Chapter 1: Alien
The sun dipped below the edge of the moor, the distant clouds formed red fingers that reached across the sky, heralding in the night. After a warm summer's day, the air was still and cool. Tristan Taylor shivered as faint stars started to appear in the emerging darkness, a darkness that leached into his mind.
"Tristan, you're not listening to me, are you?" Sarah stood with her fists clenched, leaning slightly towards him, her face distorted with anger.
Tristan swallowed, his mouth dry. "I'm sorry, but..."
She did not let him finish. "I've had enough of this, Tristan! Either you give up this stupid isolation -" She waved a hand at the sweeping moor. "- or it's over, and I'll return to London on my own." She paused for breath. "Well?"
Her demand for an answer hit Tristan like a physical blow to the chest. He stepped back and shook his head. "Sarah, you know I can't do that, not yet."
Tears glistened in her eyes, reflecting the redness of the sky. She wiped them away with the back of her trembling hand. With a final toss of her head she turned, her high heels clicking on the stone patio. "I've packed my things; the rest is junk."
The anger in her voice seemed to echo in his head; he had waited too long. He rubbed his temple, his hands cold and clammy. The slamming of a car door made him jump. His eyes started to water as he collapsed into a patio chair. The sound of a screaming engine and spinning wheels became almost deafening as the pain took control of his senses.
His hand shook as he fumbled in his pocket for his painkillers. He broke two from the blister pack and gulped them down with a shudder. He rocked forward, holding his head in his hands; damn the Navy and their experiments!
The pain increased, and he shivered; twenty minutes before they start to work. He pushed down on the arms of the chair, forcing himself up. He stepped through the open lounge patio door, and slid it shut grunting with pain. He staggered to the settee and flopped down with a deep racking sigh that shook his whole body.
Tristan opened his eyes and blinked as faint watery moonlight filled the room with a gentle silver glow. He rubbed the scar on the side of his temple. The pain had passed. With a sigh, he stood and walked over to the light switch, the sudden blaze of light hurt his eyes. He glanced at his watch; this time he had been unconscious for over two hours.
The memory of Sarah's sudden departure came flooding back and he shook his head. She had finally given up on him. He walked over to the mantelpiece. A young Lieutenant in Royal Navy dress uniform with his arm around a slim, pretty, dark haired woman, smiled back at him. His eyes started to sting, and he wiped them with a trembling hand.
With a sweep of his hand, the picture went crashing to the ground, glass shattering into a thousand pieces on the stone hearth. If only he hadn't volunteered for the experimental weapons program things would have been so different!
He turned, ignoring the shards of glass that crunched under his slippered feet, and he flopped back into the lounge chair. He stretched, staring through the window at the dark moor, the scene somehow unreal in the dim silver light as the moon faded in and out of the clouds. He had to have peace, silence, and isolation; why couldn't she accept that?
The phone rang. He reached over and picked up the receiver. "Yes, hello?"
"Yes mother," he sighed. From the tone of her voice, he knew a lecture was in the offing.
"I've just been speaking with Sarah. You're being cruel and unreasonable, why don't you see sense and at least come home to us? We can consult some different doctors, and get that damn thing out of your head."
"It's not possible mother, we've been through this before!"
"Come home, Tristan. Apologise to Sarah."
"Mother!" Tristan rubbed his temple.
"She's such a nice girl Tristan. She doesn't deserve to be treated like that."
"Whose side are you on?"
"I'm not on anyone's side dear, but you're just ... Well, you're being unreasonable"
"Damn it, mother!"
Tristan glanced at the remains of the photo frame. Two faces looked up at him through broken glass. He slammed the receiver down, pinching his fingers on the phone rest.
"Fuck." With a sharp jerk he ripped the phone from the socket and threw the receiver at the wall. "Now leave me in peace!"
He slumped back in the chair, and his gaze returned to the still silent moor as a few spots of rain splashed against the patio doors, the start of another shower. Through the broken cloud, a shooting star streaked across the sky.
The small red light blinked on the instrument panel incessantly demanding attention. Aesia ignored the pulsing red glow; there was nothing she could do about it anyway. She shivered, her breath forming ice crystals on the cockpit canopy. She had shut everything possible down, including life support.
She hoped the metallic rock of the asteroid would hide her from the enemy's instruments as they passed overhead. She glanced at her hands; they were shaking, not from cold, but the stress of battle. She placed one hand over the pulsing light. The smallest thing might give her position away.
Far above her a vast black ship, the stars as bright points of light were winking out as the ship moved across them. A faint mist, and flashes arching out from a hole in the side of the ship, showed her where her missiles had struck. She smiled; at least she had done her duty. Now, she must get away, and find somewhere to repair the damage to her fighter.
The dark shape stopped and hung motionless. She stiffened, bracing herself for the impending flash and the burning, as the weapons of the vast ship above turned her to hot vapor.
Her heart thumped in her chest, counting her life away almost in sync with the faint red light pulsing under her shaking fingers. The dark shape started to move; the stars started to reappear. Each new star increased her hope that maybe she would survive.
She waited until the dark shape was no longer visible then restored the power to her computer and life support. Her systems did not detect any enemy ships, so they must have engaged their Star Drive and moved away. One small fighter in an uncharted system far from home, and rescue was not worth bothering about.
With trembling hands, Aesia removed her helmet and shook her head, her long white hair falling down over her shoulders. She rubbed her ears; I must get this helmet adjusted. She laid the helmet on her lap and turned her attention back to the instruments.
Increasing her craft's power, she switched on the scanners. The neural interface took a moment to lock with her mind. She directed her attention to the planets of the system that she now found herself in. The first two planets from the star were out of the question, but the third planet had a breathable atmosphere. All the parameters checked out, and she could survive on the surface without any problem. The computer warned her that signs of early technology were present on the surface. The planet was inhabited by primitive beings. Still, she was more than capable of looking after herself, and they were probably far too primitive to be of any threat.
Above her, stars glinted cold and bright, but no dark shadows moved overhead. She took a deep breath and commanded the ship's computer to start the engine ignition sequence.
Of the three main engines in her fighter, only one fired. The flashing red light on the console was joined by others, each insistent, each demanding attention. She shook her head; this was an unexpected setback she had not bargained for. Her craft would be hard to handle, and manoeuvring within a planetary atmosphere almost impossible. However, she had no choice. She would be unable to go far with her damaged craft. She dropped the tight fitting helmet behind her seat and grabbed the controls.
The flight from the asteroids had been difficult, and her arms ached from holding the damaged craft steady. The stabilization and auto pilot systems couldn't cope with the engine damage, forcing Aesia to fly manually. She flexed her shoulders to ease the ache.
The sensors identified a primitive electromagnetic detection technology. She checked with the computer, ensuring that her fighter's basic cloaking systems were functioning correctly. Something under the dashboard sparked, and the weapons targeting system went dead. She groaned; there was nothing for it, she had to land before anything else failed. With a firm grip on the vibrating control stick she guided her fighter into the planet's upper atmosphere.
The computer had shown her a large island off a much larger continent as a possible landing site. Her sensors showed a few deserted areas that had the advantage of moving into the darkness of night, so her descent would not be detected by anyone casually looking up.
Aesia made her choice, and she pushed the stick forward. Her craft began to buck, throwing her against her straps as it entered deeper into the atmosphere. The noise from the thickening air became a roar. The control stick tried to rip itself from her grip. She bit her lower lip as her aching muscles strained against the violent movement; she needed all her strength to hold the craft on her chosen course. She commanded the braking thrusters to fire.
The seat straps tightened around her as the forward rush of her decent was checked. At least the thrusters were working. As she neared the ground, she pulled the stick back, straining; sweat ran from her brow, stinging her eyes. The control stick was like a live animal in her hands trying to escape. She just missed a small, low building before she hit the surface of the planet. She was thrown forward hard against her harness and as her head struck the main console one last thought passed through her mind; my helmet! Blackness engulfed her.
A roar rattled the windows and shook the house as something flew low overhead, followed by a dull thud, then silence. Tristan leapt out of his chair. An aircraft in trouble! The ache in his head forgotten, he grabbed a torch from his hall cupboard, threw open his front door and ran to where he thought the craft had gone down.
He barely avoided tripping over the uneven ground in the faint light cast by a cloud covered moon. His stomach churned as he rushed to the crash site. What was he going to find? He cursed his stupidity for ripping his phone off the wall. If the occupants were in a serious condition, he had no way of contacting the emergency services. Even if he had one a mobile was useless, no signal in this local area. He cleared a small rise, his breath coming in ragged gulps. A cloud cleared the moon, flooding the moor in silver light. He skidded to a halt, his chest heaving. The silver light faded into the matt black of the aircraft. This was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
Three round exhausts protruded from under a stubby tail. The fuselage tapered from the engines to a pointed nose, partially buried into the peat of the moor. Short wings attached to the centre of the fuselage, had two tubes projecting from them. They reminded Tristan of cannon barrels. He scrambled down the slope. Just in front of the wings he noticed a canopy, presumably where the pilot sat. His trained eye glanced over the craft's markings. They were weird shapes, totally unrecognizable as any country roundels or writing Tristan had ever come across during his days in the Navy. The whole thing, with its sharp angular lines and matt black colour, exuded an aura of purposeful menace.
Faint trails of smoke curled away from the side of the stricken craft. Orange flames crackled and danced under a broken panel forward of the engines, and the falling raindrops steamed and sizzled as they hit the hot metal.
The pilot was visible through the canopy, unmoving. The air shimmered from the heat of the fuselage. Tristan hesitated. As if sensing his reluctance, the flames suddenly leaped higher. He clenched his fists. I have to do this now. Taking a deep breath he jumped up on the stubby wing. The plastic of his boots started to melt on the hot metal, causing him to slip. Without thinking he put out a hand to steady himself. "Oh Shit!" The pain shot up his arm as the palm of his hand blistered.
Through gritted teeth, ignoring the pain from his hand, he felt carefully round the canopy. Panic tightened round his chest. Oh God, how does this thing OPEN!
A sudden stabbing sensation in his head made him gasp, almost pitching him forward against the canopy. A whispering; strange, alien, but compelling, filled his mind. With a faint click and hiss the canopy moved up and back into a recess in the fuselage. The pilot sat slumped forward; shoulder length, fair, almost white hair, reflecting the angry red glow of the instruments.
Tristan gasped and almost fell backwards off the craft. He grabbed the pilot's seat to steady himself, avoiding the hot metal of the fuselage. My God! He resisted the urge to turn and run. Its ears! They protruded from the pilot's hair, sharp and pointed. He hesitated only for a moment, and then he leaned forward and pulled the pilot back into the seat. What the hell was it? With a shrug he pushed away the questions racing through his mind, his hands shaking. He groped for the harness and found a buckle where the straps met at the creature's waist.
His searching fingers located a lever. He held his breath, and pulled, and the harness came free. He grabbed the pilot from around the shoulders and, grunting from the effort, pulled it from its seat.
Throwing the pilot over his shoulder, he did his best to avoid the hot metal of the craft's hull. He jumped from the wing. His feet slipped on the damp peat, pitching forward away from the hot craft; he dropped his burden. He cursed; his clumsiness could cost both their lives. He stood, the heat from the stricken craft hot on his back. In one fluid movement he bent down, scooped up the fallen pilot and threw it over his shoulder. Holding it steady, with an arm around its legs, Tristan ran. The added weight caused his feet to sink into the soft moorland peat. Each tuft of heather threatened to trip him as he carried the unconscious form to safety. Tristan glanced back, and flames were now leaping higher, spreading along the fuselage. Loud cracks and bangs rent the night as parts of the craft succumbed to the consuming heat of the fire.
The bloody things going to blow in a minute. The thought went round and round in his head as he struggled back up the slope. His chest heaved, his breathing laboured, his heart crashing against his ribs. He cleared the rise and plunged down the slope towards his cottage.
He ran as fast as his burden would allow, praying with every step that there was no hole or crevice in the uneven ground to catch his foot. With the added weight and, the speed of his headlong downhill rush, he would surely break a leg.
Half expecting an explosion to knock him off his feet, he paused to catch his breath, his heart crashing in his chest with the exertion. He glanced back, expecting to see the glow and flicker of leaping flames, but all was dark. That's strange. He resumed his downhill rush.
His whole body shaking with effort, he finally reached the cottage. Sinking to his knees, he propped the pilot against the wall. Taking deep gulps of air he waited for his body to recover. After a few moments he stood, turned, and keeping low ran back up the slope to the crashed craft.
Expecting an explosion at any moment, Tristan dropped to his knees then slowly edged forward to peer over the rise. The craft was covered in thick steaming foam. The flames were smothered, and the fire extinguished.
Thank God, an emergency fire control system. He stood, turned, and trudged back to his cottage. The pilot had not moved. Tristan opened his cottage door, and then bent and picked the creature up, as he did so his unconscious burden stirred and groaned.
Tristan hurried through the door, but in the hall he hesitated for a moment. Not knowing the extent of the pilot's injuries, he decided that the couch was not the best option. He carried the pilot upstairs, and laid it on his bed.
Right. Now, to see what you are!
With trembling hands he fumbled with the light switch, and blinking in the sudden brightness he took a step back. For a moment, primitive instinct took over like a giant hand gripping his chest, twisting and squeezing. He took a shuddering breath to quell the unreasoned urge to turn and run. What the hell had he rescued? The creature's skin was fair, almost translucent, with a faint, mauve tinge. The eyebrows were very thin and fine, almost nonexistent, a thin slightly turned up nose, high cheekbones and long pointed ears completed an ethereal, elf-like appearance.
"There's an alien in my bedroom. THERE'S AN ALIEN IN MY BLOODY BEDROOM!" He swallowed. The wind rattled the bedroom window, causing the raindrops to sound like a myriad tiny tapping fingers against the glass. For God's sake Tristan, pull yourself together! Red blood had trickled from the side of the alien's mouth and nose, an angry purple bruise spread across its forehead where it probably hit something during the crash. The creature was breathing without any difficulty, chest rising and falling in a gentle rhythm. Tristan looked at the creature's body, realisation sinking into whirling thoughts. The one piece jumpsuit it was wearing did not hide the curves. It's female!
He ran a trembling hand through his hair as he slumped down on his bedside chair. He gazed at the alien on his bed. In the silence he became aware of a tingling, whispering in his thoughts not under his control. He ignored it like the dull ache in his temple that had been a constant companion since the failed naval experiment. He returned his attention to the unconscious creature on his bed. The insignia and colour of the jumpsuit gave it a military appearance, confirming Tristan's impression of the crashed craft. A gun of some sort strapped to her thigh caught his attention.
"Better get rid of that quickly."
The sound of his own voice made him jump. He glanced at his burnt hands then back at the creature lying on his bed. "Aliens, and I'm talking to myself. I must be going mad!"
He stood and walked over to the bed, bent down and carefully removed the weapon while trying not to touch anything that might be a trigger. The weapon was pistol-shaped, with a thick, lethal looking barrel. He turned it over in his hands, the metal, polished and worn showing signs of use. He locked the thing in his safe at the bottom of his wardrobe. At least when she regained consciousness, if she did regain consciousness, she couldn't shoot him with it.
He returned to the bed and looked down on the creature. What now?
He loosened the collar of her suit to help her breathe. He fumbled for a moment with the fastening then pulled. The neck fastening came apart with a ripping sound like Velcro. A pulse on her neck looked strong and even. The skin was soft and warm to the touch, just like human skin. He glanced at her hands, four fingers, and a thumb; except for the faint mauve tinge, quite human looking. The body shape was in proportion and human-like too.
He carefully ran his hands down her limbs, checking for any obvious wounds or breaks. A small pocket on her hip, opposite to where the weapon had been strapped, contained a small flat box the size of a mobile phone. It looked harmless enough so he put it back. He checked the creature's boots; they had a side fastening similar to the Velcro on her suit's collar. He pulled and the fastening came away with the same ripping sound. He removed her boots. Her feet, like her hands, were small and slim, each ending with five human looking toes.
Well that's surprising; an alien that could, at a pinch, pass herself off as human. What were the chances of that? Tristan shook his head and stepped back. Satisfied that there were no other obvious injuries, Tristan pulled the covers over her and turned out the light. He started downstairs and then thought better of it, and he returned to the bedroom, closed and locked the door. He had no idea what she would do if she came round and found herself in a strange place. She was probably military, so could be dangerous. He went back down the stairs and sat down.
He tried to order his thoughts. Was she really alien? Had he jumped to conclusions because of her strange appearance and the unknown configuration of the craft? No, he was certain she had not originated from any country on earth. Might she be the prelude to an invasion? Maybe a whole troop of aliens would burst in at any moment brandishing those lethal looking pistols. Perhaps she was lost and alone just needing help? Oh well, she was here now so what should he do next?
He could not take 'her' to a doctor or hospital. They would immediately report it to the authorities, and there was no telling what they would do. In all probability they would dissect the creature. Anyway, as she was an alien, doctors probably would not be able to help. A vet perhaps? He smiled to himself. Be serious!
Reporting the incident was out of the question, as was taking her anywhere there were people. They would panic; most would not have the same open mind as he had. He glanced at the model starship on the windowsill he had built as a child. He firmly believed there were many other beings in the vast universe. He believed that the people who thought humans were the only ones suffered from unforgivable arrogance.
He had bitter firsthand experience of the authorities and the medical profession! He rubbed the scar on the side of his forehead.
The only option was to keep her secret and care for her as best he could, providing she was not too badly injured and would recover. At first light he must cover the crashed ship. An old tarpaulin he had found in the woodshed would be ideal. He could camouflage it further with brush and bracken.
As Tristan sat quietly in the silence, he noticed again the whispering in his head. He strained to listen, to make sense of the faint voice and the occasional blurred images, but they were just out of reach. The tension and adrenaline had drained from his body, and now his hands, arms and shoulders ached. The palm of his burnt hand throbbed. He fumbled for his painkillers, swallowed two with a toss of his head, stretched and sighed. Everything can wait until the morning. He eventually fell asleep and dreamed strange dreams of alien planets and battles between vast black ships among the stars.