At first I thought I was dreaming. My body, which had been cramped in an escape pod for four weeks, was now extended. I was laying on a stretcher, my eyes fluttering from the lights and the drugs, only half remembering that the instant before had I passed out, I had seen the alien ship through the porthole.
I screamed then, or at least I thought I did, refusing to let whatever the hell they’d given me to take effect. I flailed my limbs, which ones, I didn’t know, but I wanted to make sure they knew I wasn’t going down without a fight.
“A ship is supposed to meet me!” I told them, but they continued to drag the stretcher along.
With my mind clearing a bit, I tried telling them again. “Please! You have to listen to me! My children need me!”
There was a soft prick on my arm and I looked over to see one of them injecting me with something. My ears began to hiss, my brain telling me that to stay conscious would be my doom, but my logical thinking told me that if I passed out now, I would never make it back to Earth.
I was on my way to the New Paris colony to implement a new irrigation system when four months into the journey, I received word that my husband had been in a construction accident. In the end, his injuries were too severe and he died in a hospital room all alone. With no close living relatives, they placed his body in stasis, pending funeral arrangements until I returned. And because of no close living relatives, my children were placed in foster care. Having been in foster care as a child and having been abused in countless ways before they found me a decent home, I desperately did not want my children there.
With the ringing still in my head and my eyes refusing to focus, I continued to scream at the aliens around me. I was aware the stretcher had stopped shifting but I felt like I was moving, nonetheless. I continued to scream, trying to hear my own voice but the ringing was just too loud. “My name is Karen! I’m a agricultural specialist! I am no threat to you! I just need to get home to my children!”
Kinsey was four and Marcus was two. My heart sank when I thought about how lonely, sad, and scared they were. They weren’t old enough to understand where Daddy had gone. When I talked to them before getting in the escape pod, I assured them that Mommy would come get them soon. Mommy would be there for them. Mommy loved them and would never leave them again. I felt a warm tear escape my eye and roll back to my ear.
In my clouded mind, I saw the aliens above me, their thin mouths moving as they looked at me and each other. The one closest to my head on the right stumbled backwards a bit. Apparently my arm had hit it. I didn’t know my arm was still jerking about. There were more then a half a dozen of them surrounding me, their bony hands all over me, removing my clothing, poking me with things. But I couldn’t feel anything, though. My body was completely numb, even to the pressure of their grips.
I didn’t know what they called themselves but these people were the only extraterrestrials that Humans had ever known about. Attempts to make contact with them had been met with silence. They had stayed pretty much to themselves until now. Why me? Why now when I needed to get home to my babies?
They were slim things, their smooth skin varying shades of charcoal. Twenty or more small eyes clustered together from their large forehead to the bridge of tiny round noses. Their mouths were also thin with no discernable lips, leading down to a narrow chin which made the entire shape of their face look somewhat like a distorted triangle.
My face was pressed against something slick and cold before I realized that I had thrown myself off the stretcher, landing on the floor with a sick thud. The whistle in my ears was subsiding, replaced by a throbbing headache. My sense of touch was also returning as I felt their long fingers clasp around my limbs to pick me up. All I could do was wiggle, feeling like a beached whale, my stomach threatening to lose all the contents of the breakfast packet I’d eaten earlier.
I managed to vomit all down the front of one of them as they hoisted me back up on the stretcher. An indecipherable string of words came from it before I blacked out again.
To get to the New Paris colony, I had hitched a ride on a freighter, a much cheaper way to go then chartering a shuttle. When I demanded the captain turn around and take me home, he refused. He couldn’t just leave the hundreds of colonists stranded without the supplies they needed. After a shameful and feeble attempt to overtake the ship, the captain comprised a plan that would get me home sooner rather than later. I would take an escape pod, thrusters on full as far as it would go and a ship would meet me and take me back home. A solid plan. However, the ship that was supposed to meet me had been two days late. My oxygen had been running low but I was confident that I would be picked up. There was no other option. I refused to believe that I could die out here, that my children would grow up without either parent.
When I came too, I felt a tube down my throat and a needle in my arm. The aliens were around me still but with something that resembled a bubble around their heads. One of them ran a device over me that emitted a fine green light. With a new wave of adrenaline, I began to flop my body again, this time with a little more control than before. I knocked a couple of them over, grabbed the tube and pulled it from my throat, gagging and throwing up again. I tried to raise myself from what was now a table instead of a stretcher but understood that I still wasn’t as up to speed as I thought and ended up crashing to the floor again. With no sense of direction, I began to claw the floor pulling myself forward, dragging something along behind me that was hooked to the needle in my arm.
As they raised me back onto the table, I began to sob hysterically, half in and half out of my mind. I remembered each of my babies’ births and I had images of their fright and sadness floating across my mind. Then came the image of my husband, Daniel; the day we first made love, the moment we kissed on our wedding day, the day he scooped me up and swung me around when I told him I was pregnant with Kinsey, only to put me down and apologize for being too excited, hoping he hadn’t hurt the baby. I wept until my nose was so clogged I couldn’t breath through it, all the while telling the beings that I needed to get home. That I had to get home. That I couldn’t leave my babies all alone.
I blacked out again with the sound of Daniel’s voice in my head; his last words over the communication channel to me. I love you. Be safe out there.
I came out of a groggy sleep little by little this time. My body was tied to the table, the room was pitch black. I thought I was dead at first. The darkness was my everlasting punishment for dying long before my children could sustain themselves. When I became fully aware that I wasn’t dead and was instead still in a nightmare, a single light flicked on to my right and one of the aliens stepped through a door holding a small black tool. It spoke into it with gibberish words that were almost inaudible. When it finished speaking, the device began talking to me.
“You vehicle had little fractures. Little rocks. You had injured. We fix you.”
It took me a moment to understand the translation. The voice from the device was a fixed monotone, neither male nor female.
My memory began to return. I remembered that as I waited in the escape pod, my thrusters completely burned out, that something, perhaps a micro meteor, had pierced the hull. I had tried to fix it but there were too many of them. After a few minutes, I noticed I was bleeding in at least five spots I could see. The micro meteors had not only fractured the hull but my skin. It was then, in that pure panic, that I’d seen the alien ship through the porthole.
I didn’t know what to say. Even if they had healed my wounds, what were they doing there in the first place? “I need to go home. To Earth. I need to get to my children.”
Again, it spoke into the translator. “I knew. You people sent us message. Ship had problem. Them not able to get you in time before air run out. Them beg us get you. You mate perished, you offspring need you.”
I could feel my tears coming back. “Yes.”
“Calm you now.”
As it stood there waiting for a response, I understood the statement to be a question. “Yes, I am calm.”
It approached, emitting a slight hum as it loosened my restraints.
“We at Earth. We at you are space station. Follow to air lock.”
I struggled to stand. The gravity on this ship was at least twice what I was used to. I felt incredibly heavy but forced myself to follow it, my legs threatening to cramp.
The corridors were highly illuminated, casting our shadows on gray walls and what looked like slick black stone tiles on the floor. We passed a couple of others of its kind who stopped and watched us with curiosity.
When it stopped, it waved a hand at nothing I could see and a section of the wall vanished, revealing the decompression chamber this side of the air lock. I could see a refreshing number of Human heads peeking curiously through the window from the space station. The alien gestured for me to get inside.
I started but ended up stopping in the middle of the doorway. “Why?” I asked it. “We’ve been trying to make contact with your species for years. Why this? Why now? Why save me?”
It paused, cocked its head to one side as if thinking about the answer. “We not see such… love before in Human.”
“Get to know us some more and we can show you more then love. We have compassion and sympathy, too.”
“Conflict is great majority. Lose conflict, we will greet Earth. Onward.” It was saying that Earth was riddled with conflict. When we could solve our own problems, then they would officially greet us.
It was gesturing to the chamber again, perhaps anxious to see me off. After all the trouble I’d caused, I was certain they were all ready to see me go. I stopped just inside and stared at its eyes. “Thank you,” I told it, managing a small smile. The journey which was supposed to take me months had been greatly shortened. My babies were so much closer now. I owed them my life.
It gave me a nod and the wall reappeared as if nothing had ever been there.