Book 1 of the Vadelah Chronicles
Preview copy of chapter 1
© 2005 by Julie Rollins
February 2005 (version d4i)
1. The Unexpected Roommate
Darius Blackwell impatiently brushed a hair off the glossy top of his large desk. The reflection of his steel-gray eyes and black hair peered back from the dark polished surface like a ghost.
With a silent sigh, he settled into the cocoon of his overstuffed leather chair. Little daylight squeezed through the blinds of his spacious dim office. Darius preferred the artificial spotlight which focused on him and his desk. Neatly spaced pictures of missiles, planets, and huge satellite dishes adorned the paneled walls. No chairs stood before Darius’ regal desk.
The room was not an inviting place. It was arranged to impress, and intimidate, any visitors.
Reaching for the file on his nearly barren desk, Darius opened it and studied its list of strange words. Each had a definition in English. The frigid air pouring from the ceiling vent soothed him as he struggled to pronounce the words.
A knock broke the stillness.
“Come in,” he said in an icy voice.
A young man peered in from behind the mahogany door.
“Excuse me, sir, but Merloc has a message for you.” The man slowly stepped inside.
Darius narrowed his eyes. “Merloc?”
“Yes sir. He says he may need some assistance. An unidentified ship has been sighted near the back side of the moon. One of Merloc’s guards is engaged in combat with it, but it’s heading this way.” The messenger approached the great desk with a reluctant, halting gait.
Setting the file on the desk, Darius backed his chair away and stood. “They found an unidentified ship, and they’re shooting at it?” His voice rose in anger. “Did Merloc say why?”
“No sir,” the man answered, his face flushing red. “But he did say he might need your help if it lands here. He wants you to destroy the ship . . . and its pilot. Merloc claims it’s a hostile alien species.”
Darius Blackwell paced the room, fists clenched, as he struggled to control himself. “Merloc’s not playing straight. He said his kind was the only other sentient lifeform in the galaxy. Now another alien species shows up and he wants me to eliminate it without questions! What is that mel-hanor up to?”
Turning to the blushing young man, Darius asked, “Are you sure you got the translation right?”
“Yes sir. Merloc also warned that if we don’t get this ship, it could jeopardize the entire SIRIUS Project.”
Darius folded his arms and frowned at his staff worker. “Did he say how it would jeopardize the project?”
The worker shifted his weight. “No sir.”
“Then you tell our men I want this thing taken alive!” Darius glared at the worker to make his point.
“Do you want me to tell Mer—”
“No!” Darius exploded. “Just our men. You tell Merloc we will help—that is all! Do you understand?”
Eyeing his employee, Darius reigned in his temper. “Tell our men to use whatever means necessary to capture this alien. If it lands on Earth, don’t eliminate any human witnesses; just take them into custody so we can grill them for information. We can’t let this go public, and we certainly don’t want the government to realize their little project has been successful. Do you understand?”
“Then go!” Darius thundered.
The young man dashed out of the hostile room.
Darius Blackwell resumed his pacing. The freezing air from the ceiling vent could not cool him down now.
“What are the mel-hanor hiding?” he muttered in an angry voice. “What are they hiding?”
* * *
David Decker turned on the windshield wipers. What began as a few drops became a hard, spattering rain on the windshield of his old sedan. The rubber blades squeaked and groaned as they smeared grime across the glass.
“I hate it when it does that,” he muttered half to himself.
“It’s like life. Sometimes things get worse before they get better,” replied his middle-aged mother. Nadine Decker’s blue eyes still sparkled beneath her dark wavy hair.
Was she referring to his own life’s struggle? The vicious taunts and pranks from his high school peers still cut David deeply. In college, few commented on his skinny body and he’d earned respect for his academic prowess.
But this year he was transferring from the community college to a university and he was nervous.
The window cleared and the blades glided quietly over the wet glass.
David glanced into the rearview mirror. His brows brooded over his deep blue eyes, darkened by the storm outside. Although his hair was recently trimmed, the humid air made his dark curls unruly.
“So, are you and Tyler settled in your new apartment?” Nadine fired off her question without warning.
David moaned. It didn’t take her long to hone in on trouble. “No, Tyler decided to save money and commute from home one more semester.” She’s going to find out, he thought.
His mother’s eyebrows peaked in the middle of her forehead. “Did you find another roommate?”
David straightened his back. “Yes.”
“Todd.” Here it comes.
“Todd?” Nadine looked sharply at him. “Todd Fox from high school?”
Holding up a hand to fend off a verbal attack, David blurted, “I know, I know. He’s not a Christian, and he’s a little wild, but he’s the best I can do for now. I know what to expect from him; he’s not a total stranger. Besides, we talked things over and I laid down the rules. He was quite agreeable. I could have gotten stuck with someone worse.” Turning cautiously, he met her with his eyes.
She was smiling. “David, I know you will do the best you can. I’ve raised you well. Perhaps God has His hand in this. How is Todd?”
No lecture? No disappointed looks? He couldn’t believe it. David paused a moment to catch his breath. “He’s doing . . . fine . . . well, he passed most of his courses last year.”
Nadine Decker winced as only a mother can.
“He is doing better than he did in high school,” David added. “One of the reasons he wanted to room with me was to stop partying. He figured he could get more done if he left his fraternity. Todd doesn’t want to spend the next ten years in school.”
With a chuckle, David continued. “He’s already saved me money by finding a cheaper apartment. The woman managing the apartment building is one of Todd’s relatives. Todd even offered to pay more than half of the rent if I tutor him.”
“My, my! He must be serious,” Nadine countered in a slight mocking tone. “Did you accept his offer?”
“No,” he answered with a straight face.
Nadine stared at him. “No?”
David cracked a faint smile. “I told him I’d tutor him for free if he just behaves.” And he better behave, he thought.
“Ah, incentive! That was smart and generous. It won’t be too much work for you?”
“I think I can handle it.”
Nadine beamed. “I’ve always been proud of your academic abilities, but I’m prouder still of your generosity. You’re the best son I’ve raised.”
“I’m the only son you’ve raised.”
She grinned. “Not too bad for a first try, eh?”
“So, when will your car be out of the shop?”
“Tomorrow. Thanks for driving me. I hate missing the women’s Bible study.” Nadine’s eyes gazed down the road. “We had a young woman visit today. She was quite a fireball of questions.”
The corner of David’s mouth turned up. “Really? What did she ask?”
“Oh, she wanted to know if the Bible had anything to say about life on other planets. She provoked some lively discussions.”
Turning, Nadine looked at him. “It is an interesting idea. I have a hard time picturing the rest of the universe created without life, yet the thought of intelligent life . . . how would that relate to us?”
“What did you tell her?”
“The truth. The Bible is silent on the matter, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.”
David nodded. “Well, I’m too busy with life on Earth to worry about life beyond Earth. After I drop you off I’ve got to go pick up Todd and all his stuff. He’s moving in today. Todd doesn’t have much. We can probably cram it all into the trunk.”
He eased the old sedan off the freeway, wove through the suburbs of Los Arboles, and pulled up to a yellow stucco house.
“Bye, Mom.” Leaning over, David kissed her gently on the cheek. “Say ‘Hi’ to Dad for me.”
“I will.” She opened the door. “Oh, my! It’s really coming down. It’s so unusual to have rain this time of year.”
“Wait.” David reached under his seat, pulled out a worn umbrella, and offered it to her. “I’ve got another one at the apartment.”
Nadine sighed and smiled. “Thanks, I’ll return it next visit.” Taking hold of the handle, she paused. “I love you, Son. You know I’ll be praying for you.”
“Thanks.” He watched his mother until she entered the house and closed the door. For a moment he felt the emptiness in his car, the same lonely feeling he always felt whenever they parted.
After listening a little longer to the rain, he drove into the gathering storm. It was getting dark already and soon the sun would set.
A warm, radiant feeling came upon him. His mother’s prayers?
David smiled. Lord, thank You for giving me a mother who prays faithfully. This year I have a feeling I’m going to need all the help I can get.
* * *
The pilot gripped the control yoke with his scaly left hand as his right hand typed on the glowing console, trying to restore the navigational computer. He braced himself as his ship sped erratically through Earth’s ionosphere. Glancing at his rear scanner, he observed his attacker.
Broad and flat like a stingray, its black form nearly invisible against the stars, the pursuing craft dogged his every turn. Beams of yellow light burst from its nose, grazing the tail of the pilot’s ship.
Inwardly he lamented his predicament. Why hadn’t he called for back-up before investigating that suspicious transmission? Now he was cut off from help and growing tired in his constant battle to stay alive.
He spun his craft to the right and rolled as another burst of yellow beams streaked by. The computer displayed his every move as his jet-like ship dove down and doubled back, ending the brief maneuver with its belly toward Earth.
The black ship followed suit, firing.
His attacker was good, even for a mel-hanor. The ambush from the back side of the moon had taken the pilot by surprise. What was the mel-hanor’s little black crullah doing here, in the Sanor System?
Rolling his craft again, the pilot tried to shake his agile attacker.
Another spray of fire grazed the belly of the pilot’s ship, but the hull was not damaged. He couldn’t fight with his weapons system offline, and his trelemar equipment was inoperable.
“Yavana, how can I escape when all my delah can do is sub-lightspeed maneuvers?”
Looking down at the ominous planet below, he trembled. Even the mel-hanor knew that Trenara was off-limits. Why did his attacker show no fear in following him so low?
Another beam grazed by the window and the pilot turned sharply to the left. He felt the g’s pulling at his body.
“Please, Yavana, I don’t want to violate the ancient laws and crash here!”
Sensors showed his silver and white ship descending into the atmosphere.
The crullah hesitated and then followed.
The delah’s pilot leveled out. His attacker would have to kill him before he dared to fly any closer to Trenara!
The delah shuddered and groaned as it took a direct hit. A flashing blue light indicated main propulsion was offline.
“Ayeee!” the pilot cried in despair. His ship was going down and there was no way to stop it. At least maneuvering thrusters were online.
Lowering the ship’s nose, he descended at a dangerously steep angle. He desperately needed to put more distance between himself and the crullah. If he was ever to escape from Trenara, he’d have to get his delah down safely to repair it.
As the air thickened, the cabin shook. The pilot glanced at his rear scanner.
Still firing, the crullah glowed red.
The pilot unstrapped his belt and lunged toward the back of the cabin. Unfastening a large storage container, he shoved it into an air lock and jettisoned it. With a graceful leap, the pilot returned to his seat. Zero gravity was easy for him, but he was losing his weightlessness as the increasing air friction decelerated the delah.
Buckling himself in, he checked his scanner.
The container drifted off to his left and the crullah veered after it.
Internal sensors revealed the relentless rise in cabin temperature. If he didn’t get his ship into the correct entry angle soon, it would burn up.
The crullah fired on the storage container, vaporizing it.
The delah’s pilot stabilized his ship’s attitude. The crullah had taken the bait. Looking down at his instruments, he noted the heat damage spreading over the crullah. “There’s no turning back for either of us now.”
The dark ship fired, hitting the delah from behind.
A loud whump resounded from the delah’s ceiling as the spine of the craft took the hit. With quick deft movements, the pilot struggled to correct his ship’s course.
The computer flashed a warning—the deployment motor for the atmospheric wings was damaged.
Turning to his visual scanner, the pilot saw the crullah glow a brilliant white and explode into a cascade of molten debris. “Well, that’s one problem down.”
But Trenara loomed relentlessly closer. He was entering the night side of the planet.
The pilot tried to extend the jammed, folded wings with computer commands, but the wings remained frozen. Leaving his seat, he ripped off a floor panel and pulled a lever until it bent.
The wings rotated forward partially and jammed again. As he struggled to maintain his footing, the pilot’s toenails clattered on the slanting floor. The increasing force of deceleration made it impossible to stand upright.
Turning, he stared out the front window at the growing, menacing sphere with its odd sprinkling of lights.
Yavana, it isn’t death I fear; it’s the terrible unknown I will find on Trenara. As the pilot looked down at the jammed levers, his white face stared back at him from the silvery floor panel. A blue tear fell from his fire-red eye, spattering on the panel. Arana, I will miss you.
As he noted the rise in hull temperature, the pilot snapped his jaw. Soon he’d be flying a hunk of molten metal if things didn’t change fast!
With sudden desperation, he grasped the levers, tugging them with renewed vigor.
Yavana, have mercy. I didn’t intend to crash here! he pleaded silently as he yanked a bar.
The ship bounced and swerved in the thickening air. He could see the top of his delah’s nose glowing bright red.
* * *
David flipped his headlights on high as the old sedan rumbled down the road. The evening light cast the hills in a deep blue and barely lit the scattered clouds crawling across the sky. Like twin swords, the high beams cut into the darkness. The narrow road curved through patches of tall oaks and quivering eucalyptus groves as it wove through the gentle hills.
The countryside always soothed David, but he reminded himself to stay alert for deer.
“I’m having second thoughts about all your rules,” Todd Fox said beside him. “You’ve got more than my old man did. Come on, David, it’s 1989, not 1889.”
“You agreed to the terms, Todd,” David said firmly. “If you’re going to stay with me, you’re going to learn a little discipline.”
“A little discipline,” he echoed in a sulky voice. “So, how did the Lady take the news?”
David smiled. “Mom’s okay.”
“Really?” Todd leaned forward. “I thought she’d have a fit, I mean, well, you know my reputation.” Opening a bag of chips, he proceeded to munch them.
“She knows all about you.” David turned briefly to his friend then looked back down the road. “She’s not unreasonable, you know. Not usually.”
“Yeah, right,” replied Todd without much conviction. He leaned back and munched another chip.
“Are you sure you packed everything?”
“Yes, Mother,” Todd answered in a nasal tone.
David laughed. “Well, your step-mother doesn’t live too far away. If you forgot anything, we can always go back and pick it up.”
“Definitely not tonight.”
They came to a clearing and the land rose, giving a grand view of the distant hills and sky.
Leaning forward, Todd cried, “What’s that!”
“Where!” David scanned the road for deer.
“There!” Todd shouted, his finger pressed against the windshield.
David was about to tell Todd to get his finger off the glass when he saw a glowing object near the horizon. “I see it now.”
Todd stretched as far forward as his seatbelt would allow. “Is that a shooting star?”
David squinted. “Most meteors would have burned up by now. I’d say it was a satellite, but it’s moving way too fast.” He pulled off to the side of the road.
They watched in silence as the object grew larger and brighter.
A loud boom shook the windows.
Bracing himself against the dashboard, Todd’s eyes went wide. “I felt my brain rattle on that one! It looks like it’s headed right for us!”
Before David could answer, the radiant form of a plane streaked by, glowing orange. The wings and tail were unmistakable. It shot off to their left and was lost behind some distant trees.
Todd looked at David. “What was that sound? An explosion?”
David worked to turn the car around, not an easy thing to do on the narrow road. “I think it was a sonic boom.”
“Whata you doin’?” asked Todd in a low voice.
“I’m going to try and find it.”
“Because you and I both know that was no meteor.”
Todd was silent for a moment. “So, what type of plane do you think it is, or was?”
“I don’t know.” David sighed. “It sure wasn’t a 747.”
Todd laughed, but his laughter fell flat. “Do you think it was some hyped-up spy plane, like in James Bond?” His off-key voice launched into the theme song, but stopped abruptly. “Hey, you don’t think we could get in trouble for seeing this, do you? If you didn’t see anything, I didn’t either, okay?”
“I just want to know if there are any survivors.” David pressed down on the accelerator until they were clipping along faster than the speed limit. “If someone is hurt, we may be able to help.”
“Well, I don’t want to get mixed up with the military. If it’s one of their top-secret planes, they’ll be looking for it. Shoot, they’ll probably be crawling all over these hills. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already setting up road blocks.”
“You’ve been watching too many spy movies, Todd. Besides, you don’t see any helicopters or police cars, do you?”
Todd looked around. “Well, not yet, but if we do, promise me you’ll get the you-know-what out of here.”
David smiled at his friend’s attempt to temper his language. “I’ll promise you this, Todd. If they show up, I’ll keep out of their way.”
As they drove on in silence, David lowered his eyebrows and frowned. What would they find? Twisted burnt bodies in smoldering wreckage? Pieces of metal scattered over the ground? A finger here, a foot there?
David shook his head. He had been watching too many movies. Perhaps all he would find would be a crater in the ground. Grisly images invaded his mind again. Concentrate on the road, David. Keep your eyes peeled. He turned up a narrow dirt road.
“Hey, where ya goin’?”
“Judging by the way it went, we need to leave the main road and go this way.” David pointed with his finger.
Todd released a puff of air. “I know better than to argue with you on directions. Remember when I got lost on that hike? You tracked me down and brought me back to camp. I was amazed you didn’t tell anyone. If it had been me, I’d have blabbed it to the whole camp!”
“You didn’t need to be humiliated, Todd,” David answered.
The road led towards a farm with an orchard and woods.
Scanning to his left, and then his right, Todd asked, “How are we going to find it if it crashed in the trees?”
David prayed silently. He felt they had to be close. As they cruised along, they passed a ragged hedge obscuring most of their view.
“Wait. What is that?” David stopped the car at a break in the shrubs.
The land sloped down into a slight dell on the edge of the woods. Resting in the hollow was the plane, glowing faintly.
David whispered. “It looks like a Lear jet—except for that small wing sticking out just below the cockpit.” He turned off the car’s headlights and the ship’s glow became more pronounced.
“Why is it lit up like that?” Todd asked in a hushed voice.
“I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
“Todd, I’ve got to make sure the pilot is okay.” David took a flashlight out of his glove compartment. “Come on, let’s go.” Opening his door, he stepped out cautiously. It felt good to stretch his skinny frame after the tense drive.
His reluctant friend joined him and gave a low whistle.
“I have a feeling we’re going to get in deep on this one,” Todd muttered.
* * *
Inside the cockpit of his spaceship, the pilot consulted his instruments. In his last desperate push he had succeeded in loosening the wings. He had barely had time to correct his angle and slow his descent, reducing the heat friction that threatened to destroy his ship.
But the moment of relief he felt from landing his craft had vanished now. He was alone, on Trenara.
Snapping his jaw, he read the computer’s damage report. The main propulsion unit, trelemar equipment, and navigational guidance could be fixed, but the spine of the delah was severely damaged. Where would he find the materials to repair his ship?
The pilot consulted the sensors’ data gathered during the descent. The computer displayed images of landmasses and mineral deposits along with an analysis of the atmosphere.
“Whatever else they may say about you, Trenara, you have been blessed with a grand variety of elements. Everything I need is here.”
When he narrowed the scan, some took on distinct geometric shapes. Buildings! Inhabitants were nearby. How could he get the materials he needed without running into the natives? It would waste precious time if he had to mine and refine materials. Most of what he needed could be found in these geometric forms, but the inhabitants had obviously made them.
Snapping his jaw once more, he pondered his bleak options. Perhaps he could make contact with a few natives and escape without doing much harm. He unbuckled his belt and walked towards a panel on the rear bulkhead.
Rerouting the power for the main thrusters only took a few minutes. Repairing his trelemar equipment would take longer. There was no sense in fixing it until the spine was repaired. His current priority was finding those repair materials.
The pilot strode up to the ship’s portal. “Toorah barune,” he commanded.
The door slid open in response.
He stood there, sampling the delicate scents of the night. “Yavana,” he breathed and stepped onto the soft earth.
The alien gazed up at the starry sky and scattered clouds. So, this was Trenara at nightfall. The blue-green band of daylight in the west was nearly gone. Trees rustled softly in the nearby woods. His sonar revealed whatever his adept eyes missed. He strode up to a road and stopped. Strange, wiggly tracks marred the dirt. Bending over, he rubbed the tracks with a scaly finger.
A dog barked nearby.
Straightening, the pilot drew his gray cloak around him. He walked up the road towards a group of farm buildings.
An Irish setter leaped off the porch of a house and bounded through the bushes, barking as it came.
“Naharam, naharam!” the pilot cried.
The dog stopped and looked up at him, panting.
“Naharam?” asked the alien in a softer voice. He breathed in the dog’s strong scent. Was this one of the natives? He pulled his hand from beneath his cloak and touched the dog’s skull with three scaly fingers.
Shutting its mouth, the Irish setter cocked its head as the alien uttered dog sounds.
The pilot withdrew his hand. “Dalam,” he muttered in disappointment.
The dog yawned and trotted back to the farm.
Turning, the pilot walked down the road. His sonar detected a large, metallic object, obviously manufactured. It appeared to be some kind of land vehicle.
Two soft fleshy creatures moved near the vehicle. One of the figures held a cylindrical object that stabbed the darkness with a beam of light.
The alien’s sensitive ears picked up voices. He approached the two figures and stopped when he was quite close. “Naharam?” he asked.
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