Winner, Obctober 2012 KidPub Writing Contest
Charles Anderson turned the dusty bottle around in his hands, studying it carefully. It was covered in the red dust of Mars. Anderson looked up at the stars in space. They looked much closer than they had on Earth. Anderson sighed and looked back down at the bottle. It had been found by some of the space explorers in a crater when they were driving their space-rover, Curiosity. This sort of thing only happened in books. Of course, as Anderson always said, “Anything can happen in space.”
Anderson turned the bottle upside down. Something clinked inside. Anderson’s breath hissed through the breathing tube on his spacesuit in surprise. The astronaut wiped some of the dust off the bottle with his white gloved hand. A piece of old parchment was rolled up inside.
“Hey, Pench!” Anderson yelled, signaling to his right-hand man. Michael Pench, who was observing and taking samples of stones some ways off, hopped up and ran as fast as he could in his bulky spacesuit towards Anderson.
“You need me?” he asked. Anderson nodded.
“I need a bottle opener.”
“Just do it,” Anderson ordered. Pench looked doubtful. But he nodded and hurried towards the rover Curiosity. It carried a box of supplies from the rocket, Rusher. Pench soon came running back with the tool clasped in his hand.
“Here,” he said, placing it in Anderson’s opened gloved hand. Anderson drove it into the bottle lid and yanked it out. The lid gave a dully pop and fell to the ground. Anderson tipped the bottle on its side and gently eased the parchment out. It was old and crumbling. The edges cracked and tore as Anderson spread it in his hands, holding it so Pench could read it to.
“It’s a map!” Pench exclaimed. Anderson nodded thoughtfully and observed the map carefully. It was a map of Mars, with rolling red hills and towering cliffs. A circle was at the far end of the map, in a ravine titled “Ranger’s Watch”. Anderson pointed to it.
“That is where we’re going.”
“But sir, we just arrived. The men won’t be happy to find that we’re leaving on a treasure hunt,” Pench protested.
“Tell them I said so. Anyone who doesn’t obey is left here when we leave,” Anderson stated, turning his back on Pench and looking at the map. Pench shrugged and went to where the men were gathered.
“All right, listen up! We’re leaving to explore another area. Follow your captain and follow directions. No wandering off!” Pench announced.
“What do you mean, leaving?” protested a voice.
“Captain Anderson will answer that later. Now let’s get moving!” Pench ordered. With grumbles and sighs, the men trudged off after Anderson.
“How far, Captain?” someone asked.
“Not that far, but bring the rovers just in case,” Anderson decided. Several men rushed back for the rovers, Curiosity, Moon, and Explorer. Anderson lead the way under a the starry sky of space.
A gorge cut through the land in front of them. The men had taken turns looking over the map and decided this was the “Ranger’s Watch” from the map. He held up his hand and the company of men stopped. Bernard Callahan, Henry Thomas, and George Harris were driving the three rovers. Thomas stopped Moon and stepped out of the driver’s seat.
“Anderson, what are you doing? Why are we doing this? It’s a waste of time,” Thomas yelled angrily. Anderson whipped around and stepped towards Thomas.
“I decide what’s a waste of time and what isn’t! Now we’re going down there if it’s the last thing we do!” Anderson shouted. The company followed without protest.
Soon they were walking in the red dust of the ravine. They were nearing the place the circle on the map marked. A dark tunnel was cut into the side of the ravine. Anderson headed towards it, followed by Pench and the rest of the company.
“Who goes there?”
A tall man with black hair stepped out from the shadows of the cave. He grasped a spear in one hand, which he held tensely. A tall, young girl with short, brown-blond hair stepped up behind him, with a bow and a quiver of arrows slung over her back. The bow was strung and an arrow fitted on the string.
“We come in peace! We found this map,” Anderson cried, holding up the parchment as proof. The man still had the hostile look on his face. Anderson realized in surprise that they wore no spacesuits or breathing tubes.
What kind of people are they? Aliens? wondered Anderson. The man waved his spear.
“Leave!” he shouted, hurling back his hand to throw the spear.
“Kan! Stop! You have no right to do this. Let them pass,” a voice called. A women appeared in the tunnel. Her waving black hair fell back over her shoulders and her body was slim and agile. She raised a hand to the young girl, who lowered her bow and dipped her head in respect.
“These people are visitors, not enemies. Did not you hear them say ‘We come in peace’?” the woman asked, placing her hands on her hips. Kan bowed his head and sighed.
“They did, Kylana.”
“Then let them pass. Kat, follow me please. You too, strangers,” Kylana ordered. The men passed beneath the cave into the darkness. Kan followed them. Anderson realized they all had names that began with “K”.
Aliens, he decided.
Kylana led them to the entrance of a giant courtroom.
“You can take off those protection suits. There is air down here,” she said. The astronauts gratefully took off their heavy spacesuits. Once they were all in their normal clothes, they entered the courtroom. Groups of people who looked like Kan and Kylana watched them. On a throne made of red Mars rock sat a young man with black hair that fell to his shoulders.
“Welcome,” he said in a light voice. Anderson bowed. The rest of his company did the same. Anderson held up the parchment, which he had not let go of from the second he walked into the domain of these aliens.
“We found this map and followed it here. What does it mean?” Anderson asked, stepping right up to the throne and kneeling. The alien king’s face darkened.
“Let me see that, please,” he asked, holding out his hand. Anderson handed it to him. The king unrolled it and stared at it.
“The betrayer,” he muttered darkly.
“Excuse me?” Anderson puzzled. The king looked up.
“When men first came here, one of our kind drew this map and hid it for the men to find. He was in league with the men and wanted to destroy us. He was finally caught and killed. The men never found his message. It has been hidden until now,” the king said, almost in a trance. Suddenly he shook his head and slapped it with his fist.
“Where are my manners? Sit on these cushions at my feet. Let me introduce myself. I am Kalli, King of the Hidden Ones.”
“Hidden Ones?” asked Pench.
“Out kind. We have lived here for years. Before men even came to our planet. You call it Mars, but to us it is Red Dust. Where we are hidden is called Ranger’s Watch, as you can see by the map. We have been in hiding, ever afraid men will find us and destroy us. That is why we have never been seen until now. If the guards will hostile, you now know why. They meant no harm to you.”
“So you have been here all along? How have you survived and not become sick?” Callahan asked. Kalli smiled.
“We are a very advanced society. We have discovered medicine to cure diseases that human kind has never known how to. Like cancer. We have also found ways to make food out of non-edible things and plants. That is how we have survived. We have even found ways to breath in space without oxygen from tubes and such,” boated Kalli proudly. Anderson looked at the king in surprise.
“Would you come back to earth with us?” he asked quickly. Kalli looked confused. Anderson quickly explained, “We could use your knowledge to cure problems in our world. Please.”
Kalli considered it.
“How would you get all of us to earth?” he asked.
“It will take two trips, but we can do it. For the good of our country,” stated Anderson proudly. Kalli pondered it.
“All right. If you promise your planet will not be hostile to us and capture us,” Kalli agreed.
“You have my word that you will be treated with highest respect,” Anderson promised, raising his right hand. Kalli’s young face broke into a smile.
“I’ll come,” he said.
Anderson stood at the rocket Rusher’s doorway. Kalli had taken Kylana, Kan, the young girl with the bow and arrows, and some other Hidden Ones. The remaining Hidden Ones waved as the door to Rusher shut. The astronauts had left their suits with the Hidden Ones. After taking a certain liquid, they would never need spacesuits again. Anderson turned around and faced Kalli.
“Go find somewhere to lay down. We’re going to take off,” he said. Kalli nodded and dashed off. Anderson himself lay on a bed in the ship and gripped the edges tightly. The engines roared and pressure pushed down on Anderson’s back. He gasped for breath. As the rocket took off, he lost consciousness.
When he regained his senses, the rocket was heading in a steady course towards earth. Anderson stood and stretched. Then he walked to the radio.
“Anderson calling earth. Anderson calling earth.”
“This is earth speaking. We here you, Anderson.”
“Good. We landed on Mars. There are some incredible humanoid creature there. They know how to cure cancer and such.”
“Bring them back. Over.”
“We are. They should be treated with highest respect. If not, I take them right back. We’re coming home. Over.”