Now where have Fred and Harold got themselves to? Dan wondered as he walked down the halls of the Dunfey hotel. They'd talked him into going to this gaming convention thing, and so far it had been a total bust. There really wasn't anything here that interested him, so they ended up gaming themselves, and what was the point of coming 25 miles to do that? And now he couldn't find his friends. He suspected they were hiding from him; they'd played tricks on each other before. But he never would have thought that they would have ditched him completely!
Coming back from the arcade, Dan tried to remember where Fred had parked his car. No, that wouldn't work, because Fred had left before to get sodas, so the car wouldn't be in the same place. Searching through that many cars...
Dan wasn't the only one searching the crowd. But the tall figure in the dark coat and wide-brimmed hat wasn't here to play games...he was looking for someone with that certain sense of...the figure peered closely at the aura of the man standing head and shoulders above the rest of the group, coming toward him...yess...he would do. He would do quite well, in fact. The tall figure touched a control at his belt and his features flowed into something more resembling human: shorter, with a nose and mouth and only two eyes. He added the touch of a stained Metallica T-shirt and, satisfied, made himself visible to the people around him again.
Suddenly the crowd flowed away and Dan found himself looking slightly down at another gamer geek he had almost run into. "Excuse me..." they said in unison. Dan smiled apology and waved the little guy past, but the guy followed him. "Excuse me," the little guy started again, "but would it be too much to ask if I could get your help with some of my computer equipment downstairs?" Before Dan could object, he continued. "It'll just take a couple of minutes...I'm really in a bind, you know? My friends were supposed to be here" -- and he sensed a reaction from Dan -- "but they vanished on me and I can't get all the stuff up by myself. I double parked the van out front and I need somebody to hand me down the stuff, keep an eye on it while I'm moving it upstairs to the computer gaming room..." Dan thought about Fred, maybe missing him if he came by while Dan was downstairs..."No, wait, let me see... I got these free posters for the new game. I'm running a tournament, see, and I need to get the computers set up... these guys are even more disorganized than usual this year. I'm supposed to give the posters away as prizes, but I've got so many of them, I can give you one and a couple for your friends if you help me out...hm? Do you think you could help?" Dan looked at the crumpled poster that the guy held up...really nice artwork; that suit was tough... Fred'd probably dig the chick in leather, and Harold would probably say something about 'brush strokes' or something...
Before he really knew it, Dan was bustling downstairs with the gamer, going through the front door, and up to
the back of the shuttle bus that "Arnie" called his "van". Arnie opened the back of the van, "See, here's my equipment..."
and suddenly Dan was looking up into the multi-faceted eyes of a giant insect.
"Hello." said the insect.
...the hospital...limo...what's happening to me?!!!...the box...don't look in the box...cats and string guns...
don't trust them...don't trust anybody...Fred awoke slowly from strange dreams that he could never completely remember,
bathed in sweat, his mouth furry with dried saliva. He rolled to the side of his bed to grab his glasses and check the time,
because it was still dark, and his feet touched the floor. Cold.
How could his feet touch the floor if he was on his waterbed? He tested the mattress, and it wasn't his bed. He blinked, wondering who he had gone home with from that party, whose house he had crashed at...it wasn't Harold's house, he could've seen the computer running Chaos Strikes Back even without his glasses...No, it seemed totally unfamiliar. Fred groped around for a light switch and realized that the darkness contained a lot of open space...there was no wall around the bed, only floor.
A bit frightened now, Fred called out "Hello?" as he shifted his weight forward onto the floor. Metal. A cold metal grid under his bare feet. Where was he? Standing from the bed, the sheets fell away from his body and he was cold. No clothes? Had it been a hot night? It wasn't hot now!
His exploring toe nudged something soft. Getting on hands and knees, Fred discovered a pile of folded clothing next to
a pair of large boots. Strange...as his eyes adjusted to the darkness somewhat, he was able to see vague shapes of other
beds in the large room...cots, really. Without his glasses, he couldn't tell if any of the others were occupied, but everything
was silent except for his breathing, loud in his ears as he tried not to breathe...
Cold nipping at him, Fred pulled on the clothing, which he saw had something written on it when he brought it up to his eyes: S K E F...? It fit decently, though the pants part of the jumpsuit was quite baggy. The material seemed to have metal woven into it, because it, too, was cold to the touch and felt stiff. Fred wandered around, his mind full of questions. How had he come here? It was like nothing had happened between the party and waking here. He'd run into Kara at the con and she'd invited him to her room...! All those years working with her and finally... But when they got there, a party was already in full swing. Fred had decided to run down and grab his torches, and the last thing he remembered before the dreams was the light of the torches blending into one long streamer of yellow glow in his watering eyes...the smoke...and then here. And where was here? It wasn't Kara's room at the hotel!
Checking the other cots, Fred found them unoccupied. He went straight to the wall and started feeling along for a door,
some way to get out...his hand found a panel extended from the wall, touched it, and the section of wall in front of Fred
faded into nothingness. He squinted in the sudden brightness and stepped out into a long, well-lit corridor. The wall faded
back behind him, but now he could see that the fading part was a slightly darker color...the illuminated hallway was lined
with similar doors. Hmmm...
time to explore...
Those idiots at Carl's...Andy shook his head. He was always getting out later than he planned. Today he was the last one to go home. The middle of the night parking lot was mostly empty...he wondered what the cars that were still there were there for...after midnight there really wasn't much open, aside from the Denny's...Andy walked across the wet pavement to his Porsche, which was almost shining in the streetlights...no, it was shining. The chrome on the highlights was reflecting light from somewhere, right into his eyes. Andy looked around for the source of the light and realized it was coming from above him. Looking up, Andy saw the light...kinda like one of those search helicopters, except there wasn't any noise and the light was kinda green...
Andy leaped into the convertible and started to drive off. But the car didn't screech forward. Wait...no, the car was running, what was the problem? He turned the wheel and got no response, flooring the gas pedal. He opened the door to get out, check under the hood, and almost fell twenty feet to the parking lot. Even as he watched, the distance grew, faster and faster...fifty feet...Andy thought for only a moment about jumping...a hundred feet...weird seeing the top of the Fry's building! Andy got a little bit of vertigo at rising so fast and looked up at the green light. He could vaguely make out a shape behind that green light, but...slowly the air congealed around the car, until Andy found himself enclosed in a large white sphere, about twenty feet across. Andy thought it might have been just endless white except that he turned on the car's headlights and the light reflected slightly off of the curved surface in front of him. The car was just floating in the middle of the sphere. Andy closed the driver's door and sat back, to wait.
An hour later, Andy was startled awake from his dozing by a small thump. He sat up in the seat and looked around. What a change! All around the Porsche were brightly lit trees, grasses, statuary...like a vast garden beautifully arranged. Andy got out slowly, testing the ground. The car was parked on a ten foot wide path formed of giant slabs of grey stone and seemed totally solid under Andy's feet. No sign of the light, the white sphere, the parking lot, anything familiar. This looked almost tropical, like southern Florida, maybe. He looked around at his beautiful surroundings and decided that it was warm enough to put the top down on the convertible. Then he hopped back in, started up the car, and drove off down the path.