Inspired by, and Dedicated with love to, my dear friend Annie
I lay dozing in the pilot's couch, periodically performing a one-eyed visual scan of the control instruments. As usual all readings were in the green; which was good since the ship was flying on automatics.
I'd lifted from the moon's deep space launch site 35 days ago on a 10 year resupply mission to New Earth, the fourth planet of Proxima Centauri. It was pretty much a trash hauling mission and, for all practical purposes, I was just along for the ride. Union regulations required a qualified pilot be aboard on all missions but the ship was perfectly capable of making the trip without any help from me. Of course, the main computer could fail I guess... but that had never happened in the past 200 years, and the ship was far too complicated for me to operate with out the main computer anyway.
I had signed on as a commercial cargo pilot shortly after being kicked out of the Space Defense Force, following an unfortunate incident involving Annie, the Wing Commander's eighteen year old daughter. I told the court martial panel that I'd have to be crazy to do anything like that. They apparently agreed with that assessment and decided they didn't need any additional crazy pilots.
It's a good job and I get to visit a lot of interesting new places but it's dead boring, not to mention lonely, between planet falls. I've always thought they should at least require a female co-pilot be added to the mandatory crew...but haven't been able to sell that idea as yet.
Just as I drifted back into my reverie involving the Commander's lovely young daughter, a loud warning horn blasted throughout the ship! Panic stricken, I snapped bolt upright, my eyes wildly seeking the cause of this rude interruption. Adrenalin flooded my system as the 'fight or flight' syndrome kicked in but, of course' neither fight nor flight was a realistic option. I slowly regained some semblance of rational thought and realized that the Proximity Warning klaxon was sounding and its red warning light flashing. I could also feel the thrust of the Anti-Collision jets taking evasive action to avoid collision. A large mass of something was nearby and rapidly moving closer! Peering out through the thick front and side ports I saw nothing except the unmoving star field against the absolute blackness of deep space.
Well, something was damn well out there! These systems don't make mistakes like that; much less two systems simultaneously. Something was going to impact my ship! There was no time reach the escape capsule or even to don a space suit. It would be an exercise in futility anyway; I'd be long dead before any rescue ship could possibly reach me, even if anyone tried - which they wouldn't.
Resigned to my fate, I waited for the hull to be breeched by an asteroid, a piece of space junk, or whatever it was that I had been lucky enough to have found in the vast emptiness of space... and then I was going to die; quickly and quietly in the hard, cold vacuum that existed outside the hull. Well hell, if I'm going to die I might as well be comfortable I thought, as I resumed my previous prone position on the command couch awaiting the inevitable.
Suddenly the anti-collision jets kicked off and the warning horn fell silent. The flight deck became so quiet I could hear the hydraulic servo motors making their normal minute corrections in the ships attitude. Apparently the crisis had been averted.
Just then I heard a soft thump, as something bumped gently against the outer hull. Well, at least it was a soft collision, I thought. After a few more moments of thunderous silence, I heard another sound from the outside hull. It sounded as though an air lock had mated itself to the main exit hatch.
Thoroughly confused now, I peered out through the window of the entrance hatch and, instead of the normal blackness of deep space, I saw a well lit corridor leading to another ship! Now I was even more confused...what were the chances of another ship finding me in this vast emptiness between the stars, especially without contacting me by ship-to-ship radio before docking? This was getting weirder by the moment.
I moved to the communications console to make sure the system was turned on. As I finished a successful self-test on the comm gear, I heard a soft knock on the exit port hatch. What the hell was going on? Who comes knocking on your front door when you're millions of miles from the nearest planet?
Peering out through the entrance hatch port, I saw a space-suited figure peering back at me! Without thinking of the ramifications, I spun the dogging wheel, unlocking the hatch, then pushed the hatch outward. The suited figure caught the hatch door and pushed it out until it locked in the open position, then stepped into the cabin.
The face plate of the suit was so darkly tinted that I couldn't see the person inside. After checking some sort of gage fixed to the right arm of the space suit, the figure seemed satisfied and reached up to release the helmet seal.
As the helmet was removed, the head of a beautiful young female was revealed! Her short black hair gleamed in the bright flight-deck lights and her soft, sensuous lips curved up into a broad smile. Her dark cat-like eyes were slightly slanted giving her an exotic appearance.
"Greetings Earthman, got room for a hitch-hiker in distress?" she asked in a soft, slightly husky voice.
Thank you God for providing in my hour of need, I thought rather irreverently. But what was this "Earthman" stuff all about?
Unsealing the body of her space suit without waiting for an answer, she quickly worked her way out of her suit and stowed it on a hook near the open hatch. Turning back to me I noticed she was wearing a uniform of some type consisting of a loose black and red tunic with black, form fitting trousers. Black leather-like ankle boots completed her uniform.
Pretty fancy for a space pilot I thought. I was clad in my usual in-flight uniform; white Jockey briefs with a frayed waistband.
"Where the hell did you come from," I asked in a bewildered tone.
"Zanc Romular," she replied curtly, as though that explained anything at all.
"Right!" I responded. "Is this some kind is a surprise inspection to test my emergency procedures? Who are you... and what the hell is a Zanc Romular?"
"I do not understand your phrase 'Emergency Procedures', Zanc Romular is my home planet and my name is Anezenanix," she replied rather tersely.
"OK, This is going nowhere! You've got me completely confused now. How about we sit down and you can tell me just what in hell is going on here," I said, guiding her to the empty right pilot's couch then eased myself into the command pilot's left couch.
"Look, I can't even come close to pronouncing your name so if you don't mind I'll just shorten it to Annie," I said, smiling at my own private joke. "My name is Dave, by the way. Now, let's start over. In simple words, tell me the whole story about how and why you came to be here."
She stared at me for a moment then, apparently deciding I could handle the truth, began her narrative.
"First of all Zanc Romular is a planet orbiting the star you know as Ursa Minor."
"That's ridiculous," I interrupted with a snort. "That's hundreds of light years from here and, at least to me, you don't look nearly old enough to have made THAT trip!" My god I thought, if she were telling the truth she'd have had to have traveled half way across the galaxy... that's impossible! She must be suffering from oxygen deprivation. Either that or she's been smoking something funny.
"Thousands of years ago, my people developed a hyperspace drive which makes the term 'light years' meaningless, at least in the context of space travel. With this drive we can jump across time instead of through it, you stupid creature... and stop interrupting me if you want to hear the story," she snapped.
Properly chastised, I sat back with a rueful grin and said, "Sorry, please continue."
"Anyway, with the use of hyperspace drive, we have explored most of the star systems in this galaxy and, as far as we know, the planet you refer to as 'Earth' is the only other populated planet in our small backwater corner of the universe. We have been monitoring Earth for a few thousand years now," she explained. "My main drive unit failed a few sleep periods ago and I was trapped in normal space until I could fix it. I was running low on oxygen when I spotted your ship and decided, to hell with the rules, I was going to make first contact a little ahead of schedule."
"I apologize for my manners," I said contritely. "It's just that you scared the hell out of me... and near-death experiences tend to make me grumpy!"
"Ok, you're excused for your less than enthusiastic welcome. I'm also sorry that my unannounced arrival frightened you but, as my comm unit is not compatible with your antiquated equipment, I really had no choice in the matter," she explained rather sarcastically.
"All right Annie, so we got off on the wrong foot, but we've both apologized so let's try to get to know each other better. If you are really from another star system, how is it you speak English so well," I asked tentatively, hoping she would loosen up a bit. I knew that we had both recently had been convinced that our deaths were imminent and were still edgy. What we needed now was to relax and get our heads screwed on straight again.
.... There is more of this story ...