Disclaimer: Not mine I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Strange lights in the sky at night draw the seven in to investigate. But they seem to have encountered more than they can handle this time around.

Author's note: This story came about because I, briefly, had a cross-over idea between Mag7 and Aliens. It never got any further than this, though. Hope you enjoy.

Nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary or strange when Kyle Johnson made his way out to the pasture to gather his cattle and heard them back to the ranch for branding and counting. The previous day he'd had a rather lively discussion with one of his less dedicated neighbors, but apart from the usual, neighborly tiff, nothing had happened which could have prepared him for the sight that met him when he rounded the small grove of trees obscuring his direct view of the cattle.

His horse, a big brown mix of some sort, pranced around as nervously as a full-blooded stallion in the company of willing mares and rancher Johnson had no doubt that the animal was as spooked by the sight that met them as he was. The smell of blood hung heavy on the breeze and the flies buzzed by the thousands around what looked like a slaughter house laid open.

It took a lot for rancher Johnson to be surprised; the eternal pessimist that he was, nothing much surprised him these days, but seeing the majority of his prized cattle lying on the ground around the water troughs, their underbellies ripped open and their innards spilled out on the ground did render him rather speechless for a good long while. Johnson might have a big mouth and a love for gossiping, but he did love his animals and treated them far better than any other rancher did theirs for miles around. His cattle was valued higher than most when he took them to the auctions and on account of that, he was well off.

With the realization that his livelihood was not only threatened but had nearly been wiped out with the exception of a few scared-looking heifers that would probably drop soon out of pure shock, the first smoky fingers of anger rose in him while his mind tried to comprehend what he was seeing. This had to be the work of a pack of wolves, or a bear, or mountain lions.

Working himself up with such considerations, rancher Johnson turned his horse around and spurred it on, pushing the animal into a straight gallop almost immediately. And it wasn't merely his anger that spurred him on to return to his homestead and then go on to Four Corners, the nearest town. No, it was the fear of whatever had done this to his cattle, too. He was afraid to run into the perpetrator and he needed backup.


It was so early that Buck would hardly call it dawn when he crossed the street to the livery where Beavis was waiting for him. "More like the middle of the night is what this is," he complained quietly and yawned heartily. "Damn rounds," he added and pulled the stable door open. Blinking somewhat sluggishly, he raised the lantern up and turned the flame a little higher to get more light. Beavis whinnied in his stall and moved anxiously and that was the first hint that something was amiss. Beavis was steady as a rock and nothing much spooked him. Glancing at the other horses, Buck realized that the other horses were just as uneasy as his steed and that made him frown a little. Even Pony, who was usually a pillar of salt, was prancing around in his stall with his hears laid back flat against his head and his eyes rolling nervously from side to side.

The nervous animals were a clear indication that something was up. Buck had been around horses long enough to know not to turn a blind eye on their keen senses. "What's the matter, guys?" he asked and looked from one to the other. Chester snorted and started kicking the back of his stall with one hoof, making a racket of it. Peso threw his head, his eyes never leaving Buck.

Intent on finding out what was going on, Buck hung the lantern on a nail on one of the supporting beams and headed over to the jumpy animals. They weren't calming down, they were getting more upset. When he reached Chester's stall, intent on calming the animal down, it suddenly hit him that whatever had them worked up might be in here with them. Could be a hungry predator of some type, he figured, and turned around to scan the inside of the stable.

Before he had even turned halfway, something slammed into the side of his head, knocking him sideways into Chester's stall. He hit the floor hard enough to bruise his right shoulder badly and for a moment, he was deeply concerned that this attack would spook Chester so badly that the horse would step on him. But Chester had frozen and just stood there, looking down at him.

Buck struggled back to his feet to confront whoever had it in for him, but before he could make a move after regaining his feet, black-clad hands grabbed the front of his jacket and hurled him across the stable with frightening ease. He slammed into a supporting pillar a little off center and this time, the injury done was worse than a bruise. He felt as much as heard something break with the resulting pain exploding outward to his arm and upper torso. With a halfhearted groan, he tried to roll onto his back, but whoever his attacker was, the man hauled him up and hurled him across the stable with enough force to make him forget about his pain for a moment. There was something utterly unnatural about this guy.

With enough force to crack some of the boards, Buck hammered into the far wall and tumbled to the ground, already too battered to do much other than try to keep it together for however long this attack would take. But somehow he got the impression that this attacker wanted him dead. He raised his head and tried to focus his blurry vision on the black-clad figure.

Before the attacker could make another move, the door to the stable opened once again. "What the hell is going on in here?"

Buck managed a pained grin. Leave it to Chris to turn up when trouble was brewing.

The attacker turned toward the gunslinger, but Chris Larabee was nothing if he wasn't prepared. He drew his gun immediately, aiming it at the black rider. "One move and you're dead," he snarled.

The rider paused as if considering that option, but then rushed the gunslinger, knocking him over in a frantic dash for the door. Seconds later, the sound of a horse galloping away was heard as Chris picked himself up off the floor again and was briefly torn between what to do. He decided to let the rider go since it was quite obvious that Buck needed help. Re-holstering his gun, he rushed to his fallen friend's side and squatted down next to him. "What the hell was that all about?"

Buck gave him a wry grin. "Beats me," he replied and grimaced. "He broke my shoulder though," he added.

Chris eyed him for a second. "And your head from what I can see," he replied and reached out to touch Buck's bleeding temple. "You're lucky he didn't kill you."

"I think he was going to," Buck agreed.

With Chris' help, he got back to his feet, but that instantly struck him as a bad idea. The world started swaying nauseatingly around him. Chris held onto him and guided him toward the door. "Easy there, big guy," he said. "Let's get you over to Nate's. You probably have a concussion."

"And then some," Buck agreed, feeling faint.


After Nathan had spent some time looking the big cowboy over, he finally stepped outside and gave Chris a dark look. "His collarbone's broken," he said. "And he's got a concussion too. Ain't nothin' good about neither."

"I realized that," Chris agreed grimly. "Can you heal him?"

"Sure can. Just ain't gonna be nice for him," Nathan replied and shook his head. "What in Tarnation happened?"

"Good question. As soon as I can find that black rider again, I'll wring the answer out of him," Chris said and scowled toward the livery for a moment. "You need any help?"

For a moment, the healer made a face, uncertainty mixing with sheer anger, but then he nodded. "I reckon I do," he then said. "He ain't gonna sit still while I set the bone."


Buck knew what had to be done. He wasn't happy about it, granted, and he knew it would hurt like hell, but he was determined to make as little fuss about it as he could. Nevertheless he was relieved that Chris was determined to help out. He was sitting on his left side, one hand loosely against his left shoulder, while Nathan found the break again and prodded it gently to find out where exactly to apply the pressure. That alone hurt and Buck felt himself pale considerably at the thought of what came next.

Nathan placed his right hand against Buck's shoulder and applied a little pressure to give the broken bone as much room to move as he could. All he had to do was take one look at Buck to know that the big guy wouldn't stay conscious throughout this. "You ready?" he asked.

Buck nodded. "Not in the least," he replied in an unsteady tone and closed his eyes. "Let's get it over with. And fast."

"Right," Nathan agreed and glanced at Chris, who gave him a nod in return.

Although Buck tried, it was hard to sit still when Nathan pushed the broken bone back into place. But his resistence to the pain was minimal and the look of acceptance on Chris' face was worth the effort. Buck never wanted to admit it openly, but Chris' faith in their friendship meant a lot to him. And having Chris feel the slightest bit of admiration for him was worth dying for. He couldn't explain why he felt that way, only that Chris was the type of man you wanted to live up to.

Slightly out of breath and feeling more than a little dizzy, Buck closed his eyes when Nathan finally let off him. "Is it over?" he asked.

"It's over," Nathan agreed. "I ain't makin' no promises, but this oughtta be healin' just fine."

Chris sat still for a moment, allowing his friend to regain some of his composure, but eventually found himself struggling with his patience. "What the hell happened in there?" he finally asked, repeating his question from earlier.

With a sigh, Buck opened his eyes and shifted a little while Nathan set about bandaging his shoulder. "You know, I've been wondering about that myself. I just noticed that the horses were all worked up, so I figured there might be a snake or something in the livery. Turned out to be one of the bigger types," he said. "I reckon he hit me so hard cause he was about to steal the horses or something."

Chris frowned slightly. "I've seen people respond oddly to being found out, but I've never seen anyone who could singlehandedly handle you," he claimed. "Did he surprise you?"

This was where Buck figured Chris' minute hero-worship would take a nose-dive. "Kinda," he admitted reluctantly. "He hit me over the head with something and kinda startled me." His blurry memory of the fight made him frown a little too. "And then he threw me."

"Threw you?" Chris asked, disbelief in his voice. "That man wasn't big enough to throw me, Buck. This doesn't make sense."

"I reckon it doesn't," Buck agreed. "But I don't have another explanation, Chris."

"Some people tend to develop unnatural strength when frightened," Nathan inserted and put the finishing touches on the bandage. "Though I ain't too sure I'd attribute that kinda behavior to a spooked horse thief. I gotta agree with Chris here, Buck. It don't make no sense."

"Oh, I agree," Buck said. "It doesn't make sense, but what can I say? That's what happened." He flinched when Nathan started cleaning the gash on his brow.

Chris gave him something akin to a scowl. "You hardly say a peep when Nathan puts your bones back where they belong, but you flinch when he touches a scratch?" he asked, his tone good-natured.

"Aw, shut up," Buck grumbled. "The fact remains, though," he added, continuing their previous discussion. "He threw me and he tripped you. And I just know he was gonna kill me."

With a glance toward the window, Chris pursed his lips in concentration. "Could be someone whose wife you got too friendly with," he said after a moment.

"I haven't gotten friendly with anybody's wife... lately," Buck replied with a scowl.

That made Chris side deeply for some reason. "Well, whatever the reason, we have to be a little more careful the next couple of days. Just in case," he said and rose. "I'll have a word with the others when they get up. Starting with Vin, of course," he added while he walked over to the door. Glancing back at Buck, he gave him a crooked grin. "You just stay out of trouble for the duration," he ended and left.

"Like I would get in trouble in the first place," Buck muttered and then flinched again when Nathan put the finishing touches on his gash.


Out on the balcony, Chris stopped at the banister and stared out over Four Corners for a moment. There was something odd going on out there and it stretched further than the small frontier town. It had all begun about three months ago when one of the farmers had lost the majority of his cattle to what had at first appeared to be very hungry mountain lions. Tempers had flared and any animal remotely capable of doing such harm to cattle had been tracked down and shot. That included wolves, cougars, dogs and a few cats even. But that kind of behavior had died down when a doctor from one of the neighboring towns had proclaimed that no wild animal would attack and disembowel cattle for the sheer fun of it. It had turned out that none of the animals had actually been eaten. Farmer Johnson had then claimed that someone was out to destroy his livelihood and soon tempers were flaring again, this time against any outsiders and most pronounced against Indians.

Chris and the others had managed to soothe those raging tempers again, but for how long the peace would last was anybodies guess. This most recent incident might once again turn the farmers' anger toward outsiders, although the Indians ought to be able to remain outside the line of fire this time since the attacker most definitely hadn't been an Indian.

As he stood there, watching silently over this little town while the sun slowly crept over the horizon, Chris recalled something Rain had said a few weeks back. With her ties to the Indians living in the area, she was prone to hear gossip from them and true to their heritage, they were also able to point fingers at a possible perpetrator. But, as always, their beliefs differed widely from the white man's. Rain had told Nathan that the Indians in the area believed that the Anazasi had returned. He couldn't help wondering about that. According to what little he had heard about this particular tribe, they had been peaceful and highly sophisticated. Apart from that, they only lived in legends and they most certainly hadn't lived in this area. So why would they come here? And why would they disembowel cattle?

With a shake of the head, he decided to let it rest for the moment. Whatever was causing this, it would probably blow over again. It had blown over within a few months when it had happened in Mexico about ten years back. Instead of worrying more about it, he went in search of Vin and the others to let them know what had happened to Buck and that they should be on the lookout for the black rider.


Vin was up at dawn as usual and was crouching on the floor of his wagon, tying a small bundle together that he was going to take with him on his rounds when Buck came back when he heard a startled yelp from somewhere right of the mouth of the alley. He rose and spun around in one smooth go, his mare's leg up and pointed in the direction of the sound. The yelp wasn't repeated, but was answered by an equally startled screech followed by the distinct mewling of a big cat. The critter turned up at the mouth of the alley, looking back at whoever had screeched at it, its fangs bared, its fur standing on end on its back.

There was something very wrong with this picture, Vin thought. This wasn't the area for lynx and what big cats did reside in this area usually stayed well clear of human habitations. Keeping the sawed-off riffle at the ready, he jumped off the wagon, thereby attracting the creature's attention. Yellow eyes regarded him suspiciously for a moment before the cat decided to get its behind out of town and bounded off down the street toward the plains beyond.

Vin covered the distance to the mouth of the alley and made sure the big cat was on the right track before he glanced back to see one of the town's self-proclaimed ladies standing on the boardwalk, white as a sheet.

"Why did you not shoot that filthy animal?" she demanded while dabbing a lace handkerchief against her lips in a display of exasperation.

"It didn't do nothin', ma'am," Vin replied. "'Sides, it's more scared o' you than you are of it," he added and tipped his hat to her. "I ain't too sure what it's doin' in town anyhow," he grumbled.

"Did you see that?"

At the sound of Chris' voice, Vin glanced across the street and gave his friend a brief stare. "Ain't never seen no cats that big in town," he replied.

"Me neither," Chris agreed and stopped next to Vin. "You reckon it'll come back?"

"Ain't no tellin', but I reckon he won't. This ain't a place fit for lynx," Vin said with a slight frown. "I just ain't too sure what it was doin' here to begin with. Lynx are shy. And they don't live in these here parts. They stick to the mountains and the forests and we ain't got neither within a days ride from here."

Chris stared thoughtfully ahead of himself for a moment. "A lot of odd things have been happening lately. Buck was attacked this morning before his rounds," he finally said.

"Is he all right?" Vin asked with concern.

"Not really," Chris admitted. "He's got a broken collarbone and a nasty bump on the head. Nathan says he'll heal and I don't doubt that, but Buck was convinced the attacker was trying to kill him."

Vin arched an eyebrow. "Could be somebodies husband, couldn't it?"

The gunslinger kept staring off into the distance where the lynx had disappeared and then finally shrugged. "Could be, but I'm not sure that's it. This fella threw him like a bag of beans and he was shorter than me. Nobody throws Buck unless their the same size or bigger than him and that's downright impossible."

The wind stirred the sign over the convenience store, making it rattle lightly, while a miniature version of a tumbleweed rolled lazily along the street. Vin listened to and watched his surroundings for a moment, and then shook his head lightly. "Somethin' bad's comin'," he muttered.

Chris gave him a dark look. "Any idea what it might be?"

Again Vin shook his head lightly. "Don't know, but it ain't good," he replied.


A few days passed where Buck recovered from his head injury and the rest of the town seemed to be holding its breath. Chris had seen a lot of strange things in his time, but he had to agree with Vin's assumption that something bad was coming. It was in the air like the smell of a rotten carcass far away, subtle yet distinct, and he had to admit that it made his skin crawl. It felt like deja vu although he had never experienced anything like this before. There was something out there, waiting and watching, and whatever it was, it would hit Four Corners sooner or later.

The impact on the town was already noticeable. With Buck getting injured by a man that much smaller than himself and Vin being much more on guard than Chris had ever seen him before, he couldn't help wondering what was in store for them.

The night's poker game had taken a nasty turn when one of the gamblers had accused Ezra of cheating and it had been up to Chris himself and Nathan to prevent a regular shoot-out. Ezra swore on everything that was holy to him that he hadn't been cheating, but something had definitely been amiss at that table.

Picking up his hat from where it had landed, Ezra made a half-hearted attempted at dusting it off, his eyes never leaving the aggressor. Chris didn't have to be a genius to see that the man was spooked.

"I do not know what the matter is with this town, but things are most certainly getting out of hand," Ezra said and put his hat back on.

Chris' eyes narrowed when he glanced at the gambler. "Are you sure you weren't cheating?" he repeated his question of earlier. "It wouldn't be the first time, Ezra."

Ezra did not respond with his usual zeal, but instead returned Chris' stare with an unsettled one of his own. "I assure you I was not. I would hardly be in this state if I had been," he replied.

Chris had to agree with that. Ezra was far from cocky and seemed more concerned for his safety than the loss of money and that in itself spoke volumes. "Apart from this near mishap," Chris said and gave the aggressor a warning glance when it looked like the man was about to make a move for Ezra once again, "have you noticed anything odd going on in town?"

"Odd?" the gambler asked with a slight frown. "If you are suggesting that the townspeople are behaving out of character and our steeds are affected by something unseen then I most certainly have."

That was not the reply Chris had hoped for, but it wasn't really a surprise either. "I don't know what the hell is going on, but I am going to get to the bottom of this once and for all. Whoever is out there better show themselves soon before I run out of patience," he growled and left the obviously shaken gambler to Nathan when he stalked out of the saloon and out into the middle of the street.

Vin, who had come barging in at the sound of the shuffle, followed him back out. "You're feelin' it too, aren't ya?" he asked and came to a stop at the edge of the boardwalk.

Chris tilted his head back and looked up at the clear sky. "I'm sure feeling something," he agreed, "and I don't like it."

"And though I walk through the shadows of the valley of death, I shall fear no evil." Josiah leaned forward on the chair he had been sitting on and gave both of them a look. "There's evil in the air. The crows are plenty. The animals are nervous. They can feel it too."

Chris turned to face him, his expression taunt. "You're speaking in riddles, preacher. As always. But for once I understand you," he replied. "This isn't man-made, is it?"

Josiah shrugged, rose and stepped up to the edge of the boardwalk, his arms crossed over his broad chest. "I have no way of knowing. The lord moves in mysterious ways and I don't always understand what he's trying to say. This may be a sign from God."

"Well, that understanding was short-lived," Chris grumbled. "What the hell are you trying to tell us? That this is..."

"... the time of judgement? Could be. Who knows?" Josiah finished his sentence and smiled vaguely. "The funny thing is, Chris, that I have a feeling that whatever is coming, it's coming for us. But not all of us."

Vin glanced from one to the other and eventually settled his stare on Josiah. "J.D. will be spared, won't he?" he asked, his tone slightly hopeful.

"He's young. He hasn't killed as many men as we have," Josiah agreed. "I've been wrong before, though," he added and jumped off the boardwalk. "Smell that air. It's clear and crisp as the edge of a knife. The air doesn't smell that way in town."

"You're a regular oracle, Mr. Sanchez." Ezra stepped out onto the boardwalk, followed closely by Nathan. "Liberate me ex inferis," he added.

Josiah cocked his head to the right and smiled. "You never cease to amaze me, Mr. Standish. Such a heartfelt message. And in Latin even."

Ezra gave him a brief, somewhat shaky smile. "Oh, believe me, Mr. Sanchez. It is heartfelt if your assumption turns out to be correct."

"What's it mean?" Vin asked, both curious and a little unnerved.

"Save me from evil," Chris replied. He didn't speak or write Latin, but he'd heard that phrase before.

"Shouldn't it be more in the ways of 'liberate tute me ex inferis'?" Josiah asked and chuckled lightly. "Save yourselves from evil," he added when all he got was blank looks from all but Ezra.

Once again, Chris glanced up at the sky. Whatever was waiting out there, ready to pounce on them like a predator waiting for its prey, it would have to wait until the following morning. "It's getting late," he said and glanced around at the others. "I don't know about you, but I'm turning in. I've got the morning rounds."


Despite it being late August, the morning was damp, cold and clammy. Wisps of fog clung to the ground here and there and nothing stirred. Chris muttered a halfhearted curse and buttoned up his coat before mounting Pony. He wasn't one to shun his duties, but he sure wasn't fond of getting up before the crack of dawn to ride around the countryside, searching for threats that, most of the time, weren't there. It became tedious after awhile and then it became downright mind-numbing.

"Fancy word," he mumbled and reached down to pet Pony's neck. "Sounds like something Ezra would use," he added. The gelding trotted slowly out of town, his breath puffing in clouds around his nose.

The morning passed rather uneventfully until Chris decided to call it a day and head back to town to get some breakfast and a cup of coffee. On his way back, he would pass a small pasture where widow Katie McNeal let her few cows graze. The closer they got to the small pasture, which was hidden behind a slight rise, the more jumpy Pony got. Chris couldn't for the life of him understand the gelding's sudden edginess until he cleared the rise and didn't even have to pull on the reins to stop the jumpy animal in its tracks. Six cows lay on the ground, all disemboweled and all quite dead. But the innards were still steaming, which meant that it couldn't have happened too long ago.

Drawing his gun, Chris rose a little in the saddle and scanned the immediate area, which was still draped in shadows since the sun hadn't deigned to rise yet. There was no sign of anyone around and the grass on the pasture, heavy with morning dew, look undisturbed. With a frown, he slid off Pony and slowly walked closer to the dead cows, constantly alert to his surroundings.

There were no sounds apart from Pony's nervous snorting the background and from what Chris could see, nobody had actually been there since the dew had started to build. The problem was, Chris knew for certain that the dew had started building moments after the sun had set and these cows had been ruthlessly slaughtered no more than an hour ago.

Dropping down into a crouch next to the closest cow, he stared at it. This wasn't the work of a predator. These animals had been cut open. The wounds were straight and clean. "Damn," he muttered. This could mean one of two things. Either there was a madman on the loose who liked to kill cows or, and this was much more plausible, somebody was trying to drive out the ranches around Four Corners.

Just as that idea settled in, something caught Chris' attention. He raised his head and squinted of into the distance, where he thought he'd seen a flash. It couldn't be lightening, he thought, and rose.

As he stood there, scanning the horizon, a beam of clear, brilliant light hit the ground about half a mile away from him. It was like nothing he'd ever seen before and it froze him in his tracks. "What the hell," he mumbled and slowly raised his gaze to the origin of the light. Clad in darkness, a big, triangular something hung in the sky, motionless for a moment. Then the light switched off again and the object, whatever it was, disappeared in the darkness.

For a long, breathless moment, all Chris could do was stand there and stare. He had no explanation for what he had just seen, no precedence that could help him understand. And all he could think was that he had no way of explaining this to the others. If he told them what he had seen, they would think he had finally gone mad.

Chris wasn't one to panic, but that thing out there, whatever it had been, did scare him a little. Most of all he wanted to get back on Pony and hightail it out of there, but he forced himself to calm down and think things over. No matter how he stared, there was no remaining evidence of that thing in the sky, no indication that it had ever been there.

Was he really that far out that he was beginning to imagine things like that? It didn't bode well for his mental health. With a slight shake of the head, he turned and walked back to his horse. He would have to tell the widow McNeal that her livestock was gone. She wouldn't be happy about that. These cows, although not essential to her existence, had been the last reminder of her husband and he wasn't too certain how she would take this.

At the same time he was also concerned about the response to this incident. The first one had been tough enough to subdue. If those simpleminded fools got it into their heads that either Indians or other outsiders might be involved in this, they could be facing a lynch mob. Chris had seen his share of those and would do mostly anything he could to avoid another one. Too many innocent people got hurt when tempers went flying.


The mood around their customary table in the saloon was somber at best. Nobody had any wisecracks to offer about the new cattle mutilations. Vin glanced at Buck, who had insisted on joining them even though it was quite obvious that he was still in a lot of pain, and noted that not even the ladies man had anything remotely funny to offer on this one.

Everybody had fallen quite after Chris had finished telling them what he had seen, but Vin couldn't shake the feeling that he was holding something back. The way Chris just sat there with his mug of coffee and stared at the table top rather than at any of them was a sure indication of that. Mainly because Chris had never before held anything back about possible threats. Vin decided right there and then that he would try to find out what it was. He knew which buttons to push to get Chris to talk, but it wasn't always safe to do so. It highly depended on what mood the gunslinger was in when he started prodding.

Before he could open his mouth and say anything, Buck beat him to it. "What the hell is going on out there?" he asked and glanced around at the others. "This isn't normal. This kinda thing doesn't happen around here."

Whether it was his phrasing or something else, Buck's words made Chris glance at him with a frown. "Where does it happen then?" he asked, something dangerous in his tone of voice.

Buck had obviously picked up on that tone too, because he gave Chris a strange look in return. "You're not telling us everything, are you, Chris," he said and shifted somewhat uncomfortably in his chair at the look in Chris' eyes. "Dead cows isn't all you saw out there, is it?"

Vin turned his attention toward Chris, whose eyes had narrowed while the kept staring at the ladies man with undivided attention. For a long, breathless moment it look as if Chris might go for Buck for some strange reason, but then he calmed down visibly, sighed lightly and returned to staring at the table top. "What I saw defies explanation," he said and looked around at all of them as if to dare them to question him. None of them did, though. "What I think I saw," he corrected himself. "I must be getting sick," he continued, "or old. Or blind. I've seen a lot, but never anything like that and as long as I don't know what it is, I'm not going to talk about it."

And that was it. Vin knew it just by looking at Chris. If the man didn't want to talk, there was nothing the rest of them could do other than wait until he was good and ready. One quick look around confirmed that the others without exception seemed to feel the same about this situation as Vin himself did. He was just dying to know what Chris had seen.

"I am certain that I speak on behalf of all of us, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said, the only one bold enough to speak up when Chris had shot a topic down like that. "But if we are supposed to do our jobs, which I believe includes solving the problem of these... cattle mutilations, then I do believe that we need all the facts." Leaning forward a little, Ezra eyed Chris intently. "No matter how unbelievable it may sound," he added.

Chris continued to stare at the table top for a while before suddenly raising his gaze to meet Ezra's. "There's just one problem with that, Ezra," he said. "I don't know what I saw. I have no words to describe it, no idea what it could have been. All I can say is that the night, the cold, the rising mist... it must have played tricks on me. Maybe my eyesight is going bad. I don't know. All I know is that I saw a light in the sky and it was no divine intervention," he continued and gave Josiah a quick, sharp glance. "Not unless you may believe that God has his fun carving cattle open."

"The Lord moves in mysterious ways," Josiah replied.

"Not that mysterious," Chris disagreed. "Not by a long shot. What I saw had nothing to do with God. I'm sure of that."

Once again everybody fell silent and all Vin could do was just sit there and stare ahead of himself. He had heard of people who claimed to see lights in the sky. Most of the time, they appeared to believe it was God giving them a sign, but there were those few who had other opinions. The Indians had a different grasp on such situations, but all their explanations ended up involving divine intervention in the end, so there was really no help to be had there either.

"I reckon we might better patrol more than we do now," he finally said. "By twos."

Chris glanced at him and nodded with a grimace. "Just what I was thinking. I don't think any of us should be doing rounds on their own any more. Vin, Nate, you two take the next patrol. Josiah and Ezra, you go after that, and then J.D. and myself take the morning rounds." Buck was about to intervene there, but Chris raised a hand, stopping him. "There's no need complaining about it, Buck. You're not even able to sit on your damned horse. You're not going on rounds until that shoulder is healed."

Buck grimaced with annoyance, but said nothing, and Vin couldn't help grinning. It was quite obvious that J.D. was thrilled at the idea of riding with Chris and somehow that didn't suit Buck.


Another few days passed where nothing much happened while they kept their patrolling at all hours up. Ezra was getting bored with it, Nathan was torn between his clinic and the rounds, and Buck was becoming more and more frustrated with the fact that he couldn't help out. He even went so far in his frustration as to turn down the help offered by one or two ladies concerned for his health.

By that time, a little over a month had passed since the first cattle mutilation had taken place and none of the seven were any closer to solving this problem than they had been back then. Chris, Vin and Josiah were the only ones of the seven keeping up appearances without letting on how confused they were by this turn of events. Especially since a doctor who also specialized in animals had proclaimed that the cows had not been attacked by wild animals, but had indeed been disemboweled with what he considered to be at least a scalpel. According to this doctor, the cows had not only been cut open, their wounds had been cauterized as well. None of the intestines or internal organs were missing. He had stated officially to the Clarion News that it appeared as if someone had cut the cows open to take a look at their insides out of sheer curiosity.

Ten days after Buck had been attacked, Chris and J.D. were on their rounds again, both of them tired and cold by the time Chris was finally proven to be anything but crazy. J.D.'s horse trotted along with its head down and the kid was virtually asleep on his mount when something stirred the otherwise feisty brown to life. So abruptly did the horse come to a stop that J.D. nearly took a nosedive over its head. The only thing that stopped that was the fact that the brown raised its head at the same time.

Pony stopped of his own volition and snorted nervously and that made Chris turn his gaze to the sky above. J.D. did the same and spotted the light in the sky that Chris had spoken so briefly about. "Is that it?" he asked and glanced over at Chris.

"Yup, that's it," Chris agreed.

The light from that dark shape in the sky kept turning on and off.

"And it's heading for Markham's ranch," Chris added with a dark look in his eyes. "J.D., get back to town and get the others. Meet me at the Markham ranch," he added, a sudden urgency in his tone of voice. "It'll kill Markham if he loses his cattle."

J.D. nodded briefly and spored the big brown on. The animal went straight into gallop and quickly disappeared from sight as Chris turned Pony around and raced after the light in the sky. There was no way that another rancher would lose his livestock to this oddity if he had anything to say about it.


Chris was nearly at the ranch and the adjoining pasture when the others apart from J.D. caught up with him. To his great annoyance, Buck was among them. Despite the fact that the big cowboy looked a little green around the gills, he rode as fast as the rest of them.

"Where's J.D.?" Chris asked Vin as he drew Peso up alongside Pony.

"He's comin'," Vin replied.

"That damn fool horse of his threw him off when he got into town and he tore his pants," Nathan inserted with a frown.

"Quite a sight," Ezra intoned with a grin.

"So, what are we looking for, then?" Josiah inquired.

Chris waited for the moment when the cone of light suddenly splashed down over Markham's pasture not too far away. "That's what we're looking for," he replied. His intention had been to drive Pony forward, but the gelding simply refused to approach. Instead, he started to whinny and prance around. "I reckon we'd better leave the horses here," he added and dismounted.

The rest of them, including Buck, followed him and moved swiftly and quietly toward the pasture. The only one who seemingly had second thoughts about this was Vin. He glanced back at Peso, who was watching him intently, and wondered if perhaps the horses weren't taking the right approach to this.

"Chris," he called out, stopping his friend in his tracks. "Ain't it possible the horses got the right idea?" he asked quietly.

At that very second, the light over the pasture died. Chris, who had just been about to respond, turned his attention back that way and cursed loudly. "Damn it," he snapped and rushed forward.

A few startled cows watched in amazement as the six peacekeepers burst into their pasture, guns drawn, ready for action.

Chris glanced around and noted that there wasn't a single cow harmed on the pasture and that made him realize the danger of the situation. Suddenly feeling cold all over, he tilted his head back and stared up at nothing but blackness above them. The rest of his team did the same and none of them had anything to say when the cone of light suddenly washed down over them in startling brilliance.


J.D. rode up to the pasture and jumped off his horse when the light washed down over the field for a startling moment, and then it was gone again. He clambered over the fence and rushed onto the pasture where he came to a skittering halt on the dew-wet grass. For a moment he just stood there, his eyes wide, his breath stuck in his throat. Then he took a tentative step forward.

"Guys?" he called and looked around again. "Chris? Buck? Vin?" He had seen them there, engulfed by that light. Now they were nowhere in sight. "Nathan?" he tried. "Josiah? Ezra?" No reply. It was as if they'd never been there in the first place. As if the earth had swallowed them up. "Guys?" he tried again with no result. All he could do was stand there and stare at a bunch of cows while he tried to work out in his mind how this could have happened. How could they be there one moment and then be gone the next?

With the distinct sensation of dread rising from the pit of his stomach, he tilted his head back and stared up at a dark sky.

The End