It took a while before Nathan realised the thumping wasn’t in his head. He stumbled from his chair and headed towards the door. Judging by the state of his mouth, not enough time had passed since he’d gone down.

“Ang on. I can ‘ear you.” His voice sounded odd. Two things occurred to him – the first was that he was probably still drunk. The second was that he couldn’t remember the last time he’s spoken out loud.

He pulled the door open to a collective non of uniforms. “Nathan Jones?” The first one stated.

“Thasm ee.”

The uniform raised an eyebrow and kept going. “Nathaniel P. Jones?”

“Yesh.”

“Come with me, sir. The lights have gone red.”

“I don’t care if they’re rainbow coloured and dancing a jig. You need something better than that, sonny.”

A voice called out from the back of the crown. “Sergeant. If I may. I might be able to help.” A small guy in glasses pushed his way through.

“Nathan. It’s me. It’s Gregory.”

“Gregory! God. Hi! When did we last see each other? Oh, it was that God awful mess. You want to come in?” Nathan was still off.

“Nathan, listen to me. They’ve come back. They want us to guide them in again. We need you.”

There was a pause while that sunk in.

“I’m pissed, Greg. I’ve taken stuff so that I wouldn’t come up until this was all over.”

“So had I.” A uniform in a white lab coat came up and placed a small device against his arm and fired a sliver of solidified blood cleaner in.

“You’ll be ok in a while. The first 30 minutes will kill you, though. They’re cleaning your blood.”

Nathan blacked out.

***

Westerfield was on the spime to as may people as he could get hold of. “I don’t care about the cost – there are explosive devices in your wall. You are not going to open it.”

“He talked into another. “Yes – I want a contingent of officers on the following  Malls. No one is to get in.”

“Yes, I can do that, Sir.” Back to the original. “It will save lives.” He looked across the city at all the red lights. “Potentially millions.”

***

Nathan woke in the back of a helecopter. He’d been given a change of clothes while he was out.

Probably for the best.

“Mr. Jones.” The Uniform from before. “Drink this. It’ll help with the headache.”

“Headahhhhhhh!” Nathan’s head felt like it was being split open. “The alcohol has been removed, but the water your system needs is still missing. This will get you feeling better, faster. You should also lay down.”

He did as he was told, and saw Gregory looking sorry for himself across the way.

He waved him over. “Greg. What’s happening?”

Gregory looked confused. “You know, sir. We told you…the lights are-“

“Not that. What called them?”

“Sir?”

“It takes them time to get here. It’s not like the signal goes up and they appear. That’s why we go in so early. We set up, we call, we monitor. If they’re coming, something changed.”

***

Jody paced her cell.

Westerfield should be pulling strings about now.

***

“Wonderland to RU-D01F. Come in please.”

There was a burst of static, a squeal of data. Machines sat silently, moving parts made obsolete long ago.

A screen pinged. “We are coming.”

“We’re aware of that,” Nathan mutter. “RU-D01F. What is the purpose of this mission?”

The pause. “There was a problem. We have the solution.”

Nathan looked up at Gregory. “This doesn’t look good at all.”

***

Damien slipped out of his bed and into his brothers. The hospital staff seemed to have shut down for the night.

“Aaron…are they coming because we’ve been good, or because we’ve been bad.”

Aaron wasn’t asleep. “Baby brother, I didn’t save you from a mad man with a knife so you could be eaten by monsters. It’ll be ok.”

But he wasn’t sure.

***

Westerfield stood in the cell door. “You assaulted one of my officers?!”

“He took the kids from me.”

“You’d just shot someone!”

“The Bad Guy! I shot the bad guy!”

“First – HE didn’t know that. Second, that’s MY job. Third, you broke his nose!”

“Sorry.”

He stood aside. “Get to the hospital. Be with your kids. I expect to see you Monday morning.”

Jody stopped. “What?”

“Your new job. We start at 9.”

***

“Where…is Derek.”

“Derek is dead. This is Nathan.”

“Nathan. We do not remember Nathan.”

“My year was the year you stopped.”

There was a longer pause this time.

“We did not receive any messages.”

“We had a problem.”

“We have a solution.”

“But our problem is solved now, RU-D01F.”

There was a long pause. Then the screen flooded with images of pain, suffering, hunger, murder, war, riots.

“We have the solution. Guide us in, Nathan, follower of Derek.”

***

That night, across the world, ships were seen in the skies above the landing points.

None landed.

The brightest, largest, most fantastic ship, RU-D01F, flew around the world, tracking the night, so that all saw it.

It, too, did not land.

But something happened.

As day broke, the earth was treated to many glowing balls of light in the sky before, one by one, they flew away, leaving all but one left.

And something had changed.