I'LL BE RIGHT HERE

Chapter One

"Okay, I just hope we don't wake up on Mars or something, surrounded by millions of little squashy guys."
(From 'E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.)

-x0x-

Now...

There are some things in life – vital, comforting things – that can only be appreciated when we have lost them.

Equilibrium was definitely one of those things.

Shawn Spencer stuck his fingers in his ears and wiggled them around with a vague idea that this might do something scientific and useful to restore his balance. When it didn't, he pulled them back out again and sighed regretfully. Standing up so quickly had been a bad idea. Sliding down the nearest wall, he landed on the floor and let his legs splay out instead. This kept him from toppling over; a small but important victory. "Spencer for the win," he murmured, grateful for the sound of his own voice.

His head was still swimming. Why was it swimming? And where on earth was he? Impossible to say. When his legs felt more... well, leggish and less like jello, he planned on exploring. But right now it was strangely pleasant to sit back against the wall and do nothing. The darkness all around him was impenetrable. He felt shut in and yet there was also a sense of space. A room, then, but not a small one. Straining his ears, he listened for tell-tale sounds but all he could hear was a constant whine, irritating and pervasive. Machinery, perhaps? Was he in some kind of warehouse?

"And how did I get here?" he asked the room at large, not expecting an answer.

"You don't remember?" said a voice beside him.

Shawn squealed in surprise. Never had his senses failed him quite so badly. "Who's there?" he demanded, hastily dropping back down to a manlier octave. This wasn't Gus, yet the voice was still familiar.

Close your eyes… Ridiculous, in the darkness, but the memory of his father's stern catchphrase always grounded him in a way that he couldn't admit to the self-righteous, grumpy old man. Shawn raised his shaking fingers to his forehead and concentrated. Seconds later, a flash of recognition hit him so hard that it was almost painful. "Dennis?"

"Who else? We've really gone and done it, Shawn."

"Do you think that you could be a tad more cryptic?" He reached out and found his friend's arm. It was warm and solid, and he clutched it with relief. "I don't think you're trying hard enough."

Dennis gave a hollow laugh. "Then let me say it plainly. We've been abducted. By aliens. We're on their spaceship right now." He paused. "I don't know whether to panic or celebrate. Shawn, we made it. Living proof."

"Of a darkened room? Impressive." Shawn's flippant tone belied his true emotions. Dennis may be a super-nerd and a massive conspiracy theorist but that didn't make him stupid. Quite the opposite, in fact. He had already helped them solve one mystery involving fake UFO abductions. Shawn clung to the word 'fake' and tried again. "I woke up five minutes ago. How about you? Did you see anything when we were… taken?" The sentence sounded utterly ridiculous, even to his ears.

"I wish," Dennis said fervently. "I'm the same as you. Been awake five minutes, tops. It's pretty black in here. And we're moving; can't you feel it?" He leaned in to whisper. "You think we're on their spaceship? You think we're even on Earth anymore?"

"Okay, stop! Just… I can't do… This is impossible." Shawn took a deep breath and tried to calm down. He was really missing Gus and his occasional starring role as the Smug Voice of Science. Although – and he couldn't help smiling at the thought – if Gus were here, there was no doubt that he would be freaking out in Oscar-winning style right now. Shawn's brain took a welcome side trip down that entertaining road as he pictured the ceremony. Jules, looking drop dead gorgeous… Lassie, with his best lemon-sucking face, dressed to kill in a stylish tux with shoes polished to military standards… The Gusters, so proud of their son… Chris Rock (why not?) standing onstage with the card in his hand… And the award for best meltdown in ridiculous circumstances goes to…

"I feel space sick," Dennis groaned.

Shawn pulled away at once, his reverie in tatters. "Don't even think about it. Swallow, man; swallow. And try to concentrate on something else."

"Okay." There was a pause in the darkness. "Um – so what do you suppose they look like?"

"Who? Wait – the aliens?" Shawn gave a wild laugh. "Oh, I don't know – A.L.F.? You know this is a dream, right? A crazy dream. My dream, so you're not even here. Any moment now, I'm going to wake up in my own bed. Then I'm gonna call you, Dennis, and tell you all about it. Or, you know what? Maybe I'll call Jules instead, because I could do with some first class sympathy. My head is throbbing," he finished plaintively.

"Call her now," suggested Dennis. "Then I'll call my wife. If we're not out of range, that is. Miles above the planet. How good's your coverage?"

"Ha ha." Still, it was a good idea. Shawn dipped into his back pocket but all his fingertips found was denim, frayed seams and a plastic mood ring. "Figures. I must have dropped it."

Silence.

"Mine's gone too," said Dennis in a small voice. "That's not good."

"As opposed to what, exactly? What part of this is good, Dennis?" The words were bubbling out of his throat by now, in a rising tide of panic. He pinched himself, and winced. "If it hurts when I do that, it's not a dream, right? That's disheartening. We need to find a way out of here, and fast, because meeting an alien really isn't on my top ten list of Things I Wanted To Do Today."

Once again, there was silence from Dennis.

"Really?" Shawn said heavily.

"Well, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't." Dennis sounded contrite but hopeful. "They might be friendly, after all."

"Dennis, they kidnapped us." Shawn was rapidly losing what little store of patience and sanity he had left. "Not friendly. Not even close." He rubbed his temples absently. This threatened to be a headache of epic proportions. If only he could recall exactly how they had got into this mess in the first place. Maybe then he could figure a way out. Go further back, he told himself. What's the last thing you remember?

The answer, when it came to him, was not what he expected…