The First Day

Wednesday, Mar. 22, 1995

Location: Suburbs of Chicago, IL

"Max! Max! Wait up!"

Max (or, as he would later be known, W.A.) turned around at the sound of Sarah Jenkins' voice.

"Oh, hey, Sarah. What's up?"

"Not much," Sarah said with her brightest smile possible. She pushed up the glasses on her face; it felt like they were always slipping off, but maybe she only noticed it more when she was around Max. "Just heading back to the dorm room to get some homework done."

"That's cool. Well...I guess 'cool' isn't the right word for homework, but..."

Sarah burst out laughing, then caught herself. It wasn't that funny, but any joke Max made just tickled her. Max smiled in appreciation.

"How about you?" she said.

"Just about to head to work," Max replied. "I think my friend Lexie is working tonight."

Sarah managed to keep herself from groaning out loud. She liked Max a lot, but he had a one-track mind, and that mind was always on Lexie Richards, someone who was completely oblivious to him...in the same way that Max was completely oblivious to the young woman standing next to him who actually was smitten with him.

"Well, I hope you have a good time," Sarah said with a sigh.

"Thanks. Hey...did you...do something different with your hair?"

Sarah brightened up. Her hair had gotten longer lately, so she had pulled it back with a velvet scrunchie. That was nothing spectacular, but if it got Max's attention, what did she care? "Um...I guess...maybe a little."

"It's nice."

Sarah blushed.

Then, at the sound of a loud whooshing noise above them, Sarah looked up. What she saw made her blood run cold, and forget all about the good mood she had been in a few seconds earlier.

There was some sort of rip or tear in the sky. And coming out of that rip was a space ship. And that was quickly followed by another one.

Max stood dumbfounded for a moment, too. If he had time to think, he might have hoped that the space ship contained friendly passengers. But before he had time to even process that thought, the ship took aim at the nearest campus building...and blew it up.

Students began running and screaming everywhere. The flames from the heat of the building could be felt even across the parking lot. And then, even more horrifically, more rips occurred in the sky, and more ships exited them.

Sarah and Max turned and looked at each other. "I gotta go!" they both said in unison. They were thinking the same thing. They had to go find their families and save them, if possible. Like her mom always said, always find the place where you can be the biggest blessing.

Each sprinted to their own car, with the romantic concerns of just a few minutes ago already a distant memory.

_______________________

As both Sarah and W.A. later learned, the invading ships were not actually from outer space at all. They were from another dimension. The invading beings were not aliens, but a race of creatures known as Kromaggs. Knowing these facts, however, would not lessen the horror of what they were about to go through.

Both of them would get abducted. Neither of them would happen to wind up together in the Kromagg prison camps. Neither of them would see their families again.

As W.A. came to consciousness in the prison cell, he heard a voice say, "Are...are you okay?"

W.A. sat up and grabbed the back of his head. "Yeah," he said. "Just a little bit of a headache. What's going on? Where are we?"

As he sat up, the young woman next to him gasped. He turned and looked. It was Lexie Richards.

"Lexie!" W.A. said. "How did you get here?"

But instead of being friendly, Lexie backed away nervously. "Who are you?" she said.

The dazed W.A. finally took stock of his situation. He noticed that his voice didn't sound right when he spoke. The voice coming out of his mouth was a woman's voice with a Georgia accent. It was a voice he knew very well: Lexie's voice.

"Do you have any water?" W.A. asked.

After a few moments' pause, Lexie handed W.A. the only cup of water in the room. Neither the water nor the cup looked very clean, but W.A. wasn't thirsty. He just wanted to see his reflection.

Just before being grabbed by the Kromaggs, W.A. had grabbed a HoloField and stuck it on his belt. He had bought it the previous Halloween. He figured it could help him disguise himself if he got caught, and maybe make a getaway later easier. The HoloField could change him into whatever he wanted to look like, and it was cued to whoever he thought about.

But just before he got caught, he was thinking about the woman he had a crush on. And as he looked now at his reflection, he confirmed that he looked and sounded like Lexie Richards.

W.A. let out a deep breath and scratched his head. He noticed how it made the holographic illusion of Lexie's hair move as he did so. Looking at the woman next to him, who had no idea how she suddenly had a twin (just as W.A. didn't know yet that this was not the Lexie he knew, but a double), he started by saying:

"This is going to take some explaining."

____________________________

Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019; early morning

Location: San Francisco, CA

A very tired Sarah Arturo (formerly Jenkins) pulled into the Dominion Hotel parking lot. She was doing something that she thought was utterly absurd, but she had looked everywhere else. She decided to take the chance, however statistically unlikely, that somehow everything had once again centered around this hotel.

She walked into the hotel lobby and found Gomez Calhoun (who was already feeling annoyed that he had to work the late shift yesterday and the morning shift today). Trying to be pleasant in spite of the rough night she had, she smiled and said, "Excuse me. Did someone named Max Arturo check in here?"

Gomez typed up something in the computer, then turned to her and said, "No, no one's here by that name." Then, after a pause, he added, "The name sounds familiar, though. And there was that one guy who went up to Room 305, but I never got his name."

"About my age, black glasses, sandy brown hair?"

"Well, I'd call it more of a 'dishwater blond.'"

Sarah really didn't care about arguing semantics at this point. "Room 305, you said?"

"Yeah. But by the way, if you're gonna have more people staying there, you're gonna have to pay more. I can't tell you how many people I've seen go up to that room tonight."

"That's O.K. Max is my husband. I don't think he's staying."

Gomez almost bit his tongue at saying this, but he didn't want to get in trouble with his bosses again for not collecting the right amount for a hotel room. "Well, if it's your husband...he hasn't come down all night." After seeing the slightly panicked look in Sarah's eyes, he added softly, "But maybe it wasn't him, right?"

Sarah nodded. "Thank you," she said, as she hurried to the elevator.

As she got off the elevator, she heard a noise that filled her with equal levels of dread and joy: a whooshing sound, like that of an opening vortex, and the sound of several people falling through, complete with annoyed grunts. When she heard that noise, she didn't even have to look at the signs to know which way 305 was.

She hurried down the hall, found the right door, and knocked on it.

"Um, if this is Room Service, could you come back?" said a voice she didn't recognize. "This is really not a good time."

She wouldn't be deterred that easily. "W.A., are you in there?" Over the years, she had finally gotten used to calling him by the nickname he had adopted, although she usually just called him "sweetie" or "honey" these days.

There was a pause, then a very hurried unlocking of the latch. The door flew open, and W.A. stood before her. "Oh, sweetheart! I am the stupidest, stupidest person on the planet. Can you ever forgive me for not calling you?"

"Yes and yes. I'm not going to argue the 'stupid' thing right now," Sarah quipped. "But I will forgive you. Besides, you couldn't call me without this anyway." Reaching into her purse, she pulled out W.A.'s phone, which he had completely forgotten about until right this very moment.

W.A. was almost taken back by Sarah's comments--she was often sarcastic, but usually not that sarcastic. But leaving her a nervous wreck by disappearing all night...well, he had that one coming. In fact, with all the craziness that had happened, he hadn't even realized that he had stayed up all night, first with hunting for Miles and then interrogating with Logan. You think he would have been tipped off when Aaron told him that he was on his way to work in the morning.

W.A. threw his arms around Sarah before even taking the phone from her. "I am so, so sorry. You would not believe the night I've had."

Sarah embraced W.A. warmly back. For the first time in hours, she was starting to relax. "Well, get me up to speed," she said as they released their hug.

"Um...where to begin?" W.A. said, biting his lip while taking the phone from Sarah.

"Hey, Sarah," said a familiar face behind him. "Been a while." The voice wasn't overly friendly.

Sarah looked over. "Logan St. Clair?" she said in disbelief.

"Yeah," Logan quipped. "I get that a lot."

"W.A., mind telling us what's going on here?" said a young man behind Logan. Sarah recognized it as the voice that spoke earlier when the door was closed.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry, Miles. This is my wife Sarah."

Miles nodded and said "hello," and Sarah responded likewise. Then she noticed three people who were holding each other and crying softly. She looked at W.A. curiously.

"Their world just ended," W.A. told her.

Sarah gasped. "Kromaggs?"

"No, something new. Something...worse. Kromaggs invade. This one destroys."

"Well...I'm starting to understand why you were so distracted."

A young woman stepped out of the restroom. "What's going on out here?"

"Mia, this is my wife Sarah," W.A. told her. Turning to Sarah, he said, "By the way, did I mention that we have a secret agent tied up in the bedroom?"

Sarah nodded, taking it in. "So, I take it things are getting back to how they used to be."

"Pretty much."

"All joking aside," said Miles, "can we discuss what our next steps are, after what we just witnessed?"

"Good point," replied W.A. "I guess we should talk to the agent."

W.A., Logan, Mia and Miles filed back into the bathroom. But Sarah didn't follow them. Her thoughts were toward the grieving people who had just lost everything and everyone they ever knew. Sarah could relate, and this was the place where she felt like she could be the biggest blessing.

She moved up to the trio, who were still crying and hadn't said a word since she came in. But they looked up as she approached.

"Hi," she said. "My name is Sarah. I'm very, very sorry for what's happened to you. But I would like to be the first to welcome you. After all, you're on a brand new world...and this is the first day on your new home."

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