Chapter 31: Lost in the Mountains

Commander Conall Bornani scanned the screen that hung in the air of the bridge of the spaceship. They had slipped the ship into orbit around the planet called Earth, and the ship’s systems continuously scanned for a perfect landing spot. He was excited to be so close to finally reaching their destination and was confident that his crew would do their jobs well.

The last two years aboard the spaceship had been a completely new experience for Kadamba. He’d spent much of his time, previous to boarding the ship, in the outdoors, training for the military. At first, he had felt like a trapped animal. He couldn’t get out, but over time that had faded. Compared to the rest of the crew, he was altogether unprepared. The other eleven members of the team had two years to prepare for the mission before they actually launched. Kadamba had nothing but a few hours of preparation right before the launch.

At first, the crew had been very distant from him. He could hear the rumblings about his past and what he had done. He focused his efforts on learning what the others knew of this planet called Earth, immersing himself in learning a predominant language called English. He scoured and studied all of the information that he could about the world he would be visiting. The last exploratory mission had discovered a planet that had emerged from a second global war. A country called the United States of America had entered the war late but had led its allies to victory. That was some forty years before. He tried to imagine what the planet would be like when they arrived. What would have changed? Would this United States still be dominant? Would more wars have erupted?

Kadamba learned the details of how their mission would proceed. It was fairly straightforward on its face. Part of the crew would study the planet’s technology, infrastructure, and trade. They would make an assessment of whether a planet had developed to an optimum point for invasion and “development.” It became a relatively simple two-part question in Kadamba’s mind. First, could the planet provide enough goods and products to make putting a portal in place profitable? Second, could the planet provide the power and infrastructure required to get a portal running once it arrived?

That was only part of the overall equation, and Kadamba was not to be included in making those assessments. He was simply a bodyguard for the less palatable part of the mission – discovering whether the planet had any Transprophetics and killing them. Eventually, humans would evolve to have members of their population develop specific characteristics, like the ability to move things without touching them. Once scientists on a planet validated and understood Transprophetic capabilities, everything would change quickly.  He’d studied these Transprophetics in school and had seen them in various media, but he’d never met one in person. What would they be like? Would they somehow be different?

Kadamba didn’t like the man that he would be protecting, Dr. Nahash Tarea. He wasn’t a medical doctor; the title was bestowed on him because of some very non-medical advanced educational degree. Apparently, it had something to do with religions and the foundation of truth. The man was wiry, and his hair reminded Kadamba of the man called Greasy that he’d met in prison. It was thin and just looked dirty in the way that it clung to his head. When he spoke, the words seemed to come out in a hiss. No matter what he said, Kadamba always felt like the man was talking down to him, trying to make Kadamba feel small, unimportant, and insignificant.

Their job on the planet seemed reasonably black and white, at least on the surface. They would simply be there to discover whether any Transprophetics existed. Kadamba hoped it was a simple question to answer. He hoped that when they arrived on Earth that there would be Transprophetics on the planet’s media, and maybe even that Transprophetics would be leading governments and religions. The doctor explained that it was unlikely that it would be that easy of a job. Human nature, as it is, will reject that which is different. Those with Transprophetic abilities may hide their skills for a generation or two out of fear. A few may try to exploit their capabilities, but only if they completely comprehended that they have them. Sometimes the first few generations of Transprophetics can’t control their abilities. That’s where Tarea’s expertise would come in most useful.

According to the doctor, they would most likely find a Transprophetic in one of two places. Almost every culture on every planet had some type of “magic.” It was part of human nature to want to hope that the abilities of a Transprophetic were real. Paradoxically, Transprophetics that sought to hide their skills would often hide them in plain sight, such as performing a magician. That was a natural place for a Transprophetic to appear inconspicuous and to use his or her talents with people believing that it was nothing more than illusions and trickery.

The second place where Transprophetics might be found would be around religion. A person who was a little different often could seem to be divine. When strange things happened around a person over which they seemed to have some influence, a god or gods were often given credit for the unique capabilities.

When they neared the planet, they began picking up the planet’s broadcast signals. Kadamba had been disappointed that Transprophetics weren’t anywhere obvious. If they did exist on earth, it might take a bit of work to find one.

“Commander has called a meeting in 15 minutes,” Dr. Nahash Tarea announced, as Kadamba watched a video that the ship’s systems had recorded. “I don’t know why you need to be in this meeting, but apparently you do.”

“I’ll be there,” replied Kadamba.

“What are you watching?” asked Dr. Tarea.

“Apparently, it is a comedy show,” replied Kadamba. “Actually, it is pretty funny. It’s about –”

“Just be at the meeting,” interrupted Tarea, as he walked away.

Kadamba returned to watching the show. He wondered if it really was how some of these Earthlings might think about aliens. It seemed terribly odd to Kadamba. He was a human, but he would be an alien here on Earth. He’d watched a few shows about aliens that the ship’s systems had captured as they approached Earth. Some were serious, but this one was funny, especially the alien.

Growing up in a world that knew there was life on other planets was all Kadamba had known. But on Earth, no one knew whether there was life or not on other planets. If there was, no one knew what it would be like. That made this show even more intriguing. The female lead on the show knew that the alien, named Mork, was from another planet, but he was human, just like everyone everywhere. The alien tried to understand Earthling behavior and fit in, usually with humorous results.

Kadamba stopped the video and headed to the meeting.

*****

Aerial photos and maps were appearing, slowly moving, and disappearing on the walls of the spaceship’s meeting room.

Commander Bornani began to speak once all the crew members were in the room.

“It’s hard to believe, at times, that we’re so close to Earth,” he began. “After all the years of preparation and travel, we’re almost there.”

He tapped a few places on the conference table, and an image of the planet appeared. They all watched as the earth began to spin, zooming into the planet’s surface, and creating a three-dimensional map on the table’s surface.

“The ship’s system has identified the most ideal landing point for us,” he noted, pointing to a small canyon-like feature right by a lake. “This is Fat Bottom Lake, in the Rocky Mountains. It is secluded. We’ll land near the lake in this canyon. Our home, this ship, will be destroyed after we land. The return vessel can easily be submerged in this lake, as it is very deep and murky. The only thing that will be hidden will be a small remote used to resurface the return vessel.”

“What about this small building over here?” asked one of the other soldiers, pointing to a small structure away from the lake and canyon.

“As best as we can tell, it is a small dwelling that is currently occupied,” replied the commander. “Hopefully, it is. When we land, we’ll need supplies and some intelligence to get us started. If inhabitants are living there, we’ll have a place to start.”

The final preparations were put in place to land the ship. Kadamba looked over the map multiple times, as did the other military members of the crew. They created numerous scenarios for what would happen when they landed. The one assumption that Kadamba hoped was true was that no one on the planet would know that they were there. The technology from Koranth and Zoranth was far superior, so landing the ship undetected on the planet should be easy.

“I know I probably don’t have to say this,” began the Commander as the meeting was winding down, “but nothing, absolutely nothing from Koranth and Zoranth, aside from the return vessel, can come with us.”

He turned around and opened a box on the floor behind him and passed out clear, sealed bags with each of their assigned clothing.

“Leave the bag sealed. After we land, we’ll each walk out of this ship naked, with nothing but the clothes that are in the bags. I will personally leave your dead body on this ship if you try to bring anything with you.”

After the meeting adjourned, Kadamba returned to his quarters. It was small, but it was space that was his alone. He’d been in the quarters of the other members of the crew. They all brought things from home. In some ways, he was now glad that he hadn’t. Every one of them would be leaving something behind that would be destroyed with the ship. He curled up in his bunk, trying to put his excitement aside and get to sleep.

The sky was grey above the Landing, and Ka walked quickly to the edge of the building to look out across the city. Rain was falling in the distance, and his view was obstructed by low clouds. He sat down on the bench to wait.

After some time had passed, Ka stood up and began walking around. This wasn’t like Alorus not to show up at some point. Usually, he would appear shortly after Ka arrived. Even during these two years aboard the spaceship, Alorus remained distant.

Ka began to walk around the Landing. Alorus wasn’t in the playground or near the lifts. The storm grew closer as Ka wandered around, looking for the boy. As he was passing the food vendors, he thought he heard a sniffle. He opened the door to the small kiosk that sold the Freezies that Stelky had loved so much.

When he looked inside, he found the boy curled up in a corner of the small building. “What are you doing, Alorus?”

“I’m scared, Ka,” confided the boy. “The storm is almost here. Why did you have to kill me and bring me with you? Why did they let you get away and come to another planet?”

Ka stepped into the little building and sat down on the floor. Alorus pulled himself up farther into the corner, sniffling as if he had been crying.

“You know I am sorry, Alorus. I wish I knew what else to say.”

They both sat on the floor, waiting for the other to say something. But neither of them spoke. Ka wished that Alorus wasn’t with him, but that just wasn’t an option anymore. Wherever Ka would go, Alorus would always be with him.

The gentle ringing of his alarm awakened him shortly before dawn. The landing went perfectly. They were now safely on Earth. It was now time to disembark the ship and start the next phase of their mission.

Standing in the middle of his quarters, Kadamba began to laugh. He threw his shirt against one wall. He removed his pants, wadded them up and tossed them on the bed. He was already barefoot, so all that was left was his underwear. He looked at the wall opposite the door, staring for a few moments. He almost wanted that perky, smiling, recorded talking head of a woman to show up one last time. He would laugh out loud at her, for she had no power over him and never would again.

He dropped his underwear to the floor and stepped out of it, leaving it where it landed. He gestured, and the far wall became a mirror. He looked at himself. He wasn’t the boy that had killed that bargabuko in Mr. Lormate’s class. His body was lean and muscular, a man’s body. He’d religiously worked out in the small gym aboard the ship, keeping himself fit, and practicing the various martial arts that he had learned in military training. As he was admiring himself, his gaze hit his arms. He would live with those words branded onto his arms forever. He took a deep breath.

“Come on, Alorus,” he spoke to himself, “let’s go find out whether either of us can find some peace on this planet.”

He tucked the clear package containing his clothes under his arm, walked down the corridor, and stepped out of the ship. The smell was the first thing that hit him. He didn’t yet know, but the scent was clean mountain air and pine trees. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply, becoming lost in the fragrance. He heard what had to be birds chirping in the distance. This place felt right, just right.

“For the love of the Lords of the Fourth System, would you please get dressed?” barked the Commander.

Kadamba looked around. All of the crew had disembarked the ship and were putting on the clothing from their packages. Kadamba did the same and watched the Commander walk to the spaceship, swipe his hand across a panel, and press a few buttons. Another panel opened, and the Commander pulled out a remote that was about twice the size of his hand. He retracted the ramp, and the door sealed itself shut. A large hatch on the bottom of the ship opened, and the return vessel slowly descended.

The return vessel was dark and shaped more like a torpedo. In its center cargo section, three men could easily fit but would be unable to move about. It was designed for a quick return to Koranth with the reports and artifacts from the planet. While the trip to Earth had taken two years, the return trip would take less than one.

The Commander maneuvered the return vessel over the lake, and within a few moments, it was submerged out of sight.

“Two hundred feet down,” the Commander announced a few minutes later. “Only two more things left to do.”

Everyone turned and looked at the spaceship. It had been their home for the last two years. On this planet, it was the only craft capable of manned, interstellar travel, but it had been severely compromised by the trip and especially by coming into the Earth’s atmosphere. Kadamba realized that he didn’t exactly know what would happen next. He only knew the ship would be destroyed.

The Commander tapped a few places on the screen of the remote, and the crew watched as the ship slowly dissolved to ashes.

“Well, damn,” began Dr. Nahash Tarea, “that was about as ceremonial as getting your shoes shined.”

“No use in being ceremonial,” replied the Commander, as he walked the crew over to the canyon wall. He made a few marks on the wall and then hid the remote under a stack of rocks a few feet away.

They were all standing looking at the wall when they heard the voice. “What are y’all doing there staring at the canyon wall?”

They spun around to see a portly, older man in faded khaki work pants and a flannel shirt. He was holding a shotgun in his hands but had it pointed at the ground. The inquisitive look on his face deepened as they all turned around to stare at him. They all had prepared for their first contact with an Earthling, but this wasn’t what any of them had imagined. He easily could have been the grandfather of half of the crew, but him holding that weapon made all of them realize they were unarmed and potentially in danger.

“Are y’all lost?” the man asked.

“Actually,” Kadamba responded, “we’re aliens from the planet Ork. We’re here to study you. Na-Nu Na-Nu.” Kadamba then held up his hand and separated his middle and ring fingers. The old man burst out laughing. Not knowing, exactly what else to do, the rest of the crew also began to laugh.

“You are completely lost, aren’t you?” asked the man again.

“Yes, sir, we certainly are,” Kadamba affirmed. “Our transportation broke down, and we are stranded.”

“You shoulda stayed on the road, rather than wandering into the woods,” the old man advised. “Well, come on then, Margaret and me have a little place not too far from here. I guess the hunting can wait until tomorrow. By the way, I’m Jerry.”

The man gestured with his hand for everyone to follow him, and the whole crew began following. Within a few moments, the Commander and Vice-Commander were walking beside the man, talking about the beautiful day. They could see the small dwelling in the distance. It was the same one they had studied back on the ship. Before the old man knew what was happening, he was face down on the ground with the shotgun pointing into his back.

For the next few days, the old couple remained tied up in the living room of their cabin while the crew constantly questioned them about life on Earth. A small television, radio, books, and magazines also provided the team with additional information and current events. The crew ransacked the cabin, finding a few more guns, some clothes, money, and other supplies they needed.

Kadamba was uncomfortable with the treatment of Jerry and Margaret. He tried as best as he could to ease the misery that they were suffering. It wasn’t that they were being physically abused; it was just that they were being treated as if they weren’t really human. Kadamba knew what that felt like.

A travel guidebook that Dr. Tarea found on a bookshelf intrigued him. It was filled with hotels, attractions, and events for a country called the United Kingdom. Something about a show called “Garret Greyson – Master of Illusions” captivated the doctor. He decided that it would be the first place that he and Kadamba would need to go. There was something about the show’s description that made him think that there might be more than just illusions about Garret Grayson.

Kadamba was standing outside the cabin on the day that he and Dr. Tarea were to leave. The old couple only had a pickup truck, so the expedition crew had left in waves. The Commander had already driven most of the crew to various destinations, where each pair headed off in separate directions. In six months, they would all meet back up, finalize their reports, and send the return vessel home. Kadamba, closing his eyes, listened to the birds again. He liked this place. He had never really spent much time outside Stujorkian City. He’d been to beaches and the ocean but never in the mountains back home. He wondered if they were as peaceful as it was here in the Rocky Mountains.

The blast shook Kadamba out of his trance, and he turned to run towards the cabin when a second blast stopped him in his tracks. He knew what it was, and when Commander Bornani and Dr. Tarea walked out of the cabin laughing, he was sure. One of the experts on infrastructure and technology followed them out. She was paired with Commander Bornani and was as cold-hearted as Dr. Tarea. She was furiously wiping blood spatter off her arms. “You asshole,” she whined to the Commander, “was it really necessary to fucking blow their brains out all over me?”

Kadamba stared at the three people walking toward him and the pickup truck. He would be stuck with Dr. Tarea for the next six months. How was cruelty, and even death, so easy for these people? How had they managed to see Margaret and Jerry as something other than human? He tried hard to put his head around it and understand. They were here on a mission. This was another planet. He guessed that there was always a threat that the humans on this planet could evolve to the point where those on Koranth and Zoranth had. If that happened, would the Earthlings invade his world? Was that how these crewmates of his thought? He shook the thoughts from his head. He wasn’t here to be a philosopher; he was now an Elite Forces soldier, responsible for protecting Dr. Tarea. He would do his job, however distasteful it seemed.

• • •

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