A Daring Rescue
by Phoebe Ophelia
“I have a signal from a matter-transmission station,” Lieutenant Sami said from the comm station. “And another from the shuttle Alphonse. They are about 50 meters apart. The station is in a forested area, fairly secluded, but the shuttle is near a large structure, several stories tall.”
“Can we communicate with the inhabitants of this world?” said Captain Vasquez.
“I'm detecting no radio emissions, sir. They must not have the tech for that.”
“So no radar, either,” mused the captain. “All right. Commander Crichton, assemble a team and prepare for a stealth mission to recover the shuttle.”
“What about...Lieutenant St. Clair?” said Commander Crichton, a tall man with dark hair and striking blue eyes.
“We will attempt to recover Lieutenant St. Clair, as well, Commander, but we need more information.”
“Assemble your team, and be ready in one hour.”
The matter-transmission station was a meter-wide disk hidden in a pit formed by a ring of boulders. The team transmitted through one at a time, starting with Crichton, then Roberts, Jennings and hulking Torq, all security ensigns, and then petite Lieutenant Sami. All wore blackout suits and hoods. Crichton led them through a forested area to a clearing around a large structure. The shuttle was not far from it.
“We've reached the shuttlecraft,” Cricton sub-vocalized for the comm unit implanted in his jaw. The team secured the area, forming a perimeter around the shuttle. Lieutenant Sami opened the panel by the entrance, casting a shallow light which Crichton moved to shield from the building with his body. He could see her pale face in the eerie light, seeming to float in the darkness.
“The shuttle has power,” Sami sub-vocalized, keying in a sequence on the touchpad. The door opened silently; the inside of the shuttle was dark and empty. “Looks like Lieutenant St. Clair put her in lockdown mode.”
“Power her up.”
Sami moved to the front of the shuttle and bent over the display there. Her petite silhouette was suddenly illuminated by the lights of the console. “It looks like the shuttle soft-landed. It can be relaunched with minimal repairs.”
“Scan for Lieutenant St. Clair's comm unit; see if you can send a message to her.”
“She's not in the immediate area...a wider scan will take some time.”
“In the meantime, check the logs for any leads.”
“Commander,” Crichton heard over the comm, “A door has opened in the structure, and an alien stands in the doorway, looking out. It hasn't seen us yet.”
Crichton silently left the shuttle and peered around the bulkhead to see for himself. The alien was backlit and hard to see. The door itself was much larger than he had expected, he estimated it was about five meters high, and the alien was perhaps four. It presented a humanoid silhouette, though very thin. A much smaller figure, less than two meters tall, suddenly darted out past the alien, and the alien gave chase, scooping up the smaller figure in its arms. “Da-da-da!” the smaller creature shrieked.
“Dih-dah, mee la nee-na,” said the large alien in a very deep, booming sort of voice. It turned and carried the smaller creature back into the structure.
“Commander!” sub-vocalized Ensign Torq. He looked sharply over at Crichton. Torq was a Val, not a human, and his skin was the same color as his blackout suit. All Crichton could see of him was his slitted, catlike eyes. “That is a human!”
“What? Are you certain?”
“I have no doubt.”
“Was it Lieutenant St. Clair?”
Crichton went back into the shuttle. “Sami, can you get a signal to the Molari?” he asked.
“...yes, sir, I've got a link.”
“How fast do you think you can make the shuttle spaceworthy?”
“It may take thirty or forty minutes. Half that if Roberts helps me.”
“I'll leave him with you. Update the Molari on our situation and be ready to launch as soon as possible. I've got to rescue that human and see if there are any others. If you and Roberts are discovered, I want you to launch. We'll head back to the matter transmission point.”
“Good luck, sir.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
Crichton and the two security ensigns moved out. Torq, at 2.1 meters tall, was the only one that could reach the handle on the door. It was dark inside the structure, but a little light shone from a window to their left. Stairs led up to a second floor immediately to their right. “Jennings,” Crichton ordered. “Watch the stairs.”
The first room was large and open, with double-scale chairs and what looked like a long couch facing a structure made of stone. Through a wide doorway at the far end was another large window and to the right was a room filled with huge machines. Another door under the stairs revealed a small room with two strange basins inside.
They went back and started up the stairs. Each stair was as tall as Crichton's thigh, so it was a difficult climb and took some time. Jennings remained on the first floor, keeping watch.
The second floor consisted of a long corridor with several doors. Torg opened each in turn. The first was storage, with layers of shelves. The second was a larger version of the room downstairs with the basins. Inside the third was an alien lying on a raised platform, a covered in a cloth pulled up to its chin. “It seems smaller than the one in the doorway,” Torq said.
In the fourth room was a cage, two meters wide, three long and about three tall. It stood on legs like a table. In it was a human, lying on the cushioned floor of the cage, asleep. “I'm going to wake him and explain what's going on. You wait in the hallway and keep watch.”
There was no lock on the cage, just a simple sliding latch. It was made of wood and it had been fitted very tightly, so it took all of Crichton's strength to unlatch it. The cage doors then opened outward like a cabinet. “Wake up,” he whispered. “I'm here to help you.”
The man rolled over and looked at him. It was difficult to make out his expression in the darkness. “Da da da?” he said out loud.
“Shhhh!” Crichton sushed. “I can get you out, but you must be quiet.”
“Commander,” Torq said over the comm. “The last door opens.”
“Hide!” Crichton said, closing the cage quickly and ducking under it.
“Too late; I've been seen by the alien. I flee. It gives pursuit.” Crichton heard noises on the stairs, then it was quiet. “Jennings and I have reached the shuttle,” Torq said, “but we were seen and the alien approaches.”
“Damn.” Crichton opened the cage again. “Come on.” He tugged at the man's hand; the man got down from the cage very carefully and began to follow him without a word. They worked on the stairs; the man was not very agile, so it was slow going.
“Commander, the alien is almost here,” called Sami over the comm.
“You have your orders. Launch.”
“But what about you?”
“I and the man I've found can get to the matter transmission point while the alien is distracted by what you're doing. We're almost to the bottom of the stairs. Go now!”
Crichton grabbed the man's hand again and pulled him out the door and across the road away from the shuttle. It launched, brightening the sky behind them with the glow of its engines. The man slowed and looked back, hooting in excitement. “It's okay,” Crichton told him. “Lieutenant St. Clair left a matter transmission point near her crash site. We can escape that way. I'm sure the captain will want to hear how you ended up in that cage.”
Crichton pulled him gently into the forest to the point. Crichton helped the man climb over the rocks and stood on the platform, then tapped the activation code out with his foot.
The world disintegrated around them, then coalesced again as the cargo bay. “Captain,” Crichton said aloud to the comm. “Commander Crichton reporting in. I have rescued a human prisoner from the surface, but it's not Lieutenant St. Clair.”
“Take him to the infirmary; I will meet you both there shortly,” Captain Vasquez's voice responded.
Crichton turned and looked at the human, getting his first good look. The man was about his height, 1.9 meters, and a little chubby. His expression was wide and bewildered. “Come on, sir.” He took the man's hand again and began to lead him to the lift. “What's your name?”
The man looked at him and said, “Da da da!” He seemed to be missing some teeth.
“You don't speak the common tongue?”
“Hm.” Crichton didn't bother trying to speak to the man for the rest of the trip up the lift to the infirmary. Dr. Worthing was there, prim as ever in her long white coat.
“This is the human you rescued?” she asked Crichton.
“Yes, Doctor,” Crichton said. “He doesn't speak common. Or, maybe his captivity damaged his mind, somehow.”
“Hi there,” she smiled at the man. “What's your name?”
He grinned and pointed at the doctor. “Aha!” he said.
Dr. Worthing furrowed her brow. “Tom,” she said. “Are you sure...?”
“Sure of what?”
She placed her hand on one of the beds. “Sit here,” she said to the man. He walked over and put his hand on it, too. “Sit,” she repeated, sitting on it to show him what she meant. He copied her, and she pushed a button on the console at the foot of the bed.
“Tom,” said the doctor, reading the results. “She's not human.”
“She?” Crichton said. “But...” he looked at the being in front of him. The features were all characteristic of human males, except the cheeks were beardless. He was a little chubby, but still within the range of normal.
“She,” Dr. Worthing confirmed. “She has an internal gestation pouch. She's not human. Her organs are all in different places, and her DNA is different. She is...still growing.”
“Rapidly. If her growth rate is analogous to humans, she is very young. Perhaps the equivalent of a two-year-old child.” The doctor looked up at Crichton, her expression grim. “Tom, you didn't rescue a human prisoner, you kidnapped an alien baby.”
Crichton sat down heavily on one of the beds. Everything fell into place suddenly. The structure they'd invaded was a family home, the hulking machines things like refrigeration units and ovens. The weird basins were sinks and toilets. The cage from which he'd “rescued” this person was not a cage at all, but a crib. He rubbed his hands over his face. “Torq said he was certain he'd seen a human. It was dark...she was so quiet, I thought she wanted to be rescued. She came along willingly.”
“She doesn't seem to be disturbed by this experience,” the doctor said.
The baby alien had turned around on the bed and was playing with the pillow.
“I was hoping she knew something about what happened to Jenien,” Crichton said.
“Tom,” Dr. Worthing said, gripping Crichton's arm. “Lieutenant St. Clair is resourceful and tenacious. I'm sure she'll be all right.”
Captain Vasquez came in and the doctor briefed him on what had happened. “The aliens probably thought Lieutenant St. Clair was a lost child,” he said, “And took her away from the crash site.”
“And the shuttlecraft was just sitting in the alien's backyard. They may have thought it was a toy because of its size.”
“I agree. Commander, I want you to take the matter transmitter and return this child to her home. Just leave her somewhere safe where she will be found and return. Lieutenant Sami and Ensign Roberts are doing a high-altitude search for Lieutenant St. Clair's comm signal. Contact us through them if you encounter any trouble.”
The alien child was cooperative as Crichton led her by the hand to the transmitter and then helped her climb back out of the pit. There were aliens combing the woods for the child, so he simply pointed her in their direction and went back into the pit. “Shuttle Alphonse to Commander Crichton.”
“We've located Lieutenant St. Clair's comm signal. She's several kilometers north of you, heading in your direction. She won't return our attempts at communication; her receive function may be damaged.”
“I'm going to rendezvous with her, see if she needs any help.”
“Your orders were to return immediately.”
“Clear it with the captain then, Sami, I think he'll see it my way.”
Crichton headed north. The sun began to rise to his left as he walked. He had only been walking for twenty or thirty minutes after dawn when he saw a person a bit smaller than himself. He watched the person for a moment. It looked like a human and wore a long white dress that obscured the being's figure. The hair was short and dark. It stopped for a moment, then said, “Who is that?”
Commander Crichton let out his held breath. “It's me, Jenien. It's Tom.”
“Ugh, finally!” she said, stomping over to him, and then past him. He followed. “I've been listening to your comm chatter all night.”
“Why didn't you respond?”
“I didn't want to expose these aliens to us any more than they already had been, and I certainly didn't want to get anybody else captured.”
“Were you mistreated?”
“Ha! I've been poked, prodded, manipulated, patronized, locked in cabinets, stripped, dressed, DIAPERED!”
Crichton began to laugh. Lieutenant St. Clair rounded on him and gave him a punch in the shoulder. He grabbed her arm and pulled her close. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I'm just so glad you're all right.”
She gave him a quick kiss and said, “Let's save it for when we're back aboard. I don't want to be caught again.”
“It wasn't that bad, was it?”
“I'd rather be sent to a Crunlian torture pit than go back there.”
“Gives you an idea what it'll be like for our kids.”
She stopped and looked at him. “Kids? We're not even married.”
“Well, about that--”
“No. No, no, no, NO! You are NOT proposing to me here. I would never forgive you if I had to link this experience with your proposal in my mind forever!”
“Ha-ha, all right. Not here. Come on.” He took her hand and began to run back to the matter transmitter.