The images began to form again in his mind: the beautiful alien woman, her penetrating violet eyes conveying the most incredible sensation of understanding, compassion, and agony he ever felt. For a moment, Ray looked upward with a start, feeling she was staring down at him at that very moment. The vision was so vivid, he gasped. Plain as day, he saw the gleaming insignia that adorned her uniform.

He looked at the picture again and stared and stared . . .

The emblem?it's a circle, not a triangle!

The vision ended, jolting him back into the real world. The vividness of the images and their sudden appearance stunned him to his very core. Ray lost his grip on his porcelain coffee cup, which fell out of his hand. The cup shattered, and the remnants of his morning beverage spilled across the floor. He stared at the carpet, unable to shake the dream's image from his mind.

After being drummed out of military intelligence as a "burnout," following a "routine" mission during the Gulf War, he'd dreamed about the alien woman and that devastating battle in space nearly every night. The visions thrust him right in the middle of the action, almost as if he was there with a camera. He felt the death cries of millions, and saw the haunting image of the most glorious woman ever, so human, yet alien. Ray just couldn't get her out of his mind. At times, even when he was awake, he could almost feel her looking at him and he'd abruptly turn around, but she was never there. The dream had become an obsession.

On a whim, he decided he might as well put those dreams to some use. After his military career came to a screeching halt, Ray took advantage of the knowledge of advanced computer technologies he acquired at MIT before he joined the military to please his father, and accepted odd jobs as a computer programmer. Then he created a computer game, "Attack of the Rockoids." Of course, nobody but his analyst and a few close friends knew it was based on those recurring nightmares. The details were so clear, so compelling, all he had to do was set them down each morning, then weave them into his game.

The game ended up being so successful, he was contracted to create another, which he dubbed "Return of the Rockoids."

There was one aspect he changed, though; the description of the aliens. Ray made them look insect-like, in keeping with modern folklore.

The psychiatrists thought writing that program was good therapy?eventually he?d stop having those terrible dreams. Every analyst he visited had basically the same conclusion, except, of course, for the ones who thought he should be locked away in an institution. Once he found a way to use the dreams as inspiration for productive work, they said he was cured.

Of course, the dreams never stopped.

Maybe he should just get out more and seek some real female company for a change. He hadn't called his girlfriend, Patricia, in weeks. Well, his publisher needed another game, and there was that deadline . . . .

The more Ray thought about it, the more he realized it was just a silly excuse. The dreams weren't going to disappear, no matter how many computer games he wrote.

Thoughts simmering in his mind finally came to the surface.

"I have to get to Area 51!" Ray exclaimed aloud in a deep voice that bore just a suggestion of his Georgia background. Of course, the very idea of breaking into a top-secret government agency, assuming the place really existed, was absurd. The chance of success was slim at best. If he dared, he'd probably find himself arrested and left to rot inside a government prison.

The obvious dangers of this reckless venture should have been enough to dissuade him, but he couldn't let the thought go. The look in his eyes turned grim. Oh, what the hell . . . If I don't try, I'll never know what's really going on.

With renewed determination dominating his thoughts now, he absentmindedly swept the broken cup away and poured himself more coffee?this time in a paper cup?and quickly gulped it down.

Ray hurried over to the phone and punched out a number on the automatic dialing keypad. He heard a few rings and a man with a gruff voice bearing a slight trace of a Latin accent answered the phone.

"Hey, Colonel Gonzales, it's Ray Perkins."

"Hey, Ray, nice to hear from you again. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess. Sorry, I meant to stay in touch. Guess I got sidetracked after Dad died," said Ray, as he briefly, sadly recalled his father's death two years earlier in a plane accident. His mother took the tragedy especially hard; she died the following summer after a short, painful illness.

Ray sighed. He wasn't one for casual gossip, but knowing Gonzales wanted to be brought up to date, he steeled himself for the questions, which came just as expected.

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