First Chapter: Summer on Earth by Peter Thompson
Title: SUMMER ON EARTH
Author: Peter Thompson
Publisher: Persnickety Press
Genre: Sci-fi / Middle Grade
The night that eleven-year-old Grady Johnson looked out his window and wished upon a shooting star, his life changed forever.
Grady, his Ma, and younger sister Luanne are having a hard summer. Dad has died and the family isn’t the same. Though Ma is trying her best, Grady knows they don’t have enough money to get by.
The shooting star he saw was a space craft plunging to Earth, and landing at the back of their farm. Extraterrestrial engineer Ralwil Turth has one goal, to fix his power drive and go back home. But things don’t go as planned. Stuck in human form, he gets to know Grady and his family as he works on their farm. He starts to learn about what it means to be human, and the exotic charms of this planet like the taste of potatoes, and how amazing bugs are.
Ralwil grows to care for Grady and his family. On a trip to town, he realizes that money is what matters to humans, and is the cause of the family’s trouble. That night, he uses his technology to combine a twenty-dollar bill with an oak twig. Over the next week this grows to a towering tree, every leaf a twenty-dollar bill. This, Ralwil is sure, will solve all the family’s problems.
But the family’s wealth raises suspicion in this small town, and this soon leads to more trouble. With the family’s fate, and Ralwil’s life, on the line, Grady has to find the courage to help his family and save his friend.
Summer on Earth blends humor, adventure and poignancy to create an unforgettable story about finding home.
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Intergalactic Year 465009.2053
To anyone watching the Midwestern night sky, it looked like a meteor that arced across the sky in a flash of bright light, then disappeared as it fell to earth. But inside the pod, Ralwil Turth was gripped with fear as he tried to control the path of his ship. He had been on his way home from a routine mining expedition on the outskirts of the Andromeda system, when the lights on his control board flashed in the urgent warning pattern. This signaled a breakdown of his primary power plant. His major energy source was draining fast. Without hesitation he switched to the spare power source.
The spare would not take him far. He had to find a place to bring his craft down to make the repair, and he didn’t have any time to waste. Ralwil’s body shook as he brought his universal map up on the view-screen. He was on the far side of the charted universe, light-years away from any known civilization. The information about this sector was old, but it showed that the third planet out in the nearest solar system was water-based and had an atmosphere rich in oxygen. It was the kind of place capable of supporting life, though according to the maps, there was no record of intelligent life in this quadrant. With no time to spare, he made the decision and aimed for the planet.
He cut the engine back and slowed down as he approached. His pod shuddered when he hit the atmosphere. The friction was intense, and the heat sensors flashed a warning. His styrpump beat madly against his chest and his brain felt as if it was going to explode. The pod’s shields were designed to withstand tremendous heat, so if the systems worked properly he would be protected. But he had never had to test the systems. He hoped they worked better than the power source. The pod shook and screeched as if the ship was about to rip apart.
Ralwil tried to ignore his fear as he went through the emergency procedures. The vibrations increased and his whole body trembled. It felt as if his skelfones were going to shake right out of his body. He had never been this frightened before. It was hard to think, but he had to maintain control. He flipped on his personal force field. A cushion of cool air surrounded him and suddenly he was still again. He held his breath as he checked his view screen and searched for a safe place to land.
The image of the planet came up. He was above a large land mass. Scattered over the land were pockets of light, some small, others spread out in big clusters. Light meant energy, and concentrations like this didn’t appear naturally. These lights were almost surely cities of some kind.
More bad luck! The planet had intelligent life forms after all!
This complicated his plan. Now he would have to work around the occupants without interfering with them in any way—if he survived.
Ralwil had to somehow coax his crippled machine down to a safe landing. He concentrated on the screen in front of him, steering toward the center of the land mass. It would not do to come down in the middle of one of their cities. The smart thing would be to land on the outskirts, somewhere where he could get his bearings and find the materials he needed without causing any alarm. He steered away from the main concentration of lights to a dark area between two small clusters. Moving fast, he dropped closer to the ground.
As he neared land, he shifted the image on the view screen to show the area in heat-sensitive infrared. At night, the heat map picked up surface features and life forms better than a visual map. The area was flat and appeared to be covered with plant life. A narrow strip cut through, winding around in a series of smooth curves. The temperature there was much cooler than in the surrounding area. It had to be water. Suddenly a new alarm went off and the screen flashed a warning. The power was almost drained. He cursed the makers of spare power supplies as he dipped his pod down closer to the ground. He set the controls for an automatic landing near the water, held his breath, and prepared to touch down.
He expected to glide in for a soft landing, but without warning his power supply gave way completely. The pod dropped like a stone and bounced once before stopping.
He felt a big bump, and then a shudder as his ship came to a rest.
His styrpump pounding, he took in a deep breath and tried to focus. He had survived! Ralwil slowly let his breath out and silently gave thanks.
The pod lights were dim and the only sound was the hum of the ventilation system. The power plant was out so he couldn’t take off in his pod. His systems still worked off the reserve battery, but this would not last long. He would need to conserve his supply.
From now on, the ship’s power could only be used for emergencies.
Ralwil picked up his onmibelt and made sure it was fully operational. His life depended on this thin belt. It held an assortment of tools and instruments. With this belt, and a little luck, he had a chance to survive on this alien planet. No, he thought, make that a lot of luck.
Before opening the pod’s hatch, he took a reading of the outside air. It was a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and more than a touch of methane. Not exactly what he was used to at home, but still breathable without additional gear. He pushed a button and the pod doors slid open.
Stepping out, he heard a sharp metallic chirping sound, mixed with a deeper bass. His first thought was that he was near some kind of strange machine. He touched a button on his omnibelt and a holographic image appeared in front of him, showing the source of the noise. The chirping came from thousands of little six-legged, winged creatures spread across the field, all rubbing their legs together. The deeper sounds were from two small cold-blooded creatures on opposite sides of the water’s edge. He doubted that either of these species had the brain capacity to be intelligent, but their exotic nature was a marvel.
He touched another button as he shut the pod doors, and the pod disappeared from view. The invisi-shield would drain the batteries more than he would like, but it was a valuable protection from nosy natives. If a creature happened by and saw the ship, it would lead to problems. It was better not to be seen.
Ralwil sniffed the air around him. Its chemical makeup was safe to breathe, but the smell was atrocious. He wondered how these creatures could tolerate this noxious air, but he had no choice. If he didn’t get out and explore, he would never be able to fix his power source and go home.
He walked up a small incline and was immediately in a field of tall leafy vegetation. Each plant was spaced evenly apart. On his native planet, Ralwil was considered unnaturally tall. At nearly three fornos, he towered over all the brothers in his swarm. But these plants were taller. He tried to look through them, but all he saw were more plants. Even the stars above were hidden by the leaves.
The chirping sound of the tiny winged creatures was so loud here it was hard to think. He kept on walking. The vegetation was everywhere. The leaves above him formed a canopy, cutting off the moonlight. He could hardly see in front of him. The leaves scraped against his outer membrane and gave him a creepy ticklish sensation. His styrpump beat faster. He was afraid he would panic if he did not get out in the open soon. No—he had a mission to accomplish. He must not panic. He fumbled at his belt, found his sensomap and took a reading. From its holographic sensor, he saw that there was an opening to the field off to the right. With relief, he turned and headed toward it.
As he got closer, his sensomap showed a hot spot—something large and slow moving, just past the edge of the field. It was obviously a life form, and it was clearly large enough to be intelligent. He could not show himself in his present form without causing all sorts of problems. He switched the setting on his belt to rough duplication mode. The instrument could send a wave of energy over the being, then re-form the wearer’s molecular structure into a rough copy. Back home the tool was good for nothing much except practical jokes, but on expeditions it often came in handy. If he transformed himself into something like this native creature, it might be possible to get in close enough to do a synch-link.
He turned the duplicator on as he stepped out of the field. He felt a ticklish sensation as his molecules rearranged in the pattern of the being before him. It was a large quadrapodal creature with a long face and a huge swollen stomach. Its skin was thick, and, though light colored, there were big splotches of dark pigment throughout. It stood behind a barrier of some kind and stared at him with dull brown eyes.
Ralwil attempted a synch-link, but as he synched in with the creature’s brain, all he could think about was how hungry he was, and how tasty the ground-covering vegetation looked. He swatted at a small flying creature with his tail, and stepped back before the synch could progress any farther. He shivered. This creature was surely not intelligent. In fact it appeared to be as dumb as wyr-tack. He reversed the duplicator and returned to his normal appearance. The creature vocalized with a loud mooing sound, then bent down to eat the vegetation on the ground.
Ralwil walked away from the creature and continued his exploration. His fear began to fade. He felt calmer now, and almost excited about the adventure. The temperature was comfortable, the heat and humidity ratio nearly perfect. This was very pleasant. In a way, it reminded him of the equatorial regions on his home planet. The quality of light from the moon above was pleasing, and the stars shone brightly with a set of constellations he had never seen before. Even the noxious smell he had noticed before didn’t seem so bad now. He couldn’t believe he had adjusted to it so quickly. The life forms were exotic here too. Under different circumstances he would consider it interesting to spend some time here.
He came to a large structure made of organic material connected together in overlapping strips. The structure was easily twelve times as wide as his space pod, and twice as tall as it was wide. The two sides of its roof came together in a sharp peak.
Ralwil recognized this as a primitive way of dealing with rain water. With more efficient materials such architecture was not necessary, but it looked functional. Two large openings on the front came together to form an entrance. He walked over and looked up at the lock. It was a finely tooled metallic latch. The design was simple, but the detail required fine motor movement, or at least some kind of digital manipulation. This meant the creatures who built this must have hands. Based on the height of the lock, they walked upright, so most likely they were bipodal life forms, not so different from him, though obviously much larger.
He continued exploring and soon found more evidence of the native creatures. This was another structure, slightly smaller than the first but more ornate, with finer detail in the organic material, and openings covered with a transparent substance where the creatures could look out. This might be their living quarters, Ralwil thought. If so, he must be very careful that no one saw him. He skirted around the edge of the structure and checked his heat sensor. It picked up four heat sources that appeared to be living creatures. Two of them were on higher levels of the structure, one near its peak, another near its midpoint. The last two were down at the structure’s base, around the corner from where he stood. Of the two on the bottom, one was the largest, the other the smallest of the four.
Being so close was dangerous. The smart thing to do would be to back off and find a way to observe these creatures from a distance. Before approaching any unknown creatures, it was important to learn their habits and social functions, find out how they lived so he could determine if they were dangerous or not. Still, he had an overwhelming desire to get in close and see what these creatures looked like. What was the harm in that?
All he had to do was move in for a quick peek.
Ralwil kept close to the side of the structure and moved slowly around the corner, wondering what he would find next.