THE FIRST SHIP
TAS VALKYR 53
Drake Kendrick had never been the tightest screw in the plank, but even at the measly age of fifteen, he knew where the line between sanity and insanity lay, and he was pretty certain he was getting ready to cross it. For all of his life, he’d been able to see things that weren’t quite there, and he’d heard sounds that hadn’t quite gone in through his ears, but that was just the normal crazy stuff: people, animals, buildings… This, on the other hand, was sheer madness.
He was staring (and had been for about fifteen minutes) at a pure white, metal pill the size of a house sticking out of the ground at about a 30-degree angle. He was hearing a low, mechanical growl from inside the unearthly thing that made it sound as though he were about to be the pill instead of it. He could even smell what seemed to be burning flesh and feel his own skin turning hotter by the second, despite keeping a distance of about 40 yards. He had seen the thing he assumed must be some sort of plane or spaceship go down, which was lucky because it had gone down into a massive, wooded area, and he never would have seen it otherwise.
He had called his friend, Larry Denton, as soon as he’d gotten to it, but he wouldn’t be there for another half-hour. Larry lived fifteen minutes away from the school, and he had only just been going home to change into regular clothes after basketball practice when Drake had called fifteen minutes ago. Drake’s house was ten minutes from Larry’s house, and the thing that Drake was now certain was a spaceship had crashed about thirty minutes by foot from Drake’s house, so Larry would have to hike all that way, despite that he was probably already at the house.
In the meantime, Drake would have to resist the urge to go inside. He wanted to know he wasn’t crazy first so that he didn’t accidentally walk into a burning building instead of a spaceship. Besides, Larry was bringing his dad’s old fire suits. Drake’s dad, Jake Kendrick, was a fireman until Drake’s mom had left them when he was about two, and he had retired to this rink-a-dink town in the middle of nowhere to raise Drake. Drake was pretty sure his dad shouldn’t have had permission to keep five fire suits, but apparently, the department had been replacing them at the time anyway. In any case, they were cool, if a little baggy on fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds.
After another twenty minutes, Drake’s skin began cooling down, which, he was pretty sure, meant his amazing discovery had cooled down enough to approach it. Around the same time, he heard a shrieking sound from the capsule and became certain that the smell of burning flesh was real, along with the rest of what was set before his eyes. He ran to the ship with an agility he’d never had before and began frantically searching the surface of the metal device for any sort of hatch or button or even just a window. With every glance and feel at it, he could hear the shrieking get louder and more panicked. He knew whatever was in there could not possibly speak English, but he figured they’d want to know someone was trying to help them, so he began yelling, “Don’t worry! I’ll get you out of there! I just need to find the door to your ship!” He was so surprised to hear an answer with that same, ethereal feel to which he had become so accustomed over the years that he almost stopped in his tracks. ‘Please! There’s a green bioswitch on the top of the cockpit!’
He couldn’t believe what he had just heard, but he did anyway. He yelled again, “Where’s the cockpit? I can only see white metal!” Seconds later, though it seemed like an eternity, a green light erupted from the tip of the ship, which he now realized was upside-down. The “top” of the cockpit was facing the ground. He ran to the green-glowing circle and slapped his hand onto it as quickly as he could. Nothing happened. He screamed, “It didn’t work! I placed my hand on it, and it didn’t do anything!”
The voice responded with an unexpected answer, ‘You have to spit on it!’ He did so, surprised he had any spit in his mouth. It had felt so dry in his panic. After a few more seconds, Drake heard a sound like an airbag going off, and the ten-square-foot hatch hit him head-on. He toppled to the ground, his vision hazy. That door was far lighter than he would have expected, but it had still hit him hard enough that under other circumstances, he would have lay there for a few minutes. These were not other circumstances. That door had been thick, and the shrieking was much louder now that an opening had formed.
“Drake?! Are you ok?! What’s going on?!” Larry had arrived just in time to see his best friend get a door in the face, so he was surprised to see Drake stand up and start trying to climb into some sort of giant medicine capsule in mere seconds.
“Larry! There’s someone in this thing! I have to save them!” Drake could now see into the cockpit. It was filled with switches and buttons, but what he found most fascinating in that chance moment was th
e massive array of displays. For such an apparently blank surface, that ship had to be covered in cameras. He could see Larry stop gawking at the ship and begin running to help his friend inside. He could see through the trees into his hometown, where his house sat with his dad inside. He could even see what seemed to be an outline of his dad sitting at his desk.
‘Hurry!’ He snapped back into reality. He had wasted precious seconds staring at the sophisticated equipment that he had been bound to find inside such an immaculate spaceship. He pulled himself the rest of the way into the cockpit, helped Larry inside, and started trying to work his way farther down into the ship, which was surprisingly difficult due to the ship being upside-down.
As he made his way into what had to be the main compartment, however, the groaning sound he had almost forgotten turned to a furious roar. He turned toward the cockpit, certain he shouldn’t stay, but he was unable to get back up in time. He saw Larry’s face go white as Larry was pulled by some unknown force up into the cockpit and out the open hatch. Then, he saw something even scarier: The door came back up against the cockpit and sealed him inside. He was trapped with whatever thing had just done that. “What was that?!” he screamed. “What happened to Larry?!”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s just the security system. He’ll be fine. Please help me!” This time, the voice was not inside his mind but directly behind him, and for the first time, Drake could tell that the voice was female. He turned to it and saw a beautiful girl no older than seventeen looking at him with an incredibly frightened look, and he quickly saw why. Her leg was pressed against the back wall of the room by what Drake could only assume was a still-operating stove of some sort. Smoke was coming from her flesh as it burned farther into her. The rest of her body was pinned by what had to be her dining table.
Still frenzied, Drake started trying to lift the stove off of her. It, like the hatch, was much lighter than its size should have made it, and he decided in that moment that they must be made of similar materials. Now holding a rather large stove with a rather stupid look about him, Drake realized he had no idea how to turn it off. It had no wires or tubes leading to it. He began searching for another spit-circle to no avail. “How do I –”
“There’s a switch below your side-finger,” the girl said in what he was beginning to realize simply could not be English. He quickly decided that side-finger meant thumb and lifted it to find that there was, indeed, a bright red circle beneath it. Hoping this one responded more actively to simple touch, he re-angled his thumb and pressed the button. The stove did much more than deactivate. It began to collapse into a device no larger than a laptop. After getting over the shock of what had just happened, he set down the stove and began trying to lift the table, which was apparently the only heavy thing in this ship. “It’s being held in place by the magnetic wall. You’d normally just have to turn off the magnet, but its switch is behind me, so unless you feel particularly inclined to reach back there, you’ll have to cut the power to the whole room from the cockpit. It’s the flip-switch labeled with a double-arch through a single, vertical line.”
He was, indeed, particularly inclined to reach back there, but something told him it would be a bad idea just now. Drake headed back up into the cockpit, beginning to regain his calm. He knew how to treat burns like that. His dad had gone through a similar experience a few years ago. He still didn’t like that security system thing, but the girl had said that Larry was fine, and she was very pretty, so it had to be true. He climbed into the cockpit, searching for the switch. Sure enough, there was a toggle switch labeled underneath with a double-arch through a vertical line. It had a faint, yellow light behind the symbol, as if it were backlit. Drake flipped the switch. The light turned off, and he heard a loud thud, a clanking sound, and a short shout of pain from the girl. He headed back down toward her.
‘Wait. Before you come back, there’s an emergency medical kit behind my seat in the cockpit.’ The girl’s voice resounded in his head with a serenity that had certainly not been present earlier. Drake suspected the removal of the impending threat of slow but certain death probably had something to do with that. He reached back into the cockpit and grabbed a white box inscribed with a dark purple “O” on it. He suspected that was probably the girl’s version of a red cross. He headed back to the main compartment, where the girl was sprawled across the corner between the wall and the ceiling, letting out a quiet, musical hum to comfort herself. That leg was still smoking. A pale, red light was cast across the room, and the table was lying next to the girl. Drake found the little, red circle on the medical supply box easily enough, opened it, and began to tend to the girl’s wounds.
“Terira,” the girl said after about ten minutes had passed. Drake slowed his treatment enough to look up at her. “It’s my name. Terira Khuda’Cronell.” She smiled at him through the pain. “What’s your name?”
“D-Drake,” he stammered. “My name’s Drake Kendrick.” No girl this pretty had ever cared what his name was before now, though he supposed it probably made some sense today, consid
ering the circumstances. Saving someone’s life would probably be good reason to care what the name of one’s savior was.
“Is it, now?” She gave an amused smile, as though it were absurd that he would think that to be his name. “Well, Drake Kendrick, I suppose I owe you a debt of gratitude, don’t I? It’s not every day a girl gets saved from death by cooking appliance, is it?” She laughed, and Drake smiled at her, unable to keep himself from staring into her eyes. It was too dark and monochromatic to tell what color they were, but he could certainly tell that they were beautiful. They were intelligent, strong, proud eyes, and they were… Well, they were just wonderful, weren’t they?
“No… I guess it isn’t,” Drake grinned stupidly, and Terira yelped. He started and realized that he had been leaning his arm into her leg. He continued her treatment and began to speak more intelligently, “So what happened? I can’t imagine you normally land ships upside-down while cooking. Why did you crash?” He had been wanting to ask this question for a while. For all the equipment and technology in the ship, it didn’t make much sense that such a crash would occur at all.
“Ah, yes, well, this was slightly my fault,” Terira said, looking away, embarrassed. Drake thought that this look, too, suited her much too well. “I was actually heading from your main satellite to the planet itself and figured I’d make myself some dinner. Thing is, I forgot to tell the autopilot that the planet had an atmosphere and an iron core, so the ride down got a little bumpy. The computer froze up in the EM field, and we ended up tumbling our way down instead of gliding properly. The atmospheric entry was what knocked the table into me, and the landing must have gotten the burner box on my leg. I actually blacked out when the table hit me, as humiliating as it is to admit that. Do you think it’ll be alright? My leg, I mean.”
“Nope,” Drake figured honesty would probably have the least amount of blowback at this point. “Your leg was cooking for at least an hour before I got in here. Whatever material makes up that flight suit you’re wearing, it must be incredibly fire-retardant because your leg looks like it was only taking the fire full-on for a few minutes. Still, that’s a very long time to expose flesh directly to flame. I don’t think you’ll ever have full use of this leg again unless your people have some sort of full restoration treatment for severe burns.”
“No. Well, we do, but it’s far too expensive for me, so unless my aunt pays for it, I’m probably not going to see anything more than a rudimentary prosthetic muscle group.” The girl looked frustrated but nowhere near as panicked as Drake would have been if he had just received the same news. “It’s too bad you can’t just heal me, isn’t it, Drake?”
Drake chuckled, “Yeah, that’ll be the day. If people could just heal others magically, I don’t think there’d be much of a problem with medical expenses being so high. My dad’s prosthetic hand was way too expensive, and it’s not even much of a hand.”
“Well, I don’t know about magic, but a Sheii’Cronell could definitely heal this with no problem. Why’s your dad got a prosthetic hand?” She looked concerned, as if she knew Drake’s dad.
“Oh, he had a seizure while cooking the one time, and his hand just got fried for a good fifteen minutes. I managed to save his thumb, uh, side-finger, and his wrist, but the rest of his hand was too heavily burned.” Drake almost wished he hadn’t said this because he saw Terira’s face go positively ghostly. “Well, that’ll do it. You’re as set as you’re going to be for now. This foam is good stuff. Do you think you can stand?”
“Yes. Thank you so much, Drake. We can probably restore power to this room now, and while we’re at it, I should probably get old Valkyr up and running.” She stood slowly and wobbled slightly but quickly adjusted for the fact that she was missing about half of her right calf. Drake was unceasingly amazed by this girl.
“Valkyr?” He was curious. The name sounded familiar.
“Yeah, it’s the name of the ship. Well, technically, it’s the class of the ship, but they’re all called Valkyr. This is the Thorlinthian Armada Starship Valkyr 53. I’m a Master Valkyrie, which means I’m a top-level Valkyr pilot. Well, I was. I’ll probably get that particular title taken away if I go home like this.” She seemed much more upset that she’d be getting her title taken away than she was when thinking she’d never be able to use her leg fully again.
The more he knew about this girl, the more foreign she seemed. “What’s the Thorlinthian Armada? And I thought Valkyries were super-warriors or something!” Dr
ake was very confused at this point and not afraid to admit it. “And while I’m asking questions, what happened to Larry earlier?” He had forgotten about Larry until now. Larry must have been sitting out there for at least half an hour, probably unconscious.
“Is Larry that friend of yours that came in with you?” Drake nodded. “He’s probably home right now with no idea he ever came out here. That’s what it does. Anyway, the Thorlinthian Armada is my people’s military, though I don’t know of any fighting we’ve done for hundreds of years short of putting down little insurrections here and there. As for Valkyries being super-warriors, we are. I’m probably five times stronger than most male pilots, and Armada pilots are put through the most rigorous training in the whole of the military. Compared to someone normal like your friend Larry, I am a super warrior. Of course, compared to a Sheii’Cronell, I’m a pitiful weakling, but that’s just how they are.” Upon saying this, she eyed Drake warily, as if she were afraid of him for a moment, but by the time Drake noticed anything, the look was gone, and she was strong, fearless Terira again.
“So Larry has no idea he was ever out here?” Drake was still wrapping his head around this and hadn’t quite been paying attention when Terira had spoken about Sheii’Cronells.
“That’s right. He doesn’t even know you’re out here,” she said, as if expecting Drake to become fearful at the notion that no one knew where he was. He didn’t. If anything, he seemed more eager that he’d get to spend more time with Terira.
“Is anybody going to come looking for you?” Drake asked this question a bit cautiously. He didn’t want her to think he was trying to flirt with her, even though he was.
She set a bit of a sway to her hips at this and walked away as best as she could toward the cockpit. “No one expects me to even report back for two years. I have all the time in the ‘verse.” She smiled at him, not missing the fact that this boy was totally smitten with her. “Now, hold on to something,” she said as she buckled herself into her upside-down seat. “This is going to be a little bumpy.” She flipped a few switches, including the one Drake recognized as the main compartment’s power, and the ship lit up around them. Displays came up all around Terira, and she very obviously understood every one of them. Her hair, which Drake now saw to be a faint, blondish blue, fell freely toward the ceiling, though it was cropped too short to hit anything, no longer than eight inches, possibly less. Drake took this opportunity to study the back of her neck with great intent. It was a very delicate neck for a warrior. Her skin was lightly tanned, and there were a few freckles scattered across her skin.
Drake was so intent on studying this fine specimen of alien, in fact, that he was completely taken by surprise when the whole ship shook and fell back onto the now-closed door to the rest of the ship. Terira laughed, and Drake realized that the smell of burned flesh had been long replaced by the scent of wild raspberries and watermelon, which was emanating from Terira. Drake much preferred this smell to the previous, so he didn’t mind falling like an idiot so much. Besides, it gave him a great view of her left leg, which was unfortunately covered by that flame-retardant flight suit, but the leggings led up to a pleated skirt that looked like Terira had put it on because she didn’t particularly care for the uniform she had been provided.
As Drake continued to take in the beauty of the Valkyrie, he realized her hair was starting to lean toward one side as she righted the ship. He quickly started working his way around the frame of the doorway to avoid tumbling and injuring himself. The ship’s growling turned to a gentle purr, which disappeared into a serene hum. Terira said, “The computer’s starting back up now, so the reactor’s a lot more stable. The loud sound you heard earlier when Larry was ejected was what the ship sounds like when it tries to power itself fully with an unstable reactor. This is all you’re actually supposed to hear.” Her voice, Drake realized, was incredibly soft and gentle, and it gave him a sense of sleeping on a bed of clouds. She had what seemed like a strange accent to Drake, but upon further thought, he realized it was probably actually his ears hearing her true language. For some reason, his brain was translating for him, and he wasn’t complaining. The “accent” was amazing.
“So what has you flying to Earth, Terira? From the sound of it, you don’t live anywhere near the neighborhood.” Drake was keener than he usually let onto others. There had to be some reason she was on Earth instead of some closer planet.
Terira apparently did not hear this particular question, however, as the next words from her mouth were, “Now where’s a good place to land? I don’t want to set down in these trees.”
Drake decided it wasn’t a good idea to push his question, “Well, if it weren’t for the fact that people might find your ship a bit conspicuous, you could set down in the empty lot across the street from my house. As it is, however, I have no idea.”
“Oh, people won’t even notice the ship now that the computer’s running. They’ll see whatever looks the least conspicuous, and they’ll just think it’s always been there. Where’s this ‘lot’? Oh, I see it! Yes, that’s perfect! Thank you, Drake!” Drake had also begun to notice that Terira seemed to have to force herself to say his name, though she didn’t appear to find it unpleasant. The ship glided across the three-mile distance to Drake’s house as if it were ten feet. Terira then reached to a side console and looked toward it with a swish of her wavy hair as her fingers blurred over the keys. The ship began to lower and set down on the ground, and Drake’s knees gave slightly as it settled.
“So why hasn’t the Air Force shown up and tried to take you away by now? We have to have equipment that can see giant metal pills fall toward the planet.” Drake found this thought to be rather prominent in his mind. He didn’t want this girl taken away by the military.
“Well, for one thing, my ship has no radar profile, so they never saw me. For another thing, they wouldn’t be able to determine where I landed even if they saw my ship falling with their own eyes. It’s just not possible.” She seemed very satisfied with this answer, but Drake wasn’t.
“I saw it and followed it straight to the crash site,” Drake said with a concerned look.
“Yes, but you’re special.” This time, Terira looked him right in the eyes, and Drake saw that her eyes were a brilliant shamrock green, just like his mother’s.
With those eyes, Drake knew she was telling the truth. Something unique about him made it possible for him to have seen her ship crash, find the crash site, hear her voice, and open that hatch. Something told him that bioswitch wouldn’t have worked for Larry and that Larry wouldn’t even have seen a spaceship if it hadn’t been what he was told was awaiting him.
“Who are you, really, Terira?” Drake asked warily, as if he feared the answer.
This time, Terira gave him a look that said she was almost proud of him. “That’s the wrong question, Drake.” She placed particular stress on his name. “You know what the right question is.”
“Alright, then… Terira, who – sorry, that’s not right – what am I?” This time, Drake did not hesitate. He had been asking himself this question for years, but he didn’t have an appropriate answer.
Terira did. “You are Drigondii Sheii’Cronell, and you are my future king and husband.”