In a shower of sparks and light the dark craft fell and a world watched and held its collective breath. Planet Space Control had spotted the ship, like a flaming comet, in the upper atmosphere several hours before, the general populace only when it came closer and they could see the firestorm it brought was no natural phenomenon. The ship was now nearing nemesis. Dark, choking smog filled the air and there was a frantic whining sound as it struggled against gravity, a loud crash as it hit ground and then silence.
The ship had crashed in a wood on the outskirts of the capitol: there, countless members of the emergency services were on standby. They stood, hushed as the ship plunged through the trees and came to rest in a small clearing. After all the din, there was no sound except a faint plink of the overheated body cooling, and the snap of broken branches left in the ship's wake. After a heartbeat of time, one of the rescuers moved forward and soon the shouts of men starting about their work broke the silence.
Dev Cleary turned away from the window into the dim shadows of the room: the fireworks had finished and already the pager was beeping insistently to indicate a major emergency. His face was sour and tired he had not needed this. He sighed, shrugged on his jacket and moving through the door, broke into a trot then a run.
He need not have bothered, for when he arrived there was no accident, only an anticipation of one: the rest of the staff were already milling around the department preparing and few even acknowledged him when he arrived. He went about his work and did not even realise his patient had arrived until a nurse came and found him. Her face flushed with excitement, and gasping for breath she motioned him towards the emergency room.
Dev's patient was lying waiting for him. The emergency consultant was stooped over the body and looked up as Dev entered the room,
"Evening, Cleary." He grimaced as a faint spasm shot through his patient's prone body "Glad you could come. Not too interesting, just a young girl playing with boys' toys'" The consultant looked nervous, his voice was forced and sweat had wetted the his fringe so it was slicked against his forehead. Dev raised his eyebrows at this and answered,
"Evening Tom, They never learn do they?"
The consultant stood up straight and coughed hard for several seconds. Dev noticed how tired he looked, how grey; his coat was grubby and his hair filthy and crept over his shirt collars.
"Nothing but surface scratches as far as I can tell, minor fracture of the left tib; not regained consciousness since she was found: must have had a bump on the head. Anyway, I guess I can leave her with you?" The old man ended on a question: he wanted to stay but needed Dev to say so. Dev, however, mumbled a thanks and good-bye: he did not want the old man under his feet.
The consultant left the room and left Dev alone except for two men in grey who stood quietly talking in a corner, and a nurse, standing silent at the head of the bed. Dev took his first good look at his patient, and then stopped and looked up.
"She's not one of us, is she?" He looked towards the two men. They stopped talking: one, the younger replied, "No" and then turned back to their conversation.
Dev had guessed the truth, before he had had the confirmation. Like everyone else he had presumed the crash was one of their space ships landing, or a satellite failing. The alternative was unthinkable. The girl lying on the trolley before him was in her late twenties and her short dark hair and crumpled black jumpsuit shouted out her alienness. There were no female pilots on Bountiful, certainly no female space pilots. In fact, there were no star pilots at all.
He had to forget that, muffle his feelings: cuts covered the girl and bruises were already beginning to show on her forehead. Her brow glistened with sweat and her closed eyes were flickering disjointedly. She was still unconscious. Dev gently lifted the eyelid and flashed his light in: there was a reaction. Her eyes were green.
The girl did not regain consciousness for two days and Dev was with her for much of that time. He had had her moved up to a room off one of the wards and he and two nurses had tended her. The men in grey remained outside the room at all times. At first, the girl had been very poorly, her temperature high and her skin clammy. Now, she lay cool and serene in her hospital bed.
It was early evening when she woke. Dev was standing, gazing out of the window into the hospital gardens, when he heard a faint noise. Turning, he saw her sitting slightly up, with her eyes upon him and a slight smile on her lips.
"Hello." Her voice was a mere whisper and had a strong accent, but he decided it was lucky they even spoke the same language: he walked over to the bed as she spoke again, "Who am I, please?"
Dev named the girl Alysa after his maternal grandmother and set about her recuperation with a dedication that became the talk of the hospital. Day after day they spent talking, trying to recover pieces of the jigsaw of her past that would help Alysa over her amnesia: nothing seemed to work. She remembered some things: how to dress, to eat, to write; she remembered shards of her past: that she had been a pilot; she remembered the stars - often Dev would enter the room in the evening to find her standing in her white gown staring out of the window, upwards to the heavens - but who she was, the name of her homeworld, was lost. The men in grey tried to talk to her often in the first few days but in the end gave up both the attempt and their vigil outside her room and Dev and Alysa were left essentially alone.
Several days after the crash Dev entered Alysa's room early in the morning: she was already up and standing by the window. As he walked through the door she turned, smiling coyly and for a moment he stood watching her, then smiled himself and threw her a bundle.
"Get dressed: we're going out."
Still unwrapping the bundle, Alysa looked up, a slight frown, a little confusion on her face, "What do you mean, out?"
"Outside: I think a little fresh air would do you a world of good, and we can be alone there..." he paused as he moved across the room to her and touched the nape of her neck with the tips of his fingers, "...away from prying eyes". As Alysa closed her eyes, Dev stepped backwards, then turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. Alysa stood for a few seconds and then examined her parcel again. Inside was a trousersuit in a soft grey material, pleasant to the touch, which, after a moment's hesitation she tried on: it fitted her perfectly; there was also a pair of dark pumps and a dark belt that she fastened around her waist. Dressed, she stood silently by the window again, running her right hand through her cropped hair, until Dev re-entered the room.
"Nervous?" He asked, seeing her start, but she shook her head and smiled.
"Not if you're going to be with me."
Dev led Alysa from the room and from the hospital: Dev ignored the stares they got but Alysa buried her head in his arm and allowed him to lead her outside into the waiting vehicle. Inside the car, Dev noticed she was shaking but said nothing: he put his arm around her and simply held her for a long moment until she looked at him and smiled.
Dev drove in silence and Alysa gazed out of the rolled- down window as the grav-car passed the city limits and entered the countryside. Bountiful had been aptly named: it was a heaven of blue skies and verdant nature; single, broad trees and deep copses scattered through the rolling hills and carefully cultivated fields were interspersed with fields lying fallow and meadowlands. The movement of the car created a wind that whipped Alysa's short hair so that it bobbed and tumbled on her head until the car finally came to a stop. They were three quarters of the way of a hill, on a flat area before the final climb.
"There's no room for us to park further up, we'll have to walk the rest of the way." Dev said as he opened the door flaps and levered himself out. "The view will be worth it: it gives one of the best panoramas for miles. You feel as if you can see the whole world... all of creation."
"I'm not sure I can..." Alysa closed her eyes and remained seated; her knuckles white as they clutched the side of the seat. Dev frowned and walked round the car to her door. Stooping down he gently lifted her into his arms.
"Don't be scared. If you can't walk I'll carry you." Not hearing anything to the contrary Dev began to walk slowly up towards the summit, the girl in his arms, her head against his chest.
At the top a breathless Dev put the girl down: turned away from her, his face lifted towards the sun, he stretched his tall frame.
"Beautiful isn't it?" He heard no reply and turned to face Alysa again: she was still sitting, her head in her lap, her knees rising to touch her forehead.
"I'm sorry..." she whispered without raising her head, her whole body quivering "I can't remember but I don't think I have been outside in a very long time."
"What do you mean, you haven't been outside? Everyone goes outside..." he frowned, moving down to crouch at her side, an edge on his voice "You're a pilot, for heaven's sake, you, of all people, should be used to wide open spaces".
"In space I am encapsulated in my ship. I live in a space not much larger than my room in the hospital, I breathe reconstituted air, I am cushioned from the nothingness infinity. I am in control. Here there is nothing but space and ... I am helpless." Alysa looked straight at Dev, her clear green eyes wide, "Please hold me."
So Dev took Alysa in his arms and cradled her like a child: he felt the warmth of her touch as she brushed her fingers through his hair; felt her sweet breath in his face; felt her slim body against his as her shaking subsided. Their faces came closer together until their lips brushed and their embrace became a kiss.
It was early afternoon before Dev and Alysa stirred from the hill. Shifting from Dev's arms Alysa turned to face him, looking up into his eyes:
"Dev, do you think I'll ever get my memory back? I, I love this place, this world...you... but I don't feel complete. Is there nothing we can do?"
Dev frowned and gazed at Alysa: her eyes were half closed in the sunlight, the thick, dark lashes softly flickering; a bead of sweat glistened on her bare forehead.
"I don't know there is anything else we can do. If you were from Bountiful we could introduce you to familiar things and places in the hope of you remembering something: but you're not and we can't."
"There's nothing at all of mine left then?" Alysa questioned and slowly the realisation began to dawn on Dev, and he thought, upon Alysa too, that there was something.
"Your ship..." he whispered.
Within minutes Dev and Alysa were in his grav car heading for the crash site. As far as Dev knew no-one had attempted to shift the ship since its crash: the officials preferring to work on it where it lay than to go through the arduous task of moving it to more conventional surroundings. Alysa did not say anything for the whole drive, though at first Dev tried to begin conversation, until he too gave up and they sped through the countryside in silence. To Dev the journey felt like hours (although it was nothing like) but Alysa? Dev could feel her tension, alive in the air of the car. It only increased as they reached the site.
It was clear upon arrival that work was still in progress: men, all in uniform, milled around, busy with their tasks, and portable offices had been set up on the edge of the wood. Dev indicated that Alysa should stay in the car, and left her in silence, her head bowed, her gaze lowered, in a world of her own.
It was not easy for Dev to persuade the men in charge to allow Alysa to see the starship her ship, but Dev was persuasive. It could only be to their advantage, he argued, if she managed to regain her memory, for then they could question her, interrogate her as much as they wanted. The man, a grey suited apparachik, hesitated then made a hurried phone call. Eventually, he finished, and turning to Dev, simply nodded his head.
The path from the offices to the ship had been well beaten in the previous days and Dev and Alysa made good progress. Within ten minutes they were there and both stopped and looked in silence upon the black side of the star ship. Slowly Alysa walked forward and hesitantly, gently stroked the hull. Her hand still skimming the surface she walked towards the nose where two uniformed men stood by the door. The official was already there and waved them through, after giving them both a curt warning:
"You mustn't touch anything, Is that clear? First thing you touch and you're out: you understand?" Alysa nodded quickly and ran her hand through her hair, impatient to get on. Dev nodded too and they ascended the steps into the heart of the craft.
Dev had never been in a star ship before and hadn't known what to expect. Nothing could prepare him for what he saw: Alysa had been right the inside was small no bigger than a hospital room and dark. To his right, away from the nose there was a dim overhead light, illuminating the spartan quarters. A box was in the corner, large as a coffin, and made of a silvery metal; lockers lined the opposite wall: all open, their contents - clothing, a bag of tools, a battered computer terminal, a helmet and oxygen tanks - scattered over the floor. To his left, near the nose was the control panel: the lights all broken and dark, a web of thick cords, tangled in a heap to one side. Alysa said nothing but Dev saw her eyes moving, scanning the devastation in the gloom.
Slowly she started to move forward, stooping and touching things with the tips of her fingers. Once she reached the opposite wall she let herself straighten up and stroking the wall, moved towards the front, her eyes ahead of her. Dev watched. He saw her stop, close her eyes as if trying hard so hard to remember, then frown and, eyes still closed, move onwards. She did not see the webbing on the floor until it was too late. Before Dev could move to help her, she stumbled, her feet entangled and fell heavily against the console. She scrabbled for a hold and, as Dev and the security man both moved towards her, managed to right herself. She was smiling as the security man insisted they get out, and she walked, limping slightly out of the craft.