The smoke from the crash site rose high on the horizon blotting out the mid-day sun. It was a recent crash. The fires were still fresh and the metal still glowing orange from reentry. The crater that the wreck lay half-buried in was still settling with clouds of sandy-earth blown about by the light breeze that swept the barren valley it had come to rest in.
Lonn Rel knew something about the crash wasn’t right. He’d watched it descend from the heavens and break the sound barrier right above his head before it had hit solid land in the barren valley to the west of his position.
His glossy-black spine-scales rippled over his head and body in uneasiness as he crouched on the small ridge that overlooked the valley and the fresh crater. Amber Colony may have been in the middle of nowhere out in space, but it was a rock with many resources. It wasn’t uncommon for a prospecting craft to have problems and fall from the sky every now and again; Amber had an odd, distorted magnetic field that messed with a ship’s instruments.
But a crash like this one was very uncommon. Through the smoke and settling dust, Rel could see the outline of the spacecraft, if that was what it had been at all. It was oblong, rounded and lumpy, as if it were an escape pod from a ship. He could made out ports for thrusters on it and a what looked to be a tinted canopy where the pilot would be located, but there were no markings on the craft that he could make out through the smoke billowing around it. A fire had started in the engine compartment he assumed from the amount of smoke that was billowing up.
If anyone is alive in there, they won’t be for long, he thought to himself. There is a slim chance though.
Rel waited, watching. If there was someone alive, he was obligated to report the crash to the colony proper, but if the occupants were dead, it was fare game for salvage. Those were the rules on Amber.
It had been one year since the the Crisis, ten months since the Wormholes opened, nine months since the War started and three months since the power balance of known space had been redistributed. With the core worlds and the inner colonies under siege the fringe had all but been forgotten about. The few inhabited worlds that were on the inner fringe had descended into lawlessness, the outer fringe had always been that way, so nothing much had changed there… and Amber had been left to itself out in the middle of nowhere.
The ruling council on Amber had cracked down, but that had not stopped the riots or the crime rates from escalating. Everyone was panicking, wondering if Amber would be the next world to be invaded. Rel didn’t care either way. He had himself to feed and his rent still yet to pay.
His red, hawk-like eyes had glazed over as he waited for any sign of life to show from the downed craft. The smoke had started to thin out and the dust had settled some. The craft still looked red hot to the touch though.
The sudden sound of a loud hiss caught Rel’s attention and he focused his gaze on the craft looking for where the sound was coming from. He saw it then. The canopy had popped open a small ways. There was another loud hiss and then without warning the tinted canopy blew from the hull with a loud crack and clanged against the side of the crater, coming to a rest.
Rel craned his neck rocking forward to get a better view into the cockpit, or what he assumed was the cockpit. The form of a body lay inside, but it didn’t look like a cockpit at all, it looked like a stasis chamber, something he’d once seen in a science fiction vid.
What is this thing? he thought, leaning forward even more to get a better look inside, still waiting for any sign of life.
A buzzing suddenly rose in his ears and he swatted around his head to try and drive the annoying and ever present bugs away. Too late his realized the buzzing was static coming from his small comm-set that he had clipped around his ear. He ripped it from his ear as the static grew in volume. What was happening with it? he wondered. Something caught his eye then and he looked down at the loose white shirt he was wearing. A blue-green line of light wrapped around his chest and arms blinking rapidly as it moved down the length of his body.
Startled he stumbled backward and his bottom hit the ground hard.
There was a squawk from his comm-set as if it were receiving and incoming call. Warily he brought it up to his ear. It was then he heard the voice emanating from it. It was barely audible, let alone understandable, English, the human’s language. As a dekk, his species was physiologically and socially different from humans, but he’d had to learn their customs and speech to live and work with them on Amber.
“[Data received.] [Communication device detected.] [Sentient detected within one hundred meters.] [Compatible language pathways detected.] [Beginning message: ]” The voice changed then. “The last gate had been unlocked. He carries the key to what lies within…” The rest of the message ended in overpowering static and Rel ripped the comm-set from his ear once again
What had he just heard? Rel didn’t have that answer… but maybe… His eyes fell on the craft and the person within. Rising up on his taloned feet, he jumped down from the small ridge, his tool belt jingling as he landed and started toward the craft. What was he doing? He was a mining surveyor. He wasn’t a medic or anything of the like. And he mostly definitely didn’t like humans all that well.
Sliding down into the crater, he gingerly made his way around the still smoldering, scattered pieces of the craft. Testing how hot the hull was when he got close enough, he deemed it cool and climbed up on top of the wreck, straddling the opening where the canopy had been. The being inside was a human, without a doubt, and he was naked save for one thing that caught Rel’s eye. Around the young human’s left wrist was a thin silver circlet that glinted in the afternoon light.
“He carries the key…” mumbled Rel to himself. He noticed the young man’s chest then, rising and falling softly. “Life. I can’t leave him hear.”
Putting his comm-set up to his ear he touched the controls and then sighed. There was no signal that he would be able to get to the colony through the static that still emanated from it. Stowing the comm-set in his tool-belt, he looked down at the human. “Well, this is just great.” He shifted his weight and gingerly stepped into the opening, so he could bend down to pull the young man free. “I’m going to have to carry you back with me.”