I hadn’t been back to the lighthouse since its construction. In the spring of seventeen-eighty, I was among the first to sail from the local port to the new worlds. My schooner was fast and light, and I made the trip in record time. I didn’t tell them I had advanced weather maps that helped me catch the jet streams and sail much faster. That would have made them wary of me and none too popular either. In some circles, people treated my name, Captain Jacob Jarvis, with disdain. Now two hundred and fifty years later, I was back in Florida at the Lighthouse I had helped build.
I’d been to Earth in many different time frames, but I never ceased to be amazed at the changes they could make in a relatively short time. While some changes had been for the better of mankind in general, most, I feared, were going to prove to be a problem at a later date. The area imminently around the Lighthouse was much as it had been before, but the vegetation was lusher.
I recognized one tree. I had sat under it when it was much smaller, and as I relaxed under it today, I let my mind wander back over the centuries. In the last several hundred years of Earth time, I’d been here on at least four occasions in four different times and places. I’d also made some brief unscheduled stops that hadn’t entered my official logs. The galaxy of planets that monitored Earth and the planets surrounding it had sanctioned this trip. This time, I would have to tell them the outcome.
The sea and the breeze brought memories of Deidre and her flaming red hair floating into my consciousness. I’d met her on my first trip here a few hundred years before. The female pirate had captured my heart. Over the centuries, I’d met and loved many ladies, but none would ever replace her.
Pushing the image of Deidre from my mind, I focused on the task at hand. I scrambled to get myself back on my feet as I saw some people approaching the lighthouse from the far end of the beach. Dusting sand off my jeans as I walked up to them, I pulled my old well-worn Panama hat down to keep the sun from my eyes.
They looked like the pictures of beach bums I had seen while preparing for this trip. Floppy hats, cut-off shorts, and raggy t-shirts completed the look, along with the fishing poles and basket. Ambling toward them, I shook my head at the heat and sun.
“Catch anything?” I pointed vaguely toward the fishing poles.
“Nah, there ain’t nothin’ biting ‘round here anymore.” One complained.
I nodded in sympathy. “Seen anyone around here in a while?”
“Nah. Not since they closed the lighthouse and stopped all the tours. No one comes around here.”
“Closed up the lighthouse?” I turned and looked up toward the lantern at the top.
We were standing in the direct shadow of the building. I noticed the shaggy bushes growing around the base and that the gravel path to the door looked unused from the weeds growing between the rocks. Turning back to the fishermen, I gave them goodbye and wished them luck in their fishing endeavors.
Turning my attention back to the lighthouse, I slowly walked around it. Indeed, it had been abandoned. The grounds were overgrown, and sand blown off the beach piled up in front of the wooden door.
The beach was as clear of unwanted eyes as I tried the front door. To my surprise, it was the original heavy plank door that I installed two hundred and fifty years ago. The brass lock and latch were there, but a modern padlock secured the latch. I could easily unlock the padlock, but the door’s original lock couldn’t be jimmied as easily. The door and foundation were as solid as I remembered them being, with no cracks or other signs of decay. The windows were too high to reach without a ladder, and I wasn’t about to get a ten-foot ladder and carry it across the beach.
No, I had to get the door open, preferably without destroying it. Luckily I had remembered an old ring of keys thrown in a drawer in my quarters on my ship and had decided to grab them before I took the shuttlecraft to the surface.
As I left my quarters, I glanced at the old pirate map and pair of crossed sabers in the main room. They reminded me of my first time on Earth and my favorite redhead Deidre. And our adventures together while I studied the waters of the planet. Those memories left me grinning, but time to attend to the task at hand. I could remember later.
I picked through the large ring of ancient keys., choosing one key that didn’t work. I found another that looked the correct size and slipped it into the keyhole. It slid in with considerable resistance, but it went in after some sliding back and forth and jiggling. Eventually, I got it in, but turning it was another matter. I tried not to force it for fear of breaking the key off in the lock. The sound of the works finally giving way made a loud click. The door squeaked sharply as I pushed it open.
Leaning against the doorframe, I realized I hadn’t taken a breath until the door swung open. I collected myself and took one last look around the beach. The moon had risen over the water beyond the lighthouse. Satisfied that no one had seen me, I slipped into the lighthouse and shut the door behind me, plunging the lighthouse into total darkness.
Closing my eyes for a long moment, I thought back to what it had been like two centuries ago when I had been here building the lighthouse. The remembered smell of wet bricks and the musty odor created by the humidity took me back to those days.
I had been instrumental in the building of the lighthouse. Citing a large number of ships wrecked or nearly wrecked and the large amounts of cargo that now sat at the bottom of the bay, I had pushed for the building of the lighthouse. It had also helped that a local businessman lost a son in a shipwreck due to the bay’s shallow water, strewn with large boulders and rocks that had skewed many a hull over the years.
Meanwhile, I had to focus on what I was back here in an abandoned lighthouse two hundred and fifty years later. Light from my flashlight helped me get my bearings, and I started the long climb to the top, hoping the stairs would not give way, despite some evident repair work. After a bit of a slow, tedious climb, I pushed the trap door at the top and caught my breath for several minutes, then took the final step onto the walkway.
I was here. Someplace that I’d never thought I’d be again. I turned off the flashlight, allowing the moon to illuminate the ocean. I was reminded of nights like this that I’d spent on ships looking over the night ocean. So calm and peaceful, but I knew that was an illusion. What may have appeared calm on the surface hid a raging anger that could never be predicted or accounted for.
As I continued to breathe hard from the climb, the thought occurred to me that I was getting too old for this shit. As a shapeshifter who had to create a new body every time I visited a planet, I had shifted thousands of times over the centuries. In Earth years, it had been well over 500 years of becoming Jacob Jarvis. On other planets, I had a different shape and identity, but I had to admit that Jarvis and the humans were my favorites, even though they had caused the most problems over the centuries.
Each shift cost me a little of myself, and my return to my natural state was harder each time. It might be time to consider retiring, but there were other factors to consider too, but that decision would have to wait.
As I had expected, electricity now powered the beacon lantern, its controls now covered in dust. There had been little about the lighthouse in the archives that I had read before I returned to Earth. There was no mention of abandoning the lighthouse or why. It was now a curiosity from a bygone age, but I had to get this old relic back to life.
As I expected, someone had the power to the lighthouse disconnected. That would have been too easy. The next thing was to find the original lanterns. Hopefully, they had just put them into storage somewhere in the building. I wasn’t looking forward to trekking back down the rickety stairs to the tower’s lower floors, but off I went.
A quick survey of the tower told me that they hadn’t moved anything more than they had to. I found one of the old lanterns in a cardboard box, but three large lanterns should sit on the rotating table in the center of the glass top. I didn’t have much time to look for the other lanterns or redo the turntable, now modified for electric lanterns. I needed to get a light coming from the lighthouse soon, so the one lantern I found would have to do.
Now for some fuel for it. Kerosene was the traditional fuel for lanterns, but I knew there wouldn’t be any around here anymore, so I had to improvise. I needed light to guide them.
An emergency distress signal had reached the Space Council of a ship in distress that needed to make an emergency landing. Earth was the nearest planet, and a quick calculation told us it would probably land in the ocean near Florida.
I was unprepared for this trip back to Earth, but when is any creature prepared to deal with humans? The Space Commission had decided that I should go because I had the most experience on this planet. Lucky me.
My superiors selected this stretch of the beach as a landing site because the craft we expected needed water to land on. That the area around the beach was largely unpopulated was a plus. The craft’s cloaking system would keep it off the radar of Earth’s satellites’ watchful eyes, but It needed the lighthouse to guide it without hitting the coastline or the submerged rocks.
Once I dragged the lantern back up top, I set the lantern on the table between the electric lights. The moonlight streaming through the wind-worn glass windows gave me enough light to see without my flashlight. The moon had shifted, and the lower angle cast more light into the room.
I’d set a timer on my ship, and the transmitter I carried beeped. I had ten minutes of Earth time before the ship was due. I climbed back down the stairs to the lower levels of the building, stopping to check each storage closet on the way, hoping to find something to use in the lantern. It wasn’t until I got to the ground floor that I found a couple of kerosene cans in the back room. The size and shape of them told me they were old. One was empty, but the second one was about half full. Grabbing it and an old rusty funnel I spotted lying nearby, I headed back up the stairs.
By the time I reached the top, I was winded again, but I didn’t have time to rest. The beeping on my transmitter was becoming closer and louder. The ship was approaching fast. Scrambling, I got the can and funnel up on the turntable next to the lantern.
It had been centuries since I messed with an oil lantern, but I managed to get most of the kerosene into the bottom of the lantern. Watching the sky over the water with one eye, I lit the wick with an igniter I carried. The wick didn’t want to burn at first, but after soaking it in kerosene and reinserting it, th flame lit, giving a bright yellow glow.
By now, the transmitter was beeping non-stop. The incoming ship’s arrival was imminent. I sat the lantern in the window facing the water and watched the sky for the telltale signs of an incoming craft.
There was nothing else I could do until the ship landed. I just hoped one lantern would be enough for the craft to land without crashing into the shore. The full moon would help, but no one knew their landing capabilities and how well they could control the landing.
No cloaking system could hide the sound of the sound barrier being broken as the ship entered the earth’s atmosphere. I was scrambling back down the stairs as the first sounds reached me. By the time I got to the door, the bay was shaking with the impact of the ship as it skidded along the top of the water, barely missing the lighthouse and shaking it to its core as it plowed into the sand not far from the ancient building. I rounded the building to the side of the water just as it settled into the sand. The ship was bigger than I imagined. It was going to be a challenge to make it disappear.
My small transport fit neatly into an abandoned boathouse nearby, but hiding this large ship was another thing. I knew what humans would make of it. I’d seen their reactions to small extraterrestrial objects found over the centuries. This would blow their collective minds.
I’d figure out how to hide the ship later. Right now, I needed to find out who and what was inside. Locating what appeared to be a hatch of some kind in the front hull, I headed for it. Carefully. While the passengers were supposed to be non-threatening, I knew better than that. Not all creatures were as docile as reported.
I usually use whatever weapon the planet I’m on uses which generally works well. But I wasn’t dealing with humans, so this time, I brought my planet’s weapon, which is far more powerful than any gun on Earth. It was within reach as I approached the hatch.
The hatch opened slowly, pushing against the sand that built up on the craft as it plowed into the beach. I was ten feet from the door when it was fully open, spilling a yellowish light from inside. The contrast against the black sky made the light seem even brighter.
I waited, not sure what to do. I hadn’t handled an emergency like this before. I knew what the creature inside was supposed to be, but I’d never met one before. After a minute, a small figure appeared at the door. Framed by the yellowish light behind it, It looked almost surreal.
Holding out my hand, I slowly walked to the open hatch. “I’m Captain Jacob Jarvis. The Protectorate sent me to help you.” We decided to use my earth name, as it was simple and easy to say. Using my real native name would only confuse things even more.
“Ah, Captain Jarvis, I’ve always wanted to meet you!” He grinned what could only be a toothy grin and held out his hand—or what passed as a hand. I shook it. Not entirely sure what to make of him.
“I’m Loomis. They told me they were sending you to rescue us. It was worth the crash to meet you.” This was not what I expected. A small, plump creature that knew who I was and was glad to meet me.
And what a crash it was. The ship had burrowed into the sand several feet deep at the front. The smell of charred metal and fumes from their engines filled the air. I knew we were running on borrowed time before the humans in the area would come looking to see what they heard. I had to get them out of there quickly.
“Loomis, we don’t have much time before this place crawls with humans. Come with me quickly.”
The mention of humans got his attention, and he turned back inside and hollered something in a language I didn’t know. Within seconds, several more creatures like Loomis appeared behind him.
I swore to myself. This was a problem. I didn’t have the space to carry this much of anything. But right now, I needed them not to be here when the humans arrived.
Staying just on the water’s edge, I lead them away from the ship. Once we were a reasonable distance from the spaceship, we turned up at the beach and headed toward the boathouse. Hopefully, the tide would wipe away the footprints from around the ship.
We were no sooner in the mangroves near the beach than the sounds of humans arriving drifted to us. Loomis had secured the hatch just as we left so they couldn’t get inside, but finding the ship was bad enough. I could see a crowd gathered on the beach around the ship, and it had their full attention, so we were safe for now.
I led them into the boathouse where my small transport ship sat, and we decided what to do. There was only one thing to do, and although Loomis didn’t want to do it, he gave me permission to order his ship destroyed from space.
Within minutes of contacting Space Command, the earth shook as the crashed ship vaporized in front of a crowd of people. It took several seconds for it to disappear completely. All that was left was the furrow it had plowed into the sand.
The moonlight bathed the silent crowd as the water continued lapping at the sand, unperturbed by the sudden disappearance of a strange craft that, minutes before, skirted over it.
My experience with humans told me they would look for us in earnest by daylight. We needed to get out of here before then and preferably off Earth.
I had minimal information before I left. I didn’t know what species Loomis and his kind were, much less why they were traveling or where. Not having a lot of time to sort out details, I focused on getting us out of there before all hell broke loose.
I made in advance in all of the other trips I’d made to Earth, and I could slip into a time and place almost unnoticed. But this being an emergency, I was given a craft and coordinates of where they anticipated a landing and literally dropped in to deal with it.
I had to get us out of here now. The fact that the Earthlings had seen the ship and now it was entirely gone would leave them confused and scared. Scared humans were not something I wanted to deal with.
It would be tight inside with all the extra creatures and weight, but we could handle that. What worried me was that my flight path to get out of the atmosphere was almost directly over the beach we’d just been on, with a crowd of gawking humans prowling all over it, looking for anything that didn’t belong.
They would see us, but there was no choice. We couldn’t stay here.
Opening the boathouse doors, I opened the hatch and got everyone inside. I touched the power relay, and the engines came online. Telling everyone to hold on, I nudged the craft out of the boathouse. A final check and sensors showed the people on the beach and several large vehicles heading towards it.
In a few minutes, our flight over the bay would only add to their confusion, but I could do nothing about it. I had to take the same path out as I’d taken landing. With a command to Loomis and the others to hang on, I pushed the throttle forwards, and the small craft took to the air.
Within less than a minute, we were approaching the bay where Loomis’s ship had been. Fire trucks and police cars were pulling into the parking lot just off the coast as we passed over them. The roar of our engine got their attention just before we were in sight of the beach.
I pushed the power as far as it could go, and within several seconds we were out of sight of the bay. Only the trail of our engine exhaust was left in the clear night sky as the moon calmly lit the night and the humans standing in shock on the water’s edge below.
My emergency return to Earth had far-reaching consequences, as I had feared all along.
On Earth, videos of the spaceship, its disappearance, and my flight over the beach raised worldwide concerns. The event brought on a renewed search for extraterrestrials and an interest in expanding Earth’s space program.
As for Loomis and his crew, I later found out that they were diplomats from a newly contacted planet on their way to the Space Council to present a case for the admission of their world to the Council.
Their planet contains minerals and other materials desperately needed by Council member worlds. They were in a position to help, but they also needed help. One of the planets near them had been trying to invade them, but they knew they couldn’t hold them off forever and sought the support only the Space Council could give them.
En route, their enemy attacked and damaged their ship, forcing them to land on the nearest planet. Their distress signal had barely reached the Space Council, who dispatched me upon finding out who they were.
Once I could return to my natural state and have time to reflect on the adventure, I decided I wasn’t ready to retire. I glanced again at the image of the old map and crossed swords. It always made me smile as I knew Deirdre would have approved of the latest mission.