It was college. Ho-hum. I walked home with my backpack on my back and my head in the clouds, not noticing my surroundings. I do that too much. Honestly, Fort Bragg Road isn't too bad on the way between school and the house. There's the old church to pass by, some cute houses, two haircutting places, and that new building some guys have been working on for the past month or so. It looks like a residential place, but I'm not sure yet. In Fayetteville we get a lot of businesses that work out of regular-looking houses.
But I'm not paying attention, like I said. I was off in la-la land, enjoying myself. The song "Dark Heart Dawning" by BT was stuck in my head, which isn't too bad of a thing, because it's such a happy, content song. I had just discovered this song, as well as Ashley Carr's remix of Illuminor, and well, techno is one of the happiest things in the world. To me, anyway. I was in an especially good mood because I didn't work that night, and I had the next day off of both work and school because of mid-term break.
"And in the age of love," I sang quietly, "I found my sacred place...where I can hide-"
Whoops! Someone was on the church lawn trying to mow it. I looked straight ahead, avoiding the eyes of the redneck-ish guy starting up his John Deere. No, silly man, no need to smile at me. I wasn't singing at all! Nope! Not me! Politely, I glanced in his direction and nodded. There! I'd officially fulfilled my obligation to be friendly to strangers who are looking at me funny. Moving on!
Thankfully he started up the lawn mower at that point, and I could go on singing my songs. I don't know all the lyrics to Dark Heart Dawning, so I skipped over to a song that I wrote: Cafiza. It's a love song about expresso machine cleaner. Hey, don't judge. If you were a former barista, you'd like cafiza too.
"Up til now I'd say I'm fine," I sang, distancing myself from the lawn mower. Oh good, no one was coming out of the haircutter's place. "But not so today. Parts of me I thought were mine, slowly fall away....uh?"
I stopped singing because of the stuff around me. It was like cloud around me, thin wisps of some sort of finger-like mist beginning to circle me. As it thickened and grew around me, it turned various shades of electric blue and separated me from the street. I swatted at the mist, but it did nothing more than swirl a little faster. I was trapped -- but only for a second or two. Soon enough the mists cleared away. However, the sigh of relief caught in my throat. This was no longer Fayetteville.
Instead of the open air of a public street, there were walls of a gold-colored metal, with various computer-ish modules and pipes hanging on from the floor to the fifteen feet high ceiling. Instead of cracked cement under my feet there was some sort of polished floor. And instead of blue sky, the window above a cushioned platform (if it was a seat, it was too high to sit on without climbing it first) showed the eerie blackness of space.
Scattered about all these places were various random items. Under the platform was a leaking 2 liter of soda. Leaning against one of the computers was one of those small Japanese tables, complete with a plaid yukata-blanket around the rim. A suitcase, closed, lay about two feet in front of me.
"What is this?" I mused aloud, because talking to myself is fun. "Is this like one of those 'I spy' games where we have to find everything that doesn't match?"
The small timid voice came from my left. It was a small, Asian girl, very skinny and pale, halfway hiding behind some kind of support pillar. She wore a very boring khaki skirt, with a very boring blue shirt on top (you know, that sort of blue that is a cross between blue and grey). I felt immediately saddened as I saw her haggard face and the uncertain way her fingers tightened around the corner of the support pillar.
"Choson saramiehyo?" I asked, already guessing the answer.
She nodded, then started to say something. I caught the word Miguk (America) somewhere in there, but quite frankly, I only know enough korean to make myself sound smart in front of non-Koreans. The girl was talking way too fast for me to understand.
"Aniyo, chon-chonhi. Hanguk...er...chosonmal..." I tried, starting to reach the limits of my vocabulary. It's so weird. My korean book taught me me to ask for three types of alcohol in the first chapter, but I still didn't know how to say that I only know a little of the Korean language. "Chosonmal mot....chal mot malsseyo..."
I don't know if she understood me. She was too busy screaming. I instantly snapped around. Standing not four feet in front of me was a giant Protoss. The markings on his face made it easier to recognise who he was, but there's a lot of difference between a pixelated image and the real thing. Besides, you try suddenly finding yourself in front of an elaborately robed, pissed off reptillian giant with no face and not be at least a little awed.
"Gah! Oh!" After a second, I was able to breath again, and I almost wanted to laugh. "Um, don't scare me like that. Hey, Agasshee, kwenchannayo. Protoss saramiehyo."
"Ne. kwenchanna....I think..."
The Asian girl didn't show any sign of coming out from behind the pillar. I didn't blame her. I told her that everything was alright, but Judicator Aldaris was still giving me the stink eye. And quite frankly, when someone has big, glowing red eyes, they can do the stink eye pretty well.
"What are you doing on my vessel?" Aldaris snapped. "How did you get here?"
"I don't know..." I sputtered. "I just appeared-"
"Cease speaking and get over here." Aldaris jerked my arm out of the room before turning his glare to the Asian. "You also. Quickly!"
The girl hesitated, but I gestured her over before Aldaris got too much angrier. He shoved us both through the halls of his ship (we figured out that part a little later), revealing more passageways, floors, and computer consoles covered in random whatnots. There were half a box of tropical Yankee Candles in one doorway. A blanket was draped over something on the wall, and a pissed Aldaris flung it down to the floor. We had to dodge a mess of colored pencils scattered around the floor to get to our destination.
Two massive doors opened to reveal a huge room filled with an entire wall of monitors and whatever consoles the engineers could fit in between. The glowy, blinky lights sort of stunned me and the Asian, but we had enough presence of mind to step aside and let Mr. Cranky Pants get by. He passed us like a speeding truck, rushing on the console and banging on the keyboard (I think it was a keyboard, but for 'Toss) furiously.
"You!" he ordered with the point of his arm. "Sit there and touch nothing!"
We glanced over to the left, where there were a few chairs. Two of them were beside different stations, but we figured that he meant some seating along the back wall and out of reach of the consoles. Aldaris wasn't paying us much attention at the point, but we obeyed anyway. It was like trying to sit on a high stool, but we could climb up on it without looking too silly.
"Kwenchanna?" the girl asked sarcastically as she slumped against the seat.
"Shikurowayo." I muttered. It wasn't my fault Aldaris was so cranky.
Actually, it really wasn't. Judging from the images and frantically blinking Protoss words scrolling across those dang monitors, it was clear something was going on with his ship. It made me antzy, so I just looked around instead. This room, like all the others, was also not free from assorted Earth debris. There were some coloring books on the floor, as well as a chipped sculpture of some kind of forest animal. Spying a package of strawberries, I climbed down and got it. They were still stickered into the little plastic bin, and since they were still cold to the touch, they'd probably been in a fridge not too long ago. I ripped off the label.
"Hey, Colleen," I brought the strawberries to the Asian girl. There's no chance in the world that Colleen is her real name, but she looked like a Colleen. "Mukgoseyo. Strawberries. Choayo."
I snagged one of the strawberries from off the top before handing the rest to Colleen. I wasn't really hungry, but Colleen was a North Korean, so strawberries would be good for her because they're not processed food. I just took one to show that it was food. Colleen, a little reluctantly, paused before she touched the bin of strawberries in her lap. She glanced over at Aldaris before shrugging and just eating the strawberries. She seemed to like them, but I didn't realize until she bit into one that there were probably pesticides or something on it.
For the moment, I had to assess everything. Here we were, an American and a Korean in some strange place filled with scattered items and a cranky Protoss. Since the place was so big, clearly we were in Protoss territory, I guessed. I got the haunted feeling that we were trapped inside Starcraft itself! Though for the moment, I kept those thoughts to myself and went over to a window-looking thing (it might have been another monitor or something) and peered outwards. I could see the graceful fins of a Protoss starship blocking part of the view. The rest of the view was just stars.
Oh. I realized. We're in space. We literally could be anywhere now.
Some of the blinking lights on the various monitors stopped. A red warning message still appeared on the main monitor Aldaris was using, but he seemed a little calmer than before. Aldaris stared at his monitors with a sigh. He kicked away a set of tupperware out from under the console and started to type again. A blank side screen lit up, revealing a picture of a friendly, familiar planet.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Good, we're still at Earth. Awesome."
As if he'd forgotten us in the past two seconds, Aldaris snapped around, astounded and madder than ever. "You mean to say I have come this far?"
"Well, yeah. I should have guessed. All this stuff on your ship is Earth stuff."
Aldaris literally paled. I didn't think reptile skin could do that. Once again, he simply ignored us and started typing on his computer again. An assortment of Protoss lettering crossed several of the monitors, and Aldaris pounded his fist against the console.
"So what exactly is going on?" I asked. "How did we get here?"
Aldaris glared at me a moment, but he must have guessed there was no harm in answering my question. He sighed....or the Protoss equivalent. I don't know if they have normal lungs or what.
"There is...a problem with my vessel. I do not know precisely what it is." he punched a few more buttons on his console. "There seems to have been a power surge of some sort that is affecting my vessel's recall ability. Now..." here he turned back to me, leaning down a little to get that perfect glare to full affect. "What exactly were you doing?"
"Me? I was walking down the street." I shrugged. "Colleen here, erm, actually I don't know her real name. Uh, hey, irumi mwoyehyo?"
"Na?" Colleen looked up from her strawberries. She was half finished already. "Lee Cheonha-ehyo."
"Bethany Beverly-ehyo." I responded, then turned back to Aldaris. "Yeah, she's Cheonha, and I'm Bethany."
"That is not what I meant." If Aldaris narrowed his eyes any further he was going to be walking around with his eyes shut. "Are you aware of any sort of human technology that is capable of interfering with my systems?"
"Yeah," I folded my arms. "Weird you're just demandin' information, when if I had the sort of job which entailed having that information I wouldn't tell you. As it so turns out, all I know is that my government's cut spending on space exploration."
"What? You are lying!" Aldaris rose to his full height, shoving a finger in my face. "You mean to tell me that the United Earth Directorate has cancelled its own fleets and restrained them to this sector? Impossible! I know that at this very time they are in the Koprullu Sector, completing whatever scheme they can to dominate those few pathetic human worlds."
I blinked. He was so serious. He simply had no clue what he was in for, and I got the sense he knew I was feeling bad for him. This didn't make him any less angry.
"Look at that screen." I pointed to the picture of the Earth. "That's live monitoring, yes?"
"Okay then. If the UED is out there, then why aren't there any UED ships? It's because there are none. All you're liable to see is some TV satellites and whatnot. Hey wait a minute. How close are we to the planet right now?"
"I do not know how to convert our measurements into yours." Aldaris replied, getting more irritated at by the minute. "Why?"
"Uh, well, my dad's a former NASA test subject, and he says that we've got a pretty good range on being able to detect stuff in space. There's a good chance they may know you're here. You might want to hide behind the moon or something. It should block the signals from Earth, I think."
"And you're telling me this because...?"
"Simple." I grinned. "This is insanely interesting, and I want to find out what happens!"
Aldaris raised an eyebrow at that, but for the moment, he just placed his hands over two flat panels. They lit up as he moved his fingers, reacting like a theremin to his motions. The view on the screens changed with the movement of the ship, and we cruised over toward the moon. It was pretty cool to see it up close.
"So what we know so far is that there was a power surge," I tapped my chin. "And that somehow zapped a bunch of random Earth stuff -- including some people -- and they all got sucked on your ship. I feel bad, though. There's no way to tell where all this stuff came from. I hope we didn't take anything from a poor person."
"People?" a new voice said, with footsteps accompanying it. "What's going on?
It was someone I didn't know. Considering all the random stuff that was on the ship, I guess I shouldn't have been expecting someone I knew. It was a black guy, pretty well built -- which was actually a little surprising, as he was wearing a Doctor Who shirt and giant scarf, typical of the fourth Doctor.
Snap! I tried my hardest not to laugh. What a golden opportunity!
"Why, it's one of our fans!" I exclaimed in the closest thing I could to a British accent, rushing over to shake his hand. "Why, it's always great to meet one of our fans!"
"Wha? Who are you?" the stunned guy let me shake his hand. He was probably too busy staring at everything to resist.
"I know I don't look anything like my counterpart on the show, but I'm Romana!" I gleefully giggled. "And of course, you probably won't recognise the Doctor. He's not quite what he looks to be on the television show."
I gestured over at Aldaris, and quite frankly, the look I got on both guys' faces was worth it. Aldaris glared again and just turned back to the computer, but the new guy was just aghast. His mouth dropped open, and for a moment, he could do little more than make little gasping sounds.
"Ah...ah...so...you mean the show is...real?" he gasped, in a very nice accent. Black guys with British accents are hot. "It's true?"
"The earlier shows were a bit more accurate." I laughed. "These new ones? Not so much. And the Doctor doesn't regenerate. He just lives a long time."
"Do not listen to any of the nonsense she is telling you." Aldaris muttered. "The girl is lying."
"Aw, man, you didn't have to be such a spoilsport." I stuck my tongue out. "Come on, Aldaris, you have to think that's at least a little funny."
With the impact of a jackhammer, Aldaris slammed his fist against the console. All three humans jumped. The Protoss turned around slowly for the full impact of his evil eyes. Heck, it's like the dude practiced in front of a mirror to look as scary as possible.
"What did you say?" Aldaris snarled. "How is it that you know my name?"
"I most certainly did not." he stepped a little forward, and I stepped back. My strides aren't as long as his. "I made the specific point of not telling you."
"Uh....uh..." I was still kinda stunned from his display. I flatter myself that I'm a brave person, but sometimes that's just not true. It didn't help that the Brit had backed up a couple steps so that anything bad that happened would only happen to me. In his defense, Aldaris looked like he was going to spontaneously develop laser eyes any second.
"Well, you see, it's kind of a long story." I winced. "As it so turns out, you're...fictitious."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that you're not real. Or else, before today I would have said you weren't real. There's this game called Starcraft, and you're a character in it. Well, unless there's another Judicator Aldaris who looks a lot like you and is from the planet Aiur."
Aldaris blinked, dropping out of his ferocious act (I hope it was an act). His eyes shifted suspiciously in my direction, but I wasn't lying, and he could tell. Suddenly his hand shot out, pointing behind me.
"You!" he snapped. "Sit there with that girl."
"She's Cheonha..." I protested, though weakly.
"Whatever! And you..." Unfortunately, he turned to me. "You shall explain to me more of this, though certainly it is another of your lies."
"I wasn't lying to...him." I said, realizing I didn't know his name. "I was just joking. Besides, I might as well tell you the truth. There's proof enough of it back on Earth. Okay, so there's this game called Starcraft, made by the company Blizzard. They also made Warcraft and Diablo. Uh, Starcraft came out back in 1995, and they released an expansion pack in 1998 called Brood War. After a few years of nothing to speak of during the franchise, they released Starcraft 2. It was divided into three parts-"
"Wait," he asked. "If this...game was released in your year 1995, then what year is it now?
"Then I have traveled to the past." Aldaris said softly. "When the UED did not exist."
"There would seem to be more to it than that." I said. "Thing is, Starcraft is set in the year 2449, right at the beginning. That's not very long in historical terms. If we have a really popular game now, then I doubt in five hundred years that we'd forget all of it. I mean, we know plenty about five hundred years into now's past, and now that we have computers and search engines, information isn't just going to disappear. Eventually somebody's going to go, 'Hey...Protoss? Zerg? Hm, these things sound familiar...' It's more likely that isn't isn't the direct past of your sector. Or so I'm going to guess. It might be possible that all our computers were destroyed and nobody remembers."
Before Aldaris could continue, the computer behind him suddenly started to beep. Aldaris whipped around (why in the world wasn't there a chair at that station?) and started hammering on the controls. His fingers flew, and he said something I didn't understand, but probably wasn't the nicest in polite company.
"Chigum musun irawyo?" Cheonha huffed.
"Is it the power surge?" I asked.
"Power surge?" the Brit raised an eyebrow. "Wait, is that what-"
SNAP! Well, actually, it only felt like a snap. It looked more like a brilliant flash of many layers of light, like a hand of lightning closed its finger around me. And then instantly disappeared. Once again, I had transported. This time, the situation was a little different. I wasn't in Fayetteville, or on Aldaris' ship. I was in the water. I froze. Right there, a mere five feet in front of me, were the distinctive profiles of two sharks.
Thus begins the (slightly) true story of how I met my alien best friend.