By Jessica Noelle
Andromeda twisted her frizzy hair into a tight bun as her ship, the Ray, whirred beneath her, clicking and buzzing.
“I know.” Andromeda laughed at her ship, her best friend in the whole galaxy. It had taken three years for her to code him with a sentient personality that fit him. “That Nyxellan looked surprised to see us on Sirennia. Earth was destroyed over fifty years ago, but everyone is still stunned when they run into a human outside of the Milky Way.”
“Droma, look,” Ray clicked. The ship’s sensors blinked as Andromeda studied the star-filled sky.
“I don’t see anything.” Andromeda chewed the inside of her cheek. “The ship must be cloaked.” Her parents had been in an accident with a cloaked ship—an accident that had left everyone dead.
“Danger…” was all Ray managed to whir out before Andromeda felt them rock.
Squinting against the bright blue light of the tractor beam, Andromeda could only make out her favorite constellation, the Manta Ray. She’d modeled Ray after its namesake, the now-extinct Earth sea animal, the creature she would never be able to see with her own eyes.
The sudden shudder of Ray’s docking shook Andromeda into action. She scrambled for her blaster, bracing herself for what would come next—her ship being boarded.
Sure enough, Ray’s door, the door she had built into his left fin, whirred open.
“I’m armed and dangerous,” Andromeda shouted, tightening her grip on her blaster.
“I’m not here to hurt you, Andromeda,” a female voice flooded her brain. A Nyxellan. Great. The same blue-skinned, purple-haired, telepathic alien race that had invaded Earth and led to its destruction. “I promise.”
“I don’t believe you.” Andromeda aimed her blaster at the cockpit entrance.
“Can I still come in?”
“I’ll blast you if you do,” Andromeda threatened, but it was a weak threat. They had her ship, and she wouldn’t—no, couldn’t—risk Ray.
“I can take it. Two hearts, remember? One stops, the other keeps the body going.”
“Fine,” Andromeda relented, but she didn’t lower her blaster. No use telling the Nyxellan that her blaster was only set on stun.
The Nyxellan ducked into her ship, and Andromeda was surprised to see wrinkles, something so human-like, on her azure face. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Andromeda. My name is Mara.” As she spoke, Mara tucked a violet lock behind her ear. Aside from their coloring, Nyxellans could pass for humans.
“How do you know my name?”
“You know a lot about Terra even though you never saw it. I mean, look at this ship. The workmanship on it—”
“Earth. Not Terra. Earth.”
Mara’s magenta eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Right, sorry. But Andromeda, I knew your parents.”
“Michael and Julia Perron, relocated from Earth to the Psi Quadrant at ages twelve and eight. That’s where I met them, after the war had driven all humans and Nyxellans off… Earth.”
“Because Earth was destroyed.”
“No, it wasn’t. Several Nyxellans, myself and my sister included, channeled our powers to make everyone think that Earth was destroyed to protect it.”
“Liar.” While Andromeda’s insult dripped with venom, her curiosity was piqued. Still, she kept her blaster fixed on Mara.
“After fifty-three years, Earth is ready to be rehabilitated. In fact, I can show you manta rays if you want.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“In case our plan failed, we took as many animals with us as we could.”
“Like Noah’s ark?”
“Exactly like that.” Mara’s blue skin emitted a silver aura radiating delight.
“Do you have manta rays?”
“Before your mother and father passed, they planned to bring you to the Omega quadrant, where everything, all the preparations to rehabilitate Earth, were being made. They knew you would love it, especially the animals. They sent me videos of you talking about manta rays, about how much you loved them. We’ve been searching for you for eight years, Andromeda. Since your parents died.” Mara pulled out her holo-emitter and flipped it open, revealing a picture of a five-year-old Andromeda cuddling with her parents.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Andromeda snapped, but her mind was whirling. They’d been searching for her since she was eight? Because of how much she’d loved Earth as a child? As much as she still loved the planet—the home—she’d never known.
“We have some on board. Your ship looks almost exactly like them.”
“I want to see.” Andromeda’s voice cracked as she felt a flutter of hope in her heart. It was a gamble to trust a Nyxellan, Andromeda knew that, but what if she was telling the truth? Manta rays, alive? She could see them? And Earth, still there?
“Of course. Follow me.”
Andromeda obeyed, but she tightened her grip on her blaster, bracing for it to be a cruel trick.
The Nyxellan ship was a labyrinth of corridors, but when Mara finally stopped, Andromeda stepped forward and, without thinking, holstered her blaster.
The cobalt water in the aquarium brimmed with life, from fearsome sharks to tiny minnows. There were orange-and-white striped clownfish, and there, in the corner, was a scared pufferfish!
And then, Andromeda saw them. Nestled in the sand were majestic diamond-shaped rays. One burst from the sand, swooping and gliding through the water.
An amazed laugh burst through Andromeda’s lips, and she clapped her hand over her mouth. “It’s incredible!”
She let out another joy-filled laugh. Her heart soared, just like the manta ray gliding through the water. Its movements were so smooth, a maneuver that Ray could never imitate.
“It’s the most beautiful thing in the galaxy,” she whispered.
“So, are you in? Will you help us fix Earth and save all these animals?”
Andromeda managed a nod. “On one condition: I don’t have to leave Ray behind. He comes too.”
“Deal.” Mara smiled, holding out her hand.
Pausing only for a moment to steal another glance at the manta ray, Andromeda shook Mara’s hand. “Deal.”