Chapter One – © 2009/2015 David William Johnson - All Rights Reserved

Alyson was mad at me...which was understandable.

I mean, after I'd killed the Alec Baldwin I'd tried to comfort the hysterical woman he was with and things had kinda gotten out of hand...

...hmmm. Okay, maybe I need to back up a bit more to explain.

When the Alec Baldwin came in, I knew he was going to eat my brains, or try, anyway...

...nope, back a bit more than least two years worth.

Two years ago, Superbowl Sunday, and Alec Baldwin...or at least, something that looked like him...came on a commercial and announced that he was an alien and they were here to "eat our brains." Big laughs all around...

...yeah, well, it stopped being funny about three months later.

By June of that year, mankind was fighting...well, calling it a "war" implies certain things that weren't happening and circumstances that didn't exist, but it's the best term I've got...a war with an alien species we knew absolutely diddly about. Not where they were from. Not what they wanted. Not if they would ever go away if we "beat" them, whatever the hell that would take or even mean.

And these aliens were quite adept at disguising themselves as ordinary humans...any ordinary human (though always male, for some reason)...and there were apparently thousands of them all over the world. You'd be going along, minding your business, when suddenly some nondescript guy would turn and announce he was going to eat your brain. And they did too. Or, at least, victims of their attacks were found with nice empty skulls and not a trace of their former brain to be found anywhere.

And for some reason...from what the small number of survivors of attacks had said...they all would transform to look like Alec Baldwin right after their announcement...and right before they pounced.

By any standards of a "war," what the aliens were doing were mere pin-pricks. In the first year, less than three-thousand died worldwide. Mind you, that was three-thousand who died screaming as their brains were sucked out, or whatever. But apart from them, very few people (knowingly) saw the "invaders"...and usually only realized it was an alien when they up'd and vanished in front of them...

...okay, I know how this all sounds. It's like some bad 50's horror movie...really bad. MST3K-class...except it makes even less sense than those things did. Of course, who was it who said "truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense?" Still...

I mean, it didn't make any sense from...well...any angle you took at it, so almost no one believed the aliens were just here to "eat our brains." Or even that they actually ate them (removed, sure, but ate?), apart from a few extreme right-wing loonies who previously had only the belief that Prince Charles was secretly a lizard-man from a lizard cabal that equally secretly ruled the world to sustain them...

...though, honestly, even that makes more sense than what was happening.

And for what it's worth, no one knew whether the "original" Alec Baldwin was actually human or not...not even the rest of the no one could find him after the first brains started going bye-bye. In Vegas, the odds are currently four to three against his being human...again, for what that's worth.

Around the end of year-one of the invasion (or whatever it was), mankind started to get some sort of response going. At first it was just a matter of always going about in groups of more than three, since the aliens didn't seem to like spectators while brain-eating...probably because while stronger than most individual humans, three on one usually beat them. That's where those "small number of survivors" came from.

Then ways of detecting them, at least locally, were discovered. Ways which fortunately didn't depend on them looking like Alec Baldwin...or on me understanding how they'd figured it out in the first place...or on me knowing how it works, as I actually have no clue.

But work they do, within limits...

...limits like being within about five, six feet of the alien and needed a 220 volt line to power it.

First government buildings, then big office buildings, stores, shops, and finally some homes started getting the detectors, usually mounted over the door in. Mind you, the additional power drain from all these high-voltage do-hickies caused three brown-outs in California and a black-out in New York before some genius realized that, hey, they don't have to be on all the time, just when someone's coming through a door!

Now that they were detectable, some sort of defense seemed to be in order. Guns were used at first, of course. But it wasn't like the detectors (especially at the beginning) never came up with a false positive...and it wasn't like the guys shooting never missed their target and hit, say, the little old lady standing behind them. And you really couldn't be sure you hadn't made an "oopsie" until you saw if the body lying on the floor vanished or not...which the aliens did, but which humans were never very good at.

It was fortunate, then, that someone discovered that a nice burst of high-voltage made the aliens sparkle, shake a bit and then vanish without the need to shoot leaden holes through them. And if it was a mistaken target, well, heck! There was even a good chance you could get their heart started again!

Hurray for our side.

The news started listing "aliens killed" as part of their nightly broadcasts (right under the already existing "brains sucked out" count), but honestly, no one was even sure if we were doing more than just sending the aliens back "home," even when they had shotgun-blast sized holes in their chests before vanishing. We had no alien bodies to or dead. No blood samples (red or green...or peppermint, for that matter) to samples of...anything at all, actually...

...and didn't that put a crimp in CBS's plans for CSI: Brain Squad...

Not one bit of neat-O alien tech to reverse engineer. No spaceships seen flying overhead. Heck, conspiracy theorists even gave up trying to link them to anything at Area-51! There was just an unknown number of aliens who could look like humans...or specifically like Alec Baldwin...and we had no idea of what they looked like as "themselves". They could appear (and disappear) anywhere. Suck a brain or two for no conceivable reason. Then merrily be on their way. Heck, we didn't even know how they got the brain out! The skulls were always intact!

Armies, police, and finally even private security companies started putting out alien "defense" specialists, which is how Alyson and I involved in this on a more than "keep an eye out for Alec Baldwin" paranoia level. What with the economy being what it was...and adding brain-sucking aliens to it did not improve matters any...we both needed a job and Pacific Security's posting for applicants promised to be interesting and exciting, what with alien invaders and "Defending the Earth" and all.

Not that we had much choice...couples who are just entering their thirties and newly unemployed during a recession rarely do.

So we applied...were hired...became Peter and Alyson: "Defenders of the Earth..."

...and, honestly, it wasn't very interesting at all.

Like I said earlier, from any sort of war viewpoint...or even a "crime prevention" one...the alien's attacks were pin-pricks. Six, seven-thousand-odd total attacks spread over nearly two years and most of the world (but not Australia for some reason. Weird) meant that the people doing the "defending" outnumbered the aliens by about a hundred-thousand to one. Which in real-world terms meant that was about the odds against you ever running into an alien. And that's just counting the people specifically supposed to be defending against aliens. Throw the rest of the world's population into the odds and...

...and what you did was stand near one of the detector-enhanced doorways out there, all day long, your souped-up taser by your side, and wait for that detector to beep...

...and do that the next day...

...and the next week...

...and the next month...

...and probably the next year, though most didn't last in the job that long.

You get the picture. For almost everyone involved, neither the word "interesting" nor "exciting" got anywhere within a hundred miles of you. You ended up buying the video game versions of "your" job just so you could see what it was supposed to be like.

I preferred the "Wii" version myself, but the X-Box one has a lot of fans too.

Then, somewhat after our fifth month on the job, brains approaching the consistency of cottage-cheese from boredom, the gods of probability smiled and one bright Tuesday morning, while diligently protecting a medium-sized shopping mall, Alyson heard a sound she couldn't immediately identify...then realized it was the detector announcing that the man who had just come through the "Macy's" entrance wasn't one.

Amazingly, given the months of inertia she needed to overcome, Ally actually reacted quickly and correctly: Taser up, safety off, lunge and shock...

And an alien sparkled and vanished. Applause all around. Repeating the story to me that night, Alyson said she though he'd smiled at her before he vanished.

For the next two weeks I absolutely refused to admit that I was jealous she had actually seen/banished an alien while I was still spending my time still trying to stay awake at my post between announcements for Kmart shoppers.

Until one afternoon on the fifteenth day after her encounter, the buzzer went off at said Kmart.

Unlike Ally, I'm afraid, it took me almost ten, fifteen seconds to react, then I fumbled with the taser for another five seconds before I could bring it up to shock...

...but the alien just walked up to me, changing into Alec Baldwin as he walked, and waited until I shocked him...

...and, yes, he did smile as he dissolved away into sparkles.

We just thought we were lucky...and pretty much the envy of everyone who worked at Pacific Security (which, up till us, hadn't had a single encounter for the entire company)...but as you see, already we're up in the "won the lotto, twice!" probability range.

Then, sixteen days later, Alyson sees an "Alec" again while guarding the same mall. Some electrified sparkles and he's gone...

...eleven days after that, I get hit while in front of an auditorium...

...nineteen days and we get hit together walking to the flipping office...

...then a week later...

...after five months of this, we'd personally zapped thirteen of the aliens, which is about as likely as winning the lotto five or six times in a row...without buying any tickets! And work had gone from "not very interesting at all" clear over to "way too interesting."

So one night we just looked at each other and I said what we'd both been afraid to say:

They were interested in us.

And by now, they weren't the only ones either. We'd had seven "interviews" with various government organizations and were supposed to meet with this guy from Homeland Security on a weekly basis. One "interview" had included blood tests, an MRI, EKG, and repeated high-voltage shocks just to see if maybe we would disappear too, 'cause...who knows...we might be aliens as well...

...I mentioned work had gotten "way too interesting," already, right? Good.

For the latest "interview" they'd sent us to Barstow...and, no, I don't know why...and we needed to stay at a motel for the night since it would be an all day affair tomorrow. Alyson had gone out to find a book at a nearby store because she'd forgotten to bring any of her own...and the available cable options at the motel were charmingly pathetic.

Me, I'd brought a book (and, yes, I teased her about that unmercifully) and thus was laying on the bed farthest from the room's door...the room had two queens...reading away.

About twenty minutes after Ally had left, I heard the door lock beep and the handle turn. Well, that didn't take long thought I and I turned over on the bed, expecting to see Alyson come in.

And instead, it's Alec Baldwin.

I'm off the bed and stumbling to the dresser that's at its foot before I notice he's followed in by a woman. Somewhat...distracted by thoughts of having my brain eaten, I don't notice much else besides the fact she's a light-skinned black girl, maybe younger than me, who pretty much looked as terrified as I felt right then.

"Alec" continued on into the room, woman in tow, while I tried to first open, then rifle through the top dresser drawer...'cause that's where my taser was...without at any time taking my eyes off him.

It was at about that point that tentacles started coming out of his suit...about a half dozen of them.

The action got somewhat confused here...which is a fancy way of saying "I don't remember exactly what happened"...but it ended up with Alec grabbing me with his tentacles and then dragging me towards him. Meanwhile, my hands are desperately clutching at my taser, trying to get the stupid thing out of the case.

Which I do...with my face about three inches from his...which is smiling.

At this point, a movie hero would say something stylish like "you know Earth's electric eels?" pause while the bad guy nods, then follow with "Well this works nothing like them." Then zap him with the taser...or better, a handy exposed power cable, which would be much more cinematic...while the baddy screams in futile defiance.

Me, all I managed was a bunch of incoherent vowels before I screamed and jammed the taser against him...

...and discovered that alien tentacles are pretty good conductors.

I didn't pass out, exactly, but there were several long seconds there while the taser fired, but before he vanished, where I really, really wanted to. Remember when I said they tested us with high-voltage shocks? This was worse.

Finally he finished his dissolve into sparkles and I fell to my knees, panting like I'd just run a marathon and clamping my fingers to my jugular, trying to feel for a pulse and see if my heart had stopped or not.

Gradually I realized that I was still alive...and wasn't the only one on the floor. The woman had collapsed about five feet away from me near the foot of the bed, fear on her face, tears streaming down, and only not screaming because I think she'd forgotten how.

Now that little things like having my brain eaten were no longer a distraction, I noticed more about her. For one thing, by my standards...hell, by anyone's...she was stunningly sexy. Slim but with lots of curves, full lips and eyes that, though red at the moment, had irises the color of infinitely deep pools of honey.

If you went into the back of my head and dug up the version of "My Perfect Fantasy Girl" that dated from when I was sixteen and filled with hormones, she'd be it. And, honestly, my tastes hadn't changed a lot in the last fifteen years.

She was wearing a dark red slinky dress that...along with the shoes, jewelry and makeup...said "night out on the town" in large, friendly letters. And the town in question wasn't Barstow.

The only thing that distracted her from the vision of "My Fantasy Girl" was her was on way too heavy for my tastes. Mind you, it didn't help that her tears were making a mess of it...

...correction: The only thing apart from the fact she was crying, shaking and terrified.

Her tears.

I slowly got up, even more slowly walked the five feet, then nearly collapsed back down on my knees in front of her...

...near-electrocution. Not fun. Don't recommend it...

...anyway I took her hand in mine, trying to offer some comfort, or reassurance, or something because a woman crying tugs at an absurdly overwhelming need in me to try and help make it all better.

"What's your name," I tried, voice a little raspy from screaming.

It took a minute, but her eyes finally focused on me and her sobs paused as she considers the question.

"Rianna..." she began, then paused, shrugged and went "No, it's Rose. Just Rose."

She started crying again and I put my arms around her, feeling the front of my shirt getting damp with tears. After a few minutes, her regained her voice and began to try and explain just how the hell she'd ended up entering my room with an Alec, lifting her face from my chest to look up at me.

Rose they delicately call it these "escort" for a company that worked out of the Valley. She'd originally started "escorting" to help pay her way through school...then had to keep it up when she found that these days degrees no longer translated into jobs very well...not that degrees in literature ever did. She didn't really like what she was doing, but she liked eviction notices and not eating even less.

"Rianna," of course, was her "stage name" for this job.

Earlier, at five-o-clock this evening, she'd gone on a call to a house in Eagle Rock, met her "gentleman" and they left in his car about fifteen minutes later. Then, after merging onto the freeway, her "gentleman" changed into Alec Baldwin...

"I was so scared, so scared. He just kept looking at me and smiling the whole way. I screamed, but he just sat there and drove. I thought about jumping out of the car, but we never slowed down, not even a little, not until we got off in Barstow. Then his...tentacle came out and just sort of pointed at me, right between my eyes and I...

...I couldn't do anything."

She rested her head again against my chest, tears nearly gone now.

The Alec finally drove into the motel parking lot and...suggested she follow him...which she did, right into our room here... which point I knew what happened next...

...I just didn't have a clue why...

The aliens had never used humans before for...well, for whatever the heck this Alec was using Rose for. Heck, they'd never even been seen to go in pairs even with their own species. So why the hell would one hire an escort, drive her a hundred miles, simply so she could follow him into my room?

Even by the standards of the wacky world of "alien motivations," this one was way out on the WTF fringe.

As I worked on the impossibilities of understanding Alec reasoning I continued to hold Rose against me, the last of her tears gradually sniffing away. In the back of my mind, though, a little worry was beginning to poke at me for attention...

...holding her was starting to feel...nice...

...especially when she started snuggling in closer against me.

Finally she finished explaining how she had ended up her and looked up at me with those honey-colored eyes...reddened, but still beautiful...and I felt something just *ding* in my head. I don't know why, but before I knew it I'd bent down and kissed her.

Her eyes widened slightly, surprised and puzzled, then closed as she kissed me right back...

...this went on for quite a while.

Finally "quite a while" ended and we came up for air. Most of me was all tingly because, damn, that felt good. But the little worry at the back of my head was now a big worry, slapping across the face with a two-by-four.

I was in a relationship, damnit!

Me and Alyson had been together as a couple for three years now. We were happy together. We could say "I love you" without it being either a false sentiment or having a sub-vocalized "I think" added to it. Shoot, the only reason no one ever said the "M" word was because Alyson was still gun-shy after the six-month disaster that was her marriage with Steve. Hell, it didn't even bother me anymore when she snored at night!

But somehow, holding Rose, kissing Rose felt...right. Right enough that not kissing her felt even more wrong than cheating on Alyson... I did it again, harder, with a lot more passion.

And hands, hands got involved somehow.

And all my worries just gave up when Rose responded in kind. It was the kind of kiss that could only end either in bed, or in a pair of cold showers...really cold showers...

...or it could end when your girlfriend comes into the room.

Alyson lay on the other bed, nearer the room door, with her back to me and just radiating pissed. I was back on the far bed and trying desperately not to say or do anything that might make her more pissed...which basically meant saying and doing nothing at all...while also trying to think of something to say or do that would make things better...and, yes, I could see the conflict there, thank you very much.

There had been a hell of a long silent pause when she'd walked into the room and found me and Rose...well, let's leave it at being "affectionate." Then there were some icy-cold questions from her which led me to try and explain what was going on. And the explanation went pretty well, I thought, right up to the point where it had to cover me and Rose on the floor, kissing and...other things... which point things got a little incoherent. Which, since I couldn't even really explain it to me is probably not a big surprise...and since Rose and I were still...tangled together...well...

Rose...who in the course of the last half-hour or so had gone from terrified to comforted to aroused to wildly uncomfortably embarrassed, untangled herself from me and gathered herself up.

She tried to apologize to Alyson. She tried to thank me for rescuing her. She tried to convince Ally that neither of us would see her again. She tried to reassure me that she was going home and would be safe. She tried to do all this as she was working her way to the door, while avoiding Ally's eyes...

...which was fairly easy, as the only person Alyson was glaring at right now was me.

Feeling very small...and incredibly stupid...under the icy-burn that Alyson was lasering over me I tried to explain again, or some more, or better. Then tried to apologize. Then came to the realization that anything I could possibly say would only make things worse, which led to a deep painful silence highlighted only by the sounds of Alyson going to bed...still fully dressed...and me hesitantly laying down as well, just as dressed, but on the room's other bed. In my head I tried to work out why I'd kissed Rose and just how badly I'd fucked up with Alyson by doing so. Oh yes, and that "figuring out what to do to fix it" bit I mentioned earlier.

Forty-five minutes later, Ally was still deliberately not-sleeping at me and I still hadn't figured out a damn thing...

...suddenly, there was a noise...and for pete's sake, don't ask me to explain "what kind of noise?"...and Ally gave a start and sat up...quickly followed by rolling off her bed onto her feet between it and mine.

"What the fuck?!?" She yelled and highlighted it by pointing.

The small writing table that sat under the room's window was glowing blue. And it was the really weird blue glow of a hokey, 1970's-level special effect too...I swear, you could see the matte line around it.

Then the glow sort of...dripped sideways...and the two chairs that went with the table developed their own glow. A pause...another sideways drip...and the end table next to Ally's bed went glow-y.

Then I was off my bed with a yell of my own, joining Alyson in the middle between the two beds, as I noticed the luggage rack and our luggage on it behind me had just gone blue as well.

The glow dripped from furniture to furniture, slowly surrounding us with a glowing blue motel room. Finally the two beds went blue and all the various glows began to flow into one another, completely encircling us, then contracting towards us.

All I could think was that something absolutely horrible was about to happen. I wrapped my arms around Alyson and clung to her...and she held on to me just as hard...

...then all I could see was blue.

There was a flash and more bad 70's SFX swirled around me for a good minute. Finally, the bad special effects faded, original blue glow and all, and I slowly regained my vision.

There was a brief dislocation as I realized I was no longer standing vertical but laying horizontal. And I was laying on someone. Someone female. But it wasn't Alyson.

It was Rose.

But then again, it wasn't.

In shock, I just lay there on her for a long minute. Rather than the slinky dress, Rose...or "Rose," I still couldn't shake the feeling of otherness...was wearing a rather bulky gray sweater and a darker gray skirt. Hair that had been professionally quaffed about half an hour ago was now simply pulled back in a pony tail. And if she had any makeup on at all, it was so light as to be undetectable.

"Peter?" She asked.

That broke the spell and I tried to scramble off her, face flushing with embarrassment. It took longer than it should, but finally I was sitting on the floor next to her, rather than laying on top, and hesitantly offering a hand so she could sit up too. She took it with nearly the tentativeness I had stuck it out with and pulled herself up.

I then managed to look around.

I was no longer in a motel room...and maybe not even in Barstow. We appeared to be in a old-school-style bookshop, you know, pre-Barnes & Noble, pre-Amazon, with tall dark-wooden shelves on the walls that reached up to the high ceiling as they circled nearly the entirety of the long, narrow room. A room that was also nearly filled with freestanding shelves made of matching wood, nearly as tall as their wall bretheren. Rolling ladders sat against each wall's supply of bookshelves, two of which had a couple of people on them, bringing down heavy books.

We were at the end of one of the rows of freestanding shelves, now sitting on a thick wool carpet. I could see sparkles of dust drifting down through the almost vertically slanted sunlight that came in through narrow windows set high up near the ceiling.

Sunlight...something not often seen in Barstow at eleven p.m....

There were about a dozen or so people in the bookstore, casually wandering around, or thumbing through books. None of them seemed to have noticed...or at least, didn't care...that two people had suddenly just appeared in the...I looked at the books surrounding us...cookbook section.

A woman wearing a deep maroon jacket and equally deep blue skirt came around our end of the shelves, looked at us, then smiled slightly and gave a mock finger wagging at us before moving on. I could swear she was doing the equivalent of saying "you two, at it again?"

That got us both off the floor and onto our feet, blushing...though we didn't know why...and going through the motions of dusting lint off ourselves.

Rose was wide-eyed in shock and I suspected a mirror would show me my face was similar. We both stared at the shop, at the people, heck, at that slowly descending dust for an embarrassingly long time. Then, like we got the same idea at the same time, we headed over to the farthest and least populated corner of the bookstore.

Now standing right next to me, but still trying to stare at everything, Rose whispered "Peter, where are we?"

I had no clue...and I was staring just as hard.

"All I can tell you is we're not, well, we're not where we were when the blue glow hit." I thought about that a second. I knew what happened at the motel room, but didn't really know what had happened to her, wherever she'd been at the time.

"Ummm, you did see a blue glow before we ended up here, right?" I asked.

She looked at me kinda funny for a second, then nodded.

"Of course I did, it was all around the bedroom."

That meant, I guess, that she did get home before...whatever happened. I wonder how she did that so quickly? Hell! She didn't even have a car!...and where was Alyson?

I looked up at the beams of sunlight and scratched my head.. "Wherever we are, it's far enough away from where we were that it's daytime here...or we've been unconscious for a long time time...or moved in time too...or something."

She kinda huddled against me, shaking a little, and I put my arm around her. A part of my brain was yelling "that's how you got in trouble the last time!" But most of it was still too busy going in circles waving its arms and screaming "WTF?!?" to care.

"Moved in time, but..." she swallowed a laugh. "Sorry, I was about to say 'but what about our parents, they were coming over tonight?' But that's the least of our problems isn't it?"

Yeah. A missed dinner is kinda a minor...

There was a roaring sound in my head as my brain physically grabbed my attention and shoved it at the more important part of that statement:

But what about our parents...

...our parents...


I suddenly discovered that in certain circumstances, I utterly lack any sufficiently emotive curse words.


(to be continued...)

There have been a lot of "stories I have no idea what to do with" put through POD over the years and almost everyone here has done so at one time or another. So I guess, this time it's my time.

The following is based mostly on a dream I had a month ago (as I write this), with (almost) all the dream-illogic stripped out and an attempt to impose a more coherent narrative flow than dreams usually manage (since they - or at least, mine - tend to just cut from scene one to scene twenty-four while just implying the action in-between is something "everybody knows"...which since I'm the only "everybody," they usually do). That said, it's still weird. Still, you might enjoy it - and maybe someone could tell me just what the heck is going on, 'cause I'm lost...

So, 95% of the story goes by and - finally - we get to some obvious actual alternate histories. Or at least, alternate realities. And of course it's at this point I utterly run out of story.

I mean, thanks to the dream (and it's "everybody knows" way of handling a lot of the information) I know some things from further into the story...just not very many...

...okay, I know three things:1

One - the "Rose" in the bookshop is not the Rose from the motel room, nor is she from the timeline/reality/whatever that the bookshop's in. She's from a third timeline, one where she and Peter are an "item" rather than Alyson and Peter.

Two - there's apparently a "Rose and Peter" as a couple in the bookshop's reality as well - though where they went I haven't a clue. Maybe they're with Alyson...or the other (second) Rose's other Peter...and wouldn't that be interesting...along with tricky to keep track of.

The only Pickwick Book Shop image I could find online...which is just sad...Three - whatever else it is, the bookshop is not going to be one of those "nexus of all realities" shops. It's just a bookshop on a different timeline. We already have too many "nexus of all realities" shops in POD...and probably too many in fiction in general. For those who care, it looks, mostly, like the Hollywood Blvd "Pickwick Book Shop" in the 1970s, before "B. Dalton" bought them out (and well before it closed), with a touch of "Vromans" in Pasadena, before they redid their store in the early 90s, tossed in...

...yeah...and this is a pretty useless analogy for everyone here other than me, isn't it?

Anywho, this looks strongly like it could end up a sort of AH soap-opera, assuming that I could write such. For some reason, it also has an air of "hard boiled detective fiction" about it as well - though that could simply be because there's a first person narrator...and a "dame"...