Nevaeh sat motionless beneath the black sky. It had been an arduous trek up the mountain and she was glad of the rest. She carefully pressed the homing device against her thigh and felt a prickle of heat radiate out from her leg. The thin metal plate was tuned to her own bio-rhythms. It looked insignificant for such a complex piece of technology but she knew it was strong enough to penetrate the electromagnetic radiation surrounding the planet.
The outline of her body rested against a lump of stone that stood out from the cliff. It had been rolled into place by her ancestors who had once summoned chariots from the stars. Nevaeh settled her mind, intent on such summoning. Dim recollections hovered in the inky folds of her brain; a meteor shower from deepest space… light ships camouflaged as dead rock… her brothers and sisters flung out across the galaxy. “They will come back for me,” she whispered to the small dog dozing at her side. The dog lifted its snout and offered a friendly smile.
At length, a chill crept into her limbs. She clutched the warm crystal embedded in her chest. Its hoary light illuminated strange glyphs etched into her breastbone; sacred symbols that told of her origin, though, in truth, she had had trouble recalling their meaning. The process had blanked her memory but she undertsood the necessity of this. No distractions. Her mission was critical and thoughts of home would only get in the way, In time, it would all come back to her. She traced her finger along the edge of the crystal. It was a little skewed to one side. A minor imperfection, she thought. The power that it yielded was what mattered. At least for a while.
The dog picked up a stick and dropped it at her feet. Nevaeh stood up and pushed it away with her toe and the dog placed it back at her feet. ‘I wish my mission was as simple as yours,” she said. ” I’d run for a stick and place it at my masters feet anyday.’
The dog nudged the stick closer to her toe. She bent down and picked it up. The dog braced its paws in the earth. Nevaeh threw the stick into a black wall of trees behind her and it scurried off. Moments later, it bounded back, the stick clenched in its jaws. It lay the stick down at her feet and growled playfully. Nevaeh crouched down, her long blonde hair bright in the moonlight. ’I am your master, Skarg. I am master of all. Save your growl for the night cats.” Nevaeh smiled and hurled the stick into the trees and it raced away.
The silence of the forest was broken by the sound of Skarg wrestling amongst the thickets. A bird screeched and flew up into the air, and then a piercing yelp shattered the air. Nevaeh waited for the dog to return.
‘Skarg...’ she said. A strange silence settled over the wood. Even the birds made no sound. She left her bag on the ground and headed toward the trees. The light from the crystal illuminated the ground at her feet, yet it only intensified the darkness around her and stopped her from seeing what lay hidden in the undergrowth. She was sure the stick had landed near by.
A break in the trees opened up and she strode over the ground further into the gloom. Twigs snapped underfoot. A spat of rain hit her cheek. She scanned the woods looking for her friend. His white fur would be bright enough to see, she thought. Another sound lifted out the silence. It lapsed just out of synch with her own footfall. She stopped, and spun round in the dark. ’Skarg,” she said again. “Is that you, boy?” The noise or whatever it was faded and she began walking again, aware that her heart was beating a little faster. The sound kept pace with her to the left. She swung round and forced the crystal to illuminate the area around her. What looked like a shadow hovered and vanished in the falling rain.
Her hear beat faster. The trees opened up and in the distance she saw a flash of white fur beneath an old log. She hurried over the uneven ground, alarmed at how still the dog seeemed. Skarg’s small body became more defined as she approached the log. She knelt down and placed her hand on his back and felt his skin sink under her touch.
His legs remained fixed on the cold earth and she pulled him round. His robust body had a heavy centre of gravity but as she pulled him over, it was as if there was nothing to him. Something wet and warm seeped over her other hand. She angled the crystal to light the area beneath his body and then the full horror opened up to her. Skarg’s intestines lay in her hand on a pile of dead leaves.
A sick, dizzy feeling took a hold of her and she knew with a deep feeling of dread that whatever did this was lying in wait for her. The shadow hovered a few meters behind her. It moved soundlessly through the trees, the wet sheen of its body glistening in the rain. A clap of thunder forced Nevaeh up and she took to her heels.
She ran headlong through the undergrowth. The rain beat down in torrents and she slipped over some wet roots. She was up in a flash, the dark thing caught in a streak of lightening. She had no time to stare. The creature slashed at the sapplings and scuttled over a log with frightening speed, its slack jaw riddled with fangs and the remains of Skarg’s insides.The flash of lightening vanished and the darkness sucked the creature away. Nevaeh ducked under the bow of a tree, her movements swift now that her eyes had adjusted to the dark. If she could just get back to her bag and the weapon she had tucked inside it...
She ran wild, unaware of thorns ripping at her arms. The black hulk moved fast. She could almost feel its breath on the back of her neck. She ran back to the edge of the woods. Moonlight broke through the trees. The outline of her bag lay near the edge of a rocky outcrop and she raced to it, fumbled inside, her long fingers scrabbling madly for the gun.
Then a strange waft of air sucked her hair upwards and she glanced up to see the creature’s spiked abdomen sail over the top of her head, as if it knew her intention. It landed in front of her with a thud. Nevaeh lurched to a halt, her hand empty. She stumbled back, all the momentum of her escape lost in its shadow. The creature reared up, its jaws clicking in a wild frenzy as it reached out to wrench the crytsal from her chest.
A burst of white light exploded before her eyes and burned a hole through the creature’s thorax. A horrid, chittering scream pierced the air. Black liquid burst out of the creature‘s flesh and spattered Nevaeh’s face.
She thought lightening had struck again but as the creature fell to the ground, she noticed the outline of another figure standing on the edge of the woods. As the smoke from the creature’s seared flesh cleared, Nevaeh recognised the compact figure of her guardian.
Sonam holstered her laser. She approached the girl, her creased face old before its time. Her bright blue eyes surveyed the remains of the bug at their feet and she clucked her tongue in disapproval. “What have I said about carrying your laser?” Neveah looked down at her feet, ashamed. Sonam handed her a small gun with an ivory inlay patterened on the silver metal. “I said don’t leave home without it.”
The smoke from the fire curled up into the thin morning air. Nevaeh turned restlessly in her sleep. Her hand twitched as she reached out in her dream to grab Skarg who was teetering over a dark chasm, his innocent face lost in the grip of terror. She kept reaching out to him but even as consciousness slipped into her mind, the little dog fell away into the yawning abyss and she awoke to the sound of her own stifled sob.
Sonam sat silently by the fire. ’He is gone now,” she said in a gruff voice. She stood up and made her way to the horses tied up under the trees, her jaw set hard against the girl. Nevaeh lay back on the blanket and took a deep breath. At source, the human mind was weak compared with her intelligence and yet for all that she felt like a cursed child who knew little about the ways of the world and even less about its dangers. Perhaps this was the reason she was sent to Earth so it wouldn’t feel so painful to the rest of humanity when the very core of her being was ripped out. Sonam returned and damped out the fire.
“It is time.”
The crystal sent a stabbing pain through Nevaeh’s chest.
“Will it hurt when they remove it?”
“A little. No more than the dog’s pain, I suppose.”
The words stung her. Sonam regretted saying them. She knelt down beside her, aware of the distance between them, a distance that she herself had been unable to bridge.
The girl she once knew had disappeared from her life and in her place this other being had walked in. The earth that had brought joy into their hearts had long since eroded; she on the lowland with all the troubles of the world and this girl up on higher ground with grand visions of the stars. Even if she could reach her, she feared it was too late.
She lay her hand on Nevaeh’s shoulder. “The stone is what matters now.” Nevaeh couldn’t summon the motivation to move. “Isn’t my power enough?” she asked. Sonam shook her head. “More blood has been shed over this crystal then you will ever know.” She lifted her chin in the direction of the bloated creature lying in the earth. “The Archons will stop at nothing to get it.”
“But I am descended from the Ancients,” said Nevaeh. She detected an irritation in Sonam’s voice. “You are already born. The Ancients are beyond anything you could imagine.” Nevaeh hated it when her guardian was fractious. She was the Star Child, after all, not a simple Earth dweller. She willed a stream of energy from her hands.
“Like this,” she said.
“You ought not to play with fire.”
“But I am fire.”
It felt good to be elevated in this way. An intelligence this rare was worth waiting for. She spun the energy into a ball of light that cast out the shadows surrounding them.
“I am the bringer of light,” she whispered. Sonam squinted into the shadows. “A light you may need.”
The steep path led them back down the mountain. The jungle breathed its cool mist into Nevaeh’s lungs. Occasional tracts of land flashed into view. The openness startled her. It was as though she could see for the first time; the sweep of the valley, the distant patchwork of fields dotted with stone dwellings and the great clumps of trees that cast long shadows on the ground. It filled her with a strange longing. She would be a part of it soon. She would be out of the dark, visible to whatever was down there.
The flesh and bone creature she’d been given felt heavy and dull beneath her. A horse Sonam had called it.
“Horse,” Nevaeh repeated dumbly one day.
“Why do you say ‘horse’ as if you have never seen one? He is yours.”
Nevaeh ignored the churlish woman. How could she know what she had or hadn’t seen? The Ancients had no business with horses. It was simply a beast driven by simple desires like humans. She pulled the reins to keep it on the intended path. Why the near-mindless thing felt the need to divert was beyond her. At least the rhythm of its movements was something she could attune herself to. She had never ridden such a creature before but he let her guide him amiably enough.
A faint buzzing sound caught her attention, not a natural sound, distant. Sonam seemed more intent on scouring the undergrowth around them, as if something dangerous would leap out at any moment. Nevaeh knew there was nothing but insects and small animals scurrying about, hungry, defensive, instinctual. Something rustled in the bushes off to the right. Sonam drew her weapon. “It is just the wind,” Nevaeh cautioned. Sonam relaxed, returned her weapon to her belt.
Moments later they reached the edge of the forest. Beyond, lay miles of flat, brown fields. Nevaeh sensed the energy of the parched land stretching to the horizon. So thirsty. The buzzing sound returned, drew her gaze upwards. Sonam turned her horse back to the cover of the trees, motioning the girl to do the same. Nevaeh halted for a moment; her senses located the source of the distant, artificial buzz. A small yellow craft bounced up over a field, its wings bright in the sun. It was more than a buzz, it was something pleasurable. She could feel joy radiating from it, even from this distance.
“They have crafts down here?”
Nevaeh watched the duster bank around the field in a lazy swooping arc. For some reason it made her smile.
Mia Martinez put her foot on the gas as hard as she dared on the dirt road. Damned if Luke hadn’t decided to take off in the Chop Suey before she could even get into the truck. Her grimy Club Mexico baseball cap bounced around her head. She pulled it down hard. He was only supposed to spray the south crops twenty rows.The corn was in bad enough shape during this drought but too much pesticide on the north side and they might as well pack it in for the season. The crop duster flashed into view in her wing mirror, accelerated along the field and shot up over the roof of the cab. He was such a showboat!
Mia brought the grain truck to a halt and grabbed a red flag on a pole from the passenger’s seat. She glanced at the latest edition of ‘UFO DIGEST’ lying in the dusty foot-well of the cab. So much for a quiet read in the midday sun. Not that anyone was interested, especially not her brother. “Listen, chipmunk,” he’d say with a sardonic grin. “The only craft you need to be concerned about has got two wings, a Rolls-Royce engine and the best pilot in town.”
It didn’t put her off. Ever since she could remember, she had looked to the stars each night in the hope that she’d see strange lights; a blimp, a disc, something unexplained wobbling on the horizon. “I mean, in this huge galaxy,” she quizzed her grandmother, “we can’t be the only ones, right?”
The old woman smiled knowingly into her granddaughter’s eyes. “Correcto,” she said in her native tongue. Luke laughed. “Yeah, you, me and the birds, kiddo.”
Rosa Martinez, the grand old widow of the Martinez farm felt the weight of her convictions pressing down on her soul like a hundred bibles. ‘Star Bibles’, her dead daughter had once called them. “You mean people from other dimensions?” insisted Mia shortly after her mother’s funeral. The old woman brushed away a tear from her eye and nodded again. “Yes,” she whispered as the Mariachis hired to keep vigil through the long night struck up a mournful tune.
Mia ran out along the edge of the field in the sweltering heat and hoisted the flag into the hot air. The Chop Suey made a lazy turn in the blue sky. The buzz of the engine turned to a scream and it dived towards her. Luke banked the duster towards the flash of red in a sea of yellow and brown. He grinned with the rush that flight always gave him.
The Chop Suey pulled up, barely twenty feet above the baked flat soil and dry vegetation below. “Adios, bugs,” he breathed. He pushed the drop lever forward. Behind him, pesticide spewed out from the trailing edge of the duster’s wings and blanketed the field in a cloud of white spray. Mia glanced back as the duster roared towards her, the lethal chemicals boiling out of its wings. She imagined all the bugs curling up and dying under the choking mist.
“..eighteen, nineteen, twenty.”
That was it. Past that point was the real kill zone. She yanked the flag back up into the air, pulled her Walkie-talkie from her jacket.
Luke pulled the nose of the duster back out the field, banked left toward the rising but already burning sun. Glancing over his shoulder, he strained to catch Mia further down the field.
“How many you on?” he barked over the radio.
Half a kilometer away and a few hundred feet below, Mia frowned.
“How many rows, Mia?” Luke’s voice crackled in her ear.
“Twenty like you said.”
“I said ten.”
“We do twenty, I’ll miss half the field!”
The duster buzzed over her head, banked again towards the sun. The breeze from its wake washed over her, a moment’s respite from the heat. The plane came closer for a second pass, this time flying low enough to give her a haircut. Mia ducked down, stamped her foot on a big crunchy bug. “Damn well said twenty.”
The Chop Suey banked again and leveled out on a new path; a suicide run toward power lines just a few meters above the truck. God, he was crazy, but a crazy that made her heart pound. “Yeah, I’d like to see you try, big shot,” she breathed with anticipation. Luke pushed the wing flaps down, so low he was clipping the tops of the corn stalks. He swooped under the power line, a smug smile on his face and then pulled hard on the ailerons to roll up. The Chop Suey’s engine responded by coughing loudly into a stall.
“Hey, you’re dumping air!” Mia called over the radio.
“Relax, chipmunk, it’s just a little popcorn in the muffler.”
Luke flicked the engine switch off and on again. Nothing. The prop was frozen.
“Great. Stand by…”
He jammed all the flaps down to steady his dive. The Chop Suey dropped like a stone into the field. The impact near bounced him right through the cockpit window. “Oh, shit…” he said. The plane thundered toward a big tree a hundred or so meters ahead. He tried to pull round but the wheels had locked in the rutted ground as the tree grew bigger and bigger until...
The duster smashed right into it, catapulting Luke into oblivion.
More than a kilometer away, Mia’s eyes went wide. She ran for the truck. A flock of crows screeched from the tree line just beyond the crash site. The frightened birds flew directly over Nevaeh and Sonam. Sonam urged the horses away from the calamity. “It isn’t safe here. We must move on.” Nevaeh sat motionless on her steed. She felt an acute need to act and urged her horse out into the fields, toward the downed sky-craft and the joy that lay within.
Mia bounced the old grain truck over the far side the field. Through the muddy windscreen, the Chop Suey didn’t look too bad. A bent prop at worst, she thought. Well, that could be fixed, but not… She erased the black hearse taking Luke to the cemetery out of her mind. She slammed to a halt beside the duster and jumped out the truck. When she pulled open the cockpit door, a sick feeling welled up in the pit of her stomach.
Luke lay slumped over the controls, his face a mess of blood and bone. What struck her most, however, was the odd smile on his lips. He looked happy, almost childlike. It was a happiness she hadn’t seen in a long time. Had he died and gone to heaven? No, his chest rose and fell steadily and her older brother never smiled at the thought of heaven, least not that she could recall and he didn’t have time to squander it on such flights of fancy. Except once.
She couldn’t have been more than five or six or years old. The hot night had kept her wide awake. She heard the front door bang and crept to the window to see Luke heading out across the yard. She knew where he was going. Even though she begged him to take her, Comet Point was strictly ‘off limits’. Well, not tonight. She climbed out the window, slid down the drain pipe and raced across the yard toward the edge of the field. The tall corn stalks dwarfed her. She could hear the vague shushing of corn up ahead where Luke was walking.
Comet Point lay on the steep side of the hill to the north, a bluff that brought you to within touching distance of the stars. Luke’s pace never varied. It was easy to keep up with him until she realized his footsteps had faded away. She halted, aware only of a light wind in her face and the deepening night sky above. A hand spun her around. Mia’s heart leaped. Luke’s face loomed out the dark. “Hey, gumshoe,” he said and disappeared without protest into the shadows. Mia followed him in silence, a warm feeling in her stomach.
The steep rise of the hill made her legs burn. She kept her eyes on Luke’s boots in order to keep up with his long, loping stride. When he stopped, she crumpled into the back of his leg. Darkness rushed by her, a strange tunnel-like vision sucked her to the ground. Luke lifted her up. “No point in passing out now,” he said with a grin. She followed his gaze up to the stars sparkling in the dark abyss. As if on cue, a shooting star streaked across the sky. There was an unearthly silence to its motion, a sudden burst of light that pricked the soundless vacuum as it fell across the face of the earth.
Another comet breached the horizon. More followed, small sparks of life that shot across the heavens on their mysterious, billion-year-old journey through the cosmos. Mia marveled at the display. It made her feel bigger than anything she could imagine and at the same time small and fleeting like one the stars.
“Neat,” was all she could say. She turned to face Luke and saw him staring into the bushes. “What you looking at?” she asked, a little hurt that he seemed less interested in the display. He ignored her, his eyes straining in the dark. He pursed his lips and let out a sigh. “What is it?” she said again. Luke turned away. ’Nothing,” he said. “C’mon…” He walked away and the sky felt dark and empty.
The dust in the cockpit of the plane made Mia’s eyes smart and she knew she had been crying. “Hey, bro,” she said quietly, “wake up.” A shadow fell over her. White light melted around the edges of a figure standing above her, like solar rays bursting from the sun. Mia raised her hand to block out the light. The figure got off her horse, mounted the wing. It was a girl with pale skin, wearing some kind of Mayan costume like you only saw at festivals or tourist traps. The girl clutched at something in her chest. Mia couldn’t make out what it was until she removed her hand and she saw light oozing from a fist-sized crystal knitted into her skin. “Allow me to help,” said Nevaeh. Mia stepped out of the way, as though she’d been pushed back by the air itself. The girl leaned in through the open cockpit door and took Luke’s head in her hands. A white glow suffused the air around the girl’s hands.
The energy spun around Luke’s head, knitting the skin over the exposed bone. Save for a red mark where the crack in his skull had been, Luke’s head had been miraculously healed. The pale skinned girl drew her hands away. It was a miracle, like a saint or an angel had come down from the heavens.
“Who are you?” Mia sputtered out. “What did you just do?”
The girl turned, fixed her regal gaze on her.
“I am Nevaeh Lux. And you?”
Mia took a gulp.
“Mia. Mia Martinez.”
Luke groaned and started to lift his hands to his head.
“That’s my brother, Luke.”
The girl had already mounted her horse. She was smiling. The wind rippled through her blonde hair.
“If anyone should ask you about this day, Mia Martinez, you can tell them your brother was healed by an Nu-Tehran from the seventh dimension.”
Mia watched her go, bewildered.
“Sure, Nutella, seventh dimension,” she heard herself say.