It was over, but it was also just the beginning, the beginning of something both magnificent and really odd. Ironically, Kate was not a part of it. After the incident, we just drifted apart: as a few weeks passed by, we were nothing more that mere acquaintances.
    There was another school dance. It was on Saturday night, so I did all my homework that morning and was getting ready to go. After I got back, many people asked me to tell them the story of my being on the planet, but after a few days, I was getting tired of telling it over and over. The teachers were very suspicious and nobody believed me. They ran some tests on me to see whether I had gone insane, but they found nothing worse with me than before. Things were going back to normal.
    I decided to go alone. I wanted to go alone, and no one was against my going alone: no one wanted to go with me, for some peculiar reason, so I had to go alone. Nevertheless, I was having fun. The skeptics of my story were punished by being ridiculed in return; on the other hand, I enjoyed talking to my few friends. The dance was about to end. I looked around and fixed my eyes on one girl. She was standing with a group of people near the bench. I looked at her closer. She was about 5’7”. She had pretty eyes. Her brown hair fell down below her shoulders. She was pretty. I had never seen her before, and I guessed that she was new and did not have many friends yet. The last dance was announced but alas, she did not have a date. As approached her, I asked, “Would you like to dance?” There was something about her, something whose effect I could not explain. She looked at me and smiled, and then she said, “Yes.” After the dance she whispered softly,
    “Thank you.” I did not reply anything, just smiled. She smiled too.
    One day I was picked up later than usual. I did not have anything to do so I went to the library to do my homework. In solemn concentration, I was answering some lousy question I had to answer, when suddenly somebody said with a friendly voice,
    I turned around and saw the girl from the dance. I asked,
    “Hey, I remember you! You were at the dance, and I asked you to dance with me!”
    “Yeah, that was I.” Then we started talking. Her name was Amy. She had moved from Montana right before the dance, and so she did not know any people then. She was in the same grade as I, and was taking roughly same classes as I. She loved reading books, and she liked watching TV. She was an interesting many-sided person, and I enjoyed conversing with her. Time flew by, and soon she had to go. We said bye to each other and thus parted.
    The next day I was picked up late again, and so I went to the library to do my homework and talk to Amy. When she came, we started chatting. I told her the story of being on the other planet and saving Kate, who then ditched me at the dance. She was amazed at my imagination, but she though I was crazy. Not until after I kept persistently saying that it was true did she even consider me being serious. Meeting a person who has been on another planet is not a common event, so I understood her. It was a sticky situation for me, but I could not deny my unusual adventure. However, luckily, she did not deny the possibility of existence of aliens, so she could at least believe the chance. Then she told me of her life in Montana: what it was like there, what the people did, what she liked to do. She always understood what I was saying, she seemed to know how I feel, and she cared about it. I asked her,
    “You like ice-skating?”
    “Most certainly, since I… Figure skate.”
    “Oh. That surely would explain it… You know, I love ice-skating and roller-blading, and there is ice-skating place rather close to school. I always wanted to go there, but everybody was too busy doing homework, or going somewhere else. And it’s no fun having all the fun alone. Would you go there with me?”
    “Ok. Friday night is fine for me. What about you?”
    “Friday night is perfect.”
    I realized that I actually asked a girl out and she said yes. I was thrilled and filled with joy. We talked a little longer; then she had to go home. Soon I, too, had to leave.
    On Friday I met Amy and asked her where we should meet, for she did not know the way to the ring. Ironically, we agreed to meet at school, and then one of my parents would drive us there. I was very excited about it and could barely wait. I went home and started doing something to kill the time. I could not do any of my homework, no, not on Friday night. I played on the computer, read a book, watched TV. Finally, after some hours of impatient waiting, it was time for me to leave. My dad decided to drive. As we were driving, I was imagining skating. I was looking outside through the window of our moving car. The trees were swiftly passing by. It was dark and lonely on the road, and no other cars could be seen. Soon the air became colder and more humid, and small drops of rain began falling quietly on the roof of the car. The distant houses could be seen, in some windows there was light. Then, after a turn, many lights lit the dark land. We came to school.
    I stepped out of the car. There was nobody around, making the school a strange, alien place. After a few minutes under a light rain, I saw a car; it was Amy’s. As she stepped out, I said,
    “Hey Amy. So, when are you going to be picked up?”
    “Hi! I do not know, around nine thirty or ten maybe?”
    “Sounds fine.”
    We agreed that my dad would come and pick us up, and then drive us home. After she sat in the car, I introduced her to my dad, and we talked a little about her. Soon we got to the ring. I said bye to my dad, and we went to the shopping mall.
    We were walking around and talking about everything, meanwhile venturing into little shops. Most of them were the stores for clothes, but in some, there were interesting things. One store contained all kinds of puzzles and tricks. There was the kind where the ring had to be taken off, like in the horseshoe puzzle. I solved many of the similar puzzles in the store quickly and, surprisingly, so did Amy. She was the first person I knew who could solve them so well. After that, we went to some other stores. Having grown tired of walking, we decided to go ice-skating.
    I was excited. We bought two tickets and went inside. I was a little forgetful of what I was doing. I put on the shoes, and when we were ready, we stepped onto the ice. The fun began. At first, I was very unstable and I could fall easily. Nevertheless, after some time I was improving and remembering the old moves. I said,
    “This is fun!”
    “Yeah, I love ice-skating.”
    She told me more about her life, I told her of mine, about some incidents that happened to me, about parents, friends and so-called friends, realizing that she really cared about all the details, unlike many others.
    We skated more, then it was announced that everybody has to change the direction and skate counterclockwise. We were just talking. I realized that I have never talked to somebody in person for so long. Amy seemed to know about everything, except for some topics, such as computers. However, she still knew more than an average person did. Suddenly, Amy slipped and grabbed my arm, less expected of an ice-skater, but yet, no one’s perfect. She almost fell, tried to stand, and slipped again. I almost fell too, but I kept my balance. Then, struggling, Amy got to her feet. I looked at her and smiled.
    “Are you all right?”
    “Yeah,” she answered, smiling and almost laughing.
    But then… I subconsciously reached for Amy’s hand, and I saw that she did the same. I perceived the softness and warmness of her small hand. I felt an exciting feeling in my stomach. We continued to skate. I looked at Amy again, and I smiled.
    “Hello,” she replied and smiled.
    “I feel very… um… dumb now,” I said mocking a serious expression. “You know, I’ve never been on a date before.”
    I just wanted that moment to last for a long time. And it did. We continued to skate, but I was not skating, I was hovering over ice, oblivious of everyone but Amy. Time was flying by, but I could not keep track of it. I was captivated by the moment. Something was being announced, somebody fell on the ice, somebody was racing somebody else, but I did not heed those, I did not want to.
    Next morning I woke up happy. I remembered everything that happened the day before, and I just could not believe it. The experience was so unusual and so new. I wanted to be with Amy, to go with her to some distant place where there was nobody. I entered the world of dreams, where nothing was impossible, and everything desired happened. But I had to wake up from my dreams and return to the black-and-white world. There was homework, projects, people, tasks, errands. However, that day I could not complete anything well: I was thinking about Amy. I could feel something special about her, but I did not know what. I wanted to be with her, to talk to her, to think about her. When I pictured her in my mind, there was that strange yet pleasant feeling in my stomach. It was both exiting and tiring. Strange things started to happen to me; I somehow wanted to speak poetry. “I felt something was impending, or I wanted it to be. I felt joy without ending; was there something wrong with me?” But I soon calmed down and descended to everyday life.
    On Monday I once more became excited. I did not meet her until the school ended, when I went to the library. We met and started talking.
    “Oleg, I had a great time on Friday!”
    “Yeah! So did I.”
    We talked a little about something important. I asked,
    “Do you like biking?”
    “Yeah, why?”
    “It’s just that few people I know do. I love it; although I cannot do any tricks or stuff like that, I just love to ride to secluded places where nobody interrupts me from my thoughts and dreams.”
    “Do you often bike?”
    “Not lately, I had to little free time, and I have been too much into computer.”
    “Oh. Shame on you!”
    I grinned. “Do you have a bike?”
    “Yeah, we brought it from Montana.”
    “Great! You wanna go biking someday, like this weekend?”
    “Well, um… okay.”
    Thus once again I was going somewhere with Amy. I was happy because of that; I felt needed and understood; the feelings I had not felt for a while. I really was looking forward to that time I would spend with her. Of course there was school, but somehow everything just flew by. The weekend was close, closer, and then it was already Friday. Except for the few annoying tests I had that day, everything was great. It was a sunny day with few clouds in the sky. The lukewarm wind made the weather neither cold nor hot, just perfect for a Friday afternoon. Everybody was lazy that day. Warm days of the spring are always welcomed and remembered. It was the time of the blooming flowers, the singing birds, the warmth after the winter, the joy of life. Nobody wanted to be in school, so the last bell was welcomed. I merrily went home.
    That afternoon I became different. Something changed about the way I saw the world. I felt confident, but at the same time I was carefree and buoyant. Not a trouble was in my mind that beautiful day. When I came home I did not want to do anything, just bathe in the rays of light coming through the open window. But somehow, for some unknown reason, I did some homework, of which I was oblivious. What else should have I done? I just relieved myself of some bothers of the following two days. The day passed quickly, and it was already bedtime. I eagerly tried to fall asleep, anticipating the following day.
    The next morning I woke up too early for myself, but I could not fall asleep after that. I had a strange apprehension about the day. I felt that something really was impending. For a moment I thought about not going biking at all, but then the feeling was gone and I happily began imagining myself with Amy.
    Then the appointed time arrived. Since Amy lived close to a canyon, my parents would drive me to her house and we would go biking from there. I called and informed her that we were about to leave. Everything was so far perfect; the weather was yesterday’s, the sun bright, with few clouds, not cold, not too warm. Our car was already close to her home, the address of which she gave me yesterday. The house she lived in was rather large with windows almost everywhere. I could see the brownish-red color of the roof only above the blue garage door. I rang the doorbell. Her mom opened the door.
    “Hello. I am Oleg.”
    “Oh hi, I’m Amy’s mom. She’ll be right down.”
    The house was as nice inside as it was outside. There were two floors, with many pictures on both of them. Although everything was still a little messy, it looked admirable. At last, after a few minutes, I saw Amy.
    “This is a very nice house.”
    “Thank you. We decorated it like the house we had in Montana.”
    “Cool. So, you ready to go?”
    “Awesome.” I did not know why I said that word, but frankly I did not care. I already felt a little awkward, so that did not change anything. We said goodbye to our parents, after deciding upon the time of our return, and then we rode away.
    Suddenly I felt the same way I felt morning. For a second there was something wrong with going, but the feeling was gone as quickly as it appeared.
    We were going down into the canyon. I said, “This is such a nice day.”
    “It really is.” And indeed it was. The warm breeze was bringing happiness. Everything around was lively and agile. Along the path I saw a few creatures that crawled away as we approached them. But the best part was that Amy felt what I felt. She was the first person I met in a few years who appreciated the moods of the nature. Everybody else seemed too busy with homework and other tasks to notice the beauty of everything. She was inhaling the same happiness mixed with the slight wind as I. She too felt, although incomplete, freedom in front of her as she looked into the clear sky.
    We talked about everything while enjoying the happy weather. The path was just wide enough for us to ride side by side. We were aimlessly riding where the path lead us; we were oblivious of time and everything else. We were talking and enjoying ourselves.
    There was a fork on the path. It appeared to be a fork, but as we got closer we realized that the plants were growing that way just by chance. Nobody went that way. But we still decided to go and look about. The plants and bushes were very tall, about ten feet high. They well separated the two sides, so it was not possible to see what was at the end of the path. Suddenly the bushes cleared and we were able to see a small power-house at the end of the path. Numerous wires were coming into and out of it. There was a fence with barbed wire around it. Suddenly I noticed that the door of the fence did not have a lock on it.
    “Look, it’s open.”
    “Nah, it’s probably closed.”
    “No, it’s open.” I approached and opened the door. “See?”
    “That’s weird. Why would it be open?”
    “And look, the power house! It’s also not locked.” I went closer and carefully opened the door. Inside was a small room with many indicators and switches. But something attracted my attention.
    “Hey Amy, come here?”
    “I don’t think we are supposed to be here at all.”
    “But no! You have to see this.”
    She slowly walked into the room. “What is it?”
    “Look, it’s some sort of secret hiding place.” The floor was for some reason wooden, and one of the bars slid over. I could see through the small opening the deep tunnel in the ground. I pulled the other bars and discovered that is was a trapdoor. I opened it and looked down. There were stairs leading down into the darkness.
    “Wow. Now let’s get out of here.”
    “Scary huh? No. I want to examine it. Power houses do not usually have trap doors, you know?”
    “How would you know?”
    “Common sense. Let me find a flashlight or light switch.” I looked around the room, and then I looked upwards. There was a light bulb, which I did not see before because of the darkness, and a chain hanging from it. I turned on the light.
    It was now bright enough to see where the stairs were leading. I began to go down. It was a little colder and more humid. There were drops of water on the concrete walls. At the end there was a door. I slowly opened it and looked around. It was very dark, so I could not see anything. I felt the switch on the wall and turned on the light.
    Amy found me confused and perplexed.
    “Oleg? Are you all right?” she said as she was looking at me.
    “Look at this. Do you see something unusual here?”
    “Yeah, it’s some kind of a virtual-reality pad.”
    “Do you know why it is here?”
    “No. Why do act so weird?”
    “It’s impossible. Someone on Earth know about the planet?”
    “Does it somehow relate to the crazy story you told me about going to another planet?”
    “Yeah.” I went around the room and looked at everything. The computer was the same as it was on the planet. I turned it on.
    “What are you doing?” Everything started buzzing and remind me of my experience on the planet. I looked at the screen. Everything was in English this time. There were fewer choices, and the only “Transport” was to some place called “Earth Center.”
    “Look at it. Everything is the same.” Amy came closer. “This is the same pad. It transports to another place.” I pressed “Transport.” The message that was on the screen said “Stand on the transport.” “What do you think this is for?”
    “A game maybe.”
    “No.” I pressed some button on the screen and read another message. Now it said that more that one object can stand at a time. “This is crazy. A pad here, in this city, leading into some other place here on earth. They were smart to make it right in the power house, for it requires a lot of energy.”
    “You’re insane.”
    “You still think I am? Stand on the pad then.”
    “Yes. You have nothing to worry about if you are right.” I smiled. She walked to the pad and examined it.
    “I don’t know.”
    “Then I will.” I walked to the pad and was about to stand on it, when she said,
    “What if something happens?”
    “Not while we’re on Earth.” I took her hand and pulled her onto the transport. I heard energy discharge. There was light around us, everything became very bright, until there was an even brighter flash. Then everything was back to normal.
    We looked around. We were in a wider room with a higher ceiling. Amy stepped off the pad and walked around.
    “What happened?”
    “Well, we are somewhere else now.”
    She looked at me in a sarcastic way and said, “Oh really?”
    “No, it’s just a game that controls all of your senses,” I said in the same sarcastic way.
    I went towards the door and opened it. There was a well-lit hall with many signs leading to the door I just came out of. I went down the hallway and called Amy. At the end there was another door, which lead into a large room. In the center of the room there was a round table with many chairs around it. There was a computer on the table for every chair.
    “This looks like a conference room.”
    “Yeah. What is this weird place?”
    “I don’t know.”
    Suddenly there was a beep. I looked around and I saw that one of the monitors was flashing. I went towards it and saw a strange message. It said,
    “Hello. Go to the left please.”
    “Amy, take a look at this. It’s a greeting.”
    “That’s even weirder. Who is greeting whom?”
    I looked around the table and noticed that there were keyboards in drawers under each computer. I opened one and typed,
    “Go to the door on your left.”
    I went towards the door and carefully opened it. The door led into another large and bright round room. I stepped in and looked around. There were a few boxes and packages. This must have been the “closet room,” where all the baggage was stored. Amy came to the door and said,
    “Why would he tell us to go here?”
    “I don’t know.” Even after I walked around the room and examined the packages, I could not understand why he chose this room. I turned around and started to walk back, when I heard a buzz. I looked around and saw Amy walking across the room. She looked confused. Suddenly there was an unusual sound, as if a water pipe erupted. Everything started happening very quickly. I saw a blue circle forming on the floor. Amy was going to move, when the circle began to rise as it became a short wall. I jumped over the rising field of blue energy, when everything turned bright. There was another flash and then there was darkness.
    My eyes adjusted to the dim light. I could see a long row of lights on a low ceiling. Amy asked,
    “Oleg, where are we now?”
    “I don’t know.” I looked around trying to identify some objects. We were standing on a transport pad. I quickly realized what the room was for. We were tricked into going there and getting to this place. But where were we now?
    Suddenly a loud beep interrupted me from my thoughts. I saw Amy wince. I looked around and saw something blinking on the computer screen. I went up to it and saw a message.
    “Welcome. You are a little early, as I see, eager to go to work.”
    “What the?” I said. “A chat program? What’s happening?”
    I typed, “What just happened?”
    “Don’t worry, it’s your first time, I know how you feel.”
    “So could you explain everything?” After I typed it, there was a long pause, after which the “speaker” started typing the information about what was happening.
    “The room where you saw my first message was the Conference Room of the Earth Center. The Earth Center is the convention place for everybody who works in the Organization. The Interplanetary Organization consists of nine civilizations on 16 planets. Earth is the youngest planet, for it does not even know of the existence of aliens.”
    Everything was unbelievable. Although I have been on the planet a few months ago, the idea of nine worlds working together was just too new and too hard to grasp. And the person on the other line sounded really awkward. I looked at Amy and saw that she was also confused. I typed,
    “Are we still in the Earth Center?”
    “Not anymore. Remember the pad in the room on your left? You were transported elsewhere.” I wondered what “elsewhere” might mean. “Keep reading. So you might be wondering how come no one on Earth yet knows about the Organization. The government knows about this, but they do not tell anyone. Those who do are ridiculed and are considered crazy. Pretty neat system. Although the other planets provide some useful instruments, they are patented as Earthly inventions, while they are actually not. Thus no one suspects anything. And it is not that important to keep it a secret, for soon it shall be revealed.”
    His logic was comprehensible, but everything seemed one big lie. Could it possibly be true? Puzzled, I looked at Amy and asked her,
    “Do you believe that guy?”
    “I don’t know. It’s like in a movie, it is true on that side of the screen and false on the other.”
    “I know, but there is one thing. Why would he lie to us?”
    “I don’t know. Everything seems like a dream.”
    “Yeah, I know.”
    I kept on reading. “So you now understand the internal structure on this organization on Earth. Now about your mission.
    “One of the planets is called Mlacte.” A cold shiver ran down my back. “There had been an accident there. They messed up with their atmosphere and mutated the species called ‘derpu.’ There added some chemicals to the clouds and tries to induce rain whenever they wanted wherever they wanted—foolish people. So it started raining. The overdose of the chemicals became a poison to all the plants and to many animal species. The accident wiped out a small continent on the planet. And also the creatures helped. It happened too quickly, and in few days all means of communication on the continent were destroyed by the water. So nobody could help them until a few days later. About a million remaining people were rescued by planet’s own forces and with Organization’s help. The rains, that were not as devastating now, washed away all the dead plants, so now the place looks like a desert, except for two places. In one place they began “reconstructing”—replanting the forest. The other place was high in the mountains, so all the buildings were left standing. We recently found out that one of the computers in a lab in the mountains were malfunctioning—derpu kind of messed it up. Some random creatures, sometimes even people, from all of the 16 planets were transported to a place close to the lab. One or two were killed, the others escaped. Nobody knew about that until it was found out recently that one, or it might be two, people actually went to the lab and used the pad to get back. They may have been from Earth, for that is the direction of the transportation. They sure must have been brave and smart.” I smiled. “Anyway, since it is your training session, you all are going to disable the computer and the pad, and then make it to the civilization. You have all the equipment and food you will ever need, and your group is large enough, and also it is not very far to find protection, once you are in the desert, it will take you at most three days to get there. Don’t worry, they can kill the creatures without you now, so you don’t have to hurry anywhere. And you can always use the radio to call for help. But you won’t need it, I heard that your group is already good at this sort of stuff. Don’t worry about shooting them, their DNA is taken and so you cannot exterminate them. Any questions?”
    I was dreaming. It could not be happening. Everything was true. They even knew about my arrival to the planet. But what was I supposed to do? Tell him or her that I am the guy who went to the planet? That I just wanted to get home and ride a bike?
    “So where is that planet Mlacte?”
    “Well, you are there.”
    “What? We are there?”
    “Yeah. You were sent here so that no one would consider not going.”
    “So there is no way back?”
    “You have to complete the mission. I disabled the reverse transportation.”
    I looked at Amy. She was standing so close to me, confused and scared. I said,
    “Are you okay?”
    “I’m scared.”
    I wanted to calm her down, so I said, “Don’t worry, you’ve got me.” That was a strange thing to say, but it put a smile on her face. I remembered the dance where I first saw her. Even then I felt a strange desire to cheer her up. And now I felt that she depended on me. But I also depended on her. Once again I felt the dreamy sweet incapacitating feeling in my stomach. But slowly I came back into reality and now I myself needed some comfort. I slowly started to see the big picture: our “mission.” We could not go back; we needed to reach another pad in another place. I typed,
    “So what do we do again?”
    “There are two pads in this building, and you have to disable both. One of them is malfunctioning, and the other one—you used it.”
    “But why should we disable the functioning one?”
    “You do not need it anymore, and it is good for your practice. Also, I already disabled it to go this way too, because nobody used it in the past 20 minutes. So you should just disable them for protection.”
    I realized that now the real people would not come. We had to do everything by ourselves. I turned to Amy and looked deeply into her eyes. I did not have to say anything, she felt the same way as I did. I slowly typed, “Yes, sir,” and then headed towards the pad. I saw the computer controlling it. I had to disable it, for there was no other way. I carefully looked at the screen and there somehow I saw the needed button. I pressed something and saw a message that the pad was turned off. I was too shocked to remember what I was doing. When I was on this planet the first time, I did not know of its dangers. Now I was about to face them. I went over to the pad and unplugged some wire, probably its power supply. I did not know how I managed to do that. My thoughts were away.
    Suddenly another message appeared on the communication screen. “Good work. Now turn off the other transport in the room next to this one. Then return to this computer.”
    My fear was starting to go away. So far we were guided through the activities, and thus we were safe. However, as I imagined the journey lying ahead, the sense of hopelessness returned. I tried to get rid of such thoughts, but I could not. I slowly went to the end of the long unfriendly hallway, listening to all outside sounds. Luckily, there were none. Unhappy memories returned to me as I saw the door; this door had given me a false sense of protection a few months ago. I looked outside as I was carefully opening it. I saw the same flights of stairs, and the same door on the left, which lead to the pad through Kate had ungratefully left me long ago. I looked at Amy. None of us wanted to say anything, for we were scared. I opened the door on the left and looked inside. The dim light slowly fell on the still objects of the room. Nothing in the room caused fear, yet I was afraid of every noise. I somehow noticed that Amy’s step was almost as quiet as mine. That was a little unusual, for I noticed that many people plod quite often. I quickly got my mind off this unimportant trifle, as I was used to noticing small things, and tried to perceive the surroundings. At the end of the long tunnel I saw the wretched pad which I now had to disable. I looked at Amy, who walked beside me, and somehow we divided the task of disarming. I saw a wire come from beneath the pad. I followed the wire and unplugged it from the wall. Meanwhile I saw Amy succeed in disabling the pad using the computer. Whatever it was, luck or knowledge, it was soon forgotten, and we returned to the other room.
    On the screen I typed, “Done.”
    “Okay, the first part of your adventure is complete. Now you’re off to the real world. You should go south-west to reach the civilization, or north-east to get to the other working lab. You were warned about the mountains, right? There is an electromagnetic shield causing holographic projections and spatial disturbances, in other words, if you see a cliff behind, it’s not really there. It’s pretty weird, for even if you stand in the distortion, you will see the cliff under you. Don’t worry about it, don’t do anything rash, and follow your mission. You know where the food is. There is a gun or two extra in a drawer to the left, you know how to contact us, so good luck. Any final questions before you depart?”
    I looked around and found a set of drawers. As I looked through them I found two guns. I felt an unusual sense of protection as I wielded the weapon; I gave the other one to Amy. Did I have any questions? That was a funny thought, for thoughts were pouring into my head. I still could barely understand out “mission.” The most important question was where to go.
    “Amy, where do you suggest we go?”
    “The civilization would be quite weird to encounter, I think.”
    “But if there are people in that lab, we would get into a lot of trouble.”
    “Yeah. So what do you think we do?”
    “I don’t know. Let’s see. The lab or the world?”
    I typed, “About the alien world, where do we find a pad there?”
    “Well, once you reach the civilization, you’ll meet the aliens. Actually you are now the aliens… Anyway, they’ll be expecting you. Don’t forget, this is a practice mission. So once you’re done they’ll transport you back to Earth.”
    I looked at Amy, awaiting her response. At last she said, “You know, the world sounds better. What do you think?”
    I smiled. “You know, I wasn’t exactly expecting such a response coming from you. I thought you’d go for the sure way.”
    “Yeah, the lab does somehow seem a little more secure, but this is such an opportunity… Well, I wouldn’t say opportunity. I want to see the alien world.”
    “You’re a dreamer?”
    “I guess I am. Why?”
    “I don’t know. Just wondering. I am a dreamer too.”
    “So we go south-west? I assume that you want to go there too.”
    “Of course!” I smiled.
    “This is so weird. On the alien planet all of a sudden we decide to journey for pleasure.”
    “As pathetic as it sounds, we have no better choice. Ask him to pick us up? He won’t. And the lab does not sound appealing to me.”
    “You’re right, it doesn’t.”
    Thus she typed, “So where exactly is south-west?”
    “Okay. Once you exit the building, you will see the flat ground for about half a mile, after which there is a cliff. When you stand at the door, look to your right, and turn your head about 45 degrees toward the cliff. The cliff is the edge of a desert-like canyon. If you walk along the mountains, you will see the desert to the left and forest to the right. Continue the same way. Don’t stray too far, for the life on Mlacte isn’t like on Earth, so you might inadvertently face some big animal. You’ll have to walk through the forest. After there will be some fields, and then you’ll reach it pretty soon.”
    “Are there any spare sleeping bags in here?”
    “There might be one on the bedroom floor. But you already should have yours.”
    She said, “So, there is a sleeping bag, and we have two weapons. What are we going to do?”
    “Go into the unknown. The food is downstairs, we’ll get that. That’s all we get.”
    “This is scary.”
    “It truly is, but we have to get through this, okay?”
    She smiled, “Okay.”
    A message appeared on the screen. “Any other questions?”
    “No. We can contact you whenever we are in trouble, right?”
    “Yes. Good luck, boys!”
    “Thank you. Good bye.”
    The screen turned blank. The journey has begun.
    “Now we are on our own. Let’s get the equipment.”
    We walked to the end of the hallway and then to the stairs. There weren’t any sounds but those of our feet. We proceeded down a few floors until we reached the bedroom level. I distinctly remembered the place as well as the adventured that happened in it. I went to the room I slept in before, just for the sake of old memories. We looked into some other rooms, examining the rooms and looking for things. At last there was an unusual door leading into some kind of a closet room. As I looked through it, I found a nifty sleeping bag, a discovery that made both up us happy. In addition, Amy found a medium-sized backpack.
    “These aliens must be a lot like us.”
    Having put the sleeping bag into the backpack, we searched for some other hidden objects. I found only a flashlight. I hung it on my shorts, and pretty soon forgot about it. Then we headed to the dining place. Everything was still in this whole massive lab. The quietness inspired awe and inferiority. Yet from time to time I felt an unusual feeling. As I looked at Amy, at her sweet and pretty face, warmness came all over me. Somewhere near the stomach there was the unforgettable rush of adrenaline. It weakened me, yet I didn’t want it to go away. There was something about her, the way she walked, the way she talked, smile, looked, everything. I did not know what made her so special. She just was.
    After a few floors we descended into the buffet room. Everything was the same since we left, only somehow there was no dust. Everything was clean and new. The food was where I expected it to be, in the same drawer it was a few months before. However, as I looked for the cup I used, or any other signs of my being there, I found none. I found that interesting but unnecessary to worry about. I asked, “How much food do we need?”
    “If it’s about two packs per day per person, let’s take 15.”
    “Okay, weird math calculations though. What about the drinks?”
    “I don’t know. Two bottles?”
    “Yeah. That seems enough for a few days.”
    After assembling our supply of provision, we had a little break for lunch. The food tasted the same, and so did the liquid. The cheap little lunch was quite refreshing. It was about 1:30 by the earth time. The break was over, and we had to move on. We went out of the room and then to the floors below us. Eventually we arrived to the bottom level.
    I was filled with the same feeling of awe as the first time I entered the building. We were in the huge room filled with numerous tables and boxes. A thick layer of dust covered all structures. Amy whispered, “Is that the exit?”
    “Yeah,” I whispered back. “Why are we whispering?”
    “I don’t know. This room is so huge!”
    “Scary, huh? I was scared too when I first walked in here. How did I manage to turn on the light?”
    “You’re special.” I saw a smile beam on her pretty face as I noticed that double-meaning in the response. We were slowly passing the table. One detail surprised me. Although the tables were collecting the dust on top, the floor was clean. We approached the control table. As I looked at it closer, I again found something unusual. Although many buttons were dirty, some were pressed recently. I looked at the panel trying to figure out what each button does. However, I did not have any will to experiment with them. We passed the panel and went to the door. I remembered that Kate examined some papers as we came in, however, as I looked around searching for them, they were nowhere in my sight. We went to the door. I saw a familiar button on the wall. I pressed it, and after a loud buzz the door started to slide open. Bright sunlight and small wind hit our faces. Such picture was inspiring fear. “Isn’t this cool? The door into the unknown.”
    “And the bright light. It really is.” We slowly walked towards the door. I hesitated to cross the threshold, for it meant the loss of protection and the beginning of dangers. But we had to move on. We passed through the door and stepped onto the sandy path. I looked around and saw the third unusual instance. Now the outside button was fixed. “Maybe they repaired everything for the people who would come here?”
    “Maybe. This whole place is so unusual.”
    “We need the direction now. Look to the right, and turn your head 45 degrees. There it is.”
    “Let’s go?”
    “Let us.” I felt an unusual sense of freedom. The vast land lay open before us. No barrier could be seen for miles. And although we had a path to walk on, all the space around enthralled me and made me feel free.
    We started walking. Ahead of us lay the long path of finding our way home. I looked around. The “sun” was already beginning to go down the greenish sky. Distant black mountains did not look appealing to visit. Slight wind was blowing in our faces. A few patches of dark sand lay on the road. We walked in silence. None of us wanted to say anything. We simply walked.
    We approached the cliff. It was not really a cliff but the edge of the flat rock we were walking on. Beyond it a mild slope ran down around the basin. It was not high, and I jumped down. However, Amy did not like jumping as much. After I received the food she was carrying I extended my arm to support her landing. Still she was a bit reluctant to jump and would rather go around searching for a step. However, there were none close by and so I said, “Just jump. I’ll catch you.”
    “But it’s high.”
    “But I’ll catch you.”
    “You will?”
    “Yeah. Do you trust me?”
    “Then jump.”
    “Okay.” She came close to the edge, bent down, and took my hand, and then, after waiting for a moment, jumped. I quickly pulled her close in the air, and so she landed softly into my embrace. We stood like that, looking into each other’s eyes. She slowly put her arms around my neck. As I pulled her a little closer, we kissed. A tingly sensation rushed through my body. At last our lips separated and I slowly opened my eyes. I looked at her and then at the sky. I perceived everything so differently now. The sky was of darker color, the “sun” shone dimmer, but the world was sweeter.
    Every moment has its ending. We had to go on. I picked up the food and handed it to Amy; then we started to proceed in our journey. We now walked on large sandy rocks. The mountain we walked on encircled the desert below to the left; to the right was a flat surface, bordered by another mountain, which hid the view beyond. Our path was this edge of rocks. The slight for rose above the ground, thus the end of the trail was mysterious. The whole world so far was the giant ring of stone, on which we walked, and the flat grounds inside of it.
    The joy was slowly replaced by tiredness. It was about dinnertime now. From time to time the wind stopped and then the heat exhausted us even more. No life could be seen around. No grass was growing, no birds were singing. And all these were the effects of some experiment. I thought about Earth and its future. Would it also be wasted from all the ecological wastes and acid rains? It was scary to think about it, having an example right before our own eyes. We talked about this problem a little. But we had something else to worry about. We walked, close to each other, looking into the distance. Time was passing by slowly, as nothing was changing. Moreover, now the rocks we walked on lay randomly, just like on some beaches, and so we had to jump from one to another. After some time Amy said, “Let’s take a rest.”
    “Okay. I’m tired. A little.”
    “So am I. More that a little.” We sat in the little shade of a rock and drank some of the beverage from the bottle. The nutritional lunch still worked: we were not hungry. Amy looked at my watch. I said,
    “We should’ve been back half an hour ago. They probably started worrying about us.”
    “They did. My parents, at least.”
    “My mom does most of the worrying. But although it’s sometimes annoying, at least she does. It’s better that knowing that no one would care if something happened.”
    “I’m glad that my parents worry about me. I have a friend, and she is allowed to do everything she wants. She told me how it feels like. But you’re right, it is annoying sometimes.”
    “At least they know that this whole planet thing is possible. But it’s so weird. What’s the chance of me getting to this planet twice? It must be a curse.”
    “Yeah, you’re cursed to suffering.”
    “And you were sent to accomplish the task. You were actually in the middle of the pad, so that I would have to follow you.”
    “Well, you didn’t have to.” I perceived a hint of sadness and yet cuteness in her voice.
    “Yeah, right, like I could let you go into the unknown, seeing that scared look on your face.”
    “How do you expect me to have felt when suddenly a blue orb of light encircled me with a thunderous noise?”
    “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t’ve been scared. It’s just that you were and I couldn’t stay, knowing that you might be in danger. No way.”
    “That’s sweet of you,” she smiled. “Thanks.” In reply, I hugged her.
    We rested for some more time. The sky was getting a little dimmer. We had to go on. The path of boulders was leading down. We were getting closer to the fog that seemed unreachable before. It now was a few miles away. The air became cooler, and so it was easier to walk. We talked a little about everything. Such conversations started on one topic and then went on in every direction. However, it was hard to talk and jump from rock to rock at the same time. Pretty soon we were exchanging only small sentences to cheer ourselves up. Time was flying by. We were already rather close to the fog. I remembered that our instructor mentioned a forest somewhere. I looked around to see anything like it, but I could see only the desert-like terrain. I suddenly thought that we might have been going the wrong way. But I did not know what was on the other side of the mountains on the right, so that thought also left me. Then I thought, if the continent was a desert, where did that forest come from? The instructor mentioned the restoration, but could it be that fast?
    We were walking in the fog. The path now was becoming normal, we still had to jump some rocks, but most of the way was smooth. The fog was becoming denser. We began to walk more carefully. Rather suddenly, everything became clear again. The view changed dramatically. The desert was well below us; the dark mountains on the right were not as high and were becoming lower in front. In the distance I could see the forest. In about ten miles our path entered it. But now the sky was quickly becoming dimmer. I said,
    “It’s going to be dark soon. We should stop.”
    “Yeah. Let’s go while we can, and then stop.”
    “Okay.” We walked a little more, but very quickly the darkness descended upon us. The beautiful sky was filled with thousands of different stars. All the constellations, of course, were new to me, so I just gazed into the dark depth of the sky. Amy yawned and said, “I’m so tired.”
    “Then you go to sleep, and I will be on guard.” I took off the backpack and took out the sleeping bag. The black material was thin but sturdy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. I placed it on the ground. I even found an inflatable pillow. The bag was rather large and one person could comfortable sleep in it. Amy put the food and her gun beside the bag and got in. Because it was so soft, she smiled. Her eyes were closing quickly. She said, “I feel bad when I think that you’re not going to sleep.”
    “Don’t worry. The nights are shorter on this planet, and, besides, I’m not as tired as you, so I can stay up. You have a good rest, and I’ll watch out for the creatures.”
    “Thanks. Good night.” She slowly closed her eyes.
    I walked towards her and kissed her cheek, “Sweet dreams.” I saw her smile. The smile was fading, and in a minute, she was fast asleep. I sat down on the sleeping bag, watching her. I looked around and suddenly noticed a ray of light on the horizon. I waited. In a few minutes a bright spot showed up. It began to rise, and soon the whole “moon” could be seen. It eliminated everything around, but the stars could still be seen. The view was beautiful, and the shadows made it even more mysterious. However, seeing Amy calmly in her sleep, I could not wake her up. I just sat and watched the beautiful sky…
    Time was slowly passing by. Two hours crawled by, but nothing happened. Slight wind was making a quiet noise, and sometimes a chirp of a flying creature could be heard. But there was nothing alarming. The moon was already half-way down from its throne. In about half an hour the continent would return to its dark emptiness. I was getting very tired, but I could not afford to lie down. Maybe that was exactly what the derpu, or some other animals, were waiting for. However, every minute I felt more and more tired. I often closed my eyes, but then I forced myself to remain awake. I thought of hot coffee or some carbonated drink to keep me awake. I remembered an unfortunate occurrence of inability to fall asleep until three in the morning on a trip once. It was foolish to consume so much Coke that night. My thoughts were broken when Amy suddenly woke up. She looked at me and after a long pause whispered, “Thank you.”
    “You must have had some interesting dream, for why would you be thanking me otherwise?”
    “For watching out for me, of course!”
    “Oh. Well, you’re welcome.”
    “And now it’s my turn. I see that you’re too fatigued to remain awake any longer.”
    “Well, yeah, I am kind of tired. Exhausted, I mean. Very.” She got out of the sleeping bag and walked around, as I swiftly crawled inside. Through my closing eyes I saw that something must have caught her eye, for she started walking away. I turned my head and tried to see where she was going. She was harder and harder to see in the darkness of the night. She stopped, looking down, then walked around the place, and then finally headed back. I was slowly being drawn into the reign of Sleep, when suddenly her loud scream awoke me completely. I looked the same direction, but I could no longer see her. In seconds, having jumped out from the bag, and having grabbed the two guns, I was running to the place where I last saw her. As I was approaching the location, I noticed the darkening of the land, and suddenly, a moment before it was too late, I stopped before a concealed pit on the ground. I carefully crawled to the edge and looked down. Amy was down there. I looked around for the way to get to her, when the ground under me suddenly collapsed under my weight, sending me into the dark void.
    It must have been a long sleep. As I looked around, I slowly recollected my fall. Thin rays of light entered the damp tunnel. Amy was wide-awake, now looking at me. She smiled.
    “Good morning.” No words came into my mind. “Are you alright?”
    “Yes, I think.” I stood up and walked a few paces. “I can walk, at least. How long have you been up?”
    “For a while. You were sleeping so soundly that I didn’t want to wake you up.”
    “Oh, thanks.” I smiled. “What’s for breakfast?”
    “Whatever you make, dear.”
    “I guess we both will have to go on a diet.”
    “Let’s go.”
    “Where?” The tunnel continued indefinitely both directions.
    “Okay, on the count on three, raise one finger if we go to the left, two if we go to the right. One, two, three.” By a unanimous vote, we went to the right.
    A few similar skylights had lit our path; now we were submerging into complete darkness. More rocks rested upon the ground, making it harder to travel. “If only we had some source of light. Hey, don’t you… Have one?”
    “Of course! How stupid of me!” The flashlight shone with a strange blue light, nevertheless, it easily illuminated our steps. We already trudged for quite some time, and yet nothing different was seen. We kept walking. Another hour later, the surroundings began to change. The height of the tunnel increased, the walls became lighter and more distinct. A strange warm wind of hope blew in our faces. In a distance, there was a fork on the tunnels. As we were coming closed, we realized that our tunnel went directly into the new tunnel perpendicularly. Once again, light was shining through small traps in the grounds above. We were halted by a sudden growling noise. “What was that?” she whispered.
    “I don’t know, but I don’t like it.” I turned off the flashlight. We waited. “Sounds like someone’s moaning.”
    “Okay, some thing is. The question is what is it?” I came closer to the opening and looked both ways. A strange shade was lurking to the right. With terror, I realized that it was approaching. I grabbed a gun and gave it to Amy, armed myself with another, and aimed at the opening. I felt it as it was approaching; however, it ran by us into the right of the tunnel. Shrieking roars followed.
    We slowly walked in the direction of these piercing sounds. I stopped in the horrible sight of a derpu attacking a creature even larger and fiercer. Both of them were shrieking horrible wails, about to devour each other. As I looked closer, though, I realized that the larger creature was merely trying to defend itself from derpu’s attacks. Without much thought, I aimed at the derpu and fired a shot right at it. It limped for a second, and then fell to the ground.
    We were both breathless. We could barely move, so we just stood and waited for something to happen. The large creature stood on its legs and started to walk towards us. We slowly backed away. The creature stopped. However, it didn’t stop for no reason; there was something even larger approaching it. We turned our heads to the right and saw the creature’s parent—a bigger creature—run towards its child. We started backing up, first walking, and then running, into the tunnel where we came from. After a little while we stopped and turned around, holding each other’s hand. The two creatures reunited and were, what it seemed, hugging each other. They were looking at us, and we—at them. There was something in their expression that seemed inviting; the fact that they haven’t started chasing us yet indicated that they probably didn’t want to cause us any harm. We slowly approached them, and looked at them up close. They had grayish-brown fur and large heads; overall they looked harmless and really cute; but their huge size was their biggest weapon. They made a strange grunt.
    “What do they want?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “They are not attacking us.”
    “Maybe they are just as curious as we are?”
    “Maybe… But what should we do?”
    “I don’t know. Let’s pet them.”
    “You crazy?”
    “Yeah, I am.” I walked up to the child creature and touched its head. It was afraid at first, but later, it made a purring sound.
    “I think it likes it.”
    “Let me try.” Amy came close to it and started petting it too. Suddenly, the parent creature walked up to us and put its nose right in front of me, pushing me upwards. I barely had enough time to grab it when it lifted me up and put it on its child’s back. It did the same to Amy, whom it placed behind me. I held on to the creature’s fur, and she held onto me. The creatures started to move. We thought of getting down, but for some reason, we trusted the creatures. They were walking slowly deeper and deeper into the tunnels; they made turns at what seemed arbitrary corners; but they always knew where they were going.
    Pretty soon, the tunnels started to get brighter, and with every turn, we felt closer and closer to the outside. And indeed, after two more turns, we were looking at a large opening in the wall of the tunnel. The creatures stopped, inviting us to get down. We jumped off, petted them for the last time, and walked towards the wall. It was a short climb, and soon, we scrambled to the surface.
    We were in a forest. It felt like autumn: all the leaves were yellow, and the sun could barely be seen, but the slight wind was warm and reassuring.
    “I’m hungry,” I stated.
    “I’m hungry too. Hey, didn’t that person tell us that things in this forest are edible?”
    “Oh yea, he did.” I looked around. Not too far from us I spotted a tree with what looked like edible fruits. Looking again, a saw a couple more. In fact, the whole forest was full of them. “This must be it,” I said as I came close to one and plucked its fruit. After

To be continued...