High school is supposed to be the best years of your life.
Clearly, the people who say this only remember their high-school years through rose-colored glasses. Because Josie can’t think of a single moment of high school she actually enjoyed. Except, perhaps, Chemistry.
For Josie, high school is more like the worst days of her life, and with final testing around the corner and college looming on the horizon, and her stupid car breaking down, well, this is officially the worst day ever.
An opinion she solidifies when a storm washes in out of nowhere, full of wind and lightning and odd-colored clouds, and some kind of swirling vortex appears in the air above her.
‘Why me,’ she wonders mere seconds before it vacuums her up and swallows her whole, sending her tumbling into an endless, starry abyss.
She lands hard enough to rattle her senses, but not knock her out. She hits a chilly metal surface feeling like a ragdoll, her limbs flopping in all directions, and cries out when her ankle twists beneath her, shooting pain up her left leg.
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Dizzy, Josie forces her hands beneath her and manages to get to her feet, albeit resting most of her weight on her right leg. She dusts off her knees as her spinning head finally stops.
God, what hit her? Or more like, what did she hit?
She rubs at her eyes as the noise of something humming, whirring, clicking and whooshing fills the air around her. Odd sounds. She drops her hands and looks up.
There are five towering metallic things – robots, she tells herself – standing over her, looking down at her like she’s some new thing they should squish. Well, okay, one of the really big ones is kind of cowering behind the tiniest one.
They are an eye-hurting clash of bright colors and bright eyes – blue, she dimly notes.
One of them, the one who doesn’t have any eyes by the way, opens his mouth and makes this weird whirring-click noise. Another one, who has a bright red symbol attached to his face, reaches for Josie.
There’s a gap. A small one, but so is she.
Twisted ankle or not, she’s out of here.
She lurches forward, hissing as putting weight on her ankle sends jagged bursts of pain up her leg. It won’t kill her though, and these things possibly will so she pushes through the pain and hobble-runs toward the really big ones. There’s a space between their legs and massive feet, and freedom just beyond it.
She’s small and hopefully quick and maybe they’ll get too tangled up in each other to even see her.
The hand misses her. She feels the whoosh of air against her back, but she knows it’s going to come back around again. She dives between the two feet, wriggles forward, and squeezes out from between the two huge robots. There’s some kind of huge computer console in front of her, and there’s all kinds of dark space beneath and around it.
Hiding isn’t better than running, but it’s better than nothing.
Josie limp-runs toward it as the ground starts rumbling, and the robots start making those weird chitter-click noises again. She finds the safety of the desk just as one of their shadows fall over her.
She scrambles and slides her body under one of the console legs. There’s a narrow space here, the kind a mouse would fit in were it human-sized, but Josie laughs a little wildly to herself. She’s the mouse now.
She drags her twisted ankle behind her and keeps moving forward, until she’s tucked against the wall and beneath the console. It looks like it’s bolted to the floor, thank god. They can’t just lift it away from her.
Panting, Josie crouches in the darkness. Her body is covered in sweat. Her heart’s pounding a mile a minute. The floor is rumbling now as they move around. She can see their feet and hear each loud thud.
How did she get here? How can she get home? Why is she unlucky? And ow, her ankle hurts.
One of them kneels down. It’s the smallest one, she thinks, because then a head presses to the ground and she can see one blue optic peering under into her hiding space. It speaks a buzz of static and sound at her, despite not having a visible mouth, before a slim hand tries to wriggle beneath the console.
“Leave me alone!” Josie shouts and squeezes herself as far back as she possibly can. Her back presses to cold, humming metal.
The hand doesn’t come anywhere close, but it’s still enough to make her heart thump harder.
The face doesn’t have any expression to it, but the eye flickers. The face vanishes until all Josie can see are feet. She hears them talking again, or at least that’s what she assumes all the chitter-clicking is.
Her eyes round. That’s English.
One of them kneels down again. A hand comes into view, knuckles against the floor and palm upward.
“We assumed you would speak Galactic Standard,” says the voice. A really pleasant voice actually. Kind of soothing. The fingers wriggle gently. “You must be frightened. Please. Come out. We will not hurt you.”
Josie sucks in a breath. Does she dare believe them? “How do I know I can trust you?” she yells, her voice sounding tinny in the small space.
The fingers go still.
“Oh, well, you don’t,” the voice says diplomatically. Each word has a little humming noise that comes with it. “But I promise we mean you no harm. It appears you may be injured. We only wish to help.”
Josie chews on her bottom lip.
She can’t hide under the console forever. They speak English, so that has to be some kind of good sign, right? And they hadn’t immediately stepped on her. They were probably just as surprised by her arrival as she was.
“Where am I?” she demands.
“You are in our clinic,” another voices answers, this one softer and sweeter. “We are the Decepticon Justice Division, and it is our creed to care for any who need our help, especially the Decepticons on our List.”
Clinics are good. Right?
Josie twists her fingers together.
“Okay, I’ll come out,” she says. “But don’t try to grab me.”
The hand vanishes immediately. The floor rumbles, and she can tell they are taking several steps back.
“As you wish,” the first voice says.
Josie hopes she isn’t making a terrible mistake. She inches back out from the console, dragging her throbbing ankle behind her. She pulls herself to her feet once she’s out, but keeps her back pressed to the console. Maybe she can duck back under it faster than they can grab her, if she needs to.
She squints in the bright light. There are only four of them now. The biggest one, with the cross-mark on his face, is gone.
“Who are you?” Josie asks. “And where is this clinic? How did I get here? What are you?”
The smallest one chuckles. “Many questions, it has.”
“Wouldn’t you, Vos?” The big one with the bright-red face says as he rests a hand on Vos’ shoulder. “I am Tarn, the leader of the group you see here.” He squeezes Vos’ shoulder. “This is Vos, and to my left is Helex.” His free hand gestures to Vos’ right. “This is Kaon.”
Kaon nods and straightens his shoulders. “We are currently in the Oberon sector, orbiting the planet Raetaen,” he says, identifying himself as the soft and sweet voice. He had been been the one offering her his hand, too. “As for how you arrived here… that is a question we were hoping you could answer.”
“D-does the honored g-guest need a b-blanket?”
The meek, almost hesitant voice burbles up from out of nowhere. Josie blinks and peers to her left, down a long and brightly lit hallway. The biggest one from earlier is peeking out from around the corner. All she can see is his head and massive shoulders.
“Good question, Tesarus!” Tarn says with a broad gesture before he looks down at Josie. “Might we offer you a blanket?”
“Or perhaps a bath?” the other, very large one asks. Helex, if Josie remembers correctly. He’s very eager as he leans forward, a pair of small hands clasped together as his large ones rest on his hips.
His torso sloshes. Sloshes. Does he have a washing machine for a stomach?
“Hungry, it must be.”
“I’m not an ‘it’,” Josie says, her thoughts spinning so quickly. “I’m Josie. A ‘she’. I’m a human from the planet Earth.”
Aliens, her mind shrieks at her. Somehow, she’s on a spaceship with aliens. Robot aliens. Either she’s dreaming or something really, really weird is going on.
“I have heard of this planet,” Kaon says as he folds his arms over his chest. He nods solemnly. “It is far, but not unreachable.”
“The b-blanket?” Tesarus asks again.
Josie sways on her feet. “I could use a blanket,” she says. If only because Tesarus sounds so pitiful. He’s kind of cute, the way he hides all the way down there, as if she, a little human, can hurt him.
“Yes, Tesarus. Bring our guest, Josie, a blanket,” Tarn says. His hand slips from Vos’ shoulder, and he performs a fancy bow toward her. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Josie. We are currently attending to a fatigued member of the Decepticons right now, but as soon as we have finished our duty to him, we would be happy to escort you home.”
“Injured, she is,” Vos points out. One long, spindly fingers gestures to her feet. How he knows that, she has no idea.
“Needs a bath,” Helex says and wriggles around, making his stomach visibly slosh. And maybe he does have a washing machine in there, but it doesn’t look like it’s filled with water.
Kaon raises a hand. “Tarn, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but my databanks inform me that humans are a delicate species. You mustn’t use your voice to calm her.” He points a finger toward Helex. “They cannot have oil baths.” The finger then moves toward Vos. “Do not offer her your face. It would likely kill her. As would the goodies you are thinking of offering her.”
The floor rumbles. Josie grasps the edge of the desk to keep from toppling over. Tesarus has returned, with what has to be the biggest stack of cloth Josie has ever seen.
“I b-brought the b-blankets,” he says quietly, and then inches to stand behind Vos, offering them to Josie from over Vos’ head.
“Poison, goodies are,” Vos says. “Disappointing, that is. Feed her, how do we?”
“This is most troublesome,” Kaon says and folds his arms again. “We are within shuttle range of Space Station 5701, however. Perhaps there are supplies that will allow us to better care for an organic guest.”
Tarn nods. “Yes. Very good.” He claps his hands together. “Kaon, you and Tesarus will take the shuttle and see if we can find our guest something to make her stay more comfortable until we can get her home.”
“A sssspace ssstation?” Tesarus says, and the metal of his body starts clattering. His eyes get really bright. The blankets tremble in his hands.
Kaon half-turns and rests a hand on Tesarus’ arm. “You’ll be fine, Tes. You’ll be with me.”
“No bath?” Helex says and his shoulders sink. His little hands droop to his sides.
“Not yet, at any rate,” Kaon says.
“See her, Nickel needs to,” Vos says with a little huff. He’s still pointing to Josie’s foot. “Injury, she has.”
“Yes, yes, indeed.” Tarn folds himself down to one knee, not that it makes him much smaller in Josie’s opinion. “Is this satisfactory, Josie? Will you allow us to care for you until such time as we can see you safely home?”
He offers a hand to her, knuckles against the floor, palm open. He doesn’t have a face, but his eyes are very big and blue behind his weird mask. His voice seems earnest. And they do seem like they are actually interested in taking care of her.
Josie takes a deep breath before she nods. “Yes, please,” she says and takes a wobbly step forward, hissing as pain lances through her ankle. “And yes, I’m hurt. Though it’s only a twisted ankle, I think.” One class in CPR training does not make her a nurse.
“Excellent!” Tarn’s eyes got brighter, and his voice more excited. “Would you allow us to carry you to our doctor?”
As he asks, Vos kneels down close to her and offers his cupped hands to her. His thumb is within arm’s reach, and when she grabs it for stability, she’s surprised by how warm he feels. There’s a low buzz on her hand as well. He feels, well, he feels alive. And she supposes they are.
“Gentle, I will be,” Vos says as Josie limps into his hands and carefully seats herself into his palm. “Promise, I do.”
“I believe you,” she says and manages to smile. “And yes, thank you. A doctor would be nice. And thank you for wanting to take me home and for being nice and not squishing me.” That last one is really important to her.
Tarn stands up and gestures to his chest. “We are caretakers, not villains,” he says. “And you are most welcome. Now Vos will take you to see Nickel, Kaon and Tesarus will find supplies to better care for you, and Helex will help me try and figure out how you got here. Please, rest and relax. We will see you home.”
“Thank you,” Josie says.
Helex jitters as if excited. “And then you can have a bath later!” he says, in a not-quiet-at-all whisper.
Despite herself, Josie laughs. She clings to Vos’ thumb for balance as he stands as well, and it’s a bit disorienting to be this high up. But it feels better, too, cause she’s less staring up at them, and feeling so small.
“Like Nickel, you will,” Vos says to her. “She is a she, too.”
“I look forward to meeting her,” Josie replies. Which is very true.
What a weird, scary, and interesting day. Part of her almost doesn’t want to go home. She’s curious about her strange rescuers. And honestly, it’s not everyday someone gets a ride on a spaceship with real-life aliens!
At least, she’s safe. That’s the best part.
“Thank you,” Josie says, again. Because politeness is important.
“You, our honored guest, are most welcome,” Tarn says.