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Eighteen year old Twins Jan and Jani discover the existence of alternate Earths in a most unusual way.
Aperturesscience fiction adventure
"What was that?" I asked, looking around. My gaze settled on Jani, my twin sister.
"What was what?" Colleen asked.
Now that was strange. Why should I be looking at Jani rather than the girl I had asked to go hiking with me? She was standing right beside me, an absolute doll I wanted to get to know a lot better but it was Jani who held my attention..
Something odd had happened, like a tiny burst of sparkles in my mind. They were bright for a moment then faded, but a distinctly peculiar spot remained somewhere inside my head. It was like a part of my mind I'd never used before had suddenly begun working. That part of my brain tugged at my awareness 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 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 farther up the trail and across a little ravine. Whatever had touched my mind originated from that direction. Obviously Jani felt it, too. That wasn't unusual on the face of it because we've always been close. Occasionally we seemed to be able to read each other's surface thoughts like Mom and Dad sometimes appeared to. We weren't that old though. Far from it, in fact. We were only eighteen and had graduated from high school a couple of months ago. Nevertheless, it was almost like we were truly connected at that moment.
Our attention became fixed simultaneously on an outcropping of rock about fifty yards away from the hiking trail we were all spread out on. The feeling was similar to the way you can hardly avoid staring at someone with a bad handicap, one that makes a person really noticeable, like a hook in place of a hand or a badly disfigured face. Neither Jani nor I could help looking unerringly up toward the granite outcropping. There was no searching involved. We both pinpointed it immediately, about thirty yards from the hiking trail we were on and at a higher elevation. The slab of granite we'd noticed made a ledge of sorts big enough for several people to stand on and 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 area about eight feet high and a bit more than half as wide. The area shimmered and was 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. It cleared up and the edges of the oval became cleanly defined, like the opening into a cave.
A cave should have been dark inside but what we saw through the oval opening was well lit. We could see a trail leading off into the same sort of mountain brush and stunted, wind-twisted Pinion pines 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. Jani and I glanced again at each other, both of us puzzled beyond measure and unable to explain what we were experiencing. Yeah, I know, my name is Jan and my sister's is Jani. I guess our parents were really into alliteration when we were born. It gets confusing sometimes when we're together but that's how it is.
"Jan, what is it? What's wrong?" Colleen asked me. She clutched my upper arm, wanting an explanation for the strange way I was acting. Her father, retired Sergeant Major Herbert Friedman, stood tautly on her other side, obviously knowing something was wrong and ready for whatever might happen. He was the only one among us carrying a firearm, an old 1911A1 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. His hand stole down toward the holster on his hip.
"I don't know," I said, turning my attention back to Colleen. Not that it mattered because just then she tightened her grip to where it was almost painful. I hadn't noticed before how muscular her slim form was, probably from not being able to tear my eyes away from her face and chest. I remembered now how I'd seen her once in shorts and a pullover, and how much she looked as if she had practiced gymnastics, or perhaps one of the martial arts, like Jani and I. I'd given it no further thought after that, though. Not until now.
"Jan, Look!" She whispered at the same time as Jani did. 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 brightening and somehow, I knew Jani was felt it, too. I focused my attention in that direction anyway, and away from Colleen.
As if by magic, a man came into sight in the depths of the oval and stepped through it as if it were an opening from another world. He was normal enough in appearance but his expression held a feral tenseness, like he might be expecting trouble. The handgun he carried emphasized the expectancy of his countenance. He wore rough brown hiking clothes not much different from our own except for the rather large backpack. He took a quick glance down, 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. The other men were armed with slung rifles as well as handguns, but the women carried only pistols.
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 shoulder case and began slowly examining the more distant vistas. I knew he would be able to see the Jeep we'd arrived in, up to where the trail began. Possibly he could even pick out the ranch where we were staying from that point.
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 with wicked-looking rifles they didn't look like soldiers, or what I thought soldiers should look like. They acted 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, a tall blonde woman. 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 was all safely through it. I had no idea how I knew that, but there was little room for 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 just as I had sensed her as the person controlling the opening (and assumed Jani did also), she picked up on our presence at the same instant and 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 said, 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.
"She." Jani began, but Friedman interrupted whatever she 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 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. "Gute God!" 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 pushed the rifle aside, causing him to drop it. "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 also spoke with a peculiar accent. It was kind of like the German my Dad spoke occasionally when he was irritated about something. He'd picked it up from the time he spent in Europe while 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 was always 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. 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 with a puzzled expression.
I kind of doubt if he would have gotten around his objections to gunning down a strange woman who so far hadn't really done anything to us, but she 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 hurting 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 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 I couldn't tell for sure from the distance. One of the men looked our way and fired toward us with his pistol, but it appeared as if 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 said, a command. 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 condition to create an aperture 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. It scared me. For the first time in my life I was involved in something much bigger than myself and much more dangerous than 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. 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 us. They were also higher up on the mountain than we and obviously in strange territory, while we knew the trail, or at least Colleen and her Dad did. And now we began retreating back the way we'd come, heading toward where we'd left the Jeep but that would still leave us miles from the ranch where our family had been parked for several days.
"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 kept 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 old outmoded .45 and he told me he couldn't shoot worth a damn. "The noise will scare most varmints off, though," he added.
That was a canard. Dad had already told me he was a champion pistol shot and carried the old pistol 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 or Colleen 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. As if to prove Colleen's sprained ankle was just his opening gambit, he poured some more bugs into the stew. 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 the woman had regained consciousness and done it or some other alien had entered the game.
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.
"Mister 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 agreed definitely.
Colleen stared at both of us, obviously wondering how we knew something like that when we couldn't even see them from our position.
Her dad stood up. He examined us appraisingly in the same fashion Colleen had, 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 I 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, looked back at us and nodded when he saw our seat belts were fastened, then 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 Dad and Friedman were old army buddies. 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, 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 from our motor home, carrying some extra clothing we'd left there. They had heard the shots and hurried back as soon as they saw the jeep return.
"What happened?" Mom asked, 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 obviously noticed that Friedman was still wearing his gun because he raised his brows while looking at him. 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. "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 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.
"Might not be a bad idea. I doubt a shot of brandy will hurt us. I'll get it."
"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 carry 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 returned from his liquor cabinet 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. He 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 looked almost mad, an expression I'd seldom seen on his face.
"I'll guarantee you it ain't," Friedman 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 she who 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 her 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 don't ask me how that works. Neither of us know."
"But Jani said your feeling was stronger than 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, then frowned. "Have either of you ever felt anything like this before?"
"No, sir. I haven't."
"I haven't either," Jani said.
"But Herb and Collen felt nothing and neither did Shrika and I back here. You said it's not telepathy, but you both sensed something from a distance, apparently through your minds. 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 happed 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, and most of them were either impractical or impossible. They did make me remember that my pistol was back in the motor home, and so was Jani's. If anything happened right now, they sure wouldn't be any help.
"Let's get back to where the.the aperture was," Dad said. "That just sounds too fantastic, people coming out of nowhere and you two immediately knowing what was happening and who was causing it and all that. In the first place, just the aperture sounds like something out of science fiction. You two recognizing what's happening when no one else does is even more bothersome to me, especially the woman calling you 'Twin Apes'. Any idea what she might have meant?"
"I do," Jani said. I thought I did, too, but let her handle it.
"Enlighten us, then." Dad talked like that sometimes. He didn't mean anything by it.
"Doesn't Ape sound like short for aperture? Of course, she could have been referring to Jan's looks."
"How about your looks, sis?" I responded. "She did say 'Twin Apes'."
"Besides, Jan doesn't look like an Ape. He's handsome," Colleen said, proving she was still listening even with her eyes closed.
"Joking aside, Hank, it does sound like a reference," Friedman said to Dad. "And science fiction or not, there was something like a hole in space those people were coming through. Hell, I could see into it, see what it looked like on the other side. It wasn't a cave they were coming out of because it was light there. And I could see part of a granite slab and a rising slope of brush and shrubs, just like the area where they appeared."
"So what're you saying, Herb? They were coming here from another world?"
"More like an alternate world is the way I'd put it," he said.
That was mostly like what I had been thinking. An alternate world, maybe like an alternate Earth, although I suppose the aperture could have been to a world around another star just as well. Both ideas were fantastic.
As if reading my mind, Dad said "Kind of like Tunnel In The Sky, huh?"
I knew Dad was talking about one of Heinlein's old books. I had read it and there had been a movie made from it, too. I like Dad's books but I sure don't have them memorized like he seems to. He loves those old novels and he's always making references from them, like just now. But this time he was serious.
"They looked just like us," Jani countered, irritating me because I hadn't thought of it first.
"And they were all armed, not just the woman," I said.
"I think they should be reported. The whole thing should be, for that matter. Let the government handle it." Mom said, still just as serious and single-minded as when she said we ought to leave. I don't know all the details, but she had a rough life as a child, and had been an orphan as well. She tried to avoid trouble and confrontation whenever possible.
"Maybe we should at that," Friedman said, glancing over at Colleen.
"Yeah, Sarge, but who would believe us?" I said, for once ahead of everyone else.
"No one would," Jani agreed.
"Out of the mouths of babes," Friedman muttered. He let a rueful smile escape. "All we could show anyone is maybe a bullet mark or a cartridge case. And some blood on the ground if there's any left after the insects and bugs have been busy."
"Why would we...oh. DNA tests," Jani said.
"That would at least tell us if they were human," I said.
"But what if they've come back? And are waiting for you?" Mom said fretfully. She appeared to be convinced now that the episode indeed had happened.
Dad patted her knee. "Any time an old Special Ops trooper can't sneak up on a group like that is the day he ought to retire."
"You are retired, Henry," Mom said sharply.
"Doesn't matter. Haven't you been listening, Shrika? The woman recognized our kids for what they are. Now all of those people, whoever they are, know it. And she wanted to capture them even if she wasn't going to let them be hurt, which tells me she thinks they're important."
"How could they be important to anyone? They're barely out of school! It's ridiculous!"
Mom had him there. Just because we had inadvertently discovered some sort of special ability that caused us to recognize someone who could form an aperture and could also recognize when it was formed and who had formed it if we could see them.well, maybe we were important. On the other hand...
"I wonder if there are other people who would have caught on to what was happening, Dad? Just because she emphasized twins doesn't mean individuals couldn't do what we did. If they had been there, of course," Jani said, then added, "After all, she did it by herself."
Friedman rubbed his chin while he and Dad exchanged glances. They were old comrades from a number of special operations they'd been on together in the military. Dad had told us that much. He wasn't a recent retiree like Friedman, though. Dad had been wounded in one of his missions and medically retired. Friedman spent twenty years in the army before he hung it up. Whatever happened, I knew it would be they who made the decisions on what to do right now, no matter if it was Jani and I who had the odd ability.
"And neither of you have ever had anything like this happen before. You're certain now?" Friedman asked.
"We're certain," I told him.
"Maybe this is the first time anyone from their world has come here," Jani said.
"That we know of," I corrected her and at the same time thought of something that might be important. "Jani, maybe there's a distance limitation on knowing an aperture has been formed, or recognizing someone...wait! Did you still have the sensation of the woman's ability after she closed the aperture the first time?"
She nodded. "Just like she was still able to zoom in on us. Like similar ability recognizes it in others, but no one else."
"And neither Colleen nor I sensed anything," Friedman said. "That's a salient point."
"We're going round and round here," Dad said. "Herb, why don't we go back to the scene and see if we can collect some evidence? Cartridges, hopefully a blood sample, measure footprints, all the stuff you see on those television cop programs. Maybe we'll find something that will convince the authorities. Hell, maybe it'll convince me. I still only half-believe it, you know." Dad said wryly. He finished his coffee and set the cup down.
"I guess you had to be there," Friedman said. He seemed to withdraw into his own thoughts for a moment. "First woman I ever shot, that I know of. But you're right, Hank. Let's do it." Then his expression changed as he glanced at his daughter. "No, damn it, I can't leave Colleen. I'm all she's got."
Colleen opened her eyes. She didn't say anything but she didn't have to. I knew she didn't want him to go.
I leaned down close and whispered to her. "Don't worry. I'll go."
"I guess I could go alone," Dad said.
"I'll go with you," Jani and I both said at once.
"You stay here, Jani," Mom said instantly. For some reason she was more protective of her than of me. I thought it probably had something to do with her childhood in Romania, back when Dad found her and brought her to America. She was always horror-stricken when she heard or read about atrocities committed on women or children.
"It's alright, Jani. I'll take Jan with me. And Shrika, hon, I'll make sure he stays back and just watches."
I didn't like the idea of being a mere supernumerary and had trouble keeping my mouth shut, but I managed. From the expression on her face, Jani liked the idea of being left behind even less, but one look at Mom and she sighed and kept silent.
"May as well get it done," Dad said. "It's past noon now, but if we get on our way we can be back well before dark. Do you mind if we take your Jeep, Herb?"
"Sure. You have a rifle?"
"I brought our hunting rifles." He shrugged almost like he was ashamed to have them. "Don't know why. We weren't planning on doing any hunting."
"Take them along, just in case. Let's see...a few plastic bags for any evidence you find. I've got an extra pair of binoculars you can use." He thought for a moment, then spread his hands. "That's all I can think of. You're just going up and right back anyway."
"That'll do us." Dad turned and kissed Mom. He said something to her but he spoke too softly for the rest of us to hear, then stood.
"Tell your girlfriend good-bye and let's go, son."
Girlfriend? I wished! I bent down and kissed Colleen lightly, the first time our lips had met. It wasn't at all like the romantic vision of our first kiss I'd carried in my mind since meeting her, but she smiled at me afterward so I guess it was okay. I eased myself out from under her head and replaced my lap with a pillow for her.
"I'm ready," I said.
"Go hug your Mother, son."
I did so, with not a little embarrassment. In the meantime, Friedman had gone for the binoculars and didn't see that little kiss I gave Colleen. I don't know if he would have objected, but probably not after seeing us together on the couch with her head in my lap.
We walked out to Herb's Jeep, stopping at our SUV first. It was locked. I wondered why until he closed the door and handed me my pistol while buckling the holster belt of his own. I'd had gun safety drummed into my head from way back. Jani, too. You never leave a weapon unsecured. Never.
"I put them in with mine when I heard those shots. Hold on a minute. I'd better take Jani's little popgun to her, just in case." Now that was a canard. Her S&W .40 Caliber automatic wasn't a toy. It had stopping power and carried a ten shot magazine. It was small only in comparison to the Glock .45 I had and Dad's old army automatic. He just teased her with the notion of her owning a "popgun" or "cap pistol" as he called it sometimes. Jani always laughed since she knew better.
A couple of minutes later we were on our way. We didn't say much to each other at first but I had to ask, "What did you mean about me just hanging back and watching, Dad?"
"Oh, that. More to ease your mother's mind than anything, although you are going to be a backup for me. If they've come back or show up again while we're there, and I can do it without too much risk, I'm going to capture one of them."
"Huh?" I said, very intelligently.
"That's the only way to really find out what this is all about. Grab one of the bastards and ask. Gently, of course." His grin didn't have any gentleness about it.
I felt my mouth go dry and had trouble swallowing.
"Cat got your tongue?"
I managed to get some spit back in my mouth and answered. "You're going to capture one of those people? Just you, with me watching?"
"Oh, not unless I think I can get away with it, but that's the general idea. Don't worry about it right now. We'll decide what to do when and if they've come back or if some similar dudes are there in their place."
So of course I worried, all the way to where we parked the Jeep at the same place Friedman had. Dad interrupted my thoughts with a question after we got out.
"You like Colleen, son?"
"Yes, sir," I said. No hesitation.
"What about Jeannie?"
That was the girl back home. "Um, she didn't like the idea of me going off for the summer, much less the army. She got mad at me before we left. I doubt we have any kind of future now."
"Happens," he said. Then a minute later he added, "Herb is a real good friend. Colleen seems like a real nice girl."
He always said that about any girl I dated that he liked, but he seemed unusually serious this time. "Uh huh, she is," I said.
"You be careful, then."
He didn't say what to be careful about, but it wasn't hard to read his meaning. "I will," I said. It's easy to say words. I thought I meant them, though. Colleen really did seem like a girl I could get close to. She didn't talk too much the few times we had been alone, but from our brief conversations, I thought she had something upstairs. Not her chest, though. Farther up than that, like between her ears. I had little liking for dummies, female or otherwise. I'd always thought that if I ever got really, really serious with a girl it would be someone who resembled Jani, but Colleen was changing my mind. I was already to the stage of not being able to look at her without feeling mushy inside and that was despite trying to subdue it.
When he began to exit the jeep, I stopped him and suggested that we park a ways back from where we were. I'd just remembered where I'd seen a little side trail, probably the remnants of an old logging road.
"Why?" he asked, sounding a bit irritated.
So I told him about the side trail and then added, "One of them had binoculars and I think they could see where we left the Jeep before."
"Good thinking. We'll do it."
And a few minutes later we were there. Dad backed into the side road, causing a ruckus when the undercarriage scraped over young saplings, but it was over in a few seconds.
We got out and Dad handed me his rifle. I was only a fair shot with it because we hadn't hunted that often. After the first few times, I found that I didn't care that much for it. Too impatient, maybe. Besides, venison didn't taste as good as beef, no matter how it was cooked. Just my opinion, of course.
"You be damn careful, Jan. Don't even aim at anyone unless you mean to shoot, but if you do, make it count."
"Yes, sir," I said. It was almost second nature, but on the other hand that was the first time I'd ever carried weapons when there was a possibility I might have to use them on someone. It made my skin prickle thinking about it, or imagining Dad sneaking up on someone and grabbing them, like a real life James Bond.
I shouldered the rifle, made sure my Glock was secure in its holster and slung Herb's binoculars over my neck by their strap. All the gear made me feel like I was a pioneer out looking for a pass over the mountains while worrying about hostile Indians. Thinking about it made me realize I might not be too far wrong. The "Indians" really were hostile. That blond bitch hadn't shown the least hesitation about shooting at Friedman and Colleen.
We had gone only a hundred yards or so, just about to where the slope of the mountain began to be noticeable, when I felt an aperture being opened way up ahead of us.
I whispered, "Dad, wait up. I felt an Aperture opening. And it's still open."
"Have they detected you?" he asked instantly. He must have been doing some thinking. I must not have because I didn't get the implications at first.
"No, sir. Not yet. All I feel is the aperture so far. The person holding it open must still be on the other side."
He looked at me strangely, as if discovering depths to his son he'd never known were there. I guess he was at that. Hell, there were depths I hadn't known about and I wasn't at all sure I cared for them.
"What should we do?" Dad asked.
And that felt strange, Dad asking me what to do.
"Wait," I said. "It's a ways off up the mountain, somewhere near where it happened before." I realized then that I must have some sense of distance from an opened aperture if I could place it in that vicinity.
We stood there for several minutes, me concentrating and Dad listening as if he would hear it if something happened. Which he couldn't from where we were standing, unless it was a shot.
The aperture closed and seconds later I sensed the person who had opened it and then closed it as she—or maybe he—came through to our side. I couldn't detect the gender of the person controlling the aperture any more than I could their size or whether they were armed or not, but I sure could tell when I sensed one. I couldn't tell whether anyone else came through with the person who controlled the aperture, though. He or she might be alone or be with a dozen other people.
"The aperture closed, Dad. Now I can feel the person who controlled it."
"Can they sense you?" That question again and I finally realized what he was getting at.
"No, sir. They're not aware of us. I guess distance does make a difference."
"And it appears you're stronger than the controller if you can sense him or her and they can't you. Right?"
"I guess so, but I don't know why." I wondered if it had anything to do with being a twin, but didn't have time to think much about it then.
"We'll worry about it later. Tell me when they begin to move."
"I will, but remember, the only one I can follow is the controller, the one who makes the aperture. If there's others there they could be charging down the mountain right now and I wouldn't know it until we heard them."
And a minute later I felt the distance changing. "Now they're moving, coming down the mountain and crossways, like they're heading toward the trail we're on. The controller is, anyway. I don't know if anyone else came through."
"Is there any reason you know of that makes them use that spot to open an Aperture?"
"I don't know, Dad," I said louder than I intended and with an edge of irritation. "Sorry," I apologized as soon as the words were out of my mouth, "but everyone seems to think Jani and I know all about this stuff. We don't."
"Okay, I'll try to remember that. And you remember to tell me if anything new pops up. Okay?"
"Okay," I said and grinned at him, the little altercation already forgotten.
We moved farther up the trail. I remembered a spot Friedman had pointed out the day before where it branched and went sideways across the slope, then up some more. He'd told me a person could see better from there, but the hiking was too easy so we'd gone the other way.
"Dad, right up here the trail forks. It goes sharp to the left then up to a little place where the viewing's good. If you want to wait along this trail there's some heavy brush not too far ahead. I could cover you from the fork, I think."
"Is there a way for you to get home without coming back this way if my little deal turns to shit?"
I thought about what Friedman had said. He'd just been pointing out places on the mountain where he'd gone hiking with Colleen or an occasional friend that came through.
"I.oh, yeah. He said if you followed that fork it'd take you to a gravel road that led back to the ranch. No problem."
"Okay, that's what we'll try. Get going." He slapped me on the shoulder and I ran on ahead, hoping the controller wouldn't be able to spot me from where I intended to be. On the other hand, if I was detected before I hit the fork, I'd have to go back and tell Dad the plan wouldn't work. No, stupid me, I could call him. We had our phones. In a way, I hoped that's what would happen. But it didn't.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, after first trotting along the fork of the trail then climbing up the slope of the mountain, I was breathing a little hard but was where I wanted to be, and the other Ape hadn't detected me. That's how I had begun to think of the aperture formers. Apes. It was a handy term for sure. I crawled the last few yards and found a spot where I was well hidden but could look down on the main trail. Dad must have already concealed himself because I couldn't see him but I could see a party of four, three men and a woman, moving slowly and cautiously down the trail across from that granite outcropping. As soon as I spotted them, I was able to zero in on the Ape. Funny. Sight evidently helped with distinguishing an Ape from normal people nearby. It was one of the men. Through the binoculars, I could see him clearly. He was young and had no beard, or perhaps like me, not quite old enough to grow a decent one. He was the smallest person of the group but he moved like he had some strength in his body. They were all armed but the Ape only carried a pistol. The others were packing rifles carried at port arms, like they meant business. They probably did, I thought, and it made me queasy. Dad was down there somewhere, one man against four. I wished now we had figured out some way for me to identify the Ape for him. Then I had an inspiration.
I knew Dad carried his phone set to vibrate rather than ring. I pulled mine out and punched his speed dial number. He answered quickly.
"Dad, the Ape, the controller, is the little young looking guy second from the end. He's got a pistol in a holster. The others are carrying rifles and have them ready to use."
"Got it. Thanks."
I put my phone away and got my rifle sighted in at that point on the trail where the heavy brush grew off to the side, the place where Dad was supposed to be hidden. Then I waited. And waited. The strangers passed the spot where Dad was and went on. A moment later I saw something I wouldn't have believed possible. Within the space of thirty seconds or less, Dad took them all. He moved out of concealment and ran up behind the last one of the group, then did something to him. I couldn't quite make out. It caused him to go down and lie still. Dad stepped over him, knocked out the woman, then took down the Ape. Something must have warned the last man. He turned, bringing his rifle to his shoulder but it was already too late. Dad's body slammed into him. He twisted the rifle out of his hands and used the butt of it to knock him senseless. Immediately, he turned around to check on the others he'd rendered unconscious and only then did he stand tall and called out to me with a wave. "Jan! Come on! Hurry!"
I shouldered my rifle and began running back the way I'd come, going as fast as I could. Damn. Four armed men and Dad hadn't even needed me. Right then I began to believe all the stories I'd ever read about Delta Force troops and their exploits.
Two of them were trussed up with their own boot laces by the time I got there and Dad was working on the third. The woman was blinking her eyes and trying to move but all she managed was to get her face dirty. She was trussed up tight. So was the Ape but he wasn't moving yet. I helped tie up the last man, then let my breath out.
"How the hell did you do that?" I asked, shaking my head in admiration.
"Lots of training and experience. But don't think it works out like this every time. It doesn't." He didn't explain further but I took it to mean sometimes a mission went bad, like the one where he'd been wounded. That's all he'd ever said about it, just "a mission that went bad."
"What are we going to do with them?"
He flexed his hands while he reflected for a moment. "Let's get them all back down to the Jeep, but in the meantime..."
He and I gathered their weapons. Dad examined the pistol and muttered something under his breath. He tucked it into a side pocket, then I helped him toss the rifles over a nearby drop and into deep brush. They'd have trouble finding those pieces again! We wouldn't though, if it turned out we needed them for evidence. While they were still unconscious, Dad warned me not to say anything when they were listening.
"Yes, sir, but why?" I asked him.
"We don't know much and I'm willing to bet they don't know much about us. Let them do the talking, and maybe they'll give away more than they think they are."
Dad bent down and pinched the ear lobe of the Ape. He moaned and blinked his eyes and finally struggled back to consciousness while muttering something in a mixture of English and possibly German. The other two men were already coming around. They stared at us with unbelieving gazes, probably wondering how just the two of us managed to grab all four of them. I felt like bragging on Dad and telling them he had done it all by himself, but decided not to, just in case any of them got back to where they came from. He might need to surprise others of their type again.
The woman struggled some more and managed to get her body up into a sitting position. She looked at the Ape first and then the other two. She stared at me, standing there like an idiot with my rifle hung down. She turned her gaze to Dad.
"You'll be sorry for this." She spoke English but it was hard to understand.
"Maybe. I think you'll be sorrier. Help them all to their feet, son. And I want you to stay right on this fellow's heels." He motioned toward the Ape. "If you feel him starting to form an aperture, throw him to the ground quick."
"Got it," I said. I sure didn't want the guy to make an aperture, then escape by diving through it and closing it behind him. Dad was really thinking. Better than me, in fact, and I was the Ape!
"What are we going to do with them?"
"I suspect someone will be along looking for these people when they turn up missing. We'll keep the Ape and maybe the woman and drop the others off somewhere without any ID. Ready?"
"Yes, sir," I said and we got them moving with me holding on to the shoulder of the Ape. We chivvied them back down the trail with only a couple of falls. They complained of having to walk down that steep grade with their hands tied behind them and their boots loose from the lack of laces, but we ignored the protests, merely helping them to their feet whenever one of them fell. On the way down, I made a note to myself to ask Dad to show Jani and me how he'd disarmed and rendered unconscious four armed persons without getting a scratch on him. Despite the classes in martial arts he'd had Jani and me take ever since we turned thirteen, I hadn't learned anything like that, even though our classes were the type that taught how to disable, or if necessary, kill your opponent. I hadn't liked the classes when we started, probably because I wasn't in very good shape at the time, but Dad insisted that we stick with them for a year. By then, I had begun enjoying myself. So had Jani, and we'd continued with the training ever since.
From there back to the Jeep they were so busy trying not to stumble and we were so intent on watching them that we didn't talk at all. None of them did anything but curse. Then Dad took my handkerchief and his own, along with a couple of rags from the Jeep and began to blindfold them.
"You don't have to do this," the woman said.
"Yeah. We're on your side," the Ape added. Both of them spoke English but with a peculiar accent I couldn't identify.
"Get in the back seat, all of you but the guy that makes the holes," Dad told them after he had the blindfolds on. "You in the front," he told the Ape. He rapped him on the back of his head with his knuckles when he was slow getting into the front seat. I would be right beside him and could keep him under control. Once they were seated, he gave the ones in back more orders. "Now lay down so no one can see you." They did, but not far enough to suit Dad. "Further. On the floorboard. Men on bottom, woman on top. Okay, that's good. Now stay that way. Jan, if they try to take off the blindfolds, shoot them. Don't kill them, though. And watch your man, too."
"Okay," I said.
I sat turned half around so I could watch the ones in back while holding on to the Ape as well. I made him duck his head down so he couldn't peek from under his blindfold and see which way we went.
"You're making a mistake," the Ape said after we got the Jeep on the road and stopped bouncing. "We're on your side."
"Uh huh," Dad said.
"Really. We need to talk. There are things you don't know about."
"Uh huh." That was his standard answer all the way home. We didn't learn a lot from any of them, but I did get the idea that there were two factions or antagonists or hell, governments for all we knew, and that they wanted us to be on their side. I thought they were lying. You don't shoot at people you want to make friends with.
At first, it was kind of uncomfortable, always feeling the sensation in my mind of an Ape in the Jeep with us, but after a while it began to fade and didn't bother me anymore. It became sort of like knowing your date was in another part of the house and getting ready to go out with you, but not visible. I was still aware of him but I no longer minded it. In fact, I thought I would be able to shut the feeling out entirely if I wanted to.
Once on the way home, Dad took a wrong turn. I opened my mouth to tell him, then closed it when he took his eyes away from the road long enough to wink at me. I got it then. He was taking a long way around with several turns in hope of concealing the location of the ranch from them. But he had even more in mind. When we had driven about twenty miles in the wrong direction, Dad found a dirt side road and pulled off the highway onto it. He took the Jeep a couple of miles, then stopped.
"Okay, you two guys in back, get out," Dad ordered. "You stay where you are, son. I won't be but a minute."
He cut the other two dudes loose and we drove away, leaving them stranded on a world not their own with no identification, no weapons and no money. How's that for taking care of your enemies without killing them? It made me almost want to laugh. I probably would have if the situation hadn't been so serious.
Apertures Copyright © 2011. Darrell Bain. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.
Darrell Bain is the author of about two dozen books, in many genres, running the gamut from humor to mystery and science fiction to non-fiction and a few humorous works which are sort of fictional non-fiction, if that makes any sense. He has even written for children. For the last several years he has concentrated on humor and science fiction, both short fiction, non-fiction (sort of) and novels. He is currently writing the fourth novel in the series begun with Medics Wild.
Darrell served thirteen years in the military and his two stints in Vietnam formed the basis for his first published novel, Medics Wild. Darrell has been writing off and on all his life but really got serious about it only after the advent of computers. He purchased his first one in 1989 and has been writing furiously ever since.
While Darrell was working as a lab manager at a hospital in Texas, he met his wife Betty. He trapped her under a mistletoe sprig and they were married a year later. Darrell and Betty own and operate a Christmas tree farm in East Texas which has become the subject and backdrop for many of his humorous stories and books.
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