Really sorry about the last couple of weeks, but we’re all good now! Back on schedule, more or less. Here is the next chapter! If anything doesn’t make sense, it will probably be explained in the next one
The ship hung motionless in space, humming as it waited patiently for its captain to give it instructions. Stars winked in and out in the vastness, mirrored by displays and monitors in the control panel.
Said captain sat motionless as well, slumped in the pilot’s seat, eyes staring unblinkingly out into the void. Every once in a while his tail flicked.
Beside him, Krel shifted and fidgeted. A few times already he had attempted conversation to no avail; Torve just ignored him. Which was pretty rude, honestly.
Krel figured it was mostly the shock of discovering that humans were capable of interspecies communication. That was definitely not in any of the research they’d ever seen. He also suspected part of it might be that the ship almost crashed. That was also somewhat stressful. Most of this was pretty stressful, actually, especially the part where Lydra hadn’t come back to them yet. She had said to stay put while she dealt with the human, and while Krel was always down to be a nuisance, she had used That Tone and he did not want to disobey her under any circumstances.
Torve’s tail flicked again.
When the door slid open with a quiet whoosh, Krel was already on his feet. “Are you–”
Lydra clicked at him and he shut up. “Torve? You good?”
“Cool. Okay. It’s back in the room now, I left the door open–”
“You what!?” Torve shot to his feet, spines raising.
Lydra blinked at him. “Calm down. It’s tired, it’s hurt, and it’s learned how to communicate with us to some extent. Not a threat right now. If I locked it in, it would just try to break out again and cause more problems. Right now it’s not being aggressive, and we don’t need to worry.”
A deep, ululating rumble matched the rattling of the Boorlan’s spines.
Lydra approached him, arms out, placing them gently on his shoulders. “Hey. Everything’s okay. Okay? Everything’s fine. You’re fine. Krel’s fine. I’m fine. Everyone’s okay.”
Krel hung back, wings mantling a bit. He hadn’t even noticed Torve’s face changing until it changed back. Jaw clicking back into place, fangs retracting, pupils widening. Slowly the spines smoothed and flattened and his tail slowed to a gentle wave.
“Everyone’s okay,” he repeated, churring softly. “I’m sorry. I’m . . . I . . .”
“It’s okay. How about you set course again, huh? We’ve still got a deadline. Krel, come with me, we’re gonna make some dinner.”
Krel nodded silently. He’d only seen Torve like this a handful of times. He knew, he knew, logically, that it was Torve being afraid. Afraid for himself or afraid for his crew. But it always scared him. It felt angry, it felt violent. It wasn’t. It was just Torve, his friend, being afraid.
Torve had said something like that, but about the human. Different species show fear differently. Sometimes it was dangerous, or seemed that way, because they were trying to protect themselves.
Something changed in Krel’s mind.
They must be terrified . . .
Lydra led him to the galley and gave him instructions that he only half-heard. Something about the cooler . . . The human. The poor little human, how . . . how could they honestly have treated them like this? Didn’t even try being friendly first, just instantly assumed they would be aggressive and . . .
In his peripherals he saw big, round eyes and a head of downy fluff peeking from around the corner. His feathers instantly fluffed, but he ignored, only sneaking glances once in a while as he prepared the food.
They had a name. He needed to figure out how to say their name.
The human watched for a little bit, never coming any further into the room, never making a sound. Lydra also seemed to notice them but said nothing. Eventually the head disappeared, and Krel heard soft, uneven footsteps going back in the direction of the storage room.
“Kind of looks like you,” Lydra hissed playfully. “Little baby you. Just add some feathers.”
“Does not. It hasn’t got any wings, and has weird feet, and–”
“It was a joke, Krel.”
“I know.” He clicked to himself. “We . . . we messed up, huh.”
“Maybe. The whole situation is just a mess itself. But I think everything will be okay.”
“How do you know?”
Lydra didn’t answer. Not right away, at least. A couple minutes passed as the food heated up. Krel started to preen, ignoring the feathers littering the tiles.
“I just do.” Lydra’s voice came so soft and low Krel almost didn’t pick up on it. “Let’s go feed Torve before he passes out.”
The door was still open.
Benji had to keep looking up to check. Yes. It was still open. This was . . . an interesting development, to be sure. Nothing about it made sense but it was interesting.
Well, maybe it did make sense, but he just couldn’t think about it right. That’s probably what was happening. He tried to think over the events since he’d escaped the crashed ship. Thinking about before the crash wasn’t something he wanted to do just yet. Yeah, he’d snuck into the vents of the ship, gotten caught finding food, lured out by more food, fought Bird . . . Krel. Escaped, almost hit the ship into a space rock. Then somehow . . . made friends with the aliens?
That was the part he didn’t quite follow.
The cot creaked as he shifted on it. He had more blankets now, stolen from the nest in Krel’s room. Benji figured he might as well take them while he had free range of the ship. If they were more upset about blankets than the whole trying to hijack the ship thing, that was a them problem.
It felt so much better to be warm. Like he was finally able to think past the cold.
Even being able to think he couldn’t figure this out. He’d just repeated things back to them, nothing huge, nothing that would have completely changed their minds about him. Not this radically.
Everything was pretty quiet now. They were all back in the cockpit together, he’d snuck out to check, and they’d left food out; both in the kitchen area and in front of his room. Benji couldn’t tell what exactly the food was, but it tasted okay. He shoveled a few more bites in his mouth as he listened to the white noise from the spaceship surrounding him.
Once his food was gone he quietly left the cot still wrapped in the blanket and crept out of the room. It was probably a bad idea, given everything, but he was bored and. Maybe a little lonely. He wanted to see what would happen.
His feet made almost no noise as he padded through the tiled hallway. He could hear their voices, quiet and punctuated frequently by chirps and rumbles and clicks. A few steps closer and he saw the doorway open, Krel’s feathers just visible in the opening.
Benji hung back. What if they were angry? What if he scared them, and they killed him?
He let out a deep breath and continued on. This time he made sure they would be able to hear his footsteps. The feathers in the doorway shifted. Krel’s head peeked out. Benji wasn’t entirely sure about facial expressions with these guys, so he really could not tell what sort of emotion the raised head-feathers and widening eyes signaled. He came a bit closer.
The alien made a weird rumbly-chirp and edged out a bit more. Its head cocked to the side. Benji did the same. The feathers around its face flattened slowly and it made the noise again.
“Hi,” Benji said, his voice still a little scratchy. “Can I hang out with you guys?” He probably sounded so stupid. “It’s really quiet and if you’re not gonna hurt me I’m cool with you.”
Krel blinked. With a little noise it ducked back into the room and said something to the others. Benji waited quietly, shifting from one foot to the other. The tiles were chilly against his bare feet. When Krel came back, it started making the click-shush sound Lydra had made earlier. Benji’s head perked up.
“That means, like, follow? Right?” He took a few steps closer.
Krel’s wings fluffed and smoothed. It repeated the sound, stepping back fully into the room. Benji followed. Tall Idiot — it was . . . Torve? Yeah, Torve — still sat in the driver chair, an almost empty plate clutched in its clawed hands. Lydra was pushing buttons at the control panel. Krel slid to the floor against the wall, legs folding in an odd way, quietly speaking to Torve as its feathers fluffed and smoothed, fluffed and smoothed.
Before he could think his way out of doing it, Benji plopped down next to Krel and tucked his feet up in the blanket. He ignored the strangled-sounding squawk and let out a breath. He was just sitting, in a room full of aliens, all staring at him. This was real. This was happening.
Tentatively, Krel’s hand reached up. Benji watched as thin clawlike fingers reached out, shaking a little. He felt them against his scalp, gentle and scratchy. A feeling like electricity ran down his spine and over his skin. He shivered, closing his eyes and leaning into the touch. It was so nice.
Benji didn’t really pay attention after that, not to the unintelligible conversation between the aliens, not to the void outside the big window, not to the pain in his leg. He kept his eyes closed and let Krel play with his hair, reveling in the contact. He didn’t even notice when he gradually felt warmer, when he was no longer supporting his own weight, when feathers brushed his shoulders. He didn’t notice when he fell asleep tucked into the alien’s side.
See you next week!