Chapter One

The night sky above Groom Lake, Nevada, was the clearest Emory Hawkes had ever seen. It was a pitch-black night that made the stars appear to shine twice as bright. A diamond studded vista that stretched as far as her eyes could see. Emory marveled at it as she drank deeply from her Coke can. She drained it dry and crushed it in her hand. The noise was loud in the stillness of the night. Emory was tempted to toss the can as far as she could to see if she could set off the remote sensors she knew were planted far and wide for miles around the perimeter of Area 51. She’d driven past the endless signs warning her to stay away from the area many times. Now, she was parked and looking out on the military base. She was far enough away not to draw attention to herself from the guards driving around the perimeter. Emory had been here before; she knew how close was close enough and how long she had before they’d come and chase her off.

She took a slow walk back to her Volkswagen Bus. She settled herself in the driver’s seat and opened up her laptop to return to the sites she’d been perusing earlier. Emory was reaching for a large bag of Lay’s chips when her phone rang. She picked it up and groaned when she saw the caller ID. She toyed with not answering but knew her brother wouldn’t stop until he reached her.

“Hey, Bradley. What’s up?”

“Emory, where are you?”

“On vacation, soaking up the sun, catching some rays by the sea,” she lied.

“Then you must be inside your hotel room, little sister, because I don’t hear any sounds of waves crashing against any particular shore.”

Emory tugged her keyboard closer and pressed to open a new tab.

“So, unless you’re going to try to fool me with that video of the sounds of the sea you’ve got saved on YouTube…”

Emory cursed softly and closed the site down. “I wouldn’t do that. You’re too sharp for your own good, Brad.”

“You did it the last time you were trying to convince me you were vacationing in some rain forest when, in fact, you were hanging around a military base looking for flying saucers.”

Emory huffed. “The conspiracy theories you constantly mock me for have a weird way of becoming acknowledged. Truths and lies are eventually revealed. Just like the Warren Commission being a total whitewash of what happened in Dallas. And the whole moon landing being a giant setup on a sound stage somewhere in Hollywood. Five key words for you on space travel, Bradley: the Van Allen Radiation Belt. But, for all the things I would stake my disbelieving life on, you know I believe that any UFO sightings are instead top secret military craft using a technology we have no frame of reference for. So, like I tell you every time we have this conversation, I do not believe in aliens. There is no such thing as little green men from outer space.”

“So you are up at Area 51 again? Goddammit, Emory! You’re supposed to be playing by the rules right now.”

“I may or may not be vacationing some ninety odd miles or so away from Las Vegas. I’m just taking in the sights, enjoying the nightlife.” She looked out at the sky again.

“You’d better be staying away from the perimeter. I am not coming out there again to bail you out of prison like I had to last year when you were caught trespassing on private property.”

“I paid you back every dime so quit holding that against me.” I’m never going to hear the last of that adventure. Next time I’m calling an ex. If they’ll even answer.

“You were knowingly trespassing on federal land.”

“It was night time. You can’t see any borders when it’s dark as fuck out here.”

“Well, try to employ night vision this time and stay out of trouble if that’s possible for you. I thought you’d like to know I’m meeting with your boss and his bosses next week. Here’s hoping I can smooth out the mess you got them into by trying to spill military secrets on that so-called news site you work for.”

It galled Emory to do it, but she managed to get a “Thank you” to pass her lips. Her brother was the bane of her existence, but he was her go-to man when she needed bailing out…again. This time had been due to her posting a leaked document she had received from a very reliable source. Unfortunately, the source in question had been forced into hiding while Emory and the online news site she worked for were under investigation. Emory stood by what she’d posted, but it looked like it was the last straw for her boss. So she was on a forced vacation while the investigation was underway.

“God knows why you think there’s a secret military hiding in plain sight among the real military. It would be so much easier and you’d be considered less of a nutball if you actually believed in aliens, Emory. Raging against the government and the military, secret or otherwise, isn’t going to get you anywhere. They’re untouchable.”

“And raging at the stars would make more sense to you? I’m not looking up at the night sky in fear of something out there sending saucer shaped ships to invade us and mutilate our cows. That strikes a little too close to home in my view. It’s something humans would do for some bizarre reason.”

“You subscribe to all these conspiracies, though. Isn’t believing in aliens top of that crazy ass list you live by?”

Emory smiled without humor at his attempt to be funny but instead was putting her down, as usual. He never listened to her, never took her seriously. She’d had to suffer him going through college to become a highfalutin lawyer, but the minute she mentioned what she was passionate about she was ridiculed and scolded like a child. “Fuck you, Bradley. One day you’ll have your eyes opened to the worldwide conspiracy I’ve been warning you about for years.”

“Yeah, well until that little miracle happens how about you come visit your family instead of hanging out in alien territory like a loser? Your nieces want to see you for reasons I’ll never understand. And I’d rather tell them you’re alien hunting than you’re watching the base in case some high-tech plane gets rolled out of the hangar there. Like that’s big news to report. They are an airbase after all.”

“You’d rather tell them I’m waiting to get abducted by aliens,” she grumbled.

“To be perfectly honest, yes. They’ve watched V. You’re a hero in their eyes, right up there with Elizabeth Mitchell. And her character at least knew aliens existed.”

“Goddammit, Brad! There’s no such fucking thing as aliens. How many times do I have to say it?”

“It’s all a conspiracy, right?”

“Right. Misinformation to keep the population in fear.” Emory was getting annoyed with his winding her up; it was his typical big brother move. She popped open the door of her van and stepped outside. It took a lot to resist slamming the door to relieve some of the tension she could feel boiling through her. The silence of the night pressed in on her. “Tell the girls I’ll come see them soon.”

“Before or after you try to breach the fence again to find proof of something that doesn’t exist? Because I’m busting my gut here to keep you from serving jail time for what you posted, and yet, there you are, right back in the lion’s den searching for more clues. I can’t keep representing you when you keep doing stupid things that land you into trouble.”

“I have to go, Bradley. You’re pissing me off, and you know I’m prone to do stupid things when you piss me off. And, sadly, you’re the only lawyer I have on speed dial to bail me out before our sainted mother hears about it.” She leaned against the side of her van. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got aliens to chase, apparently.”

“God only knows what you would do if you really saw one,” he said.

“I’d expose it for the lie it is.”

Bradley laughed. “Keep looking to the skies, little sis.”

“Keep burying your head in the sand, big bro.” She ended the call with a sigh. She was certain she was somehow adopted because there had never been two siblings who were such polar opposites as she was to him. He didn’t have an ounce of imagination and believed the law to be absolute. Emory had a more “fluid” notion when it came to finding out the truth.

She raised her head, looking to the night sky to give her some sense of calm after he’d succeeded in riling her up. She blinked as she stared above her.

The stars had disappeared.

Emory couldn’t tear her gaze away from the vast blackness above. There were literally no stars visible for as far as her eyes could see. There wasn’t cloud cover, and the stars hadn’t winked out of existence. She’d only just looked up and they had been there. The air around her started to vibrate, and Emory could feel a rhythmic pulse tickling across her skin. She rubbed at her bare arms. Her black T-shirt had been plenty warm enough in the night air, but now her skin felt as if it were being touched by a live wire. It was very disconcerting.

She scrambled back into her van’s front seat and yanked her laptop toward her. She furiously tapped out a message to a friend.

Chicken Little says look up at the sky.

A reply wasn’t long in coming. What are you seeing?

A whole heap of nothing.

Switch to audio and visual please.

Emory found her earpiece and popped it into her ear. It was a wireless piece that received its audio via Bluetooth. The built-in microphone allowed two-way conversation. She just had to carry her phone so that the Bluetooth radio frequencies could mesh. She snatched up a pair of heavy framed glasses that housed a hidden camera. Finally, she grabbed her phone and slipped it in her pocket. Spy Tech 101.

“Wired for sound and visual, Dink. I’m setting the bigger camera on top of the van so you can get a panoramic view.” Balancing on the doorframe, Emory made sure the heavy-duty suction cup clamped to the roof of the van as she quickly fixed the video camera in place. Once that was sorted, she grabbed her night vision binoculars.

“All systems are working. I can both see and hear loud and clear. So, my friend, what’s got you all excitable over there in Nevada?” Dink’s voice was clear as a bell in Emory’s ear.

Emory was glad to hear his voice. “Are you aware of any military exercises in the 51st area tonight?”

“No, all quiet on base according to the radar and sensors I’m monitoring. What’s up?”

Emory made a face at his choice of words. “Nothing. That’s the problem. The stars have just disappeared above me.”

“Disappeared?”

“Winked out, blacked out, totally disappeared like someone switched them all off.” Emory got out of her van and looked up again. The hairs on her arms began to rise, and she could hear a faint humming noise above her. “And now there’s humming.”

“Emory, get the fuck out of there now!”

All above the Area 51 base, the stars were missing and the electrical charge in the air made Emory feel like there was a storm brewing.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had no hand in what was coming.

 

v

 

The humming noise began to make Emory’s ears ache. She cupped her hands over her ears to try to ease it. The noise didn’t abate. It vibrated through to her very bones. She could feel her body shuddering as the pain manifested inside her.

Then it stopped.

Then the lights came on.

Emory was blinded by the brilliance that lit up the entire area. It was as if the sun had fallen to Earth and exploded onto the base. Fighting against both the disconcerting hum and the blinding light, Emory stumbled back to her van. The whole area was lit up like the Fourth of July. Emory fell against the side of her van with a jarring thud and tried to shield herself there. She moaned with relief as the torturous brightness was extinguished as quickly as it had appeared.

“Emory?”

Dink’s voice was loud in her ear.

“I don’t think this is a test,” Emory said, trying desperately to see what was happening. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark again, she finally saw what was above her. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. In the night sky, there appeared to be a fleet of triangular aircraft. From the size of them, she calculated they were at least three lengths of a football field each. A multicolored light was situated at each of the three points of the ship’s shape. They flashed out a rhythmic pulse that was almost hypnotic. The lone light in the center was a pure white beam. It was obviously those beams that had flooded the area with light. Only one remained now, directed toward the ground. Emory tried to count how many ships she could see. She was guessing two, maybe three, hidden in the darkness.

“Dink, multiple black triangles, all over my goddamn head!”

“I can see them, but they aren’t showing up on any radar. The Area 51’s camera system that I hacked is, however, giving me an amazing view. But I still want you to get out of there. Who knows what is going to happen, and you’re slap bang in the middle of it!”

“I can’t move now. What if they see me?” Emory clung to the side of her van as if hoping to blend into its black painted panels. “Besides, this is what I’ve been waiting for all these years. This is it, Dink. Something is going to happen and I’m here to witness it. I’ll finally get my validation, and I can tell my brother to kiss my ass.” She watched as the ships above began to shift. “God, it’s like watching a load of sharks in the water circling blood.” She tried to see if she could spot any identifying marks on the ships, but they were so black they blended into the night and it was only the lights that gave away their outline. “Dink, what do you think? Is it the Russians maybe? Or some other superpower that’s been hiding this kind of high-powered tech from prying eyes?”

Before Dink could answer her, the first explosion hit and blew Emory flat on her back. Debris flew wildly into the air, and it was only when the dust settled that Emory could see that a large crater had been left in the middle of the air base.

“Holy shit!” She watched with a dawning horror as small saucer-shaped objects flew out from the belly of the bigger ships. They just appeared as if they’d been cloaked from view. All of them took aim on the vast area below. Whatever weaponry they were equipped with cut through the ground with ease and laid waste to any buildings in the way. The iconic hangars were blown to smithereens, and the earth was scorched beneath them. Electricity sparked and fires began to blaze as pieces of the buildings were scattered all over the runways. The buildings were reduced to little more than kindling in seconds as the saucers flew with alarming speed all over the base. They annihilated everything in their path. Within seconds, the area was obliterated, all the buildings erased, and the ground was nothing more than a mass of huge craters. The runways and the airplanes that had been on it were disintegrated to dust.

Emory didn’t know what to do. She was rooted to the spot watching the silver saucers take aim at Area 51 and wipe it off the face of the earth. The saucers were able to move at incredible speeds and maneuvered with abilities Emory knew no known craft had the capability of employing. It was terrifying. It was also fascinating, and Emory couldn’t tear her eyes away. It was like watching a real life Star Wars battle, or something equally heavy on special effects that one of her favorite films had created. But this was real. Emory didn’t believe what her eyes were showing her, but she couldn’t stop watching. It was all she could have hoped to see as an observer. It was every science fiction film come to life. But this was reality and totally devastating.

“Dink, tell me you can see all this?”

“I can see it, but I can’t honestly believe it. And I’m a believer!” He sounded as awestruck as Emory felt.

“It’s military though, right? Terrorists wouldn’t have this much tech at hand to be able to build what we’re seeing here.”

“Can you see any kind of insignia on the crafts?”

Emory squinted up at the saucers. They moved faster than her brain could comprehend. “These things don’t keep still long enough for me to read a license plate.” She ducked as three saucers appeared out of nowhere and flew over her head. “And they don’t make much noise in flight either. They epitomize silent but deadly. It’s the triangular ships that are making the noise that sets the hairs on my arms tingling.”

“You’re not safe there.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Emory muttered. “I can’t exactly start my engine while they are bombing the bejeezus out of the base below.” Something caught her eye, and she saw a thin light appear out of nowhere, deep from within one of the craters. She trained her binoculars on that point. “Dink, I told you there was hidden stuff underneath this base. I’m seeing a beam of light coming out of a crater. None of these ships have landed. It’s got to be the 51st staff in there.” She focused the binoculars in further. Thankful again that she had parked in an area that gave her an excellent view down onto the base, Emory watched as people started scrambling over the crater’s edge.

“I can see people evacuating. They’re coming directly out of the crater so there has to be something down there.” She tried to pinpoint where on the base the fissure was coming from. “I think they’re where there used to be an office building above ground.” Wherever it was, the debris of the attack wasn’t stopping the people from trying to escape. They filed out in an endless stream. Emory silently urged them on, watching as they stumbled across the ruined runways, heading in every direction.

“Incoming,” Dink said, and Emory watched as two saucers broke off from the rest of the group and headed straight for the survivors.

“No!”

Emory could do little more but watch as the saucers emitted a thin beam of light directly into the people’s path. They stood paralyzed by it until one by one they started to rise off the ground. They were suspended in the air as if held on strings wielded by a master puppeteer. Then, without warning, they were sucked up into the saucer and the light extinguished.

Oh my God. Emory gaped. I did not just see that. The binoculars fell from her eyes and landed heavily against her chest. She felt her blood run cold, terror striking her heart and rendering her immobile.

“I don’t think that’s the military, Emory.” Dink’s voice was unusually quiet in Emory’s ear.

She stared up at the saucer that had taken the people. It spun in the air like an old vinyl disc on a turntable, smooth and slick, playing out its own deadly tune.

“But I don’t believe in this,” Emory whispered, watching as the saucer shot up into the air at an alarming speed. It disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Here, then gone. Just like the people it had taken aboard.

“I don’t think you have a choice. It’s too late, Emory. They’re here.”


Chapter Two

Emory lost count of how long she crouched against her van, watching what was playing out below her. Her cheek was cold against the metal as she hunkered down trying to keep as small as possible to avoid detection. She had a front row seat to the destruction of Area 51 by Unidentified Flying Objects.

“It’s all over the news,” Dink said in her ear. “Some stupid TV station sent up a helicopter to film where you are. Live at eleven. But they didn’t get that far. Those of us glued to our TV screens got to witness it being blown out of the sky by a saucer. Everyone on board was screaming until a blue beam hit them, and then the crew on the ground filmed their colleagues’ helicopter plummet like a stone. Not exactly the exclusive they were hoping for.”

“Are these craft only here?”

“No. According to my sources on the Dark Side of the Internet, there are large black craft being spotted all around the world.”

“Worldwide?” Emory couldn’t fathom what she was hearing. “What’s our military saying about this?”

“There was a brief statement saying that this isn’t them and they are preparing for war.”

“Distract and deny,” Emory muttered, all too aware of the ploys certain agencies took to keep the general public in the dark.

“Emory, I don’t think this is them either.”

“So it’s what? Flying saucers from outer space who just happened upon Area 51 and decided to test their weapons?”

“There’s obviously something down there because whoever it is doesn’t want it left on view.”

Emory heard a noise. She looked over her shoulder. “I’m seeing fighter planes.”

A multitude of air force craft shot over her head, the noise was deafening in contrast to the black craft humming. The sound of missiles being launched from the planes tore through the air.

“You really need to get out of there,” Dink said.

Emory was too busy watching the night sky alight with open fire as the jets chased after the saucers and fired every weapon they had available at them. The flashes from the arsenal launched against the saucers exploded like fireworks against the darkness.

“I want to see where that light is coming from in the crater, Dink. I can still see it shining from here. They obviously didn’t close whatever it is. It might lead me to answer the question of what lies hidden underneath Area 51.”

“There’s the rumor there are forty levels dug deep into the ground. That crater you’re eyeing looks fucking huge. I can’t begin to imagine the damage that’s been done to whatever is left down there.”

“I’d be missing out on a golden opportunity if I didn’t go look. I’m all for scrabbling for clues in the rubble and getting down in that crater to check it out. The fact there’s a light shining out of the earth has to mean something is still intact there. I’m going to see.”

“These crazy bastards are all trying to blow up the base from above your head, and you want to go down into the pit that they’re so determined to blow up? Are you insane?”

Emory considered that. “I’d like to think of myself as stubborn. I want to prove my point. I believe this is our technology being used for some kind of,” she searched for an answer, “I don’t know, false flag operation, maybe?”

“You’re thinking whoever is flying those crafts is bombing because they have some hidden agenda? For what end?”

“I don’t know, Dink,” Emory said. “Maybe it’s an excuse to start a war with whoever is the villain of the month this time. Since when does the end matter? We’ll never understand why governments do what they do. You know as well as I do there are hidden agendas to everything that goes on.” She watched as the saucers and the jets moved away from the area. “The planes are shifting the saucers off target. This might be my only chance. I’m taking it.”

“You’re going to get yourself killed.”

“I’m going to be saucer fodder anyway if they keep leveling the area. So while the jets are chasing them like X-wings chasing after Star Destroyers, with the same devastating results, I’m going in.”

“You did not just equate all this to Star Wars.”

“Dink, if there really are UFOs from another world here attacking us, then I’m going to want to see how close George Lucas’s creatures were to whatever you think is invading us. You know I believe in his aliens more than I do the ones you subscribe to.” She cautiously moved from her position. “That crater is calling to me.”

“You’re going toward the light even if I tell you not to, aren’t you?”

“I’m your eyes and legs out here. I have the chance to get closer to a place we’ve both been desperate to explore. I have that chance to get closer, and you’re going to be with me every step of the way.” She scrambled to her feet and pulled herself into her van. She flung her binoculars onto the passenger seat and reached for her keys. Emory left the headlights off and knew the fracas above would mask the sound of her engine roaring to life. She figured the patrolling guards had long since disappeared in the chaos. She released the brake and drove until she was well into the restricted area. It took more time than she wanted, but the distance she’d had to view from was miles away. She cursed the fact the base hadn’t let her just sit outside its main gates. Deliberately, when finally within range, she aimed for the last perimeter fence. “Knock, knock,” Emory muttered and rammed through the paneling and barbed wire with great satisfaction. With the state the airbase was now in, shattered fencing was likely to rank low on the list of Area 51’s problems.

 

v

 

Emory drove toward the light marking Area 51. It cast a glow over the huge gaping wound that was now in the earth. She parked her van as close as she could, but rubble littered the runway and she finally had to stop to tackle the rest on foot.

Emory tapped the side of her glasses. “Still eyes wide, Dink?”

“Everything is working fine. Just don’t forget your ID card, Agent.”

Emory grinned as she slipped the forged document into a wallet and then into her jeans pocket. Dink had mocked her up a very credible, and more importantly, passable ID. She’d only used it once before. She had gained entry onto another air force base where Dink believed they were working on a new space shuttle. Emory hadn’t gotten much further once she was found wandering down a restricted corridor that even her credentials had no sway over. It had proved that the ID wasn’t questioned, and she had been able to walk out without any hindrance.

“I’m not exactly dressed to be an agent tonight, Dink. I’m more dressed down for an hour or two of watching spy planes take off like I expected. I hadn’t intended to witness flying saucers tearing up the air base.”

“It’s my guess no one is going to be left in the underground base. If it even exists.”

Emory laughed. “Oh, you so know it exists. Those people came from somewhere. We both know there’s something going on underground here as well as above.” Emory zipped up her hoodie and hoped that the black jeans and black boots she wore did enough to make her look suitably Men in Black. She gathered her hair off her shoulders and fastened it into a loose ponytail. She could hear her brother’s voice asking why “someone like her” would still keep her hair reasonably long when she favored men’s style of clothing. His comment of “shouldn’t you be sporting a shaved head” only made her dislike him even more. Since when couldn’t a lesbian wear her hair longer than an inch and still carry off that more masculine side of herself? She wondered if he was worried about her. After all, he knew she was up here. She reached for her phone and dialed his cell. It just rang out.

“Dink? Any particular reason as to why I still have cell service when we have spaceships invading?”

“Maybe the rumors are true and they use our energy to power their ships,” he said. “Might go a long way to explain why so many are seen hovering over nuclear power plants.”

Emory tried again, but there was still no reply. She left a message on Bradley’s answering machine and then got out of her van. She locked it automatically.

“I really don’t think aliens are going to try to commandeer your old Bus,” Dink said dryly.

“Just playing it safe. You can’t trust anyone these days.”

“Only you would worry about your van being stolen while you’re on a military base that has just been blown to kingdom come by little green men.”

“Color me cautious. And shouldn’t the correct term be grays, not green?” She patted farewell to her van and made her way carefully across the mounds of rubble. She got her bearings then ambled off in another direction.

“Hey, where are you off to? The crater is back the other way.”

“I want to see where those beams hit the ground. There might be evidence or something they left behind I can get for you to analyze.” She ran to the spot where she had seen the saucer’s beams touch down. Curiously, the earth wasn’t marked, neither was the fencing nearby, but she noticed something dangling from a broken fence rail. The lanyard swung gently, causing its prize to twirl in the night air. Emory plucked it free and held it in her hand so that Dink could see it properly.

“Oooh, a swipe card,” Dink said. “Nice find. What’s the name on there?”

“Jessica Sanders. She must be one of the base’s military population.” She looked up at the sky. “Or was.” She pocketed the card. She hoped it would be of some use. Satisfied with her find, Emory headed back toward the crater. What she found there shocked her.

“Dink, I don’t know what kind of laser weaponry they’re using, but it’s powerful.” She looked around cautiously before flipping her flashlight on. Its narrow beam shone over the mound she was climbing up. It appeared to be made up of the pulverized remnants from an office because she could just make out what was left of a telephone. The scorched remains of a filing cabinet smoked and smoldered beneath her feet.

There were other remains that caused her to pause. “Dink, there are people here too.”

“Anyone alive?”

Cautiously, Emory looked closer. “No. They never stood a chance.” The crater wall was littered with tiny body parts; no one had survived whatever had hit them.

“If you can get inside, do it. I’ve got a live stream from over Las Vegas. Emory, they’re laying waste to it.”

Emory stopped in her tracks. “My family?”

“Who knows? The bright lights and the Strip are in tatters. I can’t see if they’re aiming for the residential areas yet.”

Emory considered rushing back to her van and driving out to see if her brother and his family were safe. Torn with indecision, she kept climbing but fished her cell phone out of her pocket and tried his number again. It still rang out.

“There’s nothing you can do. It’s miles out from here. Maybe they’ll be lucky.”

Emory could tell by his tone even he didn’t believe his own words. “How bad does it look, Dink?”

“Bad enough.”

Emory put her phone away and picked up her pace. She had to put everything out of her mind to get the job done she was here to do. She scrambled over everything that littered her way to get to where the light shone out like a beacon. Twisted metal and concrete were visible, and Emory could see they were no match for whatever power the saucers had. She picked her way through it gingerly, slipping on the loose dirt and rubble. She finally crested the top of the crater and looked down into it.

“Oh my God,” Dink breathed, clearly seeing what Emory was seeing. There was an underground labyrinth uncovered in the blast. The force of the explosion had blown some of the building to pieces, but there were structures still intact below.

“I’m seeing a stairwell under that pile of debris. It’s got to lead somewhere.”

“Are you ready to go down the rabbit hole, Alice?”

“Flying saucers above my head and a staircase that might lead me to answers I could only dream of. Or it could fall to pieces with my weight on it and drop me to certain doom or bury me under tons of debris. Choices, choices.” She took a step over the lip of the crater. “Alice, out.” She slid and slipped her way down the huge crater’s side. She scrambled to slow her decent, but the rubble under her feet was loose. She cut her hands on the rocks and concrete as she tried not to fall headfirst into the gaping crevice. She could see now where the light was coming from. The crater had cut a perfect hollow into the ground and exposed a concrete wall and stairs that ran along it and down into whatever lay beneath. “Damn good thing I’m not claustrophobic,” she muttered, a little unnerved by how exposed the stairwell appeared to be and how much damage it had sustained.

“I doubt if the elevators will still be running in there after the show the saucers put on. So it’s either the stairs or you get the hell out of there.”

“Whose stupid idea was this again?” Emory reached the exposed wall and stared down into the stairwell. It seemed never ending.

“That would be yours, my friend.”

“Damn it. Be sure to remind me, if I get out of here alive, what an asshole I am.”

“Duly noted. Can you see if there are any levels marked as you go down? It might be interesting to see if the rumors were right.”

“Forty levels?” Emory slowly put a foot on a metal stair and pressed to make sure it would hold her weight. “I’m screwed if I have to climb down forty fucking levels to find something. I’ll be here all night.” Once the steps felt sturdier under her feet, Emory began to climb down a little faster. She was hindered by chunks of debris blocking the way, and she either managed to push them aside or had to climb over them. Dust clung to the air and made breathing difficult. Coughing at the cloying air, Emory was aware that the angle she was traveling down was changing. Finally, below her, she could see a doorway that had been buckled by the blast.

“Let’s see what’s behind door number one, shall we?” Dink said as Emory pressed her shoulder against the ruined metal. The metal screeched as it was forced open.

Emory blew out a breath. “Saves me worrying I was going to need my swipe card to get in here. The security has to be tougher the lower I go, right?”

“I’d imagine so.”

“Time to see what secrets Area 51 has been hiding from us.”


Chapter Three

The hallway Emory stepped into was still half lit. Most of the ceiling had come down on one side, effectively cutting off the rooms that were on the right. Emory managed to pick her way across the floor toward a door on the left and stepped inside. She found a room decked out with computers and desks. “What is this? Area 51’s call center?” Emory snorted. “Hi, this is Dreamland Surveys and we’d like a moment of your time to ask you if you’re buying the cover-ups we keep perpetrating in the name of national security.”

She heard Dink chuckle in her ear as she skirted around the rows of desks. She didn’t see anything of any interest in the nondescript office. She did, however, spot another door so she headed toward it. She was relieved when it opened with just a little force. “Ooh, pay dirt.” She had found another office, but this one was still up and running. The computer screens had been left on, and the servers were flashing. “Wow, blasted from above but the electricity is still working down here. Curiouser and curiouser…”

“Emory…”

“Before you dare to ask, I am not lugging a computer out with me.”

“Think you can find a hard drive or two then?”

“I’m not exactly carrying the tools of the trade to dismantle a government computer for you.”

“I need to build up your spy gear. I’ll get you a tool belt.”

Emory huffed. “You’re already in my ear and using my eyes. Outfitting me with a utility belt like Batman is going to make me stand out even more.” She wandered through the room and came to idle by a large desk. She warred with herself, but the need to know won out. “How much trouble do you think my brother would have to bail me out of if I appropriated a laptop left behind in the mass evacuation?” She picked it up, turning it over to check it out. “According to the desk plate it belongs to someone with a rank.”

“Grab it and bag it. If nothing else you can plead you took it so no one else could find it. Before you do that, get me hooked up so I can get inside.”

Emory took a USB stick off her keyring and quickly inserted it into the laptop. With directions being issued in her ear, Emory had Dink walking her through the installation of a remote access bot so that he could take over the laptop and plunder it from afar.

Once he was in, Emory hunted around the desk and spied its bag. “We’re taking it for safekeeping, right? National security and all that shit?” She shoved the laptop in the bag and slung it over her shoulders.

“You’re stopping it from falling into enemy hands.”

“Which, according to you, are small and gray and probably only sporting three fingers.” Emory hunted in the desk to see if she could find anything else. “And what are we exactly? Do we count as enemy in the government’s and military’s eyes? I’m in here masquerading as a CIA agent when in reality I’m just a concerned citizen who thinks nothing of exposing national security secrets on the Internet for the world to see.”

“Yes, but you’re revealing the truth behind the secrets they are trying so hard to hide from the general public.”

“I’m also a conspiracy theorist who sees signs and symbols in everything. With a major leaning more toward the truth in spy tech than the out of this world explanations you believe in.”

“And if what you’ve already seen outside proves you wrong?”

“Then I owe you a beer.” Emory rolled her eyes at his muffled cough to press her for more. “And three large Butterfinger candy bars.”

“I’m eagerly awaiting you paying up. I haven’t had chocolate for a month.”

Emory opened up another drawer and riffled through it. “Damn it, Dink. You have to get out more.”

“You know as well as I do that I’m perfectly happy in my bunker monitoring the planet out of the way of prying eyes and cyber spies.”

“Then get someone to deliver your groceries. Man cannot live on ramen alone.”

“Ooh, you can bring me some of that too when you have to eat your words.” Dink sounded smug.

“Unless you are seeing more on those streams than you’re telling me, you have no proof of what or who is piloting those ships. They could be remote controlled for all we know.”

“Even now you’re still going to argue with me?” His laughter sounded in her ear.

“I don’t deny there are UFOs, but we haven’t seen who is piloting them. You know and I know that remote drones have been in use for years now. Maybe this is the next step up.”

“Well, let’s hope for your sake if it is aliens that they look like the traditional grays everyone says they’ve seen. If they resemble spiders you’ll be completely useless to me.”

Emory slammed a desk drawer. “Shut the fuck up,” she grumbled. She hated being goaded about her greatest fear. She could hear Dink snickering and ground her teeth in annoyance.

“You’re so…hey, wait. Go back there.” Dink directed Emory to a cubicle. “There. Look through those files.”

“Do I really have time to read someone’s team building notes while all hell is breaking loose outside?” She flipped through the files quickly, ready to discard the mundane.

“You don’t need to know what is going on outside while you are in Aladdin’s cave. Just stuff them in your bag. I’ll read them later.”

Emory did as she was told and continued working her way around the room looking for anything she could take. She stuffed more files into the laptop case. I’ve already stolen a laptop, what’s a few assorted files and folders to add to the list? She was headed toward the door at the far end. “I want to check out the next room then see if I can venture any farther down to see what lies beneath.” She had the key card in her hand ready to swipe the machine and was reaching for the door handle when she heard the door unlocking from the other side. She jumped back as the handle began turning before she touched it. She barely stifled the “Shit!” that escaped her lips and quickly looked around for somewhere to hide.

“Go! Go!” Dink hissed in her ear, and Emory scrambled to quickly press herself between two servers and ducked out of sight. She could feel herself shaking as the door opened slowly. It stopped halfway. Emory tried to make herself as small as possible. She held her breath and strained her ears trying to hear if the person at the door was going to come in or leave. She fervently hoped it was the latter.

Please don’t be an alien. Do not let me be killed by something I’ve never believed in. That would so suck as my final epitaph.

 

v

 

Captain Sofia Martinez kept her gun drawn as she cautiously took a step inside the office. She couldn’t see anything but the endless rows of cubicles all left empty after the evacuation. She silently took another step forward, ready to face the intruder she’d seen.

She’d been passing by the surveillance office on her security sweep to make sure every floor had been evacuated when she had spotted something on one of the screens. She’d watched as a woman walked around the desks, looking like she was hunting for something. Sofia had studied her. Whoever it was she didn’t hold herself like a soldier. She was all in black, but there was something off with her bearing. Sofia switched cameras so she could look more closely. The woman looked to be around Sofia’s own height of five foot five. This Sofia could tell from judging her height against the partitions she was skirting around. She had blond hair, parted to frame her face. Sofia guessed her hair was usually shoulder length, but at the moment it was messily escaping a makeshift ponytail. She was attractive, Sofia noted distractedly, taking in the woman’s slightly rounded face and the prominent dimples in her cheeks. She had a slender build with a distinctly tomboyish air, one of Sofia’s personal weaknesses. But this woman, as intriguing as she seemed, was wandering around in a restricted area.

“What are you looking for?” Sofia had spoken out loud, her suspicion rising the more she watched. She unholstered her weapon. “Let’s go see why you didn’t leave when everyone else did.”

Sofia had been ordered to remain behind by the base’s superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Jones. On hearing the blaring of sirens going off and feeling the floors shudder beneath her feet, Sofia hadn’t been happy to be left behind with only a vague idea what they were being evacuated for. Instead she had to coordinate the escape of the senior staff through to the tunnels where they boarded underground trains. These would take them to undisclosed areas miles away from Area 51. Other staff were sent out on another train heading to the basement of a high-rise office complex in the nearest city. She had no idea what had happened to those who had been caught in the explosions she’d been told had smashed through the higher floors. She’d learned in the course of her career not to ask many questions. Too much knowledge was a dangerous thing. She did her job and left others to do theirs. No knowledge meant no culpability and nothing to hide when asked. It was safer that way.

Now she edged farther into the room, purposely stepping away from the door. It wouldn’t pay her to get hit by it if the other woman was behind it and used it to disarm Sofia. She was met by silence. She took the safety off her gun and spoke out.

“I know you’re in here. I’ve been watching you on a monitor so step out where I can see you and keep your hands raised.” She waited, her eyes running over the office for signs of movement. “You have a choice. Surrender to me and tell me what you’re doing here or I leave you in here and whatever is above us can come down and find you.” Sofia let that sink in a little. “I can promise you, I’m the lesser of the two evils today.”

She heard a noise a few desks up and turned her gun toward it.

“I’m unarmed.”

Sofia watched as the woman finally struggled out into view. Keeping her gun trained on her, Sofia scrutinized her. The woman’s blue eyes were fixed on her and on the gun in her hands. Sofia sensed no fear though. She was surprised when a smile broke out across the woman’s face. It gave her a rakish air.

“Hi. I was here for a meeting when it was seemingly gate-crashed by the flying saucers above.”

Sofia felt herself go cold. The saucers have been seen?

The woman was still grinning disarmingly at Sofia. “Best excuse I’ve ever had for canceling a meeting. Sadly, no one thought to brief me on where I should go in the event of an evacuation so I got left behind in the panic. I had no idea who to follow, got turned around, and was left wandering the halls.” She shrugged but kept her hands raised.

“Show me your credentials.”

Slowly, the woman lowered her arm and reached for her wallet. She tossed it onto the desk by where Sofia stood.

“Agent Ellen Mays?” Sofia couldn’t see anything fraudulent about the CIA ID and motioned for Emory to lower her arms and take her wallet back.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“It’s Captain,” Sofia corrected her. She’d worked hard for her rank; she expected the recognition of it.

“You look too young to be a captain,” Emory said with a flirty air. Sofia stared stonily at her.

“So I’ve heard from countless old men of higher rank who’ve never moved out from behind a desk.”

“I meant no disrespect.”

“Who were you here to see?” Sofia caught the hesitation flash ever so briefly across Emory’s face.

“I couldn’t tell you.”

“You don’t remember?” Sofia’s suspicions were on alert.

“No, it’s just that I wasn’t told. I was given orders to be here and told someone would see me. It was all very cloak-and-dagger. More than usual, to be honest.”

Sofia thumbed the safety back on her gun and holstered it. “You’ll find everything is shrouded in mystery here. It’s standard procedure.” She looked Emory up and down. “You’re not exactly dressed like a CIA agent.”

Emory tugged at her hoodie with an embarrassed air. “I was told it was Dress Down Friday.”

Sofia stared at her. She wasn’t quite sure if she was being blatantly lied to or just being teased. She didn’t do either very well. Sighing, she gestured for Emory to follow her. “Let me escort you back outside. I’m sure someone will reschedule for you.”

Emory laughed. “Seriously? With all that going on out there? I think a meeting is going to be the last thing on anyone’s agenda.”

“Then let me get you to safety at least.” Sofia gestured for Emory to leave the room and waited to follow her. Once outside the door, Sofia ran into the back of Emory who had stopped dead in the middle of the corridor for some reason. Sofia was so close she could feel Emory’s hair brush against her cheek. Close up, the pale hair was a rich honey color and held in place by a leather tie.

“Why have you stopped?” Sofia asked, annoyed with Emory and herself for being so distracted.

“We need to get out of here right now.” Emory took hold of Sofia’s hand and pulled her behind her as she ran back through the room they had just left.

“That’s what we were doing.” Sofia tried to get her hand free to no avail.

“More saucers are on their way and they’re bringing the bigger ships with them. This place is probably going to be targeted again, and I don’t intend to be caught in here while they blow Area 51 through to the other side of the planet.” Emory tugged harder on Sofia’s hand and nearly pulled her over. “So shift your ass, Captain, and let’s get out of here.”

Surprised by Emory’s change from formal to more urgent, Sofia let herself be led back through the offices.

“How do you know they’re coming back?” she asked as they burst through the door and the cooler night air hit Sofia, shocking her. Sofia got her first chance to see what had happened so many floors above where she had been. “Oh my God.” She stuttered to a halt, but Emory tugged at her roughly.

“You don’t have time to stop and stare. Big Brother is watching out for us, Captain.” She drew Sofia’s attention to the earpiece hidden inside her right ear. “And he says to get the hell out of here because the fighter jets your military are sending up against the saucers are proving no match. The saucers are trying to get back to where we are. And I want out of here now.”

Sofia climbed up the broken staircase and clambered out into the crater. She followed closely on Emory’s heels, picking over the rubble and trying not to think about what or who she could be clambering over. She’d seen combat; she recognized the terrain that was underfoot. The sound of a furiously fought battle was clearly heard in the distance.

“Oh my God,” she whispered, desperately trying to hold back a sob as she saw the devastation wrought as she climbed higher. She scrambled up the crater’s sides, her boots slipping out from under her numerous times. She was grateful that each time she fell, Emory was reaching for her and pulling her along. Only when she crested the crater’s rim did she stop to fully take in the scene. She tried to see any familiar landmark. There was nothing left anywhere, not even the runways. She followed after Emory who surprised her by how fit she was as they ran the whole way at a breakneck speed. The wrecked earth of the base gave way to scrubby brush and greenery as they ran into the surrounding desert and Sofia finally caught sight of what Emory was directing her toward. A VW Bus was the only thing not touched in the whole vicinity. It was hard to see, as it was predominantly black with only a few white accents. Sofia couldn’t help frowning. Since when did CIA agents drive vintage Buses?

“You’re not really CIA,” she said when she reached Emory’s side as she hurried to unlock the vehicle. Emory gave her a look and grabbed Sofia by the collar to fling her inside the van.

“Believe me, Captain, tonight that is the least of your problems.”


Chapter Four

Emory gunned the engine and spun the van around as fast as she could to head back out to find a main road. The ride was anything but smooth as the van bounced and crashed over the debris that covered the field.

“So I’m going to survive an airborne attack and instead die in this scrap pile you call a vehicle?” Sofia yelled as she clung to anything she could get a grip on.

Emory grinned like a maniac as she put her foot down harder on the gas. “This baby has a whole heap of surprises under her hood, Captain. You just watch and learn.” She grunted as they hit a deep hole in the ground and the whole van groaned in protest. The headlights did little to help find a clear path out of the air base.

“Christ, what a mess,” Sofia said, staring out the windshield with wide, disbelieving eyes.

“According to my sources, the rest of the planet isn’t faring too well either. They’re attacking everywhere.” Emory swung her wheel around and got them back on a road she knew would get them out of there. It was mercifully untouched. “Tell me,” she looked at the captain’s uniform for identification, “Martinez, what the hell is Area 51 hiding because it sure as hell pissed something off. Enough to bomb the place to smithereens and then take its show on the road and make us all pay for your sins.”

“That’s classified information.”

“Bullshit. Look around you. Does this look classified to you now? Someone opened up the earth to expose Area 51’s secret lair and lay waste to it. This looks like someone is really determined to wipe Dreamland from the map, Martinez.”

“That’s Captain Sofia Martinez to you, civilian,” Sofia snapped.

Emory laughed at her. “Really? I pull your ass out of the fire and you still expect me to salute you? Pull that rank all you like, lady, but it means nothing now that we’ve got flying saucers bombing the hell out of the planet. So, I’ll ask again. What are we up against, because I’d say it’s a safe wager you know exactly what those things are.”

Sofia pointedly ignored her and kept her eyes trained out the window.

“I don’t think she’s going to spill her secrets just yet, Emory,” Dink said in her ear. “She’s pretty though, don’t you think? She’s got that sexy Latino thing going, all dark hair and darker eyes. Feisty too. And her name, Sofiaaaaa. Listen to how she says it with that voice of hers. God, she sounds like aged old whiskey personified with that husky tone.”

Emory sighed inwardly at Dink’s dreamy tone. She had noticed how pretty Sofia was, even when she’d had a gun pointing at her. The gray camouflaged battle uniform she wore did nothing to disguise her feminine curves or the strength with which she held herself. Emory admired the way her dark brown hair was cut short and blunt around her face. But not even the standard camo air force peaked cap she wore could hide or tame the natural wave to her hair. Sofia’s skin tone was a shade darker than Emory’s and her eyes a deep brown. Her face was austere, trained to give no secrets away. Emory knew Sofia was beautiful, and her eyes slipped to the full lips that were pursed in annoyance as the van raced to anywhere but here. The fact she found Sofia attractive was not going to help her find the answers they desperately needed this night.

“You’re staring at her instead of the road, Romeo. Eyes ahead, and for God’s sake, turn your lights off. You don’t want to alert anything to your presence. There are some dwellings just over the next ridge, head toward them. We need to evacuate anyone living near that damn place.”

Emory switched the headlights off.

“Why did you do that?” Sofia asked sharply. “The road is hardly drivable as it is.”

“The voices in my ear say not to alert those things above,” Emory said, squinting at the road to try to see something in the light cast by the moon.

“These voices. Heard them long, have you? What else are they saying?” Sofia was looking Emory over with a suspicious eye. Her hand was inching toward her holster.

“Nothing much. Just that maybe I should dump you on the side of the road for being so uncooperative and let you fend for yourself against whatever is out there flying above us.”

“Actually, I never said that,” Dink argued.

“Why? Because I won’t spill military secrets to someone who has already proved herself to be a liar and had fraudulently worked her way onto a restricted air base? I should be arresting you. In fact, consider yourself under arrest for crimes against national security.”

“This isn’t about me. This is about you telling us what the hell you have released above us that is now systematically bombing the planet.”

Sofia crossed her arms firmly across her chest. “I’ll give you my name and rank. That’s all you’re going to need before I arrest you for trespassing on government property. Also, if I find out that laptop bag you squirreled away in this wreck of a vehicle does not belong to you I’ll be adding theft of military property on top of the list of charges I’m compiling against you.”

Emory slammed on the brakes, forcing the vehicle to slide to a halt. “Fuck this. I don’t care how pretty you are.”

Sofia lurched in her seat. She gasped out loud as the seat belt dug painfully into her chest. Emory unfastened her own seat belt and reached across Sofia to push the door open. “Get the hell out, Captain.” Shifting in her seat to literally kick Sofia out of the van, Emory spotted something and hastily slammed the door shut again to extinguish the interior light.

They were both startled into silence by the saucers that flew over the van, heading toward the ridge Dink had just directed them to go.

“Where did they come from?” Sofia craned her neck to watch the crafts fly by.

“That’s the thing, Captain; they just appear out of nowhere. But I think you’re already aware of that.” Satisfied that the crafts were well ahead of them, Emory started the van back on her course.

Sofia was shaking her head. “Those aren’t our crafts.”

“You sure about that?” Emory didn’t believe her. “I mean, the military have suddenly revealed high-tech crafts before that they had kept hidden for years while they were tested and had proved their worth on the battlefield.”

Sofia nodded distractedly. “Area 51 houses many projects of advanced technology. Aircraft just happens to be one area among many. But I’m telling you, those things aren’t ours.”

Emory huffed in barely restrained annoyance and crested the ridge so they could look down on where Dink had directed her to get people out of their homes.

They were too late.

The saucers hung above the rough dwellings that were the rare few that skirted the edges of the Area 51 lands. The white beam was sweeping over the ruins of the buildings, picking through the survivors and taking their spoils.

Sofia’s choked gasp made Emory startle from what she was witnessing for the second time that night. Multiple human abduction by unidentified means.

“Those aren’t ours,” Sofia said in a shaky tone, “because our crafts don’t have the capability to do that.”


Chapter Five

Emory and Sofia sat in stunned silence watching as the saucers finished recovering the living from the area and then sped off toward Area 51. Before Emory could open her mouth to speak, there was an almighty explosion from miles away. The force of it shook the van and the ground beneath it. Emory felt her teeth rattle as a shockwave battered them, the force of it penetrating through to her very marrow. It felt like an earthquake had hit, and they were sitting right on top of the epicenter. The noise alone was deafening, and it took a while for Emory to get her senses back.

“What the fuck was that?” Emory twisted in her seat to look over her shoulder to where a huge plume of smoke was rising from the direction they had just fled. Lit by a raging fire, it was unmissable against the darkness of the night.

“That was Area 51 being wiped from existence before the cameras I was viewing it on were destroyed. It’s gone, Emory. A big black ship blew it all away. Literally.” Dink’s voice sounded hollow. “We are seriously screwed if they have that kind of firepower at their disposal.”

Emory shifted in her seat to face Sofia. “Let’s rewind to your last comment, Captain. Something along the lines of ‘our ships don’t do that.’ So, for our ships not to do that, I’m taking that to mean we have flying saucers of our own.”

Sofia wouldn’t look at her. “No comment.”

Emory smiled. “Too late. You’ve already let the saucer-shaped cat out of the bag. You, the military, have flying saucers. Dink, I damn well told you they did.” She slapped her hand against the console in victory. She noticed that Sofia jumped at the noise as it pulled her from her daze.

“Yes, you did, Emory. But remember, she inferred that whoever or whatever is piloting those saucers has the same technology too.”

Emory sighed. “Captain Martinez, just give it to me straight. Are the bastards abducting people by some means we don’t allegedly have, human or something else?”

Sofia turned slightly to look Emory over with a considering eye. “I’m sure you’re full of theories as to what the answer is to that.”

“Oh God, lady, don’t ask her that,” Dink said softly.

Pointedly ignoring him, Emory smiled at her. “I’m saying human. Yes, technology has come along in leaps and bounds after the Second World War, but then the military scored some major players when it took Germany’s rocket scientists on board. I guess not all the Third Reich were considered the enemy when they had the knowledge to create rockets and bombs. Switching sides must have been a no-brainer when that information was in exchange for no prosecution for their war crimes.”

“You know your history.” Sofia sounded surprised.

“It’s easy enough to research, and besides, history is a bit of a blabbermouth once enough years have gone by. I also know that the government loves to mislead the masses. You’ve got spy planes and stealth craft whose specifications you wouldn’t want to fall into enemy hands. So when we see them being tested we get fed misinformation. Every time there’s something bright traveling fast, it’s got to be reported as something alien. That way, you kill two birds with one stone. Hide the truth and terrorize the population. Keeping us in fear of an invasion from outside the planet keeps us in line. It also lets you build up your weaponry without us making a peep. You’re keeping us safe.”

“You have a vivid imagination,” Sofia said, her eyes stony. “And we need to leave here now and get to a military base. I need to report in.”

Emory removed the keys from the ignition and palmed them. “I have a mind that’s my own, and we’re not going anywhere until you tell me who’s piloting the saucers.”

“I have no idea. And I am ordering you to take me to the nearest base.”

Emory snorted her derision at Sofia’s commanding tone. “You can’t order me anywhere. I’m not one of your subordinates. Besides, while the military is scrambling to fling every airplane they have at those things, nothing is working, so they exactly won’t miss one captain for the moment.”

Sofia folded her arms over her chest and stared out the windshield. “I’m not saying another word.”

“That’s okay, I have more than enough to say. Like how I watched the people from Area 51 be hoisted up into the beams from the saucers that ‘aren’t ours.’” Emory made air quotes around her last words. She was pleased to see how much that riled Sofia.

“You saw the civilians escape?”

“No, I saw them being captured by whoever or whatever was piloting those saucers that you claim to know nothing about. Something is harvesting us. It’s capturing humans in a beam of light and sucking them up into the ship. I have no idea what happens to them next. Do you, Captain?”

Sofia shook her head.

Emory scoffed at her. “Now why don’t I believe you? Who else got their hands on the blueprints for your crafts so they could build their own?”

“No one could steal the plans because there were none in the first place.” Sofia sat back with a resigned sigh. “What do you want me to say? What would you like me to tell you? I don’t know who’s flying those things. Do you really want me to just guess? Because my guess, according to the rumors you probably believe in, is that the only other ones who could build those craft were found dead years ago in a wreckage back in 1947.”

Emory could hear Dink’s excited noises in her ear. He sounded like he was in the throes of a seizure.

“You mean Roswell?” Emory watched Sofia’s face and barely caught the shrug in reply. Dink screamed in excitement and nearly deafened her. “So much for it being a weather balloon.”

Emory couldn’t believe what all this meant. She felt overwhelmed by something she knew so much about but had never believed. It was like being hit by a tidal wave, and while she was floundering, Dink was whooping like a five-year-old through her earpiece. He was probably doing cartwheels in his underground bunker and breaking out his victory dance. She’d seen him do it; it wasn’t pretty.

“We really need to get to a military base. I have to report what I’ve seen.”

“Captain, the whole world is aware of what’s happening so I think your superiors know exactly what is going on and who has come knocking to get their technology back.”

“Aliens, Emory! We’re being invaded by aliens!” Dink sounded almost giddy with excitement. Emory shook her head at him. Even if that was the case, it didn’t exactly make the situation any better.

“I heard, Big Brother. Now we have to figure out how to stop them.”

Now do you believe?” he asked.

“You know me, I go by the facts. I haven’t seen anything yet that points conclusively to little gray aliens from Mars or wherever. But I assure you, the moment I do? I’ll be sure to eat my words.” She fit the key in the ignition and started up the van. “Captain, I know you want to be reunited with your air force buddies, but I need to get to Las Vegas first. My family is there and I need to know they’re okay.”

“The military could help,” Sofia said.

“I’m sure searching the rubble for my family is high on their list of must-dos for today. I need to do it. I can’t reach them on the phone. I have to try to find them. Then I promise I’ll drive you anywhere to regroup with your squad or whatever you call them.” Emory could feel Sofia’s eyes on her.

“We need to be careful. We can’t be seen by the saucers.”

“Good thing I’m not night blind, isn’t it? I’ll keep the lights off, and we’ll drive by the light of the moon.”

Sofia faced forward again. She was silent for a long while until she broke their silence. “The ones who evacuated Area 51? The civilians and the staff? You really saw them being abducted?”

“Yes.”

Sofia’s jaw clenched, and she brushed a hand over her eyes. “I’m going to need more weapons. I’ve only got my service revolver, and we’re going to need stronger firepower than that.”

After we find my brother. It will take us about three hours, a little more if the Vegas Strip is a nightmare like it usually is. Winchester is literally on the other side of the lights. Let me do this and then I’ll follow your orders.”

Sofia laughed. Emory thought the sound was surprisingly beautiful for such a serious looking woman.

“Why do I get the feeling you doing what I say is going to drive you crazy?” Sofia smiled just enough for Emory to catch sight of it in the moonlight.

“Because you didn’t reach the rank you have by not being astute.”

“I’m still arresting you for impersonating a CIA agent.”

“Let’s see what happens first. You might find I’m of better use to you in the field than locked up behind bars.” However much safer that sounded to Emory’s ears.

Emory’s head was whirling. All her beliefs were wavering and crumbling before her. Were all the stories of aliens true? The cave drawings that depicted star creatures, or the visitors that rode the sky on fiery dragons told in all those ancient tales? And what about the leaked stories from Roswell itself and the endless other sightings? She knew of them all, had studied them, but never fully believed. If they were true then it challenged everything she had built her world of theories on.

But she couldn’t deny that there were unidentified flying saucers in the skies. And she’d just been told by someone in the military that bodies were recovered at Roswell and the craft had been scavenged for its secrets. Secrets the military now had at hand in saucers of their own.

But could their saucers stand up against the might of the originals? For now, Emory couldn’t think about that. She had to see if her idiot of a brother was still alive to make her life a misery over the fact he was right as always.

She hoped he got that chance.

 

v

 

It was only by following her GPS that Emory knew she was driving into Las Vegas. The once iconic landscape of bright lights and fantastical buildings was all gone. Its endless Strip of decadence lay before them in ruins. The hotels were broken, empty husks of their former glory. Shattered signs blinked erratically and sparked through broken bulbs. The Statue of Liberty had been broken off her pedestal and melted so she was bent out of shape and leaning over. It looked like she had been forced to bow down to a more powerful being. Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio, the spectacular fountains, all were gone in endless mounds of rubble and massive craters. Vegas was closed to business indefinitely.

Emory drove down the middle of the Strip, trying desperately to dodge the screaming people running everywhere. A dance troupe from one of the many shows ran out in front of her, blind in their panic. The bright and gaudy dresses the women wore were ripped to pieces, blood-soaked, and stained. The once shiny sequins were now hidden under layers of dirt and dust. Emory careened the van around them, desperate not to hit them. The road crunched beneath her tires as she steered over debris of what was left from the surrounding buildings. Scattered cars were everywhere. Many had been flipped over onto their roofs, while others had been thrown a great distance. Emory saw one that had impacted with the remains of a building front, shot like an arrow straight through the wall. Other cars were ablaze; some were blackened or already gutted from the force of whatever had hit them. Emory could only imagine where the drivers had ended up. For a bustling monument to gambling and fun, Vegas was now filled with the screams of both the living and the dying. The surreal sight terrified Emory. The glitz and glamour that Las Vegas was famed for was all gone. Now it resembled a war zone.

“We have to help them.” Emory looked for a safe place to park. The earth rumbled and shook beneath her tires, and Emory felt the road shift. She and Sofia watched with horror as one of the hotels shook with an almighty tremor and then collapsed with a deafening roar. The dust and debris from it spread across the already wrecked landscape. Pieces from it flew through the air, and Emory instinctively ducked as a large chunk of balcony flew past the windshield.

“Get us out of here,” Sofia ordered. “There’s nothing we can do. If we try to mount a rescue attempt we stand the chance of being killed ourselves. The area isn’t safe.”

Emory gunned the engine, fixed her gaze forward, and didn’t look back. It killed her to drive away, but she recognized the futility of staying in such an unstable area. And I need to find my family. I can’t save the world…

“Any ideas what weapons they might have, because we need something to match them to stand a fighting chance,” she said, desperate to have any kind of chatter to drown out the noise of the screaming and the booms from collapsing buildings they were driving away from. Vegas was falling; its loss was catastrophic.

“We have some of the same technology,” Sofia said quietly. She was scanning the area just as Emory had, obviously taking in the carnage but distancing herself from it. Emory wondered what Sofia had seen before that made her able to put up such a wall to block it all out. She dreaded to think.

“Then why are they sending up planes instead of saucers?”

“Because our saucers were in the hangars at Area 51, and now there’s no Area 51 left.”

“Sabotage,” Dink said in Emory’s ear. He’d been quiet for most of the journey except to tell her where the ships had moved to next. Planet Earth was under attack on all corners.

“Do you have any more hidden somewhere?” Emory asked.

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Would you tell me if you knew?” Emory cut Sofia a look. She was surprised to see Sofia crack a small smile.

“There’s not much point in me hiding it anymore, is there? You’ve seen the saucers; you’ve seen what they can do. We need to get to a military base so I can liaise with my superiors. Maybe they have a better idea what we’re up against and how we can fight back.”

“My brother is in Winchester. It’s not far out of Las Vegas. I just need to know—”

“I understand you wanting to reach family, but what if he isn’t there?”

Emory froze as that sunk in.

“We can’t stay, Ellen. We have to find help. Military might.”

Emory released a shaky breath, railing against the truth but knowing that Sofia was right. “It’s Emory.”

“What?”

“My name is Emory Hawkes. Ellen Mays is my CIA ruse.” She gave Sofia a weak smile. “If you’re going to arrest me as you keep threatening to you might as well use my proper name to do it.” She looked out into the darkness. “I don’t think my brother will be able to bail me out this time anyway.”

“He might still be okay,” Sofia said.

Emory knew that tone of voice. Sofia didn’t believe her own words any more than Emory did.

“I think you need to find a way to get to me, Emory.” Dink’s voice startled Emory in the lengthening silence. Sofia was brooding beside Emory, her eyes fixed out the windshield as if all the answers lay outside in the darkness. “Once you ditch the captain, you need to come find me. You’re not safe out there.”

“Are there any saucers in Winchester?” That caught Sofia’s attention. When Dink said no, Emory shook her head. “So no saucers yet.”

“We don’t have a base there,” Sofia said.

“So you think they’re hitting military bases on purpose?”

Sofia shifted in her seat to face Emory. “Wouldn’t you?”

“Ask her about the nuclear stations,” Dink said.

“Is it true the saucers are powered from the nuclear reactors, or are they just scoping them out because we have that tech?”

“I don’t know. Before tonight I didn’t know there were any other saucers other than ours. That’s why I need to get to a base so I can find out exactly what’s going on.”

Emory wasn’t sure she believed her, but she didn’t believe anything the military or government said. She hesitated.

Sofia glanced over at her. “That laptop you squirreled away behind your seat, is it yours?”

“Yes,” Emory blatantly lied without conscience.

Sofia shifted in her seat. “It had better be. Because if it isn’t you’re facing years in a military prison for stealing government property to no doubt try to hack into highly classified military—”

Emory interrupted Sofia’s tirade. “I took that laptop in with me. You can check the base’s cameras to prove my story.” Emory snapped her fingers as if a thought had struck her. “Ah, that might be a problem now seeing as the cameras, along with the rest of Area 51, are currently going up in smoke. Guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.”

“And if I don’t believe you?”

“We have a choice, soldier. We can sit here and become saucer bait—”

“You still won’t say alien, will you?” Dink said, but Emory paid him no attention.

“Or, hypothetically speaking, if we could appropriate something that maybe has answers on it that you weren’t privy to, wouldn’t that be a help instead?”

“There might be a reason for whatever is on there not being made public. I’m going to ask you to hand over the laptop before I make you give it to me.” Sofia’s voice was harsh and authoritative. Emory paid little attention to that too.

“What kind of reasons can’t be made public knowledge? Like there’s flying saucers that could potentially destroy the earth? I think we’re all aware of that secret now.”

Emory didn’t want to burst her bubble and tell her that Dink was already knee-deep into the memory of the laptop and was using it to hack into the government and military systems linked to that one machine. Once he’d remote accessed it there was no stopping what he could do with the information the laptop held.

“And what if you had found something that isn’t intended for the eyes of the general population?” Sofia asked. “What good is that information to you?”

“You’re asking the wrong person, Captain. I’m due in court in a few weeks because I posted to a site details from a reliable source that there is a secret military agency serving alongside the military that governs Area 51. I was just waiting on this source to furnish me with names and job descriptions, but the site got busted.”

Sofia swung around in her seat and fixed Emory with a hard glare. “There is no secret military agency. Your source was lying.” Sofia’s voice was harsh as she bit the words out.

Emory wondered at the tone and the vehemence behind it. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

“Well, I never got the chance to see definitive proof or name names, but I’m going to be prosecuted for not revealing who my source was. So I’m the wrong person to ask about keeping secrets a secret.”

Sofia’s shoulders dropped. “Your pursuit of these crazy fantasies is going to get you into serious trouble one day, Emory. And not just with me.”

“But they’re not so crazy, are they? There are saucers invading us as we speak. So who’s crazy now? The one who believed in their existence but got ridiculed or the one who didn’t believe because they were told the rest of us were making up stupid conspiracy theories for our own ends?” Emory said. “They’re only classed as crazy because people who are frightened for the truth to come out label it as such and the name sticks. Otherwise it’s just a theory. Like the theory centuries ago that the earth was flat. How crazy a theory was that, hmm? This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, not taking things at face value because I’m told I have to. But you’ll find I’m a relatively minor glitch in whatever security there is left on this planet thanks to the invasion. Besides, aren’t you just a little bit curious as to whether we’ll find out if this is all some great big setup? A theatrical display run by the military and the government to keep the general population under control?” Emory flashed her a toothy grin. “Go on, Captain, rebel a little. Come see the world from our side for a while. I promise you, you’ll be amazed at the view.”