Things are gonna start popping off.
Preening was not working.
Usually, the content, blissful drowsiness of running his claws carefully through his feathers, straightening and smoothing, would put him to sleep in minutes.
It wasn’t working.
Krel exhaled sharply and flopped on his stomach in the nest. It was so late already, he needed to go to sleep.
Eventually he groaned and got up, flapping his wings a little to help the process. Maybe if he went and got a drink. Or a little snack. That would be good, probably, maybe if he moved around a little he’d lose some of this jittery energy.
The door slid open with blessed quiet, only a breathy swish to betray his exit. The others had been asleep for hours; if he concentrated, he could probably hear Lydra’s purring snores. For someone without a corporeal body, the Halo made a lot of noise in her sleep. Krel slipped down the hallway to the galley.
Even before he opened the door he heard shuffling around, a clatter. Must be Torve. Krel almost turned back, but surely his friend wouldn’t mind the company?
The door swished open and the only light was from inside the cooler. Krel opened his mouth to say something witty to Torve, but the words died before they were ever born.
Because that wasn’t Torve, digging through their cooler like some wild animal.
That thing was small, tiny. Maybe half his own size, and Krel wasn’t very big for an Elytron. Its limbs were bare, not just bare but hairless, featherless, scaleless. No sharp claws that he could see, strange, oddly unprotected feet. Disordered fluff on top of its head that instantly reminded Krel of chick down.
And then it turned towards him, huge eyes locking on to him with predatory intensity.
Krel squawked, scrambling back but the door had closed behind him, he only succeeded in bashing his wings against it.
Something flew at his head. He screamed, shielding himself with his wings, and there was something else that screamed angrily, nonsensically, and then . . . and then it was quiet.
Slowly, very slowly, Krel shifted his wings so he could peek through. The cooler was open and the creature was gone. A minute later the door slid open behind him.
“Krel! What happened?” Torve’s voice was rough with worry, edging more into his Boorlan accent.
Lydra simply phased through the both of them, blaster held ready, glowing eyes tracking the room.
Krel couldn’t put down his trembling wings, so Torve knelt down and smoothed his feathers.
“Hey, bud. It’s okay. Everything’s okay,” he rumbled.
Krel churred, then cleared his throat and said in Standard, “There . . . in . . . there was a human, Torve.”
Torve stopped preening. “Are . . . are you sure?”
“Y-yeah. There was a human. The human.” Krel looked up at his friend with scared eyes. “Torve it’s a baby.”
Lydra turned, her cape floating around her slowly solidifying form. “What do you mean a baby? It can’t be a baby.”
“It’s so tiny,” Krel said in barely a whisper. “They’re not that tiny, not the grown ones.”
“A baby human wouldn’t have crashed an entire ship.”
“To be fair,” Torve said, helping Krel to his feet, gently tucking the boy’s wings against his back. “I wouldn’t put it past a human.”
Lydra considered. “Yeah. I guess so. That also might explain why it didn’t kill you . . .”
“Lydra!” Krel squawked.
“What!? Dude, you’re like, prime prey for those things.”
Torve clicked before an argument could start. “I think the thing we should be worried about is where is it now?”
The galley fell into a horrified silence.
“The vents,” Lydra eventually decides. “It has to have been in the vents. That’s the weird rustling we’ve been hearing.”
Krel tucked himself into Torve’s side. “But, but the vents go all over the ship. Every room. It’s . . . it took my blankets! And my fruit! It’s probably been spying on us!”
Torve’s tail twitched. “I’m going to call my dad. He can contact the Council, or whoever’s responsible for this sort of thing.” He stands up, heading for his datapad.
Lydra stops him. “No.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“I mean no. We’re not giving it to the Council.”
“Think about it, Torve!” The Halo girl’s eyes flashed a brighter white. “We have the only human in space! On our ship! Do you understand how important this is?”
Krel churred uncertainly. “No?”
“This will be the only time anyone’s ever had a chance to study a live human in a controlled space! We can learn so much!”
“Except the ship that had it before,” Torve pointed out. “You know. The one that it crashed.”
“Did anybody ever figure out why there was a human there in the first place?” Krel’s feathers fluffed.
“Right now that doesn’t matter.” Torve’s eyes flicked up to the grate in the wall. “There is a human on the ship. We’re stuck in here with it until we get to Kree’ar. That’s . . . five days.”
“We’ll have to trap it somewhere.” Lydra floated up and down thoughtfully. “Make sure it can’t get to the cockpit or engines or anything important it could sabotage. Then lure it out of the vents. What kind of food did it take?”
Krel went to check the cooler. “Um . . . a lot of fruit?”
“I hope it doesn’t get sick. We probably don’t have anything humans are used to eating.”
“They’re omnivores, right?”
“You don’t think it would try to eat us, right?”
Torve’s tail bapped against the floor. “I think that if it wanted to, it would have already tried. If it is a baby, maybe it doesn’t know how to hunt yet.”
Another uncomfortable silence.
“It’s late,” Lydra eventually purred, her blaster tucked away under her cloak. “A few hours aren’t going to make much of a difference. I’ll close off the cockpit and engine room. We’ll all bunk in Krel’s room tonight, won’t be too hard to lock the vent closed.”
Krel let out a relieved twitter. Yes, flock in his nest, flock will keep him safe.
“And then tomorrow–” The Halo’s eyes widen in excitement. “Tomorrow we figure out how to catch a human.”
He could hear the clicking of locks. They were blocking up some of the vents.
Benji drew his stolen blanket over his head, trying to take deep breaths. He was still alive. He’d been seen, they knew he was here now, but he was still alive. He had a decent amount of food and as long as none of it was toxic he’d be okay for a few more days.
The boy couldn’t help the little whimper that escaped his throat despite his best efforts.
This was so bad. They knew he was here now. They’d find him, they’d drag him out and trap him and hurt him and–
Calm down, Benji. Deep breaths.
They were afraid of him. He could use that. Birdy One had been afraid. He’d screamed at Birdy One, warned him not to get closer, thrown one of their stupid food containers. And the alien had just curled up and hid behind his wings. Hadn’t attacked him or screamed back or anything.
Maybe they’d just block up all the vents and wait for him to starve.
Maybe he needed to stop thinking.
Benji ran his hands through his dirty hair, trying to breathe deeply and evenly. He couldn’t remember who had taught him how to do that. Everything was okay. He could get out of this.
He could hear them again, now, they were in Birdy One’s room. Benji scooted a little closer to the vent. He wouldn’t look out, that was too risky, but the little chirps and rumbles and things that they made were . . . nice. He hated the weird, blocky-sounding language all of these stupid aliens spoke, but the little noises were okay.
After a minute of mostly quiet, he risked a peek through the grate.
All three of the aliens were in the nest-bed, surrounded by pillows and blankets and a few articles of clothing. Birdy One was chirping softly, wings wrapped around the other two. Tall Idiot’s tail was coiled around Birdy One’s ankle, the weird little furry tuft on the end flicking occasionally. Cape Thing was cuddled in between the two . . . was it purring?
Something in Benji’s chest ached.
He was so cold.
The boy retreated to his own little nest, pitiful and not nearly enough to warm him.