The explosion jolted Jimmy Scott awake. He lay in his bed, unmoving, waiting to hear if something else was going to happen. He heard his uncle swear loudly, then leave the house. His uncle swore a lot, but he was a kind man, and devoted to Jimmy, who had come to live with his aunt and uncle when his parents had died. His uncle's salty language had always been a joke among the family, and Jimmy's father used to joke that you would know things were really bad when his brother stopped swearing.
Fifteen minutes later, Jimmy heard his uncle come back in, still swearing, so Jimmy took heart that things were still okay. His aunt asked what was going on, and his uncle replied that whatever it was had been deep in the woods behind the farm, and therefore not their problem. Jimmy's uncle was also fanatically dedicated to the notion that anything that happened off his land was none of his business, and therefore none of his concern. It was a good hour before Jimmy managed to get back to sleep. He couldn't wait until morning, when he'd be able to go investigate the explosion in the woods.
The next morning, Jimmy rose early. He finished his chores after a quick breakfast, and was halfway to the woods before anyone else woke up. He'd left a note that he was going hiking, and would be back in time for dinner. He often hiked the vast woodlands that bordered his uncle's farm, and was usually absent from the house for most of the day in the summertime, so he wouldn't be missed.
It took a few hours of hiking to finally find the site of the explosion. A small smoking crater sat in the middle of a bunch of broken and smoldering trees. Something metallic protruded from the top of the crater, and from the look of the surrounding area, it had definitely fallen from the sky. The explosion Jimmy heard must have been the impact of whatever this thing was. Cautiously, he approached, reaching out to touch the strange metal object. Surprisingly, it was cool to the touch, given that it still smoked. Jimmy saw a transparent section of the object, and what looked like a seat inside. There were control panels and other devices inside that made him think of only one thing.
"Spaceship," he whispered.
Jimmy leaped back from the ship. He could have sworn it just spoke to him.
*Hello?* it spoke again. *Is someone there?* The voice seemed frightened. *Please. I can't see, and I don't know where I am.*
Jimmy felt sorry for whatever or whoever was speaking. He knew what it was like to be scared and alone. "Um, hi," he said, waving, even though the voice had said it couldn't see. "Uh, my name's Jimmy, and you're in the woods behind my uncle's farm."
*Hello, Jimmy.* A note of cautious relief crept into the voice. *I'm Friend Ship 4719A of the 87th Convoy. I can translate your language, but some of your words still don't make sense. What is "woods"? And "farm"? And what is an "uncle"?*
"Uhh..." Jimmy wasn't sure how to answer, or which question to answer first. "Well, my uncle is my father's brother. Do you know what a father and a brother are...umm...Ship?"
*No.* The Ship seemed confused and frustrated.
"Oh." Jimmy tried something else. "What about trees? Do you know what trees are?"
*No.* The frustration in the Ship's voice was turning to despair, and Jimmy could have sworn it was about to cry.
"It's okay. It doesn't matter." he said. "You're safe." He remembered hearing that a lot, after the accident.
*I am?* There was hope in the voice now.
There was a pause, and Jimmy stood regarding the Ship. There was a small part of him that told him to go home and tell his uncle. But it was pretty easy to ignore.
He moved closer, gently.
*Why can't I move?* The Ship was starting to get nervous again.
"Umm," Jimmy looked around. "You're stuck in the ground."
*What's the ground?*
Jimmy didn't want to start this up again. "It's, uh, what you're stuck in." There. That was kind of clever.
*Oh,* the Ship said, a bit more calm. *Okay.*
*Can you help me get out?*
For the next few days, Jimmy would wake up early each morning, rush through his chores, and race out to the Ship, which he would spend the rest of the day digging out until it was time for supper. After digging around the Ship all day, Jimmy was usually tired enough to go to bed soon after.
While Jimmy digs, the Ship tells him of the migrating convoys of Friend Ships, wandering from one end of the galaxy to the other, seeking pilots to make them whole. The Ship talks about its Mentor Ships in the convoy, how they were the Ships assigned to transfer the necessary data to its intelligence core. The process usually takes years, and leaves young Ships very vulnerable to malfunction. The Ship's Mentors had been destroyed in a meteor shower, and no others were assigned by the Mother Ship to replace them. With no guidance, the Ship had miscalculated its navigational trajectory, and wound up lost in a nearby solar system. It flew too close to the third planet and got caught in its gravity, finally crashing to the surface.
Jimmy tells the Ship about his parents, and the accident, and moving in with his aunt and uncle on their farm. They talk of loss, and their brief lives, and the ways of their homelands. The Ship learns of the ground, and of trees and woods and forests. There is talk of water and people, and the ways people relate. For his part, Jimmy learns much about the migratory habits of the sentient Friend Ships. He hears tales of convoys lightyears long, of the bonding ceremonies between Ships and their Pilots, and the comforting presence of a pair of Mentor Ships. There is talk of the ancient Mother Ships, massive starcruisers that lead and occasionally shelter their convoys of Friend Ships, officiating over Piloting ceremonies, assigning Mentors and overseeing new construction.
And then, after almost a week, Jimmy dug the Friend Ship free.
*Thank you, Jimmy* the Ship said. *Can I do something for you, before I go find my convoy?*
That night, Jimmy sailed the stars inside his new friend, piloting the young starship out to the edge of the solar system and back. They flew together across the sands of Mars, through the maelstrom of Jupiter's Red Spot, and around the debris of the Oort Cloud before taking a dive through the photosphere of the Sun.
Finally, the ride was over, and Jimmy returned home, while the Ship left for deep space, and its lost convoy. There is one last goodbye, then Jimmy grabbed his shovel and headed for home.
Two weeks later, Jimmy was hiking near the clearing where he found the Ship, when his friend descended from the clouds, coming to land with much more grace than its last visit.
Jimmy stared up at the gleaming ship, stunned. But then he felt sad. There could be only one reason why the Ship had returned.
"You couldn't find them?"
*I found them. But I was told I was not welcome with the convoy any more.*
*I have bonded with a Pilot. When Bonding happens, the bonded Ship is not permitted back into the convoy until the Bond is broken. I am to learn about the universe with my Pilot, and return to make the convoy wiser, as a Mentor to young Ships.*
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Wow. But, who's you're..." Realization dawned, and they widened further. "Ohhhhh..."
*So, what do you say? Wanna ride around the Milky Way for a while?*
Jimmy thought a moment, then smiled.
"Can you have me home in time for dinner?"
And then they were gone, sailing across the dark void of space, reveling in the universe that stretched out before them.