It had been five years since Landon's last hangover. He'd gone on a bender after his first — and consequently only — book was panned by every historian, archaeologist, and anthropologist on Earth. Too bad he didn't publish it on another planet. It probably would have been a bestseller wherever the aliens came from.
The last thing he remembered drinking was the bourbon in Gunnar's office. Was that really only yesterday morning? It felt like a week. He'd certainly done more in the last twenty-four hours than he typically did in a seven-day stretch. Yesterday's alcohol hadn't even made him tipsy and had long since burned off.
So why did he feel like hammered dog shit?
Oh, right. Because he'd been fired, hauled to D.C., interrogated by the government, secreted away to Ohio, held at gunpoint twice, dragged through the woods, drugged, and threatened. Oh, and aliens were coming.
How could he have forgotten?
He rolled his eyes at himself, the sarcastic thoughts doing nothing to ease his pounding headache, abject fear, or sense of dread. His gaze traveled over Wolf and his team. All of them appeared to be asleep, getting an hour or two of rest before resuming their mission. But Landon knew better than to try and escape. Something told him the relaxed postures and slack faces were only an illusion. As he shifted his weight to find a more comfortable position, he could practically sense their coiled muscles tensing, preparing to pounce. It was unlikely — hell, it was impossible — that he could get to his feet without everyone snapping alert. No way could he creep past them to disappear into the deserted streets of Peru.
The crowded bazaar was his best, and maybe only, chance. He glanced at his watch. Shouldn't be much longer.
“Don't even think about it, Professor,” Wolf said, not even opening his eyes. “You'd never make it off this bird, let alone into town.”
Just as Landon suspected. The merc was resting but hyper-alert. Several retorts danced on his tongue, but he stayed silent. No point confirming he was awake. Maybe Wolf would doubt his instincts, giving him a window to escape later.
After what felt like an hour — but was probably only a few minutes, max — he shifted his weight again. The chopper seats weren't designed for sleep. All his muscles ached, and he had a crick in his neck. His patience wore thin and his discomfort intensified. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore and whispered, “Wolf?”
The merc opened one eye. His gaze seemed alert, and laser-focused on Landon.
“I need to stretch my legs.”
“Who's stopping you?”
“No, I mean outside. Walk around a little. My muscles are stiff and cramping.”
“Sucks to be you.”
“And I need to relieve myself.”
“You're a big boy. Hold it. We need to get up in about half an hour. You can go then.”
Now not only was he seven shades of miserable, he was starting to feel claustrophobic. Unseen fingers squeezed his lungs, making his heart race. He panted for breath, wiped a bead of sweat off his brow. “At least allow me to sit by you. I'll even sit on the floor. The air is stuffy in here, and I can't breathe.”
“You just want to be by the door so you can run.”
Landon clawed at his collar. “Please. I beg you–“
But he no longer cared about permission. He didn't care if he got shot. Nothing was more important than getting out of that helicopter. He sprang to his feet, leapt over the stretched out legs of Wolf's team, then dove out the door.
He froze when he hit the ground. No longer panicked, no longer desperate. His heart rate slowed, his breathing regulated. A blanket of calm enveloped him, and he dropped to the ground, immobile.
Wolf and the rest of his team scrambled out after him. He heard them readying their weapons, knew without opening his eyes that little red dots of lights were trained on his chest and head. But he didn't care.
“Why didn't you tell me you were claustrophobic?” Wolf asked. “I'd have put you outside with some of my men.”
“That's actually decent of you, but I'm not claustrophobic.”
“Then what the hell was that freak out all about?” Tex asked.
“I don't know. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before.” Still, he lay there, staring up at the star-studded sky. Only in the west was it still black. High above him, it became a deep midnight blue, and in the east it had faded to indigo. Finally, dawn was breaking. It was a relief to put the worst day of his life behind him, even though this day didn't look much more promising.
“Stress,” one of the guys muttered.
“Sorry about that,” Landon said, surprised to find he was.
“Might as well get ready to head to town,” Wolf said. “Gather–“
Wolf glared at him. “What now?”
“I don't know. Just like I had to get off the chopper, I know we have to stay here.”
“I just said I don't know why.”
“We don't have time for this.” Wolf bent down, grabbed Landon's shirt and hauled him up.
As he scrambled to get his footing, he continued staring at the horizon, his gaze transfixed on the gradients of blue before the warm tones of dawn and then the sun fully rising. “Stop! Doesn't it look like the sky is glowing?”
“Funny how the sun does that,” Tex said.
“The sun's not up yet.” Landon's feet found purchase on the ground, then he jerked free of his captor's grasp. “It's definitely glowing.”
Wolf sighed and made a show of aiming his weapon at Landon's chest, the red laser dot right over his heart. “You don't want to become more trouble than you're worth, Professor.”
“Shit, Wolf,” Tex said. “He's right. Look!”
Landon heard his name whispered on the wind. A sense of satisfaction — completion — flooded through him. He looked with rapt attention at the eastern horizon, where several glowing blue orbs rose from behind an outcropping of rock then streaked across the sky.
They hovered above the Puerta de Hayu Marca mountain range where the Gate was. Then they disappeared.