Marcy placed his hand against the window and imagined he could feel the heat of entry into the atmosphere against the pane. The white, hot burning of the air around the ship obscured the stars. At nineteen, he still couldn’t believe he had been chosen for the mission.
“You nervous?” Trey leaned over and jabbed him in the ribs. His friend could make light out of any situation.
“Yeah, you could say that.” He rubbed his temples and exhaled. “It’s not every day you travel 41 light years to make contact with the first alien race that could be as smart as humans.”
“Piece of cake.” Trey winked at him. Older by two years, his friend’s carefree attitude normally helped him calm down and put events in perspective. But not today.
“Let’s hope so.” Marcy sat back and winced as the tug of gravity pulled on him. The ship rolled over and he could see the green expanse of New Sardis below. Virgin forest stretched as far to the horizon as he could see. Hand-picked for the assignment by his superiors back on Earth over a year ago, he had joined the Triumph’s crew full of optimism, but the six month journey to the Toynbee Gate had tempered his spirit.
“You space out on me again?” Trey adjusted the navigational controls and locked them onto autopilot. When Marcy didn’t answer, he dropped his joking attitude and asked, “What’s really bothering you?”
“I’m worried about our mission. If we do find the aliens and the Holy Church learns about it, there’s going to be some tough battles and we’ll be stuck in the middle.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that.” Trey checked the controls and then sat back in the pilot’s chair. “We’re just the peons doing the ground work. Let the Captain and the rest of the crew deal with those things. Our job is to make contact with the colonists and prepare for the arrival of the main team.”
“Yeah, but what if the aliens are intelligent? Don’t you think that’s going to change things?”
Trey thought for a moment and replied, “You’re right. It will changes things. After the Pope dropped last year’s Papal Infallibility doctrine bombshell, there’s going to be a lot of tension over whether we find that aliens are just as smart as humans. A lot of politicians support the Church’s belief that humans were directly made in God’s image and aliens are more like animals.”
“So we’re basically in the hot seat over this whole mess. Great.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. In the end, humans will continue to explore space and spread out through the stars just as we always have.” Trey turned to his friend and asked, “Do you really think that the Confederacy or the Church will stop exploring this planet because of some aliens who might have Stone Age-like human intelligence?”
Marcy didn’t have a chance to reply. The communications array flashed with an urgent message. Trey tapped the array and Captain McGeary’s voice echoed through the tiny ship. “Victory, are you there? Over.”
“Reporting, Sir.” Trey leveled the ship off and boosted the power to the communication system.
“Proceed directly to the coordinates we’re sending you. We just learned that infighting has broken out among the colonists. A large fire has been set deliberately on the border to the aliens’ homeland. Do everything you can to assist the Mayor and loyal colonists to put out the fire and save as many aliens as you can. We’re loading up several shuttles with supplies to help. We’ll rendezvous with you at—”
Feedback burst through the speakers and a deafening crackle tore through the ship’s communication system. Marcy covered his ears and Trey cut the array’s power.
Calibrating the ship’s sensors, Trey looked back over his shoulder to Marcy, and asked, “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the colony’s jamming our signal.”
The ship buffeted forward suddenly, smashing Trey’s face against the control panel. Marcy braced himself by holding onto a control panel, but he rolled out of his seat as the ship spiraled downward out of control.
“Hold on.” Trey’s fingers sped over the controls and warning lights blinked from every display. A trickle of blood streamed down his nose from the impact against the navigational controls. He fought to regain control of the ship and heard a proximity alarm wailing over the other warnings.
Marcy fought the g-forces to pull him back into his seat and glanced at the sensor display. “What is that?” He pointed at the large blip on the display and was sucked back to his seat.
“I don’t know!” Trey pulled at the controls and the ship dived straight down. A loud popping and rumbling sound washed over them and they saw an enormous, burning piece of metal streak by them. Other pieces, smaller, but just as dangerous to the ship, flashed by in bits.
Marcy switched his panel over to the ship’s defensive systems and fought for power to intensify the energy screens.
A blast wave blew past their craft, buffeting the tiny vessel around in the air, and disabling most of the controls. Marcy managed to buckle his safety belt and then reached over to adjust Trey’s as his friend fought to land the ship. A hiss of air seeped from a hull breach in the back. The engines groaned in protest and gave out as they fell to New Sardis like a wounded bird. Neither spoke as they clutched the sides of their seats. Giving up hope that he had the experience to land the ship safely, Trey activated the autopilot emergency landing sequence and prayed they would be saved from becoming a meteorite. The ship pulled back against the fall and emergency rockets fired to soften the crash. Jerked up from their seats, Trey and Marcy saw the ground reach up at them and lost consciousness as the ship purged its power to save its occupants.
Marcy ached. Everywhere. His shoulders were bruised from the bite of the safety belt against his shoulders during the crash and he could taste blood in his mouth. The iron taste shocked him into full consciousness. Moving his tongue around to search for missing teeth, he winced and probed a cut on the inside of his left gum. He swallowed and opened his eyes. Yellow emergency lights had turned on upon impact and the engines had initiated their safety shutdown sequence. Looking to his right, he saw Trey still crumbled in his seat. He heard him moaning and thought that a good sign. An acrid smell of burnt computer chips filled his nostrils and a light wisp of smoke drifted from the panel in front of him. Their situation didn’t look good.
Unlocking his safety belt, he knelt beside Trey and searched for a pulse.
“Enough already.” He swatted away Marcy’s hand weakly. “I’m not dead.”
“Thank God,” Marcy undid his safety belt, “I thought you were in worse shape.”
He wiped the blood from his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. “We’re lucky to be alive.”
His nasal sounding voice almost made Marcy chuckle. “What happened?”
“I think the Triumph has been destroyed.” Trey let go of his nose and tried to stand up. “It’s the only thing that would explain the large blast wave that hit us.”
“Who could do something like that?”
“I doubt the colonists. Maybe your concerns about the Church aren’t too far-fetched.” Trey pushed himself up and reached for the first aid kit underneath the control panel.
“Well, we need to get out of here and make contact with New Sardis’ Mayor.”
Trey shook his head dejectedly. “The only thing the communication array is good for is recycling.” He pounded the display panel with his fist. “And the tracer beacon can only be picked up by another Confederacy vessel. Unless you feel like waiting here for six months, I think our best bet is by foot.”
“When we get closer to the colony, we can try the laser beacon.” Marcy hit the emergency exit button and helped Trey out of the ship.
“I don’t know if we should do that. Without knowing what the fighting’s about, we don’t want to bring unwanted attention to ourselves.” Trey stumbled down the landing ramp and fell to the ground. His legs were still shaking from shock. “Maybe it was the colonists who fired upon the Triumph. We really don’t know. I think we should keep low until we figure out what’s going on.”
“I agree.” Marcy followed and looked out over the horizon. “Do you know where we landed?”
“Well, from what I saw on the display before we crashed, we have to head that way.” He pointed toward a pillar of smoke rising above the trees.
“Wonderful.” Marcy pulled the supply packs from the shuttle. He shouldered both of them and helped Trey to his feet. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
Trey wiped the blood from his nose and stood up. “Okay, enough wisecracks. Let’s just get going.”
Together they headed toward the burning forest fire and hoped that they would not run into any unwanted attention. Marcy wiped the sweat from his forehead and stared up at the sky. The warmth from the sun and the slightly increased gravity made hiking through the forest difficult. If fighting had broken out between opposing sides within the newly established colony, he could only imagine how the Church and Confederacy would react to the events. Each side would bolster their forces and send rescue teams. Catering to the fear that an alien race might be as intelligent as humans, the Church would continue to manipulate events by appealing to that fear.
Clearing his mind of troubling thoughts, Marcy tried to remain calm. Help was over 41 light years away. If a rescue team left Earth today, it would take them six months to arrive at Jupiter’s gate and then another week once in the 55 Cancri system to reach New Sardis. They were on their own until they could find help.
Marcy blocked the sun’s glare from his eyes and looked toward the smoking ruin ahead. The trees on New Sardis appeared stunted and bushier than trees on Earth. Without saying a word to Trey, Marcy kept walking and tried to remember all he could of the predators and animals on the planet. With some luck, he thought they could reach the outer settlements of the colony by late afternoon. Straightening the packs on his back, Marcy trudged onward, following close behind Trey as they headed toward the colony.
Having lost track of time and unable to go any further, Trey stopped hiking and sat down on a rock to rest. His nose had stopped bleeding hours ago, but from the soreness in his face, he feared the worst. “How bad do I look?”
Marcy tried to mask his smile. “Not bad. I’ve seen worse.”
“I busted it, didn’t I?” Gingerly Trey attempted to touch his nose and grimaced.
Marcy walked over to him and prodded Trey’s nose with his fingers. Trey winced. “Be careful.” Two dark black circles ringed the bottom of his eyes while a discolored yellowish spot graced the right side of his nose.
Marcy ignored his friend and said, “It’s broken alright. And I think the intense bruising is from the heavier gravity.”
“I’ll be fine.” Trey blinked away tears and asked, “How far do you think we are from the fire?”
“I’d say several kilometers. If the wind shifts, we’ll need to be careful.” Marcy rubbed his eyes to clear his vision. “The smoke is starting to pick up.”
“We’re going to need shelter away from the fire if we don’t find help before nightfall.” Trey looked around at the dry brush and trees. “From the look of things, New Sardis is in its dry period. Doesn’t look as though there’s been a good soaking rain for a long time.”
“I think you’re right. The fire’s probably burning out of control.” Marcy walked over to the nearest tree and sized it up. Abnormally tall compared to its surrounding neighbors, the tree stood approximately 30 meters above the forest floor.
“Hold on there, cowboy!” Trey jumped up and headed over to Marcy. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I was going to climb the tree and see if I can get a better view of the surrounding area.” Marcy shook his pack off and let it drop to the ground.
“Just don’t get too cocky and start shooting the beacon into the sky.” Trey warned. “Remember, I outrank you and I think the situation still warrants caution.”
“You’re right. I’ll come consult with you before I do anything rash.” He saluted his friend mockingly. “While I’m up there, do me a favor and hide yourself in case someone tries to sneak up on us.”
“Good idea.” Trey took his weapon out of its holster and dragged the packs into a thick section of bushes. When he had hidden himself from view, Marcy reached up and pulled himself to the first level of branches. He stood on his tiptoes so he could reach the next set of branches and pulled himself up to the next level. The added gravity and walking most of the day did not help. Fatigue and thirst had weakened him. After balancing on a branch, Marcy brushed away a stray bunch of leaves that scratched at his face. He tried not to think of Trey laughing at him for his clumsiness and he continued to climb. After several minutes of pulling apart entwined branches near the top, Marcy reached as far as he would dare. The branches further up appeared to bend back downward as though they had forsaken trying to reach the sun and wanted to fall back to the forest’s floor.
He wrapped his arms around the thin trunk and gazed out over the forest. Closer than he had thought, he saw the flames from the fire and heavy clouds of dark, thick smoke obscuring the horizon. The wind appeared to have shifted and the advancing fire ate the dry wood of the forest hungrily. Not being an expert on such blazes, Marcy feared that the fire might overrun them. Turning his head to take in the other directions, he noticed several smaller fires burning in the opposite direction. He guessed that those fires had started from the falling pieces of the Triumph. Marcy searched the horizon for any sign of a human settlement but the thick smoke ahead blocked his view.
A sudden explosion from below nearly shook him off the tree. Desperate, Marcy wrapped his arms around the trunk and held on as the tree swayed. Another volley of explosions echoed to the far left and Marcy started climbing back down. He then heard an antique weapon firing and climbed down faster. Hanging from a low branch, Marcy dropped to the forest floor and ran over to Trey.
“What’s going on?” He dropped to his stomach and hid next to him.
“Sounds like the revolution has found us.”
Marcy nodded and they both heard an inhuman scream to their right. Trey tightened his grip on his weapon and waited. Marcy slid his gun out of the holster and hit the charge button. Bounding into the clearing, a lanky human-sized creature jumped up the tree Marcy had been in, and turned back to stare at them. Trey motioned for Marcy to remain quiet. The creature, covered in a thick pelt, used its long legs to hang upside down from a branch. Resembling a chimpanzee, but having large oval eyes and a wider, flat nose, the alien sniffed at the air and motioned to them.
Trey could see two people headed into the clearing, armed with a shoulder rocket launcher and an outdated rifle. The alien made no noise but stretched out its arm and continued to point at Marcy and Trey. Without words, the message became clear. Bright red flashes of light blurred Marcy’s vision and a wave of fear wash over him.
The colored lights switched depth and his vision clouded, filled with purples and blues. A torrent of meaning flooded over him. Blood. Chased. Searched. Danger. Marcy rubbed at his eyes and heard people enter the clearing. The alien leaped down to the ground and lifted its arms into the air to show its supplication. Purple stains marked the wounds in its hand. Bowing before one of the men, the alien stared past him to Marcy hiding in the bushes.
“Looks like he’s finally giving up.” The human colonist reloaded his rocket launcher. “Nice chimp. Just stay still a little bit longer.”
The other colonist chuckled. “Do you think he knows it’s going to hurt?”
“Do I care? I’ll just be glad when there’s one less of them to deal with.”
The alien’s eyes bore into Marcy and the colors swirled in a pattern of desperation. Help. Me. Message I have. Spoke with virgin. She comes soon!
Marcy snapped out of his trance and acted. He jumped up from hiding and pointed his weapon at the two colonists.
“Wait!” Whispering under his breath and not knowing what to do, Trey followed Marcy’s lead.
The two colonists stood still and put their weapons in the air.
“Drop the weapons to the ground. Now!” Marcy took his finger off of his weapon’s safety button.
Trey came up beside Marcy and aimed his weapon at the colonists. He had never seen Marcy so emotional.
The heavyset colonist who held the rocket launcher squatted and put the weapon down. “No need to get excited.”
“Who are you two?” The second colonist placed his rifle to the ground.
Marcy eased up on his weapon and replied, “We’re officers from the Confederacy vessel Triumph here to—”
Before he could finish, strong furred arms wrapped around his midsection, knocking him hard to the forest floor. A single shot from a pistol whizzed past Marcy’s ear and the discharge sunk into the tree across from him. Trey reacted and fired his weapon at a third colonist who had crept up on them from behind. His weapon’s energy charge crackled through the woman and burned a hole through her chest as she tried to reload. The alien screeched and jumped away as Marcy raced to turn over. The two remaining colonists had reached for their weapons, but Marcy was quicker. He fired twice and they tumbled like felled trees.
“Damn!” Marcy banged his fist into the dirt. “What the hell is going on down here?”
Trey stood up and searched the clearing’s perimeter for sign of other colonists. “Never take charge like that again! I am in command here. Do you hear me?”
“Look, they were going to kill the alien. We had to do something.”
“I know. I know. I just don’t want to be put in a position like that again.” Trey leaned against a tree and took a deep breath.
“You’re right, I overstepped my bounds. I’m sorry.” Marcy walked away from the alien, whispering, “But the alien made contact with me. Didn’t it try to communicate with you, too?”
“I didn’t hear anything.” Trey moved close to Marcy and eyed the alien suspiciously. “What did it say?”
Marcy rubbed his temples. “I can’t quite explain it. I think he spoke to me telepathically. Something about needing our help and a virgin coming soon. It didn’t make much sense.”
Trey went over to the creature and crouched beside it. Curled up and grooming its arm, the alien cowered back from him.
“Look, it’s been wounded.” He pointed at a purple stain on the back of its hand.
The alien pulled its arm away and jumped back, pointing deeper into the woods.
“What do you think it wants?” Marcy looked over to Trey.
“I don’t know. Has it tried to talk to you again?”
“No, but we need to make a decision and get moving soon. We only have a few hours of light left and the fire is spreading fast.”
The alien bounded up to Marcy and tugged at his pant leg. Making a series of clicking sounds with its tongue, it gestured back into the forest and then headed off at a fast pace.
Trey nodded to Marcy and they followed quickly. They could smell the thick black smoke in the air, holding a scent of burning wood. The smell clung to their clothes and skin, intensifying as they chased after the alien. After several minutes of running, the alien stopped and pointed at a large bush.
“What do you want?” Marcy asked the chimpanzee-like creature. Winded from running, he bent over with his hands on his knees, breathing deeply.
Trey leaned against a tree and spit, clearing mucus from his mouth. “He better not be bringing us on a wild goose chase. I’m not in the mood.”
The alien pointed behind the bush and then hopped around to the back, seemingly climbing down a ditch. Marcy walked forward, with caution, and Trey drew his weapon, preparing for an attack. A low, soft moan could be heard from down below. A distinctly human sound. They rushed behind the bush and saw the alien tending to a wounded human male. With the alien’s help, he struggled to sit up, and put his hands up in protest. “Hello, please don’t shoot! I’m unarmed.”
“Who are you?” Trey stayed firm in his protective stance.
The man leaned back against the alien to relax, grabbing at his injured left leg. “My name is Dr. Wicker, resident exobiologist of the New Sardis colony. I’m glad that Pio Oo’kasha found help.” Eyeing Trey and Marcy’s uniforms, he asked, “You will help me, won’t you?”
Trey clipped his weapon to his belt and came forward. “Yes.” He jumped into the ditch and put out his hand. “I’m Senior Airman Trey Walker and my friend is Airman Jeffrey Marcy. We’ll do our best to help you to safety.” He cut open Dr. Wicker’s pants and examined the injured leg.
Marcy came forward and gave Dr. Wicker a container of water. “Can you tell us what’s happening down here? Our ship has been destroyed and we encountered several hostile colonists, trying to kill this alien. I think he’s been wounded though. He’s bleeding from a wound in his hand.”
Dr. Wicker reached back and Pio put his hands out for display. “I hate to involve the two of you in this mess, but it seems that my alien friend is mixed up in a rather bewildering miracle.” Pio reached out and both Trey and Marcy could see wounds in the palms on both hands. Dr. Wicker made a clicking sound with his tongue and Pio mimicked the sounds, showing similar wounds on both his feet. Pio smiled and then reached to its side. A purplish wound could be seen hidden by the alien’s fur.
Dr. Wicker patted Pio’s hands and leaned back against the alien to rest, ignoring Marcy’s inquisitive looks and said, “You’re looking at an alien who some claim has the Stigmata.”
Trey stopped examining Dr. Wicker’s leg and a look of bewilderment came across Marcy’s face. “What are you talking about?”
Dr. Wicker replied, “There are some colonists who believe that Pio was given the Stigmata by God and that he has shown them the Virgin Mary.”
Marcy held his tongue, but Trey asked, “What sort of trick is this?” He stared at Pio and was at a loss for words.
Marcy leaned closer to Dr. Wicker, staring at Pio’s wounds. “Look, our ship has been destroyed, we’ve been trekking through the forest all day, and we’re tired. Don’t play us as fools.”
“I wouldn’t presume to toy with either of you.” Dr. Wicker stared into Marcy’s eyes, leaning forward. “I’m a scientist. Rationally, I wish to prove that Pio’s condition is simply part of a common medical condition common to his race. But when his wounds were discovered, the colony became polarized. A militant group formed under the leadership of Father Guadagno and then all hell broke loose. Look, I need your help. You can disbelieve all you want, but we’re not safe here. There might be more colonists after me. We need to get to safety.”
“Well, you’re going to need help getting around. Your leg is broken, in several places, I think.” Trey covered up Dr. Wicker’s leg and rummaged through his medkit. “I can give you something for the pain, but we’re going to need you to walk with us. We’ve been ordered to find Mayor Butler and assist him. Do you know where he is?”
Dr. Wicker’s faced clouded in anger. “They killed him at the start of the revolt. That’s what made me take Pio and come out here in hiding. My habitat is less than a kilometer away, but that’s where the colonists found me. I was able to sneak away with Pio as they were destroying my lab. When I tried to get away, I fell down this ditch and hurt my leg.”
Marcy rubbed at the back of his neck to relieve his tension. “Any ideas where we can go that’s safe?”
“There’s a storehouse an hour’s walk from here.” He tried to pull himself up and cringed in agony. “It’s away from the fire and should give us time to figure out a plan. If you gather some sticks and have some rope, we can bind up my leg so I can travel.”
Marcy looked to his friend. “You ready?”
Trey nodded and gave Dr. Wicker a dose of pain killer. Together, they straightened his leg and then, with Pio’s help, gathered branches. Trey bound the doctor’s leg and Marcy handed him a long walking stick he had found. “I know this is going to hurt, but we have to get moving.”
Marcy pulled the doctor to his feet and allowed him to shoulder most of his weight onto him. Dr. Wicker and Marcy hobbled to the end of the ditch. Trey tied rope around the doctor’s waist and looped it underneath his shoulders. Together, Trey and Pio dragged him out of the ditch, with Marcy making certain that his leg remained straight. After Dr. Wicker had been pulled to the top, he rested on the cool ground and breathed deeply. He looked up into Marcy’s face and said, “You can’t imagine how much that hurt.”
Pio came forward and smiled, standing at his full height. When not slouched over, Marcy could clearly see the purple wounds on the alien’s hands and feet. Pio ruffled Dr. Wicker’s hair and clucked several fast noises. The doctor chuckled weakly.
“What did he say?” Marcy asked as he lifted him to his feet.
Grimacing from pain, he pushed himself to a standing position with the staff. “He told me that the pain would eventually go away if I stayed, but I’d also be dead.”
Trey shouldered both his and Marcy’s pack, leading the way. “Does Pio talk to you telepathically, too?”
“Only when he has something extremely important to say. Most of the time, he speaks through a series of clicks. I don’t understand everything he says, but enough that I understand his jokes.”
Marcy smiled and helped Dr. Wicker walk. He glanced up at the horizon and could see the sun low in the sky. Marcy ignored his tired muscles and the heavy weight of Dr. Wicker leaning on him. The air, thick and hot with smoke, burned his eyes, and frustrated their progress. He lost track of how long they walked, but the sun had set, and the glow of twilight had faded. From behind, they could see the smoke from the forest fire, billowing up to the sky. But the wind had changed and now blew in the opposite direction, allowing a fresh breeze of air to wash over them. They had left the forest and now trekked through the open plains. Wild grass swayed in the wind and up ahead they saw the storehouse. A large domed structure, large enough for all of them to rest in. With renewed hope, Dr. Wicker increased his speed until he rested against the storehouse. He pulled out an ID card and unlocked the dome. Without a word, they went inside.
Marcy rested Dr. Wicker onto a cot and asked, “Do you think the colonists will find us here?”
“With the fire still burning out of control and the revolt going on, I doubt it.”
Trey had dropped the packs onto the ground and said, “I’ll take first watch. Everyone else get some rest. In the morning, we’ll talk.”
No one argued. Marcy gave Dr. Wicker another pain relief shot and Pio came over to be with the doctor. Smiling at the alien, Marcy came back to Trey and whispered to him, “We’re really in a bind.”
“Tell me about it.” Trey touched his broken nose and winced.
Marcy patted his friend on the back and collapsed on a cot. He closed his eyes and worried that he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. Worries of being found, the implications of Pio’s wounds, the loss of his crewmates, and dozens of other concerns spun through his mind. But at last, sleep won out, and a long, dreamless night stretched out over him.
Marcy woke with a start. Trey put his hand to his mouth and waved his gun toward outside. He whispered into his friend’s ear. “About ten people are headed this way.”
“Could you see who they were?” Marcy rubbed his eyes and reached for his weapon.
“I could see that they carried heavy weaponry from the light of the moons. They don’t look friendly.” Trey ran over to a window and peaked out. “We need to talk.”
“Sure.” Marcy came over to him and asked, “Do you want me to draw their fire so that you can help Dr. Wicker and Pio escape?”
Trey whipped his head around and replied, “I’d never ask that of you.” He pulled his friend closer to the other end of the storehouse and saw that Dr. Wicker and Pio still slept soundly. “Look, if we turn Pio in, we can work out a deal with the rebels.”
“What are you saying?” Marcy tried to pull away, but Trey held him fast.
“We can’t survive an assault on this storehouse. There’s nowhere to run.” He paused for a moment to let his words sink in. “And I’m not going to have either of us risk our lives over an alien. I don’t care if he’s some miracle or not.”
“But I do care.” Marcy continued to back away from Trey. “Even if there’s only a slim chance that Pio is some sort of miracle, I can’t give up that opportunity. We could be on the verge of humankind’s greatest discovery!”
“Look, if we hand over Pio, maybe they won’t kill him. We really don’t know.”
“And what about the colonists we killed? Do you think they’ll just forget that?” Marcy went to turn around and head to Dr. Wicker’s cot.
“Wait.” Trey hissed the word and Dr. Wicker rolled over in his sleep. Outside, he could see a group of eight figures trekking through the wild grass. Up ahead, a good distance from the main group, two figures scouted the area. They would reach the storehouse in several minutes. “Do you have a better plan?”
“No, I don’t.” Marcy replied.
“Then we need to be careful. If we fight to save Pio’s life, we’ll die and the Confederacy will declare war on this colony. And you know that a war would quickly draw the Church’s forces into the conflict. Would you want that to happen?”
Marcy took in Trey’s words and nodded. “I understand, but I’m not going to back down on this. I’m not going to stand by and let an innocent creature be tortured or killed. It’s not right.”
“You’re not in command here. I am. And I decide what is right for us.” Trey drilled his finger in Marcy’s chest. “Do you hear me?”
“Yeah, I hear you,” Marcy backed away, “and I’m not going to listen to you.”
A mixture of anger and frustration welled up over Trey’s face. His neck flushed with blotch marks as he tried to control his temper. He swallowed down a retort and moved toward the door.
Marcy blocked Trey’s path and held out his hands, pleading. “Please, don’t do it.”
Dr. Wicker heard the arguing and sat up, confused and in pain. “What’s going on here?”
“Everything’s fine.” Marcy held his hand down to tell Dr. Wicker to remain in his cot. “We’re all going to be fine.”
Trey took a step forward to test his friend’s resolve.
Marcy remained firm in his stance. “Trey, I can’t let you give up Pio.”
Upon hearing his name, Pio woke up, stretched his arms, and looked inquisitively at Trey.
Dr. Wicker sat up in his cot and grabbed at his injured leg. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but the colonists will kill Pio if they get him. We can’t allow that to happen.”
“Just shut up and keep quiet.” Trey drew his weapon and aimed it at Marcy, motioning for him to move aside.
Marcy looked shocked as he inched forward with his hands out. “Are you willing to shoot me after all the years we’ve been friends?” His hand was only a meter from his friend’s weapon.
Trey kept his hand steady and replied, “I don’t want to shoot you, but I’m not willing to risk starting a war over an alien.”
Before Marcy could reply, Pio bounded forward, opening the dome’s door. He hopped out of the storehouse and clucked his tongue, waving at the advancing scouts. Marcy tried to run to the door, but Trey tackled him and held him down. “No, wait, see what he’s going to do.”
Dr. Wicker hobbled off his cot, but stopped as Trey pointed his weapon at him. “Back off! Let Pio go. It’s his choice. No one forced him to leave.”
The doctor fell back to his cot and waited for the sound of weapon fire. Marcy stopped struggling and Trey ran to the small window. Together they both saw Pio raising his hands in greeting at the scouts. He opened his palms and purple blood dripped from his wounds. Waving his arms in the air, Pio opened his mouth, and a pure, flawless musical note flowed out of him. Trey and Marcy were bathed in Pio’s telepathic flood of goodwill. Words of color formed in their minds as dark magenta, blessed white, and living green words floated through the air. A sense of peace descended over them and the two scouts stopped advancing toward Pio. They lowered their weapons, listening.
Marcy clutched Trey’s arm, smiling. “They’re stopping to listen. It’s working!”
Pio swayed his hips, dancing and singing of hope. Above him, a yellow globe of light materialized, hovering over the grassy plains. Pio smiled and raised his arms up to the light, welcoming it like the morning sun. The globe lowered itself stretching out into a humanoid shape. Still Pio sang and the light solidified, answering to the music. One of the two scouts dropped onto his knees and began to pray. The other dropped his weapon and backed away. The humanoid shape stood in front of Pio now fully formed. Clicking his tongue at the apparition, he raised his voice in song. The humanoid shape, now resembled a young human female with dark hair. She stepped out of the glowing sphere of light and raised her arms in welcome. “My name was Jeanne and I’ve come with a message.”
Without warning, a solitary energy bolt lanced through the night air, searing Pio’s fur and passing through him. Pio swayed for a moment longer and then his large, bulbous eyes rolled upwards, and he collapsed onto the dirt. Purple blood seeped into the ground as the energy discharge echoed through the fields. Jeanne lowered her arms in disappointment and then flickered out of existence. Several of the advancing colonists ran off while the others refused to go any further. Marcy cried out in anger and made to go to the door, but his legs refused to move. Realizing that Trey had stunned him with his weapon, he fell forward and saw Dr. Wicker’s look of anguish. Outside the remaining colonists argued until a rough, commanding voice shouted, quieting the men.
Trey came close to Marcy and whispered, “It’s for your own good. There’s nothing we could have done to save him. If we’re lucky, they’ll let us go. Just relax.”
Tears of frustration welled in Marcy’s eyes as he remained paralyzed face down on the floor. He could not believe what he had seen. And he couldn’t explain it. No one would believe him if he told his story.
Marcy struggled to fight the stun charge, but he was incapacitated. He would remain that way for hours. At the door to the storehouse, they heard movement and Trey jumped to the side of the entranceway with his gun ready.
“Listen.” A figure stood on the threshold of the doorway, remaining out of clear view. Trey could not get a clear shot at him. He could see the man’s shadow on the wall and the pulse rifle he held at the ready. “I know three of you are in there. For letting the alien go, I’m giving you a chance to get away.” He turned to go, but waited a moment and said, “My name is Father Guadagno. Remember me, for I won’t forget you. I give you my word that if I ever see any of you again, I will personally kill you.” He withdrew from the doorway and whistled. Three of the colonists trained their weapons on the storehouse as he walked away.
Trey holstered his weapon and went over to Marcy. “See, I told you that they would spare us.”
He dragged his friend to the far corner of the room, but Marcy no longer cared. He heard Dr. Wicker say something in protest and another stun bolt went off. For Marcy, the world had begun to close in on itself and he knew that the battle for the planet had begun. Marcy envisioned a fleet of ships coming to New Sardis, bringing thousands of xenophobic humans who would raze the aliens’ homes. Everything would be erased and made clean again. He thought about the innocent aliens who would lose their lives in the process and made a decision. A ray of hope came in him. He would fight to escape and then help the aliens. An integral part of him had to learn the truth: Did the aliens truly have a message from God? From what he saw tonight, it appeared that way. Consciousness faded from him and he imagined running away from the Church’s grasp, the Confederacy, and heading toward discovering the truth. Although darkness had engulfed him, he would cling to the hope that we would prevail.
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