Teen SF Writing Contest 2nd Place: Hidden Beauty

Hidden Beauty

by Macy Lynch

 

This world attacked me and they wouldn’t stop coming. I was trapped.

It was just another typical day in my homeland. I lived in a small town on the planet V118, better known as the ‘Planet of Perfection’. Everything and everyone seemed so perfect on my planet - the pure symmetry of the faces, the beautifully glowing skin, the shining smiles, the conspicuous lack of frowning. I always felt out of place.

I worked for one of the largest spacecraft manufacturers, testing experimental spacecraft. I did this to support my wife and two kids, whom I love with all my heart. I had so much to live for. It never crossed my mind that just one mistake could ruin it all.

The thing is, for me, I have a hunger for danger...and I was starting to starve. So while test flying a new spacecraft, a very durable prototype that could supposedly go through the atmosphere with no problems, I decided to make the attempt.

I should have been smarter. I should have thought twice before going to the extreme.

Next thing I knew, I’d wrecked the craft in uncharted land - technically an uncharted planet - where storm clouds covered the sky.  I exited through a small side portal without opening the main hatch, and immediately observed the oddest surroundings I’d ever seen.  It was near dusk; the sky was an abnormal blue-grey color.

I found myself amid bare trees, something that I’d never seen.  Scattered about the bases of the trees were big untamed bushes, and rough grass that had lost its green.  By comparison, my planet always had perfect 70 degree weather every day and every night--one long Spring season.

Here, it was cold.

Where was I? What should I do? How was I going to get back to my home?

I saw a light in the darkness, growing closer. I was so frightened that I couldn’t move. A human appeared with a scruffy beard from behind a thorny bush, flashlight in hand. I knew he was a human, even though the face and form lacked the symmetry of the humans on my home planet.

He glared at me in an unsettling way.  I could think of nothing but to stare back. He then opened his mouth and spoke a word that I couldn’t understand. I tried communicating with him, but that only left him startled and confused. He dropped his flashlight at the sound of my strange words and slowly backed away to where he had come from.  I remained where I stood, not moving a muscle.

A few minutes after the encounter, I returned to my craft. And a few minutes after that, I heard a faint noise through the audio-permeable walls, something like a siren. It started getting louder and louder...I feared for my life. On my planet, sirens meant trouble, serious trouble. They did here too, apparently.

Next thing I knew I was surrounded by a dozen men, including the one I saw with the flashlight. They were yelling out at me, and this time certain patterns of their language were beginning to make sense, although the majority was still foreign.  Yet one phrase stood out, ringing in my head: “Capture him!”

I knew at that moment, I had to escape.

Question was, how?

I jumped out of my seat and ran for the door. The men made a quick move and crowded around all the exits, except for one: the exit built into the roof. I opened it and hopped onto the roof. I took a leap of faith off the roof and landed in a thorny bush. The thorns dug into my legs. The men were searching for me, quietly lurking about in bushes and behind trees...I could think of nothing to do but run.

So I ran, and ran, and ran for what felt like hours, but in reality it couldn’t have been more than half an hour. Just when I felt as if I were to pass out, I came across a small shed and decided to rest there.

The shed looked older, the wood it was built with was worn. There was a small house not too far away, but at this point I just didn’t care. I collapsed on the dirt floor of the shed and thought long and hard about how I had to get back home, somehow. I felt dizzy from all the running and from being so overwhelmed.

The next day I was awoken by a loud, sudden noise coming from the front of the shack. Someone had found me. I jumped up and looked around me, trying to come up with a way I could escape. There were no windows, and there was someone behind the only door. I just stayed put.

The door flung open, and a young woman stood on the other side. Once she saw me, she looked terrified. Who was this strange man in my shed? her eyes seemed to question. She started to speak to me sternly in the same language that the others had spoken. A few more words fell into place, but not enough for me to fully communicate. I tried asking her where I was and she stared at me as though I was babbling like a child. I still felt dazed from the lingering shock of the crash.  I fell onto the dirt floor, unconscious.

I woke up to find the woman standing over me, concern written all over her face. I looked into her eyes. They were the most unusual color I’d ever seen. On my planet, everyone’s eyes were the same shade of metallic grey; hers were as blue as the sky. They absolutely mesmerized me.  Although her features had subtle imperfections - one ear lower than the other, her teeth were not perfectly straight, and the offset oval of her face - I recognized the raw beauty that came from her. She stared back and looked into my eyes in an enthralling way. She then stood up straight and handed me a glass of water. I nodded and sipped it slowly.

She looked over towards the door of the shed, where a small boy stood. She made subtle hand gestures toward him, and he slowly walked in. He cast an eye toward me, and looked up towards the woman in a muddled way. This boy reminded me of my son.  He couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old, and he had an innocent quality. The sight of the boy gave me a strange sense of relief, but at the same time it made me even more anxious to see my family.

The woman tried speaking to me once more, but I still couldn’t understand her fully. She sighed deeply.

She handed me a plate with a bite to eat. I’d never seen food like what she gave me - it was some sort of yellowish broth with an unknown protein - but I couldn’t resist. I dug in. The salty broth was strangely delicious and satisfying. As the soup revived me, I grew curious as to why she was aiding me.  Why wasn’t she trying to hunt me down like the other men, or at the very least turn me in. This world was so much different from mine, and different people here seemed to have different perspectives. They weren’t all of one mind.

But...I still couldn’t trust this woman fully.

Why would she do all this for a total stranger? What could she get out of it?

The little boy ran up to the young woman and whispered something in her ear. The woman glanced at me, glanced at the boy, and then back at me. She looked straight in my eyes, and repeated her question, “Who are you?”  

I understood this time.

I was filled with relief. Finally!  I could understand her! My built in translation device must have finally gotten enough data to work with.

I ignored her question, though, and went straight to what I felt was important. “I don’t know where I am, I have to get home.”

Both the woman’s and the boy’s face relaxed visibly and she asked again, “But who are you, and where do you live?”

I conceded.  “My name is Lance.  I live on V118. Neighbor planet to E13 and NB8.”

The woman’s expression suddenly changed. She seemed hesitant, and even frightened. “Is this a joke?” She glared at me with disbelief.

“No, no it isn’t.”

The little boy looked up at her. She embraced him in her arms and looked at me with a straight face.  “You’re meaning to tell me you’re from a different planet?”

“Yes.”

She obviously didn’t quite believe me. I was forced to look for proof. “I crash landed here, do you mind telling me where we are?”

“We’re on Earth.” she responded, in a way that made it seem as if it should be obvious.

As she said this, I was filled with fright. I was on a quarantined planet my people had been warned to avoid. It was not considered safe for contact because the planet was too primitive, too warlike. But how could this be the same place? This motherly woman, with kind, blue eyes, and this innocent faced child, they weren’t cannibalistic monsters. Other than their lack of symmetry, they were just like me.  But I knew I couldn’t stay here, no matter how nice they were.

It then struck me that with people by now looking for me in this area, I was at risk.  This woman could so easily turn me at the first knock on her door.  The only way I had a chance of avoiding detection and getting back home would be to convince her of the truth of my situation, and then to find my way to my craft.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” I said.

“Of course not. I think you just need more rest, maybe a doctor.. . You’ll be back on your feet in no time, I’m sure.  For now, sleep.  When you wake, we’ll talk more.  My name is Hope, and this is my son, Jacob.”

“Thank you, but I’m all right, Hope. If you don’t believe me, I can take you to my spacecraft right now.”

“But you need to rest!”

“Not until I’ve proven where I’m from.”

She hesitantly agreed to visit the site of the crash, and all three of us started our hike into the nearby wilderness. I never stopped to think how far the craft was, and how that could lead to future problems. I knew I‘d run from the crash to Hope’s shack, but I’d still been disoriented and wasn’t paying attention to the distance.

“How much farther is this spacecraft of yours?” Hope asked.

I kept telling her just a little farther, just a little. Truth was, I didn’t know exactly where it was. But it had to be close now.  I could see a familiar ridgeline, covered with those bare trees.  And, what was more, I could smell the sharp odor of the spacecraft’s fuel mingling with the dry winter soil of this planet, Earth.

The woman stopped. “Maybe we should head back, it’s starting to get dark.”

I insisted on staying just a little longer. I looked up at the woman’s face and caught her looking at something in the distance, what appeared to be a bright light.

I thought back to the previous night where the man with the flashlight appeared. He dropped his flashlight that night, right next to my craft. I bolted toward the light; so much excitement ran through me I felt shivers down my spine. The woman and the boy jogged behind me, most likely wondering what had caused my sudden burst of enthusiasm.

“Here! Here it is, I told you!”

They both eyed the spacecraft with amazement.

“So you’re telling the truth?” the boy asked.

“Yes! Of course!”

The damage to the outer shell had almost been repaired by the onboard mechanical bots that the ship deployed whenever there was a breach or failure of the system.  The fuel lines should be completely restored to full function within a matter of moments.

Hope froze in place, and slowly started to speak - “There’s someone in there.”

My heart dropped. I looked inside the craft, and indeed I saw a tall figure standing inside.  I sprinted towards the entrance to the craft and jumped through the portal. The man turned towards me and put up both his hands.  “I’m not meaning to start anything. I just saw this crashed and wanted to check it out. This is strange tech. Nothing like it on our planet.”

He seemed distracted. His attention was directed towards something else.

All at once, I heard a loud cry from where I knew Hope had been standing. I spun around and saw a huge crowd of officers in some sort of riot gear. Two of them trapped the woman and the boy.

Hope and Jacob looked up at me with fright and I jumped out of the craft to help them. But the craft was surrounded, and even more officers were sprinting up to me. The boy yelled out at them, telling them to stop. He shook himself free, and ran away. Half of the officers ran after him, leaving an open space. There were less officers to worry about now, but we were still outnumbered.

The woman could do nothing but watch her boy run. She stood there, struggling to follow after her son, Jacob, but the masked officer had her arms behind her back so tightly that any small movement caused her excruciating pain in her shoulders.

I knew I had no way of helping her; the officers were surrounding me with their helmets, shields, and black clubs, making it impossible to get to her. She narrowed her eyes, signaling to me, and then kicked the officer from behind.  Their attention turned from me to Hope, who was thrashing wildly at several other officers now. The man who was in the ship hopped to the ground to help the other officers.

She’d given me the distraction I needed to slip inside the craft.

I never looked back.

I slammed the auto-locks on the side hatch, which I knew would keep the soldiers out. I rushed to my seat, pulled on my launch harness, and put the ship in flight mode for take-off. As the craft began to lift from the ground, I realized just how much I didn’t know about this galaxy and my place within it.

As the ship lifted further, the lights on the underside cast a brilliant white glow over the soldiers and their vehicles below me. They looked up with terrified awe, and also the hopeless understanding that this advanced technology was slipping from their grasp.  

Despite these greedy grasping people so desperate to take what wasn’t theirs, there were at least two people on this strange planet who didn’t deserve to be quarantined.  Earth was chaotic compared to my world. But, despite the dire stories my people had been conditioned to believe, there were good people here - they weren’t all violent savages. And here was this kind woman named Hope and her son Jacob, willing to help a total stranger that they’d known for only a few hours. They’d been willing to put themselves at risk, perhaps even risking their lives, to help a traveler find his way home.

 

The End

 

About the Author:

Macy Lynch is 14 and lives in Auburn, California. She attends Placer High and plans to go to a 4-year college after graduating high school. Someday she hopes to become a journalist. Her favorite authors are Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Harper Lee. Her favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. Macy wishes to thank her aunt Sara for encouraging her to write.

Be sure to read all winning stories from the Teen SF Writing Contest:

1st Place: The Tower
2nd Place: Hidden Beauty
3rd Place (Tied): Twilight Promenade 
3rd Place (Tied):  Wildest Dreams Ruined