The warning lights in the cockpit flared bright red. An alarm screamed overhead.
“We’re losing altitude!” I hollered at D.O.T. T., as I frantically adjusted the throttle and tried to hang on to the control wheel. “Do something!”
“I am sorry. According to the systems information, our left wing, rudder, and stabilizers are operating at only 5 percent. There is no way for me to repair them through the computer. We will have to land.”
“Dammit, D.O.T.T.! I can’t go down there! I don’t even know what planet that is!”
“Perhaps if you had been a little more careful in that asteroid field, Karra, we would not have—“
“Okayy! Goddess!” I was still a little sensitive on subject of the asteroids. “Alright, D.O.T.T., keep an eye on the navigation controls! I’ll…hope for the best,” I finished lamely. Truth was, I was not feeling confident about this at all.
We hurtled towards the glowing pink sphere beneath us. It looked like a soft pink pearl on a piece of dark velvet. Would’ve been a beautiful little planet, actually, if it wasn’t about to completely destroy us.
As we plunged into the misty atmosphere, I glanced over at D.O.T.T. She seemed okay, aside from a small dent and some chipped paint where she’d hit the wall on impact. D.O.T.T., Databank Organized for Transgalactic Transit, was my robotic copilot. She didn’t come cheap, but a she was a helluva lot easier to deal with than the flesh-and-blood copilots I’d had in the past. D.O.T.T. and I actually get along pretty well together, though we do have our squabbles. Usually when I’ve done something stupid.
“Hold on!” I screamed, eyes glued back to the windshield. “We’re going down!”
I got everything into landing position as best I could, tried to slow down and elevate the nose, and gritted my teeth.
It was a rough landing. No joke. We hit the ground, bounced, hit even harder, and slid at top speed for 300 yards before I could come to a stop.
“That was a masterful landing, Karra. I am impressed.”
I looked over at my copilot. “D.O.T.T., I can never tell whether you’re being sarcastic or not.”
First things first, I needed to see how much damage we had done to the ship. I had to get outside to check. But I had no idea where we were, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to walk out into a strange atmosphere before I knew what was up. So I got my testing kits from the back of the ship, huffed and puffed into full spacesuit regalia, and prepared to enter the airlock.
“Okay, D.O.T.T., I’m goin’ out,” I said.
“I am sure you will be fine. I have been looking over the starmaps and I believe we might be on Shabuu, in the Eleieh system.”
“Is it a habitable planet? Is it safe?” I asked.
“What do you mean, unknown?”
“Beneath the planet’s name is simply written, ‘unknown’.”
I sighed. “Okay.”
“See you soon, Karra,” D.O.T.T. replied. “In the meantime, I will look over my internal systems and go into low-power mode for repairs.”
“Sounds good, D.O.T.T. See you in a little while.”
I stepped into the airlock and closed the doors behind me. I took a deep breath, positioned my gloved finger over the Open Airlock button, closed my eyes, and pushed the button.
The door hissed open. I braced for an attack.
I’m still alive, I thought. Count of three, I open my eyes. One, two, three—
I sucked in my breath and took a step back.
Everything I saw was alive. Big blue shapes that looked like rocks suddenly shot giant magenta tentacles into the air and waved them around, trying to catch hold of some green knobbly things that had just flown past. A shimmering, palm-tree-like object seemed to be slowly gliding around. Big eyeless orbs floated everywhere. The colors made my head reel—bright pinks, greens, turquoise, and lavender, all sloshing around together like a psychedelic painting—and the air was full of chirps, squeaks, and trills.
“Waoh!” I ducked as a glittering eel-like creature swam through the air above my head. “This place is incredible!”
I pulled out the Air Test kit, opened it up, swiped the test tube through the air, and corked it. In a couple of minutes, during which I continued to gawk open-mouthed at the sights before me, the test was complete. I looked down at it and read the results through the tube.
“Nitrogen, Earth-level. Oxygen, slightly higher than Earth-level. Argon, Carbon dioxide, Neon, all at Earth-level. Helium, Methane, Krypton is a little low, Hydrogen, Xenon is a little low too—it’s basically like Earth!”
I was overjoyed. This atmosphere’s composition meant I could breathe without a helmet! I’m not even going to try and be tough about it—space helmets are the worst. I unbuckled, unscrewed, and unzipped until I finally broke free of the helmet.
A weak breeze went through my short, curly hair. Invigorated, and freed from the confines of intergalactic travel wear, I made my way down the ship’s gangplank and stepped onto the planet’s surface.
The ground beneath my boots felt spongy, and I bounced slightly with each step I took. I didn’t hate it. In fact, it felt pretty damn awesome, and I jogged around a little bit enjoying the feeling. On Earth, jogging is torture for me—I’m a big girl. But here, it was like the ground was pushing me back up with every step. It was great.
Unfortunately, in the throes of springy delight, I forgot about real life for a second. I realized suddenly that I’d wandered farther from the ship than I should have.
“Crap,” I said.
I looked around at what I’d gotten myself into. I was in some sort of lush grove. The air was impossibly hot and humid in here. There wasn’t any hint of that little breeze from earlier. It was a lot quieter in here, too—none of those trilling, chirping creatures from earlier. All around me rose tall, swaying stalks, dark blue and smooth. Up above, I could still see parts of the rosy sky peeking through.
I became aware of a soft lapping noise, like water around a docked boat, and moved towards it. Flowering bushes fanned their fronds in all directions around me as I moved through them, and little feathered creatures ran from my path. I parted some large stalks and started to move through the opening.
“Waaaaaaaooow,” I breathed.
I was looking at a steaming lavender lake. Hundreds of green, serrated, plant-like objects rose out of the surface of the lake in clusters. Silver air-eels hovered around the lake and hid in the green plants.
I was enchanted.
I walked over the mossy sand to the edge of the water and peeked in. Thousands of tiny creatures swum around and around in schools, and huge crystals glinted from the lakebed.
Some people like to get postcards from the planets they visit. Some like to buy clothing, or specialty foodstuffs. Me? I always like to take a tiny piece of the natural world. Sure, environmentalists hate me. But you know something? I really treasure and respect everything that I take. I have a special glass case in my ship holding my collection, and I’ll spend hours going through it, re-imagining the places I’ve been.
So, as I said, beautiful lake. Huge crystals in there. Smaller crystals were ranged around the large ones, and some even smaller ones were close to the edge of the lake. I wanted one. Just a bitty one. I’m not greedy.
But I had to test the water first. I mean, this is space. A person can’t just go around sticking their hands into strange substances.
I reached around into my pack and pulled out the Water Kit. I uncorked the tube and bent forward to scoop some water into it.
I fell right over backwards. “Gaahhh!!”
“Shaodnkso! Lhedrisi onano makwisa!”
I looked up wildly to see a creature standing in the lake, leaning over me, with a weapon pointed at my face.
The best word I can think of to describe this creature is ‘fishlike’. At the same time, it looked nothing like a fish. It was standing on two legs and had a long tail, and had arms and hands. Not fishlike. But it was covered in scales—beautiful lavender, pearl gray, and light blue, all iridescent—and its torso had gills right where the waist would be, a row on either side. Its face, though, was something else entirely. Two large, heavily lidded, amethyst eyes set wide apart. No nose. No ears. Long slender cheeks ending in a narrow jaw, with a large mouth at the bottom of the chin. I couldn’t make out the color of the scales on its face, and then I realized that the color was actually changing. It changed so gradually and amorphously that I was barely even aware of it, but it was hypnotizing. I sat on my ass in the lake just staring up into that face.
I came to when the creature poked me in the chest with its weapon.
“Oww!” I complained. I gave the creature a disapproving look. “What gives? What’d you poke me for?”
The creature tilted its head. “Gaoshink!”
I raised my hands, palms up, in the universal gesture for ‘don’t-shoot-me-please-oh-please’.
“I’m just looking around! I didn’t mean to intrude.”
I started to get up. The creature pushed its weapon closer to me.
“Come onnn! Give me a break. Just let me get up for a second.” I kept moving and waved away the weapon with my hands. When I stood up, I realized that the creature was about my height. It seemed curious about me, beneath all the weaponry and bluster.
I put my hands on my chest. “Karra.”
I repeated the gesture, and looked at the creature. Then I gestured towards it. “And you?”
It looked at me for a long moment, and I thought, well shit, it always works in the movies. I started to think of another plan.
Oh my god, I thought. It worked.
“Okay Zhenkshii. Nice to meet you.” I smiled.
The scales on the creature’s shoulders, arms, and back that had been raised for battle slowly sank back to its body, leaving it smooth all over.
Smooth, and also…womanly.
I caught myself looking her over. Dammit, Karra, you’ve been on this planet for ten minutes and you’re already thinking about sex, I reproached myself. But I couldn’t help wondering how that firm scaly flesh would feel in my hands.
Meanwhile, Zhenkshii had moved through the water and was exiting the lake near me. She still held on to her weapon—but thankfully, no longer pointed it at me. It was vaguely spear-like, and she rested one end on the ground like a staff.
“Ushkatao maipiwe lashik. Pisho gwo na rasi?”
I had no idea how to respond. Universal translators do exist, sure, but are you kidding? Those things are like a million Units a pop. I don’t have that kind of money. We were going to have to do this the hard way.
I decided to go super old school.
Crouching down, I drew a crude version of my spaceship into the sand with my gloved finger. I looked up at Zhenkshii.
“Me,” I told her, pointing at the ship, then at myself.
Then I drew an arrow shape coming out the front of the ship, landing a few inches away in the sand.
I pointed at the arrow’s edge, then gestured around at everything with my arms.
Then I reached down and violently scratched out the ship. “Boom!” I said, mimicking an explosion with my hands. I pointed at myself again and then shrugged, trying to convey my predicament.
I looked up at Zhenkshii with my best puppy-dog eyes.
Works every time.
She nodded. “Kshaosai la nagye ta.” She pointed at the erased ship, then looked around. She looked back at me.
“Okay!” I nodded. “Yeah. I’ll take you to my ship.”
I beckoned her to follow me, and started out through the stalks and bushes. I looked back. Zhenkshii was right behind me, clutching her weapon. I smiled at her and turned back to lead the way, forgetting all about those crystals in the lake.
I’d made bootprints on my way in, where the moss was squashed, so I was able to find my ship fairly easily. Thank Goddess. It would have humiliated me if I’d gotten lost in front of Zhenkshii. I wanted her to think I was cool.
When we got there, my heart sank. I had been so overwhelmed by the lushness of this planet that I had forgotten to even check out the damage to my ship before running off to the lake. It was bad. Really bad.
“Oh maaaaaan,” I groaned, walking around the ship and looking everything over.
The whole left side of the ship was badly dented and scratched, and the left wing had been almost completely shorn off. It was barely hanging on. The ship’s tail was also in bad shape, and the landing gear was a mess. The windshield had a crack in it.
This was going to cost a fortune. There was no way I could repair it myself.
I sat down on a patch of blue moss to think. Meanwhile, Zhenkshii was making her own tour of the outside of the ship. She was poking at it with her spear and jumping back at the sound of the metal. It was adorable.
Ugggghh, I thought. I felt like crying. I can’t believe I was so stupid and cocky in that asteroid field. If I had just slowed down a little bit…Okay. I can get through this. D.O.T.T. and I will radio for help. We’ll scour the maps until we figure out which planet we’re on.
I forced myself to stay calm. I didn’t want Zhenkshii to see me lose my shit.
Hell, it was hot. I realized I was still wearing my big awful spacesuit. No point in keeping it on. We were gonna be on this planet for a while.
I fought my way out of the suit, one piece at a time, until it lay in a pile by the side of the ship. Man, that felt better. I lay down on my back in the moss, arms outstretched, eyes closed. Without that big suit on, the temperature felt pretty good. Hot, but not stifling. I took a few deep breaths, telling myself It’s all going to be okay.
I felt a dry, smooth hand on my thigh and my eyes flew open. I raised myself up on my elbows and saw that Zhenkshii had seated herself next to me. The spear lay in the grass, out of reach. Her large purple eyes were roving all over my body.
My face grew hot as I realized what I was wearing. Underneath the space suit, I always just wear a sports bra and some tight little shorts, because otherwise it’s too bulky and uncomfortable. So now, here I was stretched out on the grass half-naked, a big brown girl in some tiny underwear. Almost completely exposed. In front of this gorgeous alien that I’d just met.
But I was surprised to see that she was looking at me with excitement. She was murmuring something to herself and continuing to run her hand over my exposed skin—my legs, my neck, my belly.
And I liked it. A lot.
I looked up into the changing colors of her beautiful face, and before I knew what I was doing, I was reaching up to touch her shoulder. She felt warm. As my hand touched her smooth, scaly skin, the colors of her shoulder started to swirl and change. I slid my hand down her arm and soon her whole arm was a pulsating kaleidoscope of color. The waves of iridescent lavender, light blue, and pearly gray intoxicated me. I almost felt dizzy.
She stared down at me with those enormous eyes. “Karra.”
“Zhenkshii.” I smiled at her.
The moss and grass felt soft beneath me. The warm pink sky hovered above us. The air was filled with chirps and songs. Lovely Zhenkshii was caressing me with her warm, scaly hands, and my own hands were traveling all over her, enjoying the feeling of her skin, watching the colors melt and fade into one another.
I was so glad I’d hit that asteroid.