Katie Mah tapped out the combination on her temperature controlled locker then placed her thumb on the biometric scanner. The door popped open. She swapped things needed for the last two classes of the day before grabbing the lunch pouch. She turned around to look at the quad from outside the science building. It was a Friday, which meant there wasn't any sort of on-campus club meeting she needed to go to, so she went to her usual spot. It was a low concrete wall across the quad in front of the Arts and PE building where her friends started to gather.
The wall surrounded a big old tree giving shade under the hot winter sun of Southern California. The smell of ashes wafted in the air. She ate her sandwich and shared snacks while listening to her friends talk about plans to go somewhere fun, to parties, or hang out with their boyfriends. Instead of talking, she just doodled things like centaurs, dragons and mermaids in her sketchbook.
She never told anyone about Alpha Centauri. Who would believe her? Nothing else about her was all that important or exciting to tell others. She was average academically and so were her friends. Some were friend of a friend she did not share any classes with but joined the group anyway. Some of them didn’t feel comfortable in any of the other peer groups so they joined hers. Everyone was just nice to each other and everyone went off to do their own thing once the second lunch bell rang.
After school, she was dropped off at the local hospital to do community service hours she signed up for on Monday. She already clocked enough hours to graduate but she needed to do more to look good on her college applications. She didn’t mind it but things like this got in the way of hanging out with her friends or even getting a boyfriend. It has been like this ever since she came back from Alpha Centauri. Five years had passed, she doubt she would ever see any of them again but she held out hope all the same.
Katie sat on the ground in an empty basement classroom prepping bundles for an upcoming event. The fluorescent lightbulbs flickered but she didn't notice at first. She was daydreaming and thinking about the SAT test prep class tomorrow and Chinese school on Sunday. Even when the room went dark she was not worried. It must be a power outage from all the air conditioning units running. It was a very hot winter in Southern California. With all the vegetation burning, everyone was staying inside. The backup generators should be up and running anytime soon. Then she saw colorful ethereal lights shining through the small windows of the double doors to her room.
Strange time to start having a dance party.
She got up to open the door to ask the hospital staff outside to turn the lights back on. Standing in-between the elevators, stairwell, and her was a portal opening up.
“Holy smokes! What could this be? “ she said out loud. Her mind raced thinking of all the horrible things that could be coming after her and finish the job of wiping out all of planet Earth.
Two centaurs in soldier spacesuits came through the portal with a futuristic rifles pointed and ready to fire. Katie raised her arms showing she was unarmed. “What's going on? What are you doing here?”
The centaurs withdrew their weapons before moving to take off their helmets. “We’ve come to find you!” said a female palomino removing her helmet first.
The two of them squealed and hugged.
“Don’t forget me!!!” smiled a now grown-up female painted centaur.
”Petal!!! You’ve grown up!”
The three girls squealed and hugged as best friends do after not seeing each other for a long time.
“I’ve missed you all!”
“I had always hoped to see you again!”
It was the familiar yet deeper sound of Baku’s voice.
“Baku?!” she said barely able to see his face with the light of the portal behind him.
The portal closed and the fluorescent lights in the basement came back on. It was him, but larger, with stress lines, cuts, bruises, scars, and burned off fur framing his hollowed eyes. She was sad to see what he had become. They hugged each other as hard as they could as if trying to squeeze the air out of each other.
“What happened to you all?” said Katie seeing the equally disheveled state of the others as the two hugged, both afraid the other would vanish again.
“We are at war with the dragons.” said Batya.
“We did our best to hold down the peace with the friendship you helped us establish with them.” said Petal.
“Is Zeba ok?”
“She’s fine. She is herd leader now.” said Batya
“How did you get here?”
“This portal is on Proxima Centauri, the dragon planet. We fought our way to get a hold of it.” said Petal, “you know Zan, right?
“He’s a clan leader now. You know him better than any of us. He liked you, he may still like you and hear you out. We need you to talk to him to negotiate peace so that we can stop all this fighting,” said Batya.
“Ok, I can come with you. This planet is trashed anyway. Let me grab my stuff.” said Katie as she ran back to the classroom to gather her belongings, a backpack full of the latest technologies she could get her hands on. Helmets on, Batya and Petal walked into the portal while Baku held it open with the arm device. He tilted his head gesturing she should go next. With a deep breath in, Katie stepped inside.