Derek A. Schneider is an indie author of multiple genres living with his wife and five kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. After trying for some time to break into the comic book industry with his artwork, Derek decided to instead focus fully on writing. Derek’s most recent works include the dark mystery novel The Goat, YA fantasy Franklin Stewart and the Mourning Mansion, and the upcoming steampunk/horror adventure Ghost Hunter Z.
Electric pulses shot into long atrophied muscles.
Kavidian had started the re-animation process nearly two Earth weeks before, when the anomaly had first appeared on her scanners. Captain Karen Stills moved her fingers with the first signs of wakefulness. As the capsule door slid open with a hiss, she lifted her still weak arms and rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands. For several more minutes she struggled with consciousness.
Kavidian removed the feeding tube and IV from the captain’s arms. Slowly, Karen swung her legs over the side of the capsule. She stood carefully, testing her newly awakened muscles.
“Kavidian, coffee,” she commanded. The ship complied with the gurgling sounds of brewing joe.
After getting dressed and taking her first few sips of coffee, the captain began to feel renewed strength in her body. It would still be weeks before she was a hundred percent, but at least she could walk to the bridge. The halls of the ship hummed to life as light sensors picked up her movement and illuminated her path. As she entered the bridge she was left breathless by the sight through the viewport. A nebula lit up space with shades of pink and purple.
“Kavidian, how long have we slept?” Captain Stills asked.
The feminine voice of the ships computer system replied. “Two hundred and seventy-three years, twenty-seven days, eight hours, thirty-six minutes and ten seconds.”
“Are you serious?” came a voice from the entrance to the bridge. Captain Stills turned to find Commander Charles Benton gaping at the viewport with a Miami Dolphins coffee mug held in check halfway to his mouth, his black hair long and disheveled, his beard long and unkempt. “Kavidian, show flight path.”
A hologram of the Milky Way galaxy appeared in the middle of the room with a short line that revealed the progress the ship had made since leaving Earth.
“Nearly three hundred years and that’s all the further we’ve gone?” Benton complained.
Karen knew the man had no mind for science. As a soldier, it was his physical prowess alone that garnered him a place on the mission.
“Even if we had the capability of light speed it would take nearly forty thousand years to reach the other side of our galaxy,” Karen explained.
“So why did the ship wake us?”
“I was just about to ask that myself. Kavidian, what have you found?”
“An anomaly has appeared within the nearby nebula. My sensors indicate the presence of a wormhole.”
Others from the ship’s crew were starting to trickle in now. Scientists and engineers for the most part, but there were a handful of soldiers along with Commander Benton. Karen hoped they weren’t being brought out of sleep for no reason. Moving to the captain’s chair with her coffee still in hand, she continued her dialogue with the sentient computer aboard the ship. “Kavidian, system report.”
“All systems are running at maximum capacity. I am fully operational and await further instruction.”
A wormhole. It was one of only a handful of reason’s they’d be brought out of sleep, but not the one they’d hoped for. Without a planet that could support life filling the ship’s viewport, this very well could be nothing, but she had to follow protocol. She turned to the crowd gathering on the bridge. “Alright, can I have everyone’s attention? Crew members, report to your stations. Everyone else should find a seat and strap in.”
As the crowd dispersed, Karen moved to her monitor and searched her inbox for any transmission from Command. She was surprised to find there had been no communication with Earth since they’d left. Regardless, she transmitted her own message which included what they had found and their exact coordinates.
Turning back to the bridge, she found her crew in place and awaiting her orders. “Shields up. Engage thrusters. Full speed ahead, Mr. Rain. Let us see where this wormhole takes us.”
Mr. Rain complied and the ship picked up speed. As they drew closer to the nebula, Karen could make out the wormhole. A subtle waver in the area of space just ahead of them.
“We are entering the anomaly,” Mr. Rain announced. “Full speed attained.”
Kavidian lurched as her nose hit the wormhole. There was a brief moment where time seemed to stand still and an instant later, the space visible in the viewport took on different characteristics. Directly ahead of them now was a planet.
“Kavidian, flight path,” the captain called.
The same hologram of the milky way appeared, only now the blip that indicated Kavidian was on the other side of the galaxy.
“Holy shit,” Commander Benton muttered.
Karen found it hard to speak for a moment. In an instant they had traveled a distance that should have taken thousands of years. “Status report,” she finally managed.
“All systems operational,” the ship responded.
The planet in the viewport was blue and cloudy and seemed to have all the characteristics of a planet that could support human life.
“Miss Reed,” Karen said. “Get me a reading on that planet.”
“Seventy-eight percent nitrogen, twenty-one percent oxygen, the remaining one is a mixture of various other gases. The atmosphere is almost an exact match to Earth,” Reed reported. “Scanners are picking up massive amounts of life forms and technology.”
A cheer went up around the bridge. The captain slumped back in her chair. Their mission appeared to be half complete. Karen sent their current coordinates to Earth, knowing it would take ages before it would actually reach them.
“Captain, should we wake up the others?” asked Dr. Treater.
The others would be the two-hundred men and women aboard the ship that still slept in suspended animation. A group of people that would begin to colonize a new world while they awaited the arrival of other ships that would carry more refugees from their dying home planet.
“No,” Karen responded. “Let’s see what’s down there first. Prepare to enter the atmosphere.”
They careened forward and Mr. Rain reduced speed as they started the landing process. When they entered the atmosphere, Kavidian shook violently, but calmed as it moved through a bank of clouds. Below was a vast ocean and a massive land form covered in lush greenery and bright, exotic flowers along the water’s shore. A forest covered most of the continent as far as Karen could see. All but a large space in the middle where a city was built.
The buildings reached skyward, towering spires of gold with windows that reflected the cloud filled blue of the sky around them. From the center of the city, the buildings were built smaller until they were no more the occasional huts peppered throughout the forest. Captain Stills could only assume these were houses, but they seemed oddly out of place compared to the elegant skyscrapers in the center of the town.
The communications officer, Mr. Fredrick, informed the captain that there was no signal coming from the town. “There does appear to be a landing pad on the west side of the main tower.”
“Take us down, Mr. Rain,” Karen ordered.
The thrusters slowed their approach and The Kavidian came to a gentle rest on the landing pad. Through the viewport, Karen could see a large door that appeared to lead to the interior of the building. Though there seemed to be no one to greet them. As a matter of fact, whatever beings lived on this world, they certainly kept themselves hidden well.
“What now?” asked Commander Benton.
Karen wasn’t sure. When they had talked about the mission before launch, the others involved (men and women back on Earth that were no doubt dead now) talked about the possibilities of what they’d find on a foreign planet, a seemingly abandoned city was not one of them. After further thought she shrugged. “Let’s go check it out.”
There was a hydraulic hiss as the ramp dropped from the freight area. Karen stepped down slowly and let the clean air enter her lungs. Commander Benton followed with weapon at the ready, flanked on either side by two of his men.
“Lower your weapons,” Karen instructed.
“What?” Benton returned in disbelief.
“If there is someone here we don’t want to give them the wrong idea.”
Benton lowered his rifle and motion for his men to follow suit. As for Karen, she had strapped a pistol on her hip, she wasn’t going to take any chances either, but she prayed she wouldn’t have to pull it.
The landing pad appeared to be concrete, or at least something similar. It was a small thing, but the familiarity to Earth’s structures gave her some comfort. The odd quiet of the large city, in contrast, made her uneasy. A place so large should never be so quiet.
A slow, grinding sound broke the silence and Karen looked up to see the massive door sliding up on tracks and disappearing into the wall above. From the darkness within there came two beings that stood at least ten feet tall. Their bodies were muscular and their faces brutish with tusk curling down from the corners of their wide mouths. In their hands they each held a long staff that had large, odd shaped blades at one end and a barrel at the other. Karen suspected some form of ammunition fired from these barrels. She sensed more than saw Benton and his men tense up.
“Easy,” Karen ordered.
The two large aliens (although Karen supposed it was her and her men that were the aliens in this situation) stepped to either side of the door as if to stand guard. A moment later three much shorter figures emerged from the doorway. They weren’t quite as tall as the average man, but in all other aspects they were humanoid. Two arms, two legs, one head. The being in front seemed positively ancient, his body bent slightly with the burden of age. His skin was pale and wrinkled, his eye large and black. Beneath the two slits that passed as his nose was a cat-like mouth, two flapping lips over a chin slick with moisture.
“Mr. Fredrick,” Karen spoke into her communicator. “Send out Word-bot.”
Word-bot, as the crew had come to call him, was actually an Automated Language Decoder and Translator Robot. Everyone felt this was too much of a mouthful to use all the time so most took to calling him Word-bot instead. The chrome plated robot came shuffling down the ramp just as the small welcoming party reached the captain and her guards.
Captain Stills bowed low to the being in front of her. The being studied the visitors a moment and finally spoke in a tongue that was full of gurgles and clicks. Word-bot listened a moment, it’s servo-motors whirring as it moved his head back and forth. It was clear the translator needed to hear more before it could decode the language.
“We come from a planet called Earth. Many light-years away,” Karen responded.
The old creature spoke again and this time Word-bot spoke afterward. “My name is Wrintok (at least I believe that is the English pronunciation),” the robot added as a sidebar. “Welcome to our world.”
Karen smiled. And repeated that they had come from Earth. Then added; “What do you call your planet?”
Word-bot worked his magic. “Our planet is called Shaylo. I’m sure you have many more questions, as do we. I’d like to invite you and your crew to join us for a welcoming feast in our great hall.”
“That sounds very nice, we’d love to.”
“Very well. Once you are all prepared, Halty will lead the way.”
The being to his left bowed and stayed by the ship as Wrintok and the other alien turned and strode back toward the building.”
“This is not what I was expecting,” Commander Benton said.
“Yes,” Karen agreed. “I get the feeling we aren’t the first visitors they’ve entertained.”
Karen gathered the crew and told them about the feast. Much to the disappointment of Benton’s men, she ordered them to stay with the ship, unwilling to leave Kavidian and her precious cargo unguarded. Soon they were off the ship and being led into the building between the large, imposing guards on either side of the door.
Once Karen’s eyes adjusted to the dimness of the hallway, she was surprised to find it lacked any form of decor at all. The walls were a slick, dark marble (or at least looked like marble) and reached high up toward the ceiling, which wasn’t visible from the floor due to the deep shadows overhead. The walls only disappeared into darkness. There were no paintings, no furniture, no vases full of the lovely flowers Karen spotted by the water on the way in. Perhaps they didn’t think that way.
The dining hall boasted better lighting, but only slightly. The table was laid out with exotic fruits and what looked to be a form of fish. No doubt caught from the sea that was only a few miles to the east.
Wrintock spoke and Word-bot translated. “Please have a seat and help yourselves.”
Karen nodded to the others and they followed her lead. Moving to the chair nearest the leader of the race they’d stumbled upon, she took a seat and smiled in his direction. The dinning furniture, she noticed, was just as plain and uninteresting as the rest of the palace. As they spoke, Word-bot translated both ways.
“Your planet is beautiful,” the captain said. “Is this the only settlement?”
“There are two others, but they are much smaller,” the alien replied. “Most of our kind live off of the land. We are very advanced in our technology, though we focus that technology on food production and living quarters alone. We have no need of space travel or communicators.”
“Yes, I’m surprised you know about such things. I was also surprised by the landing pad.”
“We have had several visitors to our planet over the years. Including the Farren.” Wrintock motioned to one of the guards that stood silently, towering over everyone else in the room. “They actually built the pad for their own use.”
“And what is your relationship with the Farren?”
“They came to our planet several years ago to request setting up settlements on the other side. We agreed in exchange for their protection, having fallen under attack by others that came before them.”
“These others, were they human like me?”
“No, I can honestly say I’ve not seen your kind before.”
“That’s very interesting,” Karen said thoughtfully. The notion that even more races were out there visiting other planets was fascinating to her.
“What is it that brings you to our humble planet?” Wrintock asked.
“Well, our wish is to set up colonies of our own, if you’ll have us. I’m afraid our planet is on the verge of dying and if we are to survive as a race, we need a fresh start.”
“And why is your planet in this condition?”
“I’m afraid over the years we’ve used all of our resources and have destroyed our atmosphere to a point that it is unrepairable,” Karen said rather sheepishly. “Our attempts to reverse these problems have fallen well short of fixing them.”
“So you expect us to allow you to come here and do the same to our world?”
“Of course not. I believe we’ve learned from our mistakes and would gladly live life according to your laws. I have two-hundred of the best and brightest of our race aboard my ship, specifically to begin this new colony. To copulate and await the arrival of more refugees from our world.”
“How long would that be?”
“The ships? It would take them nearly three centuries to make it here.”
“Mmm, fascinating,” the alien said, his fingers pressed together and tapping his chin in thought. A move that was so human in its execution that she nearly giggled aloud despite herself. “I don’t think it would be a good idea, especially with the Farren settled in already.”
“Well, I’m sure we could all live in harmony. Perhaps there is something we can offer you in trade, just as they have given you protection.”
“Perhaps,” Wrintock returned.
“Would you allow us a little time to convince you? Our ship has all we need; I promise we won’t be a burden.”
“Of course, I’d be delighted to have you as my guests.”
Karen continued to eat the delicious food that was offered and soon, the crew was heading back to Kavidian barely able to move.
Later, in the captain’s quarters, Karen paced the floor trying desperately to come up with a plan. Something Earthlings could offer in trade that would appease both the Grullish (as Karen learned Wrintock’s race was called) and the Farren.
When pacing produced no answers, she sat at her desk and stared at the wall. On the corner of her desk was a vase that had held a dozen roses when they had boarded the ship. Staring at it made her eyes water with tears. Thinking about Richard made her chest ache.
There was a buzz at her door. Karen wiped her eyes and called for the visitor to enter. The door slid aside and Commander Benton strode in, clean shaven and hair trimmed neatly, with a folder in his hand. “The reports from the two hundred. They’re all sleeping well and vitals are great. I have two of my men guarding them as per your orders.”
“Thank you, Commander. The natives don’t seem hostile, but you can never be too careful.”
“What’s with the flower?” Benton asked.
Karen looked back at the remaining flower and smiled. “That was a gift from Richard.”
“Oh, your guy back home?”
“Yeah. He gave me a dozen roses and a card that said ‘I will love you until the last rose dies’. I didn’t understand it then, but now; eleven of the flowers have died and turned to dust, no doubt swept away by the cleaner robots over the years. All that’s left is this one.”
“How is that?”
“It’s fake. It was mixed in with the real ones so that the last rose would never die.”
“Wow! That guy has some serious game.”
“Had,” Karen said. “Though to me, it only seems like yesterday that he gave them to me, he’s been dead about two hundred and fifty years now.”
“Oh man. I didn’t even think about that. I’m so sorry.”
Karen shook her head and waved his apology away. “It’s okay. We knew the situation heading in, right What about you? Did you leave anyone behind?”
“Nah. My parents were already deceased and I figured there’d be time enough to find a girl after we landed somewhere, what with the crew and the passengers.”
“You were the smart one.”
An awkward silence fell between them, before Benton finally said; “Well, I’ll let you turn in. Have a good night, Cap.”
“Thanks, Benton. You do the same.”
The days went by. Karen brought her proposals to Wrintock and he shot them down one by one. He had no need for their technology nor any desire to wait nearly three hundred years for anything the Kavidian didn’t have on board. She was quickly running out of ideas, whiling away the hours staring at the rose on her desk or the plaque on the wall crediting the ships creation to its designer, Albert Kavidian, finding it somehow calming. It was as she paced and pondered that the com buzzed in her room.
“Yes?” she called across the channel.
“Captain, your assistance is needed on the bridge,” Miss Reed’s voice came back. “It may be an emergency.”
“I’m on my way.”
Karen grabbed a pistol from her utility cabinet and attached it to her belt as she exited the room. Through the sterile hall and onto the bridge, her mind was trying to determine what trouble could have crept up that would warrant the alarm in her systems expert.
“Report,” she called as she entered the bridge.
“Captain,” replied Reed. “Several ships have just appeared on our scanners.”
“Did they come through the wormhole?”
“They’re entering the planet’s atmosphere. The central ship is huge.”
“Like a small city huge.”
Karen studied the images on the screen. Were these some of the visitors Wrintock had mentioned before? Or perhaps the Farren returning from some mission of their own? Were they a threat?
“Captain Stills,” came Kavidian’s feminine voice. “I’m receiving a signal from the command ship.”
Karen looked to her communications officer who only offered a shrug in return. “Patch it through.”
“Attention, Kavidian,” a male voice blared in the bridge. “This of the crew of the Command Ship Raven, representing the military of the Allied Forces of Earth.”
“What?” Karen said, though her voice was little more than a choked whisper. The others were looking to her, confusion clear on their faces. “How?”
The voice continued as if Karen had said nothing at all. “You are instructed to lift off from the planet’s surface and dock with the command ship immediately. Once on board you will receive further instructions.”
“By who’s authority?” Karen demanded.
“By the authority of the United States Government,” the voice boomed, the owner of the voice clearly agitated by the defiance in Karen’s tone.
The others looked to their captain, awaiting her command. She nodded her consent and spoke to the ship. “Kavidian, prepare all systems for lift off.”
The ship came alive around them, the engines humming to life, the repulsers thumping against the landing pad, the landing gear retracting into the hull. Then they were moving upward. Karen sat in the Captain’s chair unable to wrap her mind around what was happening. Her daze was broken by Reed’s voice. “Captain, something’s been launched from the command ship!”
Karen stood and moved closer to the viewport. Dropping from the sky and growing larger as they neared were two dozen small ships that Karen realized too late were fighters. Missiles flared from the wings of the oncoming crafts. As they streamed past The Kavidian, Karen could just make out the American flag slapped on the side.