Allow me to summarize. His full name was Parkor Rann, and he came from a planet called Deshtiris, about thirty-five light-years from Earth, which up until a year ago had been ruled by totalitarian baddies calling themselves "Brizali." Then the legendary Princess Mikiria had come down from the sky, overthrown the Evil Empire, and was now Empress, along with her husband, Emperor Wilorian.
(Okay, I thought to myself, so he reads science fiction. Really bad science fiction.)
Anyway, he ended up serving the new Emperor and Empress as part of their bodyguard, living in the royal palace in the capital city of Deshti. He'd been given an errand to perform on Earth (which he casually glossed over, presumably thinking I wouldn't notice), and the Empress had invited him to take her own ship so he wouldn't have to spend several days' travel time in each direction. (Apparently the ungainly thing I'd seen bouncing to a stop was the fastest ship in the galaxy.)
Unfortunately, he'd been preparing to land when something blew out. He'd had just enough power left to spiral down through the atmosphere, losing speed in the process, but with no idea where he was going to set down. As luck had it, he'd barely missed the mountains to the north and wound up skidding to a halt right in front of me on the relatively flat valley floor.
"That's a pretty neat story," I said skeptically. "Now how about the real one?"
"No," he insisted, "it's the truth. I swear it. Besides, who here has a ship anything like that?" I found it pretty amusing that he was now earnestly defending his story. Not bad, Haley, I congratulated myself, you'd have made a great interrogator. Then I realized that I was starting to believe his story, and that I wasn't sure any more just who was outfoxing who.
"All right," I continued a little less confidently. "Let's say I believe you. Now what?"
He stared up for a little while at the stars beginning to dust the fading sky. "Well," he finally said, "I need to try once more to get things started. If that doesn't work, then I'll have to call home."
"Why don't you wait until morning?" I blurted out before I knew what I was saying. Logically, I suppose I should have done anything I could to send him on his way. California has to be the weirdo capital of the world, and you learn early on never to trust strangers. And here I was in the middle of the Mojave Desert, looking at spending the night with someone who claimed to be from another planet and an employee of the Empress of the Universe. But for some reason I trusted him. "Besides," I added, "you got knocked around quite a bit, not to mention inhaling god knows what."
"You're probably right," he agreed reluctantly. "A good night's sleep wouldn't hurt."
"All I have are these sleeping bags and ground cushions," I apologized. He grinned.
"I was in the Deshtiran military for a year. You get used to sleeping on the floor, or wherever you have to. I'll be fine."
One nice thing about the Mojave Desert in June is that you don't need to worry about staying warm at night. I unzipped my sleeping bags and spread them over the ground pads as cushions, and we both finally just sprawled out and went to sleep, using rolled up jackets as pillows. I really didn't know why, but I felt very safe with him stretched out next to me. The hatchet remained undisturbed in its hiding place.
I woke up the next morning, just as it was growing light, to find him gone. I had a vague memory of waking up some time after midnight and staring at his profile, shining almost silver in the light of the waning moon. For a few minutes I wondered if the whole thing had just been a bizarre dream as I shook the sleep from my eyes. There was still a rolled-up jacket where his head had been, however, so after splashing some cold water from the cooler over my face I decided to find out once and for all.
Pulling on my hiking boots, I set out towards the spot where I remembered the strange craft landing. It was still too dim to see it a half-mile away, but before long I'd reached the first patch of demolished boulders and was following the smooth furrow towards the glint of glass ahead. By the time I was a few hundred feet from it I could see a figure poking around inside the remarkable object, which now looked for all the world like a giant discarded soft-drink bottle lying on its side.
The gods really are crazy, I decided.
I stuck my head inside the open portal. One of the floor panels had been raised, and Rann was down on his knees, his chin nearly touching some strange-looking electronic equipment. "Hello," I said hesitantly, and was rewarded with a quick jerk of his thick thatch of black hair as he looked around for the source of the noise.
"Hi, Hal," he said, seeing me. He didn't look very happy, I thought.
"So how is it?" I asked. "Can you get it started?"
He shook his head. "I don't have any power at all, not even for communications. This is really bad. I can't even get into the living quarters for a change of clothes," he added ruefully.
"What living quarters?" I looked around, puzzled. The interior of the thing was as barren as I remembered it from the day before. Rann jerked his thumb at the other end of the ship, where the metal wall with its non-functional door made up the back of the ship.
"But there's nothing back there," I protested. "That's where the ship ends." He grinned sadly.
"I'll explain it someday. Anyway, looks like I'm stuck here for the time being." He put back the floor panel and stood up, stretching cramped muscles. "I'm going to have to let them know I'm okay and get some instructions. Right now, without power almost nothing on the Futaba is usable. At least the hull transformations are still working."
"Hull transformations?" I said blankly.
"The portal you saw. The whole ship can reshape itself any way I want by reconfiguring hadron fields on a subatomic level."
I digested that for a minute. "That's the strong interaction, right?" I like physics. I know it's not cool for girls to know too much, but that's why I spend a lot of time on my own. To hell with idiots, I say.
"Yeah," he confirmed. "The hull is made of amorphous diamond, and with hadron fields configuring its shape, you can form it into anything you like. It's also nearly indestructible." By now the sun had again begun to warm the interior quite noticeably, and we emerged through the doorway with considerable relief.
"You mean this thing can change into something else?" I said dubiously. "Like, it can morph, or something?" In response, he turned to the ship and shouted "Futaba transform: truck!"
I think it was what I saw next that finally convinced me once and for all that I wasn't just seeing the results of some secret military experiment. The whole ship turned liquid before my eyes and repoured itself into an odd-looking hybrid somewhere between a jeep and a pickup truck, colors and all. Even the rubber tires looked authentic. I suddenly realized my heart was pounding wildly.
"This is real, isn't it?" I breathed.
"Go kick one of the tires," he said with a grin. "But not too hard, for your sake." Dazed, I did as he suggested. The extremely realistic-looking tire (it even had a flat spot on the bottom where it rested on the ground) might have been made of solid granite as far as my foot could tell. "Ouch," I said, impressed.
After asking me to back away again from the vehicle, he shouted another command; this time, "Futaba transform: starship!" A moment later the truck was gone, replaced by the now familiar crystal bullet.
"It's true, then," I conceded reluctantly. "About you being from Deshtiris, or whatever."
"I wouldn't lie to you."
I took a deep breath. "Well, in that case," I said, now adopting my most businesslike manner, "let's see if we can't start working all this out. You said you needed to call home. What exactly do you need to do that?" I had a mental picture of the Rube Goldberg contraption used in ET. I hoped we wouldn't have to steal any classified electronic equipment from a military base or something.
"Do you have an Internet connection at home?" he asked. I did a double take.
"Huh? Sure. I mean, I can surf the Web and send email. How would that help?" He then explained that there was some kind of gadget on the moon that relayed all of our satellite signals on to Deshtiris, including most of Earth's Internet traffic.
"And you can just send email from here to there?" I said in disbelief. "But you said it was thirty-five light-years away. Isn't that kind of a long time to wait for an answer?"
"What, you think I spent thirty-five years getting here? It all goes through hyperspace,* the same way I came. Trust me, it works. But they're not going to be very happy about this," he added, looking anxious again.
"Look," I said, and feeling more than a little anxious myself, "I'm going to have to tell my mother some kind of story about who you are. She's antsy enough about my camping out all alone in the desert; if she thinks I've been spending the time out here with some boy she's going to hit the roof." Actually I suspected she'd be thrilled, but I didn't want to encourage him too much.
"What would happen if you told her the truth?" he asked, and I suppressed a giggle. If there was anyone I could safely tell about this whole bizarre incident, it was my mother. No one would ever believe her if she repeated it.
"That's a good question," I suggested. "Let's find out."
"So where do you live, anyway?" he asked. "Certainly not around here."
"Las Vegas." I didn't bother suppressing the usual involuntary shudder, either. "That's in Nevada," I added.
"Yeah, I've heard of it," he acknowledged. "Kiri once said it was a good place to be from." He suddenly looked worried. "No offense intended."
"It's an understatement, if anything," I said disdainfully. "A bloated, vulgar playpen for the æsthetically challenged. Sort of like living in a sixties TV commercial. So you've never been there?"
"I've only been to the Los Angeles area," he said absently, looking over the Futaba once more. "I better hide this," he decided. "Not that anyone could damage it, but they could haul it away, and I'd rather tell Kiri I broke her ship than that I lost it somewhere."
"How are you going to hide something like this?" I protested. "I hope you don't think we're going to bury it; that would take days. And if you turn it back into that truck someone's bound to try tow it away sooner or later." He didn't seem to hear me, being lost in thought.
"Kiri once told me she'd programmed something in just for emergencies like this. What was it? Something about making copies, I think. Oh!" His expression brightening, he looked around wildly, then suddenly darted over to the pile of rubble wedged against the front of the ship. There he selected a large, irregularly shaped fragment of rock and carefully set it down directly opposite the spot where the ship's portal usually appeared.
"Stand back," he warned me, doing likewise himself. "Futaba: simulate with parameter scale times sixty."
Even after what I'd already seen during the past twelve hours the results astonished me. In place of the now-familiar Futaba there stood a huge replica of the rock Rann had set next to it, identical right down to the texture of the grain and the fracture planes.
Actually, it was more than realistic. A rock blown up to sixty times normal size will no longer look like a rock. The individual crystals making it up don't look natural at that size. But somehow this rock retained the detailed texture even when I walked up to it and ran my fingers over it.
"Recursive fractal texture generation," Rann said with a grin. "It replicates the texture at ever smaller scales when reforming, so that even up close it still looks authentic. Kiri doesn't miss a thing, does she?"
"I hope I get to meet her someday," I said in awe. "She's good. Really good."
"She's the best," he said simply.
"I know this is kind of unlikely," I asked, "but what if some prospector decides to chip a piece out for analysis? Or, worse yet, tries to blow it up with dynamite?"
He laughed, for the first time since I'd met him. It was a nice laugh, good natured. "The Futaba could run head-on into a meteor at a thousand miles per hour and it wouldn't scratch it. The hadron field that holds the hull in shape is more powerful than any explosive. They'd have to drop a nuke on it to hurt it."
"Let's hope they don't," I said with a shudder, as we headed back to the car. I looked back once, from a few hundred feet away. It truly looked like a large rock, a little out of place on the valley floor, but with nothing else to distinguish it.
"Unfortunately we can't do anything about the furrow," he observed regretfully, "and it will show up from the air. We'll just have to hope nobody flies too low over this part of the desert for a while." A few minutes later we were bumping our way along the dirt track I'd driven in on. After another forty-five minutes we were on Interstate 15, pointed towards Las Vegas.
Along the way we discussed his future. "You're going to need a change of clothes," I decided.
* There is of course no such thing. When speaking English Deshtirans usually use the science fiction term "hyperspace" as a convenient form of verbal shorthand to describe the complex interactions of space, time and mass involved in faster-than-light travel. The actual Deshtiran word is much different and utterly untranslatable. - Ed.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|