Ray smiled. “I know, but by the time they return, with luck, I’ll have the new car and I’ll be far away from here.”

Gonzales smiled back. “Well, if you want to get it tonight, we better start talking about prices and options. My friend’s wife packed us dinner so we can eat on the way.” Ray hadn’t had a meal since scarfing down a low-carb bagel with nonfat cream cheese that morning. His stomach told him he was starving.

Over Gonzales’ protests, he donned his twenty-third century garb and placed the wristview on his left arm. Ray grabbed his overnight bag as Gonzales shut the door behind them. Since Ray’s Mustang remained a target, they headed to Gonzales’ vintage Mercedes 220D diesel.

The lovingly restored car started up like an old truck and it took its sweet time to accelerate before speeding into the darkness.

Soon Ray was gobbling down rolls, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and to top it all off, a luscious piece of apple pie for dessert. He ate so much so quickly that he was left with a rather groggy feeling. He dozed off just minutes after the last bite of apple pie.

* * *

Ray awakened with a start. He didn’t know how long he had been napping. He looked around, trying to get his bearings.

For just a moment, he swore he saw not his friend Colonel Gonzales in the driver’s seat, but his beloved Zanther at the wheel! She turned to him and smirked in a playful manner, as if anticipating the possibility he would soon return to her and that she might even have a part to play in getting him safely back to the twenty-third century. The desire to reach out for her became stronger than ever. He blinked and she was gone.

“You all right?” Gonzales broke in.

Ray hesitated. “Yeah, I’m fine just…thinking…about the car.”

“Ray, you’ve got to snap back to the real world. God willing, you’ll return to your warrior empress soon. But you’ve got to be patient.”

“I know, it’s a virtue…”

Ray remained mostly silent after that as Gonzales drove south, taking a wide berth past Ray’s Silicon Valley home. Within hours they were smack in the middle of the California desert.

Ray offered to drive, but Gonzales refused. “Take it easy, old man. You won’t get much rest once you reach Area 51.”

Ray had to laugh at the ‘old man’ appellation, the very words his friend Captain David Gotlieb used to identify him, their unexpected and quaint visitor from the past.

The black sky was somewhat overcast, with nary a star in sight and it felt like rain would arrive soon, a rarity in these parts. In the distance, Ray saw the faint glow of approaching headlights just over the northern horizon. He speculated that another NSA car was in pursuit, but he figured it was nothing to worry about, as it would likely take some time for his pursuers to regroup. Yet Ray couldn’t shake an odd feeling of anticipation mixed with dread building up in his heart. At first, he figured it was related to his journey, so he tried to dismiss the feeling and concentrate on the mission at hand.

Yet after a while, he couldn’t help but notice the headlights becoming much brighter, too bright. It definitely wasn’t a car following them.

Gonzales noticed Ray rousing himself and peering into the distance.

“Maybe it’s a police helicopter, amigo, or scouts from Area 51 checking to see whether some loco might try to stage another break-in,” Gonzales joked.

Ray’s answering laughter died in his throat as the entire northern horizon was suddenly enveloped in an enormous, strangely familiar greenish-yellow glow. For a moment, he thought he must be dreaming or having a hallucination. Maybe I’m crazy after all, he thought as what he had seen only in his dreams for months before now quickly floated towards him; a Rockoid spaceship.

Worriedly, he tried calling his beloved empress. Zanther is that you?

However, he received no response. He figured if Zanther had come to take him back with her, she would answer his calls by telepathy. Instead, the ship closed in rapidly on their vehicle, betraying no signs of its true intentions. Ray felt a shiver going down his spine. This wasn’t Zanther’s vessel or that of any Rockoid who was friendly towards him.

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