A Star Called Home
The Helix Nebula – 694 light years from Earth
The ship’s drives began to whir down to a slow hum, settling into a speed more reasonable for atmospheric entry. Dhruv punched a series of commands into his control panel, and there was a click-clacking before the screens shifted. Citlally watched tensely as the images of Earth grew larger and larger on the screens.
“Prepare for entry,” Captain Mannarius ordered him.
Dhruv turned and looked up at his captain. “I feel as though I should remind you one more time, old friend. The atmosphere is going to take a terrible toll on the Lionstar’s hull. Once we get through, I can probably get us down to the surface, but getting back off the planet…” He shook his head, a hopeless expression on his face.
It had been a bumpy ride from Space Station Eta Scorpii to Sol’s planetary system. They had passed through the helix nebula, which was far more active than they’d expected, and the ship had taken a bit of damage before they’d managed to get the shields to their max levels.
Mannarius regretted having put off many of the repairs that the Lionstar had needed after its adventure on Vaharrish. He’d intended to be better prepared for the trip to Earth, but had let a few things slip by, in between a few jaunts between Eta Scorpii and 83 Leonis while Jalingan had been at his worst, and letting some of the more badly-damaged ships get into the mechanics’ bays first. He knew that some of the others wanted to get home, and he’d himself get a little too comfortable on the space station.
“We’ve been over this already,” Mannarius reminded him. “I’ve already made my decision. Besides, the crystal systems still have a pretty good charge, don’t they? We’re going in.”
Dhruv nodded, and turned back to the controls, deeply relieved that Raven had done such a good job of training him on the specifics of the crystal drive. “Raising shields, captain.” He typed several commands into the ship’s computer before saying anything else. “Entry program set and ready. Time for all of us to take our seats; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
“You heard the man,” Mannarius said as he turned to the others. “Take a seat and let’s ride this roller coaster!”
Citlally gave him an endearing smile before turning to sit down and buckle herself in. Endan took the chair beside her, and when he was strapped in, he reached over to squeeze her hand.
“Nobody is better at getting a worn-down ship through the atmosphere than my co-pilot,” Mannarius told them with a grin. Then he focused on the control panel. “We are entering atmosphere… now.”
The ride in was munch bumpier than any atmospheric entry that Citlally had yet been through. She thanked herself for having buckled the straps as well as tightening them, because otherwise she would have been jostled around far too much for her health.
Thankfully, the ship’s shields held, and they were not subjected to the terrible heat of re-entry. Citlally secretly worried that the ship would have broken apart if the shields hadn’t been able to supply the correct level of protection.
Within a few minutes, they were fully immersed in Earth’s atmosphere, and had slowed to a speed more amenable to the planet’s characteristics. Hailing signals were starting to come in from various territories, each of them wondering where the ship planned on landing.
Mannarius turned around and looked at the couple expectantly. “Where to?” he asked them.
“As much as I would love tae show her Paris,” Endan said, giving his wife a wink, “I think that gettin’ home should be our first priority.”
“Where is home for you?” Mannarius asked him.
Endan looked over at Citlally.
“Kilkenny,” she told him with hardly a moment’s hesitation.
Mannarius blinked. “Where is that?”
“Ireland,” Endan told him. “Kilkenny is where my house is. Ye’ll want tae hail the Irish Air Guard.”
“Will do!” the captain announced with a grin. Then he turned to Dhruv. “Can you turn the hails to Ireland’s airspace?”
His co-pilot nodded. “Of course, captain!” Then he turned to his control deck and typed in the necessary commands. It did not take long for him to get a response.
“Irish Air Guard has received yer hail,” the speaker crackled out. “Ken O’Kinney on the line. How can I help ye… wait, what is yer ship’s moniker?”
Mannarius leaned in. “This is the Lionstar,” he said. “Captain Mannarius Klavernning III speaking.”
“We cannae read the text in yer hail, lad,” Ken replied. “Where are ye flying in from?”
“My ship hails from planet 83 Leonis,” the captain explained. “I can send you the Leomian-to-English codices if you need them.”
“Standby, Lionstar.” The staticky voice came back. When the transmission resumed a few minutes later, Ken said, “Negative on the data transfer, Lionstar.”
“Very well,” Mannarius said. “Can I request permission to enter Ireland’s airspace?”
“Irish airspace is pretty busy today, lad,” Ken informed him. “Did ye say that ye just flew in from outer space? Can you state yer business in Old Eire? Earth Alliance usually has visitors come in through Greenwich.”
Mannarius turned to Endan with a hopeful look, as though he wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“Ye might want tae tell him that ye have a home-bound Irish citizen on board,” he told the Lion.
“I have one of your citizens on my ship,” Mannarius told the air guard when he turned back to the comm. “He and his wife want to get home.”
“Are they in urgent need of health care?”
“No, Ken, they’re right as rain.”
The comm was quiet for a couple minutes. “We need to confirm their identities, Lionstar. Can you switch to video feed?”
Mannarius nodded to Dhruv, and the co-pilot typed the necessary commands into the computer. “Video feed ready, captain. Transmission has connected with Irish Air Guard’s central control.”
“Well done,” the captain replied.
The view-screen on the Lionstar flickered, and a staticky image wavered across the screen. When the signal stabilized and the image cleared up, they could all see a man in a green uniform, a bulky headset on his head.
“Ken O’Kinney, on screen,” the man told them.
“Captain Mannarius Klavernning III,” the Lion said, raising one palm. “This is my co-pilot, Dhruv Caralynx.”
“Ye said ye hail from…” Ken paused and looked down at a tablet that he’d been using. “83 Leonis?”
“My favorite home-world!” the captain declared.
Ken gave him a curious look, but decided not to ask about it. “Where is yer Irish citizen, lads?”
Endan stepped forward. “Right here,” he told Ken. “Endan Clarendon, and this is my wife, Citlally Winterhawk.”
“Comin’ back from a long trip, are ye?” Ken asked them.
“Plenty long,” Endan confirmed.
There was a long pause while Ken punched some information into his tablet. Finally he looked up again. “I’m requestin’ permission for ye tae enter Irish air space. When ye land, ye’ll be asked to verify your identity. Please have all yer documents ready in order tae speed up yer entry.”
“Will do,” Endan replied. “Can you get us close to Kilkenny?”
“We’ll see about that,” Ken told him. “Standby, Lionstar. Ken O’Kinney out.”
The view-screen went dark a moment later, and Mannarius turned to the humans.
“They are a serious bunch, aren’t they?” the captain commented.
“Earth learned the hard way tae be pretty wary,” Endan explained.
“They won’t even take a data transfer!”
“They really don’t like hackers,” Citlally told him.
Mannarius shook his head. “If they had more sophisticated protections, they wouldn’t have to act so nervous.”
“They are still working on that code,” Citlally said. “It’s a big galaxy out there, and they’re worried about what they might encounter.
They went on talking for several minutes before a hail finally came through. “Lionstar, this is Irish Air Guard calling.”
“We’re receiving you,” Dhruv said into the comm. “Co-pilot Dhruv Caralynx speaking.
“Cian Lanning here,” the voice came back. “Ye’re cleared tae enter Irish air space.
“Thank you, sir,” Dhruv replied. “Where are we set to land? We had a request for Kilkenny.”
“All air traffic entering from space needs tae pass through customs in Dublin,” the air guard replied.
Dhruv looked over at Endan, who shrugged. “So be it. We can get transportation from Dublin tae Kilkenny easily enough.”
“Dublin confirmed,” Dhruv said into the comm. “Can you transmit coordinates?”
“Transmitting,” the air guard said after a couple minutes.
“File received,” Dhruv told him as he typed more commands into his computer. “Destination set. We will see you shortly, Dublin.”
“We’ll be waiting,” Cian replied. “Ireland Air guard, over and out.”
The Lionstar soared down into Irish Air Space, passing by several planes before Dublin came into sight. Mannarius leaned in to bring up the view from above on the screens.
“What a city you have,” he said as he gazed at the tall buildings and sprawling neighborhoods.
“It’s home,” Endan told him. “We’re pretty proud o’ this city. It’s lasted us a good long time.”
“I look forward to exploring it.” Mannarius said.
“Now I’m comin’ home, tae the place where I call home,” Endan began singing as he watched the city flying by, “lay my bones on the shores where the sons of out father were born.”
“Oh, you’re ready for the pub already?” Citlally said in a teasing tone.
Endan grinned at her and went on singing as they flew along.
Dhruv followed the flight plan that he had been sent down to the far end of the Dublin Airport. There was a field lit along its perimeter with blinking lights, and the co-pilot carefully brought the Lionstar down onto it. Everyone could hear the hull creaking as it met the ground.
Then there was the winding down of the engines. Mannarius nearly jumped when he heard the loud clanging from the engine room.
“What just happened to my ship?!” he cried.
“It sounded like one of the turbines,” Dhruv told him.
Mannarius gave him a worried look.
“This is it,” Dhruv reminded him. “We knew that this might happen when we passed through the atmosphere.”
“Maybe we did,” Mannarius admitted, “but I was really hoping that it wouldn’t actually happen.”
“It’s okay,” Citlally told him, taking his big, wide hand. “You brought us all this way, and we’ve already said that we would help you get your ship fixed.”
“My poor Lionstar,” the captain whimpered. He looked ready to shed tears.
“Don’ worry, lad,” Endan assured him. “We’ll find the mechanics who can make it right as rain again.”
Mannarius nodded, sighing all the while, then turned to his co-pilot. “Dhruv, time to open the airlocks and release the doors. Hopefully those still work.” He looked to Citlally and Endan. “Are you ready? It’s been ages since you’ve walked on Terran soil.”
“I can hardly wait!” Citlally replied. She and her husband strolled off the bridge and down the hall while Dhruv keyed the necessary commands into the computer.
There were several whooshes of air, and the sounds of hydraulics being released. The party climbed down the stairs and stood at the doorway leading to the outside. They heard the creaking of metal, a clang, and another creak.
“Blast it, the hull is damaged and the door is stuck!” Mannarius grumbled and pushed several times, but the door didn’t budge. “Dhruv, get over here and help me push it open.”
Endan jumped in to help, too. They pressed their shoulders against the edges of the door and shoved as hard as they could.
“Harder!” Mannarius ordered as he heard the metal creaking again.
As the metal creaked, daylight began to stream in from the world outside. Citlally could see one dark spot, one place where the light was blocked and could not get through.
“I see what the problem is!” she cried. She took a low stance and readied herself. “Move out of the way!”
She screamed, running across the small space of the lower deck. As soon as she was close to the left-most edge of the door, she brought up her leg and kicked as hard as she could. Her booted foot met with the metal just as Mannarius got himself out of the way, and there was a loud clanging of the metal. They gave the door one last shove, and it fell open.
They stumbled as it gave way, the metal groaning as it moved. Dhruv fell to the ground, rolling down the platform as it descended down to the ground. He rolled all the way down onto the busy tarmac outside, coughing at the cloud of dust that he kicked up. Mannarius chuckled at the sight of him; he himself had only stumbled to his knees, and he was more careful about getting up.
Right where the bay door had opened, the ground was lined with half a dozen men and women in uniform. They were armed, not to attack, but ready to defend if they needed to. They stared down at the alien at their feet.
“What’s goin’ on here?” one of the Irish Air Guards said.
“I apologize for his rude intrusion,” Mannarius called out to the men. “Our ship took a great deal of damage on our way here, and he wasn’t ready for the door to open quite like that.”
While the captain strolled over to help his co-pilot get back to his feet, Dhruv groaned. Citlally frowned as she looked down at him, worried that he’d hurt something during his fall.
“Can ye get up?” one of the air guards asked the Leomian as he laid panting on the ground.
“Yeah, sure,” Dhruv croaked out. He rolled over and pushed himself up to his knees.
“Come on, lads,” Endan said as he descended the platform. “He’s a good enough man and will do ye no harm. The least we can do is help him up.”
Endan offered Dhruv his arm, and helped pull him back up to standing. Dhruv stumbled, still feeling sore and disoriented.
“I’m okay,” Dhruv assured them as he gained his footing, regardless of how uneasy he looked. “I just haven’t been on a planet for a while.”
“Is this yer full crew?” one of the Irish Air Guards asked, looking straight at Mannarius.
Mannarius looked around, then nodded. “This is all of us.”
They were escorted from the ship into one of the buildings nearby. All of them turned in their galactic passports, which were examined while they went through decontamination. Then they were taken in for interviews with Ireland Customs. It took a couple of hours, but in the end, Mannarius and Dhruv were released for travel in Ireland so long as Citlally and Endan were willing to have them.
The Lionstar was moved to a secured ship hangar, and Mannarius took the time to make sure that it was safe before he left it behind. Then the group was taken to the Dublin train station, where they spent some time at the currency exchange before buying train tickets to Kilkenny.
The train ride turned out to be the first one that Mannarius and Dhruv had ever taken, having had no such transports on 83 Leonis. They seemed to enjoy the trip, short though it was. They were almost disappointed to when they train came to a stop and they had to disembark.
From the train station, Endan hired a van and gave the driver his address. They left the train station and took the R887 to get to The Parade, which in turn took them to Bennetsbridge Road and on down to the N10. Endan’s house was several miles southeast of the city, where he could have a view of the trees and the Rive Nore.
By the time the van-for-hire pulled up to the house, the day had grown cloudy, the sky a hazy shade of gray.
“Rain isnae long off,” Endan noted after had had paid the driver. “Come inside and we’ll have a cup o’ tea.”
“that sounds nice,” Mannarius replied. He went to the back of the van to help the driver unload their luggage, then the lot of them followed Endan up the stony pathway to the front door of his house.
It was a bit of an older build, but Endan seemed very proud of the fact that it was more of a traditional style. He entered several codes into the panel beside the door, then laid his palm on it when it requested verification. The lock released with a hydraulic sound, and he turned the handle to open the door.
“Come on in, he told everyone as he stepped inside.
Citlally rushed past him once he was inside. She set down her luggage and dropped her body onto the couch in the main main room.
“Oh, it feels so good to be home!” she called out.
Endan turned to Mannarius and Dhruv and gave them a smirk. “Welcome tae Ireland,” he told them.
Mannarius returned his look with a warm smile. “And welcome home to you!”
End of Part Three