Constellations dazzling with light years away from Earth, Peter glanced at Sebastian as an incoming signal was broadcasted asking permission to board their vessel as they orbited a large ice-capped planet.
The voice was familiar, confused and somewhat distressed, and a vague memory stirred in both Peter and Sebastian. A flash of green lawn and a smiling face from days exploring the mountains back in college where candidates sprawled out of their dormitory halls of an evening, most often to gather downtown in bubbled glass bar hotels perched up miles into the cloud line where the highest buildings held pristine views of the stars.
A slender, muscular woman, dressed in an unfamiliar spacesuit entered the ship and arrived at the control bridge armed with a slightly curved, small blade held in a sheath of dragons tinged by electric light. She stood slightly unsteady, their friend Simone.
Simone seemed disorientated and unable to fully recognize Peter and Sebastian. They both ran over to her, pulling up a seat for her to rest in. Glancing briefly at Peter, Sebastian began speaking to Simone to find out what had happened to her.
“Simone, how did you arrive here?”
“I, I don’t, wait….who are you?”
“I’m Sebastian and this is Peter, don’t you recognize us?”
“No, well, yes, but my mind is unclear.”
With the help of a medical team who escorted her from the bridge to the medical wing of the ship, Simone gradually gathered fragments of her ordeal. She had come from an ambushed ground battle. She had somehow escaped in a single escape pod, perhaps given by a pirate or trader vessel, and she suffered only scratches and had grass-like foliage meshed and mattered into her long brown hair.
During that week, the days were uneventful with a few routine stops at orbital stations for astro-engine mechanics and to drop off scientists. A few botanists were also picked up, and one botanist requested to talk with Simone, having heard rumors that she had been brought on board under mysterious means.
Peter and Sebastian allowed this meeting between Dr. Puentes and Simone, under their supervision. Carlos Puentes had been investigating a link between gravitational changes within a number of habitable planets where strange plant, insect and animal life had been found by local inhabitants in unusual places. Somehow he had sensed that these species, despite being harmless and even somewhat friendly (with the exception of a mountain wolf-type animal that shied away from humans), had been brought in via some advanced tele-port system.
While talking to Simone, Puentes noticed something in her face that only Sebastian had mentally noted—a slight iridescent purple hue in the outer rim of the white of her eyes. This immediately brought suspicion to Puentes, who privately informed the men that he thought she had been drugged with “Mentexodia”, an amnesia-creating juice harvested from a tropical plant often used by unscrupulous spice and illicit drug traders, adding further to the mystery of how Simone had found the ship.
As days passed, Puentes was called upon further until he was scheduled to relocate for further investigation on a desert planet. Simone, upon recovering her long term memory and the ability to fully function, was still unclear about what had recently happened to her. She was posted on the bridge as operational tactician and was allowed to keep her blade at her side upon approval of Sebastian and Peter, who remembered from a number of missions her ability to defend and attack swiftly and stealthily with that weapon.
One afternoon, when minimal staff was required as the ship had docked into the space station of Mekendia, an Earth-like sister planet, Sebastian and Peter invited Simone to join them at a gathering organized for their arrival hosted by the Regentess of Mekendia’s mountainous valley. The landscape was covered with heavy snow with a streak of green orchards running beside a river valley where the feast was held under a huge greenhouse-like structure.
The air was tingling with an aromatic substance. Sebastian and Peter noted with growing suspicion that security was present but everyone seemed relaxed, maybe too relaxed. The Regentess had requested the security to be in everyday clothes, recognizing the possibility of smugglers gate crashing to enjoy her sumptuous banquet. They might also take the opportunity to bring in large quantities of a deliciously-scented plant to trade with unscrupulous business owners attending the feast. The intoxicating odor that had already been detected at the party was affectionately called “spiced flower” by the locals.
When Peter introduced his party of three to the Regentess, she insisted they all call her Clara. After the meal, a smooth-faced and athletic man dressed in space attire from some large trading company asked permission to approach the Regentess with a gift, which was dark vase with a tall vibrant spice flower. The aroma seemed to bring a calm to her attendants who broke protocol by allowing the seemingly harmless trader to approach Clara.
Sebastian glanced at the Regentess who was in conversation with one of her bodyguards when something flashed across the room, and her body guard lay motionless. The alarms had failed to go off, and the Regentess found herself face-to-face with the arrogant intruder who threw the contents of the vase at her face. The thick purple liquid had landed not on its human target but on the table before her, as Simone had stretched out in a gymnastically trained movement to catch the vase, knocking it off its path. Only drops of the liquid fell upon its planned victim and a few on Simone’s hand.
The intruder drew his laser as a large group of armed, uniformed “catering” staff flooded in to the supposedly secure structure, their weapons drawn and firing. Lasers blared between defense guards and the intruders, and Sebastian dove between the Regentess and the man firing at her entourage of bodyguards. He shot the offender in the leg and took out several others. Peter had managed to down five intruders with his rapid-firing laser, yet there were so many that they were quickly overpowering the Regentess’s guards. Simone positioned herself in front of the Regentess, wielding her dagger, and Peter called out for them to back away into the emergency exit. With the door closed behind them, the sound of blasters suddenly fell away.
A new sound arose, not of men shouting and guns screeching with glass falling, but a soft, rhythmic music of streams. Rich and deep, the lively force of the resonance they had found inside the darkness somehow, as they could only fully explain later, flashed with light and warmth, and a river with huge grey-tinged black boulders appeared behind them, even under them. They were now standing not on marbled floor but on moss, looking up at a high ridge of lush forest, neither tropical nor snow-covered as the land they had just been in. Somehow they had entered a transportation device through the exit.
Sebastian seemed to be the only one with his bearings, having suffered only momentary confusion from this strange event, and he lead Clara and Simone to the water and had them wash in the chilled, clear river’s flow, significantly minimizing the effect of the purple liquid. Watching them, he silently wondered how Regentess Clara had taken them from the door of the banquet hall to this unexpected land.
Peter, too, quickly regained his composure in the new country, and gathered some wood and started a fire with his laser, speaking softly with Sebastian. Within a few moments, Simone and Clara had almost completely regained their ability to remember and engage in the ongoing conversation of Peter and Sebastian, and the mystery of what had just happened began to unravel.
Clara shared about her planet’s secret initiative to preserve the diversity of life upon various planets nearby her galaxy. The project sent botanists to other areas to gather and study various species and determine where they could thrive without affecting the natural environments. Vast environmental studies where held before the installment of portal doors, a new technology adapted from teleporting between space stations, much like that used on Peter and Sebastian’s vessel. Clara explained that the portal was a stealth device which deleted coordinates of their location after they passed through it.
She told of one reprobate botanist, known by the name of Andrew Greystone, who was possibly the intruding man with the vase of purple amnesia-inducing liquid. He was the rogue boss of a gang that exploited the use of this potent medicinal plant, and he had obviously falsified his career history and forged his way into her service and her renowned botanical school with criminal intent.
Yet now, in this lush, quiet land, all that seemed so long ago, or rather, so far away. They sat by the river, in their new and friendly environment, with trout-like fish flashing in the stream and an animal almost identical to the brown bear passing them down stream without a sign of threat. They made plans on what should be their next step, how to find out where they were, and how to send a message to the ship or other ships to find them.
With the discussion rumbling in their minds, and their stomachs rumbling deep inside, they set up camp for the evening. Peter caught a few fish with his laser and as they broiled on the fire, Simone and the Regentess gathered plants both edible and delicious, and Sebastian gathered a moss that Simone approved would be pleasant bedding for them all. They served the edible plants on a flat rock beside the fire-roasted fish, then dipped their faces into the liquid gold of the mountain stream as it caught the last blaze of sunset, their oily hands still fresh with the aroma of fish. They sat back, stomachs satisfied, to enjoy the woodland sounds mixed with the rush of the river.
The stars began to appear and as they did, Sebastian and the Regentess pointed almost simultaneously at something familiar in the sky, then shared a smile. The others misunderstood their faces for scientific appreciation of the stars and planets on display, but then Clara began humming a family song. It was a song from her birth planet, Earth, and Peter and Simone remembered it instantly while Sebastian recognized it from his time on Earth, cruising on clear mornings out to the coast with Peter. Then Clara burst out laughing and Sebastian stood up and with a nod from Clara announced:
“My friends, as the stars kindly inform me, those that speak with light and warmth, it seems that not only has the Regentess gallantly gained back her mental functioning from the encounter with that flower which we shall now call “memory poison”, but she has also returned to her home planet, that which birthed you all. We are, my friends, as Clara shall now confirm…”
“On Earth! Somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. It is coming back to me now what happened and why I felt a need to set that escape portal at the back of our gathering. So, relax around this earthly fire, and I will try my best to tell you what I think has happened to us until this point, leaving the future to decide what shall happen to us tomorrow.”
They all gazed, amazed, and laughed at their good fortune, listening intently and gathering information as their story became complete.
Words & Photo by Jonathan McCallum