"Brrrrrrr.... It's cold in here." JD Dunne complained for at least the twentieth time in the last five minutes. Or so it seemed to his companion, anyway.
"That's cause the heat don't work, JD." Buck rolled his eyes with exaggerated patience.
"Well, duh." JD snorted, missing Buck's sarcasm completely. "When are you gonna get the darn thing fixed?"
"Next paycheck. Unless you want to loan me the money?" Buck asked hopefully. He was pretty tired of freezing his ass off, himself. And it was wreaking havoc with his social life.
"Yeah, right. Seems to me you still owe Koby money for fixing my bike. The one that you crashed so that it's still in the shop. Remember? Which is why I'm riding with you in this refrigerated boxcar you call a truck. Remember?" JD huddled further into his heavy coat and glowered at Buck from the depths of its hood.
"Oh, like you would have been any warmer riding that two wheeled deathtrap of yours." Buck defended himself. And his truck.
"No. But at least I would've gotten there a helluva lot faster. You drive like somebody's grandmother, Buck."
"Son, you have the highest insurance rates in Denver. Ain't that why you had to take Casey out to McDonald's for your six month anniversary?"
"Shut up, Buck. It wasn't McDonald's."
"Shut up... Hey. Ain't that Ezra's Jag? I thought he said he was gonna be out of town this weekend?" JD stared out the fogged window, trying to make out the license plate of the sleek black car in the next lane. "Whaddya say we follow him? See where ol' Ez is going this time of night?" Buck and JD grinned in perfect accord, their recent quarrel completely forgotten.
The jag sped through the dark, narrow streets, at times seeming to almost fly. It was sheer, grim perserverance that allowed the old truck on its tail to keep up.
"Isn't that the road to Chris's ranch?" JD asked, as the jag put on its left turn signal.
"Yep. Let's take the back way. If Chris and the others are having some sort of party and didn't invite us, we can surprise 'em real good." Buck grinned evilly. He'd been the reigning champ of practical jokes in college. And boy would Chris and the others get it if they were having fun without old Buck around!
"I can't believe Chris would invite Ezra and not us." JD sat back in his seat, pouting a bit at the thought. Him and Buck were fun. Just ask anyone.
Buck killed the lights on the truck as it rolled slowly up the long driveway leading to the ranch house. They could see Ezra's jag parked just ahead, along with Vin's jeep and Josiah and Nathan's vehicles.
There was only one light on that they could see. It came from the room at the far end of the house. Chris's study.
"What do you think is going on?" JD whispered, as the two of them climbed quietly out of the truck. The young agent felt a bit nervous, for no good reason that he could ascertain. It was just... the ranch seemed different somehow. Alien.
"That's what we're here to find out." Buck no longer sounded amused, either. He sounded serious. Like he did right before a big bust.
Get ahold of yourself, JD. This ain't some horror movie and you ain't some dumb blonde chick about to get axed. Telling himself that wasn't helping. It just made him start thinking about axes. And blood. He pressed a little closer to Buck as they crept along the side of the house.
"You hear anything, JD?" Buck hissed, as they continued to creep along.
"No. I..." JD's reply was cut short by a rasping sound, like fingernails on a chalkboard. That was followed by a low keening moan that had the hairs on the back of his neck standing at attention.
Buck and JD exchanged a look of mingled fear and horror before breaking into a run. They burst through the side door of the house, guns drawn, senses alert for God knew what, following the echoes of sound to Chris's study.
"Chris? Ez?" Buck and JD yelled, hearts hammering in their chests. Whatever that sound had been, it hadn't been good. That much they were sure of.
Receiving no answer, the two of them didn't hesitate as they approached the door of the study. Barreling into the room, they saw an unfamiliar silhouette crouched down beside the twitching, convulsing figure of Chris Larabee. It looked up, baring a mouthful of teeth in a visage which looked only remotely human.
"Oh my God."
"What the fuck is that?"
The two agents spoke in unison, fingers frozen on the triggers. Then a sudden movement from the crouched figure caused their fingers to tighten convulsively. The shots were loud in the silence. The alien thing fell backwards without a sound. There was a moment when nobody moved. Even Chris's figure had stopped twitching. Then several things happened at once.
1) Buck and JD swallowed hard, glancing at each other and finally lowering their guns.
2) Ezra's voice was heard from behind them. "Can't leave you two alone for a second. It still amazes me that such immature life forms are issued weapons on this planet."
3) Josiah stepped forward into the light from a corner of the room. "Our Imperious Leader is not going to be pleased with you two." The big man's eyes glowed an odd purple color as he shook his head slowly in Buck and JD's direction.
4) Chris sat up and shook his head a few times, before rolling his shoulders back and forth. "Damn, Vin. You give the best back rubs. Ever think about becoming a masseuse? Helluva lot more money in it than what this lousy government pays." Chris turned his head as he spoke, the words fading out as he caught sight of the still body a few feet away.
Buck and JD began backing slowly out of the room. They didn't know what the hell was going on, but they knew they didn't like it. And they didn't want to wait around for the second act. They came to a sudden halt as they ran into a large solid figure. Nathan Jackson. His eyes too were glowing that strange purple color. And his teeth looked...like there were a lot more of them.
"Uh fellas?" Buck said weakly. "You been forgettin' to take your medicine again?"
"They don't seem to think you're too funny, Buck." JD hissed. "For that matter, neither do I."
"Then you think of something to say." Buck retorted angrily.
"Sorry?" JD hazarded a smile. Chris continued to frown as he got to his feet and slowly approached the two. But then, the blackclad man never had appreciated their humor, even at the best of times. Which this definitely wasn't.
"What did you two idiots think you were doing?" Chris demanded, coming to a stop directly in front of them.
"Uh.. Chris. We didn't mean... We didn't know... What the hell is that thing with your eyes all about? And your teeth?" Buck stuttered around a bit before finally blurting out the question.
"You may address me as Imperious Leader. Thanks to you two clowns, Chris Larabee is going to have to take an extended vacation. Do you have any idea how much red tape and paperwork is involved in something like this? No. Of course you don't. Because you're idiots. This whole planet is full of idiots. Not to mention criminals. Seems to me you could have found something better to do with your time. Like making more westerns. You people don't make enough of those." The Imperious leader, formerly known as Chris Larabee paused for breath, glaring expectantly at Buck and JD.
"Not enough westerns. I'm right there with ya, pard." Buck had no idea what he was saying. He was too busy watching as Chris's eyes began turning from green to red.
"Paperwork? I can help you with that." JD offered desperately. He knew how much the other man uh... alien hated paperwork.
"Now that's a mighty generous offer, Imperious Leader. Almost makes up for it. But not quite." Josiah grimaced, as he hoisted Vin's? body over his shoulder and began making his way towards the door.
"Call headquarters and let His Magnificence Travis know we have to temporarily abort the mission in order to return to the home planet for a revivification." Chris/Imperious Leader ordered, glancing back at the larger man. His eyes lingered for a minute on the still figure slung casually over one shoulder.
Josiah nodded and left the room and the blonde Imperious Leader turned back around, eyes a shade darker than before.
"Vin hates being revivified. Makes him sick for a week afterwards." His Imperiousness did not look pleased with the thought.
"Mission?" JD wished he'd kept his mouth shut as he and Buck were once again the focus of all eyes. Really creepy, scary eyes.
"Yes. Mission. You two gentleman are familiar with the concept, if not its execution." Ezra drawled, lounging against the wall. His eyes had remained green. Any other color might have clashed with the suit he was wearing.
"I wish he hadn't just said that word." JD muttered.
"If you're tryin' to incinerate that me and JD here ain't doing our job properly, let me just remind you who it was that got voted outstanding agent two years running," Buck said indignantly, all his attention focused on Ezra. He ignored JD's frantic elbowings.
"That was because you slept with half the judges on the panel," Ezra retorted.
"Two. That's it. Two."
"Buck? Ez? Mind if I have a bit of your attention?" That particular tone of voice quieted everyone in the room. Instantly.
"Thank you." The blonde, blackclad figure smiled icily.
"Now. You two have managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing new there. What is new is how I'm going to handle it."
"What you got in mind, I.L.? Nathan inquired curiously.
"I've been on this planet long enough to appreciate the virtues of democracy, such as they are. We're going to take a vote." The tone of his voice did nothing to reassure Buck and JD.
"I like it," Nathan said admiringly.
"It should prove to be entertaining, if nothing else," Ezra agreed.
"Ok. Then it's agreed. Now for the choices. Should we take them with us or kill them where they stand?" Chris looked questioningly at Nathan.
"Weeellll. They are really loud. And annoying. They e-mailed that really embarrassing picture of me to everyone on the eleventh floor. And if I had a nickel for every whoopie cushion they've put on my chair," Nathan sighed and Buck and JD gulped nervously. "But they did bring me soup when I got the flu. And I laughed at a couple of Buck's jokes one time. Oh, what the hell. Bring them with us."
"Did you ever laugh at one of mine?" JD asked eagerly, and it was Buck's turn to elbow him as everyone in the room began to frown.
"Ezra?" His Imperiousness turned to the southern alien.
"Kill them where they stand." Ezra waved a well manicured hand vaguely in their direction.
"See if I ever bring you coffee again," JD sputtered irately.
"Yeah. You kill us and that's the last bit of money you'll ever win from me." Buck folded his arms and looked down his nose at his former coworker.
"Well, perhaps I was a bit hasty. They might prove to have some entertainment value on the rather tiresome journey home." Ezra smiled, just a hint of purple in the depths of his eyes.
"Josiah will vote no. You know how Old Testament he can get. And Vin is no by default, which makes the vote tied." The former Chris Larabee pursed his lips and looked consideringly at the two men before him.
"You were the one who sent Mary Travis that love letter signed "Chris", weren't you?"
"I was just trying to help, Chr...uh, Imperious Leader." Buck had a sinking feeling.
"And you were the one who changed my plane reservations so that I'd be stuck in Cleveland for three days, without a hotel room, weren't you?" It was JD's turn to squirm.
"It was just so we'd have time to set things up for your surprise party. You were only supposed to be delayed for a day." JD also had a terrible sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach.
"Hmmmm..." Chris stared at them for a long minute. A very long minute. An eternity.
"I never could stand those boys at HQ. It'll serve them right to be saddled with you two for a bit." The Imperious Leader looked as if he weren't quite sure why he'd said that.
"Besides, we're too good a team to break up, here or on any planet you want to name," Buck declared, giddy with relief. He ignored the looks that remark garnered him.
"Yeah. What is the name of your planet, anyway? Don't tell me it's Mars. Cause I thought they just had that space probe there." JD also felt rather giddy.
Nathan and Ezra rolled their eyes as they listened to JD prattle on and on.
"You two best not even think about getting space sick," their Imperious leader said warningly to the two human agents.
"He hates that," Josiah said, walking back into the room. He was no longer carrying Vin.
"Yep," Nathan agreed.
"I trust our transporation is ready to go, Mr. Sanchez?" Ezra raised an eyebrow in question.
"As ready as it ever gets."
"Then I believe I shall go pack. There are a few things I've become rather fond of during my sojourn here on earth." Ezra headed for the door as he spoke.
"One hour, Ezra." The Imperious tone was firm.
Ezra saluted and then quickly exited the room.
"Do you think we can uh... go home and uh... pack a few things?" JD smiled hopefully.
"I'll go with them. Keep them out of trouble," Nathan volunteered.
"No rubber chicken. No pictures of naked women. And absolutely none of that shit they call music," Chris paused, then decided he could trust Nathan's good judgement to see to the rest and waved them away.
"Buck?" JD said, as they walked out the door, followed by Nathan.
"I'm as excited about space travel as the next guy, but if I ever see Ezra's jag again and you say let's follow it and I say ok, could you just shoot me then, please?"
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