"So, where are you guys from?" I asked. If I was going to be stuck in the back of Aldaris' ship with these people, I might as well get to know them. "I got zapped here from America."
"Me too." John stretched out his legs. "I'm from California."
"I'm from London." Toby said. "We'll be lucky if he brings us back to where we live."
"We'll be lucky if we live." John retorted as he picked up a random pack of Scottish shortbread. He'd found it on the floor, but since it was still in its package, it was probably safe to eat. "Aldaris hates humans."
"How do you know so much about the alien?" Toby asked me and John. "You're acting as if you know who he is."
"We do." John answered. "What makes things really strange is that he shouldn't even be here right now. He's not real. He's a fictitious character from the game Starcraft."
"You haven't even heard of it?"I asked. "Starcraft was one of the most popular computer games out there in the past ten years. That, and Starcraft II ads have been everywhere, since Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm just came out."
"Not where I live." Toby thought a moment. "Wait, was it that ad with the alien woman, and where a spaceship crashed into the Earth?"
"That wasn't Earth." John said. "Starcraft takes place in the K Sector."
"Oh. So he's really not supposed to be here. Well, as bizarre as all of this has been, I wouldn't want to miss it for the world." Toby turned to me. "So does he really hate humans?"
"Oh yeah." I nodded. "We're like little barbarians to him. Or no, more like animals that can't take care of ourselves. The good news is, he's not particularly violent and probably won't kill us."
John raised an eyebrow. "Probably?"
"Probably. He's a pretty civilized guy who doesn't like to get his hands dirty. I don't see him stabbing us or anything like that."
"Do you see him teleporting us out into the dead of space?"
"So he's definitely NOT the Doctor." Toby sighed and leaned back against the wall. "My first space adventure, and it goes like this..."
"What, were you expecting to go on adventures in space?" John snorted, nibbling a little shortbread. "You're not one of those crazy people that think aliens are just waiting out there, ready to show us the secrets of the universe?"
"No, of course not. It's just that this one," -- Toby gestured over toward me -- "Got me all excited for a minute there with her Doctor talk. But I do think we should try to be optimistic. Come on, we should try to think of what we should do next."
"The only things we can do," Toby said between bites of shortbread. "Is either wait and see or go attack him."
"Attacking would be bad." I yawned before continuing. "Even assuming we can defeat a giant reptile monster, he's the only one who knows how this ship works. Besides, I like Protoss. I don't want to fight them."
Toby nodded. "We should be open to new cultures and people."
"Yeah, because Aldaris is so open." John rolled his eyes. "Fine. So what do you open people suggest we do?"
With a burst of electricity to my left, all conversation ceased. We jumped back as the blue glow grew. It subsided only a few seconds later, and there before us was nothing scary: just Cheonha, sitting in a sofa-chair, covered by a blanket. Her eyes wrinkled, and she opened them only wide enough to look around. Spotting us, her grumpy grimace deepened.
"ALDARISU!" she screamed. "ALDARISU PAHBOYAH!"
With that, Cheonha pulled the blanket over her head and hunkered down into her chair. We just stared at one another, then as the shock passed, we sat back down again, this time with Toby at a better angle to see behind himself; it's not exactly pleasant when a big ball of electricity suddenly appears behind you.
"The real issue here is what Aldaris wants to do." I said, making sure my voice wasn't too loud so Cheonha could sleep. "He's in a strange place with a bunch of weirdo little midgets running around. His ship can't run forever without fuel and he's got to figure out how he got here in the first place. Well, unless all of you are figments of my imagination and I'm dreaming all of this stuff while locked up in an asylum."
Toby jokingly poked his arm. "No, I'm pretty sure I'm real."
"I would have way better insane delusions." John added. "With better food for one. And something to drink besides ginseng soda."
"Ginseng soda? Seriously?"
"Oh yeah." John held up a bottle of the stuff. "Orange flavor, no less."
"Ew. Well, at least my delusion has aliens." I grinned. "Anyway, sooner or later Aldaris is going to have to get help from earth, even if it's as little as something to power this ship. So it's more or less an inevitability that people are going to find out about him. So what we need to do is get him to tell people that he's here, and then no one will get too freaked out. So we can't tell anybody about him until he's ready."
"Wait, what? No!" John exclaimed. "That could be dangerous! There's no telling what he'll do if we just let him do what he wants! He could take us by surprise!"
"One ship?" Toby questioned. "Unless he has nukes, I don't see how one spaceship can do anything to Earth."
"Besides, even nukes aren't all that powerful on a global scale." I pointed out. "Fat Man and Little Boy didn't take out the entirety of Nagasaki and Hiroshima."
"That makes me feel better." John huffed, folding his arms. "Need I remind you what the Protoss did to Chau Sara? They blew the entire thing up."
"Wait, WHAT?" Toby's eyes widened to the size of truck tires. "They can do that?"
"Again, you're making a lot of assumptions about one ship." I tried again. "I very much doubt-"
"And what if he decides to call his friends, hm?" John retorted. "Don't you try and say that he can't contact the K-Sector from here, because if the humans could send transmissions back and forth from here to the K-Sector, then so can 'Toss. I say our only option is to destroy the ship. We might not get back to Earth, but at least we can save....uh, save it."
The stuttering wasn't his fault. John was the loudest of us, and he was also at the right angle where he could be the first one to see Cheonha's face as it peeked out from under the blanket. Like a very cranky bear, she silently threatened John's life before hiding back under her covering. John cleared his throat and subdued himself a little.
"You're forgetting that this isn't his universe." I said, glad that he probably wouldn't interrupt me again. "He can contact the 'K-Sector' all he wants -- it's there, not here, just like the UED isn't here. Secondly, if he was going to send a message back home, he's had plenty of time to do so since we got here. And, thirdly, I really wouldn't start planning an attack back here, not where he can hear us."
"He's probably at the bridge, and we're pretty far back in the ship." Toby pointed out. "Does his telepathy go this far?"
"I'm not entirely sure. Somehow I doubt it. But think a minute. If you're a human-phobe 'Toss and you've got three of us little folk stranded on your ship, are you really going to let them just sit there and plan something bad? If he can't listen with his head, he can at do it with his computer."
We sat there in silence a moment, John paler than the other two of us. I'd already figured he was listening, but it was still unsettling. What do you say in a situation like that?
"I didn't mean it, Aldaris!" John raised his voice, looking around as if for a hidden microphone. "I was just joking!"
"He's not going to believe that." Toby said.
"Shikkuro!" a cranky Cheonha hissed.
After another awkward pause, I spoke again, quietly. "Okay, so what we have to do is just get him to let us go for now. It won't help him stay hidden if he kills us or keeps us here."
"Yeah." said Toby.
"Uh huh." said John.
Another pause, interrupted only by a yawn from Cheonha on her chair. Seriously, I know Aldaris wanted us back on the ship so we didn't blab on him or something, but stealing someone's stuff is not cool. It's bad enough he accidentally teleported all this random stuff on the ship. There's no way he could return it all to the proper places. Not to mention the fact that the guys ate whoever's shortbread and I was wearing somebody's clothes. Ew. I know that's what you're doing when you're trying on an outfit, but it's extra gross when you don't know how long they wore they clothes before you put them on.
"Let's look at all the stuff." I suggested. "It's something to do."
"We looked already." Toby yawned, indicating a small pile of things over to John's right. "There isn't too much here, and I don't think we can get any use out of five empty bottles, two broken chair legs, a pack of pudding, and a suitcase full of strange money."
"Strange money?" I asked. "From what country?"
"I don't know." John said. "It's got all this weird writing on it, so it's not from the west."
I got up and went over to the pile of stuff. It was basically what Toby said it was, though he hadn't mentioned a pack of candy sodas, a broken plate, and some candle stubs. The suitcase (had the guys broken into it or were the locks already broken?) was indeed full of cash, but it wasn't strange to me.
"Ah," I chirped. "Hanguk toni-ehyo. Korean money. And a dang lot of it, too."
"Cool." Toby yawned again. "But not useful to us. Hm, I'm starting to think Cheonha has the right idea. There's nothing we can do right now, anyway."
"Nothing we can do?" John retorted. "You're just going to give up and take a nap now that we're prisoners of an evil Protoss?"
"Yep. Sounds about right."
"Aldaris is hardly evil, John." I yawned too. Even though the only unused blanket in the place was the one still half-wet from my misadventure with the sevengills, a nap was beginning to sound really good. "He's just a dude."
"And you're going to go to sleep to let him kill us all?"
"He could kill us all when we're awake too. So whatever." I snuggled against the wall. The jacket I was wearing was sort of like a blanket, so all I needed to do was find a pillow of some kind. "I'm too water-logged to think."
"Great." John snapped. "So the plan is we'll just be asleep when he kills us?"
"Sounds good to me." Toby looked around. You could tell he was kind of irritated with himself for letting me have the jacket. "It hurts less that way."
"Screw you." John stood up. "I'm going to see if I can find something to contact earth with. Great job telling him to hide behind the moon, Bethany!"
"You're welcome, John." I shut my eyes and yawned again. "Have fun."
"Bethany, you will come to the bridge."
At once all of us were wide awake. That wasn't any of us speaking. It was Aldaris, and judging from the mechanical sound of it, he was communicating through the ship's speakers. Maybe he could hear us after all. Blinking at the others, I just shrugged.
"Well, here I go." I grinned. "I'm the first one dead."
"Don't even joke about that." John said.
"Relax. I think I can talk to him. And seriously, Cheonha, kwenchannayo. Don't look at me like that with those eyes. Go back to sleep."
To be honest, I'm not really sure how Cheonha was looking at me. Her eyes were so bleary and tired that I don't know if she was worried for my sake (did she remember my name?) or simply mad at me, wanting me to hurry up and go so that Aldaris wouldn't call again and keep her awake. At my words, she covered herself with her blanket again, but left a little space so she could watch me go.
"Good luck!" Toby shook my hand. "And remember, the fate of the entire earth depends on you."
"Pfft. No pressure, huh?" I grinned. At least one person back there had a dang sense of humor.
I wasn't really sure how to open the storage room doors. Were these like Star Trek, and they opened when you approached them? I approached the massive gold panels, but I wasn't really sure if they were automatic or Aldaris was controlling them somehow. It made more sense to assume the latter.
As I went through the doors (and they closed with an apprehensive thunk behind me), I suddenly realized that I didn't know where the bridge was from here. John and Toby apparently did, but Aldaris' message, even without saying so, was clearly for me to go alone. So I walked forward. The ship was much the same as when I'd gone through it before: magnificent, golden pathways decorated with all manner of random earth whatnots. Poor guy was going to have a time cleaning this up. I kicked away some broken bits of wood. From what it looked like, they'd once been wicker chairs, and not new ones either.
"Ah. Aldaris and the guys must have come this way." I said. "He must have smashed these up because they were in the way when he was walking earlier. Maybe I'm going the right way."
As I delayed with this bit of reflection, a side console lit up. Using a chair that was mostly intact (only the wicker seat was torn, and I could still stand on the edges), I was able to get almost eye-level with a screen embedded into the wall. It was showed a diagram, though it took a few seconds for me to realize it was the ship. Aldaris was showing me the way to the bridge. I stared at it for several more seconds to make sure I knew where I was going. Spacial relation wasn't exactly my forte, as my overly nervous driving instructors could tell you.
I hoped I didn't take too long on the way there. My legs are shorter than a 'Toss', and I did spend a lot of time staring at both the ship and the random stuff on it. Also, I wasn't sure I'd memorized the pathway right. However, at some point I did manage to get nearer to Aldaris. I could sense his brooding, somehow. Maybe he was giving off a telepathic field so that I could find him, or maybe he was just annoyed in general and that made his presence obvious. Either way, I recognized the hallway from before, and could be certain that this was the right way. Another huge pair of doors opened, and I was in the bridge again.
"Annoyed" was the wrong word to describe Aldaris. He wasn't annoyed. He was moody. Grim. Alone. And the whole room reeked of his solitude. I walked in timidly, and he didn't seem to notice me at first. He was just sitting at the main console (I assume it was the main console, anyway) and puttering around with it. The computer's systems beeped and hummed along in a way that sounded very regular, unhampered by whatever caused Aldaris to come to Earth.
I quietly approached, though he didn't seem as scary as at first. Aldaris was a lot calmer, but the way he stared at the screen was solemn. Earth was still there, and the UED still wasn't. I walked up to get a closer look at what he was doing...not that looking at Protoss words would do me any good. What in the world was he doing, anyway?
"I am recording the data produced by my vessel during the power surges." Aldaris answered, still typing away at the computer and puttering with the weird 'Toss controls. It was almost like watching someone conduct an orchestra. "It is best to do this without delay, while the information is still new."
Well, it wasn't like I could help him with whatever it was. I felt like a doofus just standing there while he worked, so I went to go sit on the raised seating where Cheonha had been when we first got stuck here. Weird, it couldn't have been that long ago, but it felt like forever. I just sat there politely, hands in my lap. Waiting patiently, well, isn't exactly my strong suit. I did manage to keep myself from wiggling my feet, though. It's a bad habit, though not too bad because apparently people who fidget burn calories. Anyway, at the time I just stared out of the window and started thinking about space. I figure it wouldn't be too embarrassing if Aldaris happened to be listening and figured out that Saturn is my favorite planet.
Of course, that didn't turn out to be the problem. If I were at home, it wouldn't have been close to my bedtime (and who can really make an adult go to sleep when there's Youtube to watch?), but swimming with sharks, nearly drowning, and getting a case of oxygen poisoning can really get to you. I almost dozed off, but it wasn't that long before Aldaris stopped messing with his computer. I pinched my hand to make sure I stayed alert.
"There." was all he said before turning to me, his eyes all aglow and prepped to scare the crap out of unsuspecting human creatures. "I suppose now I should deal with you. Perhaps you feel I should simply allow you to go."
Pleasant guy, ain't he?
"That would be ideal." I nodded.
"Very well then. What assurances can you make that your release would not result in human forces taking advantage of a stranded Protoss target with desirable technology?"
"None, and every!" I replied. "I don't control anybody, much less John and Cheonha back there. I have zero political influence, and I shelve books for a living. They could blab as much as they wanted, and I couldn't do a thing about it. However, I think you're under some misconceptions about what we're capable of. We don't have fleets or attack ships. Just a bunch of satellites and a couple of shuttles now and then. Nothing to speak of."
"You are saying that the Earth itself has no defense against me."
"Well, we might scramble something up in a pinch, but nothing you might be used to where you're from."
Aldaris lifted an eyebrow. "And you tell me all this willingly?"
"Well, I'm no expert or anything like that, but we have plenty of bombs, I guess." I scratched my head. "We did have a space station, but I think it got scrapped or something at one point. Not really sure why. Probably a funding cut. It's always funding cuts. My dad would've been in space already if it hadn't been for Jimmy Carter."
From the look on his face, it was clear that Aldaris didn't care about Dad or Jimmy Carter. "And this is not a scheme on your part to make me underestimate your forces?"
"Uh, well, correct me if I'm wrong," I was saying 'well' a lot, and made a mental note to stop saying it as much. "But can't Protoss tell if someone is lying?"
"At most times, yes." Aldaris replied. "I personally know of many techniques to produce honesty in creatures who might be inclined to deceive."
"None of 'em very nice, I bet."
Nothing beats getting threatened by a giant reptile monster. I couldn't help smiling. This was just too funny. "Well," -- dang it, I said it again -- "I'll just have to be honest. You'd probably notice if I were lying anyway. My brother says I'm not very good at it."
I left myself wide open for a sarcastic remark there, but Aldaris merely hmmed and folded his arms. He was refraining from comment very deliberately. It was nice of him, actually. I tend to say dorky things a lot, so it's good to know not everybody in the universe is going to make fun of the way I talk.
"Then, knowing what you know of Earth," Sarcasm practically oozed out of his pores. "What do you suggest as my next course of action?"
I managed to catch myself before saying "well" this time. "You should simply send us home. It's really the best way. No one will wonder why we're missing, and if anyone finds out about you, they'll cut you some slack because you didn't shove us out the airlock when you had the chance."
"Right. So that you may make my whereabouts clear from the moment you reach Earth. 'Hide behind the moon' indeed."
"Oh!" I realized. "I didn't think of it that way."
"I know." he said. "I would not have done so otherwise."
"Cool. Anyway, you shouldn't worry too much about us saying something. For one, Starcraft itself is on your side. Sure, we could say that we were kidnapped by a Protoss, but we'd have no evidence, and as soon as they figured out we were referring to stuff in a computer game we'd get declared insane or maybe put through a medical program. I mean sure, NASA might have some weird readings from your ship by now, but there's no sense in concluding that a fictitious character from a popular game is the cause of it. And two, if you kill me, an unarmed girl who hasn't done anything to you, you're a jerk. But if you kill Cheonha, you're the scum of the universe."
"Oh really? Please explain. How I love to hear the intricacies of human moral principles."
"Dude, that much sarcasm is really uncalled for. Seriously, Cheonha has it bad." I hoped my expression was convincing. "She's not just a normal person. She's lived all her life in North Korea, where she's had nothing but political oppression. Communism is based on the idea of distributing to each according to their need, and in communist countries, it's generally the worst forms of people that figured out that this means the people that do the distributing get all the power. Therefore, the people that are the most politically loyal get all the food, and those that aren't get thrown into camps or allowed to starve to death. They're so oppressed that the army literally has to keep everyone from fleeing the country and figuring out that everybody else is better off than them. I mean crap, you showing up helped Cheonha escape, and if you just kill her now that she has the chance to be free, that's some serious scumbaggery right there."
"I see." Aldaris said. "And is there any reliable way disguising my vessel as I deposit her?"
"If there is a way, I sure don't know about it. Hey wait, you've got a cloaking device or something on the ship, right? Can't you just use that again?"
"Yes, because Protoss ships run on magic energy resources that never deplete." Aldaris said dryly. "Somehow I very much doubt that a suitable fuel exists on this planet, and it is therefore prudent to use it as efficiently as possible."
"In that case...uh...hm. I'd say you could just leave us all in South Korea and be done with it, except I don't know how we'd get home without having passports."
"Yeah, it's the other half of the peninsula. It's like an anti-communist parable: the communist North is probably the worst country on the earth, and the capitalist South is like the fourth most prosperous in the world, or something like that. Marx'd roll in his grave to see such clear evidence that his theory is bullcrap."
"I do not know the philosophies of humans nor care to learn them." Aldaris muttered and started to key something in on his computer. "Just show me where to bring her and you will go."
As Aldaris pushed a button on his console, a purple Protoss symbol appeared on the screen. It must have been the cloaking device or something, because the moon disappeared from the viewscreen and we got a better look at Earth. I was going to head over to the window to look, because windows are always better than viewscreens to look at space. Aldaris, however, swept his hand toward the monitor, and I followed his gesture over.
"Hm, that's the wrong side." I pointed to the screen. "Europe's there at the top, and below it is Africa. We've got to go further east, past most of Asia."
It of course was the ship moving, but it almost felt like the Earth itself was turning just for our convenience. Pretty soon, though, the right geography showed up on screen.
"Okay, you can stop it there." I said. "See that line of islands? That's Japan. Korea is on the inside of the islands, right there sticking out from the mainland. Um, can we get a closer zoom in? I'd like to send Cheonha to Seoul, but it's pretty close to the border and I don't want to risk sending her back to the North."
Aldaris pushed a few keys while I was talking, and pretty soon he had a closer view of the city. I could see some stuff, but not really tell what it was, other than clearly being buildings and that sort of thing. Seeing any distinctive detail was impossible, but since half of South Korea's population lives in Seoul, it's a pretty big place.
"That is as close as I can get without going closer to your world." Aldaris said with contempt, as if he was being corrupted by Earth by simply getting within a hundred thousand miles of it. "Is this the correct location?"
I squinted at the screen. "I think so. I just hope it's near a...near a...actually, I don't know where you're supposed to bring runaway North Koreans. Maybe the cops know."
"That, I presume, you may determine for yourself when you arrive." Aldaris tapped a few more keys. "I shall inform the others. Prepare yourself."
"Prepare...?" I stared down at my odd clothes. "Um, how am I supposed to do that? I don't even have a hairbrush-"
Y'know, Aldaris didn't have to just teleport us. He could have given us a countdown, or let us sort through the human things to find more useful stuff, or confirmed where we would land. Nope! In the middle of my sentence, the blue electricity took hold again, and before I knew it. all four of us were in a secluded alleyway, where only the bricks of the walls and the pungent smell of an unidentifyable food surrounded us.