘I thought we could have breakfast outside. Sicily, you bring the orange juice. Joel, love, can you bring out the croissants?’

Crap. I wiggled back as far as I could, hoping they didn’t look backwards as they exited the lounge. The couch gave me some protection but I was still visible from that direction.

Lorna slid the door open, a platter with what smelt like bacon, cradled in her other arm.

Sicily marched past next. She seemed to be taking her job of carrying the glass jug full of orange juice very seriously.

Of course it had to be Joel who shut the door. Lorna probably wouldn’t have noticed me squashed where I was. She lived more in her head than in reality most of the time. But Joel was a details person. Like me. And details people tend to be pretty observant.

I saw the shock flash across his face, followed by anger. He slid the door back open and roared into the room, croissants flying in all directions. Lorna was not going to be happy about that.

I sprang to my feet before he could get to me, holding my arms up ready to block anything he threw at me.

‘Chill your shit, Joel,’ I yelled. ‘It’s just me.’

‘Siccy?’ He froze in the act of throwing a right hook.

‘Duh?’ I jumped over the back of the couch and squatted to pick up a croissant. I had forgotten how hungry I was till I’d smelt the bacon. ‘Do you mind?’ I held the pastry up for a second before I took a bite out of it. I chewed a few times and swallowed. ‘Interesting texture,’ I said, looking at the croissant.

‘They’re gluten free,’ he said.

‘Oh, right.’

Lorna, now bacon free, hung onto the sliding glass door.

‘Think she’s about to drop.’ I nodded my head at Lorna before taking another bite of the croissant. Gluten free or not, it was better than the nagging hunger.

Joel spun back to Lorna. ‘Hey hun, let’s get you onto the couch.’ He grasped her arm and led her to the sofa.

‘Siccy?’ she said. ‘Is that you?’

I let out a deep sigh. ‘Do you mind if I have some bacon?’ My stomach had just reminded me that I also hadn’t had dinner the night before.

‘Put your head between your legs and take a deep breath.’ Joel stared at me while he patted Lorna on the back.

‘Need to lie down,’ Lorna mumbled.

I darted around them and out the back to the table. There were eggs as well as bacon. Oh, joy.

Sicily put her thumb in her mouth as I approached her. Huge eyes stared at me as I ripped open the croissant and shoved some bacon and an egg into it.

‘Nice Lego,’ I said. ‘What you making?’

She spoke around her thumb. ‘A spaceship.’

‘Really?’ I took a bite of my creation. It tasted much better with the bacon and egg. ‘Why a spaceship?’

‘I saw one the other day, but Daddy and Mummy don’t believe me.’

I chewed a bit more slowly as I stared at her. ‘You saw one?’

‘Ahuh.’ She took her thumb out of her mouth and pointed up into the sky. ‘Over there.’

I looked in the direction she was pointing. Out towards the gold fields.

‘Siccy.’ Joel walked towards me. ‘What? How?’ He shook his head.

‘You should eat before it gets cold.’ I waved my croissant at him. ‘They’re not so bad once you get used to them.’

He shook his head. ‘You’ve been gone for....’

‘Yeah, I know. Five years.’

‘And all you want to talk about is croissants?’

I shrugged and popped the last of my breakfast into my mouth.

Knowing he wasn’t going to remember anything made me less inclined to want to be bothered with conversation. I’d already learned what I needed to know. Now, I had more pressing concerns. Like things that went bump in the night.

‘Joel, I’d love to stay and chat, but right now, I need my guns. Do you still have them?’

‘Of course.’ He closed the gap between us. ‘What is it? Are you in some sort of trouble?’

I scratched at my ear. Was I in some sort of trouble?

‘Kind of,’ I finally said. ‘I’m just not sure what yet.’

‘Let me help you.’ He took my hands. ‘Whatever it is, let me help you.’

‘And then what? We can live happily ever after?’ I looked down at Sicily. Her thumb was back in her mouth as she stared up at us. ‘Nah, Joel. You’ve got responsibilities now. You belong here.’

He stared at Sicily, pride and joy and sadness all rolled up into one weird energy ball.

‘It’s okay.’ I put a hand on his face. ‘I get it. You did what you needed to do. I’m not angry.’

It was the truth. The anger had gone, washing away to leave me just with sad.

‘You’re not?’ He tilted his head to the side as he stared at me.

‘Not anymore.’ Tears prickled at the corners of my eyes. ‘Look, as I said, I’d love to stay and chat, but right now....’

‘You need your guns.’

I followed him back to the house and retrieved my backpack from behind the lounge, being careful not to disturb the unconscious Lorna. Then I followed Joel into the kitchen. The keys were where they had always been.

We trooped back to the office and I tapped my foot while I waited for Joel to unlock the gun cabinet.

‘Here.’ He handed me the holster we’d had specially made. It housed my pistol on the side and my rifle on my back, and had secondary slots for extra weapons. He waited while I strapped it on before handing me my pistol and my rifle. A couple of boxes of ammunition for each followed.

‘Your gun licence is still valid. Your Mum was quite insistent about that.’

I shoved the ammo into my backpack. ‘Thanks Joel. You’re the best.’

‘Promise me when whatever it is you’re mixed up in is over you’ll come back.’ He grabbed one of my hands and wrapped both of his around it.

It felt really nice. Waaaaaayyy to nice.

‘What for? So I can babysit for you?’

‘That’s not fair.’

‘No, it’s not.’ I pulled my hand away. It would be too easy to get used to the feel of that. ‘None of this is fair, and yet it happened. Now we’ve got to deal with the shitty hand we’ve been dealt.’

I stared up into his face. There were things I needed to say. Thing I needed him to hear, even if I knew Elliot was going to take that away. But for myself, and my ability to get past this, I needed to say it anyway.

‘Joel Cunningham. You were my reason for living. I didn’t realise that till yesterday.’

He opened his mouth and I pressed my fingers to his lips.

‘Shhhhh. Let me finish. I may not get another chance.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Everything I did, everything I achieved, was because of you, and your love and support.’ Another shuddering breath. ‘I love you. More than you can ever imagine, and if I’d had my way, I would have spent the rest of my life making your life miserable.’

His lips moved against my fingers as he smiled.

‘But that can’t ever happen now.’ I wiped at my eyes with my spare hand. ‘I get that. Somehow, I screwed up. I’m not sure how, or why, but I want to say how sorry I am. I’m sorry for the pain I put you through. I’m sorry for deserting you. But mostly, I’m sorry for coming back and confusing you.’

A dark shadow moved in the doorway behind Joel. I tensed for a second until I realised it wasn’t a flying terror or a scarcorn or some other creature from my wildest imagination. It was Elliot.

Joel wouldn’t be confused for too much longer.

I nodded my head toward Elliot and Joel spun to look at the doorway.

‘Who...? Do I know you?’ Joel tilted his head to the side and scratched at his head. ‘We’ve met before haven’t we? I just can’t remember where.’

Elliot shook his head as he walked towards Joel. ‘You two are cut from the same cloth. It could never have worked.’

‘What are you talking about?’ I stepped defensively in front of Joel.

‘You’re both too strong willed and stubborn.’

I put my hands on my hips. ‘It worked well enough for a very long time, thank you very much.’

‘Siccy, is this the trouble you’re in?’ Joel’s voice was hard as he moved me to my side.

‘He’s not trouble.’ I wasn’t sure when I had come to that conclusion. ‘He’s just really, really annoying.’

Elliot threw back his head and let out a deep laugh. ‘You think that...about the working well I mean...and yet here you are.’ He cocked his head to the side and smiled a smile so smug I wanted to rip it off his face.

‘What are you talking about?’ I stalked towards him.

‘Just saying there’s a reason for everything.’

I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists but I held back the punch I was dying to throw. If I punched Elliot, Joel would come to my defence, and well, I wasn’t sure how that was all going to go down. We’d wreck the joint for sure, but I wasn’t so sure that Joel and I, karate black belts not withstanding, would be able to beat Elliot.

He had an ominous feel about him. A panther ready to strike.

So instead, I took a deep breath, and stepped back.

Elliot nodded at me as he pulled the little black box out of his pocket. I grabbed my bag and headed for the back door. I didn’t want to go back to Joel not knowing about me. It hurt too much.

I nodded at Sicily, now sitting on the end of the couch next to Lorna’s feet. ‘See you later kid.’

‘Is he a spaceman?’ she asked.

‘Who?’ I looked back over my shoulder towards the office. ‘The big man?’

She nodded her head.

‘What makes you ask that?’

It was hard to tell as the words, coming out from around her thumb were a little garbled, but I was pretty sure she said, ‘He was driving the spaceship I saw.’

***

I grabbed a Gyprok Rapid Repair kit and placed it in the hardware store basket.

He was driving the spaceship?

Pfhhhhh. She’s what? Four?

Four, with a vivid imagination.

Did I need extra filler? The hole had been pretty nasty.

‘Can I help you?’

My hat was as low as I could get it but it didn’t feel low enough as Bobby Stanson approached to me.

‘Ummmm.’ I used examining the shelf as an excuse to turn my back on him. ‘You got any locks?’

‘What sort of locks? Padlocks?’

‘No. Door locks. Dead locks. Things like that.’

‘Sure. They’re over in aisle two. You need help choosing the right one?’

I held my hand up beside my head as I walked away from him. ‘All good, thanks.’

I blew at a piece of hair that had escaped the confines of the hat. It would be just my luck that Bobby would be working at the hardware store. People didn’t normally forget your face when you broke their arm. Not that he hadn’t deserved it. Bullying the third graders the way he had. Shame on any grade sixer who did that.

The hair tickled my nose again and I moved the basket to my right arm so I could tuck the offending hair back behind my ear.

Of course the fact that I had been one of the third graders had made the shame more painful than the break.

Three dead locks joined the repair kit in my basket. I took my sunglasses out of the top of my tank top and slipped them on as I approached the counter.

‘Find everything you need?’ Bobby asked me.

‘Ahuh.’ I pulled my wallet out and handed him the shiny bank card Mum had given me.

‘Paywave okay?’

‘Sure.’ I guess.

I had no idea what Paywave was. I also had no idea how much money was in my account. I was going to have to look into that. I was also going to have to find a way to earn more money. No matter how generous Joel had been it wasn’t going to last me forever.

‘Sicily? Sicily Jones?’ Bobby held the card up, his eyes flicking from it to my face.

Ahhhh, shit.

‘Hey, Bobby. You’re looking good.’

I scooped my purchases off the counter into my backpack.

‘But you’re...dead.’ He took a step back from the counter.

‘Honestly, Bobby. Do I look dead to you?’

I saw his Adam’s apple bob as he shook his head.

‘You shouldn’t believe everything you read.’

‘Your mum told everyone you had been abducted...,’ he threw a nervous look over his shoulder, ‘by aliens.’ He said the last two words in a whisper.

‘And you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.’

I grabbed my card from his frozen fingers and stuffed it back into my wallet. Then, humming the theme tune to Twilight Zone, I headed for the exit. ‘See you, Bobby.’ I looked back over my shoulder.

He already had his phone in his hand and was tapping rapidly at the screen.

I let out a sigh. Where was Elliot when you needed him? Maybe I should get him on speed dial. Of course that would mean getting a mobile phone first.

It only took a second to secure my bag onto the back of Bessy and then I was heading for home.

The ride was uneventful and fifteen minutes later I was lugging my purchases through the front door.

I placed my bag on my bed and pulled out the locks and repair kit. I was going to need tools.

Mum had a small shed in the backyard which had held my old tools. I was hoping they were still there.

I pulled open the back door and stepped into the yard. Mum was at the clothesline. A half-hung basket of clothes at her feet as she stared at what she had just hung out.

She jumped at the noise of the rear screen slamming and spun towards me with a hand pressed to her chest.

‘Oh, Siccy. You gave me a fright.’

It was my bedspread. Most of the green gook had come out but the centre of it was in tatters. The little bastards had certainly hacked it up before I had managed to neutralise them.

‘Sorry, I was going to wash that.’

She nodded, her eyes a little wide as they went from the bedspread, to my leg, to my face.

‘Can we save it?’

‘Hmmmm. If I stitch it all down onto another piece of fabric, maybe.’

'That would be great, if it's not too much trouble?'

'No.' Her eyes were still wide as she shook her head. 'Of course not.'

'Hey Mum, do you still have my tools?'

'All where you left them.'

'Thanks.' I gave her my widest smile as I hurried to the shed. The less questions about the bedspread the better.

She was right. They were all exactly where I had left them. She had even dusted them.

I placed the drill battery onto the charger and took the rest of what I needed into the house.
Then, while I waited for the jug to boil, I opened up the repair kit and started on the wall in my room.

It took the rest of the day to install the dead locks on the front and rear doors to the house as well as my bedroom. Mum watched me with a worried look on her face, but didn’t ask any questions.

Elliot returned home as I was placing the second coat of paint over my wall repair. I listened with amusement as he twisted the front door knob a few times. His knock sounded like he was about to beat the door in, but I ignored it.

‘Honestly, Siccy,’ Mum said as she bustled to the front door.

‘What?’ I raised my hands innocently in the air. Paint smeared my fingers.

She looked at my wall, shuddered, and then turned her attention to letting Elliot in.

He didn’t mention the addition of the lock, but his smile, as he stuck his head into my bedroom, told me he had noted it and was finding the whole situation amusing. I ignored him.

‘I thought perhaps you would let me cook tonight?’ he said to Mum as they walked towards the kitchen. ‘I’m a dab hand at roast lamb.’

‘That would be lovely. Do you get much lamb in space?’

I rolled my eyes as I dabbed at the wall with the brush. Honestly. The crap he was feeding Mum. Like she hadn’t been a bit on the weird side already. I was going to have to expose him as the fraud he was or suffer the consequences for the rest of my life.

Fraud or not, the man could cook. His roast lamb was sensational.

I chewed it slowly, only half listening to his and Mum’s conversation about how they had cooked legs of lamb back in the 1800’s. I had more important problems to solve than cuts of meat, and I wasn’t making very good progress.

All I had so far was this.

1. Something weird was going on.
2. Elliot was a key pivotal part of that something weird.
3. I did not trust Elliot.
4. Elliot said that I been trained as an alien assassin. Read number three.
5. Something had happened to me during the last five years. I had been somewhere. I just needed to remember something about it. Anything that would give me somewhere to start exploring.

I cleared the table and did the dishes while the two of them kept talking.

What was the one big thing? The one connecting thing here that tied everything together?

Elliot.

Okay. So what did Elliot want? What was his real motive for being there?

We moved into the lounge. Mum and Elliot taking the single seater chairs next to each other so they could continue their conversation. They had moved from 1800 cooking techniques of meats to bread baking.

I happily took the three seater, flopping down to lie with my head on the arm rest.

Was Elliot responsible for the animal attacks? Did he have some weird, genetic-mutation circus connections?

Nah. That didn’t make sense.

Unless...it was all just to convince me that I had been abducted. All just a plan to brainwash me, to get me to a susceptible victim state so that he could take me back to wherever I had been for the last five years.

Well, that wasn’t going to happen.

Something large smacked into the roof of the house. I let out a yelp and jerked up into a seated position.

Elliot patted Mum’s leg and made soothing noises as she clutched at her throat.

‘What...was...that?’ she whispered.

‘A possum?’ he suggested.

Metal screamed in protest as something - claws? - were dragged along it.

‘A very large possum,’ Elliot corrected.

A second thump in the backyard had me springing to my feet. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as a shriek was followed by an almighty thump. It sounded like, whatever it was, had just ripped the clothesline out of the ground.

‘Holy shit,’ I breathed.

‘What are you going to do Siccy?’ Elliot asked.

‘What am I going to do? Don’t you mean what are we going to do?’ I crouched a little lower as banging started up on the roof.

Mum’s hands were over her mouth, her eyes bulging in terror as she stared at the ceiling.

‘No.’ He shrugged. ‘I distinctly remember you rejecting my offer to work as a team.’

‘But...’ I raised my hands and peered towards the kitchen. I could see a shadow moving through the rear windows.

Something - a tail? - snapped around, smacking into the side of the house. The building shuddered on its foundations. ‘They’re going to destroy the house.’

Elliot pulled a face and shrugged. ‘Geez, Sicc. Really wish I could help.’ He turned to Mum. ‘Anything good on television on Monday nights?’

I bolted for my room and grabbed my weapon holster. It took just moments to strap it on. I already had my rifle and pistol in their slots, and boxes of ammunition in the pockets, but now I added the two dart guns I had seconded.

The front door knob twisted and wiggled and then something threw its weight at the door. I shoved my wallet into my pocket and then sprinted back to the lounge.

‘Mum,’ I yelled. ‘Come on. We’ve got to go.’

‘Your Mum will be quite safe here with me.’ Elliot looked up from the television. The Home and Away credits were rolling. ‘It’s you they want.’

‘What are you talking about?’ I yelled over the banging coming from the front door.

He shrugged. ‘They know you’re an unsecured asset. Now they are coming to either kill you or kidnap you.’ He looked at his hands as if considering whether or not he needed a manicure. ‘The training A.P.E. Assassins receive is unlike an other team in the galaxy. We are elite.’ He looked up at me. ‘There’s a lot of knowledge in your head that could be prised out with certain torture techniques.’

White flickering flashing lights danced through the gaps in the curtains and a weird slurping noise reverberated through the walls.

He pulled a face. ‘Looks like you’re out of time. You better get going.’

‘But...what...where...?’

The banging on the front door stopped and then a hissing sound started. Sparks flew through the gap between the door and the frame at the points of the dead lock and hinges.

‘You’ve got five seconds. What you going to do Sicc?’ Elliot’s voice was hard. ‘You going to join me? Take these mothers out together?’

I stared at him. Join him? Take up arms together?

I still didn’t know what the hell was going on and had no idea who the real enemy was.

‘Fuck that,’ I said.

The front door slammed to the ground like a flattened piece of cardboard. I pulled out my pistol as I ran towards it.

A black, humanoid shape jumped nimbly onto the door. My first bullet took it in the chest, my second glanced off its shiny black skull. It staggered to the side but remained upright.

A second figure moved in behind it. I leapt up, my left leg extended in front of me like a battering ram as I flew threw the air. I put a round into the second figure as my foot struck the first. The combined force of my body weight and my ammunition threw the two of them backwards back out of the house.

I landed in a crouch. My breath coming in short pants as I scanned the front yard.

A wing draped down over my bedroom window. My eyes followed it up to where it connected with the rest of whatever-the-fuck-it-was. I was guessing flying terror but was hoping like hell I was wrong. I liked my head right where it was.

Another couple of the humanoid shapes appeared from the side of the house. I was pretty sure I could get to Bessy before they got to me.

I took off like a sprinter in the Olympic finals of the 100 metre sprint. Yippering, chattering noises broke out behind me as I hurdled the fence.

I threw myself onto the bike, thankful that I had left the keys in her as I jerked her upright, kicked in the side stand and punched the start button at the same time. She roared to life and I crouched low over the handlebars, my gun still in my hand as I roared away.

A quick glance over my shoulder showed me at least a dozen of those critters streaming out onto the road behind me. They were fast. As fast as I was going.

I prayed that no kangaroo had decided that the grass was actually greener on the other side of the road as I opened Bessy up. Kangaroos weren’t as scary as the things chasing me down, but at the end of the day, dead was dead no matter how you did it.

A look over my shoulder showed me them dropping off. A smile stretched my lips.

So they weren’t as fast as my girl at full speed. That was good to know.

‘Shit.’ I swerved to the side as a dark shape jumped at me.

It wasn’t a kangaroo. It was another of those two-headed lizards. I shoved my pistol away and grabbed out a dart gun, backing off on the throttle a little.

I could just make it out in the side mirror. It’s white body glowing in the moonlight as it hurdled down the road after me. My back muscles twitched. I wish I had my jacket. And my helmet. But it didn’t seem to be going for its dart gun yet.

When I could make out its faces in my mirror, I swiveled and popped a dart into its chest.

Its facial expressions turned from triumph to confusion as it slowed down. I didn’t wait around to watch it collapse. I was sure there were more of them out there.

Game plan. I needed a game plan.

Where was I going and what was I going to do once I got there? Bessy was pretty fuel efficient but I was going to need fuel soon. And ammunition.

How many of these things were there anyway? And what was the best way to neutralise them?

The two-headed ones seemed to be pretty susceptible to their own darts but I had no idea how many were left in the guns.

Information sure would be handy right about now.

Elliot’s face flashed into my brain. He had all the information I needed.

‘Not going there,’ I said out loud. I could work this out myself.

20/08/2018

 

A rock crashed to the road a couple of metres in front of me.

‘Crap.’ I jerked the handle bars to the side, almost losing control of Bessy as I skidded around the obstacle.

A shadow passed over me. Ahhh, crap. Whatever-the-fuck-it-was had hopped off the roof.

Another rock followed the first. I avoided that one easily.

‘That the best you can do,’ I screamed up at it.

The downdraft from its flapping wings buffeted me as it hovered above. I aimed up at it and fired off three rounds.

Drips of liquid rained down on me as it screamed in pain. It rolled to the side and flew off into the night.

Huh. After Elliot’s big song and dance about flying terrors I had expected them to be more formidable.

The road sign indicating I was approaching the turn off to town whipped by me.

Did I go to town, or away from it?

While the thought of fleeing to town was tempting, I knew it was a false promise of safety. All I would be doing was using civilians as shields. And that wasn’t how we operated.

Whoa. How we operated? Where the hell had that come from?

A scream that caused every single hair on my body to stand on end, ripped through the night sky. Goosebumps broke out over my skin as I shuddered.

A shadow the size of a football field blocked out the moonlight. I risked a glance up over my shoulder and then immediately wished I hadn’t.

It was enormous. No, ginormous. No...it was fucking massive. A mountain of shiny black flesh and scary dagger teeth. Red eyes glowed in the night sky as it passed over me.

The T junction loomed ahead. Town or Rural? Where did I stand the greatest chance? Where would I cause the least amount of collateral damage?

I swore and slowed the minimum amount possible to take the turn away from town. The Flying Terror let out another cry and ice danced over my skin.

I could feel my heart threatening to beat its way up out of my chest and into my mouth. My breathing came in whimpering pants.

Something my own size I could fight. Something a little bigger I could take out with my weapons. But I had no freakin’ idea how I could take out something the size of a passenger jet. A passenger jet that wanted to take my head off.

I needed some cover. Somewhere I could dodge and hide. Somewhere that could give me time to think.

There was nothing in this direction for a hundred kilometres. Nothing, except the petrol station.

I sucked on my bottom lip. I hadn’t wanted to involve anybody else, but if I didn’t find some cover I was dead for sure. And nobody really drove out here at this time of night. Except the occasional truck. And usually they were already holed up in town at the Kalgoorlie Inn.

So that meant just the station attendant. Just the one civilian. Surely I could protect them as well.

The lights from the station brightened the horizon. I was nearly there.

I looked over my right shoulder. The Flying Terror was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it had decided I wasn’t worth the effort.

Or perhaps it had circled around and was coming from the...

I let out a shriek as the downdraft of giant wings buffeted me. Bessy jerked to the right as I fought to maintain control of her.

Giant, black teeth snapped together where my head had been a microsecond ago. Cold breath frosted my skin and saliva splashed onto my arm.

I yanked the handlebars to the side and ducked as it turned its head and opened its jaws wide. I stared into its mouth, part of me screaming and jabbering in horror while another part of me quite calmly counted the rows of teeth disappearing down into its throat.

Three...Four...

And then it was past me, its momentum carrying it off before it could finish the job.

The breath I didn’t know I had been holding left me in a whoosh. I sagged over the handlebars as my body started to shake.

Its scream, raw and painful, echoed through the still sky. I wanted to get off my bike and cower on the ground. I wanted to put my arms over my head and shut my eyes and pretend it was all a bad dream.

Instead, I focused on the lights from the service station. They were closer, much closer.

It returned much faster this time. Its red eyes, glowing coals intent on its prey. Me.

I grabbed a pistol from my holster with my left hand. I wasn’t as accurate a shot with it as my right, but I could hit a house if I had to, and that was smaller than this target.

I fired off a couple of rounds as it zoomed towards me. I’m not sure if the bullets even touched it, but it let out a scream that had me gibbering in fear. Its shadow threw me into total darkness except for the red glow of its demonic eyes.

I screamed and threw myself to the side as it lunged at me. Its teeth clanged together an inch from my ear, a bear trap springing shut.

I aimed my pistol up over my shoulder and emptied the contents into its scaly throat. Green fluid gushed out over me as it roared. Its wings slammed into me, throwing me sideways.

I fought to maintain control over Bessy and lost. She bucked beneath me, throwing me forwards and for the second time that evening I wished for my helmet and jacket.

I tucked into a ball and flipped my body but I knew I was going way too fast to land it. The only chance I had of survival was to protect my head and roll.

My shoulder smashed into the tarmac as I flipped over it. There was a searing pain as my rifle dug into my back and then the Kevlar in my jeans was taking the force. The soles of my boots had contact with the road for a millisecond before my shoulder smashed in again.

Then my back. Then my arse. Then my boots. Then my...

Out of the corner of my eyes I saw Bessy sliding down the road beside me. She flipped into the air and smashed down on her other side and tears filled my eyes.

I loved my bike more than anything else I owned. Even more than my guns. She was my freedom when nothing else in the world was going right. And now, she was disintegrating before my eyes.

I gritted my teeth as my skin ripped and my muscles screamed. I would make that fucking terror pay if it was the last thing I did. I owed Bessy that much.

I rolled to a stop and jumped to my feet. My joints screamed in protest but I ignored them.

I only had moments before it was back and I was still too far from the petrol station.

I shoved my pistol back in the holster and reached my hand over my shoulder for my rifle. The butt ripped off in my hand.

‘Fuck,’ I screamed as I threw the offending piece of plastic at the road.

Fuck Joel and fuck the stupid plastic Steyr he had insisted I get. Sure the lightness of the plastic frame was great, but what would be even better at that precise point in time was a fucking rifle that was still fucking intact.

It made me even gladder I had ignored him when he had suggested I get a Glock over my Beretta.

Except my Beretta was empty and I didn’t have time to reload it. The red glowing eyes were closing on me way too fast.

I took off in a sprint towards the petrol station, concentrating on the feel of my limbs moving. The landscape whipped by me as I jumped over poor Bessy. She’d ended up a fair way further down the road than I had.

A glance over my shoulder showed the flying terror closing fast. I waited till the last second and then dove to the side. The tarmac ripped at my already open wounds, but I welcomed the pain. It meant I was still alive.

It missed me with its teeth, but its tail whipped down, a spike on the end gouging a hole out of the road and a chunk of flesh off my side.

‘Garrrrhhhhh.’ I was alive. ‘Aghhhhhhh.’ I was still alive.

I pushed myself up and started running for the petrol station.

I could see the sign. I focused on that, on getting there as fast as possible. I pumped my arms and made my legs move as fast as they could.

The red coals, pinpricks in the night, were getting larger.

The lights from the fuel station grew till they illuminated the road beneath my feet. I was going to make it.

Another glance over my shoulder and the terror was almost upon me. I raced into the service station driveway and threw myself beneath the pump station awning.

It let out a shriek as it rolled to the side. The spike on its tail flicked out, smashing into the sign. Sparks flew as plastic exploded out in a shower over the driveway.

I cowered on the ground with my arms over my head and shuddered as it let out another cry. Elliot had not been lying about it sounding like a cross between a cheetah screaming and nails being dragged down a blackboard.

It made me wonder what else he had not been lying about.

‘What...was...that?’ The reedy voice came from the petrol station.

I took my arms away from my head and pushed up onto my knees. ‘A flying terror.’

The attendant was young. Eighteen tops. He cast a nervous glance up into the sky before scuttling towards me. ‘It looks like a Pterosaur. But bigger. Much bigger.’

‘And a pterosaur is...?’

‘A flying dinosaur.’ He licked his lips and glanced out into the night again.

I glanced around the station. No trucks. No other cars. No other people. Just the attendant.

‘You drive to work?’

He shook his head as he stared out into the night. ‘Mum dropped me off.’

‘What time does your shift end?’

‘Midnight.’ He didn’t take his eyes from the night sky.

I looked at my watch. Midnight was hours away. Either way, this would all be over well before then. ‘Is it coming back yet?’

‘Uhuh.’ His Adam’s apple bobbed as he nodded his head.

I sighed as I pushed my hair back behind my ears. I’d lost my hair band somewhere along the way. I stood up and grabbed the box that held my Beretta’s ammunition.

The attendant’s eyes widened as he looked me up and down. ‘Geez,’ he said. ‘What happened to you?’

I cast a quick look down at myself. Blood covered me. Some of it weeping from my open wounds, some of it soaked into the tattered remains of my shirt. It hung from one shoulder, making me glad I had chosen sports bra over lace that morning.

‘Motorbike accident.’ I wiggled the shoulder that had taken the brunt of my fall. It still functioned correctly, if a little stiffly which meant my collar bone was still intact. Amazing. ‘The green blood’s not mine.’

‘You look like someone I used to know.’ The kid peered at me while I stuffed bullets into the pistol’s magazine.

The red eyes were growing in size again. ‘You’ve got about ten seconds to decide whether or not you want to stay out here with me or not.’

He ripped his eyes off my face and looked out into the night. I winced as the creature let out its hunting cry. It was getting a little easier to bear.

The kid didn’t seem to agree. He dropped to his knees, his eyes wide with terror as his lower lip moved up and down.

‘Take cover.’ I shoved his thigh with my foot and he blinked a couple of times before scuttling over to huddle against one of the pumps.

The terror screamed one more time before it attacked the station. Metal creaked and then screeched as its taloned claws ripped at the awning. A fluorescent light fell from the ceiling and smashed onto the drive, the bulb exploding into a million little pieces.

I raced out from under the shelter and fired up at it, aiming at its underbelly. I was pretty sure all of my bullets struck home; it was so God-damned big that I couldn’t have possible missed, and yet it didn’t even flinch.

The whole structure shook as a chunk of metal tore off. It carried it up into the sky and then dropped it onto the station building. I winced as the roof caved in under the weight of the scrap metal.

It wasn’t going to stop until it had ripped this place apart to get to me. And it was only a matter of time before it realised its efforts would be far more efficient if it just landed.
I had to kill it. But how?

Think Siccy, think.

‘Sicily Jones. You’re Siccy Jones.’ The kid was doing his slack-jaw-wide-eye thing again.

‘Yeah.’ I nodded.

My bullets were proving ineffective and I doubted the darts would penetrate its hide. They hadn’t even made it through my leather jacket.

Besides, even if they would, how many would I need to put into it to bring it down? And even if I managed to do that, how was I actually going to kill it? A volley of bullets directly into its brain might do it, but I still had the whole issue of tough hide and small darts.

‘I’m Donald. You trained me at the karate studio.’ He was back on his feet.

‘Donald.’ I could see the resemblance to the spotty-faced youth I remembered. ‘How you been?’

‘Good.’ He cast a look out into the night. ‘Till now.’

I smiled. ‘You still doing Bushidokai?’

‘Nah.’ I couldn’t quite tell in the diminished light but it looked like he was blushing. ‘Quite a few of us boys left after you...you know...disappeared.’

‘Oh.’ Awkward. ‘Donald, you got any ideas how we can kill this thing?’

‘Well,’ he scratched at his face, ‘we could blow it up.’

‘Where do you suggest we get a bomb?’

He smiled as he tapped his foot down on the concrete a few times. ‘We don’t need to get one, we’re standing on one.’

I looked down at the ground. He was right. Underneath us was a well full of combustible fuel. All we needed to do was to get it to explode at precisely the right moment. Piece of cake.

‘Incoming.’ I ran to a petrol bowser and squatted down next to it. Donald joined me.

The terror tore at the roof as it flew over. Another piece of metal succumbing to its strength.

‘Why doesn’t it just land?’ I asked.

Donald stared after it. ‘I don’t think it can.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Hmmm.’ He scratched at his face again. ‘Sorry, it’s not that it can’t land, but that if it did it wouldn’t be able to take off again. ’ He pointed at it. ‘See how long it is taking it to gain height?’

We could just make out its silhouette in the moonlight as its wings clawed at the sky. ‘Yeah, I see it.’

‘It’s cause it’s so big. Pterosaurs weren’t much over a metre in length.’

‘So you’re saying its too big to take off?’

‘I’m saying it would have to run an awful long way to get the lift to allow it to take off.’

‘And that would make it vulnerable.’ I looked back down at the ground. ‘So...how do we make this bomb of yours?’

A smile lit up his face as he tapped his foot again. ‘We light it up and kaboom.’ He used his hands to mimic the explosion.

I shook my head. What was it about men and explosions? ‘That easy, huh?’

‘The easy part is getting it to explode. The hard part will be doing it safely.’

‘Any ideas?’

‘We open the hatch to the reservoir and use the bowsers to create a line of fuel to it. Then we light it up and kaboom.’ He did the hand movement thing again.

‘I get the feeling you have put some thought into this before.’

He pulled a face. ‘It gets pretty boring out here at night.’

The terror let out its screeching, scratching cry as it came into attack. We squatted back down beside the bowser.

A couple of seconds later its feet attacked the edge of the awning. I put my hands over my ears as two large chunks of metal tore off. The corner post of the awning wobbled. I held my breath as the whole structure swayed from side to side.

‘How do we get this thing open?’ I yelled as the terror flew off.

‘Keys.’ Donald nodded towards the shop. A lone light illuminated the resting place of the original piece of awning. The shelving units had been thrown around like pieces of tumbleweed. ‘Just got to hope I can find them.’

‘I’ll get started out here.’

Donald took off towards the shop as I picked up a petrol hose. Trying not to get it on myself, I squirted fuel out onto the ground, trying to make a trail as far away from the reservoir as possible. I was limited in how far I could get it.

I needed a jerrycan or a container or a...bucket.

I spied the bucket housing the window cleaning squidgy a couple of bowsers down. Perfect.
I could see Donald in the building scrabbling over the piles of rubble and shop furniture. It was chaos in there. If he couldn’t find the keys we were...

I took a deep breath and pushed the thought out of my head. Instead, I concentrated on filling the bucket and creating a trail of fuel away from the awning. The red eyes were getting too close too quickly.

Donald burst out of the front door and sprinted towards me. ‘Found them,’ he yelled.

I looked between the awning and the shop. I was no longer sure which was the safest, but were were totally out of time. The terror was back.

‘Quick.’ I gestured at the bowser and we threw ourselves down beside it as the giant beast attacked the awning.

Donald winced and put his hands over his ears as it let out its cry. I resisted the urge to close my eyes. It was difficult not to think about what was going to happen if we lost and it won. I just had to hope it would be satisfied with taking my head. Poor Donald didn’t deserve to be punished for me choosing his service station to hole up in.

The entire awning shook as its feet grasped onto the side. Gigantic wings beat down. Air blasted around us and the smell of fuel punched me in the nose.

The corner pole tore from the concrete and the edge of the awning lifted. It peeled back like a banana skin as the terror flew over us.

I stared up at the base of its tail as the end flicked down.

‘Move,’ I screamed, grabbing Donald’s arm.

We dove to the side, rolling across the concrete as the spike lashed towards us. It missed, connecting, instead, with the bowser we had been sheltering beside. The metal box shot into the air and hurtled towards the shop. It smacked into the front window, glass exploding is it forced its way into the building.

The awning creaked as it swayed from side to side. It looked for a second like it might settle, but then the far corner pole buckled.

‘Run.’ I dragged Donald up beside me as I climbed to my feet. ‘Come on.’

I pushed him ahead of me as the awning tipped. We sprinted out from under it and it crashed to the ground behind us, a tangled mess of twisted metal. The lights blinked once and then disappeared, leaving us with just the faint glow from a lone surviving light inside the shop.

‘Crap,’ Donald said.

‘We’ll have to hide in the shop.’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘I mean crap, we’re covered in fuel.’

I ran my hands over my chest. The material there was soaked wet. ‘Crap.’

‘How we going to light it up?’ He pulled a lighter out of his pocket. ‘Too dangerous for us to use this.’

I nodded my head. We’d light up like a Christmas tree if either of us got anywhere near a naked flame. ‘We need to finish getting ready first before we have to worry about that.

Come on.’

God bless his trusting little cotton socks. He didn’t question me. Instead, he shoved the lighter back in his pocket and grabbed out the keys instead. We had only minutes before the terror was back and I wanted to be ready by then.

I trotted after Donald as he raced around the side of the awning. It had taken out another couple of the bowsers as it came down and pools of fuel covered the area. It was not quite how I had wanted it but it would have to do.

‘The awning. It’s over the opening,’ Donald yelled.

I peered through the dim light at what Donald pointed at. The edge of the awning had landed right on the reservoir.

Could this night get any fucking worse?

‘I’ll have to move it.’

‘What with?’ Donald asked. ‘A forklift.’

‘I just need to shift it a couple of inches.’ I sat on the ground with my back against it. Fuel soaked though my bike jeans and coated my hands as I braced against the metal.

‘Are you crazy?’ Donald shook his head.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘there’s a pretty good chance I might be.’ I flashed him a grin and then planted my boots firmly onto the ground. I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth as I shoved back against the awning. The metal pressed into my back as I closed my eyes and heaved against it. I felt it give ground a few millimetres and shoved again.

‘Impossible,’ Donald said. ‘It’s too heavy.’

I ignored him, took another breath and shoved again. The terror would be on its way back by now. I used my fear to give me strength.

‘Arghhhhhhhhh.’ I liked my head where it was. ‘Garrrrhhhhhhhhhh.’ I was too young to die.

‘Shit,’ Donald said. ‘You’re doing it. One more shove and you’ll have it.’

‘Raaaaarrrrrrrrhhhhhhhhhh.’ My scream held all my anger, all my defiance, as I threw myself against the awning. It gave, screeching as it dragged along the concrete.

‘Holy fuck.’ Donald’s eyes were wide. ‘You did it.’

27/8/18

 

I rolled onto my hands and knees, sucking in fuel-tinged lungfuls of air. ‘Get on with it,’ I gasped, flapping a hand at the reservoir opening. The terror was almost back.

He shoved the key into the opening, turned it and then yanked the door to the reservoir open.

I used my hands to swoosh fuel toward the opening. We just needed the fire to get close enough to ignite the gas from the fuel beneath us and then...a smile stretched my face as I pictured Donald and his kaboom hands.

‘It’s coming,’ Donald yelled.

We sprinted for the shop. Donald grabbed the door and pulled.

‘Quick,’ I yelled. We only had seconds.

‘It’s stuck.’ He tugged at it frantically.

‘Through the window,’ I yelled as I dove through the opening made by the bowser. Slivers of glass tore at my arms as I rolled across the floor. I ignored them. They were nothing compared to what was coming for us.

Donald landed beside me as the creature attacked.

Its cry sounded triumphant as its talons tore at the roof. It knew it almost had us.

Glass rained down on us as the far wall collapsed into the building. A piece of Gyprok fell from the ceiling revealing the opening the terror had torn in the roof.

Our lone light gave out as the terror’s tail thumped into the roof one last time. We sat side by side in the pitch black, just the sound of our panting letting me know we were both there.

‘How we going to light it up?’ Donald finally whispered.

I grabbed my Beretta off my halter. ‘Friction,’ I said. My voice sounded too loud in the dark shop.

I fumbled for the ammunition box and held it out towards Donald. ‘Here,’ I pressed it to his chest, ‘hold this for me.’

He didn’t say anything as I reloaded the magazine and slipped it back into the pistol and neither did I.

What I was going to attempt was a long shot, and we both knew it, yet our lives depended on it.

I took the box off him. ‘Come on.’ I clambered to my feet and climbed back out the hole in the front.

The moon provided us with more light than the shop had, but it was still hard to make out the destroyed awning.

I led Donald away from the petrol station, onto the flat, red earth behind.

There were so many unknown variables. So many things that could go wrong.

I blew at a piece of hair tickling my nose.

Would the fuel even light up? And if it did, would it ignite the reservoir?

And the biggest question of all, would the explosion be big enough to take out the terror?

I didn’t need to kill it, just to maim it. Just to bring it down so that we could get away from it.

‘Here it comes.’ Donald’s voice was tense.

‘Hey.’ I nudged him with my elbow. ‘Just want to say sorry.’

‘For possibly getting me killed?’

‘Yeah. For all that.’

I could just make out his face as he returned my smile. ‘Nah,’ he said. ‘Don’t be. Always wanted to blow up a petrol station.’

I let out a laugh as I eyed off the station. We were still close enough that I could get the trajectory I needed for the bullet to impact the concrete and - fingers crossed - make a spark. The question was, were we still too close to the coming carnage?

‘Donald, keep going. Get as far away as you can.’ I waved my arm at the bush behind the station.

He shook his head and crossed his arms. ‘I stand with you.’
I opened my mouth to argue but then stopped. There was something there in his stubborn defiance. Something important.

‘I stand with you,’ he said again.

It was a moment worthy of an action movie, the hero refusing to leave the heroine in her darkest hour, and I realised what that something was.

He needed to do this. He needed to stay with me for his own pride, and I wasn’t about to strip that away from him.

‘Okay.’ I nodded my head. ‘But when I say run, we both run.’

‘Agreed.’ His teeth glowed white in the moonlight as he rubbed his hands together.

We stood side by side as we watched the terror’s approach.

I’d like to say I was resolute, a pillar of strength, but inside, I was shaking with fear.

I had one go at this. One go. Like a shooting game at a fair where the result of my failure was certain death.

I wasn’t sure how it had all come down to this. How my life had ended up there. I only knew one thing for sure.

I wasn’t going down without a fight.

The red eyes glowed maliciously in the dark, growing larger and larger with every beat of its wings.

The beast threw its head back and let out a scream. It could see us. See us standing there like helpless prey.

It didn’t realise we weren’t quite as helpless as we looked.

I raised my arms and aimed at the concrete where I had pooled the fuel.

The terror let out another, triumphant cry. One more beat of its wings. One more beat…

My Beretta bucked in my hands as I fired at the concrete. I counted the bullets as I squeezed.

One…two…three…four…

‘Come on.’ Six down, six to go. ‘Come on.’

‘Come get us you big bastard,’ Donald screamed at the sky.

It could have been the eleventh bullet, it might have been the twelfth, it doesn’t really matter which it was I guess, the only thing important was the outcome.

Whooooooof. The fuel lit up, a sea of fire throwing light out into the night.

The terror was almost upon it, too close to deviate even if it hadn’t been supremely confidant in its power.

‘Come on,’ Donald and I screamed together.

God. It wasn’t going to work. All we had managed to do was give the creature more light in which to hunt us.

It was so bloody unfair. So bloody…

The explosion rocked the ground on which we stood.

Fire exploded up and out as Donald and I were thrown backwards.

Run. We had been meant to run. Which would have been clever. But it also would have meant we wouldn’t have seen the fruits of our labour.

Heat blasted over us as the terror, directly overhead at the moment of impact, was torn apart. It had time for one last scream, before its life was ripped away.

Chunks of burning terror rained down upon us.

Its body twisted in the air, its head missing as it plummeted to the ground. It crashed into the station building, a torn and tangled mess of fire and flesh and lifeless limbs.

‘Holy shit,’ I breathed out. ‘Holy, fucking shit.’

It worked. I couldn’t believe it had worked.

‘Waaahoooooooo.’ Donald sat up. ‘Did you see that? That was fucking awesome. It was totally sick.’

‘He looks a bit more than sick.’

‘No sick…it means, like, amazeballs.’

‘Oh, right.’ I sat up. ‘It was totally sick.’

‘Did you see it? Kabooooooooom.’ Donald did his hand thing again.

I pulled a piece of charred meat off my face and flicked it to the side.

‘Not sure what I’m going to tell my boss. He’s going to be pretty angry we blew up his station.’ Donald’s grin told me he didn’t really care.

‘You reckon?’

We looked at the station, then at each other, and then we started to laugh. Tears ran down my face as I hunched over my knees.

Pretty angry? If Gary Whiteman still owned it, he was going to apoplectic when he saw what we had done. And yet I couldn’t care. Not at that precise point in time. All I could do was laugh.

‘Oh.’ I wiped at my face with my hands to wipe away the tears. A couple more chunks of flesh fell off. ‘Oh.’ I sniffed and wiped at my eyes.

‘What’s that noise?’ Donald stopped in the act of removing well-done terror from his shirt and looked around.

‘What noise?’

He cocked his head to the side. ‘That. From over there.’ He pointed off into the dark. ‘It’s like… a slurping noise.’

‘Oh, fuck.’ I bounced to my feet. ‘Fuckity, fuck.’

‘What?’ Donald clambered up.

I could hear it now as well. I had been stupid to forget that all of this had started before the terror came along.

‘Donald,’ I said. ‘I need you to run.’

‘I stand with you.’ The stubborn posture was back.

‘Yep, you do.’ I nodded my head. ‘And this time, the best thing you can do to help me out is run.’

A gong rung out through the night air. One of the mutant dogs had hit its head on something.

He looked off into the darkness and then back at me, his fists clenching and unclenching. ‘What is it?’

‘What are they?’ I shrugged my shoulders. ‘Don’t know. But they don’t want you. If you run, they’ll let you through. If you stay….’

‘They’ll kill me too?’

I was going to say he would be one more thing I had to worry about but remembered his ego in time. ‘Yeah. They’ll kill you too.’

‘I’ll get help.’ He grasped my arm. ‘I’ll get help and I’ll come back.’

I nodded. ‘Yeah. You do that.’

A scratching mewl raked at my eardrums. The narwhats had joined the party.

‘Go.’ I shoved his arm.

He looked at me for one more second before nodding. He turned and sprinted off around the back of the ruined station.

It would take him a long time to get to town on foot, which was fine by me. I didn’t want anybody else caught up in this crazy mess.

03/09/2018

The slurping was getting closer. I popped out the magazine and took out the ammunition box. It had held fifty bullets which meant there were only fourteen left. Twelve I stuffed into the magazine. I doubted I would get time to load the other two.

Twelve bullets and two dart guns with who knew how many darts in them. I looked around on the ground and picked up a twisted metal post. It wasn’t much but it was going to have to do.

I positioned myself with my back to the station and waited for the creatures to come.

A narwhat broke from the cover of a bush and streaked towards me.

‘Batter up,’ I mumbled as I fell into a softball ready position. I’d always been good with a bat.

The little creature’s lips pulled back in a snarl as it leapt at me. I had time to admire its red teeth before the end of the metal post connected with its head. It made a smushy cracking noise as it sailed off into the night. I doubted it would be back.

Snarls hissed at me and the slurps got more excited. Another couple of narwhats rushed from the cover of a nearby bush.

‘That’s right,’ I yelled. ‘Bring it on.’ I could feel my lips pulling back in a smile and realised, incredulously, that I was enjoying myself.

I dodged to the side as the first narwhat leapt, using the end of the metal post to skewer it against the side of the station building. The next one got through my guard, it’s needle fine teeth attaching to the soft flesh on the side of my left shoulder.

‘Little fucker,’ I yelled as I wrenched it off.

It struggled and hissed, a cat not wanting to be held. I tossed it into the air and brought my makeshift bat round to connect with its fluffy little body.

It sailed off into the night with a, ‘Hnwrooaaaarrrrrr.’

One of the mutant dogs attacked next. It loped towards me on four legs, while its middle set aimed the dart gun at me. I rolled to the side as I pulled out my own gun and fired off two darts.
I was the better shot. It took the second dart in it shoulder; looking quite comical as it skidded to a halt, wobbled a couple of times and then toppled to the side like a felled tree.

‘Cheap drunk.’ I shook my head as I stared out into the dark. How many more were there?

The slurping napacoons came next. Four black bodies zigzagging towards me. They fired weapons as they ran. Red balls of light blazed through the air.

‘Shit.’ I rolled to the side and they hit the building behind me. Sparks flew where they contacted and little holes appeared in the metal.

More of the red balls whizzed towards me and I sprinted around the corner of the building. I could hear them sizzling on contact behind me.

Crap. I was in real trouble.

I ducked back around the corner and fired off a round at the leading napacoon. It took it in the chest, staggered back a couple of steps, and then kept coming. Two more rounds took it down, but now I only had nine bullets left.

I had no idea how many of them there were, but I knew I didn’t have enough ammunition to deal with them. I had to come up with another plan.

I ducked back as more of the red lights blazed towards me. They were deadly, but at least I could see them coming.

Back around the cover and I fired off another four rounds. The next two napacoons joined the first.

I needed one of their guns. Two of their guns would be even better.

Two more bullets took down the last of the charging black creatures. I darted out from behind the station building, running low as I raced towards the downed napacoons.

A volley of red lights erupted from the myriad of different shrubs further out in the desert.

‘Shit.’ I threw myself to the ground and commando crawled towards the closest napacoon. If I could just get its gun I could….

‘Ahhhhhhhhhh.’ The scream erupted involuntarily from my lungs as one of the red lights sizzled into my thigh. Hot pain lanced up my leg.

I gave up my attempts to get the gun and threw myself backwards, rolling out of the way of a swarm of red lights and back towards my shelter.

‘Fuck.’ My breath came in pants as I pressed my back up against the remains of the station wall. My patting hands felt the wound and came away dry. No blood. The red bullet had cauterised the wound.

Well, that was something. At least I didn’t have to worry about bleeding to death. Just having small holes peppered into my vital organs. Yeah. That was so much better.

I pulled a face and crawled towards the other corner of the building. Escape sounded like a pretty good plan about now.

The downed terror had crushed the far side of the station. Its body rose in front of me, a dark shadow in the night. I edged around it, holding my breath as I waited for an attack.

They were staying back for the moment because they didn’t know how much ammunition I had. Didn’t realise I only had three more bullets before I was spent.

I peeped around the corner, holding my almost empty berreta in one hand and a dart gun in the other. I wasn’t sure if they had circled around or not.

No red lights zoomed towards me which I took to be a good sign.

Using the terror as a shield, I scuttled down the far side of the what had been the station.

Burned meat filled my nostrils. Its tail, lying across the area that had previously housed the bowsers, was on fire. Thick, black smoke curled up towards the cloudless sky.

I had been in shadow behind the station, but now light reflected off my face. I was going to be visible as soon as I broke from my cover. A deer waiting to be slaughtered.

But I had no other options. Either wait and run out of ammunition, or run and maybe, just maybe, get away.

A red light whizzed past me off to the right.

Shit. They were circling around the back of the building. They couldn’t see me where I squatted, hidden by one of the terror legs, but it wouldn’t be long before they found me.

I had never felt so helpless before. Never that close to death.

I rose into a sprinters stance, ready to make a run for it.

Something moved out in the dark smoke. An ominous shadow moving towards me.

Crap. They had me surrounded. There was nowhere else to go.

I wish I could have said goodbye to Mum. After what she had been through over the past five years she deserved at least to hear that I loved her.

The shadow grew larger as it strode towards me. I cowered in my hiding spot, making myself as small as I could. Smoke billowed like a cape as it stepped through the curtain of smog.

I looked up, and up, and up and…

‘Sicily Jones,’ Elliot’s voice boomed out into the night. ‘Will you join me, or will you die?

I’d never been so relieved to see any living person before.

‘Ummm,’ I yelled out. ‘Can you give me those two options again.’

He threw back his head and let out a laugh, his white teeth contrasting against the perfectness of his ebony skin. ‘Join me or die.’ He threw his arms theatrically out to the side, and I could see his body, layered in black armor and covered in weapons. His muscles looked almost as good as those weapons.

‘Do I have to have a girly gun?’ I yelled.

‘What?’

I pointed at him. There were an array of guns of different sizes strapped to his chest. One in particular was tiny. ‘I want one of the big guns.’

He laughed again. ‘You’ll get what you get. Now, are you going to be my partner or not?’

‘Hmmmm. It’s a tough one.’ More red lights flew past in the night. Their trajectory was getting closer to my hiding spot. ‘Of course I’ll join you.’

‘Blood oath,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘I need a blood oath.’

‘My word isn’t good enough?’

The bullets whizzed past about a metre to my right and I ducked back down behind the terror’s leg.

Elliot pulled a gun from his back and fired a volley of golden balls about ten centrimetres to the right of my head. A narwhat screeched and then smacked into me, dead before it hit the ground.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Your word isn’t good enough. For all I know you’ll just conveniently lose your memory again.’

Another round of golden balls and two more narwhats crashed to the ground. They were getting closer.

‘Fine,’ I yelled. ‘A blood oath.’ It wasn’t like I didn’t have some fresh stuff ready to go.

‘And you get the girly gun.’

A mutant dog raced from a bush, its dart gun trained on me. Elliot took it down before I even had time to reach for my weapon.

‘Fine. I get the girly gun.’

Elliot flashed a smile at me, flipped his weapon into its back holster and pulled a knife from a sheath on his left bicep.

I hobbled towards him as fast as I could as he incised his forearm. Blood welled where his knife passed over his flesh. I would have winced for him if I wasn’t in so much pain myself.

‘Here.’ I shoved my left shoulder at him. The narwhat had torn out a lump of flesh there and blood trickled freely down my arm.

The look on Elliot’s face hardened as he looked me up and down. He placed his bleeding forearm against my shoulder and held it there. ‘Partners for life.’

I looked up into his onyx eyes. There was no treachery there. No triumph. Only an intense compassion.

Goosebumps broke out over my body as I met his gaze. This man didn’t mean me any harm. I could see that now. My wellbeing was at the forefront of his desires.

‘Partners for life,’ I whispered back.

Strength flowed through me, out of his body and into mine. All my aches and pains disappeared.

‘What the…?’ I looked down at my shoulder. The bleeding had stopped, the wound already half closed.

‘It is done,’ he said. ‘We are as we are meant to be.’

I wanted to ask him a million questions but the enemy chose that moment to attack.

‘Look out.’ Elliot threw me to the side as he ripped a gun off his chest. He fired off a series of bullets as he took up shelter behind the remnants of a bowser, and then tossed that gun to me.

I caught it with my left hand as I rolled behind a piece of awning. I sighted down the gun’s length as a platoon of slurping napacoons broke from the trees.

The weapon fired effortlessly, a shower of golden bullets whizzing towards the black, armored creatures. There was no recoil, no feel of mechanical parts moving at all.

They let out distressed slurps as they dodged out of the way. Three of them didn’t make it.
I hunkered down behind the shelter of the awning as they returned fire. The metal sizzled, but none of the red bullets made it through to me.

‘What is this?’ I yelled.

‘A special edition high-powered laser CZ410.’ Elliot didn’t stop firing as he spoke. ‘It fires four times faster than their weapons, never needs refueling, and its laser will cut twice as deep.’

‘Cool.’ I could feel a smile on my face as I fired at a score of narwhats. The little critters were coming at us in force.

If they had attacked like this from the beginning I would already be dead.

I rolled to the side as some red bullets zoned in on me. There was a sniper somewhere back in the trees.

‘Down,’ I yelled.

Elliot ducked as a narwhat leapt. I fired over his head and it hit the ground behind him, rolling to a stop against the terror’s tail.

Another narwhat reached him. He clenched his armored fist and punched upwards. The uppercut collected with the animal, which let out a, ‘Wheeeeeeeeeeee,’ as it sailed off into the night. I felt a giggle trying to break free.

‘They’re going to overrun us,’ he said.

‘What do you suggest?’ Some of the two-headed dogs appeared on the other side of the station building. My bullets took two down, but another three made it to the other side of the terror. Shit. We were going to have to watch our six as well.

‘We take out some proper APE whoop arse on them.’

‘Please tell me you did not just say whoop arse.’ A napacoon raced from the side of the station building toward us.

‘There’s nothing wrong with a little whoop arse from time to time.’ His smile as he took out the Kamikaze napacoon, told me he was having fun.

I shook my head. ‘What shape does this whoop arse take?’ The dogs still hadn’t appeared from behind the terror.

‘Well, basically, we beat the shit out of them.’

‘I like the sound of that. But, how do you propose we stop them shooting at us long enough to do that?’

He fired his weapon with one hand while he pulled the black box out of his pocket.

‘You going to wipe their memories and make them forget they have guns?’

‘No.’ He laughed. ‘This button,’ he used his thumb to gesture at a small blue circle, ‘sends out an electromagnetic pulse that plays havoc with lasers.’

‘So….’ The dogs popped out around the far end of the terrors tail. All of their faces showed total surprise as my bullets struck them in the chest. ‘It won’t just immobilise their weapons?’

He shook his head. ‘Nah. Ours as well.’

‘And the advantage of that is?’

‘They can only come at us a few at a time in hand-to-hand combat.’

‘Right.’ It made sense. One slurping napacoon could pin us down with a gun, while the others attacked. It was only a matter of time before they worked that out. ‘They don’t seem to be tactically smart.’

‘Tactics are not their strong point.’

‘What is?’

‘Numbers.’ Elliot stood as he pushed the blue button. The onslaught of red bullets immediately stopped.

Slurping and snarling echoed around the station as I stood and walked towards Elliot.

‘Numbers?’ I looked out into the darkness. How many of them were out there still?

He cocked his head to the side as he smiled down at me. ‘What’s wrong Sicc? Don’t think you’re up to it?’ He reached out and pushed some hair back from my cheek. It was stiff and matted with green blood.

I shrugged. ‘I’m up to it, if you’re up to it.’ I flexed my head from side to side.

He flexed the knuckles of his right hand and smacked it into his right. ‘Oh, I’m up to it all right.’

They came at us in a disorganised rush. A crowd of napacoons, dogs and narwhats.

I leapt into the air and kicked a dog in one of it’s heads. It staggered back, the sound of the gong pure in the cooling evening air. Two napacoons replaced it.

I ducked a punch, stepping in to thrust my fist into its stomach. It flew backwards, smacking into a couple of its mates as it went down. I thrust my elbow straight up, connecting with the shiny, black head of another of them. I had time to see myself reflected in its face before it, too flew backwards.

‘These things are lightweights,’ I yelled.

Elliot leapt into the air beside me. His booted feet contacted the heads of a dog while his fists smacked some narwhats out of the sky. He flipped backwards, twisting as he landed to bring his fist down on a napacoon.

Huh. The man had style.

I felt my stiff muscles limbering up as I punched, kicked and dodged. A dog pushed its way to the front of the pack, a dart gun in hand. I pulled out my own and fired two darts into its chest. I gave its friend behind it the same treatment. Their bodies acted to slow down the advance of the enemy.

‘Where did you get that from?’ Elliot nodded at my dart gun as he picked up a napacoon and threw it back into the crowd.

‘Hmmmm.’ I side kicked a narwhat out of the air and then spun to back kick a napacoon in the chest. ‘I may have seconded it from a couple of dogs that attacked me yesterday.’

‘I knew it.’ He shook his head. ‘I knew you weren’t just peeing.’ He swept his leg out in an arc and three napacoons tumbled to the side.

I dodged a narwhat then jumped, ball kicking a napacoon to give me the backward motion I needed to flip. The narwhat let out a squishy squeak as I landed on its head.

‘Billongs,’ Elliot yelled.

‘What?’ A napacoon punched and I dodged to the side, trapping its outstretched arm with my own. I kicked out a second one as I twisted the first one’s arm. Then I brought the same leg up and smacked the arm down on either side of my thigh. The breaking elbow made the same sort of noise as a human’s would have.

‘They’re not dogs. They’re billongs.’

A high-pitched whistle tore through the air. At once, the fighting creatures stopped. They backed away from us, turned and trotted off in the direction of the whistle.

‘What the…?’ I stared after them.

‘The masters have called back their creatures.’ Elliot stood and shook his arms out by his side. ‘Shame, I was having fun.’

‘So…that’s it?’

‘They know they can’t beat us.’ He shrugged. ‘Not without their laser guns.’

‘Oh.’ What with being hunted by the terror and fighting for my life, the way they all left, like obedient sheep going home for dinner, it was pretty anticlimactic. My energy left me in a woosh.

‘You don’t look so good.’ Elliot grabbed my arm and pivoted me towards him. My suddenly wobbly legs betrayed me and he caught me as I sagged.

‘Yeah.’ I nodded my head. ‘Not feeling so hot either.’

I looked around at the carnage. The things - Aliens? I still wasn’t ready to go there yet - had dragged away their fallen with them, but there was no hiding the terror. Its body and tail extended out past the station and onto the road. There were going to be far more questions than answers about this night.

‘What’s going to…?’ I nodded my head at the terror rather than finish the sentence.

I wanted to lie down. No. I needed to lie down. There didn’t seem to be enough blood left circulating in my body to satisfy my brain.

I stopped trying to hold my body weight. My head flopped to the side and I looked up at the sky. It was much much prettier than the surrounding destruction.

All those little bright lights. It was probably the lack of oxygen getting to my mind, but it looked like a few of them were moving, racing off towards the far end of the galaxy.

‘Whoa, there partner,’ Elliot said. He bent and scooped an arm behind my knees.

My head flopped against his chest as picked me up. The feel of his heart beating against my ear was oddly familiar.

‘Come on, Princess.’

My body rocked from side to side as he strode away from the station.

‘Don’t call me….’ My eyes rolled shut on their own accord. I took a deep breath and tried again. ‘Don’t call me….’ White noise set up camp in my ears.

I needed to tell him. Needed to tell him something he already knew. Something he knew annoyed me.

I fought to stay conscious, scrabbling at the farthest reaches of my mind.

For one brief, blazing second I remembered everything. My body jolted as the knowledge rocked through me.

Elliot and I, we had been far-away places. We had seen things, fought things. We had….

As fast as it came it was gone. It swept away, taking with it my ability to remain where I was.

Darkness settled like heavy blanket as I surrendered my safety to Elliot.

He would look after me. He wouldn’t let anything hurt me.

That much I remembered.

 

10/09/2018

 

My eyelids fluttered against my cheeks as I fought to make them go up.

‘Here she comes.’

‘Oh. Thank goodness. I was so worried.’

It bothered me that Mum was worried. She had already worried enough.

‘Glenda, I told you she’d be fine.’

A hand patted mine, the rhythm a bit too fast to be calming. ‘Yes, I know. But Elliot…all that blood.’

‘Only the red stuff was hers.’

Blood? I’d been bleeding?

Mum let out a little chuckle.

‘And see. She’s almost completely healed already.’

Cool air accompanied the feel of the sheet being pulled back from my shoulder.

‘Amazing.’ The patting stopped and the sheet moved some more. ‘Even her side’s whole again.’

‘Accelerated cellular regeneration. It’s all part of the process. Although, Sicc heals even faster than the rest of us.’

The patting hand was back. ‘She was always a fast healer. Never really got sick either.’

The rest of us? How many of us were there exactly?

‘Muuuum.’ My voice croaked out through parched lips.

‘Shhhhhh. Here. Drink this.’

A straw was pressed to my lips. I opened my mouth far enough to accept it and sipped. Cold water flowed into my mouth. I sighed and sucked some more.

Accelerated cellular regeneration? I wasn’t so sure about that. I hurt like hell.

I let go of the straw and gave the whole opening-my-eyes thing another go. This time I was successful. It took a few moments of concentration to bring my bedroom into focus.

I stared at Mum and Elliot. Perhaps I was still unconscious after all.

‘What? Why?’ I took a deep breath and lifted a hand to my own head.

Hallucinating. I must be hallucinating.

Elliot grinned at me and cocked his head to the side. The light glinted off his shiny silver turban.

‘Why are we wearing alfoil hats?’ I finally managed to ask.

‘Yours is more a bandage than a hat,’ he said.

‘We didn’t want to risk you knocking it off,’ Mum added. She was wearing a magnificent, wide-brimmed, silver, sun hat.

‘Is that meant to be fruit?’ I gestured one hand towards her head.

‘Yes.’ She smiled as she patted at the top of the brim. ‘Apples, some cherries and a banana. What do you think?’

‘Very realistic.’

‘I made the banana.’ Elliot pointed at the long silver tube on the side of Mum’s hat.

I closed my eyes again. Suddenly sleep sounded like a nice idea. Being awake was turning out to be far too weird.

‘We made you a baseball cap if you want to swap out,’ Mum said.

I sighed. The weird wasn’t going to go away.

‘Sure.’ I opened my eyes again. ‘A foil baseball cap. Why not?’

Mum picked the cap up off my dressing table. She placed it carefully over my silver bandage, moulding it with her hands till it was a tight fit. ‘We should get a photo.’ She clapped her hands together and then rushed out of the bedroom.

‘How hard did I bump my head?’ I asked Elliot.

He let out a laugh. ‘You didn’t bump your head. Took skin off nearly every part of your body except your head. For once,’ he added.

Mum returned with her mobile phone. She perched on the side of the bed and gestured to Elliot. ‘Come on, get in the photo.’

He knelt down beside the bed head, leaning down so that he was at the same level as Mum.

‘Say cheese,’ Mum said. She pushed the button and then looked at her phone. ‘Oh, Sicily. You didn’t even try to smile. Here,’ she repositioned the phone, ‘try to look happy.’

‘What’s there to be happy about?’ I asked.

She glanced over her shoulder at me. ‘Well, you’re alive for one thing.’

She had a point. This time I pulled my lips back in as much of a smile as I could manage. I am sure it looked more like a grimace but it was the best I could do.

‘Okay,’ I said, when Mum had managed to get all three of us and our hats into the photo. ‘What the hell is going on?’

‘We’re rewriting the memories of the entire town,’ Elliot said. ‘These,’ he gestured at his turban, ‘are making sure our memories remain intact.’

‘So the alfoil?’

‘Blocks the gamma rays.’

‘Oh.’ I patted at my hat. ‘Is it low enough?’ I had already lost five years. I had no wish to lose anymore than that.

‘It’s fine.’ Elliot moved to the end of my bed and took a seat. The bed frame creaked under his weight. ‘How are you feeling?’

I shrugged a shoulder. Truth be told I already hurt less than I had five minutes ago. ‘How long was I out?’

‘’Bout twenty hours.’

‘What’s been going on?’

‘The Nasonteans came back last night and took their creature away.’

‘The terror?’

Elliot nodded.

‘Quick,’ Mum called out. ‘It’s on the news.’

I threw back the sheet and tried to stand, but my legs gave way and I plonked back down on the bed.

‘Here.’ Before I could protest, Elliot swept me up into his arms.
Somebody - Mum. Please let it be Mum - had dressed me in my pyjamas. I tugged at the bottom of the tiny sleeping shorts as they rode up the backs of my thighs.

He let out a snort. ‘Please. Like I haven’t seen your arse before.’

‘For all I know you could be making that up.’

He maneuvered me through the doorway to the hall. ‘I’ve no need to make that sort of shit up. Women beg me to look at their arses.’

I ignored him, concentrating instead on the television.

The blonde reporter stood in front of the destroyed station. ‘Donald Robin was all alone at work last night when a freak tornado swept through this petrol station.’ The camera pulled back till Donald was visible standing next to her. ‘Tell me Donald,’ she said, ‘how did you manage to survive this?’

The camera panned around as she waved her arm. The destruction looked even worse in the day than it had the night before.

Donald’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as a faint pink touched his cheeks. ‘I’d like to say it was because I did something clever.’ He looked down at his feet as he spoke. ‘But it was really just luck. I hid in the shop.’

‘You hid in there?’ The woman’s voice showed her disbelief as the camera panned over the shop. The terror’s body had flattened it like a pancake.

‘Yeah. I crawled under one of the shelving units. I think. To be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur.’ He gave a nervous laugh which ended in a snort.

I slumped back onto the couch. Poor Donald. He had been so brave. I knew for sure I would be dead without him. And the memory box had taken away whatever self esteem he had gained and reduced him back to a nervous adolescent.

‘And then the place exploded?’ The reporter asked.

‘Yeah.’ His face lit up like it was Christmas morning. ‘I thought it was over, but then the reservoir just blew up. It was like…kaboom.’

I snorted as he did his exploding hands. At least that hadn’t changed.

The camera was back on the reporter. ‘Samanatha Drew here in Kalgoorlie with what just may be the luckiest boy alive.’

Donald’s face flushed a darker shade of pink and then the article cut back to the main news studio.

‘Luckiest boy alive indeed,’ the presenter said.

‘Well, the memory things seems to be working,’ Mum said as she turned off the television.

‘That’s not fair.’ I waved an arm at the television. ‘He was brave last night. He’s a man not a boy.’

‘He was incredibly brave,’ Elliot agreed.

‘You saw?’ I swivelled around on the couch so that I could see him where he sat in the single seater next to Mum.

‘I saw everything.’

My fists clenched and unclenched as I thought that through. It opened up a whole can of unanswered questions.

Like I didn’t have enough of them already.

‘Where were you?’

‘You always ask the wrong questions.’ He was back to being annoying.

‘Well, what would be the right question?’

‘You hungry?’

‘That’s the right question?’

He let out a laugh. ‘No. You must be hungry. You’ve done a few weeks worth of healing in the last day.’

As if given permission, my stomach let out a loud grumble.

‘Thought so.’ He stood up. ‘Come on, let’s get you some food and then we can talk.’

I put my feet onto the floor and tentatively loaded my weight onto them. This time walking was a possibility.

I followed Elliot and Mum into the kitchen and slumped into one of the seats, watching while the two of them bustled around like a well-organised team.

Mum filled the jug and got the teapot out of the cupboard while Elliot pulled plates from the fridge.

‘What are you making?’ Mum asked him.

‘Thought I’d turn the left over lamb into an omelette.’

My hunger increased exponentially while he diced and whisked and by the time the smell of the cooking omelette told me it was almost done, I was ready to eat a whole lamb, cooked or not.

Elliot loaded up a plate and set it down in front of me. I put as much omelette onto my fork as was possible and shoved it into my mouth. Saliva flowed and my stomach clamored for me to share the food with it. I swallowed and shoveled in another forkful.

‘She’s always such a lady when she’s healing.’ Elliot placed two more plates on the table and took the seat opposite me.

I ignored him, concentrating instead on the food. It was as delicious as it smelt, and I just couldn’t seem to eat it fast enough.

Mum added the teapot and teacups to the feast and sat down beside me. ‘So how does this accelerated regeneration thing work?’

‘Basically our cells do what they would normally do, just in a much shorter time frame.’

Elliot cut a piece off his omelette and popped it delicately into his mouth.

Mum nodded. ‘Okay. But how does that happen?’

‘We’re assassins. We tend to get hurt a lot. APE doesn’t want to have to keep training new recruits so as part of the induction process they reset our biochemical healing clock.’

‘Does that mean Siccy is going to age faster?’

Elliot laughed. ‘Quite the opposite. The body doesn’t get the chance to age when it is continuously regenerating itself. Look at me? Do I look like I’m over two hundred years old?’

‘You look like a gigantic pain in the arse.’ I wedged some more omelette into my mouth.

‘I’ve had a few hundred years to perfect being a pain in the arse.’ He pointed his fork at me. ‘Oh boy, you are going to be unbearable by the time you get to my age. I might have to have you put down.’

I poked my tongue out at him and then stuffed more omelette in.

Two hundred? I was going to live to be over two hundred?

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. It was a delicate balance between having to watch everybody I loved age and die, and the thrill of the endless possibilities that such a thing offered.

I had as much time as I needed to do whatever I wanted. I could become a twelfth dan in Bushidokai. I could read all those books I never seemed to have time for. I could travel the world…

‘Do I get to go into space?’ The thought of traveling the world paled into comparison to the thought of traveling the universe.

‘Sicc, you’ve lived in space for the last five years.’

I stared at him while I chewed. Lived in space?

I put my fork down. ‘What the hell is going on?’ I picked up my teacup and sipped the steaming brew.

‘I told you the other night.’

‘I’m a trained assassin and you are my partner?’

‘So you did listen.’

I ignored him. ‘We’re here cause of the greatest threat the Earth has ever faced. We need to find and eliminate the threat.’

‘Got it in one.’

‘So…care to share?’

‘Share what?’

‘Information. What is this threat? How do we eliminate it.’ I dug my fork back into the omelette. Seemed I wasn’t done with eating after all.

‘See, you said the part about finding the threat, but you didn’t seem to hear yourself when you said it.’

‘So,’ I chewed a couple more times before swallowing, ‘when you say find, you aren’t just talking about an elaborate game of hide and seek.’

He shook his head.

‘You don’t know what the threat is, do you?’ I waved the end of my fork at him.

‘Nobody knows what the threat is.’ He tilted his head to the side. ‘Well, nobody on our side, anyway. Obviously somebody knows what it is or there wouldn’t be a threat.’

I huffed out a breath and looked at Mum. ‘Is it just me that finds him irritating?’

Her large-brimmed silver hat threw her face into shadow as she smiled at me.

If somebody were to burst through the back door of the house at that moment we would look like weird characters out of Alice in Wonderland, sitting around with our alfoil hats, drinking tea out of our fancy porcelain cups.

I found myself smiling back at her. It appeared you could go through hell and back and still smile as long as you had people to smile with. Suddenly life didn’t seem so awful after all.

‘Right.’ I turned back to Elliot. ‘Where do we go from here?’

‘Now, that’s the right sort of question.’ He winked at me as he took a sip of his tea.

‘We need information.’ I wasn’t sure how the delicate cup was standing up to the pressure of his ginormous hands.

‘Obviously.’

‘So where do we get it?’

‘Well,’ he put the cup back down and scrubbed at his scalp with the tips of his fingers, ‘as I see it, we have two options.’

‘Am I going to like either of them?’

‘Probably not.’ He flashed a grin at me. ‘You never like any of my options.’

It felt weird, him referring to our shared history like that. It spoke of years of comradeship.
But weirder still was the realisation that not having those memories saddened me. I felt like perhaps I was missing out on something more than just the memories.

‘All right.’ I gestured to him. ‘Give ‘em to me.’

‘Well, option one is, we wait.’

‘Option one sucks big time.’ I smacked my hand down on the table. ‘I mean really? We wait? What if it’s all too late by the time we find out what’s going on? Do you really think the enemy is going to be kind enough to blind copy us in on their plotting emails?’

He rolled his eyes. ‘I didn’t say it was a good option. Just that it is an option.’

‘Give me option two.’

He kicked back in his chair, nudging my ankles to the side as he stretched out his legs.

‘Option two is we go looking for information.’ He laced his fingers together and put them behind his head.

‘We find some aliens?’ I pulled a face. If last night was anything to go by I didn’t think option two was so hot either. ‘How are we going to do that?’

‘There’s probably a couple that reside in Kalgoorlie. They might know something.’

‘Residing in Kalgoorlie?’ Mum’s back was ramrod straight, her face hard.

I could guess what she was thinking. All those lonely years of conspiracy theories and it turns out there were people/things here that could have given her answers. It sucked big time.

I patted her arm soothingly. There was nothing much I could say.

Elliot pulled a face. ‘I find there’s always at least one. But the one’s that choose to live in towns like this normally do it for a reason.’

‘Running away from something?’ I asked.

‘Or someone.’ He nodded his head. ‘But they all have communication abilities back to their mother planets.’

‘So….’ I picked at a crusty patch on the side of my ear. Green flakes snowed down onto my tank top. ‘If we can find them, they might know something.’

‘Or know someone who knows.’ Elliot nodded his head. ‘It can be frustrating but not as frustrating as doing nothing.’

I was glad we agreed on that. I hated doing nothing. ‘Right.’ I pushed back from the table. ‘Let’s get this show on the road.’

‘That’s it with the questions?’

I cocked my head to the side. ‘I’m going to live forever. I’ve been trained as an assassin to keep the Earth safe. You are my partner. There’s a threat. We need to find and eliminate that threat.’ I shrugged. ‘Nah. Think I’ve got everything I need to know.’

He laughed as he stood up. ‘Good to see your loss of memory has not installed a need for detail.’

‘Detail schmetail,’ I said. ‘Sometimes you’ve just got to act.’

He followed me as I made my way back to my bedroom.

‘Got any ideas of where to start?’ I looked back over my shoulder at him.

‘If you were a lone alien living in a country town where would you go on a day like today?’

I paused in the doorway to my room. He loomed over me, looking down as he waited for my response.

‘I’d go to the petrol station. Try to work out what went down. See if it had anything to do with me in any way.’

He nodded. ‘Me too.’

‘What if they’ve already been? We might have missed them.’

‘Nah.’ He shook his head. ‘There’s been reporters and police swarming over that site all day. They’ll wait till dark.’

I glanced towards my bedroom window. It was getting dim outside. ‘We better get moving.’

‘You get dressed. I’ll clean up the kitchen.’

I let out a snort as I closed my door. For a big, bad assassin he was so domesticated. Which was fine by me. I didn’t have a domesticated bone in my body. It had been the main bugbear in my relationship with Joel.

Joel. The pang in my heart wasn’t as bad as it had been. But it still hurt. A lot.

I took a deep breath and pushed Joel out of my mind. I had more important things to think about than how wronged I was. Things that affected everybody, not just me.

It seemed that was what I needed. A non-selfish reason to keep going. A project that would stop me wallowing on what I had lost.

I pulled open the drawer that housed my pants and rifled through till I found my spare motorbike jeans.

I might not have Bessy anymore but going on last night’s activities I was thinking Kevlar-lined jeans might come in handy.

Maybe Mum had been right with what she had said when I had first come home.

They wouldn’t have returned me unless I was ready, which meant I had gained a lot.

I would concentrate on that. On what I had gained, not on what I had lost. That, and getting the job done. And when all this was over, well, then I could take another look at my broken heart.

***

24/09/2018

I held onto the ladder as Elliot backed, back down it.

‘Got it.’ He held his black box up. A green light on the top flashed rhythmically. He pushed one of the buttons down until the green light stopped.

‘Is it safe?’ I stared at the box.

‘It’s safe.’ He pulled his alfoil turban off and crushed it up into a small ball.

I did the same with my baseball cap and my bandage.

‘Are we ready?’ Mum pulled the front door shut and held up the car keys.

‘I call shotgun.’ Elliot pushed my shoulder as he walked past me.

‘You can have it.’ I always felt like a small child again riding in the back. I wasn't about to admit it, but there was comfort in that thought.

I let Mum and Elliot’s chatter wash over me as we drove, reliving instead, the previous night’s events.

We parked a few hundred metres further down the road and walked back to the petrol station.

It looked pretty much the same as it had on the television. The station building smashed flat, a gigantic hole where the fuel reservoir had been.

Mum had her hands over her mouth as she surveyed the area. ‘You did this?’ Her eyes were wide as she turned to look at me.
‘I had help.’ I shrugged. I mean it wasn’t like I had personally done it. Just kind of been the cause.

I pushed the guilt away and looked at the area surrounding the station.

If I were a fugitive alien coming to scope out an area of suspected extraterrestrial activity where would I be?

‘Elliot,’ I called out.

He stopped poking a chunk of burned flesh and turned to look at me.

‘What are we looking for?’ I yelled.

He tilted his head. ‘Sicc, you know what we’re looking for.’

‘No I mean, what will it…he…she…look like? Are we talking little green man or what?’

‘Oh.’ He nodded his head. ‘They’ll look just like you and me.’

‘So, about six foot eight with a mutant blend of dark skin and red hair?’

Even from where I was, I could see him roll his eyes. ‘Human, Sicc. They’ll look human.’

Mum shook her head as she stared at the station building. ‘How did you survive this?’ She turned to look at me. ‘I mean, look at it.’

‘We weren’t in it when the creature crashed into it,’ I said. ‘We were out there.’ I pointed off to the side where Donald and I had witnessed the explosion.

The area was littered with rubble. Giant chunks of concrete lay like discarded pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The only area totally clear of debri was were Donald and I had been lying.

We had been lucky. More than lucky. It was a miracle we had survived.

But we hadn’t come out here so I could reflect on my luck, we had a job to do.

I couldn’t see any fresh bike tracks in the dust. But the light was almost gone and there was a chance I could have missed them.

‘They haven’t been yet,’ Elliot said as he walked towards me.

‘Are you sure they will?’ Mum asked.

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘But its the only lead we’ve got at the moment.’

I tipped my head to the side. ‘A truck’s coming.’ I could just hear its engine heading towards us.

We waited till it had passed, slowing to a crawl as the driver gawked at the station, before we spoke again.

‘Why aren’t people wondering what this is?’ I kicked at some terror. Seems the Nasonteans had not thought it prudent to remove every bit of the creature. Just the biggest piece.

‘Wombat.’ Elliot said. ‘Or kangaroo. Their brains fill in the gaps with things that make sense.’

‘A heap of wildlife hanging out at the local petrol station makes sense?’

‘More sense than a flying alien monster.’

He had a point.

‘Motorbike,’ he said. ‘Approaching from town. Come on.’

We didn’t speak as we hurried to hide behind the remains of the building. If it was an alien, and they saw us there, they would just ride past.

We could hear the engine shifting down through gears as it approached. So either another gawker, or somebody planning on paying a visit.

The tyres crunched over gravel as the bike left the road. I looked at Elliot and grinned. He placed his pointing finger over his lips and then held his hand up in the international sign for stop.

I rolled my eyes. As if I needed to be told to wait until they had hopped off the bike.

The engine cut off totally and then moments later we could hear somebody walking across the front of the station. There was some scrabbling, as if they were digging at something. Which meant they were a little more than mere curious.

I smiled. Looks like we might get our alien after all.

Elliot held up two fingers and then spread them apart. He pointed at me and to the far side of the building, and himself and the near side.

I nodded. It made sense to come at them from both sides.

I touched Mum on the arm and held my hand up in front of her face. She had a determined look on her face, like she wanted to tear verbal strips off whoever the alien turned out to be, but she nodded as well. She would wait till we had them and then tear verbal strips off them.

Elliot waited while I crept down the back of the building. Last time I had done this I had had a hole in my thigh and had been under attack. I suppressed a shudder. It was not a nice memory.

When I reached the other corner I looked back over my shoulder. He was already in position.

I gave him the go signal and then sprinted down the side of the building. My job was to get between the alien and his/her bike before Elliot spooked them.

I could just make out the bike in the dark. A modern, black dirt bike. It looked familiar.

‘You.’ Elliot sounded surprised.

‘Do I know you?’

I turned towards the voice.

‘Yeah,’ it continued, ‘we’ve met before. Just can’t put my finger on where.’

‘Joel?’

Joel spun towards me. ‘Siccy? My god, Siccy. Is that really you?’

Oops. I couldn’t see Elliot’s face in the deepening shadow but I pretty much knew what look would be on it.

‘Yeah. Hey. It’s me.’ I gave him a little wave.

‘But…how…why?’

I sighed. Having to continuously explain myself to Joel was starting to get old. ‘It’s a long story.’

He shook his head as he walked towards me. ‘I saw that bike crash this morning. It looked a lot like Bessy.’

I winced. Poor Bessy. I hadn’t even been able to say goodbye properly.

‘So I went out to check on her, but she was gone.’ He waved his arm back done the road.

‘Was that you? In that accident?’

‘Yeah.’ I nodded my head.

‘How are you even walking?’

‘Lucky break,’ I said. ‘Bessy copped most of it.’

‘Siccy.’ He closed the remaining few metres between us and grabbed my hands. ‘Where have you been? I’ve missed you.’

A pressure in the middle of my chest that I hadn’t been aware of started to dissolve. I saw Elliot looming behind him and sighed. The reunion wasn’t going to last much longer.

‘Do we have to?’ I looked over Joel’s shoulder at Elliot. ‘I mean, really?’

‘’Fraid so, Sicc.’

Joel let go of one of my hands so he could turn to face Elliot. ‘Why do you look so familiar?’ He shook his head as if trying to dislodge a memory.

‘He can take it,’ I said. ‘He can handle the truth.’

‘Oh, I know he can handle it,’ Elliot said. ‘This is his choice.’ He lifted the black box.

I pushed past Joel, putting myself squarely in front of him. ‘What do you mean? Elliot?’ I poked his arm. ‘What do you mean it is his choice?’

‘Sorry, that came out a little too literally. I mean it is easier for him if he doesn’t remember.’

‘But…he can help.’ It was a desperate attempt to keep him. To keep his memory of this moment intact.

I knew I couldn’t have him. I knew he belonged with his family now. But there was something comforting in having him know me. His love had always been my safety net and every time Elliot removed Joel’s memories, he ripped that away. Every time Joel forgot me, was a new wound.

Elliot sighed and looked to the sky. ‘Sorry, Sicc,’ he finally said. ‘Now, unless you want your memories wiped, step to the side.’

‘Wait.’ Joel put his hand up over my shoulder. ‘Don’t I get a say in all of this?’

‘Yeah mate, you do. You’ve already had your say.’

‘What?’ I stumbled to the side as Elliot lifted the black box. ‘What does that mean?’ I clenched my fists.

‘Yeah,’ Joel said, ‘What does that….’ The little red light flashed into Joel’s eyes and he froze.

‘What aren’t you telling me?’ I shoved Elliot. ‘Why won’t you tell me?’

‘Oh Sicc.’ Elliot sighed. ‘I’m not the enemy here. You have to trust me.’

‘Trust you?’ I sniffed back tears. ‘I don’t even know you.’

‘Oh, you know me all right.’ He loomed in front of me. ‘Now you going to behave yourself, or do I have to treat you like a naughty girl?’

I lifted one of my fists and jabbed it at his face.

He danced to the side and I missed. ‘Sicc, you don’t want to do this.’

‘Funny,’ I said. ‘Cause I really, really do want to do this.’

My next jab and hook missed him as well, but my ball kick got him square in the chest. He staggered back a few metres, a grim look on his face as he stalked back towards me.

‘You want to fight, little girl?’

‘I am not,’ right jab, ‘a little,’ left hook, ‘girl.’ My right uppercut got him square in the jaw.
His head flew back and he rubbed at his jaw as he shook his head at me.

‘What you gunna do?’ I asked. ‘Getting your arse whipped by a little girl isn’t going to be good for your street rep.’

‘Honestly, Sicc?’ He rubbed at his jaw again. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time.’

He wasn’t hitting back like I wanted him to. He wasn’t giving me the satisfaction I needed.
Frustration boiled inside me. Tears bit at my eyelids. And that, the fact he was making me cry, made me even angrier.

I wanted an all out fight. I needed a no bars hold, loser taps out, kind of brawl.

‘What you going to do?’ I put my hands on my hips.

‘Something I don’t want to.’

Oh goody. He was going to fight.

‘Sicily,’ Mum said. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Teaching Elliot a lesson.’ I looked toward where she stood by the back corner of the station. ‘Somebody has to.’

‘Sorry, Princess,’ Elliot said. ‘Not going to happen.’

I swung my head back to glare at him, ‘Don’t call me….’

The little black box appeared in front of my face and a red light blazed into the back of my eyeballs. I had one millisecond to think. One microsecond to remember that that was familiar. And then there was nothing.

***

 

01/10/18

One minute I was fast asleep having the weirdest of dreams, and the next I was blinking at my bedroom ceiling.

I stretched my body carefully. All the sore spots were gone.

We had been going to go out to the station and search for an alien.

I shook my head at that, still not quite able to process it.

Aliens. Here. Trying to kill me.

It was totally ludicrous but incredulously true.

I threw back the sheet and climbed out of bed. My clothes from the night before lay in a pile on the floor. I put them back on and then headed for the kitchen. My body had digested the previous night’s omelette and I was suddenly ravenous.

‘Hey, sleepy head.’ Mum looked up from the book she was reading.

‘Hey.’ I scratched at my head. I was sure my hair looked a disaster. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d washed it. ‘Where’s Elliot?’

‘Gone to the gym. Something about Earth’s gravitational force and needing to rebuild his muscle.’

I snorted. If he built anymore muscle we were going to have to assign him his own postcode.

I pulled open the fridge door and peered inside. ‘You eaten?’

‘Elliot cooked before he left.’ She hopped up and headed for the jug. ‘Handy having him around.’ She flashed a grin at me. Cooking had never been Mum’s favourite thing.

‘Handy schmandy.’ The jury was still out on Elliot as far as I was concerned. I mean I knew he didn’t mean me any harm, but I still wasn’t sure he didn’t have some sort of hidden agenda.

I pulled out a plate with leftovers on it. ‘What’s this?’

‘Chinese.’

‘Huh.’ I lifted the plastic wrap and sniffed at it. It smelt good. ‘When did you have Chinese?’

‘Last night.’

I popped the plate in the microwave and pulled a fork from the drawer. Last night.

‘Mum, what happened last night?’ I remembered what we had been going to do, I just couldn’t remember doing it. Couldn’t remember doing anything, in fact.

‘Oh.’ She cast me a quick glance over her shoulder. ‘You know, nothing much.’

I banged the end of the fork against my cheek. Tempting smells were wafting from the microwave. ‘Nothing?’

‘No, Dear.’ The tea making process seemed to be taking up an awful lot of her attention.

The microwave dinged and I pulled the plate from it. Steam flowed out when I lifted the plastic from the top.

I remembered getting ready to go. I concentrated harder on that memory as I took a seat at the table.

A flash of the car ride. Seeing the petrol station in the day and realising how lucky we had been. And then…A truck…a motorbike…

‘Joel.’ I let out a yelp.

Mum stared even more intently at the teapot, as if willing the tea leaves to brew.

‘Joel was there.’ I grasped for more information but everything, except the knowledge that Joel had been there, slithered from my grasp.

‘Why can’t I remember?’ I said to Mum. ‘What happened?’

‘You went all loco on me.’ Elliot’s head and half his body appeared in the doorway from the lounge. ‘I had to do something to calm you down and I didn’t like my chances of doing it without hurting you.’

I gaped at him. Sweat glistened over what I could see of his gigantic body. His muscles look like they glowed.

‘He’s right,’ Mum said. ‘You were a little crazy.’

‘Why? What?’ His muscles were really distracting. ‘Which?’ I looked down at my plate while I formed a coherent sentence. ‘What did you do to me?’

‘Sorry Sicc. Had to rearrange your brain a little.’ He shrugged and gave me a half smile.

‘You zapped me?’ I sprung to my feet.

‘Had no choice.’ He cocked his head to the side as he raised an eyebrow at me. ‘You going to make me do it again? Cause just so you know, that’s a game I can play all day.’

I chewed at the inside of my lip while I glared at him. ‘Fine.’ I sat down and picked up my fork. No need to let my food go cold just cause I wanted to beat the shit out of him.

‘Good,’ he said. ‘Cause I have something you might be interested in.’

‘A lifetime supply of shut-the-fuck-up?’ I asked.

‘No.’ He let out a chuckle. ‘Something even better than that.’

He repositioned himself from halfway into the kitchen to fully in and I let out a yelp and leaped to my feet.

His right hand was firmly clamped around the neck of an alien.

Well, I was assuming it was an alien. In the dark, it could possibly have passed for a monkey, but in the light of the day its green-tinged fur and egg-shaped head screamed ‘not monkey’.

‘Found this bad boy hiding in the shrubs out the front.’ He held the alien out towards me and shook it.

It let out a low moan and clawed at Elliot’s hand.

‘Oh, Elliot,’ Mum said. ‘You’re hurting him.’

‘Better him than us.’ I still wasn’t sure whether I should be running for my gun or not.

‘Look at him. He’s obviously harmless.’ Mum reached a hand towards the thing.

I put my hands on my hips and turned to look at her. ‘Mum. It’s an alien. It could be capable of ripping you to pieces with its bare hands. It might be able to spit acid. Who knows what it’s capable of.’

‘Actually,’ Elliot said. ‘Glenda’s right. This one is harmless.’ He let go of it and it scuttled across the room to press itself up against Mum’s legs.

‘There, there,’ Mum crooned. She patted it on top of its head, behind its floppy ears, and it let out a low growly noise.

‘Mum….’

‘It’s okay.’ She knelt down in front of it. ‘He’s just purring.’

Elliot said. ‘It’s a girl.’

I shook my head and sat back down. It was too early for that much weird. I shoved my fork into the food and shoveled some into my mouth.

The alien let out a gurgle and reached a hand towards me.

‘Oh,’ Mum said, ‘she’s hungry. Poor little girl.’

I stared at her. Was she really suggesting what I thought she was suggesting?

Elliot let out a laugh and sat down next to me. I wiggled to the side so I wasn’t pressed up against his sweaty skin.

‘Go on, Sicc.’ He elbowed me. ‘Sharing is caring.’

I turned my glare to him as I shoved more food into my mouth. The little alien let out a disappointed sigh and sagged back against Mum.

‘Oh fine.’ I put my fork down and hopped up.

The alien’s huge eyes blinked, watching intently as I slid some of my breakfast onto a second plate. Truth be told it had been too much food for me anyway.

It let out a happy gurgle as I handed the plate to Mum.

‘So,’ she looked over at Elliot, ‘does she use cutlery.’

‘Nah.’ He shook his head. ‘This is a Footla. It’s like an intelligent version of a dog.’

‘Does it speak?’ I chewed as I stared at it.

‘A little. They normally have the vocabulary ability of a toddler.’

‘So…it might have some information.’

Elliot leaned over and sniffed at my plate.

I smacked him on the back of the head.

‘Yeah.’ He sighed and sat back. ‘She’ll have information. If we can get it out of her.’

‘I don’t think that will be a problem.’ Mum nodded down at the footla. It was holding onto Mum with one hand while it ate with the other. ‘Just give her a little time.’

‘Time.’ He scrubbed at his hair. ‘Well, might go have a shower with that time.’

I sniffed in his direction and pulled a face. ‘Good idea.’

He laughed and shoved my shoulder as he hopped up. I jerked forwards, just managing to stop myself from face planting into my food.

‘You’ll keep,’ I said as he pushed open the back door.

I watched the footla as I finished my breakfast. It finished its meal and then looked up at Mum, blinking massive eyelids as it purred.

‘Oh,’ Mum said. ‘Isn’t she beautiful? I think I’ll call her Elsa.’

I snorted. ‘Mum, you can’t keep her.’

‘Why not?’

‘Well. Because….’ I scratched at my head. I really needed to wash my hair.

‘Give me one good reason why not.’ I had never known my father, but I was pretty sure I got my stubborn streak from Mum.

‘Well….’

The normal rules of ‘What will the neighbours think?’ and ‘What will your friends say?’ Didn’t apply to Mum. One of the reasons she lived this far from town was so that she had no neighbours, and well, any friends she once might have had had put her in the looney tunes basket a long ago.

I was sure without asking that that had only gotten worse in the last five years. She had acquaintances, but nobody who would be dropping by for coffee.

Except maybe Joel and Lorna.

‘Cause what if someone sees her? Like Joel, or Lorna?’

Mum shrugged. ‘Not like they come by every week. Normally I go there to see them.’

‘You do?’

‘Of course.’ She scratched Elsa on the head and the little alien snuggled against her. ‘I am little Sicily’s godmother, after all.’

‘You are?’

Elsa raised an arm and pointed it at me. ‘Sicily.’ The word had an odd accent to it. Like she had been taught English by somebody not native to the language.

‘Oh.’ Mum clasped her hands to her chest. ‘Her first words. Clever Elsa.’

I sat up straighter in my chair. ‘Mum, I doubt very much that was her first ever word.’

Mum pointed at herself and said, ‘Glenda.’

Elsa pointed at me again. ‘Sicily.’ Her eyes were wide, her body rigid as she moved into a crouch position.

She was scared. I didn’t need to be a zoologist to tell that. I just didn’t know which way she would respond to that fear.

‘Yes.’ I’d left my dart guns in my bag in the hallway. ‘I’m Sicily.’ It would take me about three seconds to get there and another one and a half to retrieve a gun and fire off a dart. The question was, if Elsa attacked, would I have four and a half seconds?

‘Danger.’ Elsa tugged on Mum’s skirt. ‘Sicily. Danger.’

‘What’s that?’ Mum asked.

I shrugged. Didn’t look like she was going to launch herself at me. ‘Either I am in danger, or I am the danger.’ I shrugged again. ‘All a matter of perspective I guess.’

Mum knelt down in front of Elsa. ‘What danger?’

Elsa scratched at one of her floppy green ears. ‘Danger. Everywhere.’

‘Elsa.’ I moved into the kitchen and knelt down beside mum.

Elsa cowered away from me and hid her face in Mum’s skirts.

‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I won’t hurt you.’

She peeped at me, blinking her huge eyes as she thought over what I had said. ‘Assassin,’ she

said.

‘Yes.’ There didn’t seem any point denying it. She’d obviously heard of me. ‘But I promise I won’t hurt you.’

She scratched at her ear again. Her eyes were a stunning mix of green and blue. I reached a hand towards her, pausing until she relaxed before touching her short, green fur. She felt like a freshly-brushed lambskin. My fingers ran through her coat of their own accord and she started to purr.

‘Wow. So soft,’ I said.

‘Well, that’s it then.’ Mu stood and dusted her hands off.

‘What’s what?’ I looked up at her. My fingers still explored Elsa’s coat.

‘She stays.’

‘Mum.’ I stopped stroking Elsa and stood. ‘She’s an alien.’

‘And?’ She cocked her head to the side like that was the most normal thing in the whole world.

‘Sicily. Danger.’ Elsa tugged at my jeans.

‘Elsa.’ I looked down at her. ‘What danger?’

She scratched at her ears again. ‘Danger,’ she repeated.

‘Do you know what the danger is?’

‘Danger. Assassin.’

I sighed and took a seat at the table again. Looked like we were going to have to catch another one if we wanted to get some information.

‘Cubber.’ Elsa sat up straight and thumped the floor with one of her feet. ‘Cubber puddy.’

‘Cubber whatty?’ I asked.

‘Cubber puddy.’ She ran over to Mum and hopped up and down on the spot. ‘Cubber puddy.’

‘What in the world is cubber puddy?’ Mum said.

‘What? Who?’ I shrugged.

Elsa tugged at Mum’s skirts. ‘Cubber puddy.’

‘She obviously thinks its important,’ Mum said.

The back door opened and Elliot stepped back into the kitchen. He had changed back into his cargo pants and tank top and smelt faintly of pine needles.

‘Mum wants to keep Elsa,’ I said.

‘Cubber puddy. Cubber puddy.’

‘Please tell her it’s a bad idea.’

‘Cubber puddy.’

‘I don’t see why not.’ He crossed his arms and looked down at Elsa. She was dancing from foot to foot with her chant. ‘Footla’s need a good home. They’re made to be companions.’ He cocked his head to the side. ‘What is she trying to say?’

‘Don’t know.’ I slumped forwards and put my elbows on the table. I hadn’t really expected his support so I don't know why it bothered me so much not to get it.

‘She knows who Siccy is,’ Mum said. ‘And she said danger and assassin before she started this.’

Elliot cocked his head to the side, his lips moving soundlessly in time with Elsa.

‘Cubber puddy. Cubber puddy. Cubber puddy.’

‘I’m not sure.’ I sat up straighter. ‘But it sounds like she’s trying to say….’ I paused and listened to her.

‘Say what?’ Elliot asked.

‘Does Coober Pedy mean anything to you?’ I looked up at him.

‘Coober Pedy?’

‘Yes. Yes.’ Elsa jumped up and down on the spot and pointed at me. ‘Cubber puddy.’

‘Oh.’ Elliot sat down at the table opposite me. ‘Coober Pedy. Yeah. That makes sense.’

‘What’s in Coober Pedy?’

‘You mean apart from opals?’

He was being annoying on purpose. He had to be. It was impossible for someone to be that annoying without trying.

‘Are the aliens trying to take control of the international opal market?’ Two could play that game.

‘Not the last time I checked the Galactic Commerce.’

I huffed out a breath. ‘I was being sarcastic.’

‘I know.’ He flashed his perfect smile at me.

‘What is in Coober Pedy?’ Mum picked Elsa up and sat beside me. The alien curled into a ball on her lap.

‘Ralph Yrakath.’

‘Who is Ralph Yrakath?’ It was impossible to say the surname without growling.

‘Only the most famous alien living on Earth.'

'Why is he so famous?' I reached a hand over and rubbed one of Elsa's ears.

'He’s the only one that has been able to assimilate in non-human form.’

I screwed up my face. ‘How does he do that?’

‘You’ll see, Sicc. You’ll see.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘It means we’re going to Coober Pedy. Now.’

I scratched at my head as I stood. ‘Not going anywhere till I’ve washed my hair.’

‘Would you mind washing the rest of yourself as well? You’re like a canvas for alien blood art. That sort of thing puts out the wrong kind of impression. Makes aliens nervous.’

‘Deal.’ I was sick of finding little flecks of the stuff flaking off onto my clothing. ‘Can’t have the aliens getting nervous.’

Elliot’s laugh followed me all the way down the hall to the bathroom.

14/10/18

 

Chapter Five

 

‘We need to go to the library,’ I said. I was feeling clean for the first time in recent memory. Probably because I was clean for the first time in recent memory.

‘Whatever for?’ Elliot put his teacup down and looked at me. The crumbs on his plate indicated he had been eating toast while I was showering.

‘We need to book flights. Too far to drive. We’re going to have to fly.’ I narrowed my eyes as I looked at him. ‘Unless, you have a computer with internet access?’

He dusted is fingertips off over his plate. ‘Of course we are flying. And of course I have internet access. We just don’t need the one for the other.’

‘But we need to book flights.’

‘No we don’t.’ He stood and took his plate and cup into the kitchen.

I watched while he washed and dried them. ‘You would have made someone a fine wife,’ I said.

He smiled as he put them back in the cupboards but didn’t bite back.

‘Where’s Mum?’ I looked around.

‘Gone to buy Elsa a bed and collar.’

‘Where’s Elsa?’

‘She took her with her.’

‘She what?’

He shrugged. ‘No reasoning with her. Reminds me of some else I know.’

‘What’s she planning on telling people?’

‘Nothing. Footlas are pretty good at camouflaging themselves. Trust me. No one will see her.’

‘You saw her.’

‘I knew what I was looking for.’ He dried his hands off on the dishcloth and hung it over the back of a chair. ‘You ready to go?’

‘Now?’ I looked at the clock. ‘Unless they’ve changed the schedules there are no flights out of here till later this arvo.’

He snorted. ‘Oh this is going to be so much fun.’

‘What is?’

‘Come on. Pack your bag. We’re going.’

I pulled a face. ‘I want to get more guns first.’

‘Guns? What do you need those antiquated things for when we’ve got laser weaponry?’

‘Guns aren’t affected by your black box thingamy jiggy.’

He sighed. ‘Will you please stop calling it that. It’s a wavelength mind map atomiser.’

‘Whatever.’ I grinned as the muscles in his jaw bunched. I hated it when he annoyed me, but it sure was fun doing it to him. ‘You have to agree it would be handy to have an option if somebody else decides that lasers are a no-go zone.’

‘Only APE has the wavelength mind map atomiser. We created it.’ He patted the pocket of his pants as if to reassure himself it was still there. ‘If you must know, I created it.’

‘You zapped my brain with some crazy-arse thing that you invented?’ I put my hands on my hips as I faced him.

‘Hey. It’s been extensively tested. And besides, I know what I’m doing. You don’t study metaphysics and neurochemistry for a couple of hundred years and not know what you’re doing.’

‘I still want some guns.’

He shook his head. ‘Not necessary.’

‘Well, I think it is.’ I met his glare with my own.

‘Fine.’ He rubbed at his temples with his fingertips. ‘We’ll pick them up on the way. Now go pack your stuff.’

I stuffed a couple of days worth of clothes and my toothbrush into my backpack, and then followed Elliot out the front. A shiny red BMW four wheel drive was parked by the kerb.

‘Where did that come from?’ I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen it around before.

He smirked and held his arm out, inviting me to get in the passenger door.

‘Did you hire it this morning? I mean, why would you hire a BMW?’ Did they even have BMWs at the car hire in Kalgoorlie?

He laughed and shook his head. ‘No Sicc. I didn’t hire it.’

‘Why did you say the word hire like that?’

‘You’re so cranky in the mornings.’

‘You make me cranky.’

I ignored his laughter while I played with the controls on the dash. I hadn’t ever been in a car this fancy before. The level of comfort was dangerous. Something I didn’t want to get used to. Things like that made you soft.

I glanced at Elliot. Not that he looked soft. Quite the opposite actually.

‘Is it really guns you’re after?’ He glanced over at me as he asked the question.

‘I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean.’

His fingers clenched the steering wheel as he huffed out some air. ‘Is it the guns you want, or are you hoping Joel will be there?’

‘Oh.’ I sat back into my seat. The air conditioning blew a steady stream of air onto me. ‘It’s the guns.’

‘Okay then.’ His fingers relaxed their death grip. ‘Just don’t want you getting all emotional on me again. We don’t have the time for me to….’

‘Don’t ever,’ I held my hand up, ‘use that thing on me again.’

He glanced sideways at me. ‘I can’t make promises like that. You were a loose cannon last night. That sort of behaviour could compromise the mission.’ He shook his head as he refocused his vision on the road. ‘I need you rational, Sicc. I need you sane. Otherwise you’re a liability.’

I took a deep breath in and held it. My emotions where Joel were concerned were convoluted. But Elliot was right. Me getting all crazy accomplished nothing. I was better than that.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Excuse me?’ His eyebrows rode high up his brow.

‘I said….’ I stopped and twisted in my seat. It had been hard enough getting the words out the first time. ‘I’m sorry.’ I took another deep breath. ‘I’m not quite sure what I did, but it won’t happen again. I can control my emotions.’

He met my eyes for a moment before he nodded. ‘Well, all right then.’

‘Just don’t mess with my brain.’

‘I won’t mess with your brain unless you ask me to.’

I snorted. ‘I will never ask you to.’

He shrugged. ‘Never say never.’ He looked over at me. ‘You taught me that.’

‘I did?’ I let out a laugh. ‘You hadn’t figured that out yourself in the last couple of centuries?’

‘Let’s just say my thinking patterns were a little more rigid before you showed up.’

He turned onto the street that housed my and Joel’s house. Sigh. Lorna and Joel’s house.

Joel’s car was parked in the drive but the one I assumed was Lorna’s was gone. School drop off time perhaps.

Elliot pulled up across the road and turned to face me. ‘What’s the plan?’

‘I go in. Get some guns. And then…ahhh, damn.’

‘What?’

‘I’m not going to be able to get the guns onto a plane. I don’t have the correct paperwork.’ I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.

‘That won’t be a problem.’

‘Really?’ I looked down at the pocket that housed the black box. ‘Well, okay then.’

I pushed open the door and the hot Kalgoorlie air smacked me in the face. ‘I’m going around the back.’

Elliot pushed his own door open. ‘I’ll wait there for you, just in case.’

I nodded. I was pretty sure there would be an ‘in case’. Unless Joel was in the shower I wasn’t going to be able to avoid him in the small house.

Elliot followed me down the side of the house. I hoped the neighbours weren’t curtain twitching as we stooped so that our heads were below the height of the office windows. That sort behaviour was sure to get the cops called if noticed.

I peered through the rear door as I tested the handle. Joel was not in the lounge and the door was unlocked. Hopefully our luck would continue.

Elliot returned my thumbs up as I slid the glass door to the side. I crept into the lounge and paused, tilting my head to the side as I listened for Joel’s whereabouts. Water noises were coming from the main bedroom. I couldn’t believe my luck. He was in the shower.

The keys to the gun safe were in the kitchen drawer where they had been the last time. I grabbed them and then crept down the corridor, past the open door to the main bedroom, and into the office.

It only took a few seconds to get the cabinet open. I wanted a rifle, one that wouldn’t disintegrate so easily, another couple of pistols, and as much ammunition as I could get.

I felt guilty as I looked at Joel’s guns. He still had the original ones, but he had added to the collection.

I wasn’t going to take all of them. And besides, I had no doubt they were all insured. Joel had been reliable that way.

I, on the other hand, had always held more to an I’ll-deal-with-it-if-it-happens kind of policy.

The squeaking of the floorboard in the doorway to the office gave me the second’s warning I needed.

I threw my arm up to protect my head as a baseball bat swung towards me.

‘Joel,’ I yelled as the bat descended towards my forearm.

There was a cracking sound as wood connected with skin. It hurt. It hurt a lot. But it was the bat that came off second best.

Wood splintered as the bat broke around my arm. I wasn’t sure who was more stunned. Joel or I. He stared at the splintered shaft of wood for a millisecond before he drove it at my face.

I swept my arm around, driving the weapon to the side and then I palmed him in the chest. I just needed him to back up for a second, to see that it was me.

Well, that was my intention anyway. But rather than back up, Joel flew through the doorway to the office and down the hall. He landed on his arse, skidding backwards a few more feet before he stopped.

I stared at my hand and then at him. It was impossible that I could propel him that far with a simple hand thrust.

Joel put his hand to his chest and coughed a couple of times. ‘Siccy?’ he croaked.

‘Yeah.’ I nodded my head. ‘It’s me.’

He stared at me for a moment before saying, ‘Feel like I just got hit by a train.’

‘Sorry.’ I walked over to where he lay and held my hand out. ‘Didn’t realise I was packing that sort of firepower.’

‘I’m not talking about the hit.’

He grasped my hand and I pulled him to his feet.

‘Oh.’ The reunion thing just didn’t seem to get any easier. ‘Yeah, sorry about that too.’

He held onto my hand as he stared at me. ‘Why do I feel like this is not a total surprise?’

‘It’s not Joel.’ I let go of his hand and stepped back. ‘I’m sorry. I wish I could explain but….’ I shrugged one shoulder.

‘It’s complicated?’

I laughed. ‘Yes. It’s complicated.’

Elliot moved into the hallway behind Joel.

‘This is my friend.’ I gestured at Elliot. ‘He’s going to uncomplicate things for you.’

Joel stared at Elliot. ‘We’ve met before,’ he said.

‘Yeah, mate. We have.’

Joel looked back at me. ‘You’re after weapons.’

I nodded.

‘What do you need?’

‘A couple of pistols and a rifle.’

‘I’ve still got your Steyr and your Beretta.’ He walked over to the cabinet.

‘Ahhh, actually, you don’t,’ I said.

He stared into the cabinet and then back at me, a puzzled look on his face as he said, ‘I already gave you those?’

‘Yeah. Need more ammunition for the Beretta. Kind of broke the Steyr.’

He shook his head but didn’t say anything as he pulled two Glocks out and handed them to me. Following it up with ammunition. I placed the guns and boxes of bullets in my backpack.

The room seemed to shrink as Elliot walked over to peer into the cabinet over my shoulder.

‘Is that an AK-47?’ he asked.

‘Yeah.’ Joel touched the barrel of the Kalashnikov. ‘It doesn’t shoot straight anymore. This one is good though.’ He pulled his Remington out of the cabinet.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked. I knew how much he loved that rifle.

‘Yeah.’ He tilted his head to the side and stuck his pointing finger into his ear. ‘Why do I feel like my brain is itchy?’

‘Cause it is.’ Elliot touched Joel on the shoulder. ‘In a matter of speaking anyway.’ He pulled the black box out of his pocket and looked over at me. ‘I’m not going to be able to do this too many more times.’

‘Why not?’

‘He’s too strong. The multiple layers of memories I’m blocking is starting to overpower the size of the block.’

‘Well, don’t do it. You know he can handle it.’

‘Protocol.’ He held the box up in front of Joel and said, ‘You ready?’

Joel let out a sigh and shook his head. ‘Weirdest thing,’ he said. ‘It’s like I know what’s about to happen, and yet I don’t.’ He looked over at me and said, ‘Just in case I haven’t already told you this, I never stopped loving you.’

I closed my eyes for a second while I soaked that up. ‘Right back at ya.’ There were tears in my voice but I was proud of the fact that I managed to hold it together.

Elliot held the box up in front of Joel and the little red light flashed. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Let’s go before he comes to.’

I looked back over my shoulder at Joel as we walked down the hallway. He had a puzzled look on his face, like he was desperately trying to remember something. I fought my urge to go back and hug him.

‘Come on.’ Elliot nudged me. ‘We’ve got a planet to save.’

I sighed. He was right. No matter how sucky I felt at that moment the stakes were much higher than just that of a broken heart.

***

29/10/18

'The airport is that way.’ I shoved my thumb backwards over my shoulder.

‘Yep. Which is why we are going this way.’ Elliot nodded his head in the direction that the car was moving.

I pushed back into the soft seat and pretended that his purposeful vagueness was not getting to me.

‘So, we’re driving then?’ I didn’t know if I was going to survive a road trip with Elliot. I might have to kill him in his sleep.

‘In a manner of speaking.’

I flexed my head to the side and rubbed at the muscles there. Yep. Not getting to me at all.

We drove for another ten minutes, him singing along to the radio, me staring out the window while I worked out the best way to kill him.

‘Don’t you just love this song?’ He beat his hand on the steering wheel in time to the music. ‘Come on. You know the words. I know you do.’

I could shoot him, but there would be blood.

‘Are you ready, hey, are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?’

I eyed his seven foot frame out of the corner of my eye.

‘Out of the doorway the bullets rip, to the sound of the beat. Yeah.’

Too much blood. Probably best not to kill him while he was driving anyway.

‘Another one bites the dust. Ohhhh yeah. Another one bites the dust.’ His whole body bounced from side to side with the beat of the song.

But then I didn’t like my chances of taking him out in hand-to-hand combat.

‘And another one gone, and another one gone. Another one bites the dust.’

So…I would have to go with the gun. But wait till we were out of the car.

‘Ooooh, yeah.’ He indicated and drove the BMW off the smooth road and onto a bumpy dirt one.

I sat up in my seat and peered at our surrounding. This could work.

He drove for a few minutes on the track, finally stopping in a large clearing. ‘This will do,’ he said as he stopped the car. ‘Come on, out you get. Too dangerous to do it with us still in it.’

I eyed him warily. Perhaps he had been having similar death thoughts about me. Which was totally unfair, cause I hadn’t even hummed once.

I stepped out of the car and pulled my bag and the rifle off the back seat.

‘Back up, Sicc,’ he said. ‘There’s always a bit of an electro-particle backwash that you really don’t want to get caught up in.’

Curiosity overcame my urge to commit homicide as I backed away from the car. What was he up to?

He extended his left arm out straight towards the BMW and screwed up his face in concentration. He clenched his fist and then clapped his right hand down on the back of his wrist.

The BMW wobbled for a second, the edges shimmering from red to a hard, matte black. And then it imploded inward to a small, glowing sphere. The next second, a wave of hot air rushed over me, blowing my hair back off my face as the pulsing sphere exploded.

I squealed and leapt backwards but the explosion stopped, and a solid mass formed in the place of the BMW. It was an ovoid disc. Glinting hard in the morning sun, it’s shiny, black surface gave off a ruby red tinge.

‘What?’ I gasped. ‘How?’

Elliot clutched his sides as he laughed. ‘Oh.’ He sniffed and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. ‘That was so worth all the death glares you’ve been giving me for the last half an hour.’ He started to laugh again. ‘You squealed like a little girl.’

‘I most certainly did not.’ I pulled my shoulders back. ‘I was just a little surprised. It’s not everyday you see a….’ I walked to the vehicle and ran a hand over its smooth surface. ‘What is this anyway?’

‘I think you would know it as an unidentified flying object.’

‘UFO? Seriously?’ I turned to look at him.

He shook his head. ‘Honestly Sicc, your ability to accept some things without question, but be skeptical of others totally confounds me. I mean we have confirmed there are aliens, right?’

I shrugged a shoulder. ‘I guess so.’

‘I guess so?’ He pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘You just guess so?’

‘Okay fine. There are aliens.’ I didn’t know why he was being a pain about it.

‘Wonderful. Progress.’ He shook his head as he rolled his eyes. ‘Well, why would you find it surprising that this could be conceived as a UFO? I mean it looks exactly like every UFO ever depicted.’

‘Normally they’re like a plate. This looks like it’s been stretched. More like a serving platter.’

His nostrils flared as he stared at me. ‘Semantics,’ he finally said. ‘You know, sooner or later you are going to have to let go of the past.’

‘I’m not sure what me thinking this looks like a serving platter and my past have to do with each other.’

‘It’s not what you think this looks like that is the problem,’ he said. ‘It’s the fact that you are dragging your heels and refusing to embrace reality because that would mean accepting that this is real.’ He gestured at the UFO. ‘That this is your life now. Not Joel.’

I felt my spine stiffen. ‘Well, who went and made you a psychologist?’

‘Actually,’ he said, ‘if you must know, The University of Cambridge did.’

We glared at each other across the surface of the spaceship. There really was no come back for that.

‘Now,’ he said, ‘if you’ve finished being argumentative, perhaps we should get to Coober Pedy so we can got on with saving the world.’

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Let’s go save the world. Lead on Dr Shakespeare.’ I waved my arm at the UFO.

He shook his head and pushed a button on the side of the craft. Two doors lifted, one from either side, like a Ferrari. He climbed in the side closest him.

Adrenaline thrummed in my veins as I approached it. Truth be told I was having a little trouble processing everything.

I was going to go for a ride in a real-life spaceship.

I mentally wrote it on my bucket list so I could tick it back off again.

The metal was cool under my hand as I supported my weight on the rim of the open door. I poked my head in to see what I was dealing with. ‘Impossible.’

I looked back out at the exterior of the vehicle and then back inside. Elliot was harnessing himself into one of four seats which sat in front of a panel of switches and flashing lights.

‘Come on.’ He waved at me. ‘You’re letting all the cold air out.’

I snorted and climbed in. ‘How is this possible?’ I asked as I walked towards him. ‘I mean, it’s so big in here.’

‘Not as spacious as the K45H model. But they were all out of them when I had this fitted.’

He turned a dial in front of him and the faintest of vibrations hummed under my feet.

He shook his head. ‘I’m going to have to get that looked at after this is all finished.’

‘Yes, but how is it possible it’s so big inside?’

‘Don’t tell me you never watched Doctor Who.’

‘The tarsus? But that was fictional.’

He snorted. ‘Where do you think they got the idea from?’

‘An alien told them?’

‘They’ve been influencing humans since the beginning. Started with the pyramids, now its pop culture.’

I slid onto the seat next to him and reached above my head to where the harness was attached to the seat. I pulled it down over my body, moving against the loose weave of the material as I clipped it into the seat on either side of myself. The rope it was made of was soft as silk and flexible. It encased my torso fully.

‘What is this?’ I ran my hand over the webbing.

‘Tactus saliva.’ Elliot’s hands flicked over the buttons and switches on the dash.

My hand froze in the process of stroking the harness. ‘What’s a tactus?’

‘A gigantic worm.’ He looked over at me. ‘This is what they use to build their cocoons.’

I poked my tongue out at him. ‘Why didn’t you just call it tactus silk?’

He grinned as he looked over at me. ‘Now where would be the fun in that?’

‘What’s this do?’ I reached my hand towards a disc which extended from the dash. There was one in front of each of the four seats.

Elliot slapped my hand away. ‘Don’t touch anything,’ he said.

‘But how am I going to learn anything if I can’t touch it?’

‘Honestly, Sicc.’ He shook his head as he continued with his preparation. ‘You already know this stuff. You’re the best damn pilot in this part of the galaxy.’

‘I’m…what?’

He sighed as he stopped work. ‘Last year you were picked to represent APE in the Galactical Services Air Race.’ He looked back at the dash. ‘Don’t get a big head or anything, but you won.’

‘I did?’ I sat back into the seat and the harness tightened against me.

‘Yeah.’ He grinned. ‘It was close. I thought the NSI guy had you, but you pulled this brilliant slash and dash manoeuvre just in front of the finish line and you pipped him.’

I could feel a smile stretching my face. ‘What’s NSI?’

His hands took up their dance across the panel again. ‘Nasontean Space Investigations.’ He pulled a face. ‘They’re our biggest adversary. You were quite the hero at the agency. The party went on for days.’

I stared at the panel as I tried to envision myself flying. If I was that good, surely I should remember something.

‘You ready?’ Elliot looked over at me.

‘Yep.’ I nodded my head.

‘Excellent. I know you are going to love this.’

He pulled back on the disc in front of his seat and the UFO shot into the sky.

‘Brwhaaaaaahaayahhhh,’ I screeched.

‘Oops, sorry.’ Elliot grinned. ‘Should have warned you about that. Takes some getting used to.’

I stared out the front window as the sky around us darkened. ‘You think so?’ I drew in a deep breath. ‘I think I left my stomach back in Kalgoorlie.’

A display slid up out of the dash in front of him and he punched at a button. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he said, ‘this is Captain Shakespeare up on the deck. I just want to welcome you to today’s flight to Coober Pedy. We are currently cruising at an altitude of 50,000 feet and a speed of 1150 kilometres an hour.’

The sky outside turned totally dark. A pitch black sea dusted with thousands of shining stars.

The feel of my body pressing down into the seat disappeared.

‘Holy shit,’ I said. ‘We’re in space.’

‘Where did you think we were going?’

‘Coober Pedy.’

He laughed. ‘We are babe, we are. This is the quickest way.’

A light on the dash started flashing in time with a beeping sound.

‘What’s that?’ I clutched at the harness.

Elliot pulled a face. ‘We’ve got incoming.’

‘Incoming?’ I looked out through the front window. ‘What does that mean?’

‘It means that the Nasonteans, or the Grekorians, or maybe even the Lizarns are going to try and take us out.’

‘Right,’ I said. ‘Of course they are.’ I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

‘You’re going to have to do the honours. I mean normally I shoot while you fly, but hey, you got to roll with the punches.’

Roll with the punches? Spaceships were about to try and shoot us out of the sky. How was he remaining so calm?

‘Ummmm.’ I looked around. ‘Where are they, and what do I do?’

‘Honestly, it’s like being with a rookie all over again.’ He shook his head. ‘You’re controller,’ he tapped the disc he was using to fly, ‘is set to attack. Just grab it and start shooting.’

‘But, I can’t see anything.’

‘Oh. Right. Sorry.’ He flashed me a grin as he hit a button. The entire outside of the UFO disappeared and suddenly all I could see was space.

‘Holy shit.’ I clutched at the harness.

‘It’s still there,’ he said. 'Just transluscent for now.’

‘Right. Of course.’ I could feel my head bobbing up and down like a dashboard dolly.

‘No pressure or anything Sicc, but they’re almost on us.’

I grabbed the disc and pulled it towards me and the whole thing pulled away from the dash.

‘We got a live one.’ Elliot’s voice was tense. ‘Nasontean. Hot on our rear. You’ve got about five seconds to save our lives.’

I looked over my shoulder and my chair swiveled one hundred and eighty degrees. What I guessed was the engine, seemed to float in space behind me. Beyond that I could see another UFO, similar in shape to ours, but bigger.

Red lasers zoomed towards us.

‘They’re shooting,’ I yelped. ‘They’re shooting at us.’

‘What did you think they were going to do? Ask us out to dinner?’

My body swayed in the harness as Elliot flicked our spacecraft from side to side. The red laser beams cut to either side of us.

‘Why are they shooting?’ I clutched the disc out in front of me.

‘They’re trying to kill us. And, no pressure or anything, but if you don’t get your shit together they’re going to succeed.’

Another volley of lasers raced towards us. I stared helplessly at them. The disc was smooth and hard and I had no idea what to do with it. I’d played a few computer games in my time but they hadn’t prepared me for this.

‘Should this thing have buttons or something?’

We flipped ninety degrees, and then onto our backs as Elliot avoided the lasers. It was weird, being upside down without the feel of blood rushing to my head.

‘Come on, Sicc.’

‘I don’t know what to do.’

‘Anytime you’re ready.’

‘Elliot. I don’t know what to do.’ Panic shredded my voice.

‘Sicc.’ He yelled. ‘Stop thinking. Start doing.’

The Nasonteans levelled off behind us again and red beams zoomed towards us. Elliot took us through a twisty roller coaster route to avoid them, but one struck home. The whole craft shuddered as the laser ripped into it.

Fear turned into anger as a mist lifted from my mind.

How dare they. How dare they challenge us. This was our planet. Not theirs. They couldn’t have it.

I had no conscious control over the scream that left my throat. It was like somebody else was taking over. Somebody else lifting the disc, twisting and turning it. And all of a sudden, red laser beams were shooting out of the back of our UFO and tearing towards theirs. They flipped onto their side and peeled away.

‘Elliot,’ I said. ‘Next time they’re on our tail, I want you to pull a tight loop.’

‘You sure about that?’

‘Absofuckinlutely.’

‘All right then.’ He flashed me a grin over his shoulder. One tight loop coming up.’

A few seconds later they were back. An annoying fly that you just couldn’t shake off.
I really hated flies.

‘Now,’ I yelled, as I fired out the rear.

As Elliot pulled up, I shifted the control of the disc to the guns on the roof. Red lasers rained down on the Nasonteans ship, but they dodged and weaved their way through them.

Elliot flipped us into place behind them and I shifted to the guns at the front. This time, they weren’t fast enough. Four out of five of my beams sizzled into the back.

They tried to run, a mouse avoiding the cat, but Elliot stuck to them like glue. He wove a masterful dance while I peppered them with laser beams.

They begun to slow, white smoke pouring out of their engine bay, and that’s when I brought out the big guns.

I pressed both my thumbs together into the back of the disc, and flexed the edges towards me. A ray of golden laser beam about a metre in diameter roared out of our ship.

They were helpless as it hit them. The laser spreading out to encompass their ship. One second they were flying, the next they were exploding. Bits of UFO shredding off into outer space.

‘Now, that’s what I’m talking about,’ Elliot shrieked as he pulled us up and away from the debris.

I panted as I looked back over my shoulder at the mess.

Elliot let out a laugh. ‘Looks like the Lizards and Grekorinas are having second thoughts about attacking us.’

The controls, previously fluid between my fingers, hardened back into a cold metal disc. I placed it back into its slot in the dash.

‘That’s nice,’ I said.

He looked me. ‘You’re not going to go into shock are you?’

‘Hmmmmm?’ I stared out through the transparent walls. I could see three other ships, the sun reflecting off their skin as they raced away from us.

Elliot punched at the dash and the walls shimmered back into view. ‘Sicc.’ He snapped his fingers at me. ‘Hey, Sicc.’

I blinked and shook my head. ‘What?’

‘That’s better. Thought you were going to have a melt down for a second then.’

‘Me? Melt down?’ I straightened in my seat.

I had known what to do. I had no memory of how I had known, but the weird thing was that that information was now mine to access. Like a tiny little door had been opened into the memories of the last five years.

‘Wouldn’t be the first time,’ he said.

‘Please. As if.’ I snorted and looked at the dash but my new memories held no clue as to how to fly the thing.

‘Five minutes to Coober Pedy,’ Elliot said.

He turned the spacecraft and suddenly Earth filled the view from the windscreen. It hung in space, a gigantic glowing ball.

I sucked in a breath. I had seen it like that on television before, but that had not prepared me for the intensity of actually experiencing it for real. Continents crawled around the globe, breaking up the blue, blue seas.

Ever before I saw that view, weather had seemed like a localised event. Something that was just happening where I was.

But now, looking at the patches of striated clouds encircling the planet, I got it. I saw the big picture. I understood how the Earth’s atmosphere worked synergistically as whole. How things that happened in one region, affected far off places. And it made me wonder, if the Earth was like that, then was the whole galaxy too?

I mused over that as we sped towards Coober Pedy. The world got bigger and bigger till it wasn’t a globe, just continents and water.

‘We’re about to enter Earth’s atmosphere.’ Elliot punched a button on the dash and the walls of the spacecraft disappeared again. ‘You got to see this,’ he said.

‘Got to see…holy shit.’ Red and orange sparks exploded around us, dragging backwards off the front of the ship. It was like we had become a giant firework, plummeting towards the earth. ‘Elliot.’ I clutched at the webbing with both hands as my breath left me in shallow pants.

‘Wahhhooooooo,’ Elliot shrieked.

We were going to die. Going to burn up. Going to…

The sparks disappeared and blue light flooded into replace it.

‘Oh.’ I sagged backwards against my seat as gravity reclaimed my body. ‘That was….’ I licked dry lips. ‘Beautiful.’ And scary.

‘You always love reentry.’

I nodded. Now that I knew we weren’t going to become crispy critters I wanted to go out there and do it again.

‘Elliot, can they see us?’

‘Can you be a bit more specific as to who they are?’

‘Humans. The military. Air traffic control.’

‘Oh. No. We haven’t given humans the technology yet that would allow them to see through our cloaking mechanisms.’

‘So when people see UFOs?’

‘Sloppy work. The general consensus among the alien planets is that if a few humans see you it doesn’t matter cause nobody will believe them anyway. Except the conspiracy theorists. And well,’ he let out a laugh, ‘nobody believes them.’

‘Do aliens treat other planets the same way? I mean keeping them in the dark?’

He tilted his head to the side. ‘Some.’

‘Why?’

‘Varied reasons. Some cause it wouldn’t make any difference. Some because they aren’t globally aware enough to handle it. And others, well, others they created for specific purposes so they like to remain anonymous.’ He pointed out the front. ‘Coober Pedy coming up.’

The arid ruggedness of the centre of Australia lay like a blanket in front of us. A spray of buildings stood out against the red, rocky earth. I watched in fascination as they got closer.

It appeared that the town had hardly anyone living in it, but I knew that a lot of the houses had been built under ground.

Mostly to take advantage of the temperature stabilising properties of the earth, but partly because of the loophole that allowed them to keep opals found in the vicinity of the town, an otherwise ‘no go’ zone for the fossickers, if they happened to come across them when they were excavating their home. Many a twelve-bedroom house existed in the depths of Coober Pedy.

Elliot hovered over the town for a minute while we scoped the area.

‘The guy we want normally hangs out over there.’ He pointed towards a jumble of metal objects.

‘The rubbish tip.’

‘No,’ he snorted. ‘It’s the left over set from when they filmed Pitch Black.’

‘That Sci-fi movie?’

‘Yeah. That’s the one.’

He flew closer to the area.

‘Oh. It’s a spaceship,’ I said.

‘Last I heard he hangs out here getting his photo taken with tourists.’

‘Was he in the film?’

He let out a snort of laughter. ‘No. You’ll see why.’

He maneuvered the spaceship to the far side of the movie set and settled her down. Dust swirled up in a cloud around us.

‘What if somebody sees?’ I said.

‘They’ll just think its a whirly whirly.’

I unbuckled the harness and followed Elliot to one of the doors. He hit a silver button with the palm of his hand and the door elevated in front of us, revealing a dwarf dressed in an ET costume.

It looked totally out of context as he looked down the barrel of gun and said, ‘Don’t move a fuckin’ inch or I’ll blow a hole through both of you.’

Elliot placed his hands in the air. ‘Hello Ralph,’ he said. ‘Fancy meeting you here.’

***

5/11/18

 

‘Elliot?’ Ralph lowered his weapon. ‘Elliot, man, is that really you?’

'Sure is buddy.’ Elliot stepped out of the spaceship. ‘Long time no see.’

‘Wow. What a blast from the past.’ Ralph tucked the gun into a holster hidden by his leather vest. ‘Last time I saw you we were making the most of the 70’s.’ He sighed. ‘Free love. Now those were the good years.’ He shifted his gaze to me and let out a wolf whistle. ‘Heard you got yourself a live one. Care to share?’

Elliot laughed and thumped Ralph on the back. ‘Ralph, this is Siccy.’ Elliot gestured at me. ‘Siccy is my partner.’

Ralph looked from me back to Elliot. ‘Congrats, man. Knew you’d find yourself a soul mate one day.’

‘Ummm.’ I pulled a face. ‘Not that kind of parter. We work together.’

‘Ohhhhh, right.’ Ralph looked from me back to Elliot. ‘So you don’t mind if I tap that?’ He waved a hand in my direction.

Elliot laughed again. ‘Well, I guess that depends on whether or not Sicc wants to be tapped.’ He made little bunny ears as he said the word tapped.

‘Ohh, euuuuwwwww.’ Tapped? ‘No thanks. Not looking to be tapped.’

‘Shame.’ Ralph’s shoulders slumped. ‘It gets mighty lonely out here, and the nights can be cold.’

‘Well, why do you live here?’ I looked around. Nothing except rocky ground and the occasional shrub existed as far as the eye could see.

He shrugged. ‘Only place I can be myself. And besides, the tourists love it.’

‘It must get hot being in that costume,’ I said.

He looked at Elliot. ‘Since when is a leather vest a costume? I guess if I had a cowboy hat and a pair of leather chaps it could work.’

Elliot’s nostrils flared and the corners of his eyes squished together, a sure fire sign he was doing his darnedest not to laugh. ‘She’s not really a fancy dress kind of gal.’

Ralph looked me up and down. ‘Guess you can’t have everything.’ He turned and started shuffling back towards the fake space ship. ‘Want to see my digs?’

‘Love to.’ Elliot nudged my shoulder with his arm and grinned.

‘What?’ There was something I wasn’t getting.

He shook his head and turned back to our UFO. ‘Just putting Fred to bed,’ he called out to Ralph.

The little man nodded and held his hand up in acknowledgment as he continued his shuffle towards the space junk.

‘Fred? You call your spaceship Fred?’

He held his left arm out and slapped the back of his wrist. The spaceship shimmered in and out of focus before collapsing into a pulsing ball of light. It shot towards his arm and slammed into his wrist. ‘Can you think of a better name for it?’ He turned towards me.

‘I could think of a million better names.’

‘Name one.’

‘One better name?’

‘Yeah.’

I looked up at the sky while I thought. ‘Sam,’ I said.

‘Sam?’

‘Yes, Sam.’

‘Why would I call a flying mobile, Sam?’

‘You call it a flying mobile?’

‘What did you think it was?’

‘A UFO.’

‘It’s not really a UFO if you have identified it.’

‘You called it that.’ I put my hands on my hips.

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘I said it could be conceived as a UFO.’

I flexed my head to the side and clenched my teeth. ‘So, it’s a spaceship then,’

‘Oh, no. Spaceships are massive.’

‘Getting old over here,’ Ralph yelled out.

‘Personal transporters can’t handle spaceships.’

‘Is that what that is?’ I touched the back of his left wrist. ‘A personal transporter?’

‘Yeah.’ He nodded. ‘Come on before Ralph cracks a gasket.’ He turned and headed towards the movie set.

‘I still think Fred is lame.’

He laughed as he looked back over his shoulder. ‘Not as lame as what you called yours.’

‘Yeah, right.’ I shook my head. As if I was going to fall for that one.

‘In here.’ Ralph’s voice echoed out from inside the fake…hmmm…I was going with flying mobile. It didn’t look big enough to be considered a spaceship.

Elliot ducked and climbed through the doorway.

‘Down here,’ Ralph yelled.

A hatch door lay open in the floor. A ladder disappeared down into the ground, a dim light showing us the way.

‘After you.’ Eliot waved his hand at the hole in the floor.

I squatted and lowered my legs into the hole, catching my feet on the rungs of the ladder. It held secure beneath me as I shimmied down far enough that I could hold on with my hands.

‘Got to tell you,’ Ralph said. ‘I’m loving the view from down here.’

‘Don’t be such a pervert.’ Elliot stuck his head through the hole.

I ignored them both as I made my way down the ladder. Their echoing voices told me that this was far bigger than the little dug out cave I had expected.

The ladder vibrated as Elliot moved out onto it. ‘Let me know when you’re down, Sicc.’

I climbed the last few metres and jumped to the ground. ‘Done.’

He moved his hands and feet to the outside of the ladder and slid down, landing beside me a few seconds later.

‘Show off,’ I said.

‘Why walk when you can run?’

‘Why run when you can fly?’ I took in sharp breath of air. It had come out so naturally, like something I had said many times before, and yet, I had no memory of it. I had an urge to stick my hand up my nose and scratch my brain.

‘Exactly.’ Elliot smiled as he reached out and tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear.

‘Want a beer?’ Ralph said.

‘Nah, man.’ Elliot turned towards him. ‘Not while I’m driving. We copped a bit of heat coming in. Got to have my A game on.’

I spun and looked out into the depths of the cavern. Crystals sparkled in the far corners, throwing back the light from the small lamp Ralph had turned on.

‘Wow,’ I said. ‘This is amazing.’

A bed sat to one side, while a kitchen, complete with cabinetry and a fridge, sat off to the other. I walked past a lounge chair and coffee table to the round kitchen table.

Three normal-sized chairs and one that was a cross between a chair and a high-backed stool were arranged around it.

Ralph sat in the stool. He flipped the lid off his beer and took a sip.

‘Mind if I make a cup of tea?’ Elliot asked.

‘Help yourself.’

I pulled out a seat and sat opposite Ralph. ‘I’ll have a beer.’

Elliot paused in the process of putting water in a kettle and looked over his shoulder at me.

‘Do you think that is wise?’

I shrugged. ‘Just nearly died. I want a beer.’

‘Can I keep her?’ Ralph asked.

Elliot shook his head while he took a beer from the fridge and handed it to me.

‘Thanks.’ I grabbed the bottle opener Ralph had placed on the table and de-lidded my beer. The chilly liquid tasted good as it dribbled down my throat. I took a moment to appreciate it before turning my attention to Ralph.

He still had his costume on. It moved so realistically, like it was moulded to his body. Maybe he’d had it specially made?

He lifted the beer to his mouth and I watched as his lips puckered around the neck of the bottle.

So freakin’ realistic.

Elliot poured water into a mug and jiggled his teabag up and down. It always looked so ludicrous, his massive hands doing such dainty tasks as making tea.

He added a dash of milk, then threw the teabag out and put the milk away before taking a seat between Ralph and me.

‘So how’s business?’ he asked the small man.

‘Been better. Not many tourists this time of year. Too hot.’ He shrugged. ‘I make enough to get by.’

Elliot nodded. ‘You still in touch with home base?’

Ralph took another slurp of his beer. ‘I hear things.’

‘Have you heard anything lately?’ Elliot cradled the mug in his hands and blew at the steaming tea.

‘Nah.’ Ralph pushed his chair back and put his feet up on the table.

I stared at his toes. The triple digits wiggled as he pushed back so that he rocked on the back two legs of his chair. How was he controlling the costume like that?

‘Why?’ He stopped in the act of taking another drink and cocked his head to the side. ‘What have you heard?’

Elliot took a sip before replying. ‘Things are afoot.’

Speaking of feet, they had even embedded a couple of bristly hairs into the top joint of the big toe on Ralph’s costume.

I reached across the table and grasped one with my nails. It resisted my quick tug for a second before I yanked it free.

‘Ouch.’ Ralph’s arms waved in the air while he tried to maintain his balance on his chair. ‘Do you mind?’ He glared at me. ‘I mean who just does that? Who pulls someone else’s toe hairs out?’

Light reflected off the shaft of the hair that I held between my thumb and first finger. I stared at it, and then at Ralph.

‘Crap.’ I rocked backwards on my chair. ‘You’re real.’

Elliot threw his head back and his booming laugh echoed around the cavern.

‘What do you mean I’m real? What did you think I was? A stuffed toy?’ Ralph took his feet off the table and crossed his arms across his chest as he leaned towards me.

‘No. I…I thought you were….’ I waved a hand at him. How was it possible?

‘You’ll have to excuse Siccy.’ Elliot wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. ‘She’s been through a lot lately.’

‘I have no memory of the last five year.’ I shrugged. ‘Sorry about your toe.’ I tried not to pull a face as I wiped the hair off on the side of my jeans.

‘Ohhhhh, riiiiggghhhttt.’ Ralph smiled as he stared at me. ‘That time is it?’

Elliot cleared his throat as his head moved almost imperceptibly from side to side. ‘We’ve heard that the biggest threat to Earth ever is about to go down.’

Ralph’s head snapped around to look at Elliot. It was a relief not to have his massive googly eyes boring into me anymore. ‘Biggest threat?’

Elliot nodded as he drank some more of his tea.

‘Stupid, mother, friggin’, pains in the arses.’ Ralph slapped his hand on table. ‘Why can’t they just leave things alone?’

‘So you have heard something?’
‘A rumor.’ He shook his head and then tipped his beer back, taking a couple of chugs of it before continuing. ‘I thought it was a joke.’ He wiped at a dribble of beer that had escaped the corner of his mouth. ‘Seems the vast majority of the ADHD aliens have gotten bored with Earth. They want a new game.’

‘So… what does that mean exactly?’ Elliot dwarfed Ralph as he leaned towards him.

‘Not sure.’ Ralph shook his head. ‘That was the rumor. They want a new game.’

‘What do you mean new game?’ I asked.

‘She doesn’t know?’ Ralph pulled a face as he looked at me.

‘She did.’ Elliot shrugged. ‘Hadn’t gotten around to telling her again.’

‘Tell me what?’

‘How’d she take it the first time?’

Elliot held his hand out flat with the palm down and wiggled it from side to side. ‘She was okay once she’d calmed down.’

‘Want to wait till you leave before you tell her? Red heads. They’re feisty enough as it is, but I get the feeling that this one is worse than average.’

‘You have no idea,’ Elliot said.

‘What are you two talking about?’ I accentuated the word ‘what’ with the sound of my palm slapping onto the table.

Ralph sighed and shook his head.

‘Sicc,’ Elliot said, ‘did you ever play that game Civilization when you were growing up?’

‘The one where you create countries and then fight each other?’

Elliot nodded.

‘Yeah.’ I smiled. Lorna, Joel and I had once spent a whole summer holiday playing that game. Lorna had been all love and peace, making sure her people were fed and clothed and that the flocks were tended. Joel and I had taken her country down. ‘What about it?’

‘Well…let’s just say that Earth was the original Civilization.’

I could feel my mouth flop open while I processed his words. ‘Are you saying what I think you’re saying?’

He nodded. ‘Aliens created Earth and then populated it, each vying against the other to win the game.’

‘So the pyramids…the recent advances in technology…hang on…evolution. What about evolution?’

‘Nah. Never happened. All those fossils and stuff were planted to confuse us. Stop us ever realising what was going on.’ He shrugged and leaned back in his chair. ‘We were created in labs all over the universe. There were a specific set of rules in regards to DNA of course, so that no-one cheated.’

I leaned back in my chair while I let his words sink in. On one level it felt like a new revelation, on another, like something I had known and forgotten. Which I guess is exactly what it was.

‘The wars? The world wars?’ I looked at Elliot.

He nodded. ‘Yeah. The Nasonteans hold Germany. They went in hard for a few years there.’
‘How can you stand it?’ I said. ‘How can you stand knowing we’re puppets being made to dance for their amusement?’

‘I don’t like it either,’ he said. ‘But Sicc, that’s why we do what we’re doing. To try and limit the external influence they have. A heap of the alien nations got together after World War 2 and decreed Earth was now its own nation. They felt we had bled enough to earn it. Our job is to maintain that accord.’

‘Of course,’ Ralph said, ‘a few of the nations weren’t so happy about it.’

‘The Nasonteans,’ I guessed.

‘Yeah.’ Elliot nodded. ‘And the Lizarns and Grekorians. Turns out they’re sore losers.’

‘So now they want to destroy us?’

‘Sounds like it.’ Ralph scratched at his head. ‘You know…I did hear another rumor.’

‘Oh yeah?’ Elliot tilted his head to the side.

‘Yeah.’ Ralph finished scratching and picked up his beer again. ‘I heard Lupin is in town?’

‘Here?’ Elliot stabbed the tip of his pointing finger onto the table. ‘In Coober Pedy?’

‘Sorry. I wasn’t being that literal. Last I heard he was up at Ayers Rock.’

‘Lupin?’ Elliot sucked in some air as he shook his head.

‘If anyone knows what’s going on, he will.’

‘I know.’ Elliot nodded. ‘I just doubt very much he’s going to want to share.’

***

 

19/11/18

‘So, who is Lupin?’ I had waited till we were airborne again to broach the question.

Elliot shrugged. ‘A gigantic pain in the arse.’

‘Well, that clears that up.’ I dusted my hands together. ‘If I feel a pain in my behind, I’ll know I’m looking at him.’

He snorted. ‘Once he was APE. Now he works for the highest bidder.’

‘So he’s human?’

‘Yeah. He’s human. I think.’

‘What do you mean you think?’

‘He’s stronger, faster, smarter than most. Sometimes I wonder if he hasn’t got some other DNA mixed in there.’

‘That can happen?’

‘Well, we were originally created from a blend of dumbed-down alien DNA. So yeah, occasionally matings produce offspring.’

I shuddered. None of the aliens I had seen so far could ever have inspired me to want to mate with them.

Elliot laughed. ‘You should see the look on your face.’

‘Well, it’s just gross.’

‘You know you might change your mind when you see the Grekorians.’

‘Do they have scales and two heads?’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘Let’s just say they are somewhat attractive.’

‘I’ll take your word for it.’

Elliot flicked the button that turned Fred’s walls translucent. ‘Ready for re-entry?’

‘Hell, yeah.’ I relaxed back into my seat, staring out the front while I waited for the show to start.

A couple of sparks bounced off the tip of the hull, and then the space around us erupted into fiery trails of orange and gold lights. It was over within a handful of heartbeats. I closed my eyes so I could see the retinal memory of the fireworks playing out on the back of my eyelids.

‘Ayers Rock coming up.’

The huge red rock was front and centre when I re-opened my eyes. I had been there years ago with Joel during one of his University breaks.

‘Amazing how that one rock formed here,’ I said.

Elliot laughed as he looked over at me. ‘You really think it’s just a rock?’

‘Well, what else could it be?’ I’d touched it. I’d even climbed it. Back then you’d been able to do that.

‘You know when I said that spaceships were much bigger than Fred?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well.’ He nodded at the front windscreen.

‘What?’ I pointed at Ayers Rock. ‘You mean, that that is a space ship? No waaaaaay.’

‘Yes way.’ He nodded his head.

‘What? Where? Who?’ I shook my head. ‘ Who put it there?’

‘It was a part of the original set up for transmission of the game back to the other planets.’

I shook my head. It was a bit too much to fathom. ‘So you’re saying that Ayers Rock was used to transmit information all the way back to the other planets?’

‘Oh no. It only had to transmit it up to the moon. The moon’s like a gigantic television station. It gets the readings from Ayers Rock, the Pyramids, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, Borobudur, The Great Wall of China, there’s a heap more of them. Anyway they transmit to the moon and it broadcasts back to the home planets.’

I stared at Ayers Rock as it grew before my eyes. I felt like a little girl who had just discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real. The foundations of my reality were shaking and I wasn’t sure if I liked the actuality or the illusion more.

‘Penny for your thoughts.’ Elliot pulled back on the disc and Fred’s descent slowed.

‘Just trying to fathom it all.’

‘Yeah. I remember the first time I realised it was all a big lie.’

‘Is it all a lie?’ I looked over at him. ‘I mean people are still living out lives. Real lives. They may be rats in a cage but I guess if they don’t realise it, and they’re happy, then that’s okay, right?’

He scrubbed at his short curls with the fingertips of his left hand. ‘It’s like in the Matrix. People are happier with the illusion. They wouldn’t be able to deal with the reality. I mean they like to dabble in the ‘what if’, but if it came to bite them on the arse they’d run a mile.’

‘You said an accord had been signed after World War 2?’

‘Yeah. The aliens agreed to leave Earth alone. To stop playing and let humans take over from there. Unfortunately the violence of the past seems to have moulded the future of humanity. It’s become more like a reality TV show now than a computer game.’

‘They still watch?’

Elliot nodded. ‘They’re fascinated by humans. By how content we are with such boring lives.’

‘Kind of make sense that they would get bored of watching us if they think we are boring.’

The ground rose to meet us as he guided Fred down. There was the teeniest of bumps as we connected with the earth.

‘Smooth,’ I said.

He laughed. ‘Not as smooth as your landings.’ He unbuckled his harness and hopped up. Two steps towards the door he knelt again and pulled up a lever that was flat in the floor. He twisted and a door pulled up to reveal a hatch.

‘We need to look like tourists,’ he said as he pulled out a couple of bags.

‘What’s in these?’ I picked the closest one up.

‘Tents, cooking utensils, sleeping bags. Basically everything we’ll need to camp out.’

‘You don’t think this will be a snatch and dash operation?’

He shook his head. ‘We need to scope out the spaceship and work out how to get in.’

‘We’re going inside the rock?’

‘Where else do you think Lupin would be living?’

‘In an apartment in the caravan park?’

Elliot snorted. ‘I wish. No, if he’s here, he’ll be deep inside the spaceship.’

‘So how do we get into to him?’

‘Well, that’s the question isn’t it. How do you penetrate an impenetrable fortress?’

1/12/18

The sun was hot on the back of my neck. Sweat dribbled down my chest, leaving tracks in the dust that had settled there.

‘We’ve been around this bloody thing twice already.’ I pulled my back pack off and dug around inside for my water bottle.

‘Yes and we haven’t found what we are looking for yet.’ Elliot stopped walking and looked back at me. ‘You ready to give up already? Do you have any conceptual idea what is going to happen to Earth, and everyone on it, if we fail?’

I rolled my eyes. He was such a drama queen sometimes. ‘I’m not saying we give up. I’m just saying perhaps we change tactics.’

He rocked his head from side to side and rubbed at his neck. I’m sure it was more for show for the other tourists than that he was actually feeling the strain from the small pack. Even without his alien-given super strength he would have found that a breeze to carry.

‘So what do you suggest?’ He put his arms above his head, linking his fingers together as he stretched first one side of his body and then the other. His movements were slow and sinuous and I saw a couple of women stop in their tracks, their mouths open wide as they stared at him.

I shook my head. He was such a show pony. ‘We find a spot to wait and see if anyone comes and goes more often than a normal tourist. Then we follow them.’

‘Don’t you think we’re going to look suspicious just loitering near the rock?’

I looked around. Groups of tourists were making their way around the rock. Others came just to take photos and then they left. He was right. We would look suspicious loitering.

Unless…

‘Artists,’ I said. ‘We won’t stand out if people think we are artists.’

‘We will if they actually look at our paintings.’

‘Ha ha.’ I smacked his arm. ‘You got a better idea?’

‘No.’ He shook his head.

‘Don’t suppose you got a couple of easels in there?’ I nodded back towards the car park where Fred, once again a shiny red BWM, waited for us.

‘Really? Do I look like the sort of person who carries easels around with me on the off chance they want to paint a pretty picture?’

‘I’m not sure what that sort of person looks like. It mean it could look like you.’ I tapped my chin with my pointing finger. ‘Of course, I wouldn’t have said you looked like the type of person who did fine point needle work but hey, I was wrong there.’

He threw back his head and laughed. ‘You were asleep when your Mum and I were talking about that.’

‘No. I was pretending to be asleep. You hear all sorts of interesting things when you pretend to be asleep.’

He shook his head. ‘Come on. We need to get some art equipment.’

‘How about I do one more lap while you find a town that stocks art equipment.’

‘Alice Springs?’

‘I wouldn’t risk it. I’d go to Darwin. Or Adelaide. Much of a muchness in that thing.’

‘I really wish you would refrain from calling my flying mobile that thing.’

It was my turn to laugh. ‘Fine. Take Fred and go get some paint.’

‘Promise me you won’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.’

‘What do you call stupid?’ I wasn’t going to make any promises I couldn’t keep.

He pulled his sunglasses down his nose and stared at me over the top of them. ‘Engaging the enemy by yourself.’

‘Oh. Do you call that stupid? I mean spur of the moment perhaps, but surely not stupid.’

The muscles in his jaw bunched as his hands clenched. ‘We’re partners Sicc. Stronger together than we are apart. Don’t forget that.’

I put my hands on my hips and tilted my head back.

‘This is a reconnaissance mission. We’re here for information, not to neutralise them.’ He had his Dad voice on.

‘Oh, fine. I won’t engage the enemy if I see them.’ Anything to shut him up.

He stared at me for a moment longer before he nodded and pushed his sunglasses back up his nose. ‘Good. I don’t want to have to give your Mum any bad news.’

He turned and strode off away from the rock, and I poked my tongue out at him.

‘The wind will change,’ he called back over his shoulder.

‘I wish it would,’ I muttered. There was no wind to speak of and the mid afternoon heat was getting oppressive.

I had another sip of my water and continued my path around the rock.

If I were a spaceship, where would my entry point be?

Did it even have an entry point in this form?

I stopped walking to admire some wildflowers.

There must have been a lot of rain here recently for there to be so many flowers. It was going to make the artist disguise more realistic. Ayers Rock was impressive enough at any time of year, but when it was cradled by a sea of wildflowers, it was breathtaking.

It must have an entry point, otherwise they would all be trapped inside there.

I paused to let a couple pass me by. They held hands and alternated between staring at the landscape and each other.

Honeymooners.

I blew at a strand of hair that had escaped the confines of my hat. It was breathlessly hot.
This was not where I would have chosen to go for my honeymoon. I would have preferred crystal clear, aquamarine water, white sand and some palm trees.

I paused and pulled my water bottle out again.

But then this area was pretty similar to where I was from. Except for the spaceship. We didn’t have a spaceship in Kalgoorlie.

A blade of grass tickled the side of my calf. I bent and plucked it, swishing it from side to side as I resumed walking.

Perhaps they were from a tropical island and to them, this was heaven.

I peered up ahead at the honeymooners. They had dropped hands and picked up their pace.
Maybe they had an early dinner reservation back at the hotel? Or perhaps they wanted to try and fit The Olgas in today as well?

I snorted. Joel and I had done that. We had climbed the rock in the morning and then hiked The Olgas in the afternoon.

Of course they were leaving their run a little late if that was their plan. They really should have started out…

I stared ahead of me. The honeymooners were gone.

I looked out over the wildflowers.

Nope. Not out there taking photos.

I picked up my pace towards where I had last seen them. Perhaps they were just taking a break. Maybe one of them had fallen over and hurt themselves.

This stretch of the rock held many craggy irregularities. It was possible they had just ducked into one of them for some shade.

Or a kiss.

I trotted along the path, looking into the crevices as I went. They were nowhere to be seen.
Once I was sure I would have had to have been past them, I turned and walked back to the last spot I had seen them.

If I were a spaceship where would I have an entry point?

I trailed my hand along the surface of the rock, but I couldn’t feel any irregularities that would indicate an entry.

Red dust stained my fingertips. I wiped it on the side of my pants.

There was something here. Somewhere. A way in. I just knew it.

Now all we had to do was find it.

***

READ FROM HERE...

‘You’re absolutely sure this was the spot?’ Elliot looked up from his canvas.

I huffed out a breath of air through my nose. We’d already had this conversation a couple of times and it was getting old.

‘Yes, Elliot. This is the spot.’ I pointed my paintbrush at Ayers Rock and sighted down it.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Looking realistic.’

‘You look like you’re going to shoot the rock, not paint it.’

‘I’ve seen artists do this.’

He shook his head. ‘They do it like this.’ He held his paint brush up so that it hung vertically in front of him, then he used the thumb on his other hand to horizontally mark out space next to the brush. He stopped and made some markings on his canvas before repeating the procedure.

‘You’ve done that before.’ I put my brush down and walked over to Elliot’s easel.

Where my canvas looked like some gigantic bird had crapped an ochre turd onto it, Elliot’s held a remarkable likeness to the view in front of us.

‘You can paint.’ It came out as an accusation.

‘Of course I can paint. Can’t you?’ He put down his brush and walked towards my easel.

I ran back and stood in front of it. ‘It’s not finished yet.’

He dodged his head to the right and I moved my body to block him.

‘Mine is kind of more a contemporary version of the rock.’

‘Contemporary. I prefer postmodern myself, but contemporary can be fun.’

He dodged to the left and I blocked him again.

‘I’ll show you when it’s finished,’ I said.

‘Promise?’

I crossed my fingers behind my back. ‘Sure.’

I waited till he had gone back to his own painting before I relaxed my posture. Of course he could paint.

‘Elliot,’ I called out.

‘Hmmmm?’ He did the paintbrush thing in front of his face again.

‘Can you play the piano?’

‘Passably. But I prefer the violin.’

‘How many languages do you speak?’

‘Are we talking about just human languages?’

‘You speak alien languages?’

‘Of course. You’re not so bad at Grekor yourself, but your Drakion is horrendous.’

‘I speak alien languages?’

‘All part of the training.’

‘Huh.’ I held my paintbrush up and looked down it again. It didn’t give me any sort of creative surges. What it did give me, however, was an excellent view of a woman in a pink t-shirt as she stepped out of the side of the rock.

She looked around as she bent to tie up her shoelace. Then, satisfied that no one had seen her, hopped up and started walking back along the path towards the car park.

‘Elliot.’

‘I see her.’

‘Did you see where she came from?’

‘Yeah. Did you?’

‘Yep.’

We continued to paint until she disappeared from view.

‘Shall we?’ Elliot put his paint brush down.

‘Thought you’d never ask.’

I put my paintbrush down and then stretched my arms above my head. I twisted side to side, looking back over my shoulder to check no one was watching us from behind. When I was sure we were clear, I scooped up my back back and followed Elliot towards the rock.

There was a crevice where the woman had appeared, but the surface of the rock didn’t look any different.

Elliot ran his hands over the rock, pushing and prodding as he went.

‘I checked this area this morning,’ I said.

He nodded but didn’t respond.

‘It was solid then as well.’ I looked down the path in either direction. A group of tourists were heading our way. ‘We got company coming, one hundred metres.’

Elliot nodded and stopped his rock prodding endeavours. ‘It’s solid,’ he said.

I rolled my eyes and looked up to the sky.

‘I don’t think it’s a door. I think it’s a…’ He stopped talking and smiled at the approaching tourists. ‘Good afternoon. Nice day for it.

The group, I was guessing Japanese, stared up at Elliot with wide eyes. The two women at the rear nudged each other and giggled as they gazed at him.

I shook my head. It was impossible to be incognito with Elliot. Nobody who saw him would forget a seven foot, muscle-bound, ebony-skinned giant. Especially when his sweat was making him glow like some sort of Greek God.

‘What do you think it is?’ I asked when they had finally gotten beyond earshot.

‘A screen.’

‘And a screen is different to a door why?’

‘A door needs to open. A screen is something anyone can pass through.’

I reached over and rapped the wall with my knuckles. ‘Not letting us through.’

‘Anyone with the right sensor.’

‘Oh.’ I nodded my head. ‘That’s why we didn’t see any change when she came through.’

‘Yep.’ He leaned back against the rock and crossed his arms across his chest.

‘We need a sensor.’ I leaned back against the rock next to him. ‘We need her sensor.’

‘Uhhh huh.’

I pushed off the rock and bent to pluck a piece of grass next to the path. I flicked the fluffy end at a fly that was buzzing around my face. It dodged the grass in a masterful display of aerobatic capability. ‘What would it look like? The sensor?’

‘Could be anything. Her watch. Her hat. Could be implanted on her somewhere.’

‘Shit.’ I flicked the grass faster but the fly dodged it and zoomed towards my nose. I gave up on the grass and used my hand to flick away the annoyingly persistent critter. ‘We need her.’

‘Yep.’ Elliot pushed away from the rock. ‘How do you want to do this?’

‘We pretend you have heatstroke. She’ll have to stop to assist, ‘cause we’ll be blocking her way. I grab her and push her through and you follow.’

‘Could work.’ He lifted his hat and scratched at his skull with his left hand. ‘Don’t you think it’s a little unrealistic that I’d be the one with the heatstroke?’

I let out a laugh. ‘I think your ego can handle it.’

‘I’m just saying it would appear more normal if it were you that had heatstroke.’

‘And I’m just saying it would seem less threatening if it were you that were down.’

He put his hands on his hips and tilted his head to the side.

‘If I were her, and I saw you waiting for me, I’d be suspicious.’

‘You look pretty threatening too.’

I nodded my head in acknowledgment. At six foot two inch I was extremely tall, and not just for a girl. Plus, I was obviously strong. ‘She’ll be thrown off by the fact that the biggest player is out.’

He let out a huff of air. ‘Fine. I’ll play dead.’

I laughed. ‘Sick. Not dead.’

I looked down the path in the direction of the carpark. A flash of pink stood out in contrast to the ochre of the rock. ‘Quick. Get down. She’s coming.’

‘Already?’ Elliot slumped down next to the crevice.

‘Maybe she left something in the car.’

‘Just seems strange.’

‘You want to spend another week out here waiting for this chance?’

‘Of course not. I’m just saying it’s a little weird she would be back so fast.’

I pulled my water bottle out of my backpack and knelt down beside him. ‘I say we go with the flow.’ I pulled his hat off his head and used it to fan him. ‘Here. Drink this.’ I pressed the water bottle up against his lips.

He raised a hand weakly to the side of the bottle.

‘Come on,’ I urged. ‘Just a few mouthfuls.’

Elliot slurped at the water, but most of it dribbled out of his mouth and down his chin.

‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Have another mouthful.’

‘Oh.’ The woman’s voice had an accent I couldn’t pick. ‘Is your friend hurt?’

I swiveled around and looked up at her. Eyes the most stunning blue I had ever seen gazed at me from under her hat. Her face was a sculpted masterpiece, high cheekbones, sensuously full lips.

‘Oh thank goodness,’ I said. ‘I was beginning to think we were the only people still out here.’
Elliot let out a low moan and pushed the water bottle away.

‘I think it’s the heat, but I’m not sure,’ I said. ‘We hiked the Olgas this morning. Might have pushed it a bit far.’

She was standing a little too far away. If I tried to grab her from my kneeling position I would miss. And then it would be a contest to see who could run the fastest.

‘It could be the heat.’ Her eyes flicked to the crevice beside Elliot.

‘Do you know first aid?’ I asked. ‘Cause I think his gums have gone pale. And I know that means something but I can’t remember what. Look.’ I gestured to her and then peeled Elliot’s top lip up.

She took another couple of steps towards me before stopping.

‘See.’ I pointed at his gums. ‘I’m sure this isn’t normal.’

She squinted her beautiful eyes and stretched her neck towards us.

Elliot let out a pitiful moan. ‘Mumma,’ he whispered. ‘Is that you?’

She took a step forwards and knelt down. ‘They do look a little pale.’

I felt almost bad as my hand latched onto her arm. ‘Gotcha.’

Her eyes widened a second before her move, giving me all the notice I needed. I hung on tight as she kicked back away from us. She landed on her back with me sprawled on top of her.

‘Get off.’ She bucked her lower body as her right fist swung towards me.

I tucked my head and her fist bounced off my skull. She let out a yelp and nursed her fist with her other hand.

‘Really?’ I looked up at her. ‘That’s the best you’ve got?’

Blue eyes, filled with hate, stared at me. ‘We don’t all get super strength you know.’

I shuffled forwards and grabbed both her wrists with my hands. ‘Guess you’ll have to rely on your looks. Come on. Up you get.’

I yanked her to her feet and turned her to face the crevice. Elliot loomed beside it, looking all ominous and scary as he frowned down at her.

She let out a whimper and pressed back into me.

‘He’s not going to hurt you.’ I shoved her forwards. ‘Not if you do what we say.’

Elliot smiled and cracked the knuckles of his right hand and she whimpered again.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. There was no need to totally freak her out. We needed her help.

‘After you.’ He gestured towards the crevice.

She kicked and bucked and twisted as I manhandled her towards the rock. Her feet went up on either side of the crevice and she braced herself, pushing back at me.

‘Little…help…here.’ The words came out as pants as I tried to get her feet to go into the crevice.

Elliot sighed, grabbed her feet and pushed them into the gap. They disappeared up to her ankles.

‘Amazing.’ I pushed her further and then pulled her out a little.

‘Stop playing, Sicc. I can hear people coming.’ Elliot pointed off towards the car park.

I nodded and walked her towards the screen. Elliot grabbed one of her arms and, as one, we all moved through into the spaceship.