Luke Wallace stumbled over the alien terrain as the dawning sun rose to his left, but it was the twinkling of tiny lights directly in his path that had been holding his attention for the past three hours.
The biologist was the sole survivor of the “Hawking,” an exploratory superluminal spacecraft owned by Blue Astra Space Corporation. The primary power coupling blew just 92 hours after they’d returned to normal space, and 15 minutes after they’d entered orbit around Kessel-Origan B, the most Earth-like exoplanet ever discovered, and only 167 light years from home.
He was the only one to get to an escape pod in time as cryonic gas from the exploding coolant system filled the command module. He ejected the pod, passing through energy ripples caused by the dying FTL drive, what Hicks once called “the probability machine.” The exotic radiation passed directly through the pod’s hull, and it felt like he was swimming through liquid fire when it hit his body.
Five hours ago, he regained consciousness. The pod had already landed, or rather, crash landed. His safety couch had deployed insulating gel,which had shielded him from the shock of impact, but the controls, radio, emergency beacon were all gone. He was lucky to retrieve a three-day supply of water and rations, but there was no going back. He would either have to find a way to survive on an alien world or die.
“Well, I’m glad the air is breathable,” he quipped as he examined the large gash in the side of the pod’s hull. He took a deep breath. The air was good, but it carried a slight aroma he couldn’t identify. “If that’s from decaying plant life, I hope it’s something I can eat.”
He didn’t let himself think about the full implications of his situation. He had to stay functional. If he gave way to loneliness and despair, he might as well use a jagged piece of metal from the debris littering the cabin and cut his throat.
He saw the twinkling when he looked out the gash again. They looked like lights from a town or a small city. “The unmanned probes never reported any signs of civilization or technology.”
Yet, he saw they were unmistakably an organized pattern of lights. Putting on his backpack, he climbed over the twisted opening in the hull and stepped outside. The ground was slightly springy, probably because of moss or something similar. Luke removed his flashlight from his belt and flicked it on. He passed the light left and right to take in his surroundings. “Reminds me of a high desert environment. Low shrubs and brush growing out of moss and sand. No trees of any sort. Nothing but foothills leading down into that valley.”
Taking two steps forward he suddenly stopped. “Who knows what sort of life I’ll find down there. They’re my only hope for survival now, but what will they make of me?” He stood gazing at the distant lights, pondering them, then looked up at the night sky. They weren’t his stars; weren’t his constellations. Somewhere in orbit above, the vaporized particles of the “Hawking” were slowly dissipating. Eventually, gravity would pull them down, but they’d never make it to the surface.
“They’re all gone. Patrick Reese, Nell Hicks, Jorge Fernandez, Dana Robertson, they’re all gone. Just like that. I’m the only one left.” Luke recited their names like a prayer or eulogy. “Maybe I’d have been better off if I’d died with the rest of you.” Then he looked at the lights again. “No, I survived, and if it’s up to me, I’m going to keep surviving. If there’s any chance, it’s down there among those lights.”
For the past three hours, Luke stumbled and struggled over uneven territory. A few times, he thought he heard scurrying and once the call of a night-bird, but nothing approached him. He continued walking toward the lights, even as an amber and crimson sky greeted him through the clouds.
As he neared the community, he saw that it was surrounded by an odd amalgamation of verdant vines and trees, interwoven among each other, forming a natural barrier around the lights. “Sort of an oasis in the desert. Water must be plentiful.”
He talked to himself as a distraction, to keep his anxiety at bay. So far, no sign of life, but the lights on the other side of this grove were definitely a town, though it was still too dark to see any details.
⊑⏃⌰⏁ ⍙⊑⍜ ☌⍜⟒⌇ ⏁⊑⟒⍀⟒
The voice came from behind Luke and he froze. It could have been a man’s voice, but he wasn’t even sure if the noises he or it made was a language.
⊑⍜⍙ ☊⍜⋔⟒ ⊬⍜⎍ ⊑⟒⍀⟒
He slowly raised his hands and turned. Aliens weren’t too likely to look anything like humans, and he only hoped his senses could comprehend what they were about to experience.
It could have been a man. There was enough sunlight streaming from Luke’s right to show him a four limbed creature, maybe 1.2 meters tall, dressed in what looked like chain mail under fur, a metal helmet giving his head the appearance of a bullet. The spear he had pointed at his midsection was the most startling revelation.
“My name is Luke Wallace. I’m an astronaut from another planet. My emergency pod crashed maybe eight to ten kilometers from here. I assure you…”
⌇⊑⎍⏁ ⎍⌿ ⍙⊑⏃⏁ ⏁⊑⟒ ⊑⟒⌰⌰ ⏃⍀⟒ ⊬⍜⎍ ⍙⟒ ⏁⊑⍜⎍☌⊑⏁ ⏃⌰⌰ ⏁⊑⟒ ⊑⎍⋔⏃⋏⌇ ⊑⏃⎅ ⏚⟒⟒⋏ ⟒⌖⏁⟒⍀⋔⟟⋏⏃⏁⟒⎅
“I don’t know what you’re saying.” The person, if that’s what he was, clearly seemed just as upset and frightened as Luke.
Then there was a creaking sound behind him and a shuffle of feet. ☌⍀⏃⏚ ⊑⟟⋔ ⏁⏃☍⟒ ⊑⟟⋔ ⟟⋏⌇⟟⎅⟒ ⌇⊑⟒ ⍙⟟⌰⌰ ⍙⏃⋏⏁ ⏁⍜ ⏁⏃⌰☍ ⍙⟟⏁⊑ ⊑⟟⋔
Luke was roughly grabbed by three more of the same sort of creature as they surrounded him, shoving the biologist inside the previously unseen orifice in the grove.
Inside, he saw a good many huts. There were others inside. They were taller, almost 2 meters in height, but much slimmer than his stocky guards. One seemed to be a female holding a child’s hand, and the little girl, which is what she looked like, gave a short scream before what was probably her mother covered the child’s mouth with her long, tapering fingers. Did they have pointed ears?
The collection of huts gave way to squarish buildings made of what looked like clay. They could have been shops, businesses, administration buildings. Then they gave way to wooden structures two and three floors high. At the center was a large object more like a hive in shape, but made of glass or some collection of crystals or gems. Other beings like his captors opened two iron gates, admitting them. They all held spears and their unintelligible speech carried definite menace.
Down a long, torch lit corridor, and then into a great hall, a throne sitting on a high dais at the far end. With now a half a dozen of these short, squat beings accompanying him, he was forced to his knees, his pack roughly stripped from him. Brutal hands searched his clothing and his body, relieving him of his watch, and what few other personal items that had been in his pockets when the accident happened.
“Look, I’m telling you, I’m not hostile. I mean you no harm. I just want to communicate.”
⏚⟒ ⍾⎍⟟⟒⏁ ⍙⟒ ⏃⍀⟒ ⍙⏃⟟⏁⟟⋏☌ ⎎⍜⍀ ⊑⟒⍀ ⊬⍜⎍ ⊑⏃⎐⟒ ⏃ ⌰⍜⏁ ⍜⎎ ⟒⌖⌿⌰⏃⟟⋏⟟⋏☌ ⏁⍜ ⎅⍜ He was slapped on the back of his head, which was probably the plainest indication that they wanted him to shut up.
For the next few minutes, the beasts carefully removed each item from his backpack and lined them up in neat rows, which came as a surprise to Luke, who up until that moment, didn’t consider them as intelligent or civilized, perhaps a brutish lower caste suited to a violent profession.
The sound of a gong emitted from an uncertain location, then another, and another. A guard stood on each side of him, pressing down heavily on his shoulders, presumably so he’d stay on his knees. The other four stood behind him.
An entourage of twelve of the taller beings, which he could now see really did have pointed ears, walked six on a side of a heavily cloaked figure. They were all women, dressed in diaphanous gowns, transparent enough to suggest adolescent breasts and hips, though, like his unbidden companions, not quite human.
Now the attendants and the guards were chanting the same word over and over, ⏃⎅⍀⏃⋉⟒⌰⌰⟒ ⏃⎅⍀⏃⋉⟒⌰⌰⟒ ⏃⎅⍀⏃⋉⟒⌰⌰⟒ ⏃⎅⍀⏃⋉⟒⌰⌰⟒, but it sounded like “Adrazelle,” the only word that sounded remotely human, though Luke didn’t know what it meant.
They they stopped as the center of their attention reached the throne at the top of the dais. Turning to face them, the hood and cloak were thrown back and there was a woman, a human woman. Her hair was raven black, and her eyes were green. She could have been anywhere from 25 to 40, medium complexion, what old Gramps would have called “a full figure,” her expression fixed with regal dispassion, at least for the moment.
⊬⍜⎍ ⋔⏃⊬ ⍀⟟⌇⟒ She seated herself and waved an arm magnanimously, and the two on either side of him pulled Luke to his feet.
⌇⌿⟒⏃☍ She was pointing right at Luke, and when he did nothing but stare mutely at the woman looking down at him, the creature on his left elbowed him in the ribs as he hissed, ⏃⎅⎅⍀⟒⌇⌇ ⏁⊑⟒ ⌇⍜⍀☊⟒⍀⟒⌇⌇ ☍⋏⏃⎐⟒
“Uh, please, if you’re their Queen could you tell them to release me? I’m just a stranger here. I need your help.”
⌇⏁⍀⏃⋏☌⟒⍀ Her tone suggested a question. “fremdulo? giest? straenger?”
“Do you understand me?” Luke hesitantly pressed his hand on his chest.
“You are a stranger.” He couldn’t have described her accent, but in a matter of moments, she had transitioned from their native language, through several others and arrived at English.
“Yes, I am as stranger to your land. My name is Luke Wallace. I’m lost and need your help.”
“You are indeed lost, Luke Wallace,” she replied. Her maiden attendants stood still but their faces communicated a mixture of confusion and awe.
“From what land do you hail, Luke Wallace? We had believed all the sons of man had been slain in the Nine Years War by the vile Sauteer before he was bound.”
“I don’t know anything about your wars or who Sauteer is, but I come from a place called Earth.”
“It must be a far away land indeed for I have never heard of it.” Then she addressed her attendants. ⎅⍜ ⏃⋏⊬ ⏃⋔⍜⋏☌ ⋔⊬ ⋔⏃⟟⎅⌇ ⏃⋏⎅ ⌇☊⍀⟟⏚⟒⌇ ☍⋏⍜⍙ ⍜⎎ ⏃ ⌰⏃⋏⎅ ⟒⏃⍀⏁⊑
There was some discussion among them, and then one replied, ⋏⍜ ⎅⟒⏃⍀⟒⌇⏁ ⋔⍜⏁⊑⟒⍀ ⍙⟒ ☍⋏⍜⍙ ⍜⎎ ⋏⍜ ⌰⏃⋏⎅ ⏚⊬ ⏁⊑⏃⏁ ⋏⏃⋔⟒
“My attendants are among the wisest of the Elven folk and have no knowledge of your land.”
“Elven? They’re elves. But I’m almost 200 light years from Earth. How could you even know about elves? Is this some glitch in the translation?”
“I am the Sorceress Adrazelle, the last human, or so we all believed, sheltered here in Cardend, the last of the villages in the Wastes left behind by the Nine Years War. Have a care how you address me.”
The guards didn’t respond to her threat, likely having no idea what she was saying, but he knew at a word, they would assault, and perhaps even kill him.
“I apologize. You see, things like elves and sorceresses come the mythology of my world…land. I’ve read stories about them when I was young, but nobody where I come from believes they’re real.”
“A land of the sons of men where we are thought of as myth. Small wonder.” Her eyes welled up with tears. “Sauteer was most efficient in his war, laying waste to nearly all of the continent of Auchtermuch. All of man and many among the elves, dwarves, fairies, and little folk have vanished or gone into deep hiding. When Sauteer was bound at the cost of the Grim Grey God’s life, the orcs all perished, thanks be. We are the only known outpost on the western continent. If there is a land of man across the sea, then you must be from that place called Earth. We rejoice.”
Luke Wallace stood transfixed. This couldn’t be Kessel-Origan B. Science fiction and fantasy aside, there was no such thing as parallel development of two worlds light years apart.
“There’s only one explanation. Our engineer Nell Hicks called the superluminal drive a “probability engine.” It allows a ship to travel faster than light by using principles in quantum mechanics I couldn’t begin to comprehend. When the drive exploded, the energy matrix went wild…when my pod passed through all that…” He paused in abject horror. “I never landed on Kessel-Origan B. I’m on Earth or some weird alternate version, where magic, elves, and dwarves are real, and people have become extinct. All except you and me, Adrazelle.”
“Though I comprehend your language Luke Wallace, your words have no meaning.”
“They do to me. Let’s just say that as far as you’re concerned, I am the last man. Earth is unreachable from here.”
“We have heard the Pirn Sea to the west was inhabited by fierce water beasts which allowed no ship passage. But that does not explain your presence.”
“My ship was very special. From your point of view, it was one of a kind, and even then, it crashed when it reached these shores, and I was the only survivor. All of my crew mates perished.”
“Then we grieve with you.” She addressed the dwarves and they immediately released him. “We will find quarters for you. No doubt after your long voyage across the Wastes, you desire rest and refreshment. These will be provided.” She again spoke to her attendants and they nodded in assent. One approached the scientist.
⋔⊬ ⋏⏃⋔⟒ ⟟⌇ ☊⍀⊬⌇⏃⌰⟟⏁⟟⌇ ⏃⋏⎅ ⟟ ⏃⋔ ☊⍜⋔⋔⏃⋏⎅⟒⎅ ⏁⍜ ⌇⟒⟒ ⏁⍜ ⊬⍜⎍⍀ ⋏⟒⟒⎅⌇
“Follow her. She will attend you. After a suitable period, we can reconvene here and you can tell us of your courageous voyage, of your land of men, and what these strange objects might be you were carrying on your person.”
“I will be glad to do so, Adrazelle. I promise it will be a strange tale indeed.”
The maid he would learn to call “Crysalitis” put her hand on his forearm and then motioned for him to follow. He left the chamber alone with her, and began an even stranger journey than crossing the vastness of space. Luke Wallace would never see his home again, for he had entered into the realm of imagination, an alternate existence that he once thought only existed in legend.
I knew when I saw the image, that I wanted to write about a traveler seeking shelter among those distant lights, but exactly who he was and what he would find evolved as I was writing.
The alien language comes from a translator at lingojam.com, and if you copied and pasted those strange strings of characters into the “Alien goes here” field, they would be readable in the “English goes here” field.
The name “Adrazelle” comes from Mélusine,” a Belgian comic strip created by artist Clarke and writer Gilson that features short, humorous stories that centre on the life of a young witch who lives as an au pair in a castle and studies at a witches’ school.”
I used a Fantasy Name Generator to conjure up the various place names. Everything else I just made up.