When the team had nearly reached where the crash site should have been, after walking all through the night, nature’s pastel paintbrush was slowly transforming the landscape. The shadows and grays of pre-dawn slowly gave way to subdued tinges on the orange rocks scattered across the dunes. In no time, subtlety left as pastel pinks, blues and reds tinged the desert landscape for as far as the team could see, and light bounced off the corners of the mountains in the far distance.
“Are we there yet?” Mills asked. “I think I might just pass out if we have to go much further.”
“Should be over one of these dunes here,” said Anaxis.
“You need something to keep you awake?” Xala asked Mills.
“Now just yet, but I will soon,” said Mills.
“Let me know,” said Xala, patting a pouch she wore around her waist.
The three trekked over a few more wind-sculpted sand dunes, and then Anaxis saw what they had been looking for: the scattered wreckage of his mysterious ship, glittering in the light of the rising sun. Only it wasn’t all that was waiting. There was another ship, one completely intact. And three figures in dark robes moving about the crash site.
“They aren’t dead, Anax…” Mills started to say, but Anaxis dropped down onto the sand and pulled his friend with him before he could finish.
Xala knelt down beside them, still peering over the dune at the activity on the other side.
“They were!” Anaxis whispered. “That ship wasn’t there before, either. Xala, who are they?”
Xala gave a wave over the dune. “Whoever they are,” she said, “They’ve spotted us.”
Anaxis and Mills stood back up hesitantly and watched one of the hooded figures walk slowly from the crash site up the dune to where they waited.
“Hello,” Xala said. “Do you speak Molari?”
“I do,” the figure answered. They removed their hood, revealing a smiling Valorian face covered in a white beard. “Good morning.”
“G...Good morning,” Anaxis managed.
Mills blinked his wide eyes and opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“What brings you three out here?” the man asked.
“We’re here looking for that crash site down there,” Xala answered. “It looks like you’ve beat us to it. We’re coming from the village of Talx, to the west.”
“That’s a long journey to make on foot,” the stranger said.
“We had some help from a giant freck,” Xala said. “My name is Xala. This is Anaxis, and Mills. What is your name?”
“Cine,” the man answered. “Those two down there are Orn and Laquin.”
“Is that your ship?” Xala asked.
“The one intact, yes,” Cine answered. “The crashed one, no. How did you three know it was here?”
Xala looked to Anaxis to answer.
“Oh, I, well, I was in the desert, well, obviously, ha, and I was walking along, and I saw it fall from the sky,” Anaxis answered. “I went back to my village to get help investigating it.”
“I see,” said Cine. “It’s quite bizarre, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” Anaxis said.
“If it is not your ship that crashed, do you know where it came from?” Xala asked Cine.
“We believe it came from space,” Cine answered. “That it originated on the planet Alm.”
“On another planet?” Mills asked, astounded. “How? What?”
“We thought it might be from Gnirean,” Xala said. “What makes you think it’s extraterrestrial?”
“Well, we all are,” the man said.
“You all come from this planet Alm?” Xala asked.
“All Valorians do,” Cine answered.
“Care to explain?” Xala asked.
“The heat is rising,” Cine said. “Perhaps we can discuss this further in our ship? With something cool to drink?”
Mills shook his head in protest when Anaxis looked to him for his opinion.
“Is it safe?” Anaxis asked.
“Perfectly,” Cine answered. “I promise.”
“Xala?” Anaxis asked, turning to his instructor.
“I think it will be alright,” she said. “Besides, how could we possibly say no?”
“Follow me,” the robed man said.
The three villagers from Talx made their way through the wreckage, past the other two robed figures inspecting the crash. Anaxis saw that the biggest capsule was now empty, that the beings and the instrumentation from inside had been removed.
Cine led the fascinated group up a walkway into the belly of the gleaming ship. The interior was all rounded edges and soft hues, and filled with a humming murmur.
“Sit, please,” Cine said, waving a hand around at a bench that ran around the ovular cabin.
Xala and Anaxis sat, but Mills stayed standing near the exit.
“How did you construct such a magnificent ship?” Xala asked Cine.
“This ship is many hundreds of years old,” Cine answered, taking a seat in a chair at the far end of the cabin. “Most of our equipment is. We come from the south, from a place known as Haven. We are keepers of ancient lore, and protectors of the future.”
“Please tell us more,” said Xala.
“There is much to know, but, succinctly, we creatures, Valorians, as you know us, are descendants of a space-faring race known as humans, hailing from a planet in our solar system known as Alm.”
“What planet is that?” Xala asked. “In our sky, what would we know it as?”
“The fourth from the sun,” Cine answered. “You probably refer to it as Wran.”
“How did we get here?” Anaxis asked.
“In a ship. Just like the one you saw crash in the desert,” Cine explained.
“How? When?” Anaxis asked.
“Thousands of years ago,” Cine answered. “Though there are not many living on Valor today who remember.”
“Why not?” Anaxis asked.
“That is a long story,” Cine said. “Which I’ll be happy to tell you, but we’ll get there eventually.”
“The Gnirean,” Xala said, “Are they descendants of Alm, too?”
“They are,” Cine said. He sighed. “Though they would insist otherwise. They would war with the people of Alm. They would travel the lengths of the system to destroy them.”
“Why?” Anaxis asked.
“Confusion. Misunderstanding that has become belief that generations have been indoctrinated with,” Cine said. “That is why we are keeping the truth. So that when those from Alm return, we can be the bridge between people. Which, it seems, may be happening sooner than we thought!”
“Their ship crashed, though,” Anaxis said.
“Yes,” Cine said. “Which is most troubling. We are here to try to understand why.”
“Amazing,” Xala said. “Cine, this news is the most incredible we’ve ever heard. I’ve ever heard, certainly.”
“Are you going to drink our blood?” Mills asked bluntly.
“No, no,” Cine said with a chuckle. “And a Gnirean wouldn’t, either. Trust me, we’ve all heard those stories. It’s a lot of nonsense. Though they do fear any outsiders. Even those who used to be their brethren, like you and I.”
“The people of Talx are related to the Gnirean?” Xala asked.
“Of course,” Cine said. “The separation was not very long ago. Though any knowledge is easily lost in the course of a few generations, if people want it to be.”
“So what are…” Anaxis began.
Another of the strangers ran into the ship’s cabin. “Cine!” she said excitedly. “We’ve got a drone sighting!”
“Zounds!” Cine said, jumping up from his seat. “Have we secured what we need from the crash, Laquin?”
“Most all of it, sir,” the woman answered.
“Then get Orn in here, quickly!” Cine said. He turned to the visitors. “Get ready to hold on tight, we’re going to have to jet!”
“Jet?” Mills groaned. “Can I get out, first?”
“No time!” Cine exclaimed. “Find something to grasp!”
Orn ran up the walkway to the ship as it started to ascend and close.
“I’ve got the last of the data, Cine!” he shouted into the cockpit.
“Excellent!” Cine hollered back. “Ready for liftoff in three… two… one!”
The ship jumped up off the desert floor and started to accelerate, as the three villagers from Talx looked to one another with fear and surprise.