~ Chapter 3 ~
Tears streamed down Aunt Del’s face as she handed Aiden a package. “Put this in your bag,” she said, and sniffled. She gave him a long, tight hug before shoving a clean handkerchief in his hands.
He pushed back tears. “I’ll be okay. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Aunt Del nodded and dabbed her face with a handkerchief.
Aiden turned to Drew and lightly pushed him. “Look after Aunt Del.” Stuffing the package into his bag and the handkerchief in his pocket, he walked to the pod. Even though it was as tall as a house, it looked too small for space travel. Doctor Hudson, at the top of the ramp, waved and disappeared inside. It was only ten metres away, but it seemed to take him an age to reach it. He guessed that the other three testing their powers were already aboard and that he was the last to arrive thanks to Aunt Del insisting on ironing his jeans just as they were about to leave.
“Bye!” called Drew. “A photo of every alien!”
Aiden turned and waved one last time. The ramp rose, and the last thing Aiden saw was Aunt Del furiously and hopelessly wiping away tears. He took a deep breath and turned inside. The pod was as he remembered. The controls were simple – a few buttons, switches and screens, not a complex dashboard with row upon row of lights he had imagined. Bajool sat at a control panel. The other three sat in a row of seats along with an old woman and Doctor Hudson. One was a girl with sparkling green eyes and long flowing black hair. He stared. He didn’t want to blink.
“Ah, Aiden,” said Doctor Hudson. The thin woman next to him regarded Aiden disapprovingly. Aiden stopped gawking. “I’ll introduce you. Aiden Dempster this is my esteemed colleague, Doctor Anna Peasley.” Doctor Hudson turned to the woman who was dressed in a grey suit with grey hair in a tight bun. She peered at him over tortoiseshell spectacles that rested on a long thin nose.
“Hello Aiden,” she said sharply, in a crisp English accent.
“Hi,” said Aiden, surprised by how faint his voice was.
“And Amber O’Hara,” gestured Doctor Hudson towards a girl with a tangle of auburn hair and glasses so large Aiden wasn’t sure if she wore them as part of a dare.
“Hello,” she said in a strange accent, with a small wave. Aiden smiled and nodded.
“And Sarah-Jane Delahunty.”
This time he managed to look at more than her face. Her pearl-coloured short-sleeved silk top and faded blue denim jeans would not have been out of place in a fashion magazine. Aiden gave her a toothy smile that, in retrospect, he was sure made him look simple.
“Hi,” he stammered, his face reddening. This was not the first impression he had hoped to make.
“Hi,” she replied casually. An American, thought Aiden.
“And, of course, Cosmo Summerfield,” Doctor Hudson finished. Cosmo slouched in his seat as if sitting in a spaceship was what he did every day. He looked Aiden up and down.
“Hi,” said Aiden. So this was the Australian that Doctor Hudson had told him about. Aiden thought Cosmo looked like he’d been dressed from a charity bin. He had a tie dyed yellow t–shirt with ‘You Beauty’ printed on it, and faded chocolate brown baggy shorts that went down to his knees. His large feet squeezed into old leather sandals that looked a size too small. Although he was roughly Aiden’s build with blue eyes, the likeness stopped there. Cosmo was tanned, with blonde curly hair that needed a cut two months ago. He had a silver stud through his left eyebrow, which Aiden was sure would have looked ridiculous on him, but on Cosmo, combined with the black leather wristband, completed the image of an easygoing guy.
“Glad you made it,” said Cosmo. “I didn’t fancy eight months in space with no other guy to talk to. No offence, Doctor Hudson.”
“None taken my boy,” said Doctor Hudson.
“Sorry, we were running a bit late,” said Aiden.
Doctor Hudson leaned forward. “Scotland beat Norway two goals to one, as you predicted!” he whispered with a glint in his eye.
“Peter, you didn’t!” said Doctor Peasley tersely.
“A small wager in the name of science, nothing to speak of, Anna.”
“Time to sit, Aiden!” Doctor Peasley snapped. Great, Aiden thought, I’m in trouble and I haven’t even done anything. With no one else’s luggage in sight he sat in the seat next to Amber and dropped his bag and pillow on the floor beside him. He wished he had come earlier so he could be sitting next to Sarah-Jane. He buckled himself in and scanned the pod wondering where Gibber was.
Amber beamed at Aiden. She seemed friendly, though Aiden wasn’t sure about the brown corduroy pants, and the purple velvet, long-sleeved top. Through the maze of hair fastened with various large clips, that did anything but keep her hair in place, large, puffy red eyes peered. Leaning forward a little, he saw Sarah-Jane also had red eyes and cheeks, and a screwed-up handkerchief in her hands. He settled back into his seat. Girls, they spend their lives crying!
“Is everyone ready?” asked Bajool.
“I think so,” said Doctor Hudson, glancing down the row of seats.
“We will be departing soon for our Deep Space Discovery ship,” said Bajool, picking up Aiden’s bag and pillow and placing them into a compartment in the wall. “Please remain seated until we dock.”
Everyone rechecked their seatbelts. Sarah-Jane gasped as a window suddenly appeared in the wall. It stretched halfway around the pod above the control panels. They could see past the open warehouse doors to a paddock. A breeze touched Aiden’s cheek, and in alarm he realised there was no glass in the window. He searched in vain for some form of oxygen mask. The others were also looking around expectantly.
“This is the viewer,” declared Bajool, gesturing towards the window before turning back to the controls. The floor vibrated. Amber took a deep breath and gripped Aiden’s arm. Aiden tensed. She mouthed a sorry as, without any countdown or warning, the pod glided past the roller doors and shot straight up. In perfect harmony, all six vomited as their stomachs plunged down to their ankles. Aiden was relieved to see he was not the only one to parade his breakfast all over the floor. Everyone except Cosmo pulled out a handkerchief. Cosmo had to share a hanky with Doctor Peasley. Bajool waved a long tube over the floor and within seconds, there was no trace or smell of breakfast. To everyone’s relief Amber passed around mints.
The pod flew so smoothly it appeared to be stationary, though looking out the viewer Aiden thought they must have been travelling at light speed. All he could see was a blur of blue. Before long, the expanse of space filled the viewer. As he sat staring at the spectacle flashing before him, Aiden reminded himself to breathe.
The vomiting proved to be a good bonding experience. Whilst Doctor Hudson and Doctor Peasley engaged in a private conversation, Amber found her voice. “I can’t believe this is actually happening,” said Amber. “One moment I’m planning what I’ll do on the school holidays – now I’m here!” she said waving her arms around.
“Have you all met Gibber?” asked Cosmo.
“I’ve still got a bruise on my ankle from his tail,” said Aiden.
“Me too,” said Sarah-Jane rubbing her calf.
“I don’t know what it is about him but if you could bottle it... perhaps that’s how I can make my fortune,” said Cosmo looking thoughtful.
“I think he has some sort of pure spirit. You can’t bottle that,” said Amber.
“What about Bajool then!” said Cosmo. “He has to be at least a hundred and fifty; maybe they have some sort of elixir of life?”
Sarah-Jane stared coolly at Cosmo. “They don’t. Bajool is a Yendi, they just have long lives.”
“How do you know?” challenged Cosmo sitting up straight.
“I asked Doctor Peasley.”
“Yeah, she told me that as well,” said Amber, “and the Yendi are one of the longest surviving civilisations in the galaxy.”
“They certainly look it,” said Cosmo in a whisper. “We need to give ourselves a name,” he added brightly.
“A name?” said Amber.
“Yeah. We’re the only four on Earth that have powers. Fantastic Four?”
“I think that’s been taken,” said Aiden.
“And we’re not the only four,” said Amber. “Bajool said we are the four who benefited the most from the blue-violet star’s charged particles.”
“That’s right,” said Sarah-Jane, “and four was all they wanted to bring.”
“How do you know so much?” asked Cosmo.
“We ask,” said Amber. Aiden wondered why he hadn’t thought to ask more questions.
“We can still have a name,” insisted Cosmo. “The Super four?”
“A name would just be silly,” said Sarah-Jane, turning her back on him. Cosmo scrunched up his nose and wiggled his head from side to side at her.
“Where are you from?” Amber asked Sarah-Jane.
“I’m from Christchurch in New Zealand.”
That explained the strange accent, thought Aiden. Sarah-Jane looked puzzled.
Amber sighed. “It’s next to Australia. It’s a small country. When did you first know you had some powers?”
“About five years ago, I started knowing things before they would actually happen. I’ve been keeping a daily journal ever since. I want to turn it into a book. What about you?”
“Much the same. I started knowing things that I couldn’t explain – just little things. It should come in handy. I want to be an investigative reporter like my mum. My dad says I’ll be a natural.”
Sarah-Jane’s smile disappeared. “My dad died a few years ago. Mom’s remarried now. He’s okay I guess. But it’s not the same. When Doctor Peasley told me I had something special and about this trip it was like a sign that I was meant to go.”
“I really wasn’t sure I’d be here – even yesterday I nearly chickened out. I guess I’m curious,” said Amber. “And I had this feeling I needed to come.”
Cosmo chuckled. “I came just to get away from my four brothers. What do you think they would have done if one of us decided not to come? I mean, what would stop us from just telling everyone about the aliens?”
“If we decided not to come,” said Aiden, “they were going to erase our memories of the last few days. I asked!” he added as Cosmo opened his mouth. Amber nodded in agreement.
Aiden sat back in his seat. He had only agreed to come after Bajool had used his healing powers on Drew. It was one of the most wondrous yet disgusting experiences he had ever had. He and Aunt Del had gone into the energy chamber to watch Bajool perform an impurage on Drew. The impurage, Bajool had explained, would remove impurities from Drew’s body.
It began innocently enough. Bajool placed his hand gently on Drew’s forehead and hummed a rhythmic tune. In no time, Drew’s eyes became droopy and closed. Bajool then positioned his hands over Drew’s head and chest, still humming. A yellow light beamed from his hands and washed over Drew. The light slowly turned a faint green and then brown ooze started seeping out of every pore in Drew’s skin. Aunt Del was frantic, but once Bajool assured her this was normal, she settled down. The ooze had a foul stench that made Aiden dry retch. Aunt Del held her handkerchief over her nose and mouth and still gagged. The ooze continued to seep out and, after what felt like hours but was only ten minutes, the green light stopped. Drew looked more like a sludge monster than a boy. What resembled a large extraction hood lowered from the ceiling, and with a loud slurp, the ooze flew up into the hood.
When Drew woke feeling fantastic, Aunt Del gushed tears and hugged Bajool. She eventually released him and he clarified that so far from the blue-violet star, or the Source as he called it, he did not have the power to heal Drew. He had merely removed the toxins and metals from his body. The life force in Drew’s body was now free to flow and repair what it could.
That had happened a week ago. Aiden still expected to wake up and realise this was a dream.
“I’ve got three brothers,” said Amber. “I’m going to miss them. I just hope Mum can cope without me.”
“I have to share a room with two of mine,” said Cosmo. “It’s torture.”
There was a brief silence when Aiden told of the recent death of his parents, and of his sick brother. Amber’s eyes glistened, so Aiden promptly added they were living with his aunt who was very kind.
“That’s tough,” said Cosmo. “But you have good doctors in England. I bet he’ll be fine by the time we get back. And we’ll all have real powers. Perhaps we’ll be able to predict the lottery numbers.”
Sarah-Jane rolled her eyes. “I’m sure it doesn’t work like that.”
“It could,” Cosmo challenged. “Who knows what we’ll be able to do? I could be a crime fighter or a sporting star, or control a kangaroo army.”
Aiden smiled. He had also thought of being a crime fighter, but being a kangaroo commander was just ridiculous.
“Are kangaroos friendly?” asked Sarah-Jane.
“They’re not aggressive but they’re pests; they keep getting into our plot,” said Cosmo.
“Plot?” asked Amber.
“Yeah, we live in a small community at Humpy Creek. It’s sort of alternative, you know like no TV and we have a common plot that we all farm. We only go to town for school and to buy the essentials.”
“Do you have electricity?” asked Sarah-Jane.
“Yeah, it’s alternative, not third world.”
“What do you do at night if there’s no TV?” asked Aiden.
“We sit around a campfire, tell stories and mend clothes.”
Cosmo laughed. “No, I’m on the internet with my friends mostly. I don’t suppose they’ll have the internet out in space, will they?”
“No, but Doctor Peasley said she would have school work for me to do. I’m in my mid-term break,” said Sarah-Jane.
Cosmo screwed up his nose. Aiden felt relieved he had just finished his school year.
“I’m hoping the trip will clear up my asthma and allergies,” said Amber, rubbing her red eyes. “We have a lot of cats. Eight months away from them might do the trick.”
With the girls sitting in the middle, now whispering about pets, Aiden wished he was sitting next to Cosmo. The boys exchanged a private shoulder shrug: they were outsiders – brothers in arms. It occurred to Aiden that other worlds would be different from Earth. He wondered what houses, gardens and trees were like on other planets. Would they have trees? Did they use letterboxes, emails or telepathy? What would happen if two people tried to send a telepathic message to the same person at the same time? He had no answers to these or the many other questions that ran through his mind. He gazed out into the blackness, looking for some form of inspiration or sign that would bring order and stability that he could hold onto.
He squinted as the stars blurred, and blinked. Still he could not focus. It took a few seconds to register that the universe was calling him. Like a magnetic attraction, it was pulling him in. He looked from star to star. Just like before, he could feel a presence watching him. A chill ran through his bones. Something out there lay in wait for him, something that would not show itself, and he was sure it was not anything he wanted to meet. He half expected to see a huge, hideous face appear in the depths of space.
The call faded and the stars regained their sparkling brilliance. He looked closely at the others, but no one seemed to have sensed what he did. He turned back to the stars. This is my chance to fix things. I will develop my powers and whatever is out there won’t stop me.
“Aiden!” exclaimed Cosmo, pointing to the viewer. The girls stopped mid-sentence and gaped. The sun came into view with captivating yellows and exploding oranges, sending bursts of energy out into space. The winds of power, thought Aiden. This was why they were here. He found it hard to believe they were travelling towards the centre of the galaxy - to the Source as Bajool called it. Aiden looked at his companions. They didn’t seem much, but there sat three teenagers who Bajool proclaimed possessed great powers.
Before long, the sun was no longer visible and all they could see were thousands of small twinkling stars amongst the blackness. Bajool took a short break from the controls and offered them water.
“Is there anything to eat?” Cosmo pleaded. They looked expectantly at Bajool. Aiden’s stomach was digesting itself and he was sure the others could hear it growling.
“We have chews.”
The chews turned out to be a brown vegetable-based food bar, chewy, filling, but with little taste.
The trip was short. “There it is!” proclaimed Bajool, raising his long bony arm and pointing to a speck out in space. Sure enough, looming up fast was a spaceship shaped like a thick discus with one end tapered and squared off.
As the pod cruised through a large opening in the side of the ship, Aiden’s heart raced. Everyone sat forward, glancing from the viewer to each other. The pod glided into a dimly lit landing bay, over to an alcove, and with a slight jolt, docked. Aiden unbuckled himself. This is it – off into the unknown.
* * *