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Title: crash course in interplanetary diplomacy
Author: shinealightonme
Fandoms: Community/Warehouse 13
Characters Troy Barnes, Abed Nadir, Annie Edison, featuring the study group; Claudia Donovan, Myka Bering
Rating: PG-13 for some language
Word count: ~15,000
Spoilers: minor spoilers for Community through 3.07 "Studies in Modern Movement," no real spoilers for Warehouse 13
Disclaimer: Community and Warehouse 13 belong to their respective creators
A/N: This fic got way out of hand and a bit off track from what I expected. I really hope you enjoy it all the same, ozmissage! Thanks to M for the speedy beta.

Summary: A long time ago (well, the other week), at a college far, far away (unless you're from Colorado, then it's probably not that far, unless maybe there's traffic) – The new girl at Greendale is an alien, the government's hot on her trail, and two brave heroes stand between Earth and the annihilation of Earth. Or so Troy thinks. The truth is a little weirder than that.



Monday

Troy wasn't really sure how he wound up in Astronomy.

Okay, he knew how he got there (girls love that "what's your sign" stuff), but he wasn't sure why he stayed.

Partly he felt bad for the professor. (The guy put his head on his desk and started weeping softly when Troy asked whether December was still Sagittarius, because didn't all the signs change?) And obviously Abed had signed up for the class with him, and they'd have to find something else they could both get into if they left this one. And there was the part where it was pretty cool to watch movies about stars, and black holes, and nebulas, especially when Troy got to pretend to be Reggie and Abed was Inspector Spacetime.

But sometimes it really didn't seem like all that was enough to justify –

"Jesus, it is cold out here!"

Midnight labs outdoors every week.

Troy had come prepared this time. One thermos of hot special drink, a second thermos of soup, and a big bag of pop rocks (the popping made his mouth feel warm). He'd bundled up layer upon layer, too, but his nose was freezing and they didn't make gloves for noses (which would be a brilliant idea and he'd have to start working on that. It would probably make a ton of money). And as if the cold wasn't bad enough, the meet-up spot was miles away from campus, outside city limits, on the edge of a forest, like something at the beginning of a horror movie (it would give Troy the chills if the weather weren't already giving him the colds).

He made his way through the assembled students, making sure that Professor Baker saw he was there, and finally found Abed standing, looking straight up at the sky through a long cardboard tube.

"So what are we looking for today?"

Abed held up a list of constellations without looking away from the sky. "We need to identify these in the sky, chart the phase of the moon, and note any unusual phenomenon."

"Man, this is such a waste of time," Troy scuffed at the ground with his foot. "We could see all this looking at a planetarium. Or a sky-atlas. Or something else where it's warm."

Abed donned a pair of fuzzy green earmuffs. "We could see the constellations and the phases of the moon. But not unusual phenomenon."

Troy drank some special drink and waited for Leonard to pass. "What sort of phenomenon do you think we'll see?"

"Alien spaceships, debris falling to earth, an interdimensional portal opening, flux in the fabric of space time...maybe some satellites."

"Cool."

They stood waiting for a long time. Students took turns using the professor's telescope, though clouds started to roll in and there wasn't much of a view of anything.

Troy was just starting to feel sleepy and think about going home when he heard murmurs and gasps from around him. Abed's bony elbow poked him in the side.

"I'm awake, Mom."

"Look at that."

"Look at what?"

But as he asked it, Troy realized what Abed must have been referring to. A bright orange light was passing through the night sky, visible even through the cloud cover.

"What's that?"

"UFO?"

"Possibly. It's approaching the earth pretty quickly."

"Maybe it's damaged."

"It's heading right for us!"

"Duck!"

Most of the class dropped to the ground and covered their heads. Leonard, with a lot of grumbling, was only able to manage a half-sit, half-lean against a parked car, pulling out a flask and drinking something that didn't smell much at all like special drink.

Abed and Troy stayed upright, staring straight at the object, as it grew larger and larger...and then disappeared.

-

Tuesday

Troy was a little bummed that they hadn't met any aliens last night. For a moment he had thought they were going to make first contact, or possibly get probed, or maybe have to fight a whole fleet and destroy the mother ship to defend planet Earth. Instead, it was just another morning of waking up and going to school.

"There's no such thing as aliens, Troy," Annie said, in that little voice that just like because she knew how to do long division and get juice stains out or the carpet, she knew everything. "You probably just saw a meteor. They usually burn up in the atmosphere before they reach earth."

"But there wasn't a meteor shower scheduled for last night," Britta argued. "And as a matter of fact, unexplained astronomical phenomena like this happen all the time, but the Man doesn't want you to know about it – "

Right on schedule, a groan from the whole group cut Britta off.

"I think it sounds like a fun night," Shirley said. "Maybe God was sending one of his angels – "

Louder groans.

"It sounds like you two were conned into putting several extra hours of work into a class for the same number of units as any other class." Jeff smirked. "Now, if you'd signed up for Statistics of Poker with me, none of this would have happened.

"Right," Troy said. "And how much are you in debt to Pierce, again?"

Jeff flushed. "That's not the –

"$1,037, a bottle of Riesling, and two promises to hang out for 'guy time,' the activity and timing of which are to be chosen by Pierce at a future date," Abed recited on cue.

"He cheats!"

"Thanks for that, Abed," Pierce said. "Honestly, Jeff has lost so much and embarrassed himself so much, I can hardly keep track of it myself. It's exhausting."

"It's senility."

Abed pointed first at Pierce, then at Jeff. "If he's senile, how does he keep beating you?"

Jeff started grabbing his stuff. "Don't you all have class right now?"

-

Troy didn't notice the new girl in Astronomy until Abed pointed her out. She was slouched down in the second row, twirling a pen through her red hair, kicking her feet up on the chair in front of her, and paying zero attention to the professor. In other words, she looked like a typical Greendale student.

"She wasn't here before," Abed said.

"It's only the second week. Maybe she had to drop something else."

"Hm." Abed tilted his head, like he was thinking about something and couldn't fit the pieces together, so he had to shift them around in his mind. "I've never seen her before. She's not a Greendale student."

Troy felt his heart start to beat a little faster at the way Abed said that – like there was some big mystery going on, instead of just a new slacker enrolling. Still, he had to be sure. "So maybe she's new."

"Maybe." Abed looked at him. "Or maybe this has something to do with the UFO from last night."

"You think?"

"Almost positive. A strange, unexplained light in the night sky...the next day, a stranger shows up with no identity, an individualistic cowboy attitude, no memory of her past – "

"No memory?"

"I'm extrapolating a little. But it's way too much convenient to be just a coincidence."

"What do you think we should do?"

"All we can do for now is observe. If she is connected to the aliens somehow, we don't want them to know that we're onto them. They could get upset."

"If they get upset, does that mean butt-stuff?"

"Butt-stuff, and not in the fun way."

"Got it." Troy slouched down in his own chair, avoiding the scrutiny of the girl who hadn't, so far as he knew, even looked at him once. Just in case. He wished he had something he could put on to look more nonchalant.

Abed, as though reading his mind, pulled out two pairs of mirrored sunglasses. Troy put his on and sat there through the rest of class, barely hearing anything as the professor dodged questions from the class about what they had seen last night.

"He's way out of his league," Abed whispered at one point. "He'll be lucky if the CIA doesn't come knocking on his door in the next day or two."

Abed said that in a little of a Jeff Goldblum voice. Which would make Troy Will Smith. He was cool with that, as long as he didn't have to drag an alien through the desert. Which he probably wouldn't have to, since the nearest desert to Greendale was like a thousand miles away. Unless this turned into an international adventure, like if there was an alien fugitive and they had to track it down though strange places that were really all just Vancouver dressed up funny. Or maybe the alien would just escape to Vancouver, like if their spaceships were powered by maple syrup –

At this point Abed elbowed him again. Troy had gotten so tied up in thinking about Canadian aliens that he'd totally lost track of the mission. Couldn't let that happen again. Especially since class was over, and the alien was on the move.

She grabbed her messenger bag from the ground (didn't have any notebooks or textbooks to collect; seemed like she hadn't done a very good job of studying their culture before trying to immerse herself in it. Or, well, this was Greendale, so actually that was pretty smart) and turned to walk to the door. She caught sight of them looking at her and she frowned.

Damn! How had she seen past their nonchalant glasses? No time to panic. Troy had to diffuse the situation, chase any doubts about them out of her mind, and make it clear that they were just a couple of regular students, with no thoughts of aliens or UFOs or maple syrup in their mind.

He stood and, without smiling, looking a foot to the left of her, said, "Howdy, miss."

"Do you mind?" the girl pointed at him, and Troy almost recoiled. There was no way of knowing what the alien could do with her finger. Maybe she could shoot lasers from it! Man, aliens had all the best superpowers. He wanted laser fingers.

"Sorry, miss, what's that?"

"You're in my way."

"So you're just going to annihilate me?"

The girl frowned. "No, I'm going to walk around you, if you won't move six inches to the left."

"Oh. Right." The glasses limited his range of vision a little bit. Troy scooted the desired inches and held his arm out, pointing the way. "After you."

The alien looked like she wasn't sure she wanted to walk that way any more. Clearly, she knew he suspected her. But after a moment, she slipped past. Troy thought he heard her mutter something.

"Good work, Agent T." Apparently Abed was doing Men in Black instead of Independence Day. Which meant Troy still got to be Will Smith, so that was okay. "We have confirmation."

"Why do you say that?"

"As the alien was passing, she said something about 'local life forms'. Clearly she's here on a mission to study us."

"And learn our weaknesses?"

Abed frowned. "I'm not sure. She didn't sound hostile."

"Maybe her species is all females, and they need earth men to help them procreate their species."

"Possible, though they might be looking into cloning alternatives or good old-fashioned body snatching. We're going to have to get closer to her, to figure out what she's after."

"How do we do that? We don't know where she's gone, or who she is."

Abed stared in silence for the appropriate amount of time to build dramatic tension. "I have a feeling we'll see her again."

-

It was Troy's turn to make dinner. When they first moved in together, Troy and Abed just kind of let things like dinner and shopping for groceries and taking the trash out happen whenever they would, but now that Annie had joined the apartment, they had all kinds of schedules for things.

It was kind of nice not having take-out for every meal, or having to chew on ice cubes because that was the closest thing to food in the kitchen. And while Troy wasn't allowed to make whatever he wanted when it was his turn to cook (Pringles pudding was approved for dessert and midnight snacks, but not as a main course), it did mean he could make animal-shaped macaroni if he felt like it.

Except today, he was sort of distracted, and ended up not quite appreciating the orange, gooey menagerie in front of him as much as he might have normally.

"Did you guys have a good day at school?" Annie asked. She was wearing a little cardigan. Troy reminded himself that she was actually younger than him, and not his mom at all, but subconsciously he felt his posture straighten up a little at the way she said it.

"Yeah, me and Troy met someone."

"Really? Someone cute?" Annie asked, in what she clearly thought was a sly way. Troy could teach her a think or two about being sneaky.

"She was okay," Troy answered.

Annie looked a little put out that it was a girl. But just for a second. (Or two.) "What's her name?"

"We don't know."

"Oh, well, where'd you meet her?"

Troy and Abed looked at each other, wordlessly debating how much to tell Annie about the situation. After all, Troy reasoned, you didn't keep secrets from your friends lightly. Plus, Annie was smart; she could help them figure out what the aliens were after. But without knowing more, they couldn't be sure that they wouldn't just be putting her in danger by telling her about it.

Annie cleared her throat. Troy jumped, and figured he and Abed had maybe been staring a little longer than they meant to. "I'm guessing this was after lunch, since that's the last time I saw you," she said, and pulled a little day planner out of her purse. "And today, the class you had after lunch was...Astronomy."

"You have all our classes in there?" Troy leaned over to take a closer look, and Annie slammed the planner shut in his face.

"Of course! What if there was an emergency and I had to be able to locate you?"

"Can I see it?"

"No!"

"But...it's my schedule."

"So then why do you need to see it?"

Annie and Troy stared at each other for a long moment.

"She was in our Astronomy class," Abed said suddenly. "I've never seen her around campus before."

"Well, what does she look like? Can you describe her?"

"Annie, you don't need to worry," Troy said. "She's totally human."

"Um...okay."

"Oy-tray," Abed whispered in their secret language. "Ix-nay on the uman-hay."

"You guys know that I speak Pig Latin, right?"

"Am-scray!"

Abed and Troy jumped up from the table and made a break for the front door.

Annie's voice followed them. "Abed, it's your turn to do the dishes!"

-

Wednesday

Abed did the dishes. Eventually.

-

Thursday

Troy thought maybe Annie was going to ask them more about the alien, but around the apartment she was super absorbed in something, to the point of just waving at them when they asked her questions, and at school, they barely saw her except during study sessions, when she remained resolutely focused on the subject at hand and left as soon as possible.

Troy and Abed kept an eye on the alien during Astronomy, but after two more classes, they hadn't seen her try to eat anyone or use super-advanced technology or speak in an undecipherable language or sprout extra limbs – or really do anything except slouch, in the same seat, and stare off into space. If Troy didn't know any better, she'd just have looked like any other Greendale student.

They debated whether they should try to follow her back to her mother ship, but Abed raised a point Troy hadn't thought of:

"What if she's exerting mind-control over Annie?"

"What do you mean?"

"Annie's been preoccupied the last couple days. Ever since the UFO crashed on Earth."

"Yeah, but Annie's always preoccupied. She's probably just studying for a test or planning a school-wide rally or rescuing puppies."

"Annie doesn't have any tests," Abed said, and Troy didn't doubt him. Annie kept track of everyone's schedules in her planner, but Abed just knew these things, without having to look them up. If Troy didn't know Abed was in his corner, always, he would find it kind of scary. "And if she was planning something for the school, she would already have tried to get everyone to help out with it."

Troy thought about the anti-drug play, and the STD fair, and the Model UN, (and the candlelight vigil protest, and the Dia de los Muertos party, and, and, and), and thought Abed was probably right. "So what do we do?"

"The alien's probably using her to get to us. So far we haven't done anything too suspicious; maybe she'll get bored and let Annie go."

"And if she doesn't?"

Abed looked appropriately grim. He hadn't taken the sunglasses off in two days, not even to sleep. Troy checked. "Then we'll deal with that when it happens."

-

Friday

Annie was late for their study group meeting. No one else had seemed to notice (they were all gossiping about the double-or-nothing sudden death poker match that Jeff had challenged Pierce too, and whether or not you could even have "sudden death" poker, and if the whole thing should be televised like celebrity poker tournaments, and whether Pierce was lying when he said he had celebrities friends that he could get to come play with them to raise money for charity, and what charities should they donate for anyway).

Troy tried not to look at Abed. He already knew they were thinking the same thing. No, there wasn't sudden death poker, but there totally should be. Also, that the alien must have gotten to Annie. There was no way she'd be late to a study session; she was the only one who ever even did any studying, anyway.

He was starting to wish they had followed the alien, or at least figured out where she went when she wasn't in class, or at least what her name was, when Annie came striding into the library, beaming from ear to ear and totally not in need of a heroic rescue. Troy tried not to be disappointed.

"Hello, everyone!" Annie turned back to the woman who was following her. "Myka, these are my friends Jeff, Britta, Abed, Troy, Pierce, and Shirley. Guys, this is Myka Bering."

Everyone in the group said some variation on "hello," the most welcoming probably being Shirley's "it's so nice to meet you," and the creepiest being a toss up between Jeff's "Hello" and Pierce's "Nice legs."

"Hi," Myka said, smiling with limited sincerity. "I've heard a lot about you guys."

"Are you a student here?" Shirley asked, as Annie took her usual seat and guided Myka into the empty spot next to Jeff.

"No, I'm just visiting."

At "visit," Abed and Troy looked at each other quickly, but turned back to Myka, in case she noticed. She hadn't.

"Myka is a Secret Service officer," Annie said proudly, and talked quickly and loudly to cover up whatever rebellious mutterings Britta had at that point. "Freshman year of high school, the students in Troy's and my class were partnered with successful professionals who could give us advice and inspiration to keep working hard. Myka's told me all about being in a high-stress environment, and working as a woman in a man's field, and all kinds of things."

"Hey, I remember that project," Troy said, for a moment not thinking about aliens. "I got matched with some guy at a bank. You just had to write them one letter and turn it in to the teacher."

"That was the minimum requirement, Troy," Annie said, a little disapprovingly. "But Myka's been like a mentor to me. She's part of the reason I am where I am today."

"Where you are, as in Greendale? Sounds like she really screwed you over," Jeff muttered.

"Jeff!" Annie turned her patented hurt eyes at him. "Myka's my friend, and she's here to help us out with a project I've been working on."

"Annie had a great idea to organize a career fair here at the school for law enforcement," Myka said, with only a short dirty glare at Jeff. "She's spent a lot of time finding officers to commit to coming, when she told me about it I thought it sounded like a great opportunity, and maybe I could provide a different perspective."

"A different perspective on how the fascist pigs in the capitol are holding our civil liberties hostage in their war against anyone who disagrees with them?" Britta asked smugly.

Myka leaned forward. "Mostly I thought I could explain the brilliant mind control techniques we've developed in recent years, but clearly they haven't worked on you. Give me your number, and I'll arrange for some agents to rough you up, maybe do an illegal search on your place."

Troy decided he liked Annie's friend, and probably she wasn't an alien. Would an alien using mind control on someone make a joke about mind control? Pssh.

-

Abed was still lost in thought as they headed to Astronomy, and Troy decided it was time to find out why.

"This Myka dropping by all of a sudden," Abed told him. "I don't like it. It's too convenient."

"She seems pretty human to me," Troy said.

"Me too. But she could still be connected to it all. Especially since she's a Secret Service agent."

"You think she's tracking the alien, too?" Troy dropped his voice to a whisper. "I thought the CIA handled that kind of thing!"

"Good point," Abed thought for a second. "Maybe she's a CIA agent going undercover."

"Undercover as a Secret Service agent?"

"Why not? It's brilliant. The aliens will assume the government is busy tracking human crime."

"Why wouldn't she just go undercover as something not in the government?"

"That walking regulation book? She'd never be able to pull it off."

"I don't know, she got pretty snarky with Britta..."

By this time they had reached Astronomy. The alien was already in her usual seat, but something was different.

Troy pulled Abed out of the doorway and back into the hallway.

"Did you see that?"

"See what?" Abed asked, then paused and replayed the last few moments in his mind. "She changed her hair."

"She changed her hair," Troy repeated, sneaking a look back into the room. Last time, the alien's hair had been red with a green streak; now it was red with a purple streak. "What does it mean?"

"I don't know, but I don't like it," Abed answered grimly. "We've been dancing around the issue too long. The government's here now, and the alien's changing her behavior. We need to make our move before it all blows up in our faces."

"Agreed," Troy nodded seriously, postponing their mission just long enough for a handshake with Abed.

They entered the room quickly and, instead of taking up residence in the back row, sat on either side of the alien.

"Greetings," Abed said, polite but not too friendly. Troy echoed him with a second, "Greetings."

The alien looked back and forth at them for a moment. "Okay, I'll play along. 'Greetings' to you, too. Any special reason you're wearing your sunglasses inside, or do you just like feeling like a Corey Heart song?"

"They serve their purpose." Troy thought that sounded rather reasonable.

"Yeah, those fluorescent lights can be killer," the alien said.

"We noticed you're new around here." Abed made it sound like a question.

"I noticed that you guys have been watching me like creepers since my first day. Is that a tradition here at Greendale?"

Troy broke character for a minute. "Pretty much. Have you met Starburns?"

The alien actually smiled. "God, what is with that guy? If you're going to spend that much time on your facial hair you could at least try and bring back the lost art of the mutton chop."

"Well he did shave them off once. For charity, he said. We think maybe they caught on fire," Abed told her.

"Ouch. How did that go?"

"Well, no one could recognize him for five weeks until they grew back out."

"And it was heartbreaking for everyone, I'm sure," the alien deadpanned. "That doesn't really explain this little welcome party here."

Troy put on his most business-like voice. "We just wanted to introduce ourselves. We were a little surprised to see you, honestly. Don't get a lot of newcomers this time of year."

The alien shrugged. "My living situation's been a little up in the air, lately. It's been throwing off my plans."

"We understand that can be trying," Troy answered. "Arriving suddenly in a new place..."

"...surrounded by strangers..." Abed added

"...with an entirely different culture..."

The alien frowned. "Okay, I just moved here from South Dakota, it's like a ten hour drive, tops."

"Regardless," Troy said, in his grown-up voice. "We're here for you if you need anything."

"All right, thanks, guys." The alien looked thoughtful. "You know, I could use some help getting caught up on what I missed the last two weeks."

"Not a problem."

"And then there's the other little thing."

Here it was. Alien stuff, coming in fast. Troy stayed stoic behind his sunglasses, while inside he was flailing. "Yes?"

"Two small but oh so critical pieces of information."

He gulped. "Yes?"

The alien pointed to her right and her left, arms crossing over each other like Bugs Bunny giving someone bad directions. "Do you two have names, or do I just call you Thing 1 and Thing 2?"

"Abed," Troy said, and simultaneously:

"Troy," Abed said.

The alien looked back and forth for a second. "Not to make an ass out of you and me, but you guys did just introduce each other and not yourselves, right?"

Together, they chimed, "Right."

"Gotcha." The alien pointed at herself. "Claudia."

"Nice to meet you, Claudia." Abed held his hand out for a businesslike shake.

"Likewise, I think."

-

Saturday

Any thoughts Troy might have had about alien investigation (that being investigation of aliens, not investigation by an alien) was put on hold when Annie came and woke them up at 7 in the morning, smelling like coffee and Sharpies and work.

Troy didn't even open his eyes (or even wake up, really) as he muttered, "Tomorrow, Claudia, I'll help you build the elf city tomorrow." Okay, some of that might have been from a dream.

He felt like someone dumped a bucket of ice cold water on him when he heard a voice say, "Are those footie pajamas? With little bitty trucks?"

Troy shot bolt upright, protesting, "They're fire trucks. That's like the manliest thing on Earth."

"Alligator wrestling," Abed pointed out.

"They're the second manliest thing," Troy corrected.

Annie's government friend Myka was just staring at them, not smiling in that way that totally meant someone was smiling. "I didn't even know they made footie pajama onesies in grown-up sizes."

"Well, they do." Troy stood up, with his most mature attitude, and said, "Welcome to our humble abode, Agent Bering. Can I get you anything?"

"Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Barnes, but no. Annie already showed me to the coffee maker." Myka looked around the apartment. "I'll admit, this isn't quite what I expected Annie's place would look like."

It wasn't what Troy had expected, either. The place was significantly cleaner than it had been when he'd gone to sleep just hours ago. Which meant Annie had been cleaning while they were asleep again, and was the carpet vacuumed? How the hell did she vacuum without waking them up?

"Well, you know, we do what we can," Annie chirped, and waved her hands dismissively like she hadn't been up all night making the place look good. "Guys, I thought you'd like to help us get stuff ready for the law enforcement career fair."

Troy thought about saying "no" and going back to sleep, but he looked over at Abed.

Abed gave him a tiny shake of the head.

Well, he was already awake at this point. "Sure, that sounds like fun," Troy said. How long could it take, after all?

"Great!" Annie pulled out a few thick packets of paper and handed one to each of them. They turned out to be (color-coded) (fifteen page) schedules of the day's work.

"Great," Troy echoed.

As he sat down to in front of a blank piece of poster board, he thought he saw Myka watching him. When he looked up, she just smiled at him sympathetically.

Maybe she wasn't that bad.

And if she was here, that meant she wasn't hunting aliens.

Troy wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

-

Sunday

Annie had reached the "frazzled" part of her work cycle (there was: inspired, cheery, determined, tired, fake cheery, frazzled, so freaked out she came back around to being zen, and finally, accomplished. Troy got tired just watching), so Troy felt a little bad for taking the day off from helping her plan the career fair, but only a little. He thought maybe he was getting carpool tunnel syndrome (his hand did feel like an underground road that had been driven on a lot, but he still thought that phrase was weird). And anyway, with Myka helping Annie out, this was the perfect time to check in with Claudia the Alien.

It was kind of disappointing she didn't have an awesome alien name, but probably Claudia was just a code name to avoid suspicion. Her real name was probably Uqa or Rlhxu or Amber or something.

Annie let them go when she told them they were helping a friend with class work, though she did ask, so casually that it had to be an act, "So is this that Claire girl you're meeting up with?"

"Claudia," Abed answered. "Also, yes."

"She sounds nice," Annie said. "Sure seems like you guys are hanging out with her a lot lately."

"Not really."

"Barely at all."

"Well, you should introduce me sometime," Annie said firmly. "Bring her to the career fair! It'll be a blast."

"Sure thing," Troy called out behind them as they left the apartment (that they hadn't left all of Saturday. Man, Troy didn't work this hard on any of this own projects, even).

"Did you see that?" Abed asked, once they were a safe distance away from the building and any listening devices it might contain.

"See what?"

"The look on Agent Bering's face when I mentioned Claudia's name."

Troy thought back to it. "She just looked...normal. She didn't react at all."

"Exactly," Abed said. "Which is what you'd expect from a professional who was hiding the fact that she knew who we were talking about."

"Whoa," Troy said. He felt goosebumps on his back. No, wait, that was just his shirt bunching up weird under his jacket. He tugged at it. "Do you think Annie knows about Claudia?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Annie knows Myka from before, and Myka's an alien hunter. How do we know for sure that they weren't lying about how they met?"

"Hm." Abed had his thinking face on, the one he got when he tried to explain the plot holes in the Star Wars movies. "Agent Bering is on unfamiliar turf here. It's possible she brought Annie in on it to get some inside information."

"Annie did seem dead set on getting us to bring Claudia to the career fair."

"An alien in a building full of men in black."

"And women in black."

"And women," Abed nodded. "Sounds like a trap."

"Only one way to know for sure."

-

"So, hey," Troy said over chow mein and star charts. "Our friend Annie is throwing this thing next week."

"A party?" Claudia asked, shoveling more Chinese food onto her plate.

"An Annie-version of a party," Troy answered.

"Which is not a party at all," Abed clarified.

"It's like a career fair."

Claudia raised an eyebrow. "It's like a career fair because..."

"It is a career fair," Troy finished.

Abed nodded. "Yeah, it's not so much 'like' as it is 'exactly the same as'."

"Ah, employment," Claudia sighed. "That great big unattainable dream in the sky. Sounds delightfully monotonous."

"There'll be free snacks."

"I'm in."

"Great," Troy said in a fake casual voice that was way more convincing than Annie's fake casual voice. "We'll let Agent Bering know that there's one more RSVP."

Claudia held up two fingers. "Two questions: One, did you just pronounce the acronym R-S-V-P like it was a word, despite it not having any vowels, and two, 'agent'?"

Troy shook his head. "Dude, v can be a vowel sometimes. It's funky like that."

For some reason, Claudia and Abed looked at each other in that wordless communication thing that Abed usually did with Troy. Troy didn't know what they were communicating, exactly, but they seemed to come to some kind of conclusion.

Abed took over the explanation. "Agent Bering is a friend of Annie's. She's helping set it up. And she's going to be one of the speakers. It's a law enforcement focused career fair."

Claudia rolled her eyes. "Great, a room full of cops. My favorite."

"Something wrong with cops?" Abed asked intently.

Claudia shrugged. "It's no biggie, they just make me uncomfortable sometimes. I did some stupid shit when I was a kid, got into a little trouble."

Troy got swept up in a wave of nostalgia. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Man, those were the good old days."

"Speaking of stupid shit," Claudia said, tapping on the star chart in front of them. "What exactly is this I hear about weekly midnight labs?"

Troy nodded. "That's the downside of the class."

"One of the downsides," Abed added.

"It's like if the class is one of those number things you roll in Dungeons and Dragons, with all the sides on them, the midnight labs are a side that faces downward, but maybe not the very bottom one." Troy made a series of hand gestures that he hoped illustrated his point. The chopsticks made it a little difficult.

"Gotcha, we failed our saving throw against a social life," Claudia nodded. "But what are we supposed to do out there besides freeze to death and debate who we'll kill first for food?"

Abed rattled off the answer. "Identify the constellations, chart the phase of the moon, and note any unusual phenomenon." As the last item slipped out, both he and Troy glanced at each other with wide eyes.

Claudia didn't pick up on the significance of the phrase. She just snorted. "What, unusual phenomenon like rain? There's nothing we can do outside that we couldn't do with a star chart or a planetarium, except suffer. I think Baker's a sadist."

"It's not all bad," Abed said. "Last week we saw a satellite crash."

Claudia looked genuinely interested in something for the first time since Troy had met her. "Really? Where?"

"Well, we didn't actually see it on the ground," Troy admitted. "But it got pretty close. And it was glowing like crazy. Annie says it probably burned up before it hit the ground, but I don't know. I think it's still out in the woods somewhere."

Troy played it cool, but he could see Abed in the corner of his eye, carefully scrutinizing Claudia's face as she took in this piece of information.

Claudia reverted back to indifference. "That would be pretty cool. You gonna eat that spring roll?"

-

By the time Troy and Abed returned to the apartment, Agent Bering had departed for the night.

The signs of their progress hung all around the apartment – giant to-do lists with all the items checked off, informational sheets printed out, other odds and ends (was that a police car piñata and oh my god it totally was and why didn't Troy get to help out with the coolest part of the whole thing?).

Annie was hunched over the table, which was a total mess (and the fact that it was okay for Annie to make a mess for her schoolwork and not for Troy and Abed to make a mess for their TV, or even for Abed's film projects, felt like a total double standard, but Troy tried to bring that up one time and got three words out before Annie turned the Bambi eyes on him and he somehow ended up making her balloon animals to apologize for her own mess). She gave them the world's tiniest smile when they came in, and her voice even sounded tired when she asked, "So how did the studying go?"

"Pretty good," Troy answered. "Oh, and you'll be glad to know that Claudia's coming to the career fair."

"Great!" Annie actually seemed revitalized by that, which Troy thought was a good sign, until he looked closer and saw a touch of mania in Annie's eyes. "You know, it'll be so good getting to know her. You know, her being the new kid in school and all, I remember how hard that was. Well, not being the new kid in school, maybe, but being the new kid in rehab was very hard. We should have thrown her some kind of welcome party."

"Um...Annie? People float in and out of Greendale all the time, and all the party they get is one of the Dean's bad speeches."

"We got cake on our first day, remember?" Annie pressed on.

"So, you want to get her some cake or something?"

"I don't know, I thought I should at least say hello. She's in Astronomy, right? So she'll be at that lab tomorrow night?"

"Yeah," Troy said cautiously.

"Okay, so I could go with you guys and meet her there." Annie nodded like it was decided. "Besides, I hear Professor Baker has a really cool telescope."

Troy felt his mind splitting in two ways, which felt kind of like when his brain wrinkled, but not exactly. On the one hand, Annie was getting that tone of voice she had when Other Annie started beating her at stuff, or any other time that some new girl showed up who could challenge Annie's specialness. Which was ridiculous, because nobody could challenge Annie's specialness, especially not an alien. But Troy couldn't tell Annie that Claudia was an alien, especially not if Annie was working with Agent Bering, which was the other way Troy's mind was splitting, and wow, no wonder so maybe people who dealt with aliens ended up crazy. Troy's brain hurt.

Fortunately, Abed stepped up. "Are you sure? You've been working pretty hard on this career fair. I don't think what you really need is staying up past midnight out in the cold for an assignment that's not even for one of your classes."

"Don't be silly! It'll be fun."

And that was the last anyone got to say about that.

-

Monday

"Ah, the grandeur of the great outdoors, the beauty of the heavens, the majesty and wonder of the cosmos." Claudia gestured theatrically at the overcast sky, stamping her feet to stay warm.

"Well, look on the bright side," Annie said. "We can study cloud formations. Oh, and talk about precipitation! I know a fun little song."

"Wonderful," Claudia muttered, pulling her hood up. "I'm going to cover my ears, but I swear that's just for warmth and not for noise cancellation, I swear."

"Oh." Annie's smile dimmed a little. "I can sing it later, that's okay."

Troy and Abed stood a few feet apart and simply observed.

"It's like putting an aardvark next to a jellyfish," Troy whispered. "It's like, they're swimming around like they've never seen each other before and they're afraid of shocking each other, and also one of them has tentacles."

"Does that make Claudia the jellyfish?"

"Does she have tentacles?"

"Probably not," Abed said. "I don't know where she'd hide them, she wears pretty tight pants."

Troy looked over at Claudia to check for tentacles. No sign of them anywhere, and the girls were drifting back their way, so he broke off the search and faked a totally innocent conversation with Abed. "So, yeah, Batman spaghetti green."

Claudia gave him a bit of a funny look, but Annie wasn't even phased enough to look over at him. Success.

"Apparently we missed the exciting night," Claudia told Annie. "Space debris falling to earth."

"It probably didn't make it all the way to the earth," Annie corrected.

"Yeah, Mario and Luigi told me you were a skeptic," Claudia said, and ignored Troy and Abed's flurry of gestures back and forth, attempting to discern which was which. "Come on, Edison," Claudia continued. "Where's your sense of adventure?"

Annie sniffed. "I love adventure. As long as I've had a chance to double check the map and pack appropriately and – "

Claudia cut her off. "So you probably wouldn’t be interested in going looking for the meteor."

"No, because there's nothing to find. Adventure is one thing, but pointless wandering in a forest at night is just silly."

"Yeah, silly, or totally awesome," Claudia said. "And who knows? The earth gets hit by a few hundred meteorites every year."

"That's an estimate," Annie said. "The chance of there being one on this particular occasion isn't very likely."

Claudia shrugged. "Maybe, but it's one hundred percent likely to be more interesting than sitting around here watching Leonard bully Gary out of his turn at the telescope. Come on."

"Pretty irrefutable logic," Abed pointed out.

Annie huffed. "If you're all so determined to go wandering around, I should go with you and make sure you don't hurt yourself."

Claudia grinned at Annie. "Why, do my eyes deceive me, or do we have a bona fide Girl Scout with us?"

"There's no need to be so condescending. I'm certified in First Aid, CPR, water rescue, edible plant – "

"Whoa, hey, no condescension intended," Claudia held up her hands in surrender. "I have the utmost respect for women of all uniforms. Never could get the hang of Girl Scouts, myself," she added. "I kept picking fights with the other Brownies. Little badge-wearing bitches..." She didn't seem to notice that she'd trailed off.

There was a silent moment.

"I'm sensing a whole lot of unresolved issues right up in here," Troy circled her hand to indicate Claudia's general direction. That snapped her out of her funk. "And maybe right now isn't the prime moment for that."

"Yeah, we should probably just go."

The four had just reached the tree line when:

"Wait!" Professor Baker ran up after them, panting. "Where do you all think you're going?"

"Um...bathroom break?" Troy suggested.

"Find a friendly bush," Claudia added.

The professor raised an eyebrow. "All four of you?"

Annie stepped forward and flashed her best 'teacher's pet, I'd never do anything against the rules' smile (which against all logic totally worked, despite Annie not even being in this class or ever having met this professor before). "Well, Claudia really has to go, and I have to go with her – buddy system, you know – and it's not safe out in the woods for two women alone at night. You wouldn't want us to endanger ourselves, would you?"

"Well, no, of course – "

"Great!" Annie chirped. "We'll be right back."

She spun on her heel and grabbed Claudia by the arm, pulling her along.

"Nice moves, Goody Two-Shoes. Why the big rush, though?"

"I'm trying to lose him before he remembers that there's a public restroom just down the hill."

"Right."

Troy and Abed followed closely behind the girls. Abed and Annie switched their flashlights on, but it was still slow going through the trees. They took up single file, with Annie leading the way and Troy bringing up the rear.

The path they were on wasn't much of a path. It didn't look like any humans had walked down it for a long time. Maybe aliens, if they were really small, like ET. Except Claudia was big and person-sized. Maybe she changed shape and got bigger and more human. And if she could do that, maybe she could turn into a bear, which would be awesome, though a bear would probably have an even harder time on this trail. Maybe a deer. Or a bunny...

"Where about was it heading?" Claudia asked. For some reason, she spoke in a whisper.

Abed pointed with his flashlight, up ahead and to the left. "That way." He was whispering too. Troy started to wonder what could be out in the forest that might overhear them, and how that probably wouldn't be a good thing, and he really should have brought his nunchucks. He had a duty to protect the ladies, after all.

"After you," Claudia gestured, and Annie, starting to look a little excited about the adventure, stepped off the path.

They'd hardly been walking for a minute again when Annie stopped them. "Wait."

"What?" Troy hoped they could find the alien spaceship, or meteor, or whatever it had been, soon. That story about having to find a friendly bush was getting to be a little too true.

"This doesn't look right," Annie muttered, sweeping her flashlight back and forth.

"What doesn't?" Claudia asked intensely.

"The foliage." Annie knelt and pulled at a couple of plants. "These don't grow in Colorado."

"Invasive species," Abed suggested automatically, but he didn't sound very convinced.

"I don't know," Annie admitted, a little shakily. "Look at the trees."

Troy didn't see anything special about the trees, but this was Annie asking, and he trusted Annie to know what she was talking about. So he looked, and he heard a hiss of recognition from the others, and he kept looking until he spotted it.

The trees were smaller than they had been a minute ago. Way smaller. Like, baby tree smaller.

"What the..."

"We need to backtrack," Annie said. "Obviously, we wandered into some tree nursery, out in the forest, and we should get back on the path before we squash someone's hard work."

"I wouldn't be so sure about this," Abed said. "For one thing, there's no path."

"What do you mean there's no path?" Troy asked. He was starting – in a calm, cool, mature, collected, Agent Will Smith kind of way – to lose his shit. "How can there not be a path?"

"Look behind you."

Annie, Troy, and Claudia turned, very slowly, to see what Abed had already discovered – that behind them there was nothing but trees, more trees, and all the wrong trees.

"Okay, now we really need to find the path." Annie said this with the firm conviction that just by going backwards everything would return to normal.

"No, we need to keep moving forward," Claudia insisted. "Look, something happened, right? So we just need to find out what."

"I don't know," Abed said. "If we stepped through some kind of interdimensional portal, we might be better off simply retracing our steps and passing back through it before it closes."

"You're assuming it goes both ways," Troy argued.

"Guys, enough," Annie snapped. "This isn't a TV show, this is our life. There's no such thing as interdimensional portals. We just got off track and need to get back to the group before they worry about us. Come on, let's – "

An eerie wail split through the night.

The group waited in petrified silence, not even breathing, as the sound faded from the air around them.

"Okay," Claudia said, in the quietest whisper yet. "I think Den Mother Edison has the right idea and we should get the hell away from here right now."

"Den Mother?!"

"Not the best time and – "

Another wail, louder than the first one.

Without another word, they ran.

Troy felt branches whipping him in the arms, the face; nearly tripped over a dozen roots and shrubs, but kept running. He looked back, over and over again, to check that the girls were running okay, and slowed down slightly when Annie stumbled – but she righted herself and kept running.

They'd been running for way too long. They should have blown right past the path, but it wasn't there. Nothing was right. Troy looked up at the stars, looked for one of those stupid constellations that the professor had made them spot, over and over again, and didn't find a single one.

And hadn't it been cloudy...?

He looked back from the heavens to the earth and saw Claudia slowing way down, reaching to pull something out of her pocket.

Troy kept running for a split second, but then there was another wail, and damn, he couldn't just leave her behind –

He circled back around and grabbed her. "What are you doing?"

"Calling in the cavalry," Claudia said.

He looked down at the device in her hands. "A steampunk cellphone? Really? Are you just too hipster for an iPhone?"

"Not exactly." Claudia flipped open the lid to expose the weirdest phone Troy had ever seen. There were no numbers, no call button, just a large round screen, fully of static. "Oh, shit."

"Come on, there's something out there and it doesn't sound nice."

"There's something in here that doesn't sound nice! I should be able to get someone."

"Maybe you don't have service."

"I always have service." Claudia tore open the back panel, exposing the guts of the machine, but could barely see anything. Annie and Abed had the flashlights. Shoot, if only one of them were here –

"This is not the time for this," Troy grabbed Claudia and pulled her along. She tore her arm free but ran alongside him.

Damn, it really was dark out here. They should have found the lights of civilization by now. It was like cars and streetlights and all that had just disappeared –

Troy's foot found a root, in the darkness, and clung to it. Troy fell to the ground, heavily, the wind knocked out of him.

He heard feet approaching. Claudia's face popped into his world view. "Troy! Troy, are you okay?"

Another eerie call of death from whatever currently-and-hopefully-eternally unseen creature was out in the night. Yeah, it was definitely following them.

"I'm..." Troy wheezed, unable to say any more.

"Shit," Claudia muttered. "Guys! Guys, Troy's hurt, I need help back here!"

From so far away, Troy heard Abed call back. "Where are you?"

"Follow my voice!" Claudia yelled.

"Quiet," Troy grunted. "It'll...find us."

"It's probably nothing. You need help. Abed! Over here!"

Abed appeared from the brush, dropping to his knees beside Troy. "You okay, buddy? Need a hand up?"

"I think he needs a whole body up, maybe two," Claudia said.

"I got this," Abed assured her. "I'm stronger than I look. Here, you take the flashlight."

Abed pulled him back up to his feet with on smooth motion, keeping one of Troy's arms over his shoulders. "Think you can move?"

"I can try," Troy wheezed.

"It's not over 'til the fat lady sings."

"Thought we were doing...Men In Black."

"We can do both."

"All right, this is touching, now let's go!" Claudia waved them forward with the flashlight, but before they could move –

It jumped out of the bushes like a nightmare, or that zombie in Dead Attack: Bloodlust that kept killing Troy on the same level, over and over.

Troy was aware of his brain shutting off at the sight of it. He could only take in fractions of thoughts, like:

teeth

claws

scales

teeth

tail

teeth

dinosaur?

TEETH

"G-guys," a voice said from somewhere in the darkness. Troy knew that voice, but at this moment, everything outside of the velociraptor that had come to kill them just ceased to exist. "G-guys, that's a dinosaur right? A mother fucking dinosaur. A fucking...fuck...dinosaur."

"A velociraptor," another voice said. How were they even making their mouths make sounds right now when there was a dinosaur about to devour them while they were alive. "Jurassic Park."

"Oh, well, that's good to know it's a mother fucking – "

The velociraptor opened its mouth to expose its hideous, terrible, life destroying teeth, and ROAR at them.

The sound woke Troy up again, physically if not mentally. His brain was programmed to run from sounds like that, and it did. It turn and ran, Claudia and Abed beside him, and ran and ran and ran and ran smack dab into Leonard, knocking him over.

"Now look what you've done," the octogenarian grumped. "You owe me a new hip, boy."

"Shut up, Leonard," Troy said, still on auto-pilot, though part of him was starting to remember its basic functions besides running. Like, looking around.

They were back with the class, the professor giving them dirty looks, and Annie just looking at them with big eyes, like she thought she could write words with her brain and send them through her eyeballs into his ears. Which would be pretty cool.

"Oh look," Claudia said weakly. "We're home."

"And you got some 'splainin' to do," Abed told her.

"You know that Ricky never actually – "

"Trust me," Troy sighed. "He knows."

On to Part 2...

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