Allie is in on her first full adventure with Drifter, and her romantic interest believes in the jump-in-with-both-feet learning method. They find themselves on course for a red planet, but there's white spooks afoot that greet them on their arrival. They land and find that the mystery revolves around an old mine where an abandoned shaft was recently reopened. The spooks were set free, and it's up to them to find out why they're there and how to free them.
Who knew you could hunt ghosts while flying through space?
Allie couldn’t have even entertained the idea as Drifter’s strange hexagram-shaped space craft flew through the stars on their way to the reddish-hued planet ahead of them. She stood at the left side of the ship and rubbed her hand against the transparent wall. Her hand didn’t leave so much as a smudge.
Allie looked over her shoulder at Drifter who stood at the main control panel of the strange sun dial. “Are the walls made of glass?”
He didn’t look up from a holographic screen above the console. “Tougher than glass, or the vacuum of space would have ejected us out by now.”
She noticed there was something small and red in the center of the screen. “Is something wrong?” she wondered as she moved to join him at his side.
Drifter furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure. The ship’s sensors are detecting a-”
“Incoming life form.”
The soft, robotic female voice came from everywhere and nowhere. The red dot on the screen grew larger with each passing moment.
Allie blinked up at Drifter. “Life in space? How’s that possible?”
He pursed his lips and pressed a button. “It isn’t.”
A large screen popped up on the front wall of the ship. Drifter walked around the dial and Allie scurried after him on the other side, and they met in front of the screen. She realized the red dot had represented a white mass that floated between them and the planet. The transparent mist stretched for about a mile in front of the planet and was as still as a corpse.
Allie looked up at Drifter with a questioning raised eyebrow. “Is that fog?”
He shook his head. “Fog can’t exist in space.”
“Then what is it?”
“I don’t know, but-”
The wall of mist shifted like a flimsy, rotten sheet over abandoned furniture and flew at them. Red alarms sounded throughout the space ship. “Warning. Incoming collision. Sensors indicate the ship cannot pass through the mass unharmed.”
Drifter slammed his hand against the screen and swiped it right. The ship followed the same path and veered hard right. Allie’s heart thumped in her chest as the ship flew along the long length of the white wall. Soft tendrils whipped out and licked at the walls of the ship, causing a tremor as though they’d been struck by an asteroid.
The ship flew past the end of the wall and veered left toward the red planet. The wall slowed and swooped back, following them at a speed that matched their own.
Allie whipped her head up to Drifter. “Why are we still headed for the planet? Why don’t we just go somewhere else?”
“We don’t have a choice in the matter,” Drifter told her as he looked over his shoulder at the compass. “It’s out of our hands.”
Allie looked behind them. The clear walls showed that the mist was gaining on them. “Then is there any way to make this ship go faster?”
“Only if you want to slam into the planet.”
She threw up her arms. “Well, what about leaving a grease trail for the mist to trip over?”
Drifter’s eyes widened. “You’re brilliant!”
She blinked at him as he rushed to the console. “I am?”
“How long can you hold your breath?” he asked her as he pressed a few buttons.
She shook her head. “I don’t know, a minute? Why?”
“Because I’m about to push out most of our reserve.”
Allie’s eyes bulged. “Why?”
Drifter lifted his hand over a flashing button. “To save us, now take a deep breath.”
Allie wanted to argue some more, but she took a deep breath a second before Drifter slammed his palm on the button. A port hole opened in the rear wall and the air escaped out. The wall had closed the distance to only a few feet and was blasted by the escaping air. Its form dissipated and gaps appeared in the wall, but it continued its charge toward them.
Allie pressed herself against the front wall as the mist struck them. The ship shook like a vessel on rough seas. Some of the tendrils tried to latch on to the spacecraft, but their solidness had diminished and they were only able to brush against the exterior with all the danger of a dust rag.
The mist drew back and floated away from them. Allie breathed a sigh of relief as the distance between them increased until the mist was just a long blotch in starry space.
“Brace for impact!” Drifter shouted as he nodded at the front wall.
Allie whipped her head around and watched as the ship flew into the glistening stratosphere of the red planet. Impact was minimal, which both surprised and slightly disappointed Allie. She was expecting an earth-shattering kaboom, or at least a mild speed-bump tremble.
One moment the strange space and time machine floated through the stars toward the strange orange planet, and the next the planetary ozone surrounded them. Craggy mountains rose up around the ship and birds flew past squawking their displeasure as a slight bit of wind from the space craft brushed them away.
The wind did nothing to brush away the mountains, however, and Allie’s pulse quickened when she realized they were headed toward one. She stabbed a finger at the oncoming rocky traffic. “Lookout! We’re going to-”
The word ‘crash’ didn’t leave her lips because the boom never happened. The mountain folded inward like a piece of paper with neat lines and corners. The corner of the time machine in direct line with the stones slipped past without so much as a whisper. Allie whipped her head around and watched the mountain fold itself back into its original position.
Allie peeled herself off the wall and glared at the pilot. “Is this how you always land on a planet?”
“Oh no,” he mused as he pressed a few buttons and their velocity slowed. “Sometimes it’s a bad landing.”
She tapped her fist against the wall and it rang out like tapping glass. “How small a space can this ship fit into?”
He paused in his piloting and swept his eyes over the room. “As small as needed, though we can’t get out if the space is too small to squeeze out through the doors.”
Allie blinked at him and turned toward the entrance. “What doors-” A pair of elegant wood doors with intricate, unknown markings had replaced the rear glass wall. She pointed a finger at them. “Where did those come from?”
Drifter grinned at her. “Magic.”
The ship flew through a low mountain range and Allie couldn’t help but dance a little out of instinct as the rocks gave way beneath the floor of the vessel. The mountains opened to reveal a large valley. A thick forest nestled along the foothills of the steep side below them while the rest of the basin was barren of all but scrub brush. A gaping hole at the far foothills led into the largest of the mountains, and in front of the mouth was large mining machinery and two rows of metal0-lined barracks. A few wooden shanties finished off the picture.
The ship floated down as graceful as a feather and land on behind a large boulder out of direct sight of the evidence of civilization. Drifter clapped his hands together. “Welcome to Denerth, the planet of Blessed Bowelleite.”
Allie blinked at him. “The planet of what?”
“It’s a type of powdery substance used for digestion problems,” he explained as he strolled toward the door and grasped one of the elegant handles. He half-turned to her with that mischievous smile of his. “Are you ready?”
Allie raised an eyebrow. “Ready for what?”
He gave her a wink before he opened the door. “For your next adventure.”
Drifter stepped out and out of sight. “Hey!” Allie shouted as she scrambled across the room, though not so fast that she failed to notice the compass was gone from its pedestal. She stumbled out into the dusty red earth of the alien planet and looked around. Drifter was nowhere to be seen. “Drifter? Where are you?”
“Over here,” came the reply from around the rock.
Allie tiptoed over and peeked around the curved edge. Drifter stood on the edge of the camp surveying the place. She bit her lip and looked over her shoulder to make sure the ship was still there.
The answer was yes and no, and that made her heart skip a beat. The walls and floor of the vessel had disappeared, and all that stood in its place was the sun dial. The smooth stone had taken on the rough characteristics of the red rock beneath her feet so that she could hardly see the dial at all against the boulder backdrop.
Allie took a step toward the ship, but a shout made her return her attention to around the rock.
She peeked around the boulder and watched a man-like creature scurry out of one of the shacks and over to Drifter. He walked on two legs in a stooped fashion, but his facial features were very vermin in nature, with a long rounded nose and buck teeth that protruded from under his upper lip. Though he wore sunglasses, he blinked against the bright light of the sun and shaded his face with one arm. His fingers were short and the pads of his hands were as hard as leather.
He grabbed Drifter’s hand in both of his and gave it a hardy shake. “I couldn’t be more pleased to see you! You are as a god come to save us from on high!”
Drifter smiled at the strange fellow. “This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Talka. The last time we met you were on an asteroid.”
Mr. Talka lifted his chin and puffed out his chest. “Yes, but that was before my promotion. Now I’m manager of this mine.”
Drifter swept his eyes over the area. “You don’t seem to be managing many men here.”
Talka’s pride deflated and his nose drooped. “My men have fled me and now I have no one to run the machines.”
“Why did they flee?”
Talka bit his lower lip with his buck teeth and glanced around with wide eyes. He leaned toward Drifter and lowered his voice so that Allie could hardly hear him, and she heard him all too well.
“Because of th ghosts.”