The drive to Willow Creek Farms took John and Ruby most of the day.
They each took turns napping while the other drove, and as the light was dimming overhead, they arrived at the small farmhouse that had been built at the front of the lot. It was a cozy place, owned by Katherine Willow, a nice woman that had moved out of town to pursue her love of farming at a larger scale than she could before. She was the largest single distributor of vegetables for the entire community.
John had been the last one to nap, and Ruby roused him from his nap once she had them parked in front of the house. He was still stretching as he stepped out of the camper to see Katherine approaching them.
“You here about the spaceship?” she asked them as she placed her hands on her hips.
“We are,” Ruby replied.
“Good. It’s about time you got here.”
“You said you have an injured person?” John asked.
“I do, but the doctor is already with him. You are here about the ship, right?”
“Both,” Ruby replied.
Katherine looked skeptical of that answer, but she finally waved for them to follow her. “Alright then, come on.”
The pair followed her inside and she pointed them upstairs.
“You might want to go one at a time,” she said. “Not a lot of room up there.”
John gestured for Ruby to go first.
She went up and saw a small bedroom at the top of the stairs. Inside, saw Caleb leaning over someone… a man. He was laying on the bed, breathing ever so slightly, but otherwise completely immobile. He wore a black and blue suit, with a white glove covering one hand and a black one over the other. At the foot of the bed, a large piece of equipment was resting, some kind of apparatus that he must have been wearing.
The doctor looked up and offered her a gentle smile. “He’s human, I think.”
“It’s so… strange,” she said. “To think someone else was out there.”
“Anything is possible,” Caleb said, still listening to the unconscious man’s heart. “He seems stable, but he’s out like a light. It’s a coma, I suppose.”
“So, no answers from him?” she asked.
“I suppose we should take a look at his ship, then.”
Caleb nodded. “I’ll be here if you need me.”
While Ruby was in the bedroom, John remained downstairs with Katherine. At first he considered just remaining silent, but it only took a few moments for his investigative nature to take over. “So, you found him?”
“Yup. I was out looking at my carrots when I heard a kind of loud noise coming from up above me. I looked up and saw this thing bolting downward. It veered a little bit, this way or that, but then it just… slammed into the ground, right in the middle of my corn field.”
“It’s just amazing,” John said.
“It’s annoying,” Katherine replied. “I only have the one bed. He’s taking my only place to sleep!”
“You can use the camper while we’re here,” John said. “Until we can get him moved.”
“Whatever. Listen, if you want to see the spaceship you will need to move a bit. It crashed about fifty acres back. It’s close to the western wall of the world ship.”
“You can take my car if you want. Leave the camper here so I can get some sleep. It’ll be dark before long, so you better go sooner than later.”
“Right,” he said. “Will do.”
The door to the bedroom opened and Ruby slipped back out. She looked to Katherine and John for a moment and then walked past them and toward the exit.
“I guess that’s my signal,” John said. “Thanks again.”
Katherine Willow’s car was little more than a one person electric vehicle.
The cramped space of the interior meant that Ruby would have to sit on John’s lap. He would be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy the idea, but he wasn’t sure the timing was right for jokes, so he offered to ride on the back or simply wait while she checked out the wreck.
“Do you not want to ride?” she asked him.
“Oh, sure I do. It’s just… not much room, ya know?”
She gave him a slight smirk and gestured to the seat. “Get in, you dork.”
They started driving on the farmland and quickly found themselves having to make several diversions as they dodged mud pits, crop fields, and a type of tall grass that Katherine had warned them could cut like glass.
When they reached the corn fields, they made their way in a big loop until they found the clear path of the crash. The stalks had been completely mowed down over a hundred feet, creating a long path of destruction. They followed it until they reached their destination… the crash site.
“I’m not seeing a lot of debris,” John said as they moved through the field.
“Here’s something,” Ruby said, leaning down and fishing out a piece of metal from the broken corn stalks. It was a polished silver on one side, and a high gloss yellow on the other.
“That’s a unique color,” he said. “We don’t have anything like that.”
“Nope,” she replied.
They walked a ways ahead, pushing through some of the stubborn corn stalks that had dared to stand back up after being run down by the crash.
Finally, they reached the ship.
It was a small vessel with an octagonal glass cockpit that covered almost the entire thing. There was some kind of robotic arm that jutted out from the front of the ship, and two pontoon-like landing skids were trenched into the soft soil.
John started to take a few pictures and Ruby approached the craft.
“Uh, should we get close?” John asked.
“Katherine did,” Ruby replied, “besides, we need answers.”
She reached the small cockpit and attempted to wrench it open, with no luck.
The whole vehicle was colored yellow and black, was big enough for only a single person, and almost appeared to be a water vehicle more than one meant for the skies. Much like Explorer One, this ship had been modified using repulsor technology.
“I can’t even see the bottom,” she said, starting to paw at the soft soil to uncover the ship’s underbelly.
“I wonder what powers it,” John mused.
“It could be anything. We toyed with several different methods of… oh no.”
“Step back,” she said firmly.
“What it is?”
“Explosives,” she said. “There’s a missile here.”
“Well get away from it!” he shouted.
“I have to see if it’s armed,” she said.
“Taking off the nose,” she said.
“You don’t know how to do that,” John said. “You can’t—”
“Shut it,” she said. “I know this.”
John felt incredibly uneasy, but he wasn’t going to leave her now.
“Fine,” he said. “What do we do?”
Ruby reached down, her dirty hands taking hold of the nose on the missile’s shell. She took a deep breath and then gave it a good twist. The nose turned, and she heard the clicking sound of the nose disengaging. She gave it a small tug, and with a nice suction sound, the top popped right off. She gave the payload a quick look and saw the three red lights that indicated the explosives were not armed.
She let out a loud sigh. “We’re safe.”
John collapsed from holding his breath for too long. “Thank goodness.”
“Now we have even more questions,” Ruby said, carefully setting the missile nose away from the ship. “Who built this thing? Why do they have a missile? Did they attack us?”
John hadn’t even considered it until now.
Maybe the incident hadn’t been an accident at all.
Was it possible? Was someone out to hurt them?
Olivia’s radio beeped four times, which meant it was Ruby calling.
She had hoped it might be the helicopter returning from the Core, but a mission update from her ground team at the farm wouldn’t hurt right now, either.
“Go for Olivia.”
“We found the wreckage. It’s definitely not ours.”
“Caleb said as much about the pilot too.”
“This thing was armed, Olivia. A missile. There’s room for another one, too.”
“Do you think it shot down Explorer One?”
“There weren’t scorch marks or explosive damage to the wing when John and I found it.”
“It’s almost a guarantee that the two vessels collided,” Olivia explained. “That much we know. Maybe the pilot of that craft was running from something?”
“I’m afraid we’re running blind without the pilot’s input,” Ruby said.
“Agreed,” Olivia replied. “Okay. Do you mind staying at the farm while I get a team assembled and on their way to the farm? We are going to need to study that craft.”
“I don’t mind, but Olivia… if this ship has missiles… no one is safe.”
“One thing at a time,” Olivia said. “As of right now this mission is classified to Explorer Team personnel. Do not tell anyone about the missile. Do you understand?”
“Thank you, Ruby. If the injured pilot wakes up, you get me on the line.”
“Stay safe out there,” Olivia added. “Keep your eyes up.”
Back at the farm, Katherine was waiting for the pair when they returned. She had fixed some delicious sweet tea and homemade bread. She was putting all of the plates out for dinner when they finished taking their showers and getting ready for the evening.
Caleb came down from the bedroom to join them as well, though he had a rather disgruntled look about him as he took a bite of bread.
“Does my cooking not suit you?” Katherine asked.
“Oh! My apologies,” he said, smiling at her. “It’s delicious. No, I’m thinking of my current patient. I’m not excited he’s been in a coma for so long. Honestly, if he doesn’t wake soon, the chances of him ever waking drop significantly.”
“The fact that he survived that crash at all is impressive,” John said.
“I suppose,” Caleb agreed, taking another bite.
“Simply dreadful what happened out there,” Katherine said, taking a sip of her tea and looking at John and Ruby. “Did they find the crash site for Explorer One?”
“The left wing, and some pieces of equipment tied to that area of the ship,” John said as he poured his own glass of tea. “Aside from that? Nothing. It’s almost like they vanished.”
“Hmm,” the farmer said casually, “Almost makes you think they could have made it to the upper levels, right?”
Ruby’s head shot up, looking Katherine right in the eyes. “Oh. My gosh. Yes!”
“What?” Caleb asked.
“That’s why we can’t find Explorer One,” Ruby replied. “They continued the burn, even without their wing. With the weight they had just shed, the ship would have been much easier to lift. They overshot their trajectory, accidental or on purpose, and they landed in the upper levels. The math works. I bet you anything that’s how it went down.”
“Ruby… if that was a possibility surely Olivia would have—”
“I need to think,” she said, cutting John off. “I’ll be in the camper.”
John nodded and waited for her to leave. He wasn’t sure if she was onto something, or just grasping at straws, but he did know one thing for sure.
This was going to make an amazing newsletter when he got back home.