A sudden explosion of sound broke the silence of the night and hit like a wave over the princess. She jumped up, startled. It was time. She crept to the door and opened it, looking around. She let out her breath as she assured herself that everyone was asleep. Then she slid back to her bed and picked up her belongings. She buckled her gun around her waist and moved to the window. Holding tightly to her pack, she opened the long window that was used for airing out or cooling down the room. She threw a rope down the other side of the glass wall and inched her way down. No one saw the princess as she made her escape.
She stopped when she reached the ground and pulled the rope down and recoiled it. As she pushed it into the pack she thought she heard a sound. It grew louder as a winged horse came around the corner. She would not scream. She flattened herself against the cool wall as the large stopped and stood in front of her. It snorted and gestured toward it’s back. The princess climbed up and was carried into a fast pace. Then the Pegasus spread open its wings and soared up, up into the dark night sky.
They flew on through the night. The princess knew that this flying beast understood everything, but she didn’t. The Pegasus was supposed to be a myth. No one believed it. This must be a dream, she thought. She squinted, looking into the darkness, but she could see nothing. Maybe, she thought, since it is so stupid to be flying around on an ancient mythical horse, it will speak as well. She cleared her throat and spoke in a nervous tone.
“Excuse me. Where are we going and why are you taking me there? You are not real. I am dreaming, so help me to wake up because I must do something tonight.”
The Pegasus looked back at her. “You are doing something. I am taking you to where you must go. I am accompanying you on the first leg of your distant journey. I am here to protect you.”
“What? Protect me? I don’t believe you! In this century, the thirty-ninth century of Christ, it is impossible for you to be alive. Now please, go down. I must stop here. If, in fact, I am not dreaming, then we have reached the station.”
The Pegasus brought her down to the ground by the station, but far enough away so that no one could see them. A train had just come in and hoards of people and creatures from other planets and destinations were climbing off. The train sat hovering above the track of smooth pavement. A man lay in the cushion of air between ground and train repairing a loose valve. The Pegasus somehow had hidden his wings and appeared to be a regular horse. The princess rubbed her eyes in surprise. Perhaps he had been a horse all along. Perhaps she had dreamt the whole thing.
“Cargo, Miss?” A man said to the princess, pointing at the horse. The man’s long brown hair was tied in a ponytail and he had a small, walkie-talkie on a belt around his waist.
“Well, no, it’s....” She looked at the horse. He might give her some help later on. “Yes, I would like it if he could have the finest care and placement on your engine.”
“Fine,” said the train man. He gave her a look which claimed he thought she was either rich, or giving out money. He did not know that she was his princess who ruled Xailier.
She got on the train and settled herself into a non-drug area. Since smoking had been made obsolete, many people had formed addictions to drugs, and they were made legal.
The train started up and the princess watched the scenery of massive solar buildings and stations wizz by. She was glad she had dressed casually, she reached into her sack and pulled out a brush and combed her hair into a ponytail, fastening it with a silver cord. The woman in the seat beside her began to speak to the princess.
“It’s been nice out, hasn’t it? I’ve been sending my FXT’s out. So far none have returned. So I got a call from a guy down in Bristar, saying, `one of your robots turned up here.′ I mean, they must have gone bonkers. I’ve repaired them so many times. I think I’ll sell them and get something a little easier to handle. Less risky. But who needs an FXT? Everyone has some kind of infautomaton and, well, do you want one? I mean, I have one or two that are in good condition. Well, if you don’t want them, I’ll understand. If I can’t sell them, I guess I’ll take the tapes out and junk them, or sell them for parts... if I ever get them back.”
The princess had gotten a few nods and shakes of her head in between the lady’s questions. Then she turned away, clearly showing the lady that she did not want to talk.
“Well, I guess I’d better let you alone. You’re tired. They’re shutting everything down now, anyway.” The woman ruffled her things around and got into a comfortable position in her seat. The lights began to shut off one by one.
The princess leaned back and watched out the window again.
Now that the train’s interior was blackened, she could see out better. She could see the crescent of the moon which was visible above the dark shadows of the trees. Then she fell asleep.
The sun crept up over the waving grasslands ever so slowly as the train reached the station on the far end of Bristar. The sleeping forms inside the long machine began to stretch, yawn, and move around, collecting their belongings. Some people began to get up, as well as the woman beside the princess, and the princess herself.
“Are you getting out here, too? Where are you going?” the lady asked.
“Uh, to visit my cousin. And you?”
“Well, I have to pick up the infautomatons, remember? Oh, in case we meet again, (I forgot to tell you my name), I’m Candal Cre.” She extended her hand.
The princess thought fast. She needed a name to conceal her identity.
“Shanda Blore,” she said, and shook hands with Candal.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Blore. Oh, there’s a man waving to me. He’s got my robots. I’d better go.”
“Miss Cre!” Shanda called out. Candal turned. “Be careful. Those Police are dangerous,” she said with a worried look.
“Don’t worry,” Candal smiled reassuringly, then walked away. That was the last word anyone ever heard from her. The princess later found out that the Police had taken her FXT’s and had killed Candal.
The Police were not police who aided in keeping order. This was a group who was not legal, yet not illegal. They were sent out to destroy the FXT’s which contained information obtained from different places and planets. The Police learned all the information and then destroyed the machines, killing the owners, and rising higher in power. They wanted to gain access to the whole solar system, including Earth, which had joined it recently when the two systems’ suns had led close paths, and the gravitational pull had grasped hold of Earth’s own pull and had brought it over. Then the suns departed and Earth stayed in it’s new system. During this change, all of Earth’s inhabitants had been consumed by the force of the pull and new settlers had been travelling and setting up new lives there.
The humans that existed in these worlds had come to the new systems when space travel was made fully accessible, although expensive. They had left Earth early on in the later centuries when it was realised that Earth could not be salvaged by the few inhabitants who actually cared for the dying planet. The pollution and waste that covered the Earth was too great, with more growing every day, and so, the ones who could afford to jump ship, did. The princess’s ancestors did, as did every other human’s. Africans, Indians, English, Scottish, Jewish, Asians, Germans, Russians. One good thing came from this. The humans were not prejudiced against themselves anymore. But now they became prejudiced against he so-called “aliens”.
The princess, now with the fabricated name of Shanda, stood at the platform’s edge with the Pegasus.
“Where to now?” it seemed to ask her as it looked at her questioningly.
“I’ll get to the nearest space station. I’ll need a lift to Earth.”
“Earth!” A voice behind her asked.
She whirled around to see a young man smiling puzzledly at her. He was about twenty-six or so with light brown hair and a tall, muscular build. He was extremely handsome. As he drew nearer, Shanda could see his blue-green eyes. “I’m Jeremiah. Jeremiah Handell.”
“I’m... I’m Shanda Blore,” she held out hand. He took it and kissed it.
“Enchanted.” They began to walk away from the noise of the crowds at the station. “You said you needed a ride to Earth. Well, I’m your ticket. I just happen to own a small ship.”
“Uh, no, you see, I don’t have enough to have enough cash for personal--”
“Cash? Cash nothing. Just your company will pay me. God knows I get lonely.” He smirked, “Listen, if you really want, I’ll pay you,” he said.
Shanda thought for a moment. She looked around at the train which was a distance away. He might be some help. Besides, she couldn’t refuse the look on his face. She looked at him and nodded.
“What about him?” She gestured towards the horse, who was munching on a tuft of yellow grass at his foot. “He’s mine.”
“Oh.” Jeremiah looked amused as he noticed the small, star-shaped mark on the animal’s neck. So it appeared to be the mythical Pegasus. Jeremiah had read about this creature, the living form of poetry. “What’s his name?”
“His name? Uh... it’s Pegasus.”
“How original.” He smiled. “Especially considering that that’s what he is.”
Shanda stared at him. She’d never seen anyone who looked like him before. He was beautiful. But then again, she’d never seen much of anyone. The men at the palace were old and huffy.
“Look, okay,” he said, face serious, “I’m teasing, but this... animal,” he glanced sideways at the horse, “is too big. He’ll never fit on my ship. There’s no cargo hold for animals.”
The horse knew that Jeremiah realised the pegasis’s bodily form, so he decided to speak up, quietly. “I’ll stay here. I’m not ecstatic about flying if someone else is controlling it.” He bowed his head to Jeremiah.
“That settles that,” Jeremiah said.
They found a place for the animal and Shanda paid for it’s board.
The pegasis stared into Shanda’s eyes. “I’ll be with you,” he whispered.
Jeremiah took her hand and led her from the building. Then they started for the hanger where Jeremiah had left his ship.
On the way there, Jeremiah explained what he had been doing at the station.
“I had a delivery to make to the conductor. Special equipment for the train.”
They turned into the hanger and Jeremiah pointed to a small ship. It stood on three platform legs and was flat and triangular. The cockpit was in the front, the first rounded corner to the triangle, and the back two corners held the wide engine rockets.
They walked over and Shanda eyed it closely. It was a good ship, and it wouldn’t attract attention. Jeremiah punched in the code and they went aboard. The interior was even less detailed, if so possible. A couple of places to sit and a small table were the only “real” furniture. They went up to the cockpit and Jeremiah pointed to the co-pilot’s seat. Shanda sat down and Jeremiah got the ship ready for take-off. The craft shook a little as it lifted off and the landing stands pulled up inside the craft. Once they were out of danger from the gravity, Jeremiah hit light speed and they spun out of Xailier’s perimeter.
It was silent for a while, until Jeremiah turned. “Hungry?” He asked the princess.
“No,” She returned, pointedly.
“Well,” Jeremiah was taken aback. “I could get you something. His face showed that he wished that she would have something.
Shanda turned. He didn’t seem so brash and sure of himself, as she had thought before. He appeared sensitive and easily hurt. “No,” she said, kindly this time.
“I guess it’s your stomach,” Jeremiah said, “but I’m going to eat.” He left the compartment. a moment later Shanda heard a muffled voice. “Come on back! It’s fine. It’ll navigate on it’s own.”
Shanda looked at the controls once more, stood up, brushing the creases out of her clothes, took a deep breath, and went back to the main compartment. There was some kind of odd music playing softly.
Jeremiah had his mouth full of some kind of chips. “Sit down and tell me about yourself.” He swallowed. “I know you’re beautiful and on a trip.”
“It’s not a trip!” Shanda interrupted. Jeremiah looked interested. “I mean, well, it’s a...,” she stuttered.
Jeremiah put the bag down and leaned forward. “Hey, I’m trustworthy. Tell me. I can help.” Shanda’s face twitched, and Jeremiah saw it. “Hey, that struck a chord. Come on, what are you up to?” he asked her suspiciously.
“I can’t tell you!” she snapped. What was this man doing, prying into her affairs?
“I’m the one giving you the lift. If it weren’t for me, you’d be paying.”
“I never asked you! If I can quote your words, I think that you said, `Just your company will pay me. If you want, I’ll pay you.‘” Shanda barked. Jeremiah looked surprised. `I bet he doesn’t get that often,’ Shanda thought.
Jeremiah stood up.
“Yeah? Well, I’m going to check our location. Right now, I think I’d rather have you off. I don’t usually say that to a woman, a beautiful one at that, but....” With that he turned on his heel and walked away.
`Yeah,′ Shanda thought, `I wonder if you ever have known a woman well. Not if you treat her this way. But, she decided, she’d really acted quite cruelly. He wasn’t that bad a guy. He had wanted her on his ship, and he’d offered her luxuries that she wouldn’t have on a public transport, like the food, music, and conversation. He’d also been flattering her quite a bit, but, she decided, that isn’t always what it seems.
Suddenly, a blast struck the ship. Shanda screamed and ran up to the cockpit. Jeremiah was hitting buttons, switches, and knobs in a frantic effort.
“What is it?!” Shanda screeched.
“Sit down!” he ordered.
“SIT DOWN! HERE!” He pushed her into the seat beside him and gave her a quick smile.
That wasn’t very reassuring, she thought. She looked out the cockpit’s portshield and saw a larger ship, a round, flat, disc-shaped ship, heading toward Jeremiah’s. “Police!” she yelled, pointing at it.
“I know, I know!” Jeremiah shot again at it. It returned fire. “My left engine’s gone.” Another blast shook the craft. “Damn! The right engine’s on fire. This thing’s gonna blow! We got to get out of here. Get your bag. Come on!” He pulled her out of the seat and toward him to her sack in the main compartment. Lights were flashing. Alarms were blaring. Shanda checked her her gun. It was still in its holster. Jeremiah had grabbed his own sack and now he pushed Shanda into a little pocket on the floor of the ship. Just before Jeremiah got in, he patted the wall.
“See ya, old girl,” he said, looking over his ship one last time. Shanda saw the look on his face and realised how upset he was about leaving his ship. Then he jumped down into the the pocket and closed the hatch. He pulled a lever and the small escape boat shot away from Jeremiah’s craft. Shanda turned and saw it explode into fiery particles which propelled into the darkness.
“Where are we going?” Shanda asked, turning around to face the front.
“There.” Jeremiah pointed to a distant planet.
“What planet is that?” Shanda demanded.
“I guess it must be Mochase... I think,” he added. “It’s supposedly safe for life forms. I’ve never been there myself, but I’ve heard that the civilians are very... different. Many kinds of races. An occasional human here and there, but we’ll survive. Let’s just hope the aliens are friendly,” Jeremiah informed Shanda.
“I’m scared,” Shanda whispered. She had never known adventure or fear. Her life had never possessed such activity. She ruled, yes, but most was done by officials. Jeremiah wrapped his arms about her. She instantly felt secure, but she would never had said it.
“We’re gonna have rather a rough landing. Crouch down,” Jeremiah pushed Shanda’s head down.
They skimmed the planet’s system and came down over the trees to a rocky field. Shanda screamed as the escape boat bumped along the ground and finally came to a stop. Jeremiah opened the hatch and clambered out, helping Shanda out behind him.
“Are you all right?” he asked, brushing himself off.
“I-- I guess so,” Shanda said, rather shakily. “I’m still kind of frightened.
“It’s okay now,” Jeremiah said, pulling her to him. He hugged her for a moment, but she pulled away.
“I feel better now. Thank you.” Shanda turned away.
Jeremiah walked over in front of her. “You know,” he said, “I’ve been thinking. You look so familiar.” Shanda sucked in her cheeks. If he guessed now.... “I don’t know. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it,” Jeremiah said.
Shanda felt relieved. She was safe for a little while longer, but he could recognise her at any minute. She looked at her watch, which automatically changed it’s time to the correct hour, minute, and second of each area or planet according to the location of the sun. Ten-thirty-two at night. She chuckled to herself. `I bet those old worriers back home are in pandemonium,′ she thought.
“What’s so funny?” Jeremiah asked.
“Oh, I was just thinking of good fun back home,” Shanda said.
“Really? Where do... did... do you live?” Jeremiah asked, trying to conceal the fact that he wasn’t sure if she’d live there again.
“Well, uh, just outside of Quarachate,” she lied.
“Oh, and what were you doing in Bristar? Why are you going to Earth?”
Shanda thought for a minute. “Nothing. I’ve told you already. I can’t tell you why. Now,” she changed the subject, “where are we going to stay, Mr. Bright Idea? It’s dark and I’m cold.”
“I’ll find you a place,” he said, leading her out of the dark field and trees.
The Pegasus was back in the stable, resting. `I’ve done my job in protecting her for now. I’ve passed her off to another. I hope he can do as much.′ Then the Pegasus lay down and fell asleep.
Jeremiah was trying to talk to a Gourma, a creature with two legs, four arms, and silver-coloured scales all over its rotund body. The Gourma was shaking its head and pointing to the back of the crowded old building.
“Ja mapor lam Tofache kan pader jer,” it said.
“I’m not trying to get a big room,” Jeremiah tried to explain. “I just want two small, connected rooms.”
“Nan,” the creature said, ” vast coom lato jone crope Je gern.”
Jeremiah turned back to Shanda. “He says he only has a small room out back,” and before Shanda could object he turned and said,
“We’ll take it.”
As they went up the decaying stairs to their room, Shanda said in a disgusted tone, “Great! Now what? I don’t plan on sleeping with you, Mr. Handell.”
“Of course not,” Jeremiah returned. “I’ll be sleeping on the floor.”
`Well,′ thought Shanda, `he certainly is willing to please.′ Then she said aloud. “Where did you learn Gourmese?”
“Well, you see, I’ve been almost everywhere. Not here, but nearby. Those Gourmas are around. They’re not really evil, but they’re also not to be trusted with your innermost secrets, if you know what I mean. Ah, here we are.”
They had come upon the door with the same markings as the ones on the leather strip attached to the key. Jeremiah unlocked the door and pushed it open with some effort, since it had been warped from disuse. He was greeted by a small room, dirty and unkempt. The walls, which at one time, were probably cream-coloured, were mottled with charcoal and dust, fingerprints and bugspit. The bed was torn and its innards were spilling out. The few chairs scattering the dusty, mud-packed floor were either ripped or broken. The ceiling had a gash in it, with cracks reaching out from the wound, and the one lone window was streaked with dirt and cobwebs.
Jeremiah whistled. “Ain’t exactly Honeymoon Suite, is it?” He said, staring at the room.
Shanda’s mouth hung open in disbelief. “Oh, my God!” she murmured.
“I think it’s gonna take more than a god to clean this place up,” Jeremiah said, glancing around at the strewn furniture.
“I’m not touching this room!” Shanda quickly turned away, but Jeremiah caught her by the elbow and prevented her from retreating. She stared at him with blazing eyes.
“I’m sorry, Miss!” Jeremiah shot out, “but my rules say we do this together or we won’t have anywhere to stay. It’s late and we’re lucky we got a room here.”
“Who else would’ve taken it?” Shanda muttered.
“You can go parading around, looking for a gold-trimmed room
if you want, or you can stay and help me get this fixed up so we can stay here tonight.”
Shanda looked at his stern face, and let her tense muscles relax.
“Come on,” Jeremiah softened. “I’ll do most of it.” He paused. “Well, over half, maybe.”
They worked until past midnight washing, stitching, and hammering.
“I guess the people here sure sleep well. They haven’t noticed us at all.” Jeremiah said, wiping the last of the dirt off the window. Shanda smiled. “That’s a good sign! You’re actually smiling.” He took her chin in his hand and forced her to look into his eyes. “Keep it on, will you? I kinda like it.” Then he turned away, unfolding a blanket and spreading it on the floor. Shanda watched him in silence. He really was wonderful. Just... different. She decided she liked that.
“Thank you,” she said.
“What for?” Jeremiah turned around.
“Everything. The ship, the rescue, the room, the bed. Are you sure you’ll be okay there?” Shanda asked.
“Sure. Mochase has a warm climate. I’ll be fine.” Then Jeremiah blew out the large candle and they laid down. Being so tired after the work they had exerted on the room, both fell asleep thinking of each other.