The Retrieval

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Laura Magalas

“You’re not going, Fort.”

Xylan’s warning tone of voice didn’t seem to faze the youth, whose bright blue eyes still gleamed. Fort’s small green hand grabbed at Xylan’s belt and made a fist, tugging repeatedly.

“But I’m ready, you know I’m ready,” he said, straightening his posture and releasing his hand from the belt at Xylan’s strict glare. “How am I supposed to prove myself if no one will give me a chance?”

Xylan stared hard at him for a long time. Finally he grasped Fort’s hand and held it up in front of his face. “What color do you see?”

“But, Master Xylan—”

“What color, Fort?”

Fort shifted his gaze down to the dark tiles of the academy hallway. He sighed. “Green, sir.”

“Exactly,” said Xylan, dropping the hand, “Only those who are grey get to run retrieval missions on Earth. Blue for reconnaissance. You know this. Until you’re grey, you’ll have to be satisfied with running retrieval on Venus.”

“But the next Earth retrieval year doesn’t happen for another fifty years after this one! I can’t wait that long!”

“Fort, until you grow into an adult skin,” Xylan said firmly, “it will have to do. You know the rules.”

Fort stared up at Xylan for a long moment, his blue eyes dimming until they grew dark. Finally, he turned away and without saying another word, walked down the hallway, away from the loading docks.

Xylan watched him and tried to ignore the heaviness he found pressing on his two hearts, becoming heavier with each step that took Fort further away from him. He watched him turn the corner. He dropped his hands to his sides and his six fingers began grasping and releasing the trim of his robe, a nervous habit he had developed after leaving his home planet Falpor, as a child, for its academy. Times had changed since the academy’s inception, and rules were now rules, not recommendations.

He remembered what the academy was like when he first registered. The satellite for the academy had just been built, away from the distractions of the planet. Abduction missions were abduction missions and not “retrieval” missions. The name changed because the council (who never went on the missions anyway) thought that “abduction” invoked a negative image of the Falpians.

Xylan remembered when he snuck aboard his first abduction mission. He’d hidden in the back of the pod of some first runner named Tak who could barely navigate properly. He remembered what it was like to see that human come through the klystron tube, the expression on their face at what they saw and how calm they looked when they were put to sleep for the examination process. It was the best thing he’d ever done, experiencing it first hand, but it was only now, when he was older, that he realized how much trouble he could have been in had something happened while on board.

Xylan released the grip he had on his robe as he slid down the hall towards the dorms. He glanced up at the door marked Beta and remembered when he often frequented this very room. He would always have to knock three times before Fort would answer and always answered looking disheveled and wide-eyed, as though when he wasn’t with Xylan, he was sleeping.

When he wasn’t sleeping, he was brilliant. He was the best student Xylan had ever had. Fort was always attentive and ready to learn, but always tried to ask and integrate his own questions into the lessons. And most often, those questions were about Earth.

He wanted to know what the species was like, what they ate, how they reproduced. How they managed to survive on a planet that was mostly water when they all seemed to be land animals. In the odd moments that he wasn’t with Xylan or sleeping, he was in the Academy’s library, reading everything he could on the residents of Earth. He often became frustrated with contradictory reports, and continuously begged Xylan to tell the story again of how he snuck aboard the “retrieval” pod (which had become a private joke between the two). It was then that Xylan decided to recommend Fort to the Board for training for retrieval missions to Earth, on the agreement with the council that he would not begin until he was old enough to do so.

At first, Fort had been thrilled, but as time went on, he realized how much more time he would have to dedicate to training before running missions to Earth. His first retrieval mission to Venus had gone off without the slightest error, and he had achieved the quickest turnaround time for the trip. But Xylan felt as though Fort was just going through the motions, doing whatever it was he had to do to ensure a place on the next retrieval squadron heading to Earth.

Xylan had gone to the council without Fort’s knowledge and requested that the age requirement on Fort be lifted so he could participate in the next trip, but the council refused. They claimed he was too headstrong, too focused and obsessed with only one goal, and in the event of an emergency, would be useless.

This had made Xylan angry. When the academy was first created, someone with as much talent and interest as Fort would have been guaranteed an early graduation and first choice of solo missions to any planet of his choosing, not dragged down to be suffocated under the average level. He remembered storming out of the assembly hall, the chairman still shouting after him about the strict rules and the changing times, but Xylan hadn’t listened. He remembered seeing Fort sitting down the hall, waiting for him. Still fuming from the meeting, Xylan had called Fort over. Surprised, Fort had come running. Xylan had sighed.

“I’m going to tell you something Fort.”

“What is it Master Xylan?”

Xylan looked down at the youth. “Sometimes you’ll need to listen to rules. And… sometimes you’ll need to break them. There will be people who’ll like you and there’ll be people who won’t. But the thing I want you to remember is to be true to yourself. Not me, not your fellow Falpians, not the academy. You. But always, always… be prepared for the consequences. A good explorer doesn’t just plan his trip. He anticipates the reaction of his return. And that is what you have to learn to do.”

Fort nodded his green oval head. “I understand Master Xylan.”

“Good,” he’d said, “Now let’s get you ready for your next mission.”

The two had walked back to the dorm room where Xylan now stood. Pausing as the memory finally passed and remembering the events that had happened this morning, Xylan finally raised a hand to the door and knocked three times.

No answer.

He frowned and was about to knock again as he heard the intercom spring to life through the static from the nebula near the satellite.

“Master Xylan to control, please. Master Xylan, to control.”

Making a note to speak to Fort later, Xylan swept down the halls towards the control center.

All eyes turned to Xylan as he entered the control station. “I was sent for,” he boomed. Within moments, a small figure turned away from the large window and came scurrying across the platform towards him.

“Master Xylan, thank you for coming.”

Xylan recognized the small horned figure as Hain, a Tarin from the Nars star and in charge of assigning missions to the students. He had agreed with Xylan about Fort’s skills, and had helped to get him on other retrieval missions as often as he could. Xylan looked down at him as he approached.

“What is it, Hain?”

Hain took a deep breath and released it quickly. “We received word that a storage unit was missing, and a ship that had been launched as part of the retrieval squadron to Earth was not responding to our calls to reconvene.”

Xylan stopped. He dropped to one knee, his full attention now on the Tarin front of him. “What are you telling me?” He felt every eye of every agent at the control stations trying not to listen.

“We believe that someone stole a ship and launched it with the rest of the squadron going to Earth to run retrieval missions. It’s the only one that didn’t return when called, and was still missing.”

Xylan’s caught the tone in Hain’s voice, and his antennas straightened. “Was?”

“Yes. We found him.”


Hain said nothing. Xylan frowned. Realization dawned and he dropped his head. “Oh, please don’t tell me,” he said, knowing full well the answer. He stood up and brought a hand to his face, pinching the space between his eyes with his three fingers. A small smile crept across his face as he tried to smother a little feeling of pride that began to rise inside of him.

“I’m afraid it’s more serious than that,” said Hain, noticing Xylan’s smile. “Much more serious. But you are correct in your assumption. It was Fort who stole the ship. The code used to activate the ship was the same one that he had been assigned upon first enrolling at the Academy.”

“Well, where is he now? Can you get him on the inter-ship system? Order him back?”

Hain swallowed. “I’m afraid that’s impossible sir.”

“Why the suns not?”

Hain lowered his gaze before looking back up. “I’m afraid he’s… crashed… sir.”

Xylan stopped. “What?”

He looked at Hain, now trembling evidently. “He’s crashed, Master Xylan. The ship’s signal died not five minutes ago.”

“But where? How do we know for sure?”

“We’ve got a lock on the location,” said Hain, “But retrieving him will be impossible without the threat of interplanetary warfare.”

“Where has he crashed?!?”

Those who were casually eavesdropping from their control stations straightened up at the sound of Xylan’s shout. Hain winced evidently.

“Earth, sir,” said Hain finally, “New Mexico. A place called Roswell. It seems the engines…”

Xylan stared at Hain, but saw only his two mouths move without sound. His mind was racing, his two hearts beating out a drumroll. Soon Hain was quiet. Those at their control stations felt awkward at the silence, and many went back to as little work as they could, in case they missed something. Finally, Xylan straightened.


“Yes, sir?”

“The next retrieval year to Earth is fifty years from now, correct?”

Hain frowned. “Yes, sir,” he said hesitantly.

Xylan stared out the large front window of the control center. “Get me galactic control and assemble the council,” he said, dropping his hands and fingering the trim of his robe. “Let’s see if we can’t get it moved up a decade or two.”


Laura has finished her Honors B.A. in English and is enjoying the freedom of being able to write more frequently. She lives for writing and tends to daydream excessively. She hopes to one day have one good novel to her name. She is planning to do NaNoWriMo this year. E-mail: atellix[at]

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