Th e  m i n d  o f  T h e a  N i k o l a s

Puerto Peñasco, Mexico

All that afternoon Thea Nikolas had sifted sand through her fingers. She had noticed the uncommon smoothness of the grains. She had scooped up a handful and examined the sand granules in her palm. She found not silicon-loaded bits of dirt, but the tiniest shards of shell, their edges smoothed by the tides. She had looked through several handsful and couldn’t find a grain of true sand. These pulverized remains of billions of shellfish made up the beach. “Nothing but a crustacean boneyard,” she had said aloud to no one.


Tonight her searching eyes had been fixed on the fuzzy spot on the sky for the better part of half an hour. At times it appeared small and a few hundred yards off the beach, and at other moments seemed enormous and hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of miles away. She wasn’t sure which possibility worried her more. All four women in the camp had seen the shifty chunk of sky, although none but Thea had cared to look at it for more than a minute. She sat on the beach sifting sand through her fingers, wondering how many people were witnessing the phenomenon. Not knowing what the hell it was bothered her. That no one else gave a damn just plain pissed her off.


At the campfire a few yards away, her lover Andi was drinking Bohemia beer with Joanne and Donna.


And then it was gone. Not flicked out like a light, but fading over several seconds, more like a Cheshire cat smile, until the sky was unwarped again. “What the hell is that?”


Andi looked back an Thea. “You can come back now, your fuzzy sky is gone.”


“Of course it is,” Thea said, unwilling to remove her eyes from the spot. “But it left behind that little glowing red . . . I don’t know what to call it a dot, a faint light . . . something.”


Andi looked where the warped sky had been. “Nothing.”


“Don’t you see it?”


Donna stood up slowly. She staggered with her first step, but walked the twenty paces to where Thea was watching the sky. Joanne got up to join them, forcing Andi to complete the group.
Each of them gave it a game effort for half a minute. But neither Donna, Joanne, nor Andi saw a faint anything.


“How many beers have you had?” Andi smirked.


“Not half as many as you,” Thea shot back.


“I don’t see anything,” Donna said. Joanne shook her head. They went back to the campfire and the Bohemia. Joanne spilled beer in Donna’s lap and dove to lick it up. Their blood alcohol level made everything terribly funny, and they rolled, cackling, in the Mexican sand.


Thea refused to take her eyes off it. It seemed to be growing larger—or closer, she couldn’t tell which. She took a dozen steps to her left, looked at it closely, and paced twenty-four steps to the right. It was definitely getting closer. It seemed to be pulsing like a lazy heartbeat.


“It’s right there! How can you not see it?”


Andi looked. Joanne and Donna looked again. They looked at Thea, at each other, and again burst out laughing.


“Jesus, it’s right in front of you.”


“There’s nothing there, Thea,” Andi said as gently as she could. The other two giggled again, and spilled more beer.


Thea stomped ten paces down the beach before turning back to her friends.


Andi was giggling again. “C’mon, you’re not going off chasing little green men, are you?”


The campfire reflected in her flashing dark eyes. “I’m going to see what’s out there.”


“C’mon,” Andi said, “you’re going diesel on us again.”


Andi came to put a hand on Thea’s shoulder. “Really, we’ve looked. There’s nothing there, baby. You’re drunk. Come to bed.”


“I’m not that drunk. Damnit, it’s right there. I can’t believe you don’t see it.”


“Well, we’re going to bed. Let me know whether little green women or marauding Mexican rapists come out, would you?” She let out a beery giggle and joined the others gamboling in the big dome tent.


Thea kicked sand in Andi’s direction before turning away and stomping down the beach. No one had ever pointed out to Thea that whether it was Greek genes or some other quirk of biology, she had this unusual ability to see infrared where most people could not, and what she was seeing was the infrared shroud that did make the bubble invisible to almost everyone else.


She carried the anger for a few hundred yards before the breeze off the water, the brilliant stars, and that damnable red dot absorbed her thoughts. She walked south on the beach for probably half a mile when she sat in the sand to watch that faint but distinct dot. Thea felt the cool beach under her shorts, heard the tide pulling back to leave a thousand yards of puddly mud, and for half an hour, saw what no one else saw. Now it didn’t seem to move at all.


Thea’s eyes remained locked on it. It flickered. Who are they? What do they want? Then it moved, just as she picked her head up. The faint red dot hesitated, then moved again, not off to the left or right, not across the gulf, but directly toward her.

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