It’s time for the story!
A few of you said you’d like to read it. Maybe you’ll change your mind after this first chapter, but who knows?
Here we go!
“Landing gear ready.”
The speaker crackled around the words of the landing control guide. Krel wrinkled his nose. Have to get that fixed, later. He flipped a couple switches, squinting at the glow from the landing strip. Even through the shaded transparisteel of the front viewport, it was uncomfortably neon for his eyes.
“Gotta get that fixed once we’re planetside,” Torve mumbled. He clicked an anxious rhythm as he pulled back on the steering stick. Torve hated landings. Always had. Krel churred soothingly in his direction as they were guided carefully to the landing pad. The ship lurched slightly as it set down.
Both sat back with a sigh of relief, unstrapping and stretching as the barely discernible voice over the speakers wished them a pleasant stay.
Torve flexed his hands, letting his claws lengthen and retract. “Let’s hope the cargo is worth it. Trexin is not a place I’d choose to vacation in.”
Krel laughed grimly, letting his feathers fluff. Trexin was, for lack of a better word, a rancid scumbucket. Where people went when they didn’t want their business known to any authorities. Business like the one they were in, unfortunately.
It shouldn’t be classified as that sort of business. Just taking building and medical supplies to an outpost in the Kre’ear system. But then politics got in the way and someone decided to make this outpost an example for some convoluted reason and now here they were, smuggling essentials to a peaceful colony.
Maybe Lydra was right about the whole anarchy spiel.
Krel fluffed his feathers again as he spread his wings and tucked them close again. “Ready for some fresh air?” he asked cheerfully, knocking Torve’s chest with his shoulder.
“You’ve no idea,” the taller alien grumbled. He reached up to tap the com attached to the side of his face. “Lydra? We’ve docked.”
“Kinda figured that, actually. You’re cleaning up the lab later.”
Krel let out an amused chirp and bounced out of the cockpit. Sure, maybe Trexin was a dumpster fire of a planet, but he’d been on the ship for a month and by the Core he was going to enjoy the visit.
It took them maybe thirty minutes to find their contact, and thirty more to haggle their way to something resembling the price they’d originally agreed on. Well, Krel did most of the haggling. Torve and Lydra mostly stood behind him and glared menacingly until the Flarin smuggler chittered a reasonable sum.
“Can’t believe Flarin,” Lydra grumped, turning back to squint at the smuggler even as they were heading back. She had solidified her hands to push the hoverlift full of supply crates through the crowd back to the port. “They’re all like that, every one I’ve ever met.”
“To be fair,” Torve interrupted with a chuff. “The only ones you’ve ever met were the kind of people who hang out in places like Trexin. It’s kind of a requirement.”
“You’re not allowed to be logical when I’m complaining.”
Krel chirped, flapping his wings as he walked between them. The crowds gave the large vehicle enough space that he could without hitting anyone. The full streets moved like a river under lanky buildings, crushed close together regardless of shape or building material. High above, cars dangling from a skyrail zoomed along to their respective destinations.
“Okay but like, can we stop and get a treat? Please?” He widened his eyes, enlarging the pupils and tilting his head in an effort to look more like a chick. “Please?”
Torve chuffed and shoved his head away. “You’re such an infant.”
“That wasn’t a no.”
“I’ve got to pick up some different ultraviolet lights for my botanical room,” Lydra said. “As long as we’re in the shopping district I don’t see why not.”
Krel cheered and reached over to embrace his crewmate with a wing, but she immaterialized so all he got was a chill that stirred his feathers. “You’re the best, Lydra,” he cooed.
“Remember that next time I tell you to do chores.”
“I rescind my previous statement.”
Torve’s tail thrashed, the scales shimmering in the still too-bright neons. “You’re both infants,” he announced. “Let’s go get stuff.”
Krel was digging through a box of maeleoruns when a couple of Yuzzemi leaned against a table next to him. The tentacled keeper of the fruit stand chittered a greeting and went back to sorting crates and baskets, adjusting the twinkle lights draped across the stand to balance out the thick dark of night and the too-garish neons.
“You see that crash, down south?”
“Course I did, it’s all the lads have been talking about.”
“Mechanical failure, wasn’t it?” the Yuzzem growled in sympathy.
“No.” The huge fuzzy being leaned closer. Krel unconsciously mimicked the motion. “It was crashed on purpose.” The gravelly voice lowered. “By a human.”
The other Yuzzem bristled. Krel stiffened. The shopkeeper — who apparently was listening in just as much as the Elytron — curled into a ball.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Not a single crew member left. Either killed by the crash . . . or by the human.”
“Not so loud!”
“And it’s still alive. Loose in the city.”
“No. The authorities would have caught it by now, surely . . .”
An uncomfortable silence fell over the area. Krel didn’t dare so much as twitch. Which is why he almost jumped out of his skin when Torve tapped him on the shoulder.
“We’re leaving,” he said shortly, a wrapped package under his arm. “Grab your fruit.”
Krel didn’t hesitate, scooping up the basket and tapping credits into the cowering shopkeeper’s limb before fluttering after his friend.
“Did you hear that Torve!? That ship, it was crashed by a hum–”
“Shut.” Torve grabbed the smaller man’s hand. “Not here.”
Well that was reassuring.
Lydra met them at the ship, pulling the crates into the no-longer-empty cargo hold. Torve gave her a look, she nodded, and finished up her work within seconds.
“Do you guys know something I don’t . . .?” Krel asked nervously.
Torve pulled him inside and didn’t say anything until all three were in the cockpit readying for takeoff. Krel waited anxiously, smoothing his feathers with his talons and trying not to peep too much. It was a bad nervous habit he’d been trying to break lately.
“So, yeah, there’s a human on the planet,” Lydra finally said. “We heard already, it’s all anybody can talk about. There’s no way its a hoax, either, somebody had footage of it.”
“And it was last seen coming towards the port,” Torve said without emotion.
Krel fluttered, a hand to his mouth. “You don’t think it’s here, do you?”
“No,” Lydra soothed, shaking her head. The hood that formed the shape of her face billowed a little as the air circulation kicked in. “No animal would be stupid enough to get into a ship after it had just crashed one. But we don’t want anybody searching around for a human in our cargo hold, yeah?”
Krel nodded, deflating a little with relief. “Yeah. That would be kinda bad.”
One of the Halo’s hands became material and stroked along his primaries. “It’s okay, Krel. You got the fruit you wanted?” Krel chirped an affirmative, sighing as she stroked his wing.
Torve keyed in the startup sequence, the ship’s engine humming to life beneath them. The ground control started crackling at them again. It took much too long to get clearance to leave, but once they did it was a straight shot to lightspeed. They’d be at Kre’ear in a week.
“But like,” Krel asked after a few minutes, swiveling his chair back and forth. “You’re sure the human wouldn’t have come aboard?”
Lydra’s glowing white eyes scrunched in an expression of unhappiness. “Stop worrying, Krel. Go to your nest and eat your fruit, Torve and I can handle things.”
Krel twittered but obeyed. It was nice, just sitting in his nest with mottled starlines casting light through the viewport. The maeleoruns were also fantastic, which was just awesome.
Obviously, the human wouldn’t have come aboard. What had he been thinking? The creature had just crashed a whole entire ship, there’s no way it would want to board another within the same day. And if it did, it would go for a cargo ship full of food, not one filled with construction and medical supplies. His feathers smoothed, and he reached for a datapad.
There wasn’t much information on humans he didn’t already know. They came from a planet called Earth, which was itself somewhat of a scare legend. He shivered a little as he read over the summary, gnawing on the golden skin of the maeleorun. A whole planet that wanted to kill all life on it? Terrifying.
Humans themselves were a perfect example; simultaneously weak and fragile and unstoppable killing machines. Only a few humans had ever been seen by species in the Coalition, and those had not been pleasant encounters. The poor Endrio exploration ship had tried to make friends. It was their last mistake.
As the Drae’min scoutship found out a few months later, they were also quite good at defending themselves. If a human doesn’t want to die, it just . . . won’t. Broken bones were merely an inconvenience. Bleeding wasn’t even a big deal. Heck, a human could lose an entire limb and just keep going.
Apparently, not only were they able to consume actual poison, they did it often! For recreation!
Krel wasn’t sure how much of this was true, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
The only information any site seemed to have was the many, many ways a human could kill and how very, very hard it was to kill one.
Krel put down the datapad, fluffing his feathers and mantling his wings a little. He knew most of that already, but that was before there had been a human loose outside of Earth. It hit a little different knowing they’d been on the same planet as one.
After a minute of quiet he went back to the cockpit. He kinda wanted to hang out with the others right now.
It was really cold.
That was the main thing to complain about right now, it was really stinking cold. The air was cold and the metal was cold and Benji’s fingers were turning white.
It kind of sucked, but at least it wasn’t the last ship.
You know what, Benji wasn’t going to think about that right now, actually. He was going to think about how cold it was. That made it easier to not think about how hungry he was, or about how much his leg and head hurt, or about how small the little tunnel was. Just focus on the cold and complain about it.
Quietly, of course, because he did not want to get immediately caught by the crazy aliens.
Okay so maybe going in the vents wasn’t the best idea. But where else was he supposed to go? There weren’t any other hideyholes he could find immediately and he had to be fast. There were plus sides. He could get basically anywhere in the stupid ship through the ventilation shafts. He wasn’t going to suffocate. He could hear the stupid jerk aliens talking in their stupid alien language.
Benji rocked back and forth, sticking his cold hands under his armpits to try to warm them. His feet were long since numb. He couldn’t remember when he’d lost his shoes, exactly, but they were for sure gone now.
All he needed to do was wait until the aliens went to sleep. Then he’d sneak out, grab some food and some blankets probably, and scurry back into his little base in the ducts.
He felt a little bad about stealing. But what was his alternative, just lay down and die after everything? The aliens had stolen him first, anyway. Well, not these ones, but it was about the principle. Or something.
His mind was wandering. That was probably bad. Not that he’d ever been the most focused kid but thinking in a straight line was getting more and more difficult. He was tired. Really, really tired, but it was much too cold to go to sleep yet.
Benji slid carefully over to one of the vent openings, trying to see if the alien was still in the room or not. It was the birdy one, with the huge black wings. Benji decided he liked that one the best. That one looked kinda like a regular dude, with hair and a face and everything. If he ignored the wings, and the talon feet and fingers, and the feathers all over whatever wasn’t covered by the weird uniform, he could pretend that it was just a weird looking human guy.
The birdy alien had been sitting in a bed that looked like a nest, which made sense, with lots of blankets and pillows and squishy things that looked so very comfortable. It had been eating fruit and playing with what kind of looked like an Ipad.
Now it was gone.
Benji had no idea when it had left, or how long it would be gone, but this was his opportunity and he was going to take it.
As quietly as he could, he reached through the grate of the vent cover with two fingers, fumbling blindly until he caught the latch and unlocked it. The grate swung open with a tiny squeak, but by then Benji was already halfway out, bracing his poor feet against the smooth wall as he slid to the floor. His leg ached and he almost fell as soon as he put weight on it, but that was okay. He was nine years old, almost a teenager, he could suck it up.
There was no time for deliberation. He grabbed an armful of blankets and jumped to shove them back up into the vent, then grabbed a few of the weird golden mango-looking things. He heard a soft sliding sound and a beep from outside the room and panicked, scrabbling back up into the vent and thanking whatever alien ship builders that they were low enough to reach. He got the grate closed and latched again mere seconds before the door to the room opened, gritting his teeth against the pain in his leg.
He didn’t stop to watch the birdy thing, instead sliding his spoils back to the intersection he’d claimed as his base. He did hear the alien make a weird chirpy noise, but that was Future Benji’s problem. Present Benji was going to eat a piece of alien fruit and then take a stinking nap.
So? Do you want more? Because I have more. Oho, I have much more.
To be completely honest you’re getting it whether you want it or not.
Okay see you next week! Give me likes and comments! Thank you! Bye!