Written by JKIJ :: [Saturday, 16 February 2013 12:00] Last updated by :: [Monday, 04 March 2013 04:47]
Authors's Note: This is a prequel to my entry to the short story workshop last year.
The planet Earth is on the cosmic scale a tiny insignificant little ball of rock and water. That has not stopped visitors from travelling from other stars to observe the evolution of life and of intelligent creatures. They have been doing this for so long that those who know where to look have found evidence of them, using the knowledge gained from crashed ships to get a technological edge over their rivals and some of them have used this edge to make a vast fortune. One such man was the grandfather of Simon Smith who had literally stumbled upon a crashed spaceship while serving in the British army in Egypt during the Second World War. As an engineer he had known that the few bits of technology still working were beyond anything he could yet understand, but he was an ambitious man and was determined to keep his discovery to himself. He made sure that he stayed posted to Egypt throughout his service so that he could study the ship at every opportunity and when he eventually had to leave he took everything that he possibly could with him, using explosives to further wreck the already damaged ship so that nobody else would be able to get anything from his discovery if they found it later. It took him decades of study, but he was eventually able to understand the items he recovered and to use their secrets to build a massively successful business empire based on innovative new technologies. Only after his death did he reveal the secret behind the fortune he had created, leaving a letter to his young grandson explaining to Simon exactly what he had discovered.
Simon was more ruthless and even more ambitious than his grandfather had been and he swiftly used the money he had inherited and the few technologies his grandfather had kept secret to arrange for “accidents” to happen to the rest of his family, never getting his hands dirty himself and always making sure he had an impeccable alibi in place in case anybody wanted to investigate further. This allowed him to increase his personal fortune even more, money he ploughed back into his grandfather’s business. While he did this, his main focus was working on the extra-terrestrial technology, creating a team that he could absolutely trust and control in order to detect the next visit and to shoot it down when the craft arrived. This would, he hoped, give him access to fresh technology and it would also mean that he wouldn’t need to rely on finding centuries old spaceships and the few pieces of equipment that survived their crashes in order to maintain Smith Technologies position as one of if not the top valued companies in the world.
It was for this reason that he now rushed to his grandfather’s secret research complex, hidden deep underneath his country house. Dressed in a fine suit, Simon didn’t pause as he drove his sports car at high speed down the narrow country roads and into the garage, relying on the influence his money brought him to avoid being stopped by the police. He stopped very briefly to turn the engine off before he raced through the house and into the elevator, opening up the secret panel and pushing the button to go down below the house’s basement. As soon as the door opened he stepped out to be met by his personal assistant, an attractive young brunette named Cynthia Lowe. “You had better have summoned me for the reason I think you have,” Simon said, his tone of voice and the look he directed towards Cynthia hard and cold.
Cynthia took her boss’s greeting in her stride, calmly saying “I think so, Mr Smith. Half an hour ago we detected what seems to be an extra-terrestrial object heading towards Earth from the direction of Mars. It is moving at a high speed, but it would be undetectable to any device that has not been reverse engineered from alien technology. What’s more, just before you arrived we got evidence that the object is decelerating, probably so that it can spend longer near to this planet. I feel justified in saying that the object is a highly advanced spacecraft that has been built by an intelligence from outside the Earth. In short, Mr Smith, this is exactly what you asked us to look for two years ago.” Cynthia smiled as she spoke, her enthusiasm at passing on the news obvious and causing Simon to smile warmly back at his employee.
“Are we ready for it?” Simon asked.
“We’re as ready for it as we could be. The satellite that you had put into space last year is responding perfectly to our commands. When the alien ship enters its range we should be able to order the satellite to fire on it, hopefully at just the right moment to cause the ship to crash near to us.”
“In that case, let’s get this done. How long until it’s within range?” Simon asked one of the technicians sitting behind an advanced looking computer that he knew contained enough alien technology to make it probably more powerful than any other on the planet.
“It should be in range in ten minutes,” the technician replied.
“In that case, please ask the computer to plot a firing pattern that should force the ship to crash land in a farmer’s field within five miles of us. That should allow us to recover the craft before anybody else gets the chance to look at it.”
“Yes Mr Smith. Firing pattern being plotted now,” the technician said, his hands quickly entering commands into the computer.
High above their heads in orbit around the Earth a seemingly ordinary medium-sized satellite responded to the technician’s commands. Thrusters briefly burned, altering the satellite’s orientation so that it pointed directly towards the fast approaching though rapidly decelerating spacecraft. The satellite kept making minor alterations, keeping the spacecraft centred in its sights until the firing pattern the technician had programmed into it told the satellite that this was the moment to fire. The satellite obediently followed its instructions and a burst of plasma shot out of the centre of it, heading towards the spacecraft at a high speed. Caught completely by surprise, the spacecraft didn’t even attempt to evade the hot gas that was rapidly approaching and it received a direct hit. Despite this, the satellite’s sensors told it that the craft was still just about operational so it fired another burst of plasma. Moments later the spacecraft was hit again, this time causing enough damage that its pilot who had just begun efforts to get out of the firing line felt there was no choice other than to take the craft into the Earth’s atmosphere and attempt a crash landing. Trying to alter course as much as possible, the pilot used every ounce of its skill and all the power remaining in the spacecraft’s propulsion systems to reduce speed, but it was obvious that the craft would still hit the smallish island it was headed towards at a higher speed than was safe.
Simon watched the very brief ambush from over the technician’s shoulder, a cold smile on his face not hidden by his neatly trimmed beard. “Well done Mr Thomas,” he said, patting the technician on the shoulder before turning to Cynthia. “Get a team ready as quickly as you can and send them to pick up that spacecraft. Have them take a doctor too in case there’s something still alive in it.”
“Very well Mr Smith,” Cynthia said, moving efficiently to do her boss’s bidding. “If I might ask, what are you going to do while we wait for the team?”
“I’m going to watch a beautiful shooting star fall to Earth,” Simon said, smiling at her before going up in the elevator then outside to gaze up at the night sky.
At the same time as Simon Smith was coordinating the ambush of the alien spacecraft, two women were just leaving the restaurant where they had been having a celebratory dinner. As she left the restaurant, Sarah Gilbert turned to her friend Millicent King and said “Are you sure you want to drive home, Millie?”
“Don’t be silly,” her friend replied. “We’re celebrating you passing your nursing exams so I’ll be damned if I let you drive. Just sit tight and enjoy the ride. Besides,” she added, smirking slightly, “I have no idea when I’ll next have the opportunity to drive something like that Aston Martin your boyfriend lent you. You just make sure you bring the Champagne with you.”
Sarah couldn’t help smiling as she saw her friend walk quickly towards the high-performance vehicle, not running because her tight white dress and high-heeled shoes were thoroughly unsuited for that form of exercise, but Millicent was clearly very excited to have the chance to drive a car like the ones she’d fantasised about when the two of them were young girls. Sarah had no intention of telling Millicent that she was glad not to be driving the two of them home, both because she’d had a little bit too much to drink and she was terrified of the thought of crashing her boyfriend’s pride and joy. She had admitted to both Millicent and herself how glad she was to have physical evidence of how much Kevin cared for her, since he wouldn’t lend the car to just anybody.
Millicent pulled up outside the front of the restaurant and before Sarah was able to move towards the car and open the passenger door Millicent got out of it and moved as quickly as she could to the opposite side of the car so she could open the door for Sarah herself. “Your carriage awaits, my lady,” she said, giving Sarah a mock curtsey as she reached the car before catching her friend’s eye and causing both of them to dissolve into giggles.
Once Sarah was safely strapped into the passenger seat Millicent set off to drive her home, taking full advantage of the car’s acceleration and power as she wove through the traffic. Sarah tried her best to appear calmer than she felt, making small talk with her friend as they got near to her home much quicker than she would ever have believed possible. “When did you learn to drive like this?” she asked as they got close to their destination.
“I’ve had a bit of practice putting cars through their paces,” Millicent replied, still grinning as much as she had been since she first got behind the wheel. “Never one like this though. I’ll have to thank Kevin for letting me play with his toy the next time I see him.”
“As long as you don’t tell him what you’ve been doing with it. The poor boy would have a heart attack at the thought of some of the moves you’ve pulled off.” Sarah smiled at her friend as she spoke, making sure that Millicent knew her criticism was only half-hearted, though they both knew Kevin would be less than pleased by the thought of his car being treated so cavalierly. Despite this, they both knew they would never tell him the full details. He might be Sarah’s boyfriend, and Millicent had quietly admitted to Sarah that she was jealous Sarah had managed to catch the attention of such a good looking, wealthy and above all kind man, but the two of them had been inseparable friends for more than 20 years by now. The two of them made a slightly mismatched pair, the tall, slim Millicent with her dark skin and almost uncontrollable hair who always had a ready smile and was full of self-confidence and the shorter and squatter Sarah, whose own lack of confidence in herself and her own appearance had caused her to become overweight at one point before her friend’s nagging and her own ambitions had motivated her to lose the excess weight. The pair had met on their first day of school and had soon become inseparable, always there for each other and never dropping the other one into trouble, though they both knew that Millicent’s recklessness and Sarah’s need to help people had put them both into more than one situation they would have preferred to have avoided.
Now was going to be another such situation. As Millicent raced along the narrow country roads the pair heard a tremendous sound gradually increasing in volume. The noise was soon nearly deafening and Millicent slowed down before stopping the car, a little worried that there might be something seriously wrong with the car. After stopping it soon became clear that the noise wasn’t due to the car as it continued to get louder. The two women got out of the car and looked around, trying to work out where the noise was coming from. As they looked, they saw some sort of aircraft fly rapidly over them. It was moving too quickly for them to identify it, but it was obviously on fire and only moments later there came a noise that must have been caused by the aircraft crashing in a nearby field.
Millicent looked at her friend and said “Let’s go and have a closer look at that crash.”
Sarah looked at Millicent a bit sceptically, thinking as she did so about the danger that they would be in if they got too close to the aircraft, especially as its fuel would be very likely to burst into flames at any moment. Against this she balanced the possibility that they would be able to help any survivors and get them out before it was too late, hopefully patching up any minor injuries that they could while they did so. Eventually Sarah decided that if they could be of any help they had to try so she said “Alright. Just let me get the first aid kit out of the car first.” As soon as she had done so, the two women set off for the crash site as quickly as they were able to walk.
When they arrived at the crash site, Sarah and Millicent were astonished by what they saw. They had expected to find the wreckage of a reasonably large aeroplane and probably an intense fire. Instead they had found a small fire centred on an impact crater about 500 yards away, still very intense but nothing like the problem Sarah had feared, while a deep furrow had been ploughed through the field ending where a small craft lay. The craft looked like nothing either of them had ever seen before. “What is that?” Sarah asked, knowing that Millicent was more familiar with aircraft and especially military aircraft than she was, if for no other reason than that her older brother was a fighter pilot in the RAF and Sarah had heard him and Millicent talk about what he did and what the latest planes were like at some length, for more than long enough to be boring to most other people Sarah included.
“I have no idea. I’ve never heard of any aircraft with such short and stubby wings,” Millicent said, indicating the two very thin wings that were sticking out of the side of the craft. At least, that’s what both women assumed them to be, though their only clue was that there was a noticeable sweep to the two objects while the rest of the craft seemed fairly symmetrical making it impossible to determine where the front and back were. Small viewports seemed to be placed all over the object, each one separated by a flash of highly reflective metal, but neither of them could see inside as every single viewport was opaque to them. There were also no obvious engines, just tiny round circles dotted around the craft’s metal structure. One area of the craft was different to the rest of it though as in this part the two women could see a large section of metal that appeared to have been badly burned starting just above one of
the wings and carrying on over the top of it and out of their field of view. “I suppose it could be some sort of experimental plane,” Millicent added, “but if it is then it must be top-secret. Something looking like that would be pretty noticeable if it landed at any public airport. I suppose we’d better have a look and see if we can help whoever’s inside this thing get out,” she finished before walking towards the craft and putting her hands on it, not even giving Sarah the chance to object.
“This feels different to any metal I’ve ever felt before,” Millicent said, her tone slightly baffled. “It’s not hot and it’s not cold either. Very surprising considering the fire that was burning as it crashed. There’s also not any evidence of the damage I’d expect to see after such a high-speed crash. It must be incredibly strong.” Millicent continued walking around the craft with her hand touching it, trying to feel for any gap that could be a door or a join of some kind, but as far as she could tell the object was made out of one continuous piece of metal except for the viewports which felt soft and spongy to her touch, but they didn’t flex at all when she put pressure on them. Finally, before she moved too close to the still burning fire or the scorch marks on the craft, Millicent decided to try knocking on the metal with one hand and on a viewport with another. “Hello! Is there anybody in in there!” she said loudly as she did so. “If there is, please come out so we can help you get away before we’re all burned!” Sarah understood Millicent’s worries since, even if the craft didn’t erupt in a fireball, the fire that its crash-landing had created was starting to spread as the nearby crops, dry from weeks without rain and the summer heat, had caught light and the gentle evening breeze was blowing in their direction.
Neither Sarah nor Millicent particularly expected any response to her actions. In fact, Millicent had come to the conclusion that the craft was a top-secret unmanned aeroplane. As a result they were surprised when a sound came from the craft and a small hole opened in the top of it, a hole that did not seem to have existed even moments before. A large cloud of steam came out of the hole and their surprise turned to astonishment when something unlike anything either of them had ever seen before rose out of the craft and silently hovered over Millicent’s head before landing roughly half-way between her and Sarah. Both women’s jaws dropped open in astonishment as they saw the strange sight of a jellyfish-like head on top of a thin body with two frail-looking limbs that appeared to be legs and a dozen tentacle like objects waving in the air. The creature landed on its small feet before almost instantly collapsing.
The collapse of the creature spurred Sarah into action. She quickly moved to the creature’s side and began examining it for injuries, though she was far from certain what she was looking for as the creature was something entirely outside her experience. “Sarah, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Millicent asked. “That’s an alien. Who knows what you could catch from it.”
“I know it’s an alien Millie,” Sarah replied, “but it seems to be in pain. I don’t care what it is, if it’s in pain I have to try and help it.” She continued examining the creature, finding a few areas where a blood-like fluid was seeping out of it which she immediately did her best to patch up with dressings from the first-aid kit. When she was sure that the bleeding was contained as best she could, Sarah took a closer look at the alien, still trying to determine if there were any other injuries. The alien’s head was covered with eyes, four large ones at 90-degree angles from each other with two smaller eyes forming a triangle just below the large eyes so the creature had four triangles of unblinking eyes. It additionally had lots of even smaller eyes at even intervals on its head making a circle between the triangles. Sarah tried to imagine what it would be like to have so many eyes and to be able to see at any angle, but she quickly gave up as it would be completely incomprehensible for her.
After finishing her examination of the creature’s eyes, Sarah saw that the head was pulsing in and out, a process that she thought was much like respiration, though she also noticed it was very erratic, several shallow breaths followed by a single deep breath, a pattern that reversed itself on occasion to a few shallow breaths followed by several deep breaths. Its tentacles were waving around wildly, once or twice landing a few blows to Sarah’s body, though none of them had any real force behind them and worryingly the force seemed to be decreasing with each blow. Based on her experience with humans, Sarah knew she was not going to be able to do too much to help the alien. “We need to get this creature to hospital,” she said.
++It is too late for that, Sarah Gilbert,++ an eerie voice said, ringing through Sarah’s head. Sarah instinctively jerked away from the alien and the voice instantly stopped. Turning to Millicent who had not reacted at all, she asked “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Millicent asked confusion clear on her face.
“I just heard a weird voice tell me that it’s too late for hospital,” Sarah said, almost as confused as Millicent.
“Trust me Sarah, nobody said anything. Perhaps something about that alien is causing you to imagine things. How about we just take it to hospital and let somebody more qualified than us take over dealing with it?” Millicent said, moving towards her friend with a concerned look on her face.
“Let me just make sure it’s safe to move the creature,” Sarah said before putting her hands back on the alien, trying to feel if it had any broken bones, though she was not able to feel any bones at all inside the creature. In fact, aside from its cuts, erratic breathing and general lack of responsiveness, she could find nothing obviously wrong with it, though she knew that was likely because she was utterly unfamiliar with its physiology.
++I thank you for your assistance, Sarah Gilbert, but I am afraid there is nothing more you can do to help me. I will soon lapse into a coma, followed quickly by thought-death and then true-death. I do not wish to face this lying down. Please help me to my feet so that I may face my end upright as a scout of the Jel’Dara scientific fleet should do,++ said the voice as it once again rang through Sarah’s head, still without any response from Millicent.
Hoping that she wasn’t going mad, Sarah addressed herself to the alien as she had decided that unless she was hearing people who weren’t there she was hearing the creature’s thoughts inside her head, an opinion that was enhanced when she heard unfamiliar words such as Jel’Dara. “I’m sorry, but it would be too dangerous to move you at this time. We’ll get an ambulance here and then we can take you to hospital where you’ll get better treatment.”
++No, Sarah Gilbert. I cannot go to hospital,++ the voice said inside Sarah’s head, this time seemingly tinged with regret. ++I cannot let the majority of this planet’s inhabitants know of my existence and that of my scout craft. To interfere in a planet’s development in such a manner goes against my fleet’s standing orders. I may only intervene to prevent a catastrophe that might endanger the existence of life on a planet, otherwise we must allow other species to develop as they will. That is why, though I wish it were otherwise, I must allow my existence to cease. Now please help me to my feet so that I may die upon them.++
Sarah thought quickly about how she might be able to persuade the alien that its death would be senseless and that it could still live a happy life on Earth, but she decided to stay silent. While she was not in favour of suicide or allowing a patient to die if she could prevent it, she believed that it was wrong to force a patient in full knowledge of the facts to accept treatment if they did not want it. As such, to an accompanying gasp of horror from Millicent, she wrapped two of the alien’s tentacles around her shoulders and hoisted the creature onto its thin legs. To her surprise, despite the creature being taller and bulkier than she was it felt as if it was nearly weightless so she had no difficulty helping it to stand. The only problem Sarah had was when she nearly tripped over one of the other tentacles that was still dangling onto the floor, a stumble that caused Millicent to hurry to her side and steady Sarah before she fell down. “I really hope you know what you’re doing this time,” Millicent said, concern clear in her voice and showing in every facial feature. She was watching the alien suspiciously, ready to spring to her friend’s aid at the first sign the alien was trying to do anything that might harm her.
“Thanks Millie,” Sarah said, smiling at her friend. “I’m just helping a patient to meet its end in the manner it would want to.” Millicent was still a bit worried that the alien might have done something to Sarah, but since this sounded exactly like her she decided that now Sarah and her alien patient were steady she would take a step back, close enough to separate Sarah from the alien at the first sign of problems but hopefully not so close that she would be effected if the alien did try something untoward.
Suddenly, the alien stumbled, leaning more heavily on Sarah in order to maintain a semblance of balance. “Are you alright?” Sarah asked it.
++I am as well as can be expected at this point, but I thank you for your concern,++ the alien replied inside Sarah’s head. ++Your selfless compassion gives me hope for this world in spite of those who caused my crash through their machinations.++
“Your crash wasn’t an accident?” Sarah asked in surprise since she had assumed that the alien’s presence on Earth was due to some problem with his spacecraft rather than to human intervention.
++Indeed. I was shot twice with a high-powered plasma weapon, something that is not yet indigenous to this planet. Either another species wanted to prevent my observations or somebody here has found something to help them accelerate technological progress. But that does not matter. What does is that the heat I experienced from the plasma attacks added to that from entering the atmosphere and the fires both inside and outside my craft have killed me.++
“I’m sorry about that. I would like to have been able to get to know you better. Is there anything I can do to make your last moments more comfortable?”
++No, Sarah Gilbert. I am at peace. I am however glad that you and your friend were here to see my crash. I have two requests, though. Please take my body far from here and dispose of it where it will never be found. I must not allow myself to be examined by any human. Also, if you should ever meet another from my fleet, please tell them what happened to Commander Ary’ylara and the scout ship Explorator.++
“I promise I’ll do what you’ve asked if I can,” Sarah said, giving the alien’s tentacle a reassuring squeeze and being surprised to find how firm it was and that she got a vague sense of pleasure and reassurance herself at the same time.
++Thank you. My time is fast running out. Before I go, I wish to give you a gift.++ As the alien sent this thought into Sarah’s head, it reached out with one of its tentacles towards its ship. To the amazement of Sarah and Millicent the tentacle grew longer and longer until it reached one of the viewports in the craft. The tentacle touched the viewport and then pushed through it as if there was nothing solid in its way. A few moments later the tentacle came back into view, a sphere smaller than an adult human’s hand attached to its underside. ++This is for you. Please take it.++
Sarah hesitated for a bit before replying. Although she hadn’t felt any hint of deception or malice in the alien’s thoughts when they were projected into her head she couldn’t be certain that the alien was as harmless and well intentioned as it seemed and as she wanted it to be. Millicent was suspicious of it after all, and Sarah knew that her friend had demonstrated good instincts in the past about whether somebody was trustworthy. “Millie, what would you say if I took a gift from our friend here?” She asked her friend.
“I’d say you were crazy, but we both know that’s true anyway,” Millicent replied, bringing a smile to Sarah’s face. “I wouldn’t trust it, but I haven’t had it talking to me in my head. If it’s convinced you that it can be trusted then find out what sort of gift it is. Once you know that you can judge for yourself if it’s something you should take. If it is you should do it, if not then turn the critter down flat. I know you well enough to know that you’ll make the right decision.” Millicent moved closer to Sarah and the alien as she spoke, putting herself in a position where she could hopefully help her friend if she got into difficulties with the alien.
“Thanks Millie. Alright, tell me what that sphere is and perhaps I will take it from you.”
++It is an enhancement sphere, Sarah Gilbert. A basic version is given to every one of my people when they reach adulthood, improving my people’s reactions, speed of thought and physical abilities. Without the basic cubes, my people would be so physically weak that we could only spend moments out of the water where we were born before being at risk of injury. This more advanced version was co-developed by our scientists and those of our partner species to be given to every member of our fleet.++ As the alien’s thoughts entered her head Sarah could clearly see images showing one of the Jel’Dara swimming through water before using its tentacles to crawl onto land, standing on their its legs before collapsing after only a few steps. Another Jel’Dara touched a sphere like the one the creature in front of her was holding. Few physical effects could be seen on the alien, but when it swam to the land it was able to crawl out with ease using its tentacles before walking off to explore the land at least as rapidly and with only a little bit less grace as a human could.
++The more advanced spheres like this one have a different effect. They enhance the physical and mental attributes of the enhanced creature far more than the basic spheres do, though the advanced spheres also provide additional abilities that are different for each individual who uses it.++ In her head Sarah saw a Jel’Dara touch a cube and be able to swim and run far faster than before. A bird-like creature that had been flying through the purple skies of an alien world was given another cube and it began to fly faster and more agilely, flying closer to the floating rock-like bodies that studded the sky and on one occasion flying through one of them, the frail creature suffering no damage and obliterating the object. In both cases, although the creatures were still recognisably of the same species, they were physically altered, becoming bigger than they had been before the sphere altered them. ++I cannot know what the exact effects of the sphere may be on you since no human has ever been given one before, but I do know that it will not hurt you and that it will help you with what you want to do. Please take it.++
“Alright, I will take the sphere,” Sarah said, causing Millicent’s eyebrows to rise, though she made no comment. “I don’t think I’ll use it straight away though.”
++Thank you, Sarah Gilbert. Your compassion fills me with hope for humanity, as does your friend’s determination. One day your species will take its place amongst the stars. I am afraid that my time is now up though. Goodbye.++ As the alien sent its last thoughts into Sarah’s mind she felt it die, presenting a sudden void as the creature’s mind slipped into oblivion.
As soon as the alien died, the sphere dropped from its tentacle and raced towards the ground. Acting on instinct Sarah reached out her hand and caught the cube before it smashed into the floor. Instantly the sphere began to glow and Sarah felt its power rush into her. It felt as if every cell of her body was being charged with the sphere’s power and she could suddenly hear and see with much more clarity than she had been able to before. Every colour and every tiny detail of the scene in front of her eyes was magnified and made both clearer and more intense while Sarah was now hearing the sounds of small birds and mammals moving around nearby, not to mention the traffic from the main road several miles away was so clear that she could have identified each vehicle from the sound of its engine if she knew enough about the differences between them, or the conversations of the farmer and his family that she could hear clearly from inside the farmhouse that was over a mile away from them. Sarah also felt the breeze on her skin more intensely than she had ever done before, each small gust of wind causing her to shiver briefly as it tickled her skin. As all of these competing sensations rushed into her unprepared mind Sarah was unable to move or think. Unable for the moment to cope with all her new and stronger senses Sarah collapsed to the ground, not even moving.
“Sarah!” Millicent cried out in horror as she saw her friend fall to the ground. She rushed over to Sarah’s side and began to examine her. What she saw astonished her. She had known Sarah for most of her life and the woman that she now saw lying on the ground was not the same as the one she had been dining with only an hour ago. Sarah’s brown hair had become sleeker and shinier. Her black dress no longer fitted in quite the same way as it had, more cleavage being displayed due to the larger breasts that were now pushing further out from Sarah’s chest along with the legs that were now longer. The dress was not quite ill-fitting, but it was certainly not suited any longer to the woman who was wearing it, at least not if she didn’t want to be the centre of everybody’s attention. Even as Millicent took all this in she noted that Sarah’s skin was now evenly and deeply tanned, something that Sarah had not been able to do since she had been spending so much time and effort on becoming a nurse that she had not had the opportunity to go out in the sun very often let alone to go on holiday and Millicent knew Sarah would never have resorted to using a sunbed. Sarah’s musculature was also now more defined, looking much like the muscles that a top-level athlete might have. In fact, aside from the fact that she wasn’t moving, the woman lying on the floor was close to the most idealised image of herself that Sarah had ever confided to Millicent. Millicent reached out and took Sarah’s pulse, taking great care to avoid touching the sphere herself. To her relief Sarah was still breathing and her pulse was strong and regular, though Millicent was still worried that her friend was absolutely motionless. “What have you got yourself into now?” Millicent asked, fondness, exasperation and worry all combining in her tone as she tried unsuccessfully to raise Sarah from her stupor.
Deciding that the sphere might be acting similarly to a live electric current, Millicent carefully kicked it out of Sarah’s hand taking great care that she not touch the cube with her bare skin in case the sphere had the same effect on her. Once this was done Millicent again tried to elicit a response from Sarah though this was no more successful than her previous attempt. Millicent reached into her bag and got out her phone, but before she could call for an ambulance three large black 4-by-4s raced across the field before coming to a stop near to the alien space craft. Several large men dressed in finely tailored suits and wearing dark glasses got out of the vehicles and looked around before one of them moved over to Sarah and examined her closely. “She’s unresponsive,” he said as he turned towards the rest of his colleagues.
Millicent decided that she would take advantage of the presence of these men to ask for help. “Could you please help me get her to hospital?” she asked. “She hasn’t moved in several minutes and I’m worried about her.” The men completely ignored her, one of them continuing to examine Sarah, a bit too closely for Millicent’s liking, while the other men examined the spacecraft. “Don’t do that. Just help me get my friend to hospital,” she said to the man who continued to ignore her. Millicent was by now very annoyed with the man and his colleagues so when he reached out to touch Sarah she grabbed his wrist and said “I’ve already done everything to get a response from her. Now, how about you respond to me and help me get her to hospital?”
The man finally reacted to Millicent, first of all breaking her grip on his wrist before taking her arm and dragging her close to him so he could shove her roughly to the floor directly in Sarah’s line of vision. He then stepped over Millicent and held her down while he asked over his shoulder “What are we to do with these two?”
Another of man, the only one of them who had not moved since he got out of his vehicle, merely standing still and silently observing while the other men examined the area, responded to his question. “I don’t know. The field was supposed to be empty. I’ll have to get instructions.” He put a finger to his ear and pushed something before saying “We’ve arrived. There’s been a complication though. We found an alien along with two women, one unmoving but the other has slightly got in our way. What do you want us to do?”
About five miles away from the crashed spacecraft Cynthia Lowe heard the man’s question over the radio that she and her boss were listening to. “One moment please,” she said before turning to Simon and wordlessly raising one eyebrow questioningly. Simon shook his head before extending his right arm, his hand closed into a fist with his thumb pointing towards the floor. Cynthia nodded then spoke into the radio. “Leave no witnesses,” she said coldly.
“Understood,” the man said before nodding to the associate that was standing over Millicent. “Do it,” he said, his voice every bit as cold as Cynthia’s had been.
The other man shoved Millicent firmly back to the ground before reaching down the back of his trousers and drawing out a pistol which he pointed at her. “Close your eyes. I’ll make it quick for you,” he said gruffly.
“What are you doing?” Millicent asked, her voice admirably level considering that she was staring directly down the barrel of a gun though she did flinch away from the man slightly as she again tried to rise.
Millicent’s question was answered when the man squeezed the trigger of his gun twice instantly causing two rapidly spreading splashes of red to appear on Millicent’s white dress where the bullets had hit her. Throughout the time this was going on Sarah had been motionless on the ground, her mind still unable to process the sudden influx of hundreds of sounds or the new sights she could see. This changed the instant that the first shot was fired. The sound of the gunshot fixed all of Sarah’s attention on the man and time seemed to slow to a crawl. Sarah clearly saw a burst of flame from the gun followed by a slowly rotating bullet. Before the bullet had covered even half of the distance between the gun and Millicent Sarah saw the gunman fire again, a second burst of flame and spiralling bullet leaving the gun accompanied by the elongated sound of the gunshot. Sarah watched horrified, unable to move while the bullets travelled towards her friend in slow motion before they made contact at which point things seemed to return to normal and Sarah found herself able to move once more.
“Millie! No!” Sarah screamed before springing to her feet without any conscious effort and much to the shock of the man who had just shot Millicent as from his perspective Sarah had just gone from being unable to move to moving very rapidly and fluidly. Presented with this situation and with the orders that he had received the man reacted instinctively, quickly aiming the gun at Sarah and firing another couple of shots at her. Sarah expected that she would soon be lying on the floor as bloodied as Millicent was so she was surprised when she felt two very brief and very mild stinging sensations and no worse. She looked down and saw two holes in her dress where the bullets had hit her but so far as she could tell her skin was utterly undamaged. The gunman fired two more shots at Sarah once again tearing holes in her dress but causing no other obvious signs of damage.
“What the hell?” the gunman said, utterly baffled by the outcome of his shots as he could see through the holes in Sarah’s dress that she only had bare skin underneath and not some form of protective clothing that could stop a bullet. “I need help here. This lady is somehow able to resist my shots.” The leader of his group was sceptical about this, but he instantly pulled out his own gun and pointed it at Sarah. “Everybody, your target is the woman in the black dress. Take her down,” he said before opening fire. The other men also drew their guns and aimed at Sarah so she was soon on the receiving end of a hail of bullets.
The bullets completely shredded Sarah’s dress, tearing dozens of holes in it and leaving lots of skin exposed to view. Sarah also felt a few bullets hit her in the head as a few of the gunmen shifted their aim looking for a more vulnerable spot. Not one shot did more than cause her brief discomfort as, though neither Sarah nor any of the gunmen realised it, the gunshots were having a minor effect. Each shot caused a very brief and very small wound to appear in Sarah’s body, piercing only a layer of skin before the damage was healed. All of this happened within a fraction of a second and the healing was so complete that there was no evidence on Sarah’s body of it even having taken place and the bullets fell to the ground having apparently caused no damage.
Although Sarah knew that she was somehow not being killed by the bullets raining down upon her, she was finding each impact irritating so she decided that it would be best to stop the men from shooting her. She walked over to the nearest gunman who was now frantically reloading his weapon as he had fired all of the bullets his pistol could hold. Before he could finish Sarah shoved him with all of her strength. The man began to twist to try and avoid the blow that he could tell was coming, but Sarah suddenly moved as if she were a blur, making contact with his chest before he could do more than begin to move. The man went flying through the air, propelled several yards back by the force of the blow and he lost his grip on his gun as a result. The man landed with a thump, his breath audibly being knocked out of him while Sarah wondered to herself How did I do that?
Sarah didn’t take much time to dwell on what had happened since she was still under fire from the rest of the men. She wasn’t willing to take her seeming invulnerability for granted so she decided that she would need to deal with the leader of the group. Sarah sprinted straight for him, moving so fast that she became a blur to all of the gunmen. The sheer speed she moved at meant that almost all of their shots missed her, though the fact that she was moving directly towards the leader with only minimal attempts to get out of the way of his shots meant that one or two of them and her velocity also contributed to a greater impact force when they did hit her, causing her to feel a bit more discomfort and producing a brief moment where blood was drawn from her. The moment swiftly passed as the wound healed itself within less than a second leaving no evidence that Sarah had even been hit.
When Sarah stopped running and stood in front of the leader of the gunmen he visibly took a confused glance over to where she had been a moment ago before looking her directly in the eyes and saying “How did you get here so quickly?” while still pointing his gun in her direction.
“I ran,” Sarah said, almost equally as confused as the gunman since she didn’t yet realise how quickly she’d moved to cover the distance between the two positions. “Would you mind not shooting at me now?” She asked politely, though with an undertone of anger. “I need to get my friend to hospital since that bastard over there just shot her,” she finished, gesturing towards the man she had shoved who was only now getting back to his feet, still groaning from the force of her shove and his impact with the floor.
“I have my orders,” the leader said coldly, pointing his gun directly at Sarah’s eye as he thought that this might be one the only arrears where his bullets might do any damage. Before Sarah could even blink he pulled the trigger and a bullet was sent directly into the eye making contact with her left eyeball. Sarah immediately felt an unpleasant scratchy sensation in her eye and the left side of her field of vision went dark. Sarah blinked once and her vision was back to normal, the eye having already been healed of the damage that the bullet had caused. Sarah now reacted on instinct, reaching out to the gunman and pulling his pistol out of his hand. The gunman didn’t even get the opportunity to try to prevent it as she moved once again with the same speed as she had when running across the field. Once the gun was in her hand she dropped it to the floor and kicked it out of reach before she grabbed the man and threw him away from her with one of the self-defence moves that she had learned when Millicent had insisted that they needed to know how to defend themselves several years earlier. To her surprise she found the man much easier to throw than she had ever known somebody of his size to be before and he flew through the air a lot further than even the lightest person she had ever practiced with had.
The man slowly got to his feet, wincing as he looked at Sarah. She was still receiving multiple bullet impacts without even really noticing them and she had taken a bullet to the eye even before she had thrown him with more force than he’d ever known a human deliver to him, so he was now more than a little afraid of her. He touched his ear to report the situation to his employers. “We’ve got a complication here. An alien woman or something is here and she’s shrugging off our bullets as if they were even less than paintballs. She’s too strong and fast for us to beat. I request permission to withdraw.”
Back at Simon’s lair Cynthia looked at her boss before responding to their employee’s request. She knew that he trusted the judgement of the people he employed and he insisted that they both be the best and that they have the best possible equipment so it didn’t take her long to make a decision. “You’re the person who’s there. You know the situation better than us. You have permission to act as you see fit. If you feel you have to withdraw then return to your headquarters where we can debrief you.”
“Thank you,” the leader said, terminating the connection before raising his voice. “We’re bugging out. Get back to the vehicles ASAP.” His men immediately stopped shooting at Sarah and ran towards the 4-by-4s, the first men who reached them getting their engines started so they could be off as soon as their comrades arrived. The leader, not trusting that he could get away from Sarah if she didn’t want him to, took a metal cylinder off his belt and pushed a button before tossing it accurately towards Sarah’s head. “Catch,” he said, turning to run towards the parked vehicles as he did so.
Sarah instinctively reached out and caught the cylinder just before it hit her between the eyes. The cylinder exploded in a bright flash and a very loud bang. The explosion caused a very brief and mild burning sensation on her right hand and the flash left an afterimage imprinted on her retina for about a second, but the bang was temporarily incapacitating to her. Without her having consciously realised it, Sarah’s senses had been kicked into overdrive which had been the cause of her earlier near catatonic state. Now the loud noise near her ear was so intense that she could focus on no other sounds for about ten seconds as she also fought to banish the intense headache that she had just picked up. By the time Sarah’s head had completely cleared the men had either reached their vehicles or they were well on their way to doing so. Because of this she thought she could safely ignore them and she sprinted over to Millicent’s side looking to do what she could to help her friend.
When Sarah reached Millicent she gave her a quick professional examination and what she found didn’t look good. The two gunshots had gone right through Millicent’s torso leaving blood flowing from both the entrance and the exit wounds while Millicent was shrieking in agony. Sparing a brief moment to glare at the men who she was surprised to find had hardly moved from the last time she had looked at them, Sarah gave Millicent’s hand a reassuring squeeze and she said “Hang in there, Millie. I’ll patch you up as best I can then I’ll phone for an ambulance.” Completely ignoring the retreating men as they sped off Sarah looked around her trying to find her first aid kit. She couldn’t see it and as she started to panic Sarah heard a voice in her head that sounded exactly like the alien’s. ++Heal her, Sarah Gilbert,++ the voice said.
Bewildered Sarah looked around to see if the alien had returned to life but it still lay where it had fallen not too far away from where she was now kneeling next to Millicent. The other woman had by this point stopped screaming in pain and she was starting to go pale from the both the loss of blood and her state of shock. “I don’t know how to heal her,” Sarah whispered to herself, feeling guilty that Millicent might very soon die partly as a result of her choice to help the alien. Just as Sarah futilely resumed looking around for the first aid kit in the desperate hope that she could keep Millicent alive long enough to get her to hospital she heard the voice once again. ++Heal her,++ the voice said, this time even more insistently. Remembering that the alien had said the cube would help her in what she wanted to do, Sarah decided that since she had been unable to locate the first aid kit she didn’t have any better options. Sarah tore open the front of her friend’s already damaged dress, though by this time the dress was as red as it was white. Having exposed the wounds in her friend’s dark skin, Sarah put her own hands on top of them and concentrated, willing the wounds to close. To her astonishment she immediately felt a tingling in her hands unlike any she had ever experienced before and she was almost certain she could feel energy flowing out of herself and into Millicent. Sarah continued pressing on the wounds until she felt the tingling and energy flow stop at which point she opened her eyes to see that Millicent was looking directly at her. To Sarah’s relief, Millicent’s large brown eyes were entirely lucid and she seemed to be looking remarkably well for a woman that had just been shot twice. Cautiously Sarah lifted her right hand to peak underneath and what she saw astonished her; where there had previously been a noticeable gunshot wound now there was just a bloody handprint and quite a few streaks of blood. Sarah did the same with her left hand finding exactly the same result. A quick probe of Millicent’s back showed that the exit wounds were now completely gone as well. “It’s a miracle,” Sarah whispered.
Millicent got to her feet feeling a little light headed as even though her wounds were now whole she had still lost a lot of blood. “What the hell just happened Sarah?” she asked, stumbling slightly into her friend as she tried to stand up on her own. “I’m pretty certain I got shot, though I’m not in pain any more. You’ve turned into a more beautiful version of yourself and, though I might have been imagining it since I was concentrating a bit more on the pain I was in than on what was going on around me, but I am pretty sure I saw you beat up a couple of well-built guys while you were being shot. What sort of weird world have we entered in now?”
“I’m so glad you’re alright Millie,” Sarah said, relieved that her friend was sounding a lot like her usual self and giving her a hug, causing Millicent to wince at the force of the embrace. I think you must have been imagining things though. I’m sure I don’t look any different to normal.”
“Really?” Millicent asked, a sceptical look on her face. “I think you need to take a look at yourself in that case. I’m pretty sure that your dress didn’t have all those holes in it and that it was a bit longer on you earlier this evening. Also, last time I looked you weren’t able to keep stay standing up with both of your feet off the floor like you are doing now.”
Sarah looked down at herself for the first time since she had sprung to her feet after Millicent had been shot. Sure enough, she saw exactly what Millicent had described, several holes in her dress which now seemed to be quite a bit shorter as almost all of her thighs were now clearly visible rather than being mostly covered, not to mention the sudden sun-tan she had developed. The most surprising thing to her though was that even though her brain was telling her she was still standing on solid ground her feet were no longer in contact with the ground but were instead floating about two inches above it. This sudden realisation caused Sarah to fall back to earth and to stumble into Millicent. “I think we need to get home as soon as possible,” she said, her voice a little shaky. “Will you be able to walk back to the car on your own?” Millicent nodded. “In that case there’s one last thing I want to do here. I’ll meet you at the car.”
As Millicent wandered back towards the Aston Martin looking a little like she was drunk Sarah walked towards the alien. When she reached the Jel’Dara she said “I don’t know exactly what’s happened to me but I feel better than I ever have done. Thank you, Ary’ylara. I’ll make sure you get a decent burial.” Sarah picked up the alien and found that it was light enough for her to easily carry using one arm. Having done this Sarah walked back to the car, pausing only long enough to pick up the sphere using her free hand. When she got back to the car Sarah put the alien into the back of the car before getting in the driving seat and driving back to her home.
At Sarah’s house she got out of the car and walked to the front door, getting out her keys and unlocking the front door. “Could you bring the alien inside please?” she asked Millicent as she opened the door.
Millicent reached into the back of the car and picked the alien up, grunting at the effort. She was able to get it inside then dropped it on the floor, exhaling in relief when she put the creature down. “For such a frail looking creature it sure is heavy,” she said a little breathlessly.
Sarah turned to Millicent in surprise. “What do you mean? It’s much lighter than a human. See?” she said, demonstrating her point by lifting the alien up one-handed.
Millicent’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “Trust me Sarah,” she said. “I could scarcely lift it. There’s no way you should be able to lift it that easily. Whatever’s happened to you it’s made you much stronger and much tougher than you were.” Sarah tried to disagree with her but Millicent cut her off before she could even get started. “I can see you don’t believe me. Why not test my theory for yourself. You know how heavy your fridge is right?” she said. When Sarah nodded her agreement Millicent continued. “In that case, why don’t you try to lift it? If I’m wrong you shouldn’t be able to do anything more with it than you could yesterday. If I’m right on the other hand …,” she finished leaving Sarah to complete the thought.
“I should be able to move it or lift it with ease. Alright, I’ll give it a try.” As Millicent suggested Sarah went into her kitchen where she had a heavy and sturdy old fridge containing most of her food. She knew that whenever she’d had to move it before it had always taken a great deal of effort or she’d have needed help. This time was very different. Sarah tugged gently on the fridge and it moved by more than six inches. Astonished, Sarah decided to try lifting the fridge with both hands. Although the fridge was initially a little unstable, once she’d found the appropriate spot to hold it the fridge balanced with ease and it felt almost weightless. Sarah decided that she would try a little experiment so she carefully took her right hand away from the fridge until she was supporting the entire weight of it using only her left hand, the hand that until that moment she’d always thought of as weaker and clumsier than her right. Taking great care not to do any damage to the fridge or to her kitchen, Sarah used the appliance as a test of her strength, lifting it carefully up and down with her left arm until she had a bit of a better idea of what she could do. Realising that now the fridge didn’t present any challenge to her, she returned it to its original position before reporting back to Millicent. “I suppose I am a bit stronger now,” she said, unable to keep the awe out of her voice.
“Just a little,” Millicent agreed having watched Sarah go through the whole routine through the open kitchen door. “Just a bit more noticeable in your appearance and your toughness too. Don’t try to deny it Sarah,” she said as Sarah opened her mouth to do just that. “If you take a moment to think about it and to look at yourself in the mirror you’ll know it’s true. So why don’t you tell me what happened after I got shot?”
Sarah complied with her friend’s request, leaving nothing out but trying to downplay what she had done and to not let on her fears about what had happened to Millicent. Millicent wasn’t fooled though, so when Sarah had finished she simply hugged her friend and said “Thank you. You saved my life by stopping those gunmen and by doing whatever it was you did to patch me back together. There are a few questions I still have though.”
“Oh? What are they?” Sarah asked quizzically.
“Firstly, what are you going to do now that you have these abilities? You are strong, you can fly, you can ignore pistol bullets and you can heal grievous wounds. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a comic book heroine to me,” Millicent said ticking off each ability on her fingers as she spoke. “You became a nurse because you have always had that helping people thing about you. You can help and save even more people with these new abilities of yours. I don’t think you will be able to stop yourself from doing that. What do you think?” she finished, looking deeply into Sarah’s eyes as she warmed to her theme.
Sarah sat down and thought for several minutes before replying. Eventually she said “You’re right. I would need to do a lot of practicing before I was sure I could control these abilities enough to use them regularly, but once I had that level of control I couldn’t just stand back and watch if I could help. I need to work out exactly how I’m going to do it, but I do think I’ll have to go public as a heroine in the not too distant future. So what was your other question?” she asked, her tone curious rather than worried.
“What are you going to tell Kevin?” Millicent asked, a bit more hesitantly as she didn’t really want to get too involved in her friend’s personal life.
“I really hadn’t thought about it,” Sarah replied, the confidence gone from her voice as she discussed herself rather than others. “Do you think he’ll notice?”
Millicent was unable to prevent herself from laughing at the question, though she quickly stopped when she saw the hurt look on Sarah’s face. “Trust me girl, he’ll notice,” she said. “The boy’s not blind and you aren’t exactly the same person you were earlier. You really need to work out how you’re going to tell him about this.”
“But I can’t,” Sarah said, panicking a little. “You know I’ve never been good at dating. I’ve finally met the most wonderful man. What if I scare him off by telling him about this? What if he rejects me? Millie, I just can’t take that risk.” Sarah was almost in tears as she thought about all the possible ways her boyfriend could react badly to the news.
Millicent sat down next to Sarah and gave her a reassuring hug. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. He’s absolutely smitten. He’ll accept it and if he won’t then he’s not the man I thought he was and he wouldn’t be the right man for you either.”
Sarah smiled sadly as Millicent hugged her. “I wish I could believe that. It would be nice for a man to care that much about me,” she said, her voice still small. “What I most wish right now though is that there was a way I didn’t have to tell him.” As Sarah spoke the confidence visibly drained out of her and before Millicent’s startled eyes she began to change. The more vibrant colour of her hair and her suntan skin quickly receded returning both to the shade that they had been before Sarah had touched the sphere. She lost the extra height she had gained and her bust returned to its usual measurement. In only a few seconds Sarah was once more looking the same as she had always done before that day.
Millicent’s mouth hung open for a moment before she said anything. “I think you got your second wish granted,” she finally said dryly when she was able to speak.
“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.
“Have a look at yourself in the mirror. You’ll see what I mean then.” Sarah did exactly as Millicent suggested, running upstairs in a blur of motion. When she looked at her reflection she was unable to spot much different to the last time she had done so just before leaving the restaurant. The skirt of her dress was back to being just above her knee rather than most of the way up her thigh and she was no longer displaying the same level of cleavage. The only real difference she could see was the multiple holes now in her dress making it look like certain varieties of cheese.
Sarah raced back downstairs to see Millicent. “I won’t have to bring this up with Kevin! The only downside might be me not having those new abilities any more. I still feel great though,” she said
“Oh you’ve definitely still got those abilities. I think we can add one more to them too, super-speed, at least judging by the rate of knots you went up and down those stairs. I still think you should tell Kevin, but it’s your call. I will just say that keeping this sort of thing from him is not the best idea if you want a long and successful relationship,” Millicent said, her disapproval clear. She brightened up though when she continued by saying “In the meantime, how about we work out how you can get these superpowers of yours completely under control?”
“Thanks Millie,” Sarah said, hugging her friend gently though still more forcefully than she had intended causing Millicent to wince and jokingly complain about her ribs, further proving that Sarah did need a lot of practice before she went out trying to help people. “I’ve been given this gift and I don’t intend to let it go to waste.”
While Sarah and Millicent were driving home and coming to terms with what had happened, Simon sat in his study waiting for Cynthia to report to him. When she came through the door he looked at her, raised one eyebrow and said “Well?”
“I’ve spoken to Trevor and his team,” Cynthia said, her voice even and confident. “They all agree that a bulletproof woman-like creature was preventing them from obtaining their goal and that if they hadn’t withdrawn she quite possibly would have killed them. I’m sceptical of that, since she obviously could have done so if she wanted to, but they might be right. They think she was an alien, a reasonable assumption considering that the spacecraft crashed in that field and the abilities she demonstrated.”
“What are your recommendations?” Simon asked.
“I’ve reinforced Trevor with more men and heavier weapons. Hopefully the assault rifles and anti-tank weapons will be more effective against this woman and they’ve also got the pick-up truck we mounted a heavy mortar on for support. We’ll see if that works. If not, I don’t see how we can get the spacecraft.”
“I will have that craft, whatever it takes,” Simon said, getting to his feet abruptly. “If the conventional weapons we have aren’t effective then we’ll bring out chemical weapons and the few intact alien weapons we have. That craft is vital to my future plans and no man, no woman and no alien will stand in my way.” As he spoke, Simon’s voice became colder and more forceful, his hands becoming tightly clenched into fists as he spoke.
“One moment sir,” Cynthia said as she heard something in her ear. “Trevor’s team has arrived back at the field. The woman is nowhere to be found, nor is the black woman that they shot earlier. The team are now working on recovering the spacecraft.”
“Good,” Simon said, a cold smile breaking out across his face for the first time since they had learned the recovery of the spacecraft would not be as straight forward as they had hoped. “Get it back here as soon as possible so we can begin our work on researching and reverse engineering everything we can get out of it. Also, send one of our men to persuade the farmer it would be worth his while not to talk about what happened in his field. We’ll offer him more than his entire crop is worth for his silence and if he refuses we’ll just have to find another way,” Simon continued, the other way unspoken between them but both of them knew it would be at best unpleasant and at worst fatal for the farmer. “Send a clean-up team to the field too. We don’t want to leave any evidence behind if we can help it. What are your thoughts on the invulnerable woman?” Simon asked, abruptly changing the subject. He hoped that her ideas would spark some thoughts of his own.
“She must in some way be related to the spacecraft and she probably has some connection to the other woman since by all reports she took no action until after the first shots were fired,” Cynthia said absentmindedly stroking her chin with one hand and fiddling with her hair using the other, lost in her thoughts. “I think that any further speculation is pointless unless we get more information.”
Simon nodded. “I agree with you. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her though. We need to make preparations in case she becomes a threat to us.”
“Of course, Mr Smith. Whatever you need I will help you with,” Cynthia said, looking at her boss with an adoration that both pleased and amused Simon, though he was able to make sure that none of his thoughts crossed his impassive face.
About two weeks later, Sarah was preparing for her latest date with her boyfriend. She was a bit nervous as it was their first date since she had been enhanced by the sphere and, although she and Millicent had been spending a great deal of time working on her ability to control her newfound powers, she was worried that she might do something to hurt Kevin or to scare him away. She got dressed as attractively as she could in a navy blue dress and with her hair and make-up done as Kevin liked them then made her way to the restaurant where Kevin stood waiting to greet her with a kiss. Sarah noted that he seemed to be every bit as nervous as she was, causing her to become even more nervous as she wondered what was causing his nerves. “You look lovely tonight,” Kevin said after he broke off the kiss before taking Sarah by the arm and leading her into the restaurant.
The inside was set up with an atmosphere every bit as romantic as Kevin could afford to make it, which given his wealth was very romantic. There were candles flickering on the table, a small orchestra providing music and perhaps surprisingly there was only one table set up in the exact centre of the room. “I didn’t want there to be any distractions tonight so I took the liberty of booking the entire restaurant for us,” Kevin said, smiling at Sarah and trying to sound totally relaxed though Sarah could see the tiny beads of sweat on his forehead that proved he was anything but. Kevin’s planning something, she thought. I hope that it’s not anything I need to worry about.
The evening progressed very well with the couple having a pleasant talk about inconsequential issues while enjoying the music, the fine wine, the sinfully luxurious food and above all enjoying spending time with one another. As the evening drew to a close after a gorgeous chocolate dessert, Sarah could tell that Kevin was planning to spring a surprise, one he was extremely nervous about as with her enhanced senses she both saw and heard his heart rate increase and he kept breathing deeply and drinking more of the wine as if trying to steel himself ahead of a horrible ordeal. After one final deep breath he started to get to his feet and say something when Sarah heard from the distance a series of horrible squeals, the first being the screech of tyres as a car jammed on the brakes followed by a sickening thud and a sound of agony that sounded as if it came from the throat of a dying animal. Almost immediately after this there came a loud metallic crunch followed by another squealing of tyres. In the midst of this cacophony Sarah heard people screaming in terror. She knew that she had to do something and she just hoped that she wouldn’t offend Kevin by doing it.
Just as Kevin got to his feet but before he could speak, Sarah stood up herself and gave him a quick kiss causing the man to blink confusedly. Not letting him recover his poise, Sarah said “Thank you for a wonderful time this evening. You certainly know the way to this girl’s heart, but unfortunately I can’t stay any longer. I’m on call at the hospital this evening and they’ve just called me in. Something to do with a big car crash, I think. I’m genuinely sorry I can’t stay any longer, but duty calls.”
Kevin looked crestfallen at Sarah’s words, but he put a brave face on it. “Of course, I understand,” he said, his tone making it clear that he did understand but that he was still hurt that something had come up to spoil the evening. “I did have something I wanted to do, but that’s not important compared to your job. If you can help save anybody then that’s what you have to do. I’ll settle the bill then, and I’ll see you next time.” Sarah hugged Kevin gently, making sure that she didn’t exert more force than a normal human her size could then she raced outside.
Once Sarah was outside, she looked around to see if anybody could see her. As there was nobody she could see with her excellent vision and she couldn’t spot any CCTV cameras she leapt into the sky and flew off home. As soon as she landed at her house she opened the door and ran inside to look for some clothes she could wear for her first appearance on the public stage. Finding a green leotard that she had sometimes worn when exercising she swiftly stripped off her dress and put the leotard on, concentrating while she did so on transforming into her other self. This was one of the powers she had got the most practice with since it was very easy to find an opportunity to make a switch between her two physiques especially as she didn’t need any equipment or help to practice doing it. All that was required was to focus on the change, something she was by now very good at, so by the time she ran out of her front door she was completely transformed and soon she was flying through the air, following the tell-tale signs of sirens and tears.
Not more than a minute after she had launched herself into the sky Sarah arrived at the site of the car crash and there she found a scene of chaos. In the middle of the road she could see the bloody carcass of a horse that had unfortunately strayed into the road having escaped from a nearby field. The poor animal had been hit by a car travelling at high speed and so it hadn’t stood a chance. Unfortunately the car that had hit the horse wasn’t in a much better condition. The driver had seen the horse and had slammed on his brakes, but unfortunately he was unable to prevent a collision. The windscreen of the vehicle had almost completely shattered while the front of the car was damaged from the impact. The back of the car was even worse since it had been ploughed into by another car, this one presumably having been driving too closely behind since the marks on the road left by its braking only started a short distance before the now fused pile of metal. To finish the carnage, a third car seemed to have been following behind the other two, but this car’s driver was able to avoid the pileup, swerving his vehicle out of the way and instead crashing into the barrier in the middle of the road.
While Sarah watched the emergency services began the process of removing people from their cars. She could see firemen cutting open the first car to get out the driver and the child from the back seat. A woman stood nearby huddled under a blanket and crying her eyes out while she watched, screaming at the top of her lungs “That’s my husband! Please get him out!” and “What about my son?” The driver of the second car was also in a bad way, blood pouring from his head and his eyes were unfocused, a concussion at the very least. Fortunately the occupants of the third car seemed physically unhurt, though both the man and the woman seemed to be a bit shaken by their experience and they were being loaded into an ambulance for a trip to hospital where they would be examined before being discharged.
Sarah decided that her first focus would be the child in the back of the first car. Floating down next to the car she astonished the rescue workers both by her sudden arrival then by simply tearing the mangled rear door off of the vehicle so she could have a proper look at him. Before she was able to do this however, one of the firemen stepped in between her and the young boy. “Who are you?” he demanded, showing considerable bravery considering that Sarah had just exerted more force on the car than even a man as obviously strong as he was could have hoped to.
“Someone who can help,” Sarah said, her voice even and reassuring. “I’ve got some medical experience. Please let me have a look at the boy.”
“I can’t just let anybody do that, even if you are able to fly and tear car doors off of vehicles. That boy has been through a lot and I’ll be damned if I let some well-meaning civilian cause more harm to him by making a mistake.” The fireman continued to bar Sarah’s way, not backing down an inch.
Sarah nodded as if in reluctant agreement with him and half turned away as if she was going to leave before she whirled round in a blur of motion, knocking the fireman to one side with a gentle shove before racing into the car, stopping just short of the injured boy. The boy turned his head to look at her, shock clear on his face but he seemed surprisingly free of pain. “Who are you?” the boy asked weakly.
“Someone who’s here to help you,” Sarah replied, her voice as reassuring as she knew how to make it. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Richard,” the boy replied. “Are my mum and dad okay?”
“Your mum’s fine. The nice men in the ambulance are looking after her and the firemen are just getting your dad out of the car. How are you feeling?” she asked as she looked closely at the boy. She could tell that he was about ten years old and she could see that he had a broken nose from his head hitting the seat in front of him but he otherwise seemed not to have been too badly hurt.
“Not too bad. I can’t move my arms or legs though,” Richard said matter-of-factly, not sounding remotely worried. His words set off alarm bells in Sarah’s head though.
“I’m just going to put my hand on your arm. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you,” Sarah said, reaching out to put her right hand on his arm. She applied some very gentle pressure and asked “Can you feel that?” When Richard shook his head Sarah closed her eyes and tried to use her senses to find out what Richard’s condition was. She’d had some successes when trying to do this on Millicent after the other woman had deliberately inflicted a minor injury to herself for Sarah to practice diagnosing and healing it, but this was the first time she’d tried it for real. To her relief she found that she was able to sense Richard’s body and could see that he was mostly fine, though when her senses found that his back was broken and spinal cord severed, preventing any instructions from his brain reaching anything below his neck she let out an involuntary gasp and opened her eyes. She was worried that she might not be able to do anything to help Richard and that she would possibly be blamed for having made his situation worse. She had to try though, and she did at least have the knowledge that she’d repaired the bullet wounds Millicent had received.
Taking a deep breath Sarah put her other hand on Richard’s arm and closed her eyes. She concentrated on pushing her healing abilities into Richard, willing the damage to repair itself. Initially this had no effect, the spinal cord stubbornly refusing to respond to Sarah’s efforts. She persevered though, ignoring everything other than the boy and the connection she had established. She kept pushing at the damaged area, her hands tingling intensely as she poured her power into the young boy until after a period that felt like hours but was in reality no more than a few minutes the spinal cord was re-joined as good as new and all the boy’s injuries had healed. Sarah released Richard’s arm which he began to move and, panting with the effort of her exertions, she allowed herself to be dragged out of the car by the fireman who had dealt with her earlier. Once she turned to face him she was able to see the daggers that he was glaring at her. “What did you do?” he asked menacingly.
“I healed Richard,” Sarah said in reply, serenity clear on her face and in her voice. She had just done something that wasn’t yet possible for medical science after all, so her confidence was through the roof even if her exertions had tired her a little. “He was injured more badly than he appeared but he’ll be fine now.” Even as she spoke Richard unbuckled his seatbelt and got out of the car, running over to where his mother was waiting underneath her blanket. “Mummy,” he said as he jumped into her arms, no evidence of his injuries visible at all, not even the broken nose though there were still traces of blood under his nose where it had been bleeding. “I was hurt but that nice lady made me better,” he said, pointing at Sarah.
Hearing and seeing this Sarah smiled and waved at Richard before turning back to the fireman. “Will you please let me help his dad now?” she asked gesturing towards the man who was now being carefully carried unconscious from the car by a team of firemen and paramedics.
The fireman glared at her, reluctant to trust that she was being honest with him even though he had been partially mollified by Richard’s reaction to her. “I’ll let you do what you can,” he said eventually, the hostility still painfully evident in his voice. “I’ll be watching you closely along with one of the paramedics though and if you make a wrong move we’ll do whatever we can to stop you.” He accompanied her over to the ambulance where the paramedics were carefully laying Richard’s father onto a bed and preparing to connect him to an oxygen supply. “Steve, we’re going to let this woman take a look at him. You already know what’s wrong with him I hope?” he said to the paramedic that seemed to be in charge.
“Well, we’ve found out what we can, Phil. Are you sure that we want to let a barely dressed woman with no obvious qualifications examine a casualty who has …” the paramedic said before the fireman cut him off.
“Don’t say any more Steve,” Phil said holding up his hand to silence the other man. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea but she claims to be able to help. There’s no danger of making him worse is there?” Steve shook his head in reply so Phil continued. “In that case we’ll let her diagnose him. It should be a good test for her.”
“Alright Phil,” the paramedic said, stepping out of Sarah’s way and allowing her to approach the injured man. “I hope you know what you’re doing though.”
“So do I,” the fireman said under his breath as he saw Sarah reach the casualty. “So do I.”
Once she was standing by the injured driver Sarah again put her hand on his arm and closed her eyes in order to assess the injuries, though this time she gave a running commentary as she did so. “Let’s see, this man has a head injury caused by the impact with his airbag. It’s not too serious though it will probably result in a concussion when he comes to. Several broken bones as well, particularly in his arms though his right tibia is fractured as well. The real problem is internally. One of his ribs has punctured his right lung. That would be why there’s blood coming out when he breathes.” Having finished her assessment Sarah turned to Steve and smiled at his open-mouthed gawping. “How did I do?” she asked jokingly.
“You got absolutely everything right that I know of,” Steve said unable to keep the amazement out of his voice. In fact I think you know more about what’s happened to him than I do. How did you do it?”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Sarah said before again putting her hands on the injured man’s arm and closing her eyes. She again visualised healing each injury and pushed her abilities into the man’s body until they were healed. Fist his lung was repaired with no evidence of any puncture left behind followed by his bones knitting back together at least as well as they had done before the crash. Finally Sarah healed the man’s concussion. When she was done he was still unconscious but he was now breathing without any difficulty and when he regained consciousness he should be absolutely fine. “Take another look at him now,” she said to Steve, her voice a little bit tired from the effort she had put in but she still had some energy left in her. “You should find that he’s pretty much healed now.”
Steve did exactly as Sarah had asked him to, listening closely to the man’s breathing and gently probing for broken bones. When he had finished he turned back to her there was a look of absolute awe on his face. “How did you do that?” he asked in a hushed tone of voice.
“I really don’t know how it works, I just know that it does. Now, I think there’s one last casualty who I need to have a look at before I go. Shall we?” Sarah asked, leading Steve over to the driver of the second car who had now been put into his own ambulance. The man was sitting up but he was clearly still not fully able to comprehend what was happening. While Steve explained the situation to his colleague Sarah reached out and took the man’s hand before closing her eyes and beginning her work. Almost immediately she found that the man had a fractured skull as by far the most serious of his injuries. Sarah concentrated on healing him, sending her energy directly to each damaged area and refusing to stop until both the fracture and all his cuts where repaired. After finishing Sarah staggered for a moment, the sustained effort of healing so many wounds having taken its toll on her. Steve noticed this and, leaving his colleague to examine the now lucid driver, he moved over to where Sarah was and allowed her to lean on him. “Thanks Steve,” she said, her voice a little breathless. “This has taken a little more out of me than I’d expected. Well, I’d better be off now that everything seems under control.”
“Before you go,” Phil said as he walked up beside Steve, all traces of suspicion having left his voice, “there’s somebody here who wants to say something to you.”
Sarah turned around to find that Richard’s mother had accompanied Phil on his walk across to them. She was still huddled under a blanket but she threw it off when she flung her arms around Sarah to give her a massive hug. “Thank you,” she said traces of tears and fear still in her voice but receding quickly until only sincere gratitude remained. “I saw what you did for my husband and Richard told me how you helped him. I don’t want to think how things would have gone if you hadn’t been here. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, you only need to ask. But please, can I have a name for the person who helped us?”
Embarrassed by the other woman’s reaction Sarah awkwardly broke the embrace and answered the question. “I’m not anybody special. I think anybody who could have done this would have done,” she said with humility. “I’m just a healer who was able to help.” Having finished speaking Sarah flew off into the sky. As she flew back home, Sarah felt a vibration coming from the belt she was wearing around her waist. Sarah reached into her built and drew out her phone to find out that she had been called into the hospital as a result of the car crash. Well, it turns out that I wasn’t lying to Kevin after all, she thought wryly. When she landed at her home Sarah raced to put on the work outfit she wore for hospital and not for moonlighting as a superheroine before racing to the hospital at super-speed. Once at the hospital Sarah pretended not to know what had happened and spent the rest of the evening helping to look after the recovering casualties who were being kept in overnight for observation before being allowed to go home. Hearing the casualties and the paramedics discuss her actions with awe made her feel proud of what she had done, an emotion that helped her through the night as she felt increasingly drained the more the night went on.
Just after Simon had retired to bed for the evening he received a phone call from Cynthia. “Sir, I think you should turn on the news.” Simon was intrigued as he didn’t like to be disturbed once he had gone turned in but his assistant had never disappointed him before and he trusted her advice.
Turning on the television Simon instantly understood why Cynthia had phoned him as the main headline was about the flying woman who had burst onto the scene in order to help the people injured on a horrific car crash. There was much speculation about who she was and why she wanted to help, but most people agreed with the representatives of the emergency services who had said that if she hadn’t arrived to help things might have been much worse. “I don’t care who she is,” one of them said. “All I care about is that she helped people. If she continues the way she has started she will be more than welcome.”
While Simon was busy absorbing the meagre information that the media had been able to get his phone rang again. Looking at it to see who was calling, he saw that it was his best friend from school and university. “Hello, Mr Howe,” he said, sounding more cheerful than he usually did. “How did things go tonight?”
“They went great, Simon,” Kevin answered, though he didn’t sound anywhere near as happy as Simon did or as his words would indicate. “At least, up until Sarah was called away by work. You know that car crash thing on the news? Well, the hospital needed her in to help deal with that.”
Simon’s interest was piqued by this news as he thought that he could use his friend to get more information on this flying heroine. “That sounds interesting. Please tell me anything you can about it later. But did you get to ask her first?”
“No. Do you think it’s a sign that we’re not ready?” Kevin asked, sounding as gloomy as Simon had heard him since his last relationship fell apart.
“From everything you’ve told me Sarah seems the perfect woman for you,” Simon said, hoping to cheer his friend up. “She doesn’t seem to be interested in your money, only in you. If you think that’s the case then go for it tonight. I’m sure she’ll be exhausted after such a long night. Go and see her at the hospital and ask her before she can leave. And if she says no, tell me and I’ll think of a suitable punishment for her,” Simon said, his voice light though inside he was deadly serious as he didn’t want to see his friend hurt. He might have been a man with very few scruples about how he did business and what he did to people who got in his way, but friendship was still important to him.
“That’s a good idea. Thanks Simon,” Kevin said as he finished the call.
Simon returned to watching the news for a few minutes before he picked up his phone and dialled Cynthia. “Miss Lowe, I want you to record every bit of news coverage there is on this woman. I want to know who thinks what about her, if there are any images of her and anything else we can find out about her. Everything we can spare needs to be put onto this as I have a feeling this won’t be the last we hear of this Healer.”
“Of course Mr Smith. We’ll get right on it,” Cynthia said, giving every impression that she wouldn’t sleep until she had carried out his instructions to the letter.
Simon smiled at her loyalty and work ethic, but he said “Just get it started, Cynthia. Tomorrow will be fine for most of it. We wouldn’t want you to burn out now, would we?”
“Of course sir,” Cynthia said, clearly touched by his concern. “Goodnight then, Mr Smith.”
“Goodnight Cynthia,” Simon said before putting his phone down and returning to staring at the news. In spite of what he had said to Cynthia he knew that he would continue to work through the night to try and solve the dual mysteries presented by the flying woman and the crashed spaceship. My work is never done, he thought happily as he turned on his computer and got down to it.
After her shift finished and Sarah was allowed to go home she staggered out of the front of the hospital almost ready to collapse due to all the effort she had put in over the past day, not least in making sure that all her temporary patients were comfortable. Her worries that one or more of them might have recognised her didn’t help either, though she was relieved to find that they were absolutely groundless. She was so tired that she wasn’t really watching where she was going and as a result she stumbled directly into somebody. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her face turning red with embarrassment while her eyes were resolutely fixed to the floor.
“I’m not,” a familiar voice said fondly. “I like having lovely nurses fall into my arms, this one in particular.” Sarah looked up to find a smiling Kevin beaming down at her.
“Kevin! What are you doing here?” Sarah asked in surprise.
“Well, we didn’t get to finish our conversation in the restaurant. A friend of mine reminded me that our unofficial motto has for years been Carpe Diem, seize the day. I know it’s after midnight but there’s no way I’m going home without having a question answered.” Sarah’s heart beat faster as she wondered if he was going to ask her about the accident and how she could possibly have known about it so quickly. She began to try and concoct a plausible explanation but Kevin quickly continued his speech. “When I’m with you I feel happier than I can remember being at any other time. Your compassion for others and your sense of duty are helping to teach me how to be a better man. Your presence and your affection is a gift to me, one that I would like to return. Now, I know that I’m not a particularly good man,” Sarah tried to protest but Kevin shushed her, not yet allowing her to speak. “Please, let me finish before you say anything. Now as I was saying, I’m not a particularly good man but I am quite a rich man, so I got you this.” Kevin reached into his pocket and drew out an exquisitely crafted diamond ring studded with sapphires then he got down on one knee. “Sarah Gilbert, will you marry me and continue your efforts to make me a better man?”
Sarah drew in a breath as Kevin went down to his knee, scarcely believing what was happening. When he had finished speaking Sarah threw her arms around him, very nearly forgetting her own strength as she did so. Only at the very last moment was she able to reign herself in so that her hug only knocked the breath from Kevin rather than crushing his ribs. “Yes I will,” she said, a few tears in her eyes as she forgot about everything other than the man in front of her. “Thank you for giving me the best gift I’ve ever been given.”
The two of them walked to Kevin’s Aston Martin arm in arm. It was only as she reached the car that Sarah realised she now had a new problem. How on earth do I go about telling Kevin about my new alter-ego? she thought to herself as she got into the car of her new fiancé and they drove off into the night.