Heat pours down on Brynn's head from an unforgiving sun. Sweat makes her clothes cling to her skin so she moves into the shadow of the house. She's standing in front of Mr. Wolfe's house, a man on either side of her like bodyguards but they aren't here to protect her. They're here to keep her in line as Mr. Wolfe makes her watch. To hold her back, just like they always do.
"Brynn!" a voice says, as light as the wind. There yet not there. It's a familiar voice but she just can't place it.
A car comes around the circular driveway to stop in front of the house and right on cue Mr. Wolfe walks out the front door in his perfectly pressed suite, flashing her a dark smile. He's extremely pleased with what is about to happen.
"Brynn!" the voice calls again, more distinct this time, but she still doesn't know who it is.
Behind him two more of his men walk out holding the arms of a woman, forcing her to walk between them. Brynn's mother. She has a busted lip and a bruised eyelid swollen shut. Her shirt is torn and she limps down the front steps to the car. The driver gets out of the front and goes to the trunk, popping it open. The two men holding Brynn's mother shove her forward, stuffing her into the trunk. She screams in pain.
"Mommy!" Brynn screams, but it's not with the voice of a teenager but that of a little girl. She's not sixteen anymore but seven and she takes off towards her mother on skinny little legs that can never take her far enough or fast enough to reach her mother before the two men who were standing with her snatch her out of the air. "Mommy!"
"Brynn, baby, I love you!" her mother yells. "Always remember that! I love-!"
The trunk lid slams down.
Brynn wails and pleads for Mr. Wolfe to let her mother go but he just stares at her with his cold, dark eyes, and gets into the back of the car.
"Brynn!" The voice sounds close now. She blinks and suddenly there is a girl standing in front of her, a girl with long blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. She knows that face but a name won't come. "Brynn, none of this is real."
"Sara," she chokes out between her tears, finally realizing what is going on. This is a dream. All of this is just a dream. "Please, wake me up, Sara! I want to wake up!"
Sara reaches out a hand, fingertips touching Brynn's temple, and closes her eyes.
The car drives off, taking Brynn's mother away, and she never sees her again.
Blessed darkness devours it all.
Brynn jerks awake with a scream on her lips. Her eyes dart around, terrified, as she struggles against the arms that hold her, thinking they are Mr. Wolfe's men, until she focuses on Sara's face hovering in front of hers, fingers still pressed to Brynn's temple just like in the dream, but this is real. This is real. Sara pulls away, relief clear in her face, and Brynn can see that she's back in the cab. Not Mr. Wolfe's house. Her body shakes, tears still streaming down her face, and she turns in the arms around her to press her face to the shoulder she finds.
"Brynn?" Seth asks, voice filled with concern and uncertainty. It sounds really close to her and she realizes it is him she's pressed against.
"I-I'm s-sorry," she says, struggling to keep her voice coherent through her tears. "I'll be o-okay. J-Just give me a minute. Please. Just a minute." She just needs to feel physical contact for just a minute, she needs something to steady herself and then she can pick herself back up again. But when her minute is up and her tears are still coming Seth doesn't push her away, he pulls her closer, tightening his arms around her.
"It's okay," Seth whispers in her ear. "I've got you."
She presses herself closer to him, clinging to the front of his shirt, and lets herself cry until the tears slow down and her breathing softens from sobs to full breaths. When she has no more tears to give she just sits for a moment, taking in the feel of Seth holding her, breathing in the smell of pine trees that seems to follow him. She becomes aware of someone stroking her hair and a quiet humming carrying a beautiful melody. Sara.
Brynn doesn't want to move from this place, this safe place with her two best friends where everything actually feels okay for once. She could live in a place like this, just trapped in this memory. However, life doesn't work like that, so she pulls away from Seth and Sara drops her hand from Brynn's head.
"I'm sorry," Brynn says, voice sounding congested, and she wipes the tears from her face, keeping her eyes trained on her lap.
"It's okay," Seth says quietly. "We cannot be strong all of the time, even if we want to be. Are you okay though?"
She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "I will be."
"What was that?" Jack asks and she notices for the first time that they've pulled off to the side of the road. Jack is turned in his seat, brows furrowed with worry. "Cause that didn't look okay to me."
"It was a dream." She stares down at her lap again, fingers twisting together. Seth takes one of her hands in his, his thumb brushing back and forth across the backs of her fingers. "A recurring nightmare that I sometimes have. It always gets worse this time of year."
She squeezes Seth's hand tightly. "Because it's close to the anniversary of my mother's death."
Silence fills the car. Her mother died nine years ago tomorrow. Not a day goes by that she doesn't think about it. Usually she has relatively dreamless nights, but the nightmares always return within one month of the anniversary. She was hoping that after everything that's happened today she would have been too tired to dream, so she let the gentle swaying of the cab rock her to sleep. She was wrong.
"How did she die?" Jack asks quietly.
"She was…." The words get caught in her throat. "She…."
Sara takes her other hand and answers for her. "She was murdered."
"Did those men in your dream do it?" Seth asks.
Brynn looks up at him, startled. "Yes." But how did he know that?
When I entered your mind to pull you out of the dream, Sara's voice filters into her head, my brother connected to you through me as well. He was worried.
Brynn nods in understanding and gives Seth and Sara a grateful smile. They were worried about her. Both of them. And that makes her happy. It's been a while since someone has truly worried about her.
"Wait," Jack says, "you saw your mom…die?"
Correction. The three of them worry about her. She's starting to see Jack as a friend, too, and he does care about her.
"I didn't actually see it happen," she explains. "But I…I did see them take her away."
"Cops ever catch who did it?"
"No," she says grimly, anger, hurt, and betrayal simmering in her chest. "No, they didn't."
The cops know Mr. Wolfe did it. They're just either bought off or too afraid to go after him.
"I'm sorry," Jack says. "Is your dad still around?"
"Yeah. Unfortunately." But she doesn't want to think about her father and the horrible monster that he is so she lets go of Seth's and Sara's hands to wipe at her face one more time and then looks out the window. "So where are we?"
Jack clears his throat, accepting of the subject change. "We're a couple miles out from a town," he says, looking out the windshield to the twinkling lights of a town ahead of them. "Should be there in a few minutes. We'll find a garage, get the car fixed up, and grab a bite to eat."
He starts the car again and it's a silent ride into town. Stony Creek is small, minuscule compared to the bustling city of Las Vegas, but it has a quiet, homey feel to it. The only garage in town has a mechanic who is reluctant to work at first, but Jack quickly persuades him to fix up the cab using the cash Seth and Sara gave him. They leave him to start on the extensive repairs to find food, following the sound of country music to the only restaurant in town where it looks like most of the townspeople are. There's loud music and dancing, laughing people, and it's a nice change of pace from what they've dealt with most of the day. They find an empty table and sit down, Jack looking around nervously.
Sara suddenly turns to him, "I hope you do not act upon your thought of making a fast break out the back door and escaping Stony Creek, never to look back at us again."
Jack's eyes narrow at her in confusion. "How did you know that?"
"My sister also has the gift of telepathy," Seth says. "She can read the minds of those nearest to her and it is what allowed her to wake Brynn from her nightmare."
"Really," Jack says, looking a little skeptical, a little freaked out, and a little annoyed. "Well, you can tell your sister that here on Earth, reading minds, very rude. Don't do that."
Brynn feels her stomach drop. "You're not really going to leave us, are you, Jack?"
He shifts in his seat uncomfortably. "Well, I was going to take you with me, Brynn. This is way too dangerous for you to get mixed up in. We should just both go back to Vegas and I'll take you home.
"No!" she yells too loudly. People turn their heads to look at them curiously but Brynn doesn't pay them any attention as panic starts to spread through her veins. She grabs onto Seth's and Sara's hands under the table on either side of her. Don't let him take me back! she throws out her mind, hoping Sara hears her and allows Seth to hear as well. Please, don't let him take me back to that place!
Do not worry, Brynn, Sara reassures her. You will not go back to your father ever again.
We will ensure it, Seth says, and some of the panic starts to fade. They'll help her. They'll keep her safe. Just like they promised. Seth turns to Jack with a stubborn glare. "Brynn is to remain with us to assist us on our mission."
"No," Jack says slowly, starting to get irritated, "Brynn needs to go home. She's already almost gotten killed because of your mission. She's lucky she only got a little banged up."
"Brynn does not wish to return home, Jack Bruno," Sara says, getting a little too close to the truth for Brynn's comfort. She doesn't want to tell Jack the truth about why she doesn't want to go home. She's afraid he'll find out who she is. There's no telling what he'd do.
"Why don't you want to go home?" Jack asks her, starting to sound suspicious.
"Hey, guys," a waitress interrupts, setting down some glasses of water on their table. "My name's Tina and I'm gonna be your server." When she looks at Brynn, Seth, and Sara, her eyes fill with amusement. "Wow. Look at the three of you."
"Uh, what do you mean, look at the three of them?" Jack says nervously. "They look like, uh, three regular, innocent, uh, all-American kids."
Brynn rolls her eyes. He's really bad at lying.
"Well, they look like they just rolled around in a pig pen right before dinner, that's all." The sheriff and a couple of deputies pass by and Tina greets them as they go to their table. Jack gets even more nervous, but he needs to just relax. No one here is going to know them, not in this small town. "Now," Tina turns to them, "why don't the three of you come with me and we'll get y'all cleaned up, huh?"
Brynn, Seth, and Sara rise from the table, Brynn grabbing her messenger bag that has miraculously stayed with her throughout this crazy journey, and they follow Tina to the bathrooms, Brynn and Sara going to the women's, Seth going to the men's. Brynn and Sara go to the sinks lining one wall, using the water and paper towels to wipe the dirt and ash from their faces and hair as best they can. When Brynn gets as good as she's going to get she takes her bag into one of the stalls and changes into some fresh clothes from what she brought with her, a dark green V-neck shirt and blue jeans. When they're all done they exit the bathroom to find Seth and Tina waiting for them and the waitress shows them back to their table.
"You've changed clothes," Jack notices and Brynn's shoulders tense as she sits down.
"Yep," she says, tone clipped. "Had some extra clothes with me."
"And why is that?" But it sounds like he already knows the truth.
She's about to just brush him off again when Sara grabs her hand. Brynn, you have encouraged my brother and I to trust in Jack Bruno. Perhaps it is time you do the same?
Brynn bites her lip. If Jack finds out about my connection to Wolfe…things might get bad.
Sara nods in understanding. Then at least tell him the reason as to why you wish not to return home to your father. He will be accepting. Trust me.
Brynn drags a hand over her face. "Alright," she sighs. "Alright, Jack. Yes, I've run away from home. But I can't go back. My father, he…it's not safe for me there."
Jack's face turns hard, his eyes going dark with anger. "Does he hurt you?"
"Yes," she says in a small voice. "Along with others."
He's silent for a few moments and then says quietly, "Is running away really the answer though? It may sound like a great idea at first, but going out on your own usually doesn't turn out all too good. Trust me. I know. I ran away from my foster parents when I was sixteen and ended up in a gang. It took me years to get out, and when I did not many people would hire me because I never finished high school. Being a cab driver was the only job I could get."
They're both running from the same things, Brynn and Jack. She's trying to get out from under Mr. Wolfe's roof, he's trying to get away from Mr. Wolfe's gang. Running away may not have worked out for him, but it is the only option for her. "I may not be able to have a glamorous life but it'll be a lot better than the hell I'm leaving behind. I'll be okay, Jack. I know I can make it on my own."
Jack sighs deeply. "Okay. Okay. I won't make you go back. But I think it would be-"
"Best for everyone if Seth, Brynn, and I found another ride?" Sara finishes for him.
"Seriously," he deadpans. "You gotta stop doing that."
"Jack Bruno, it is understandable if you are scared and confused considering all that has occurred today."
"I'm not scared," he insists but Sara gives him an unconvinced look. She is a mind-reader, after all. "Just a little confused," he amends. "But the bottom line is, you guys need someone from NASA or the Air Force, not me."
"If you abandon us now our mission will be in serious jeopardy."
"Jack, I know how you feel," Brynn says. "That Siphon is freaky and wicked strong." She lifts a hand to her head, still able to feel the throbbing bump he gave her. "But I'm not about to let Seth and Sara face him alone either. It's too late for NASA or the Air Force. There's just us. It may not be much, but we're all they've got."
"Hey, look," Jack says placatingly, "I'm just trying to be honest here, okay? I'm the wrong guy. What do you expect me to do?"
"A wise human once said 'You are what you think you are,'" Sara says.
"Yeah, well, why don't you find that guy and ask him?"
"It was the Buddha," Seth informs him. "He is unavailable."
Brynn snorts in amusement and he smirks at her.
"How is it that beings on your planet can be so large in form yet feel so small inside?" Sara asks, truly not understanding. She takes his hand. "Maybe you need help too, Jack Bruno."
Jack's phone suddenly rings, interrupting them, and he answers it. Whatever the person says on the other end, it makes Jack freeze. Brynn opens her mouth to ask who it is but Jack just holds up a finger, signaling them to wait, and gets up from the table to walk away with the phone pressed to his ear.
"You do it too, you know," Sara says to her once Jack is out of listening range.
"What do you mean?" she asks.
"You feel small on the inside when really you are not." Brynn blinks at her in surprise and Sara smiles. "You believe you are not of much help to us, just as Jack does, and yet you still insist on coming with us on our mission, determined to do all that you can. That is a kind of strength, Brynn, one that not many people have, even on our world. It allowed you to face the Siphon and come out alive."
Brynn shrugs, feeling like it's not really that big of a deal, what she did. "I just did what anyone else would have done."
"No," Seth says. "What you did was remarkable." He shakes his head with a little disbelief. "You have succeeded in proving me wrong about you."
Brynn smiles, feeling elated. That one sentence right there and she feels that she just accomplished something great. She's proves to Seth, who has turned out to be a very stubborn alien, that she can be trusted. And maybe with this step he can come to trust other humans, too, like Jack.
Jack comes back to the table and urges the three of them to get up and follow him. "They're here for us," Sara says, "aren't they."
He looks between them and the sheriff's table a little indecisively then says, "Yeah. They are." He then leaves them to go towards the sheriff's table.
Seth's fists clench at his sides. "I knew we couldn't trust him, Sarah. We have to run."
Sara grabs her brother's arm as she stares at Jack. "Wait."
Brynn watches Jack talk to the sheriffs and she smiles. She doesn't have to be a mind reader in order to guess what he has in mind. "I don't think he's selling us out, Seth. I think he's buying some time."
Jack motions for them to follow him and he leads them around the edge of the dance floor, using the pillars and crowd to hide themselves. A bunch of men in black suits walk into the restaurant and the sheriff approaches them with an air of caution. They can't hear what the men are talking about but then the men in suits and the cops all start pointing their guns at each other and the restaurant goes deathly quiet and still. Jack uses the distraction to lead them further around the room but there are people with guns blocking all the exits. They can't get out without being noticed.
They turn around to go back the other way only to run into the waitress, Tina. She holds a finger to her lips, telling them to be quiet, and then she leads them to the back of the restaurant to a door that opens up on a ladder leading up to the roof.
"Thank you," Sara whispers to her.
Tina smiles. "Good luck."
Jack climbs up the ladder and pushes against the hatch, but it doesn't budge. "It's locked from the outside." He climbs back down. "We gotta find another way."
Seth doesn't listen to him, instead climbing up the ladder himself. He pushes his hand through the hatch and in a moment he has it opened and is climbing through.
"Or we could do that," Jack says in confusion, "whatever that is."
"My brother has the ability to control his molecular density," Sara explains. "Which allows him to phase through solid objects or withstand the greatest of impacts."
So that's how he saved her out on the highway. As Brynn climbs up the ladder after Sara, followed by Jack, she wonders if the twins have any other neat abilities.
They sneak across rooftops, hopping down onto the roof of a trailer and then down to the ground into someone's backyard. A feral growling makes them pause though. Slowly, they turn to see a very large dog with brown fur and a black muzzle. And he does not look happy. He barks at them and Brynn cringes back. That would be just her luck, to survive getting attacked by the Siphon only to get mauled on by a dog. The dog charges at them and she closes her eyes. Only to hear a happy whine. She cracks her eyes open to see Sara kneeling on the ground, petting the dog, and the dog licking her face.
"We appreciate your understanding," she tells the dog and then stands. "Let's go."
Sara and Seth run off and Brynn runs after them. "Any other little tricks I should know about?"
Sara thinks for a moment. "None that I can recall."
She shakes her head. Crazy aliens.
They rush back to the garage and drive off in the cab despite the mechanic not being done yet. As soon as they're on the main road they're spotted by the wannabe Men in Black.
"There's too many of them," Jack says as he weaves between all of the black SUVs. Sara flings out her hand towards one of the cars and its engine explodes with a bunch of sparks. She does it again and again, destroying the men's cars. "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."
Once all of the cars are taken care of they are able to safely make their way out of town without any of the men being able to follow.
"Say goodbye to Stony Creek," Jack says happily but then Sara shoves her hand forward again and the cab comes to a stop. "No, no, no, no, not now! Come on! Sara, are you doing this?"
The back door opens and the dog from earlier climbs over Sara's lap to squish between her and Brynn, forcing Brynn to slide closer to Seth.
"Oh, absolutely not!" Jack yells angrily. "This junkyard is not going with us. I am done picking up stray passengers!"
Before he can order them to get rid of the dog though, the men start to catch up to them on foot and bullets ping against the cab. They all duck their heads down and Jack gets the car in motion again, now with one more passenger.
Once the town lights disappear, Jack speaks up. "Those guys who were chasing us, they were the same ones from the highway, right?"
"Yes," Sara says.
"It is vital that you take us to their base of operation," Seth tells him and Jack looks back incredulously.
"You want me to take you to the guys who are trying to kill you?"
"Let me explain to you how we do things here, on Earth," Jack says condescendingly. "People who want you dead, you avoid. That way you, oh, stay alive. Make sense?"
"No one on your planet will stay alive if we do not return to our planet," Seth replies, using the same tone. "And in order to return, we need our ship. Those men who are trying to kill us have stolen our ship. Make sense?"
Jack looks back at them but he has no retort.
"Where do you suggest we begin our search?" Sara asks.
"I don't suggest we begin searching at all," Jack says. "I do suggest we go back to Vegas and I drop you off right where you got on." He looks down at the dog who has now crawled into the front passenger seat. "You too."
Fear constricts Brynn's chest and she touches the backs of Sara's and Seth's hands lightly. "If he leaves us back in Vegas, Mr. Wolfe and his men will find me before we can find another way out again."
Seth's hand wraps around hers and he looks at her with such a fierce determination. "No matter what happens, we will keep you safe. Friend."
A warm feeling fills her chest, setting her stomach to flutter like a million butterflies.
"Please, do not take offense with what I am about to say." Then Seth looks to his sister and says, "It is just as I thought. No human is going to help us, Sara. Especially not this human."
But that's not true. Brynn is helping them and for him to just brush her off like that hurts a little. But both twins squeeze her hands and Seth told her not to take offense. What is he trying to do?
"Hey, hey," Jack says, sounding slightly hurt himself, "easy on the human bashing, okay? Some of my best friends just happen to be human. And even if I were to help you, I wouldn't even know where to begin. I don't know anything about UFOs or aliens or-"
Sara cocks her head to the side in thought. "Who is Dr. Alex Friedman?"
Jack pauses, taken aback by another display of Sara's mind reading capabilities. He also seems to be debating with himself. "She's actually somebody who can help. And for the record, she happens to be human."
The three of them smile. They got Jack to continue helping them. But then Brynn's smile fades as a thought comes to mind. "Jack, where is Dr. Friedman at?"
"Back in Vegas," he says. "She's giving a conference or something at the alien convention."
It's suddenly hard to breathe. She still has to go back to Vegas, and to Planet Hollywood no less. That's practically the heart of Mr. Wolfe's territory. He's going to know where she is as soon as she steps in the building. And then her father will come after her. But this is what Seth and Sara need. If this Dr. Friedman can really help them, then she'll just have to risk getting caught. She will do this for them.
Do not worry, Brynn, Sara says confidently. It is as my brother said, we will keep you safe, just as we promised.
Brynn just nods, trying to put on a brave smile but she can feel it falter a little. Suddenly she feels so tired.
You should try to get some more sleep, Seth says, concern softening his usually hard face.
I don't know if I can, she says. I don't want to have that nightmare again and I know I will if I go to sleep now.
Seth shifts closer to her and lifts his other hand to cup the side of her face, leading her head down until it is resting on his shoulder. Just try.
She lets go of Sara's hand, not wanting Seth to hear her next thought. That she definitely doesn't want to sleep now. She wants to be awake for this moment, her pressed against Seth's side, head on his shoulder, his thumb stroking her hand, the smell of pine trees all around her. She doesn't really understand what's going on inside of her, honestly, she's afraid to, but she does know that she wants to make this last for as long as possible.