by Drivtaan and Dan Swanson
In St. Louis, Missouri, Valerie Coppersmith kept one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the radio knob of her cherry-red and white 1959 Corvette convertible. Even with the top down, the cold winter wind still tugged on her long, black hair, a trait that, despite her darker complexion, made some of her friends compare her to Morticia from Charles Addams’ cartoons in The New Yorker. As she headed northwest on Natural Bridge Road, music began to blare from speakers, so she spun the knob until she found another news broadcast.
“–ncisco, Phoenix, and New York City report encounters with what appears to be alien spacecraft. In all instances, the aliens have been repelled after facing either the military or costumed individuals. Officials are telling us that military bases all across the nation are on high alert.
“Hold on a second. We’ve got some breaking news coming in.” A pause. “It appears that one of the spaceships has been spotted in the skies over St. Louis. We have been told that the 131st Tactical Fighter Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard has managed to get a few jets into the air.”
Valerie looked up and spotted the aforementioned craft. “Looks like the oh-so-rich and even-more-generous Mrs. Riverdayle is going to have to wait for her fortune. It looks like the thing is head for Lambert Field.”
A few blocks later, Valerie made a turn and was heading north on Florissant Road. Vehicles were streaming toward her, away from the airport, and it wasn’t until she turned west onto Airport Road that she saw why. The police had set up a roadblock barring admittance to the airfield.
She hit the brakes and slid to a stop on the snow-covered road several yards from the police cars. One of the officers approached her vehicle, urging her to turn around and go to a safer location.
“If this really is an invasion,” Valerie asked, “where can I go that is safe?”
The officer looked down at the girl in the multi-colored, multi-layered skirt and white peasant blouse for a few seconds. “I’m sorry, Miss. You’re going to have to turn around.”
Valerie’s first instinct was to let the man know he was talking to someone important. After all, she was the one the police came to when they needed help. She was the one who had solved a half a dozen high-profile kidnapping and missing persons cases that the police had given up on. Unfortunately, this was not the time. Her intuition told her that lives would soon be in danger, and some of her more unique talents might be of some help. She flashed the officer a smile and put her car into reverse. As she turned around, there was no mistaking the sound of an explosion coming from the airfield.
Valerie headed back east until she spotted the turn off for Hanley Road. She had only gone a half a mile when she found what she had been looking for, an old dirt road that wasn’t listed on any of the maps. It had been years since she had been here; the last time was when she was a child.
Two and a half decades ago, her family had just arrived in the area as immigrants from Eastern Europe. Her Romany grandparents — people still called them Gypsies, even in this day and age — had camped here for almost a month before developers ran them off. Her father grew up and got a job, met her mother, also a Romany immigrant, and had settled down. Her grandparents had moved in with the newlyweds, and, almost a year later, she was born. When she was old enough to remember, her father and grandfather had brought her out to show her where they used to live.
After driving for a couple minutes, Valerie pulled to the side of the gravel road. Before turning off the engine she put the top down, since she feared that the white top might make the car more noticeable. Climbing out of the car, she headed for the field, and almost immediately stumbled into a ditch that hadn’t been there years ago. There was something unusual sticking out through the clay on one side of the ditch, no doubt uncovered by the recent rain that had melted some of the snow. Her intuition warned her not to ignore it.
She hated mud, especially mud that was half-frozen. Picking up a stick from the debris in the disk, she poked the object free. It was a wooden box; she immediately recognized it as Romany “treasure chest,” though it was rotting and starting to fall apart. She easily knocked the top off, and was startled to see a bag inside. Even from several feet away, she could feel the magic aura around the bag, magic that had apparently kept it completely clean even after years buried in the wet clay.
Picking up the bag, she examined it. “Where in the world did you come from?” It was made of heavy, dark blue cloth, about the size of a coconut, covered with magical symbols, and had leather drawstrings. Very “Romish” — a perfect addition to the image! she thought triumphantly.
Valerie opened the bag and looked inside. It was empty, or at least it appeared to be. Reaching inside, she discovered that it was much deeper than it seemed. The fact that the thing was magical didn’t really surprise her. She was no stranger to what those in the know referred to as the Arts. She had a few mystical abilities herself. She could affect emotions, and could manipulate mechanical objects at a fairly close range. She also had a collection of scrolls, but she had neither the time, nor the patience, to spend figuring them out. In all the time she had spent studying them, she had only figured out how to cast two spells. If she was going to deal with magic, this was how it should be done — with as much ease as possible.
“I don’t know where you came from,” she said, “but it would have been nice if you actually held something that could help me against the aliens. Something that could get me onto the airfield unseen would have been nice.”
Valerie’s eyes grew wide as she pulled her hand from the bag. Opening it up, she found a small ring that seemed a perfect fit for her pinkie. She slid it on and felt her body begin to tingle. Leaning into the car, she looked into her rear-view mirror. There was no reflection. She started to pull the ring off when she sensed that she should leave it on. A strong wave of intuition swept her: she was certain that if she removed the ring, its magic would be lost to her. She had other talismans of power that she wore, most of which appeared to be nothing more than costume jewelry that completed the Gypsy look she used when dealing with her clients, but none of them had ever given her this feeling. “All right,” she said to herself, “let’s go see if we can’t do something about those aliens.”
As she started toward the airfield, she saw a plume of black smoke rising into the air. There was a second explosion, and a second plume. Even from here, she could hear the sirens going off.
Five minutes later, Valerie was crossing an open field that bordered one of the runways. She made footprints in the snow as she crossed the runway, her eyes constantly scanning the skies, searching for the spaceship. A growing rumble drew her attention to the south. It wasn’t the sound one would expect a spacecraft to make, but then again, she hardly believed she would be hearing the musical whistling that accompanied those she had seen at the theater. She continued moving until she reached one of the airfield’s gray, arch-shaped hangars. She raced along the outside wall until she reached the other end. As she rounded the corner, she saw the spacecraft already touching down.
On the runway, two jets were burning out of control. Fortunately, she saw no signs of the pilots. Hopefully, they were already somewhere safe.
Valerie was about to cross the tarmac when the rumbling became deafening. She looked up and saw four of the 131st’s F-84F Thunderstreaks soar overhead. In a heartbeat, they were a mile away and splitting up the formation. Each jet performed a banking maneuver that was as graceful as any ballerina, and was quickly moving to make another pass over the airfield. She was halfway between the hangar and the spacecraft when the first of the fighters began a strafing run. She could hear what sounded like someone pounding on a bucketful of water as the bullets struck an invisible shield surrounding the ship.
One of the amulets she wore around her neck was supposed to offer her some protection from gunfire, but she wasn’t certain if it would protect her from what was starting to rain down from the sky. Her mind began to race.
“How could they be so careless as to shoot when there are people still in the area?” she cried out as she continued to run. She had only taken a couple of steps when she realized the pilots were firing because they didn’t know she was there. “Time to become visible.”
Valerie removed the ring from her pinkie. It turned to ash and crumbled into nothing. That confirmed the wisdom she had shown in keeping it on.
Overhead, one of the pilots had seen her sudden appearance and was alerting the others. The group leader immediately contacted his home base and reported this new development.
“This isn’t the first report of costumed individuals coming out of the woodwork to help repel the aliens,” was the reply he received. “Save the taxpayers a few bucks, and see what she can do. The minute that thing takes to the air, however, you know what to do.”
“Roger,” the pilot acknowledged. Since everyone heard their new orders, they withdrew from the immediate area and allowed the newcomer to take her shot.
Valerie was thankful for the reprieve. “Now, if I could just figure out what the aliens are after.” Before she could formulate a plan, Valerie was surprised to see the air around one section of the spaceship shimmer, and a panel slide open. That wasn’t the only thing that surprised her. Two small creatures emerged. Their skin was dolphin-gray, and they had two large black eyes that set in shallow recesses in their oversized heads. Long, spider-like fingers wrapped around the handles of what could only be guns of some sort. They moved with purpose into a nearby hangar.
While they were inside, Valerie spotted a group of soldiers rushing toward her. She waved her arms to draw their attention. One of the men pointed back, and they started toward her.
Valerie realized that, to reach her, they would have to pass by the opening of the hangar where the aliens were. She began to wave them off. Instead, she directed their attention toward the hangar. She held up two fingers to let them know how many aliens were inside. She also pointed her fingers at the soldiers like a gun to let them know the aliens were armed. The soldiers nodded and took up position near the hangar door.
Turning her attention back to the spaceship, Valerie decided there was nothing for her to do but get aboard and see what she could find. As she started toward the opening, the sound of gunfire erupted behind her. She glanced back in time to see one of the soldiers fall, a large hole burnt completely through him. The aliens were down an instant later. Valerie had to choke down the bile that rose in her throat. She knew there was nothing she could do for the soldier, but she could see if there was some way to prevent it from happening to anyone else.
Inside the ship, Valerie found herself facing a third alien. It, too, carried a gun and seemed just as surprised to see her as she was to see it.
She reached for the gun in an attempt to push its barrel away from her. As she did so, arcane words seemed to fall from her lips of their own volition. The shadows that lined certain areas of the hallway reached out and grabbed the alien by the arms. There was a sickening thud when it slammed against the wall. Valerie knelt and picked up the gun; if she couldn’t figure it out, then perhaps the military might be able to.
Valerie encountered no more aliens as she passed through the corridors. She was just about to round a corner and start down an adjoining corridor when she felt the ship jerk. She knew there was only one explanation; the ship was taking off.
She was halfway down the corridor when the ship lurched violently to one side, throwing her off-balance and in through an opening in the wall. The sounds that she could hear reverberating through the ship let her know that the Thunderstreaks were attacking with everything they had. She could only hope that the force-field she had witnessed while she was outside did its job now that she was inside.
“Sounds like we’re in a bit of a pickle.”
Valerie looked up from where she had fallen the instant she heard the voice — a human voice.
A man was hanging from the wall. Shackles built into the bulkhead held him firmly in place. He was a handsome man by anyone’s standards, whose strawberry blond hair was tousled, a sign that he had put up a fight when he was captured. He had build that could make any acrobat jealous, or any woman’s heart skip a beat, and was clothed in a skintight jumpsuit of an unknown red material. A mischievous grin seemed to highlight a boyish freckled face.
Valerie thought for a second, then began to recite the words to the only other spell she knew. There was an audible click as the shackles separated and began to recede into the wall. The man fell into her outstretched arms.
“I don’t know what you’re doing here, lady,” the man said, “but your magic is just what the doctor ordered. I’m Red Rocket.”
“Sure you are,” Valerie replied, somewhat skeptically, “and you can call me… Majique.”
“Sounds good to me.”