The memories were compelling, consuming. How could he not help Ray, regardless of the consequences?

Anna will understand, he thought, misty eyed.

He owed Frank Perkins everything for returning his beloved Anna to him. By helping Ray, Gonzales would honor his old friend's memory, return the selfless favor he could never repay during his friend's all-too-brief lifetime. That alone was a noble enough reason.

Gonzales managed to feign a smile and a faint chuckle. "Okay, okay, Ray, I'll help you. But next time you fantasize about a woman, make sure she's human.

He took a deep breath and then said, almost tentatively, "I really shouldn't do this . . . but I do know a way to get you in there. Damn it all, I owe your father a thousand times over for saving my life in the Vietnam War, for saving Anna . . . ."

"Thanks, Manny. I don't think you realize how much this means to me."

Again silence filled the room. As the seconds slowly passed, Ray thought for just a moment he could hear faint crackles on the phone line and then an abrupt popping sound, but he quickly dismissed the possibility the phone was being tapped. Why would the NSA be looking into his affairs after all these years? Did they suspect he might, out of the blue, want to break into a top-secret military installation?

Sweat began to pour from Ray's brow as he considered the possibilities. All those times he felt he was being followed on dark, dusty roads when he'd go out for a long drive. Those dark-suited men at the mall that time, long ago, shortly after his first computer game was released. He deliberately altered the insignia on the aliens' uniforms, but there was a hint of the reality.

Before his paranoia could get out of hand, Ray, with a strong force of will, managed to collect himself. When he began to speak again, Gonzales' voice seemed to become a whisper. "Ray, they've got very tight security around that place. You can't imagine . . . never mind. I'll try to do the best I can to get them off your back. But there will be guards lurking around inside the complex, and if you get caught, it's your ass. Understand?"

"I understand perfectly," replied Ray calmly, nodding his head as if anyone could see him.

"Good. Now you have a day's drive ahead of you. Meet me there tomorrow night. I'll get you in there. Trust me," said Gonzales. He tried to sound clinical, but his voice betrayed him. "Right now, try to get yourself a good night's sleep. Take a pill or something."

"Yeah, I'll remember that. Must have something here to help me relax."

Ray wasn't one for tranquilizers, sleeping pills, or intoxicants of any sort. While his military comrades got stoned every weekend during his tour of duty in the Middle East, he'd stay behind in the barracks studying his computer programming books and honing the obscure martial arts skills his Asian mentor taught him. He hung up the phone and sat in his lounge chair, lost in thought.

Maybe there was something to this secret alien laboratory business. Whatever the truth was, if he got caught, he'd probably end up behind bars or at least spend time in a mental hospital. It was foolish, all right. Still, it was something he had to do. He had a strong feeling time was of the essence. He felt those awful dreams contained a message, a message he must heed?that is, if he could figure out what it was. Who was this alien woman? Why was she calling out to him?

She was so beautiful; her face, the vision of it seemed to fill his mind, overwhelm him whenever he stopped to think about it. Was she real? Or just some cruel trick of fate taking him on an endless journey into total insanity?

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