Aphelion Issue 273, Volume 26
June 2022
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Interstellar Rescue

by K. A. Williams

As I approached in my cloaked ship, I monitored the broadcasts of the planet and learned the language and customs of the section the distress call came from. Navigating the asteroid belt was tricky but I had made it through and landed in the same big lake where space explorer Maritonn's ship was.

My ship traveled just as well underwater as it did through space. I followed the signal's direction, found his ship, and saw the damage caused by the asteroid his distress call had mentioned. The signal directed me east of the ship to the coastline there.

Soon the ship's lights lit up the entrance to an underwater cave, and I hid the ship inside startling a school of fish.

After I put on a backpack and mini oxygen tank, I switched the ship to standby mode, and opened the inner hatch. Water poured inside the airlock, and I had to wait until it drained to open the outer hatch. I forced my way through the torrent of water that poured inside. It was cold so I adjusted the temperature of my over-suit and also added flippers.

When I finally reached the shore, I stowed the mini oxygen tank in my backpack and changed the over-suit to match what women wore in this area when it was cool. Then I checked the monitor and moved in the right direction.

It was night and there was a forest beyond the lake's shore. I noticed lights and walked toward them through the underbrush and trees where I discovered the camp fires. People were sitting around them with tents and vehicles nearby.

I looked at my indicator, but it just pointed straight ahead. There were three tents just in front of me. I remained hidden and watched them awhile. A family was staying in one, and I saw a little boy run inside another, so I turned my full attention to the last one.

Soon a man came out to the fire with two chairs, sat in one, and looked toward the woods where I was hiding.

Was it Maritonn? Did he know I was here? According to his file, he had limited ESP. I came out of the woods and walked toward his tent.

"Come and warm yourself by the fire. I have an extra chair."

I sat in the chair facing the fire, opposite from him. I had seen images of a green-eyed, dark-haired Maritonn when he was clean shaven. This man wore a beard and had on a knit cap. I wasn't close enough to tell the color of his eyes, and his accent was the same as the voices I had monitored.

I'd invented a story in case this man was a native. "I got lost before dark and I've been wandering around out here ever since. I was glad when I saw your fire."

"You must be tired and hungry. Have some tomato soup."

He picked up a cup and a big spoon off a small wooden folding table, then dipped the spoon into a pot that sat on a metal platform over the fire, dumped the contents into a cup, and handed it to me.

"Careful, it's hot."

I could feel the heat and set it on my lap. "Thanks," I said. "I'll wait for it to cool."

"Why don't you take your gloves off?" he suggested. "You could hold the soup better."

That would be a problem. My over-suit was all one piece and I couldn't order it to remove gloves in front of him if he was a native. "I'd rather not," I said.

He smiled. "You can't, can you because you're a shape-shifter. They wear one piece over-suits as clothes that they adjust at will."

I was startled and almost dropped the cup. The man had guessed about the over-suit, he must be Maritonn. "I'm not a shapeshifter, I'm Pansitana, your rescuer. Our scientists have been able to make over-suits by studying the shape-shifter ones. Why are you here? Were you expecting me?"

"I have a portable solar powered radar which picked up your ship, but I couldn't tell if it was one of ours or not. I watched you land in the lake and decided you would come to the closest shore so I set up camp and waited."

"How have you been surviving on this planet?"

"There are animal races here. You can bet on a certain one and win lots of money. Sometimes I have premonitions about which animals will win at the track and I bet and win."

I sipped the soup. It had cooled and was delicious.

"It's been two years. Why did it take so long to answer my distress call?" he asked.

"We've been at war."

He was surprised. "Who with?"

"The shape-shifters because our scientists kidnapped and experimented on them to invent their own over-suits. It was hard to get an okay for a rescue mission during wartime but it finally happened."

"Well, you're here now." He got some soup for himself. "When can we go home?"

"We can't."

"Why? Is the war still going on?"

"Actually, no. It's over. We lost. As I was leaving the star system, I received an urgent message that the war was over, we had surrendered, and to return immediately because me and my ship were now the property of the shape-shifters. I ignored it."

"I can't believe we lost." He sipped his soup.

"You weren't there. The shape-shifters were able to infiltrate our defenses, then kill and impersonate key government and military personnel."

"That's terrible."

"It was."

"I'm glad you came ahead and didn't turn back."

"Me too, but it's so cold here."

"It's much warmer in the daytime, but I've only stayed near here so I could be close in case someone came to rescue me. Now there's no reason to stay. We can go south where it's warmer all the time," he suggested.

I smiled at him. "I'd like that."

2021 K. A. Williams

K. A. Williams lives in North Carolina and writes mystery/crime, speculative, general fiction, and poetry. She has had science fiction published more recently in and Bewildering Stories. Apart from writing, she enjoys music, computer chess, and text adventure games.

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