Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Unearthly Pilot

<< < Chapter One > >>

The night was cold and foggy, making even the brightest skyscrapers look ancient and foreboding as Officer Edison walked his beat. There were very few cars on the street. Many drivers would avoid the roads due to the fog, but in London such quiet was unusual. With his every breath, more cold mist escaped the policeman's lips and joined the air, but the young officer was not afraid. He had no need to be. The night was still young, and his shift was nearly over. He was headed back to his car, to make his way home, until he heard the sound. It was a strange, mechanical grinding noise, but it was oddly pitched and rhythmic. He turned towards the source of the sound and saw a construction site on the corner of the street. At this time of night, there was no way that there was a worker on site, so Edison grabs the radio on his vest and speaks into it.
  "Control be advised, I've got some possible vandalism at the construction site on Bishopsgate. I'm going to investigate."
Officer Edison crosses the street and enters the site through an obvious gap in some temporary fencing. Retrieving his torch, Edison sweeps the light over the dirt, equipment and exposed concrete.
  "This is the police! Is there anyone there?!" he calls out. Edison expected some teenagers were screwing around with construction equipment and hoped to scare them off by calling out. No such luck. Only one and a half floors of the building were constructed, just a concrete frame with loose wiring and dust everywhere, but Edison heads inside the construct and calls out again, "is there anyone in here?!"
Edison hovers his torchlight over the place lazily, until he spots something strange, and holds the light on it. Everything here was incomplete. Hanging wires, exposed concrete and bare floors. But in the elevator shaft, where one would expect an empty hole, there was a pair of shiny, silver doors. Edison prided himself his ability to spot what was out of place, and so thought it was strange that someone would install elevator doors before the wiring was complete. Edison takes a step towards the doors, approaching out of curiosity, when there's a sharp ding sound.
The doors slide open and the sudden brightness makes Edison shield his eyes. The movement of the doors must have stirred up the dust, because as he squinted at the new doorway, small clouds, like smoke, seemed to billow out of the doors. Following the smoke was a tall black man, in a knee-length leather jacket. He was fiddling with a small device, but seeing the policeman he heads straight for him and stops little more than a foot away. Up close, Edison saw the man had a smooth, bald head; a neat beard cropped around his mouth & deep, calculating brown eyes.
  "Excuse me, sir," says the man, in a deep bass voice with a cadence that sounded almost regal, "Can you tell me the date today?"
  "The date?" says Edison, a little surprised, "it's the Sixth of July."
  "Drat . . . I'm early," the man mutters to himself, putting the device in his pocket. Giving the policeman a nod, the black man marches off into the night. Edison stood there, bewildered. He was a little confused by the man, but his eye was drawn back at the elevator shaft. The lift was still there, clear as day, but he could barely believe it. Ignoring the strange man, Officer Edison walks to the edge of the lift entrance. He tentatively places a foot inside and shifts his weight to it. It was steady. Stepping inside, Edison looks around the small cabin. It looked ordinary enough, a regular two-door elevator car. As he inspects the button panel, Officer Edison is too occupied to hear the doors closing.
  "No . . . NO!" he screams. But the doors seal shut, locking him inside. From the ground floor of the construction site, the dust settles, the light is extinguished and eventually, even the screaming from behind the doors quietens to silence . . .

There is darkness everywhere. Green and red lasers cut through the air and scan the room as bodies writhe unnaturally against one another and everything moves and shifts to the steady beat, the sound of some alien engine throbbing so loudly that even the air vibrated with it.
In the middle of the dancefloor, Anise stopped and started to feel sick. She turns to the friend she came with, who was grinding against some guy she'd met at the bar an hour ago.
  "GOIN' TO THE LOO!" Anise manages to yell over the din. Her friend nods, then continues dancing. Pushing past other clubbers, Anise finds the ladies room and stumbles inside. The sound of the music was considerably muffled inside the bathroom, and Anise heads to the dirty, wall-length mirror. She looks at herself. Her long, black hair was slightly dishevelled, but the makeup and glitter on her face was still fresh, glittering marvellously against her olive skin and lighting up her brown eyes. However, under the neon lights, she looked horrible. Anise wondered why, but it was soon obvious. She wasn't smiling. She wasn't having fun. The music all sounded too loud, the light too dim and the people too drunk. It was all giving her a headache.
  "I must be losing my buzz . . ." Anise mutters, as she adjusts her hair. As she does, in the mirror, she sees a sudden flash of purple light coming from one of the stalls and so she glances back to see what it is. After a moment, the door opens and someone steps out wearing a close-fitting, full-body suit with a utility belt and some kind of motorcycle helmet. From the shape of the suit Anise could tell the wearer was female, and in her hand she held what looked like a large, silver soccer ball. The woman swiftly turns and heads for the door.
Anise stares at the woman as she walks by, all the while wondering what it all meant. She'd never seen anything like the woman before or the machine in her hand, and as she watched her leaving the bathroom she was mesmerized by the way she walked with such purpose. At that moment, the partying, the clubbing, the music, the drink and the drugs . . . it all seemed so insignificant. It was a weird feeling.
As the strange woman left the bathroom, Anise felt compelled to follow her, so she went back into the club proper. The dancefloor was full of people, but only one was wearing a helmet or walking with such focus, so Anise quickly finds the woman again and follows after her. Through the people, past the bar and the noise, she heads through the front door. Anise follows the woman outside, almost five seconds behind, but by the time she spots her, she catches just a glimpse of the full-body suit disappearing into the alley around the back of the building. The music from the club left a dull ringing in her ears as Anise heads down the block and carefully turns the corner. Rounding the corner, she stops dead. The first thing she sees is the barrel of a strange gun, pointed directly at her face.
  "Why are you following me?" asks the strange woman, her voice echoing as though she were speaking into a tin can. Anise was frozen at the sight of the gun, all she could manage was to raise her hands and take one step backwards. So the woman grabs her around the neck with a strong, gloved hand. She pulls Anise into the alley and presses her against the wall, holding the gun an inch from her nose. "Why are you following me?"
Anise looks into the helmet's visor, but sees nothing but black.
  "I . . . I don't know . . ." Anise stammers. The woman presses the gun into Anise's cheek, so hard that she could feel the humm of the energy weapon's power supply vibrating her cheekbone as it charged and the pale-blue lights along its exterior glowed brighter. Anise closed her eyes.
  "Halt!" calls out another voice. Anise had never heard it before, but it was a man's voice, deep and commanding. "You will leave her alone."
The woman immediately lets go, and Anise opens her eyes to see the woman turn the weapon in the direction of a man standing a little deeper in the alleyway. He was tall and black, and wore a knee-length leather jacket.
  "There doesn't have to be any bloodshed," says the man, speaking in a rather dignified tone, "Just return the Orb to me, and I will leave this matter alone. I won't bother you ever again."
  "Are you blind?" asks the woman, waving around the weapon in her hand. "I'm the one with the gun, so you don't get to make demands."
  "Give me a moment . . ." says the man, reaching into his jacket. He retrieves a device that, from a distance, looks like a tuning fork. With a click, it gives off a small purple spark. Immediately, the blue lights along the outside of the woman's gun fade to grey. The woman quickly pulls the trigger three times, and each time it makes an unsatisfying clicking noise. The man returns the device to his jacket.
  "Now, if you'll return the Orb . . ."
The woman quickly holsters her weapon and kicks the man in the chest. He stumbles back two steps, but she continues to advance, punching him once in the head before he can manage to block her attacks. The woman was swift and lithe, kicking, punching and moving like a vicious, elegant spider. The man was more like a tiger, all fury and force, but not quick enough to hurt her. The whole time, Anise looked on in confusion, and so stood still, dumbstruck; until she heard a vehicle pulling up, and turned to the street to see a black, windowless van stop at the curb with its engine running. The side door slid open and it honked its horn.
Glancing back to see the van, the attacking woman finally swung the orb device like a club, thumping the black man in the side of the head. He doubled back and she ran for the van, past Anise, and jumped inside. As she did, the van sped off. Anise steps out and tries to read the number plate, but could only see two numbers: Eight, eight.
She lets out a sigh, when suddenly the man marches straight past her.
  "Stop now! You don't understand what you're dealing with!" he cries after them. The man walks into the middle of the road, going after the van, "Come back here at once! I am the Duke of Ra–" suddenly, the man is hit from behind by a double-decker bus.
  "No!" screams Anise, running onto the road. The bus had pulled to a stop and the driver was getting out to check the damage he'd done. The man on the ground had rolled over onto his back and his eyes were shut tight from the pain.
  "Oh my god! Are you alright?" Anise asks, crouching down.
  "No . . . I have lost the orb," he mutters.
  "Is he one of yours?" the driver asks Anise.
  "Uh, yeah. Sure, he's a friend," Anise replies.
  "He walked right in front of the bus . . . is he alright? In the head?"
  "Ain't got a clue . . ." says Anise.
The black man suddenly sits up and struggles to get to his feet.
  "The escape vessel, where did it go?" he asks, looking around.
  "Do you want me to call an ambulance?" asks the driver.
  "No!" Anise shouts, a little louder than she'd intended.
  "You sure? He needs to go to the hospital."
  "Uh yeah . . . but I'll take him. In my car."
The cars behind the bus impatiently honk their horns and the driver glances at them,
  "Well okay. You take care of him, I gotta move this bus."
The driver heads back onto his bus and Anise runs to the man who had begun to wander along the road.
  "Hey? Are you alright there, mate? You were hit pretty hard there."
The man looks to her, catching her off guard with his deeply penetrating, brown eyes.
  "I'll be fine once I get back to my ship," he says.
  "Alright, alright, come on then."
Anise tries to put her hand to his back and guide him carefully to the curb, but the man was a head taller and she couldn't shift him an inch.
  "What are you doing?" he asks.
  "We've got to get off the road."
  "Road?" he says. As though on cue, more of the cars behind the bus lean on their horns desperately.
  "Here, come on, mate," says Anise, "follow me."
The man reluctantly follows her to the side of the road, limping slightly, and turns back to see the cars start moving.
  "Some kind of trade route?" the man murmurs to himself.
  "Look, what's your name, mate?" Anise asks. The man looks back to her.
  "You may address me as The Duke."
  "Yes, and your name?"
  "Anise Trevino."
  "Alright then. Anise Trevino, I need your help," he says, pointing at the traffic, "How do I acquire one of these vessels?"
  "Oh, my car's parked around the corner," Anise says, pointing.
  "Excellent," says the Duke. He immediately walks down the road, limping slightly. Anise follows, but as he approaches the corner, he starts to cradle his head.
  "Hey, wait up, mate!" says Anise running up to him, "Slow down. You were hit really bad, you need to rest."
  "Which one?" says the Duke, pointing at the row of parked cars.
  "The Pinto," says Anise. The Duke just frowns at her, so Anise leads the way to the peach-coloured Ford Pinto and opens the passenger door. The Duke slides in while Anise makes her way around to the driver's side. Anise wasn't too concerned about leaving her friend behind like this, since she'd find some guy to give her a lift home, probably the guy she was dancing with but the night was still young. As she sits down and closes the door, Anise finds the Duke is fiddling with the small fork-like device, pointing the prongs at the dashboard.
  "What are you doin'?" Anise asks.
  "I'm trying to access the tracking system."
  "Look, you need to relax and do up your safety belt."
  "What belt?" Anise demonstrates by strapping on her own, and the Duke imitates her. Then she starts the car and pulls onto the road. The Duke continues to fiddle with the device as she drives.
  "Alright now, 'Duke'. Seriously mate, what have you taken?"
  "Taken? What are you accusing me of?"
  "Look, you saved me from that crazy biker lady, so I owe you big time. But it's obvious you're trippin' on somethin'. I need to know you won't drop dead on me from a heart attack."
  "I assure you, I will not drop dead. My injuries are minor."
  "You were hit by a bus!"
  "I need only a moment's rest and I will be fine."
  "You're sure?"
  "Absolutely," says the Duke, and although Anise didn't understand everything that was happening, the sincerity in that voice was irrefutable.

Anise drives up to her regular car park, in the lot under her building and stops the engine.
  "Where are we?" asks the Duke.
  "This is my building," says Anise, "you can sleep here for the night."
Anise gets out of the car, and after struggling with his seatbelt, the Duke does so as well, then determinedly limps around the car to meet her.
  "Anise Trevino. I don't think you understand the severity of the situation," he says.
  "The what of the what?"
  "'Severity', 'Situation'. I need to retrieve the orb, or this planet will be in danger."
  "What orb?"
  "The device the Traveller was carrying. I must retrieve it."
  "And how are you going to do that?"
  "My ship. Its sensors can detect the heat signature that radiates from the device."
  "No, what I'm sayin' is: Even if the world is gonna end tomorrow, you can't do a bloody thing until you rest that leg and clear the juice from your system. Right?"
The Duke stares at her defiantly for a moment before shying away.
  " . . . you're right, Anise Trevino."
  "Damn right. And can call me 'Anise', I feel like I'm in trouble when someone says my full name. Come on." Anise offers the Duke a hand, and leads the way to the elevator, and they both go up and into her apartment.
The place was small studio apartment, a little messy with bits of clothing strewn over the back of chairs and the couch, and things like books stacked into piles in the corners due to a lack of shelves or storage space. Anise leads the Duke to the couch, a second-hand faux-leather monstrosity that was falling apart with rips held together by electrical tape; but the Duke falls onto it and settles comfortably with his head on the armrest and closing his eyes.
  "I will just need a moment's rest . . ." he mutters, speaking so softly that his deep voice becomes mellow and sultry.
  "Right," says Anise, heading for the tiny kitchenette in the corner, "D'you want a glass of water? I don't have any panadol, but you probably shouldn't be takin' pills anyway, considerin' . . ."
Anise looks back to the couch, but the Duke has already fallen asleep. With a sigh, Anise checks the time. Her clock reads half past three; an unusually early end for a Saturday night's clubbing. Anise gets her mobile phone and sends her friend a text:
  got sik of clubin so i left. dont w8 up.
Leaving her phone on the bench, Anise walks over to the man on her couch. He looked so peaceful, his fingers interlinked and resting on his chest.
  "Thanks for savin' me, by the way," Anise whispers, "I didn't get the chance to tell ya." Looked at his sleeping form, Anise realized two things. Firstly, she wasn't the least bit tired, since it was relatively early, and so she was craving a late night coffee. Secondly, there was a tall, dark and handsome man in her apartment yet the place looked as though some kind of clothing-based bomb had hit it. She decided to do some cleaning . . .

After an hour of cleaning, stashing things away, a shower and washing the make-up off her face, Anise was standing on her small balcony in jeans and a loose t-shirt looking down on the streets below as she slowly drank a lukewarm cup of sweet black coffee.
At sound of her name, Anise flinches, spilling some coffee over the balcony before swiveling around to see the Duke standing by the couch.
  "Duke? You're awake?" Anise asks.
  "Yes, I'm well rested. I want to thank you."
  "Well, you're welcome," she says, taking a sip of coffee.
  "Now, I'm afraid there's no time to waste. In the time that's passed, there's no telling what has been done with the Orb. We must find it."
  "Oh, right. The orb . . . did you say 'we'?"
  "Yes," says the Duke, walking to the railing of the balcony. "I have never been to this world before and it is quite . . . dangerous. I will need help navigating the planet. I require a guide, and if you'll forgive my presumption, I was hoping it would be you."
  "Navigating the planet?"
  "Yes, in your car."
  " . . . you need a lift? Well why didn't you say so?" says Anise, finishing off her cup of coffee.
  "You will help me?"
  "Excellent. How soon can we leave?"
  "Uh . . . if you want to leave soon, I'll need to get my trainers on."
  "I will wait here."
Leaving her dirty mug on the bench, Anise fetches some running shoes and sits on the couch to put them on.
  "Alright, where do you want to go?" she asks.
  "Back to my ship."
  "Do you mean a boat?"
  "No. I mean a spaceship."
Anise stops halfway through pulling on her second shoe and glances over at the Duke.
  "Timeship, actually."
  "I think you've still got some of that junk in your system, mate," Anise says, as she finishes up putting on her shoes.
  "Junk? It's state of the art."
  "Whatever . . . where is this 'spaceship' of yours?"
  "I don't know exactly, but I can direct you as we go."
  "Right . . ." says Anise, standing up and leading the way out of the apartment. She locks the door behind them and they both step into the elevator. As the lift heads down, silent but for the humm of the elevator moving, Anise asks, "So, what is this about anyway?"
  "To what are you referring?" asks the Duke as they head into the parking garage.
  "Everything. The crazy biker chick, the 'orb'. You."
  "The Traveller stole the Orb from me, and I must retrieve it."
They get into the car, Anise reminds the Duke to do up his seatbelt and they head out of the garage. As they drive onto the road, the sun was just on the cusp of breaching the horizon, giving a dull glow to the edge of the world.
  "So what is this orb anyway? Why did the travelling lady take it from you? It looks like a round toaster."
  "It's a highly advanced, artificially intelligent navigational computer. Turn here," says the Duke, pointing. Anise turns the car and glances at her passenger.
  "I didn't think we had artificial intelligence yet."
  "You don't. The orb is from my planet. I believe that is why the Traveller stole it in the first place, to reverse-engineer her own kind of auto-piloting computer."
  "Wait . . . your planet?"
  "Yes. Turn just here." Anise turns again, but had a weird look on her face.
  "So what does that make you, then? An alien?"
  "From your perspective, yes."
In her head, as she made her way down the road, Anise was trying to tie together everything she'd seen in the last few hours in a way that made sense. Woman wearing a futuristic motorcycle suit; strange, silver orb device; laser guns; sparking tuning forks & then the Duke. Even if the man in her passenger seat was certifiably insane, it didn't explain everything else. Accepting that he was an alien would tie everything up in a neat little bow. But she couldn't just believe it . . . no matter how much she wanted to.
  "Stop just by the fence up there," says the Duke. Anise pulls up the car next to the construction site and turns off the engine and sits there thinking. As she does, the Duke gets out of the car, walks around to her door, opens it and says, "would you care to join me?"
He offers a hand to help her out. Anise stares at it, confused.
  "Wait. Just, wait a minute. If everything you've said is true, does that mean that, if I come with you . . . does that mean that I'll see a spaceship?"
  "Of course," says the Duke, moving his arm slightly to re-offer her his hand. Undoing her seatbelt, Anise takes his hand. Helping her to her feet, the Duke closes the door after her and, still holding her hand, leads her into the gap in the temporary fencing. The sun was finally rising and as they entered the half-complete first floor of the building, the orange light shone through the glassless windows, contrasting sharply against the cold, blue shadows. The Duke lets go of her hand as he heads over to the elevator doors.
  "Is this it?" asks Anise, her heart sinking as she looked around at the disconnected wiring, and the dust and dirt all over the floor.
  "It's a lot bigger than it looks," says the Duke. With a ding the door opens. The Duke steps into the elevator and flicks open the small panel beside the door on the back wall. Anise approaches out of curiosity, but couldn't see as the Duke retrieves a key from the chain around his neck, sliding it into the security lock inside the panel. As soon as he does, the rear door slides open and Duke steps inside his ship.
From a distance, Anise still didn't quite understand what she was seeing and so kept walking closer and closer until she was inside the elevator and then walked through onto the ship proper and the doors closed behind her. But even then she had trouble comprehending.
The room was tall, almost two storeys, and in the centre of the ceiling was a large column of clear glass with glowing blue lights, wires and machinery inside. Where the column attached to the ceiling it was surrounded with ornate Roman-style carved white marble. The entire roof was marble, a design that radiated out in a shallow dome that was almost ten metres across. There it attached to the walls, which were supported by eight large, marble pillars in each corner of the room. The walls themselves were made of some kind of steel which was covered with screens, panels and many small, round protuberances; and there were three other doors leading deeper into the ship. All of this sat on the floor which was a strange round chequered pattern of interchanging eggshell white and smoky light-grey marble tiles. The diamonds tiles were large at the edge of the room but became smaller and smaller as the pattern converged on the centre console, like a geometric spiderweb.
The console itself was a strange, eight-sided collection of jumbled, incomprehensible screens, levers, buttons, lights, controls, wires and circuitry, which surrounded the glass column in the centre.
Around the room was also some wooden furniture, what looked like some kind of Persian rug and a red velvet couch.
  "What on Earth is this?" asks Anise, looking up and slowly turning around to take it all in.
  "This is a Type Seventy-Two T.T. Capsule, Mark One. Miss Trevino, this is my 'spaceship'," says the Duke proudly as he approaches the console.
  "Wow . . . so it's all true then? The orb, the traveller and you. You're really an alien?"
  "Yes, I am," says the Duke, moving to another part of the console and fiddling with more of the equipment.
  "What are you doing?" asks Anise.
  "I'm trying to locate the orb. It's alien technology, it shouldn't be too hard to differentiate from terrestrial technology . . . but there are some anomalous readings here."
Anise walks up to console see what the Duke was doing, but it was nearly impossible to follow.
  "Wait a minute . . . didn't you say that the orb was like some kind of autopilot?"
  "And you also said that the world was in danger."
  "Yes, you have a very good memory."
  "What I'm sayin' is, how could an autopilot be dangerous to Earth? Isn't that just like a sat-nav? How could that hurt anyone?"
The Duke turns from the console and approaches Anise.
  "You don't understand. This isn't just any autopilot. It's not from Earth. It's much more complicated than anyone on this planet have ever seen before. It wasn't built to drive cars around roads. It was built for war. The orb is part of an alien war machine. A self-contained explosive device that seeks out and destroys the enemy."
  "You mean a bomb? A smartbomb?"
  "Yes. A very smart bomb." The Duke returns to the console and continues to adjust controls and check the screens. After a few moments of fiddling, accompanied by beeping screens and blinking lights, the Duke excitedly points to one of the screens "Yes! There, look: direction withershins to terrestrial revolution, approximately thirty degrees towards the negative pole. I've found it!"
  "Alright then," says Anise, "how do we get there?"
  "In the ship, of course."
  "The ship moves?"
  "According to the laws of physics, technically no."
  "Then how do we get there?"
  "Like this . . ." The Duke pulls a lever on the console, and with a loud thud the entire room begins to rumble and shudder as the machinery in the centre of the glass column starts to shift up and down accompanied by a strange whirring, grinding, wheezing sound. Anise stumbles around before falling back onto the velvet couch to ride out the strange quake.
The Duke replaces the lever and the ship stops shaking with a final thud.
  "What just happened?"
  "To put it simply, we teleported," says the Duke, walking up to Anise and offering her his hand. Anise takes the hand to stand up.
  "Right, so where did we teleport to?"
  "I don't know, exactly," says the Duke, "but the orb is less than 35 feet beyond those doors. Hopefully, I can attain it and escape."
  "Yes. Time is of the essence, now will you accompany me or not? I may still need a guide."
  "Guide. Yes, okay then. Lead the way . . . Duke."
Duke gives Anise a smile and walks to the door they came in, which opens automatically. Then he steps inside the interior of the elevator facade. Anise steps in beside him and the door closes behind them. Duke then opens the panel beside the console door and locks it using the key around his neck.
  "We're back in the lift?" asks Anise.
  "Actually, we're still in the ship. As standard, the Type Seventy-Two includes a false interior, to better disguise itself as added security."
  "So, this is, like, the lobby?"
  "Yes, an elevator lobby." Closing the panel, Duke turns to look Anise in the eye. "Now, I must warn you. We will have bypassed a lot of security by materializing within this facility, but there may be personnel guarding the orb itself. If you feel like you're directly in danger, return here and press this button." says the Duke, pointing towards a button near the bottom of the panel with a picture of a red bell, "The Lift will do the rest."
Anise nods, and the Duke presses the button to open the doors; they do so with a neat ding. Outside was a carpeted hallway, and by the industrial grey carpet, immaculate white walls and stark, neon lighting it was obvious that it was some kind of office building.
  "This way," says the Duke, heading left. The hallway was empty, but Anise was nervous as she kept close behind. They came to a door with a small sign that read Research & Development. The Duke grabs the handle, but it's locked, so he reaches into his jacket and pulls out the small tuning-fork device.
  "What is that thing?" Anise asks.
  "This? It's a laser spanner."
  "Laser spanner, okay . . . is it going to unlock the door?"
  "How could I unlock a door with a spanner?" asks the Duke. Anise shrugs.
The Duke takes a step back and kicks in the door.
  "Cease and desist!" commands the Duke, stepping into the room. Anise follows him inside, and is surprised at the scene. It was an office, like those for a cubicle farm, but all of the furniture and partitions had been cleared leaving just carpet, a grid of supporting square pillars and floor to ceiling windows all along the far wall overlooking the sunrise. All over the carpet were electrical wires and cables, leading to a space in the centre where two men were working on a small machine that was hovering about two feet off the ground and attached to most of the cables. The men were wearing blue overalls, orange hard hats and goggles, and were staring at the Duke, shocked. The machine in the middle was about the size of an average refrigerator and looked like a small fighter jet, except that it was mostly brass-coloured, covered in wiring, had enormous, complicated jet turbines on the back and, due to its scale, half of the jet was the pilot seat, which was left with the canopy sitting open.
  "Who are you?" asks one of the workmen.
  "I am the Duke of Rathea, and I am here for the orb," says the Duke, pointing his laser spanner at the two men, in turn they raise their hands. "I will not harm you. I will just take what belongs to me, and I'll go."
  "Is that a spaceship?" asks Anise.
  "Yes, a Belosian Intergalactic Spacejet. I assume it doesn't belong to them either."
  "Look, fella, if you want the orb, you can take it," says one of the workmen, stepping towards the spaceship.
  "Step away from the jet!" yells the Duke, but the man ignores him, stepping closer.
  "We installed the nav-computer into the ship. I just have to detach it."
  "You put the orb in a Belosian spacejet . . . ?" says the Duke, in utter disbelief.
  "Don't worry, I can unplug what we've done so far," he says, reaching into the driver canopy."
  "No! Step away!" screams the Duke. Suddenly, the ship emits a loud, high-pitched beeping sound. Everyone covers their ears.
  "What the hell is that?!" screams Anise. Suddenly, the driver canopy slides shut, severing many of the wires leading into it. Then the engine turbines ignite and almost immediately the spacejet shoots forwards, blasting straight through the glass windows with a sharp crash, snapping the remaining cables. As the ship leaves the building, it angles upwards into the sky and out of sight. The Duke looks at the mess in sheer dumbstruck horror as wind whistles through the giant hole in the broken windows. Then he turns and marches up to the technician who'd fallen on the floor closest to the newly severed and sparking wires. He grasps the man by his lapels and lifts him off the floor, looking him straight in the eye.
  "Do you have any idea what you've done?!" screams the Duke.
  "I . . . I was trying to remove it. Really, I was," wails the man. The Duke drops him back on the floor.
  "You useless fool . . ."
  "Uh . . . Duke?" says Anise, stepping forward, "what exactly has he done?"
  "The orb is tamper-proof," says the Duke coldly and slowly as he replaces the laser spanner inside of his jacket, "If someone attempts to sever its connection to an active rocket engine, it is programmed to escape, find a target & destroy it."
  "What? It'll explode?" asks Anise, but the Duke shakes his head.
  "No, it's not attached to a bomb anymore. The orb is just the piloting module, it finds a target and flies straight at it. But these fools wired it into a Belosian spacejet . . ."
  "I don't understand, does the jet have rockets? lasers?"
  "The Belosians are a simple people, with simple technology, for the most part. The ship runs on ordinary rocket fuel . . . but it's designed to travel between galaxies. In order to hold that much fuel, the ship contains a very small portal, in the fuel tank, that leads to a pocket dimension. That dimension is filled to the brim with rocket fuel."
  "So it will explode?"
  "At first . . . but it takes a huge quantity of fuel to travel intergalactically. Once that tank ruptures, billions and billions of litres of rocket fuel will come gushing out in a toxic wave, covering everything with a poisonous flood. Anything that doesn't drown will suffocate from the gas fumes . . ."
The Duke turns to the door and walks slowly out.
  "Wait . . . wait!" calls Anise, running into the hall after him, "what are you doing?"
  "I'm leaving," says the Duke, not bothering to face her.
  "Back to my own planet." Anise runs up behind him.
  "You can't just leave!" she screams. The Duke slowly turns to face her.
  "Your world is doomed. It's only a matter of time before the orb finds a worthy target and destroys itself. I might as well leave before I do any more damage."
  "Damage? But you've got a spaceship! And a laser spanner. You can do something!"
The Duke clenches his teeth and snarls through them, "Every world I set foot on crumbles to dust. Every country burns; every town bleeds & every person I've met has died in agony. Even if I try my best to save them, it all just seems to burn into ashes and slip through my fingers. I might as well leave before another world dies because of me . . ."
Anise looks him in the eye, then slaps him square in the face.
  "Ow! . . . how dare you!" the Duke growls.
  "My planet isn't dead yet, you arse. Before you go feelin' sorry for yourself, you could at least consider doin' the right thing. For goodness sake, I've met yer and I ain't dead yet."
The Duke sighs and shakes his head, "what would you have me do?"
  "We need to do something before the alien space-jet thingy locks onto a target."
  "We can't," says the Duke frowning, "if we try to do anything before it finds a target, then we would only risk making ourselves a . . ."
Suddenly, the Duke's eyes brighten up as he stares off into space.
  "What?" asks Anise. The Duke spins around, his leather coat swirling around him as he does so, and marches towards the Elevator. With Anise close behind he steps in, unlocks the interior and marches straight for the centre console. "Duke, what are you doing?"
  "I'm going to give the orb a target it can't resist. You might want to do up your safety belt, my dear." Anise sits down on the couch as the Duke messes with the console.
  "Where are we going?" asks Anise,
  "Up," says the Duke. He slams a button on the console and Anise feels her stomach sink as the entire ship shoots upwards with a rumbling sound. With a strange, low pop, the rumbling stops, and as the Duke adjusts the controls the ship stops ascending. Then with a ding, both the console room door and the exterior elevator door open, letting a cool wind whistle through the place. "I'll return in but a moment," says the Duke, disappearing through one of the other doors. Once he leaves, Anise slowly gets up off the couch and approaches the exit. She peeks outside and all she can see is a cloudy sky. She inches her way into the lobby, but as soon as she can see the ground over the lip of the door, with the rising sun peeking just above the horizon, she backs away slowly.
  "Oh my God . . . " she gasps, looking down at the city below. She could barely see the cars on the road, they were tiny specks. Looking up, she sees a small triangle in the distance, going around the edge of the city in a wide circle. From the speed it flew Anise knew it had to be the spacejet.
  "Anise, would you step aside, please?" asks the Duke. Anise turns and when she sees the Duke, she runs out of the way. In his hands, the Duke was holding what looked like a large water-pistol. Except it was buzzing softly, made of metal & the large barrel was wrapped with three rings of glowing, blue-neon light. The Duke cocks the rifle and as the lights pulsate the weapon makes a sound like a plane getting ready for lift-off. He pulls the trigger and something that looks like a ball of crackling lightning explodes from the end of the weapon and sails through the doors and into the sky.
  "What the HELL is that thing?" asks Anise.
  "This? It's rather useless." says the Duke, tossing the gun to the floor, "A lot of sound and fury, but the energy is barely lethal, and even then it disperses at little over 50 feet. But it is a weapon and it will have gained the attention of the orb."
  "Wait. Did you just turn us into a target?!" shrieks Anise, running to the door. Sure enough, the spacejet was getting larger and larger as it made it's way towards the ship.
  "Don't worry," says the Duke, "We'd never be able to outrun the spacejet in this ship, and even if we did it would just find a new target."
  "Is that supposed to make me feel better?!"
  "Calm down . . . that's why I didn't make the ship a target."
  "But it's comin' right for us!" Anise cries, pointing at the rapidly approaching ship.
  "It's not after the ship . . . it's after me," says the Duke. With that, he runs out the door.
  "DUKE!" screams Anise, she watches as Duke falls towards the ground, and the jet veers straight down to follow him. Anise slowly backs away from the door, shocked. The seconds seem to pass so slowly. Her entire world had been turned upside down so many times in the last few minutes, it was impossible to tell up from down. Nothing made any sense anymore.
  "Anise?" says a familiar, deep voice behind her. Anise turns, but can't see him.
  "Duke?" she says, approaching the console, where the voice was coming from.
  "Excellent, I've got the communicator working. This is the Duke."
  "I can tell, where the hell are you?"
  "I'm aboard the spacejet."
  "Right . . ."
  "I'm hailing you because you need to move the ship."
  "What?" asks Anise, her stomach sinking into her trainers.
  "As I feared, the jet's locked onto the T.T. Capsule. First, I need you to find a small, black button and press it." Anise looks at the complicated controls
  "How can I find anything in this mess?!"
  "Time is a factor, Anise." Anise looks over the console frantically, when she spots a very prominent lever.
  "Oh, bugger it." Anise randomly flicks three switches, presses a red button and, closing her eyes, she pulls the lever. With a thud, the ship starts to spin around wildly and Anise holds tight to the lever so as not to fall as the centre column starts to grind up and down, wheezing and whirring as it moves. Then the floor starts to shake and Anise lets go of the lever, the force sending her rolling across the rug on the floor. She tries to get to her feet and manages a low crouch until the ship stops with a thud, and knocks her off her feet again. Anise lies there for a moment before letting out a deep breath and finally getting off the ground.
  "Duke?" she says, but there's no answer. Anise walks up to the console and says it again, but still no answer, so Anise heads for the door. The console room door opens, but Anise is surprised to see the interior facade looks different. There are windows on both walls, looking at some kind of heavily structured frame, and the front doors themselves were basically a frame for two more large windows. Through them Anise could see a small landing across which was the doorway to another lift, that was obviously on another floor.
Anise steps forward but the doors don't move. Looking up and around she sees the word 'SORTIE' written on a small metal plaque above the door. She gives the doors a push before remembering how the Duke opened the doors before. Press the button on the panel to open the door, they slide open and immediately Anise notices how cold and dark it is outside. She walks out from the small elevator landing and sees a short railing amongst a skyline of blackness. As her eyes adjust she looks over the edge and can see a wide river in the distance, and a few scattered lights. Looking down, she can also just make out the foundations of the tower she was standing on, two widely spaced feet of steel, with criss-crossing supporting beams over the entire construction. Then, through the night air, there's the dull echo of an ambulance siren wailing through the streets, but it wasn't like the sirens in London, it was slow and melancholy.
  "Oh my God . . . I'm in Paris!" screams Anise, jumping up and down. She runs to the end of the railing and looks out over the River Seine, which was very quiet in the early morning before sunrise. Then she turns and looks up, but can't see the top of the tower against the darkness. "I'm on the Eiffel Tower!"
Anise runs around like a giddy schoolgirl, trying to see the cityscape through the dark as she stood, alone, on the second floor of the Eiffel tower. After a while, she sees the very beginnings of the sunrise, for a second time that day. The sun breaches the horizon and pours out over France. She feels the warmth on her face and smiles as she closes her eyes and soaks it in.
When she opens her eyes again, she sees something else on the horizon. A familiar triangular speck, but very far away.
  "Oh no . . ." Anise runs back to the ship and up to the console.
  "Duke! Duke, can you hear me?"
No answer.
  "Damn it, Duke!" she yells, running back outside. She peers around the side of the tower, but the triangle is still getting closer. She runs right back to the centre console and grabs hold of the lever, "Fairwell, Paris."
She pulls the lever and . . . nothing happens.
  "What? No . . . NO!" she yells, yanking the lever again. "Duke? The lever's not workin' . . . damn it Duke, answer me!"
Anise runs back outside and sees the ship is getting closer by the second. She runs to the edge of the railing and screams.
  "Duke! Can you hear me?!" The ship continues straight for the tower, less than a minute away. So Anise takes another look at the sun and closes her eyes. She can hear the engines roaring as it nears. Finally, taking a deep breath, Anise decides to face the monster and opens her eyes just as the ship is 30 feet away. However, with a sharp diminuendo, the engine quietens to a soft humm and the jet comes to a stop just inches from the railing. The driver canopy opens and the Duke stands up in his seat.
  "Here, catch," says the Duke, tossing something at Anise. With quick reflexes, Anise catches the thing and recognizes it as the orb.
  "You did it?!" cries Anise.
  "Well, it wasn't exactly easy," says the Duke, "could you not have relocated the ship a little further away?"
  "Couldn't you give a girl a little warning before you go sky-diving from thirty thousand feet without a parachute?!"
The Duke just sits down and closes the canopy. He flies the jet, slowly, up over the railing and, hovers not far over Anise's head, then navigates around the tower towards the Elevator. Anise jogs around to catch up with him.
He lands the spacejet, jumps out and enters the Elevator lobby, then retrieves the key from around his neck and opens the hidden panel. He unlocks one of the switches and pushes a button. As he does the lobby makes the sound of a moving lift, which looked rather odd since it didn't appear to be moving at all. Finally, a mechanical voice says 'Hangar Bay', and the doors slide open to reveal a dimly lit but very large space. The Duke swiftly hops back into the spacejet, and flies it inside. By the time Anise approaches the Elevator, the Duke had already walked back out and closed the door behind him.
  "Uh-uh . . . we don't want you wandering around in there," says the Duke.
  "Why not?" asks Anise. The Duke inserts the key in another switch and the elevator 'moves' again, without moving.
  "This ship is a lot larger than it appears. You wouldn't want to get lost down there. It could easily take you days to find your way out. Perhaps weeks. Months . . ."
'Console room' says the mechanical voice again, and the doors open to reveal just that.
  "Come on then," says the Duke. Anise follows him inside again.
  "Alright. What do we do with this now?" she says, holding up the orb. The Duke takes it from her and places it beside the console.
  "Now . . ." says the Duke grimly, fiddling with the controls, "I have to take that back home."
He pulls the lever with a thud, and Anise just manages to cling onto one of the marble pillars as the ship whirrs, grinds and groans; tilts, heaves and shifts and finally thuds.
  "But first, I have to take you back home."
The Duke walks to the door, which opens, and with a ding so too does the exterior door. He stands patiently beside it. Anise walks past him to find herself standing in the hallway just outside her apartment.
  "Home? Wait . . . what? I just go back home? Just like that?" she asks, turning to face him.
  "Yes. I have to take the orb back to my planet."
  "Take me with you!"
Anise runs back inside the ship.
  "This is a spaceship. We just saved the world! What, you want me to go back to my life? Partying, drugs and sex? That's nothing compared to a rush like this. We could go anywhere in the galaxy!"
  "Anise . . ."
  "Duke! You can't expect me to go back home, not after seein' all this. Please, can't I come back with you?" she says, walking right up next to him.
The Duke looks her in the eye, worried, and says: "No."
  "Why not?"
He opens his mouth, stops himself and closes it. Then closes his eyes and shakes his head.
  "Goodbye, Anise."
Slowly, she sighs and walks out of the Elevator. As the door closes behind her, Anise hears the thud and slow grinding sound of the ship, which begins to fade to silence as it slowly vworps away.

Anise had made herself another cup of coffee and was sitting on the couch, staring at the wall when her phone rang. Lazily she wandered over and picked it up.
  "Annie, it's Bianca! What are you doing?"
  "It's six in the morning, Bee. I was out saving the world."
  "'Lol'," says the voice on the phone, chuckling, "Really funny, honey. I'm calling because there's a party at Simon's today. I was thinking we could have pre-drinks at mine. You interested?"
Anise looks over at her couch, where an alien man had been sleeping earlier that day and shakes her head.
  "Sure, why not. I have nothing better to do with my life."
  "Mhmm . . . okay then," says the voice on the phone, "starts at 8 o'clock, but you can rock up whenevs. See you then, Annie!"
  "Bye," says Anise, but Bianca had already hung up.
Anise has another shower, to wash off what was left of her adventure and puts on more clubbing clothes. A loose-fitting, pale blue short-sleeved shirt with a little vest and two long and loose silver necklaces; a pair of denim cut-offs; a stack of bangles on her left wrist; deep mascara and eye-liner with a light dabbling of glitter gel around her right eye & black heels.
  "If I'm gonna live a wasted life, I might as well be wasted . . ." Anise tells the sad girl in the mirror. Heading for the door, she grabs her phone and keys off the bench and slips them in her pockets. She heads for the lift and presses the Down button. The door opens immediately with a ding, to reveal the Duke.
  "What are you doing here?" asks Anise
  "I'm sorry," says the Duke, "I was incredibly selfish before. It's true that I can't take you back to my planet, but the fact remains that you helped in no small part to save this planet from devastation and retrieve the orb. Yet, for your effort, you've been given nothing in return. This is an injustice, in my opinion. So, in return for your efforts to save this world and preserve order, I will take you anywhere you want to go."
Anise crosses her arms and peers at him through sharp, piercing eyes.
  "It took you an hour to change your mind?"
  "It was much longer, from my perspective."
  "Right . . ."
  "I mean it I'll take you anywhere you want to go. Or any time."
Anise opens her mouth, then closes it.
  "Did you say any time?"
  "Yes," says the Duke, "I told you before, it's a timeship. It travels through space–"
  "–and time?" says Anise, smiling, "that's impossible."
  "Then let me show you how to accomplish the impossible," says the Duke, offering his hand. Unable to contain the smile on her face, Anise takes his hand and the two of them enter the Elevator. "So, Anise Trevino, where do you want to go?"
Anise just smirks and says: "Everywhere . . ."