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Friday, January 15, 2010, Central Time Zone, GMT

Jack's house, Anaheim, Saskatchewan



Jack was just about to sit down and turn on the television when the door to the basement slammed- not closed hard, but slammed shut in fury. To his surprise, it was Kiko, who fled to her room, sobbing, slammed her door shut . . . he heard her throw herself on her bed.

Mystified, he set his freshly made and as yet untouched coffee down and went to investigate. He got as far as the door to the basement, frowned as something caught his attention, then paused to listen. The kids were doing something in the basement. Every so often there was a pause, and then together they would shout, "Whoah!" or "Wow!"

Jack paused for a moment, indecisive. Kiko was sobbing her heart out . . . why had she left the basement? What were the kids up to down there?

Deciding that the answer to Kiko's behaviour lay downstairs, he opened the door.

When he got to the bottom of the stairs and saw what they were doing, he stopped in open-mouthed astonishment. He was about to say something . . . but something stopped him. As silently as he could, he went back upstairs.

He didn't knock, but went to Kiko's room, opened the door, went in, and sat beside her on the side of her bed.

He entered the kids' rooms seldom. Kiko's room looked pretty much like any teenaged girl's room, except that it had a too-neat, unused look about it, attesting to the amount of time she spent in Jason's room. And yet something about her room said, "Anywhere but here." Frowning at this perception, he put her hand on the girl's back, rubbed it a bit.

'Wanna talk?'

She turned on her side to consider him, but said nothing.

'I saw what they were doing downstairs,' he said pointedly.

'Yelina shouldn't be showing them that!' she sobbed. 'It's not allowed!'

Jack sighed, reached over and got a Kleenex from the box beside her bed, and dried her tears. She took the hanky from him, unable not to smile at his awkward attempt at fatherliness, and wiped her nose. 'That's why your people won't come out of their ship, isn't it,' he said. 'It's because of the technology.'

'The stupid crash wasn't supposed to happen!' she sobbed. 'No one was supposed to see us! But something went wrong, and the ship was all shaking, and everything was flying all over the place . . .

'Mialla and Yelina and me . . . Yelina's mom made us go into an escape pod, just in case . . . and she was strapping us in . . . but then there was this explosion . . . and the next thing I knew we were outside, and . . . and . . . and then later, we were at the mall, and they were showing the crash on teevee, and I saw Mialla and she was dead!' She began weeping.

His awkwardness forgotten, Jack gathered the girl in his arms and held her close. 'Yelina's mom . . . was she-?'

'I don't know. We didn't see what happened to her. Yelina thinks she's still alive, but . . .'

'But?'

Kiko heaved a shuddering sigh, and was long in considering her answer. 'I don't know.'

Jack nodded inwardly to himself, thinking, But you suspect. 'Okay, well, I'm going to go confiscate Yelina's little invention and have a talk with her.'

'She won't stop!' Kiko told him angrily. 'She just keeps doing things, and she just doesn't think.'

Jack chuckled at that. 'Yes, well, she does have a little way of making things happen.'

In desperation, Tina hit the "morph" button, selected "HammerHand", and threw her changed avatar back into the fray. No longer was this just a game played out on a screen. The avatars were now real, battling for supremacy in the middle of the den floor. Asta's "HellFlailer"'s fiery whips hissed and snapped and left the air smelling of ozone as they blazed away at the charging, hammer-wielding ogre. From the couch, bouncing up and down with excitement, Mary, Penny, Carly and Jason cheered them on. Yelina, meanwhile, worked the control panel to keep the game alive. As Jack looked on, it became evident to him that Yelina's duct-taped contraption was a makeshift facsimile that, although it worked, did so imperfectly. The avatars tended to flicker and waver as they pounded away at each other, and the little blonde alien girl had to struggle constantly just to keep them from-

'Oh, no!' Tina wailed, 'it's jammed up again-!' The kids stopped what they were doing as they registered Jack's presence. Without a word, he confiscated the image generator, the controllers and the control panel. Yelina bit her lip, looking caught.

'C'mon, kiddo. You an' me are going to go have a little talk.'

Yelina sighed her relief as Jack pulled into the Humboldt Kentucky Fried Chicken.

'I want a Big Crunch combo!' she said as they stood in line. 'And ribs! And root beer!'

'You sure that's all?' Jack said ironically.

'Well . . . maybe nuggets. Can I have some chicken nuggets, too?'

Jack smiled and shook his head. 'You can have whatever you like.'

'Really? Can I have a bucket of chicken to take home, too?'

Jack finished his chicken nuggets and took a sip of his coffee, and smiled to himself as Yelina ate her Big Crunch chicken breast sandwich self-consciously, waiting for him to speak.

'That thing you made looks like a lot of fun.'

'I had to pay Tina back for wrecking her game!'

Jack nodded. 'I figured out what you did. And . . .' he sighed, 'I also know that there really wasn't any other choice. The bad guys were coming, they had guns, and you put the run on them without anyone getting hurt. But sweetie, the problem is, now they know. Or at least, they're going to suspect. And that's going to make things a lot worse.'

'They don't know it was me!' she protested.

'Yelina, they were coming for you and Kiko, and no one else on this planet has access to that kind of technology. Putting two and two together is a no-brainer.'

She stopped eating, looking very unhappy. 'Well . . . maybe they'll leave us alone, now.' It came out sounding like a question.

'No,' he told her seriously, 'now they'll be a lot more dangerous. And we're going to have to figure out some way to deal with them the next time they come around-' he stopped in embarrassment as she started crying.

'I want my mom! I want her to come out and get me! I want to see her!'

'I know, sweetheart,' he said softly, moved over to her side of the booth and took her in his arms. 'I know. That's why you stole all those electronics. You've been trying to call her.'

She gaped at him in disbelief. 'How do you know that?'

He gave her a disparaging look, and a little squeeze. 'I've heard you. We all have. Usually late at night, when the house is quiet. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. I heard you talking, and it's not like you could call her on the telephone. Besides, it's not like that stash in your closet is a secret-'

'Kiko had no right to narc on me!'

Jack chuckled at that. 'Nobody was spying on you. What happened was you were spending a lot of time in your room, alone, busy doing something.

'I wasn't alone!' she scowled. 'Boom-Boom Kitty was with me.'

'Ah, yes, your accomplice. Well, we all knew you were up to something. When you tried calling your mom, we figured out what it was.

'So, that's how I know they haven't been answering. Which is why I've decided that it's time you and I had a long talk.'

She heaved a shuddering sigh and began attacking the remains of her meal. 'About what?'she said, her manner evasive once more.

'About everything,' he told her. 'I want the whole story, about you and Kiko, about the ship and your people . . . everything.'



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