All Roads Lead to Home
Jack diligently drives throughout the night without stopping to get any sleep for himself, just keeps going onwards towards Vegas, this time taking them along rural backroads that are more dirt than road. It's a longer route but at least this way they are less likely to be found than if they use the main road. Seth and Sara drift off eventually. At one point in the night Brynn feels Seth's breathing even out beneath her cheek where it is still pressed to his shoulder and Sara snores quietly beside her. Brynn never sleeps though. Just keeps a silent vigil with Jack, even though he never knows it. Her eyelids stay shut and she lets her mind wander to the swaying of the cab.
She likes being this close to Seth. He was so closed off to her before, so angry and cold and hard. But he's begun to soften up to her as trust slowly trickles in. She likes this more open Seth, the one who's beginning to care about her, the one who now calls her friend.
But a part of her wonders at that word, "friend," and wonders if there couldn't be, already isn't, more.
A little after dawn the dog, now lovingly called Junkyard just to annoy Jack, starts to growl and Brynn opens her eyes. Junkyard is sitting up in the front passenger seat, staring intently at Jack, and giving a low growl every once in a while.
Seth and Sara begin to stir from the noise, so Brynn reluctantly lifts her head off of Seth's shoulder. She tries to slip her hand out of his but as he starts to fully wake up his grip on her tightens. And as he looks around with groggy eyes, landing on her with a soft, almost-there smile, he doesn't let her hand go. So she smiles back and lets him keep it, hoping he's not still holding her hand just because he hasn't noticed yet that he still is.
"Sara?" Jack asks without taking his eyes off the road.
Sara looks to Junkyard and then says, "He would appreciate you pulling over so that he may relieve himself"
"Well, we don't have time for that," Jack says, sounding peeved that this animal he doesn't even want in his cab is now trying to make demands. "He should have went before we left Stony Creek."
Junkyard growls again. "He's unpleased with your attitude."
"Really? Is that the way he feels? Well, you remind him that I'm a man and he's a dog." Jack looks at Junkyard at the emphasis. "And I'm not about to have this, or any conversation, with a dog. So my answer is still no."
Brynn rolls her eyes. This is just ridiculous. "Hey, Jack?"
"You do know that if you don't pull over he's probably just going to pee in the car, right?"
A few minutes later the car is parked on the side of the road. Jack gets out, along with Sara, Junkyard flying out after her to go out into the field of dried grass. Seth and Brynn stay in the car, Brynn staring at the lightening sky and thinking of her mother. Her mother used to love this time of morning. She was always an early riser, would always get up at the crack of dawn just to enjoy hours such as this, the time of day when most are still in bed. She said she liked to enjoy the peace and quiet, that it was always one of the few times of the day when she wasn't surrounded by Mr. Wolfe and his men. It was one of the few times when she didn't feel stifled, constrained, trapped. It was during those early morning hours when she grabbed Brynn and tried to run away, only to ultimately fail. Only to die and leave Brynn behind to a horrible fate. A horrible father. But Brynn knows she wouldn't have left her if she didn't have to. If Mr. Wolfe didn't force her to. But he just had to make an example out of her. No one leaves the gang. Not without consequences.
"Brynn?" Seth says, sounding like he's tried to get her attention a couple of times now, and she turns to him apologetically.
"Sorry," she says. "What were you saying?"
"Your mind had wandered off somewhere. Where did it take you?"
She looks away sadly. "To my mother. Today is the anniversary of her death."
"I am sorry," he whispers.
She shakes her head. "It was a long time ago." She smiles at him, wanting to lift the somber air. She doesn't want to be thinking of this right now, especially with them headed back to Vegas. "Do you mind if I ask you something?"
He looks at her a little cautiously but says, "What is it?"
"What's your planet like?"
"Its name is Sorrel." A small smile lights his face, but it is a sad smile. "There are many sprawling metropolises, like the one here where we first met. There are towering scrapers and our advances in technology are a source of great pride for our people. But that pride has also come with great consequence, for it is leading to the death of both our planet and our people. Our cities take up the majority of the planet. The rest…is uninhabitable wastelands. The air and seas are so polluted that it is only our elders who remember what they once looked like. Sorrel was once very beautiful. At least, that is what we are told. It was much like this planet, with green life all around and clear blue waters and birds and other wild animals. But our people were not kind to our planet, allowing the forests to be cut down for more cities and pollution to destroy the rest. We hope to one day make things right. To bring the beauty that was lost back to the planet, as it should be."
"Is that why you're here, your mission? Does it have to do with healing your planet?"
"Yes, it does." He looks out towards the others where Junkyard is vaulting back to the cab. "I hope to see that beauty myself someday and not just in pictures."
Brynn smiles softly as Junkyard jumps into the back of the cab, licking her face. It does sound a lot like Earth, in more ways than one. She wonders if one day, maybe, Seth and Sara can take her to see it.
But that is probably just wishful thinking.
"Junkyard says thank you," Sara informs Jack.
"Did he now?" Jack says, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Is there anything else he wants?"
Sara bends down to look at Junkyard, apparently asking, and then looks back up at Jack. "He said he would love a bone or a meaty treat."
Apparently they don't have much sarcasm on Sorrel. "Top of my to-do list," Jack tells her. "Just get in."
Sara does as she's told and Jack closes the door after her. Then they are back on their way to Vegas.
It's almost noon by the time they get there. A part of Brynn is pleased to be back in Las Vegas, the city she has always known, the city she was raised in. But a thick apprehension envelopes her as well. The further into the city they get, the harder it will be to get back out again. The longer they're here, the more likely Mr. Wolfe is to find out she's here. And as they arrive at Planet Hollywood, handing over the cab and the looking after of Junkyard to a valet, she knows there will most likely be some sort of confrontation with Mr. Wolfe's men before they leave the building.
She can feel a tingling going up her spine, the feeling of eyes on her, and now, thanks to Sebastian, she knows it means that Mr. Wolfe's men are watching her. They are here. And soon, her father will be, too. They need to finish up their business here as fast as possible.
Jack shepherds them up an escalator and towards one of the rooms used for presentations. When they find the one where Dr. Alex Friedman is supposed to be giving her presentation right now, they find it empty. Except for a single woman with short brown hair wearing a professional collared shirt and a pencil skirt whom Brynn takes to be Alex Friedman.
"The cattle mutilation lecture doesn't start for an hour," Alex says, "but grab a seat. This place will be packed." She crumbles up her coffee cup and throws it away dejectedly. "It always is."
"We're here to see you actually," Jack says. "It's Jack Bruno. We met earlier."
She looks at him curiously, obviously not recognizing him at all. "We did?"
"Cab? Airport to hotel?" He gestures towards his face. "Driver?"
"Ah," she says as it hits her, "the nonbeliever. What are the odds?"
"Hey, is there someplace we can talk?"
She looks at him like he can't be serious, since they're already completely alone. "The, uh, crowds in here making you uncomfortable?"
"Even more private than this," Jack insists.
Alex sighs. "Look, no offense, but I'm-"
"She's doubting her thesis on Gliese-581 and Alcubierre's Warp Drive," Sara suddenly speaks up, no doubt pulling that fact from Alex's mind.
Alex looks at Sara in shock. "How did you know that?"
"Oh, it gets a lot better," Jack says. "Trust me."
"Alright," Alex gives in, in a bit of a daze. "Follow me." She leads them out through the exhibits until they find one on Mars that's closed down for repairs. Alex sets her stuff down on a table and her and Jack start a whispered conversation. The longer it goes on, the angrier Alex gets.
"Hey, guys?" Brynn says to Seth and Sara while still looking at the adults. "I think Alex is going to end up being like Jack in the whole needing proof before she believes you're aliens thing." When the twins don't answer her she turns her head to see them rifling through Alex's bag, pulling out her computer and opening it up. "Hey, what do you think you're doing?" she whisper-yells but they don't answer her, instead staring at the picture of outer space that's on the screen with deep interest.
"Hey, please don't touch that!" Alex yells at them.
Seth doesn't listen, he just picks up her laptop and says excitedly, "You captured an image of our ship."
Alex looks at him skeptically. "The smudge? You're telling me you think the smudge is your space ship."
"No, we don't think it's our space ship," Sara says, "We know it is our space ship."
Alex shakes her head. "That's it, I'm out." She goes to take her computer from Seth. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll just brag my laptop and-" Alex's hand goes through the laptop and then the laptop goes through Seth's hands, falling towards the floor. It stops right before it hits, though, levitating back up into the air following Sara's outstretched hand. Alex speechlessly holds out her hands and Sara places the laptop down on them.
"Oh, they can also do all this stuff too," Jack says, sounding like he wants to say "I told you so" but doesn't. Almost.
Alex takes in a shaky breath and looks at them in awe. "Who are you?"
"Show her," Sara tells Seth, and he places a device on top of Alex's bag on the table and presses a button. A bright light shoots out of the device and suddenly they are surrounded by stars and planets and galaxies, the whole of space, and Brynn's mouth opens in her own awe as she takes it all in. It's all so beautiful. She can't imagine being able to travel through space, to actually see all of this in person from a space ship.
"This is huge," Alex says with utter happiness. She turns to Brynn, Seth, and Sara excitedly. "I have so many questions." She places a hand on Brynn's arm. "Even though you are the answers, here, standing right in front of me-"
"Actually," Brynn interrupts, getting a little uncomfortable with the closeness since Alex is still basically a stranger. Honestly, why does everyone always assume she's an alien too? "I'm not an alien. I'm human. So could you just…."
Alex instantly turns apologetic and retracts her hand. "Oh, right. I'm sorry. Very excited." She takes a breath, visibly calming herself down. "Where are you from?"
"Our planet is located some 3000 light-years from Earth." Sara points to a planet floating by, one surrounded by what looks like brown clouds but Brynn guesses to be the pollution Seth told her about. They can't even see the ground.
"But space travel of such sizable distance-"
"Is possible," Seth interjects, "using a paradoxical passage in the unbound-"
"Wormholes! That's it!" She looks at Jack triumphantly. "My presentation at City National convention was right! Interstellar travel is possible using worm holes as a shortcut through space!"
"That was my first guess as well, the worm holes," Jack adds, and Brynn raises an eyebrow at him. He's trying to impress Alex. Interesting. He clears his throat awkwardly. "Continue, doctor."
"Why did you come to Earth?" Alex asks them.
"Our planet is dying," Sara says. "Millennia of neglect has rendered our atmosphere unbreathable."
"That sounds familiar," Alex mumbles to herself.
"Our parents are scientists," Seth says, "who have studied Earth's changing climates in hopes of finding a solution for our planet's future."
Sara continues, "Our people's fears began to rise, and then our parents discovered something our leaders were very interested in.
Seth hesitates, glancing nervously over at Brynn. "Your planet makes a suitable living environment for our kind. It would be simplest to abandon our dying planet and occupy yours."
"Okay, so wait, I'm helping you conquer my own planet?" Jack asks accusingly, but Brynn doesn't leap to that conclusion. No, they wouldn't do that. Not Seth and Sara.
"No!" Sara says. "Most of the people on our planet are fiercely opposed to this plan."
"But fear of extinction triumphed among our people," Seth says.
"But then our parents discovered a solution. An experiment at an outpost here was successful in regenerating life into all previously dying plants and trees."
"Which would enable the re-oxygenating of your poisoned atmosphere," Alex says, following the idea.
"Alright, so what's the problem?" Jack asks.
"Our military," Seth says. "They preferred the solution of invasion over science."
"Which is why we had to hurry and retrieve the experiment." Sara pulls out the device they found at the outpost. "All proof that our planet can be saved and your planet spared is in here."
"And where are your parents again?" Jack asks.
"They were arrested for their opposition."
"We agreed to complete the task for them," Seth says.
"And what about the assassin?" Jack asks.
"Assassin?" Alex repeats worriedly. "What assassin?"
"The Siphon warrior series Duranian 75 was created by our military," Sara answers.
"They were bred to hunt?"
"They're bred to kill," Seth clarifies, "and if we don't return back home in time, the invasion will proceed."
Alex looks a bit freaked out. "We seriously need to find your spaceship."
They follow Alex back out into the convention in search of someone Alex knows who she says can help them locate Seth's and Sara's ship. It's different, knowing the full truth now. Before, Brynn was just helping her friends get from one place to another, dodging bad guys as they went. Now it feels more like a mission because now she knows exactly what's at stake. If they don't succeed, if Seth and Sara don't bring their device back to their planet, then the Earth will be in danger.
Their search takes them to two colleagues of Alex's, asking for a Dr. Harlan, and they lead them outside to the collection of RVs and trailers of those speaking at the convention. They stop at one with tin foil covering the windows and Alex knocks on the door
"Go away!" a man's voice calls out from inside the RV. "The book signing's not 'til 4:30. Read the brochure!"
"Harlan, it's Alex Friedman," Alex yells back and instantly the door opens to reveal an older man with white hair and wearing a brown vest.
"Dr. Alex Friedman," he says, sounding pleased. "Kel-suprise."
"We have to speak with you immediately, it is incredibly important."
Dr. Harlan lets them inside as Alex explains an extremely bended version of the truth, that Brynn, Sara, and Seth all saw a UFO crash land. Inside the RV there are tons of pictures and diagrams, all having to do with aliens and space. Harlan goes towards the back of the trailer and sits at his desk.
"We were wondering if there were any intel out there amongst your sources," Alex says.
Harlan looks between the five of them, his face revealing nothing. "I hate lying. I really don't like lying. I can tell when people are lying to me." They shift uncomfortably on their feet, thinking they're caught, but then Harlan smiles. "But thankfully your story checks out with all the reports I got from SEDI and NORAD and NASA.
Seth steps forward urgently. "We have reason to believe a team of government sponsored covert operatives recovered the space craft."
"Okay, back up a little, this is not space camp." Harlan holds up a hand, forcing Seth to step back. "Let the experts do their work. You know, you're very lucky you three didn't come face to face with the aliens who were in that craft. They're like deadly praying mantises. They eat your flesh."
This guy is a couple of cards shy of a full deck. Sara looks at her and she thinks, "Just play along."
"Oh, oh yes," Sara says rather awkwardly. "We are indeed lucky kids, not to have had our flesh eaten. By the aliens."
"You got that right." Harlan turns to his computer. "Okay, let's go to work."
Harlan looks through his data and narrows it down to one possibility: Witch Mountain, a heavily guarded top secret government facility in California about 50 miles from the border of Nevada. He gives them what he's got on it and gives them one final warning. "Whatever trouble you're in, trust no one."
When they're back inside the building they stop at the escalators. "Thank you," Sara says. "All of you. Seth and I understand that you don't have to go forward with us, and yet you choose to."
"You're welcome," Alex says with a warm smile. "And don't worry, we're gonna get you home. Promise." She looks at Jack. "I'm gonna go grab my stuff. Let's meet upstairs in the convention at my boot, then we can get your cab."
"Alex, listen," Jack pulls her to the side a little, but Brynn and the others can still easily listen. "I can't let you come with us."
"What?" Alex says incredulously.
"If half of what Harlan says is true, it's way too dangerous. They got in my cab, they're my problem."
"Um, no!" Alex straightens up, looking at Jack defiantly. "I have spent my entire life preparing for this moment and now when I have two actual aliens in need of my help, you want me to walk away? It's not gonna happen. Man up, soldier. I'm in." Jack is a little taken aback, but Brynn can tell he's secretly pleased. "Just lay low, till we meet up."
"Sure!" Jack stutters out as she walks away. "Lay low. Easy. How hard could that be?"
Sara moves to stand besides Jack as he stares at Alex's retreating form. "She thinks you're very handsome."
"Really?" Jack asks, surprised.
"And smarter than you think you are."
"So she was thinking about me, huh?"
"At least as much as you were thinking about her."
Jack is staring off in the direction Alex went a little dreamily. "So did she happen to mention in her thoughts that I was a…."
"It's showtime, everybody!" someone yells out as they pass by, heading to the escalator. "Space Echo No. 9. It's upstairs, come on!"
"Should we go upstairs now?" Seth asks.
"Yeah, yeah," Jack says distractedly. "Let's go upstairs."
Seth and Sara head towards the stairs but Brynn stays behind with Jack. "Hey, Jack?" she asks.
"Hm?" He's pulled from his thoughts and looks at her. "What is it?"
"You're not going to try to make me leave because it's too dangerous like you did with Alex, are you?"
"I thought about it," he admits. "But I figured there's no way you'd listen to me even if I tried. Besides, I'm not about to do something that would make Seth hate me any more than he already does."
"Seth doesn't really hate you, he just has trust issues. But why would he hate you for making me leave?"
A slow smile crawls across Jack's face. "I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually."
"Well, well, well, look who we have here," a voice says, one Brynn recognizes and dread swallows her. They're suddenly surrounded by three men. Wolfe's men. Two of them grab ahold of Jack and she recognizes them from as the same men from the taxi lot yesterday morning. The third grabs a hold of her, a vice-like grip on her forearm, and she's looking into the sinister grin of Sebastian. "Hello, again, little Brynnley. We've been looking everywhere for you." He looks to Jack. "You, too, Jackie. Imagine our surprise when you just walk right in like you own the place. Mr. Wolfe is going to be pleased to see you. Come on." The three of them begin to drag Brynn and Jack off, but Jack struggles against the men holding him. Sebastian tuts in disapproval. "Oh, Jackie, I wouldn't do that." He pulls out a knife, pressing the tip of the blade against her side so that Jack can see but none of the people around them will notice. Brynn's breath catches in her throat. "Come along nicely, Jackie. Mr. Wolfe would be very disappointed if I had to hurt his little pet." Jack stills and lets the men guide him through the casino.
"You know Mr. Wolfe?" Jack whispers to her. "How?"
"You remember how I told you my mother was murdered?" Brynn asks. He nods. "Mr. Wolfe gave the order."
"Yeah. But there's more to it than that." She should just tell him, who her father is, but her tongue tangles on the words. She can't. She just can't. If Jack knew, he would hate her for it. Her father has caused him a lot of pain. But he's probably about to find out anyway.
Jack opens his mouth to say more but then they're dragged into a show room. The sign outside the door says a magic show is supposed to be going on now but when they enter there is nobody on stage or anyone seated at the round dinner tables. Except for Mr. Wolfe. He's seated in one of the booths in the center with half a dozen men placed all around the room. Brynn and Jack are shoved into two chairs placed in front of his table and Sebastian stands directly behind her, hands placed lightly on the back of her chair.
She stares, wide-eyed, into Mr. Wolfe's cold, dark eyes, terror eating away at her gut. She can't tell how angry he is, his face gives nothing away, but usually when he just sits in silence it means something really bad is about to come. She wonders where Seth and Sara are and how long it will take them to come searching for her and Jack. Will they find them in time? Will they even be able to last that long?