In sharp contrast to a light, westerly breeze and the generous spattering of stars across the grand celestial easel of the clear midnight sky, the perimeter surrounding the newly rehabilitated covert Nevada desert base …

… buzzed incessantly with security patrols mounted on a raucous herd of all-terrain vehicles and Humvees, adorned in desert-camo. The rolling growl of these monster-wheeled machines and the droning swarm of Self-Propelled Mobile Assessment & Response Systems rudely interrupted the routine nocturnal activities of the native creatures. After a brief sniff of the brisk night air, the disoriented and agitated denizens were forced to scamper about in an urgent search for a new niche in their now unfamiliar surroundings.

Leslee and Zack also were also finding their new niche. They were jarred awake and plucked from their rooms in the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters while still in their underwear—“You’re being transferred to the base detention facility,” bellowed an ogre-like sergeant.

A stunned and incensed Zack moved toward the soldier.“Who the f…oof,” Zack was unceremoniously silenced and doubled-up when a rifle butt pounded into his abdomen.

“General Mitchell’s orders,” the non-com barked.

Under aggressive escort, Leslee and Zack were forced to dress, one article of clothing at a time, while negotiating a series of long, shadowy, underground corridors and several pitch-black stairways. Ultimately, they arrived at the base detention wing and were manhandled up to an entranceway with a coded electronic locking system. The sergeant punched the succession of numbers which opened the steel door and the rest of the guard contingent brutishly tossed the two detainees into an austere, clammy, dimly lit interrogation room. “Bullshit,” roared Zack. “This order came from somewhere higher up.” The sergeant set and checked the electric locking mechanism and without another word he and the other members of the small detachment tramped out and secured the door. As the unit made their way down the corridor, the last man peeled off and remained behind to stand watch outside the entrance.

Zack took in his current surroundings. “This is outrageous. This is where they grill bad guys.”

“They prefer the term interview,” Leslee said.

“But we haven’t been charged with anything. How can they lock us up like this?”

“Patriot Act VI, the sequel. They can hold us incommunicado … essentially until we rot.”

“Rosy, while I was drunk for the past ten years what the hell happened to our free country?”

“Don’t blame yourself. I couldn’t do anything about it either. And we’ll only have a free country again when we stop being afraid and when we start remembering that the words inalienable rights refer to rights and not privilegesrights which are guaranteed by our Constitution … rights which are n-e-v-e-r to be alienated.”

The Super Hornet was cleared for an approach and landing on runway Two-Five Left on its return flight from Ohio. Dax was anxious to get to his lab. Things were stirring around in his head that he was having a great deal of problems amalgamating into reasonable thought. During the earlier part of the flight he began to feel better but now he was once again in free-fall. His scientific logic told him that he was clearly in the process of some kind of incredible metamorphosis—but what was he becoming? What were the fleeting images and scraps of imperceptible telepathic contact? Was it the foundation of an exponentially advanced reasoning network; a harbinger of some awesome power? Or could it be that he was simply going insane?

Ahneevah’s body was moved to the base maternity ward and locked in one of the delivery rooms. The sole illumination penetrating the murky, improvised holding cell was a negligible sliver of light dribbling in through the razor-thin slit at the bottom of the door. The chamber was sealed inside by an inflated plastic bubble containing a zippered panel which was lined up with the entrance. Filtered and refrigerated air was being pumped in by a whining portable compressor outside. Since no electronic monitoring device could survive in the presence of the volatile cadaver, the Barrgrave security team figured they’d contain her the old-fashioned way. She was placed unclothed in a prone position on a bare metal obstetric examination table using plastic shackles to keep her arms and legs secured to the stirrups. However, a great deal of twitter was being raised within the facility re why a corpse had to be confined and restrained in the first place.

When the tandem-seat F/A-18 jet aircraft touched down, Dax ordered the pilot to taxi directly to the science center. He needed to get to his lab as soon as possible to learn what he could from the data on the memory stick generated by the Titan. Although the frightening cold continued to envelop Dax and the uncontrollable shivering infected his entire being, there was now an added nightmare. The numbing chill was accompanied by the sounds of massive explosions at such a paralyzing level that Wolf instinctively began to bring his hands to his ears to escape the mind-shattering cacophony. However, his hands merely cupped the sides of his flight-helmet. He quickly concluded that his action was useless. The cataclysmic blasts were emanating from within his aural network. It was as though Armageddon were taking place inside his head. But Dax Wolf was unaware that at that same instant, the identical sounds of the Apocalypse were also echoing in the make-shift confinement area where the lilac space woman was lying—dead still.

Suddenly, Ahneevah’s wide, green eyes popped open and, like a wall of television monitors with different displays, various segments of her expandable mind tracks began to come on line. Her abundant neural clusters brought her up to consciousness and provided a functional, though significantly incomplete situational awareness. Immediately, her pupils expanded to exploit the minuscule wafer of light bleeding in under the door and vastly increase its intensity sufficient to allow her full visual perception in the dark room. As several of her cognitive trails were debating the possibility that maybe the world had not destroyed itself, others considered the alternative circumstances.

After analyzing every scrap of sensory and mental information available to her, Ahneevah theorized that she must have somehow survived the downing of her aircraft and had been taken captive. But then she clearly remembered that her world was undeniably ending. While she attempted to explore the question of how much, if any, of the world still existed, certain selected tiers of her multi-layered consciousness began spilling uncontrollably into others and she could not settle on a logical assumption. If any of my squadron survived, it is well known that the enemy summarily executed all prisoners. But then … why am I still alive … or am I in fact still alive? While this internal debate was transpiring, a scarlet glow about five strides away on magnetic bearing nine-six caught her attention. She focused her telescopic pupils in that direction and through the translucent plastic insulation she was able to see a flashing red dot of light which seemed to indicate an electronic instrument of some kind. The device was affixed to a portal and had an illuminated panel on its face which was imprinted with four rows of unfamiliar symbols. She also detected a curious living presence on the other side of the entryway. However, Ahneevah’s ability to mentally coordinate the information felt unusually imprecise. The input signal wavered but then appeared to register as a biped whose electric emissions were nothing like the electrostatic signature of her enemy but rather a life-form that was entirely unfamiliar to her. In any case she knew that her first duty was to escape captivity and attempt to free others who may also be confined.

In the fraction of a second that these coterminous thought processes were percolating, Ahneevah had already torn off her shackles, arose from the obstetrics table and taken a few rocky steps in the direction of the entry way. She studied the zippered seal, unzipped it and placed her hand on the automatic mechanism.

The guard at the door never heard the whir of the lock being disengaged, nor did he perceive the infinitesimal change in pressure as the detention room door opened slowly behind him. He barely felt the slight tingle as a purple hand brushed the back of his neck but before he was able to give it any further thought his reality became inky and silent. When he fell back into Ahneevah’s arms, she handled the dead weight of the over two-hundred pound sentry with ease, then quickly removed his belt and used it to secure him upright—on his feet—at his post.

Unexpectedly, as Dax Wolf climbed out of the back seat of the Hornet, for what seemed a hiccup in time, all of his senses were projected to the obstetric ward where the alien was being held. He was startled to be able to see the entire section. The guard was still standing outside the door of the room but inside it was empty. He also saw that the plastic handcuffs that had been confining the remarkable specimen were ripped apart and scattered on the floor. Wolf was also able to feel the cool air, pick up the scent of vanilla, and could even hear the whine of the compressor. Had someone released the subject? If not, he reasoned, she must have escaped on her own. If trueand he tended to believe it wasthen she must be alive.

While stealthily making her way through the installation’s labyrinthine underground passages, Ahneevah locked in on the already familiar digital output frequency. As she approached an intersecting corridor she sensed the presence of another living biped. Peering around the corner, she spotted a uniformed officer stationed at a security checkpoint and casually glided toward him. When she caught his attention, it was clearly a scenario that his training did not cover. How could it have? The sentry became too stupefied to function when he saw the lissome, light-purple, nude figure, and even if he had reacted, it wouldn’t have made any difference. He was abruptly switched off. But before he hit the floor, an electric cart with a three-man detail pulled up and the occupants charged at Ahneevah. One of them was actually able to get a hand on her shoulder, which surprised her because she knew that these beings moved and thought at a far slower rate than she did. In spite of this slight glitch the outcome was the same; the three guards were barely fractions of a second behind the first sentry in generating their own floor-contact thuds.

Ahneevah moved along the corridor and arrived at an intersection where light was visible at the far end—then something stopped her in her tracks. It was as if a dark shadow had crossed her entire consciousness. The spell passed in a split second, and she dismissed the incident as a residual effect from the combat action and the subsequent crash of her flight vehicle.

Continuing to noiselessly negotiate the maze of subterranean tunnels, Ahneevah reached the well lit main junction area where the network of detention center cell bay corridors converged. She hesitated for a split second as she caught some sounds from a room nearby that seemed to be a focal point of activity. Drawing closer, she became cognizant of voices and flickering light pulsing through a partially opened door. She continued progressing silently in that direction.

Six guards were busy at their consoles when Ahneevah stepped into the area. They were stunned at the vision of the bare, lavender creature that was standing in front of them, alive and entrancing. As the aroma of vanilla wafted through the room she spoke a sentence in a language they found unfathomable and then she quickly sent the sextet of security men off to dreamland. Reasoning that this area was dedicated to communications, she shorted out the control panel, which included the circuitry for the central alarm system and a host of other tactical instrumentation. As she approached the television monitor and was about to void its warranty, she became intrigued by an advertisement that was running on the screen. It was for a deodorant and showed sweat-stained underarms and strawberries. These beings seem completely alien, like an entirely new life-form, she reasoned. Where in the world am I?

When the commercial spot ended there was an urgent sounding background noise indicating a breaking news story. Ahneevah was unable to understand the language spoken, but the pictures clearly indicated that an entire hospital was under siege. She winced as the broadcast displayed an edited version of a female being viciously murdered and then the scene switched to another area to reveal a group of frightened children. Ahneevah recognized in the extremists’ eyes the same willful hatred and wanton desire to extinguish life that she had seen in the face of her enemy, and uttered a few empathetic sounds in response to the horror. Wherever I am, she thought, it seems that chaos and terror are still prevalent. Ahneevah closed her eyes and sighed ruefully.

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