Alan stopped the car in front of his parents' house. At least two dozen furs stood around, some of them neighbors, others in police uniforms and several who looked like plain-cloth cops or FBI agents. He got out of the car, Penny and Sarah followed a moment later. Their parents and Fox joined them a few moments later.
A badger moved to stop them, but then he recognized the fox who had accompanied them and greeted him "Hello Fox."
"Hello, Smith. How are things going?"
"We're almost finished here. Good evening, everybody. Do you want to talk about our findings right here?"
"Just give me a quick rundown."
"We found some suspicious tracks in the area, but nothing really useful. The house was definitely entered. But they knew what they were doing, they left very few tracks. I don't know if they took anything from the house, but we think they searched it."
"Ok. About what I expected." The fox looked around, then he turned to Sarah "Sarah, could you try to replay the abduction scene? If it is not too painful for you, that is..."
Sarah sniffed "If it helps to find Chris."
"All right, furs, give us some space. Alan, where did you stop the car?"
"About here." Alan pointed at a spot a yard further up the road than where the car currently stood "It was facing in the other direction."
"Ok, please go to where you exited the car and try to play back the scene as best as you can."
Sarah, Penny and Alan moved to the indicated spot. Sarah walked to the spot where Chris had stumbled. When they were done relating the story, several forensic furs examined the spot where Chris had hit the ground once more.
"Do you have any items from your alien used? Clothes or something, where we could find tissue for a DNA analysis?"
"Yes. Come." Sarah led Fox and two of the forensic furs upstairs to her room. "His clothes are in that dresser." After a moment she reconsidered "Please don't take them. I... I'd really like to keep them."
"We will return them once we are done with them. Having a sample of his DNA could really help us find him."
"Ummm... how about hairs?"
"That would be ok, I guess."
"Ok." Sarah fetched the wastebasket from the bathroom "You'll find plenty of his hairs in here. They will be mixed with mine."
One of the forensic furs examined the contents of the basket "He had dark fur?"
For a moment Sarah's throat constricted as the fur's use of the past tense reminded her powerfully that she might never see Chris again. It took her a few seconds to answer. "Yes."
He picked out a bunch of hairs, examined them and sealed them in a plastic bag. "That should be plenty for an analysis. Could we also have the brush he used? Any maybe his toothbrush as well?"
"Ok." Sarah followed him into the bathroom and pointed out the items Chris had used.
The furs from the FBI had finally left. It was late but none of them was ready for bed, their nerves were strung too high for that. Jane looked around, first at her husband, then at Alan and his girlfriend and finally at Sarah, who sat alone, the seat next to her empty, almost as if it was reserved for her missing boyfriend. Jane still didn't quite know what to think of Chris, but she could clearly see that his disappearance affected Sarah strongly. Especially since in all likelihood Sarah now carried his child. Jane turned to her daughter and asked "What will you do now?"
Sarah looked at her for a long moment before she sighed "I don't know." After a while she said "If we don't get any news about Chris, I'll stay until Saturday. I have to go back to work on Monday and I'd like a day to settle in."
Harold asked "What about your kit?"
"I'll think about it when I know for sure." She shook her head "I don't know. It scares me, being a single mother. I know that Chris would want me to keep it, he told me as much." She looked down at her paws and began crying "I told him today. It's only been a few hours since he's gone, but it feels like forever..."
Jane stood up, sat down next to her daughter and put an arm around her shoulder. They sat like this for several minutes. Sarah's body trembled, but she could not cry.
After a while she decided to go to bed "Good night, Mom, Dad." Sarah's steps were labored, she felt so exhausted that she could barely put one foot in front of the other. But when she lay in her bed, she could not sleep. She missed Chris' scent and the warmth of his body. She jumped at every noise.
# # # # #
*Beep* Flora turned to look at the heartbeat monitor and shivered. "Doctor?" Her voice was full of concern.
"Hmmm... Turn on the pacemaker, his heart rate is getting too irregular."
"Yes, Doctor." She pressed the buttons, glad that she was finally able to do something, anything for the alien male fighting for his life.
"Ok. That's better." They watched the graphs for a minute "What do you have to bring his temperature down?"
"Hielax. But... that will put even more strain on his heart."
"I know, Flora. I really don't like to do this, but I think we have to give him some more of the antidote. And if his temperature rises any further..."
"I understand." She turned to the cupboard and fetched the requested drug. "How much?"
"Give him half a mill."
"Yes, Doctor." She prayed under her breath "God, please let him live!" then she prepared the injection, swabbed his arm and gave him the drug. "Done."
"Ok. We'll watch for a bit, ready another dose of it and a half-mill dose of the antidote."
"Status everybody. Evita?"
"I can't get a lot from their systems any more, but we should really lie low as much as we can. They have cancelled leave for a lot of army personell and the other security agencies. I don't think they have found us yet, but if they do..."
"Ok. How about the helicopter?"
"I am pretty sure they are monitoring the airspace as closely as they can. Using it would be a really big risk right now."
"Ok. We'll keep it ready, but as a last resort." The robed fur fell silent for a moment, then he turned around and asked "Juan?"
"No activity anywhere nearby. And none at one of the other bases either."
"Until the ambulance is here? A little more than an hour."
"He is in critical shape, but stable. I hope, at least."
"All right, radio silence unless a major problem comes up." After a moment he added "Shut off the data feeds as well. Call us when you come into range for direct radio contact."
"Yes, Doctor. Ambulance out." A moment later the line went dead.
"Juan, start buttoning up the base. As soon as we have our guest here, we'll go into deep hiding."
"We'll keep the helicopter ready for now. Doctor Gonzales?"
One of the wolves in a white coat turned away from the screen he had been watching. "Yes, Doctor?"
"Prepare everything to receive our guest. We have to keep him alive."
"Yes, Doctor." He looked around for a moment "Pedro, Maria and Francisco come with me. The rest of you try to make sense of the recordings we have. Is that acceptable, Doctor?"
They filed out to prepare the surgery for the patient they hoped to receive (and keep alive) in the not too distant future.
# # # # #
Sarah turned over for the hundredth time that night. It was well past midnight, but she had not slept a single moment. For a while a dark fear, almost a certainty, that she would never see Chris again took hold of her. Hope and dread warred in her heart. She got up and went to the bathroom yet again. She didn't need to, not really, but lying awake made her feel that she had to. When she returned, she did not lie down straight away, but she went to the dresser that held the worn clothes Chris had discarded the day before yesterday. She picked out the shirt and sniffed it, reveling in his scent for a minute. Then she put it back carefully and closed the dresser.
She knelt next to the bed and prayed. She had not really prayed in a long while, but suddenly it felt the right thing to do. It wasn't like there was much else she could do. She prayed for his safety and return. It helped her calm her fraying nerves, if only a little. She lay down again.
Dawn was not very far away when she finally succumbed to exhaustion and fell into a dreamless sleep.
# # # # #
Juan swiveled his chair around and looked at the message on the screen. "Doctor, the ambulance is in range." He pressed the buttons to reconnect all the data feeds.
"Thank you." The hooded figure opened the voice connection. Few of the furs who worked for him had ever seen his face, at least not knowingly. "Ambulance, come in."
"Flora here." Her voice was heavy with static, they were still at the outer edge of the short-range radio's range.
"What is your status?"
"Our passenger is somewhat stable but still in critical condition."
"All right." He pressed a few buttons and opened another connection to the surgery "Doctor Gonzales?"
"I'm putting our patient's data on your screens. Is everything ready to receive him?"
"They should be at the lower garage in half an hour."
"We will be ready for him."
"Good." He stared at the screen for a moment "Juan, power down the helicopter and move it back into the garage. What's the status of securing the base?"
"80 percent done. Only the helicopter pad, the lower garage and a few sensor outposts are not secured. Two hours maximum."
"Our patient looks pretty bad, do you think we can afford to move our passenger to the surgery?"
"It is a risk, Doctor, but I think we have to take it. With the portable breather and pacemaker he should make it. Once we have him in the surgery we can take much better care of him."
The ambulance screeched to a stop. Several furs in white coats closed in on it and yanked open the tailgate. Two more maneuvered a gurney into position. Two furs climbed into the car. "Flora, Fernando, how is our patient?"
"Stable, Doctor Gonzales."
"All right." He watched the various monitors for a few seconds, then he commanded "Let's move him."
They disconnected the various sensors from the unconscious alien. Then came the critical moment, they had to take him off the breather and the pacemaker for a few seconds while they transferred him to the gurney. They all breathed a sigh of relief when they hooked him up again to the equipment on the gurney. His heartbeat had faltered for a moment, but it stabilized quickly once more. The two strongest males turned the gurney around and headed for the entrance of the tunnel, moving at a very quick pace. Flora and the others followed them.
Behind them other furs descended on the ambulance and quickly removed the most expensive equipment. A few minutes later the car drove off, to be parked at a distant safehouse.
Half an hour later there was no trace of the entrance tunnel any more. To all appearances, the garage looked like it had been abandoned for months or possibly years. Only someone who tore up the solid-looking concrete floor and dug up the ground underneath would have any chance to find the tunnel.
"Flora, no. Get some rest, you have done enough for today. You can't help us right now."
"Please, Doctor. I have to know that he will be all right. I want to help, please."
"No." He closed the door in front of her face.
Flora stared at it for a minute. Suddenly tears filled her eyes and she whined. <I want to help him.> She stumbled to one of the chairs and sat down hard. She knew she could not go away, she could not go to sleep until she knew that he would live. For a long time she sat there, hugging herself.
# # # # #
Sarah woke up at half past eight. She hardly had time to get her bearings before her stomach started acting up. She barely made it to the toilet in time.
It was well past nine when she finally made it down to the kitchen. She felt somewhat refreshed by the sleep and the shower. Apart from that she felt like crap. The disappearance of her friend, her lover and the father of the kit she was carrying made her feel as if she had a hole in her heart.
"Good morning, Sarah."
"How are you today?"
"Horrible. I had the morning sickness. Again. And I miss Chris." Sarah sat down at the table. It took a lot of willpower not to bury her face in her paws and cry.
"Oh. Would you like some coffee and breakfast?"
"Yes, please. Just toast and butter, please."
Presently her mother pawed her a mug and a minute later she put the plate down in front of her daughter. "Here you go."
"Thank you, Mum." Sarah took another sip from the mug and a bite of the toast.
Jane gave her daughter a reassuring smile and squeezed her paw. They sat in silence for a while. When Sarah finished her second toast, Jane said "Fox, the fur from the FBI called earlier. They would like to talk to you again. Do you think you're up to it?"
Sarah did not want to, she'd rather go back to bed and try to sleep, but then she remembered that any small clue she gave the FBI could make the difference between them finding Chris or no. "Yeah, I can manage."
"You don't sound very... enthusiastic."
"I don't really want to, but if it will help them find Chris..."
"I understand. Shall I call them?"
"Please do." Sarah took a bite from her toast. It seemed her stomach was ready to cooperate, so she took another.
When the doorbell rang half an hour later, Sarah was ready for her visitors. As ready as she would get. Fox was not alone, as she had thought, but a cat femme accompanied him. He introduced her as his partner Skulky.
"We would like to talk to you in private, Sarah."
"Ok, here or would you rather go downstairs to my father's hobby room?"
They looked at each other "Downstairs is probably better."
"Ok. Would you like something to drink?"
A few minutes later they sat down in Harold's hobby room. Sarah could not keep the question in any longer "Did you find Chris?"
"No, I'm sorry." Fox answered "We have several possible leads, but we have not found him yet." Sarah's eyes filled with tears.
Skulky gave Sarah's paw a squeeze and tried to reassure her. "We are doing everything we can to find him. Believe me. Everything."
Fox produced a few sheets of paper and a pen. "Sarah, we want to tell you more about our investigation. But before we can, we have to be sure that you will keep everything we tell you strictly confidential."
"Ok." She wiped her eyes and picked up the papers. She scanned the contents. The legalese was a little difficult to grasp, but mostly it reminded her that divulging any of the secrets she was told would be punished harshly, that it could be considered treason and so on. Sarah signed it without hesitation.
"Good. We already ran a background check on you, so that takes care of that." Fox put the papers back into his briefcase. "Now we can tell you a little more. We won't go into details, however."
"That's ok, I guess."
"We have some good and some bad news..."
"And you want to know which I want to hear first?"
Skulky laughed "Actually, no. They are kind of mixed up."
Fox went on "First, we know who has kidnapped your friend. Or we are pretty sure that we do."
"Yes. We don't know his true identity, though, we use the name 'Dr. X'. Unfortunately, we have no idea where that fur is or where he has taken him. And that fur is very dangerous."
"Do you think he'll kill Chris?"
"I don't know. I don't think so, but I really don't know. I am sure that he would do it if he thought your friend was a threat. Our best guess is that he wants to examine him and/or question him."
"To give you an idea how serious the whole affair is, quite a few of our superiors think that he is a greater threat to National Security than Osama bin Laden. Not your friend, the fur who abducted him."
"Oh." Sarah stared at the fox and began to tremble.
"Yes. I can't tell you what he did, but he is really dangerous. In a way we are very grateful to the alien, to your friend Chris, we might not have found out about this Dr. X for several years. He broke his cover to get your friend. We don't know why yet, but he must have thought him extremely important."
"But why?" Sarah wondered "I mean, sure he is from another dimension or something. But apart from that... He isn't all that different from us and they don't have any superior technology or anything..."
"We think that Dr. X didn't know that. Unless he was after something else, he will be a little disappointed, I think."
"There is one good point about all this... We are really serious about finding Dr. X and your friend." The cat grinned at Sarah.
"What do you mean?"
"It's not just the FBI looking for him, but also the CIA and the army and..."
"Basically we're moving heaven and earth to find him. We will find him."
"Oh. Thank you." They fell silent for a moment, then Sarah asked "Suppose you found him... what will happen to him?"
"I can't be sure" Skulky said "but we will examine and interrogate him. If he gives us a reason to consider him a threat, then we will have to lock him up or... Otherwise we will probably give him a green card and release him. Given how he behaved before, I don't think he'll give us any reason to keep him locked up."
"Thank you." Suddenly Sarah began to cry.
Skulky took her paw and tried to reassure her "Don't worry. We will find him."
When Sarah had calmed down again, Fox said "Now, Sarah, we would like to go over your story once more."
# # # # #
Flora's head snapped up when she heard the door opening. For a moment she was disoriented, she wasn't quite sure if she had slept or how much time had passed since she had sat down. She felt strangely lightheaded, exhausted beyond exhaustion. But when she saw Doctor Gonzales, she was instantly alert. "Doctor. Please..."
"You're still up, Flora? You should have gone to sleep long ago."
"Please... tell me..." Her voice was more a pleading whine than anything else.
"Thank you." She jumped forward and hugged him, almost bowling him over. "Thank you, Doctor."
"Please." After a few seconds he shoved her away gently "I'm exhausted and I want to get some sleep now. You should, too."
A moment later the door opened again and two nurses rolled out a bed with the unconscious alien. He was hooked up to some sensors and had an IV connected, but he was breathing under his own power. Flora stared at his sunken face. He looked horribly weak, but he was alive. Despite her weariness, her tail began to wag.
She followed the bed to the next room, where the other nurses parked it. They attached more sensors to their patient, then Doctor Gonzales looked him over once more to make sure everything was in order. "Come, Flora. He needs to rest now, there is nothing we can do for him right now."
"Just one minute, please."
He shook his head in disgust. The femme was clearly unreasonable, but he knew how strong-willed she could be. "All right. But only one minute."
She beamed at him "Thank you, Doctor." The other furs filed out.
She grabbed a chair and sat down next to the bed. She considered the sleeping male and whispered "I am so sorry. Please be alright." She leaned back and closed her eyes for a moment. But she didn't open them again for several hours.
End of Chapter 1