"What was that?" I asked, looking around. My gaze settled on Jani, my twin sister, rather than Colleen. Strange. Why would I look to my sister when a beautiful girl like Colleen was right beside me? An absolute doll I was hoping to get to know a lot better. I couldn't help it, though. Something odd had happened, like a tiny burst of sparkles in my mind that were bright for a moment, then faded but remained as a spot somewhere inside my head that felt distinctly peculiar. It was like a part of my mind I'd never used before had suddenly begun working. There was also a little tug in my awareness that was trying to find a focus. I found Jani staring back at me.
"I don't know," she said with a strange, puzzled expression that made her suddenly look lots older. A breeze kicked up and blew strands of her long wavy black hair into her face. She brushed it out of her eyes and peered in the direction where that odd touch in my mind had originated and was now making me aware of its source. Obviously Jani felt it, too. That wasn't unusual on the face of it, because we've always been close, occasionally seeming to be able to read each other's surface thoughts like old married couples sometimes do. We weren't old, though. Far from it, in fact. We were only eighteen and had graduated from high school a couple of months ago.
It was almost like we were connected together at that moment. Our attention became fixed simultaneously on an outcropping of rock about fifty yards away from the hiking trail that we were all spread out on. The feeling was similar to the way you can hardly avoid staring at someone with a bad handicap who suddenly comes into your line of sight, the kind of malady that makes a person really noticeable--like a hook in place of a hand or a badly disfigured face. Neither of us could help but stare in the direction our awareness was drawn to. There was no searching involved. We both pinpointed it immediately; the place was about thirty yards from the hiking trail we were on and at a higher elevation, where a slab of granite made a ledge of sorts big enough for several people to stand on and where another huge slab pushed up behind it. A secondary trail, made by goats most likely, curled around the area. Directly in front of the upright brown rock was an oval space about eight feet high and a bit more than half as wide.
The area was shimmery and blurred, at first, as if heat waves were rising from the ground in front of it, but that only lasted a moment. It was just our eyes adjusting to something we'd never seen before. The edges of the oval became clear and we could see into it, as if looking into a cave. The only thing wrong was that a cave should have been dark, and what we were seeing was a well-lighted trail leading off into the same sort of mountain brush and stunted, wind-twisted pinon trees we had been traipsing through on our hike. The view led up and out of sight, as if the side of the mountain continued on the other side of the oval hole. We glanced again at each other, both of us puzzled and unable to explain what we were experiencing.
"Jan, what is it? What's wrong?" Colleen asked. She clutched my upper arm, seeking an explanation for the strange way I was acting. Her father, retired Sergeant Major Herbert Friedman, stood tautly on her other side, knowing something was wrong and ready for whatever might happen. He was the only one among us who carried a firearm, an old 1911A1 .45 caliber automatic pistol. His hand stole down toward the holster on his hip.
"I don't know," I said, turning my attention back to her. My voice probably didn't sound like it normally did. I usually speak in a baritone, maybe a bit deeper but not much. Not that it mattered because just then, Colleen's grip tightened to where it was almost painful.
"Jan, Look!" she hissed at the same time Jani said the same thing. Sergeant Friedman became even more alert. His gaze shifted around the area as if searching for an enemy soldier.
I didn't really need to turn my gaze from Colleen back to the oval opening. I could feel that spot in my mind becoming a little brighter and somehow I knew Jani was feeling it, too. I focused my attention in that direction anyway.
As if by magic, a man came into sight in the depths of the oval and stepped through it as if, for him, it were an opening from another world. He was normal enough in appearance, but his expression held a feral tenseness--and his hand, a gun--like he might be expecting trouble. He was dressed in rough brown hiking clothes not much different from our own, except for the rather large backpack. He took a quick glance downward, apparently to be sure of his footing, then waved his free hand and took a few steps forward. Three other men and two women followed close on his heels, all dressed in similar fashion and all armed with handguns, although some of them remained holstered.
Without any of us uttering another word, Colleen's father motioned us back behind some covering brush and out of sight. We got ourselves hidden just in time. The lead man, a big, heavily muscled fellow with a dark beard and a slight paunch, scanned the whole area by eyesight while the one behind him removed a pair of binoculars from a case slung over his shoulder and began slowly examining the more distant vistas. I knew he would be able to see the Jeep we'd ridden in up to where the trail began, and possibly he could even pick out the ranch where we were staying.
It was easy to see how cautious the members of the group were, as if they were explorers entering unknown territory where danger lurked around every bend of their trail, behind every bush and rock, ready to take them down without warning. Even though they were armed they didn't look like soldiers, or what I thought soldiers should look like. They were acting more like hunters, or like they were scouting for an outlaw on the run. And damn it, I could swear they were coming out of the oval aperture in front of the solid rock face of the huge granite boulder, moving in from the side and then stepping though it, but I knew that couldn't be right. It must be a cave, I thought but discarded the idea almost immediately, because at that moment the last of the group came through the opening--in the form of a tall blond woman--and the aperture blinked out of existence behind her. At the same time a little burst of something like electricity sparkled in my mind, and I knew instantly that the woman was the one who had not only caused the aperture to open, but who had closed it behind her when the group were all safely through it. I had no idea how I knew that, but there was no doubt in my mind. She was the one.
For a second I wondered insanely what would happen if she closed an aperture just as someone was stepping through it. Would it cut them in half? But I had only a moment to consider the frivolous idea, because at the instant I sensed her as being the person controlling the opening (and I assumed Jani did as well), she picked up on our presence, presumably, the same way we did. That crazy little sensation in the brain.
I had no idea what that meant right then, but Jani was a little ahead of me. She rubbed her temples and closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them wide. "Jan!" she cried, making no attempt at keeping her voice low because she knew the woman had already trained her attention on us. She was pointing in our direction and saying something to the big man with the paunch.
Friedman interrupted whatever Jani intended to say. "What's going on, kids? Who the hell are those people? How are they doing that?" he asked in his deep gravelly voice. He had his pistol out. He wasn't pointing it yet, but I heard a snick sound as he took the safety off.
"I think we need to get out of here," I said. There was something about that tall blonde I didn't like at all. I didn't know why, though. I could tell Jani didn't care for her either. But at the same time, I thought there was something about her that resonated with me and my twin sister, almost like we knew each other. No, that wasn't right. It was like we knew each other's type, the kind of person all three of us were.
The woman obviously thought so, too. "Gut Gott!" she exclaimed loudly. "It's Ape Twins!" I could practically see the capitals on her last two spoken words.
While I was still wondering what the heck she meant by calling me and Jani apes, one of the men with her raised his gun.
She cursed and knocked it out of his hand. "Don't hurt them, you fool!" When the man stared blankly at his empty hand she cursed again, using some words I'd hardly ever heard from ladies and some I'd never heard before because they were in a foreign language. But I guess she wasn't a lady, and I could have been mistaken about some of the words. She was speaking English, but with a peculiar accent and with words I didn't recognize. It was kind of like the German my dad spoke occasionally when he was irritated about something. He'd picked it up from being stationed in Europe while he was in the army. "Don't just stand there, you focking idiots!" she shouted. "Go get them! Carefully! Don't hurt the Twapes!"
"Mr. Friedman!" I said, grabbing at Friedman's shoulder. "It's the woman! She's causing all this! Get her!" I don't know what I expected him to do. Shoot her? All I knew was that she intended to make trouble for us.
"Shoot her!" Jani said. She always was more direct than me, and she was plainly frightened. Well, so was I for that matter, mainly because I had no earthly idea what was happening, nor why she was calling us apes, nor why she wanted her companions to get us. I may not be the best looking guy around, but I don't think I resemble an ape, either. And no one could mistake Jani for one. She was tall, well-formed, and just short of beautiful. If she weren't my sister I might have thought she was beautiful.
"Why should I shoot her?" Friedman asked, puzzled.
I kind of doubt if he would have got around his objections to gunning down a strange woman who so far hadn't really done anything to us, but the woman made a mistake. She raised her pistol and fired at him. And then she made a second mistake: She missed; but not intentionally. Just because the woman didn't want us hurt obviously didn't mean she had any objections to anything bad happening to Colleen or her dad. I heard the bullet zing past but Friedman was already ducking. It passed over his head and shattered a branch of a stunted pine growing almost sideways out of the slope.
Time seemed to slow as Friedman raised his old .45 and took aim, but he fired before she got off another shot. I never knew an old pistol like that packed such a punch. The bullet blew a chunk of fabric and flesh out of her upper thigh. Blood spurted from the wound. Her leg collapsed and she fell, screaming. She dropped her gun and clutched her thigh with both hands. More blood spurted up between her fingers.
"Helfen sie!" she called to her companions. They had headed down into a small gully separating them from the trail we were on when she had ordered them to grab us. Now they turned and ran back the other way. They gathered around their wounded leader. An aperture flickered into being beside her, but it wavered and died as the woman slumped in the arms of the man holding her upper body. Her head lolled limply. I guessed she had lost consciousness from the pain and trauma of her wound. The big man with the paunch got a tourniquet around her thigh, and was holding it tight. The other woman shrugged out of her backpack. She opened it up and fumbled at the contents inside. It looked like she was holding a syringe, but from that distance I couldn't tell for sure. One of the men looked our way and fired toward us with his pistol, but he had purposely aimed high. A warning shot, telling us to leave them alone?
That was all it took to get us moving. Or, rather, for Mister Friedman to get us moving.
"Go!" he commanded. His voice was flat and forceful. "Let's get out of here before she comes around and sends the others after us."
I had felt a weakening of that peculiar sensation in my mind when the blond woman lost consciousness, but it never went completely away. The feeling I got made me doubt she would be in any condition to create an aperture to take her and her minions back to wherever they came from, any time soon. I said so, even though I couldn't explain why just then.
Friedman looked at me sharply. "Others may come in their place," he said simply, and I realized he was right. This scared me. For the first time in my life I was involved in something much bigger than myself, and much more dangerous than, say, hiking on a trail where you might take a fall, or running into a tough opponent on the mat during a karate match and maybe breaking a bone. It shook me.
Under the old sergeant's urging we began stumbling back down the hiking trail, going as fast as we could safely move, retreating the way we'd come and heading toward where we'd left the Jeep. Even if some more of those armed scouts, or whatever the hell they were, appeared at the same place as the others, we had a bit of an advantage because there was that wide, brush-filled gully separating the trail we were on from where they had come out of the aperture the woman created. They were also higher up on the mountain and obviously in strange territory, while we knew the trail, or at least Colleen and her dad did. We soon were several miles from the Jeep and the ranch, which was located along the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.
My father had just sold his software company and bought a big motor home. Then, as soon as Jani and I finished our eight weeks of army basic training, right after we graduated from high school, off we went, the four of us. Mom and Dad wanted to see some of the country while they were still young enough, or so they said. Personally, I think Dad was just tired of mowing the grass and Mom was tired of housework, but I could be wrong. Maybe they were just bored with being retired earlier than they'd anticipated. Anyway, Dad and Friedman were old army buddies, and while they'd stayed in touch, they hadn't seen each other since Colleen's mother died back when she was only nine years old. I had met him or his daughter as a kid in grade school, when they were at the same army base, but didn't remember much from back then.
Also, the folks didn't want to leave us alone, even though we were of age. Jani and I protested, but Mom convinced us to accompany them. She said it would be a while before we'd be together as a family again, what with Jani and I going off to MIT now that we'd finished basic. We had an army scholarship.
So Mom convinced us, and that's why we were up on the side of a mountain, well into the second week of a two-week stay at the Lazy CM Ranch. At first I figured I would be bored stiff, and so did Jani. Silly name, huh? Especially with our last name being Jenkins. But Jan isn't much better, and we were stuck with the sound-alike names just because we were twins. I guess Mom and Dad liked the alliteration. Like I said, I was sure I'd be bored, but that was before I met up with Colleen again, the second day after we arrived. She had grown up and how! Friedman owned the ranch and was raising her alone. He had never remarried. She was seventeen, almost eighteen, and very pretty, with long-lashed blue eyes and thick, taffy-blond hair. Besides that she filled out the jeans and work shirts she usually wore around the ranch in a way that turned heads, and not just my own. I noticed that before I thought about how good looking she was, but remember, I was eighteen then.
Jani teased me about it, saying that if the universe was fair Colleen would have had a twin brother instead of an old balding father. Besides not being able to provide a sexual interest for Jani, he was also a bit more protective of Colleen than I liked. Colleen and I had talked several times and flirted around a little while getting acquainted; then one day I asked her to go on a hike with me. I would have asked her to go horseback riding but I had already decided horses and me were not made for each other. Nevertheless, I wanted to get her away from the ranch alone and see how much she liked me, or whether she did at all. When thoughts of my girlfriend back home came to the surface of my mind, I told them to go away. She was in Dallas and Colleen was here. Besides, my girlfriend hadn't been very supportive of my plans to go to MIT with Jani, both of us under the auspices of the United States Army, or even of going on vacation with the folks.
Not many people realize how much the army needs really smart, well-educated soldiers. The recruiting sergeant explained it to us and made signing up sound like a great deal. The army would pay for our education; we'd go through Basic Training right after graduating from high school. Then, each summer after nine months of college, get more hard work with different units, like the Rangers one time and cryptologist school the next. We were both looking forward to it, and Dad and Mom were certainly in favor of it. Dad thinks everyone ought to go in the service, but personally, I think he's read Starship Troopers too many times.
The hike hadn't worked out like I intended because Friedman insisted on coming along "to keep us from getting lost," so I asked Jani to join us too. I had a vague notion of her providing a distraction so Colleen and I could have some privacy. The machinations of the teenage male mind, battered with its overload of testosterone, never fails to amuse me now that I'm older; but at the time I saw nothing wrong with my reasoning. Jani is an attractive girl, even if I do say so myself, and even old men still like to look, or so I'd read somewhere. I like to think my regular features, dark hair, and a solid, if still-slender build made me easy enough to look at, and I thought Colleen liked me, too. I sure as hell liked her, and hoped her dad would find something to do that gave us a bit of time alone--like maybe going off target shooting with his pistol, or showing Jani how to start a fire with a bow made from scratch. He'd said he could do that. All those stupid teenage thoughts were twisted together in my mind just before the trouble started, and after that, we were all too busy trying to get away from those strange people to think of much else.
"Who on Earth were they?" Colleen gasped, as she hurried down the trail beside me. We had tried holding hands as we stumbled down the slope but it didn't work very well, and we soon discontinued it.
"Aliens!" I wanted to answer, because that's honestly what I thought. Who else could materialize an opening into another world? I've always disliked making a fool of myself, though, so I didn't say anything. Then Friedman spoke up, making me mad at myself for not saying it first.
"Damned if I don't think they're aliens from somewhere else!" he rasped hoarsely. I saw the knuckles of his hand were white, he was gripping his gun so hard. He did have it back in its holster, but he was keeping his hand on it. That shot had been too close for comfort for me, and I wasn't even the one the woman had been shooting at.
"Aliens? You mean like from outer space?" Colleen asked, eyes wide.
"Yeah," I said quickly, now that her dad had jumped in. I hate it when I procrastinate for fear of embarrassing myself. "Maybe from ... uh...." My voice trailed off. Aliens ought to have spaceships. "Maybe their ship is stealthed," I ventured.
"Hurry up. We can talk later," Friedman said. He slapped me on the shoulder with his rough calloused hand, pushing me for more speed. I couldn't go any faster without running over Colleen and Jani, though, and I had some vague notion of trying to protect them if shit hit the fan again. Crazy thoughts because I didn't have so much as a pocket knife on me, much less a gun. Friedman had laughed when I asked him why he was carrying his, and he told me he couldn't shoot worth a damn. "The noise will scare most varmints off, though," he said.
That was a canard. Dad had already told me he was a champion pistol shot and carried the old Colt around for protection against sidewinders and to hell with their protected status.
Seeing his hand resting on the butt of his gun made me wish I had brought mine, too. Then again, I suddenly wondered what good a pistol would do against those intruders if they came back again, with someone else providing an aperture for them. What if they emerged right there at the ranch? Would Jani and I recognize the presence of another aperture creator? And why hadn't Friedman been aware of the aperture or the woman who made it?
"Jan, son, get your head out of your ass and hurry it up. Your folks might have heard the shooting and be worried."
"Yes, sir," I said, thinking he could have put it in a little less embarrassing terms. No one likes being thought stupid or ineffective. Besides, we were almost to the bottom of the slope and a hundred yards further on around a bend was where we'd left the Jeep. I thought we'd be safe at home before long.
Colleen looked back over her shoulder at the sound of our voices, and tripped over a root. She went down, causing a minor rockslide and drawing an unintended epithet I'm sure she would have liked to call back. It was too late, though. I paused to help her back to her feet. She took one step and cried out, while grabbing for my shoulder. I didn't need to ask. She had sprained her ankle.
Friedman hurried forward when he saw what had happened. "Damn fucking Murphy, trust that bastard to show up when you least expect him."
I knew what he meant. Murphy, the gremlin who loves to make a surprise appearance and throw already bad situations into chaos. And, as if to prove Colleen's sprained ankle was just his opening gambit, he poured some more bugs into the stew. Right then I felt that inimitable little sparkle of an impression in my mind, telling me another aperture had opened behind us. I had no idea if it was the woman who'd regained consciousness and done it, or whether someone else coming to check on them had created it.
I was still holding on to Colleen. I saw Jani turn to look behind us, and knew she'd felt the same impression I had.
"Mr. Friedman! Another hole opened up back there again!" she cried. Not very good grammar but he got the idea.
"Going or coming?" he asked, as he examined Colleen's ankle. It was already swelling.
For a moment I was speechless. Jani and I exchanged glances. "We don't know," I said helplessly. All I could think of at the moment was how I could protect my sister and Colleen.
"Run, Jani!" I shouted. "Get back and warn Mom and Dad!" I put my arm around Colleen. "Hold tight and let me help you."
Instead of running, Jani got on the other side of Colleen. Between the two of us we took most of the load off her bad ankle and surged ahead. If the last part of the trail hadn't been so rough we might have made it to the Jeep like that, but we just couldn't move fast enough.
"You kids hobble along as fast as you can. Get to the Jeep, and if they show up, I'll hold 'em," Friedman said, turning and kneeling down. He listened for a moment. "I hear voices, but they don't seem to be coming ... huh! Now I can't hear them."
The spot in my mind that told me of an open aperture, was also gone, nor could I detect the presence of the one who had created it. "I think the woman took them back," I said.
"She must have," Jani said definitely.
Colleen stared at both of us, obviously wondering how we knew something like that when we couldn't even see them from where we were.
Her dad stood up. He examined us appraisingly in the same fashion Colleen had for a moment, then shrugged. "If you're sure they're gone, then let's all get going."
He wasn't getting any argument from me. Even with Jani and me supporting Colleen, and Friedman walking behind us and looking back over his shoulder every few seconds, we still made pretty good time. Ten minutes later I was helping Colleen into the back seat of the Jeep. I closed her door and ran around to the other side and crawled in beside her. By then Jani was in front with Friedman. He gave her barely time to get settled before he looked back at us and nodded when he saw our seat belts were fastened; then he dug out. He drove back to the ranch a hell of a lot quicker than he'd brought us up for the hike!
Friedman parked the Jeep right in front of the main ranch house, where he and Colleen lived. It was a large home, built when he retired from the army. A couple of hundred yards away were several cabins and places to park RVs and motor homes, all designed to rent out and supplement his retirement income. Our motor home was parked there, but we'd been living in the big house with them most of the time.
He jumped out and supported Colleen on one side while I held her other. Between us we maneuvered her up the steps and into the big living room and got her seated. By this time I could tell she was really hurting.
"Stay here," Friedman said. "I'll get you something for the pain, honey. Jan, son, would you mind wrapping some ice cubes in a towel and getting it on her ankle?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
By the time I had her leg propped up on an ottoman, with towels underneath and a big towel filled with ice wrapped around her ankle, Mom and Dad arrived. They had heard the shots, and as soon as they saw the Jeep return had hurried over.
"What happened?" Mom said, speaking first as usual.
"Uh, Colleen sprained her ankle," I said. Not very bright, I guess, but it was the first thing I thought of.
"What was the shooting about?" Dad asked, telling me that he and Mom hadn't felt the presence of the apertures, either.
I look a lot like Dad, a big man with dark hair beginning to go gray, but it looks as if I'll be a couple of inches taller by the time I'm in my twenties. I already topped him by an inch. I was sure I'd outweigh him by then, too, but he wasn't a person I'd ever pick a fight with, even if he wasn't my dad.
"We had a little dust up with some strangers," Friedman said. He handed Colleen a couple of pills with a glass of water. "Here, hon. Take these and you'll feel better in a little while."
Mom had already drawn Jani into the kitchen. I could hear the sounds of running water and knew they were brewing some coffee. Our family are all coffeeholics, and Colleen and her dad liked it just about as much.
Dad noticed that Friedman was still wearing his gun. He raised his brows. I didn't know what to say so I kept quiet for the moment.
"You feel like a drink, Hank?" Dad's name is Henry but no one calls him that except Mom, when she's upset. "No, wait a minute. Jan, do you think it's likely those people will be back, or others like them?"
"Mr. Friedman, I just don't know. It's all new to me."
"Me, too," Jani said, coming back into the room with Mom.
"What's new?" Mom asked in the forceful kind of voice she uses very rarely but that when you hear it, watch out for fireworks.
"You keep a gun in your car, don't you?" Friedman asked Dad.
"Yes. Should I get it?" He and Mom had driven over in our SUV, and as I said, we had gone hiking in Friedman's Jeep.
"Might not be a bad idea. I'll get that drink for you."
"What is going on here?" Mom demanded. She put her hands on her hips and glared at us.
"Mom, we don't know," I said again.
"We really don't, Mom," Jani added. "Wait 'til we're all together and we'll try to explain."
If Jani had an explanation for what had happened, she was way ahead of me. I sure didn't.
Dad came back in with his old army .45 strapped to his hip, the same model as Friedman carried. I've shot it a few times, but I like my Glock better. It was a present from Dad when I turned seventeen. Jani had gotten one, too, except hers was a lighter .40 caliber S&W. Both are neat pistols. We got carrier permits when we turned eighteen. Mom didn't necessarily disapprove of us owning handguns, but she was definitely against me or Jani carrying it on our persons everywhere, permit or no permit.
Friedman came back in with a bottle of Hennessy's brandy and a jigger. I only recognized it because I'd seen Dad and Friedman have a drink together our first night here.
"I'll see if the coffee is ready," Jani said, giving me a look which told me she was doing the chore out of turn. We swapped off on household stuff, mostly. Mom's upbringing. Even if she was from Romania, she'd been in America since before Jani and I were born, and had taken to the liberation of women in her adopted country like a pup with his first steak bone. Dad had met her during one of his secretive Delta Force missions, and managed somehow to bring her back to America. They'd never shared that story with us.
Friedman opened the bottle and added a shot of brandy to his and Dad's coffee. I held out my cup. He caught Dad's eye, got a nod of approval, and spiked my coffee, then Jani's. Colleen didn't ask and I doubt if he would have given it to her anyway. The pills were already making her woozy. Friedman leaned back in his easy chair and scanned the room, his gaze going first to Colleen stretched out on the big couch with her head resting in my lap, then to Mom and Dad sitting together in a love seat, and finally to Jani in the other easy chair. Then he looked at me again.
"Okay, kids, let's have it. How did that woman do what she did and how in hell did you two know it was her doing it instead of one of the others? And for that matter, just what in hell did she do?"
"Mr. Friedman, maybe you should tell Mom and Dad what happened first," Jani said.
"Mmm. Guess you're right. And maybe you two should call me Sarge, like your folks do. Once I've been in a firefight with someone I don't like formality."
"Firefight!" Mom exclaimed, looking horrified.
"Only a small one, Shrika," he said. "Okay, here's how it went down." He went on to describe the action better than I could have, although perhaps not Jani. Anyway, when he finished he looked at me and then her. "Your turn. Who goes first?"
"I'll go," Jani said. "My twin looks like he's occupied."
I grinned, a little embarrassed but it passed quickly when I saw Friedman didn't seem to mind us being together like we were.
"Wait a minute! Herb, is this some kind of a weird damned joke you're pulling?" Dad said. He looked almost mad--an expression I'd seldom seen on his face. Herb, of course, was Friedman's--Sarge to us!--real first name.
"I'll guarantee you it ain't," Herb said. "Just listen, will you?"
Dad nodded and Jani continued.
"When the woman opened the ... aperture, I guess we can call it, I felt a ... a sort of little burst of sparkles in my mind. It wasn't centered anywhere at first, but then the sparkles kind of came together and there was a ... a place in my mind that made me know an aperture had been opened, even if I didn't know what it was at first. I knew where it was, though. And then when that woman came through it, I knew immediately that it was her that was holding the aperture open. She had the same kind of place in her mind that I did, and I could sense it in her."
A puzzled look crept over Jani's face, and she turned to me. "Jan, did it seem to you that her sensation was ... like, weaker than ours? Not as strong?" She shrugged, looking apologetically to Friedman. "It's hard to describe."
"Yeah, now that you mention it, hers was weaker," I said.
"Wait a minute," Friedman said. "You were both feeling the same thing, I gather. But let's be certain we all understand. You were feeling something in that woman's mind exactly like what you felt in your own minds? Something that I couldn't feel, and Colleen couldn't either?"
Jani hesitated. "The sensation was the same, but ... different, too. Maybe because she was making an aperture, or holding one open, maybe, and we were just feeling her doing it."
"It wasn't like mind reading, though," I offered. "It was just like knowing about the aperture and the woman who was ... handling it, I guess."
"But Jani said your feeling was stronger than hers, the woman's. Was it because of the distance between you, or do you know?"
"It wasn't the distance. I'm pretty sure it wasn't," I said. "Or at least that wasn't all of it. It's hard to say because neither of us have ever felt anything like this before. There's nothing to compare."
"It wasn't just the distance," Jani said more emphatically.
"Okay, now, do you remember what the woman said? I do. First she said, 'Good God! They're twin apes!' And later she said, 'Don't hurt the apes!'"
I thought a moment. "Yeah, Mr. ... uh, Sarge. That's about what she said, except I think she said 'twapes,' not apes. And she recognized us at the same time we did her."
"Like you were both something special. Is that it?"
"I don't know about the special, but yes, sir. She seemed to think so, anyway, if you can go by what she said. Like we told you, it's not like we were reading her mind, so her actions are all we know about."
"What the hell!" Dad said abruptly, his first words since Friedman began describing the confrontation. He frowned. "Have either of you ever felt anything like this before?"
"No, sir. I haven't."
Jani said she hadn't either.
"But Herb and Colleen felt nothing. Now, I wonder what that can mean. What all this means, for that matter."
"I think it means we ought to leave," Mom said. Her lips set in a thin, determined line. She still looked skeptical, but Mom didn't like trouble.
Dad frowned some more. I could tell he was reluctant to accept our story but couldn't think of any reason we'd be making it up. I could also see that he didn't like the idea of running away, otherwise he would already have been moving. I didn't know if that was the right thing to do or not. I had been scared when the shooting started and I don't mind admitting it, but the whole episode had also been the most exciting and intriguing thing that had ever happened to me. I wanted to know more about it. I looked down at Colleen. Her eyes were closed, but she'd been listening. When I squeezed her hand gently she opened her eyes and smiled up at me. It made me want to protect her, and all sorts of heroic fantasies blazed through my mind for a moment. They probably weren't much different from what any other young man would have thought of, and most of them were either impractical or impossible. They did make me think of my and Jani's pistols back in the motor home. If anything happened right now, they sure wouldn't be of any help.