The Care and Feeding of Humans: Chapter Fourteen

Three and a half ricatos (7 months)!” San shouted, “It took you guys that long to find a cure‽”

Flan couldn’t resist such an opportunity, especially since it was San. “Actually, we figured out a cure a couple of rictos (4 days) after you were put in cryo-stasis but it was so nice without your constant mindless yakking that we only just now decided that it would have been immoral to keep you frozen any longer, despite our desires.” San whipped around, staring at Flan with wide, hurt eyes. Flan could hardly contain his laughter

+The moron actually believes me!+

“Shut up Flan.” Snapped Xan. “Of course we didn’t leave you in there for the fun of it, San. Flan was taken out a mere ric (30 minutes) ago.” San, oddly enough, was correct in one respect. Three and a half ricatos (7 months) was a ridiculous amount of time to spend on a cure for a single disease, especially with the equipment of a category 10 medical station at one’s disposal. It made more sense when she reminded herself that it had not actually been just one disease. The crew had in fact displayed the symptoms of five different contagions, and that wasn’t mentioning the dormant antigens which had been discovered upon a more thorough examination of the first crewmembers thought to have been cured. Such “sleeper” diseases had numbered in the dozens, and taken the longest to completely eradicate.

To ensure that absolutely nothing harmful remained, the entire station and the cargo ship had undergone a full sanitation. In total, the time required to undo what Cqcq’trtr had unwittingly managed in a mere rictos (2 days) had required a full three and half ricatos (7 months). In that entire time, Xan had not contracted a single disease, purely out of good luck it seemed. That only meant she had had to bide her time through the entire ordeal with nothing to distract her from her anger.

Even now, after time had quenched the initial inferno, it still flared to life every time her eyes lit upon Dr. Triv. That lying, manipulative, two faced, Cinerean bastard! He had been able to communicate with Cqcq’trtr and had intentionally remained silent regarding his ability so that he would have no inconvenient moral or legal obstacles while studying Cqcq’trtr’s physiology without his consent. Worse yet, she had caught him. She’d heard Cqcq’trtr speaking intelligible clicks, seen him speaking to Dr. Triv, and the Cinerean scum had the nerve to tell her that she had been imagining things! Of course the surveillance footage from that room just happened to have been corrupted.

Worse yet, Dr. Triv had somehow convinced Cqcq’trtr of some Robalin resurgence, sending him off to who knew where, never to be seen or heard from again. Of course, the Cinerean had shown her the surveillance records which appeared rather convincing, but she didn’t intend to trust this wart of a creature any farther than she could throw him. Admittedly, given the doctors stature and her current feelings toward him, that distance might be somewhat greater than she would have anticipated, if she had a mind to find out. She still hadn’t decided whether or not she did. San had to choose that very moment to speak. He always seemed to have the worst timing with the worst questions.

“Hey, where’s Cqcq’trtr? He’s the one who put me in here, the least he could have done was be here to apologize, or I guess in his case look sorry.”

“He left.” Xan whispered. She didn’t really believe Cqcq’trtr had been fooled by the Cinerean. He had been intelligent – she still hated how long it had taken her to realize – but more surprisingly, he had truly cared for her and the rest of the crew. She suspected he had left in an effort protect the crew, not realizing his worlds deadly microbes had been contained. What confirmed this theory in her mind was the vial of blood he had left. He hadn’t been willing to give so much as a drop to anyone during his entire stay, but when he had known he was leaving, he had left the key to creating the cure.

She knew in her mind Cqcq’trtr was most likely dead, either from starvation or some twisted ploy, but despite her cynicism she still hoped that wherever Cqcq’trtr was, he was safe and happy.


 

Lieutenant Colonel Blatvec ducked. The anti-tank kinetic-pulse narrowly missed his head, flashing by close enough to ruffle the fur on his head and back. It was a good thing he had, too. He didn’t think his personal shield would be able to take another shot. His momentary union with the ground gave his mind a few precious moments to consider the battle around him. It wasn’t good. He’d never seen a fight with so many vehicles, and that was saying something, coming from him. He was one of the most experienced of the 74th, and had been to hell and back several times. Now, hell apparently had tiers, and he was several levels lower than he’d ever been before.

Major Cliip slid down the short declivity next to where Blatvec was taking a momentary rest. “We can’t stay here long sir,” he panted, “The moment they decide they don’t want to bother trying to shoot us out of cover they’re going to point the nearest tank squad in our direction, and I don’t think the guys can take on another one.” Blatvec snorted humorlessly. Another tank squadron. Before today his squad had only ever taken on two or three tanks at a time. It spoke to the superb skill of his men that they had managed to defeat such odds with only minor casualties, but now they had far out-stripped any previous record they may have set. Today they’d managed to survive not one, nor two, but three attacks by full tank squadrons, and miraculously emerged alive and victorious.

Well, a few of them were alive. Casualties had never been so heavy, but neither had the odds been so heavily against them. The 74th may have contained the finest soldier in the Dominion, and his men arguably the greatest among them, but when the enemy has as many armored squadrons as the 74th did of infantry, there was little they could do, finest soldiers of not. If the heads hadn’t had the foresight to send the 32nd and 13th armored divisions to provide support, this battle would have already been over.

Even though he already knew the answer, Blatvec decided to ask Cliip, hoping his gut was wrong for the first time. “How are the 32nd and 13th holding up?”

Cliip grimaced, “Poorly, maybe even worse than us. At least we can dive into holes when it gets too hot. Those poor bastards are stuck in big hunks of metal with the colors of the Dominion painted all over their sides. They’re impossible to miss, even in this mess.” A coil-shot narrowly missed their position, it’s sickly red light replacing the ashen cast of the battlefield for a split second before it impacted a short distance to the left of their hiding place, turning a hill into a hole. Blatvec whipped his head around, searching for the source of the disturbance. A burning husk sat where a rover had once hovered. Just a shot fired in the brief moment before extinction.

Breathing a sigh of relief that they weren’t under attack just yet, Blatvec consulted his gut. It was the main reason he was still alive. He had a sense about the battlefield. He could feel when a turning point was at hand, even though nothing seemed to have changed. His ability had led his men out of more than one tough scrape, but now he felt the current situation was one even his gut couldn’t help him out of. It seemed to be sobbing in despair, which did nothing to bolster his flagging internal morale. It was only his internal morale which was affected, however. He never let his fear show on his face. That would have admitted true defeat. He had to help his men. He had to give them something to fight so that, when the time came, they could die like men, standing up, rather than frightened prey, hiding in their holes, hoping the predator wouldn’t find them.

Searching about the battlefield with his eyes, he calmly and calculatingly scanned for anything he could exploit, anything that would give him and his men more opportunities, if not for survival, then at least for a more meaningful death. It was as he looked that the predator decided to show up. It just wasn’t the predator he would have expected.

“Sir, get down!” Cliip shouted in warning, but he didn’t need it. He’d sensed the approaching danger, although, as always, he couldn’t explain how, especially through all the mayhem of the fighting around him. To his right a small group of enemy rovers were powering towards his position. Their trajectory suggested they had nearly come from behind his position.

+Have we been beaten back so far already?+

Shouldering his anti-tank pulse-guns with his first four arms and his Fusion spears in the other two, he prepared to engage the approaching onslaught. A figure on top of one of the rovers caught his eye at the last moment. Holding two fusion scythes and caterwauling like a [banshee], a small creature Blatvec had never seen before rode atop the foremost rover as though it were a steed, howling in a language that, for some reason, his translator didn’t understand. It was covered in blood from various species, completely obscuring the colors of allegiance on its harness. He was still staring at the odd little biped when the rovers whipped past their position without giving his squad a second glance. Cliip snapped him from his reverie.

“Are those drivers wearing some of our combat-harnesses?” Blatvec hadn’t even realized, so engrossed he had been with the odd spectacle above the hover-craft, but Cliip was right. Ensconced within the rovers as they were, it was impossible to see unless one was as close as he was, but Blatvec could clearly see the colors of the Dominion on the harnesses of the soldiers in the rovers. At first he was repulsed by such a sight. How could they? They were ignoring the rules of honorable combat! They were blatantly lying about their allegiance so as to avoid notice by the enemy! It was despicable, deplorable . . . ingenious! Even as he stared in shock the duplicitous convoy approached the position of the troops that were keeping his unit pinned down. Not a shot was fired upon them. After all, to the Celzi down the range, they were on the same team. Then their own team opened fire on them.

The first volley was devastating, each craft firing every cannon simultaneously, bathing the entrenchment in a deadly light. There wasn’t much left after that first volley, except a deeper hole. Blatvec knew he should feel outraged by the blatant disregard of the rules of honorable combat, but at the moment, the only one he was furious with was himself for allowing those idiotic “laws” to make him completely disregard such an plainly effective idea. Cursing himself for his slow wits, he turned to Cliip.

“I want you to find any in the area. Tell them to get into an enemy vehicle at all costs. We’re going to win this battle one way or the other; propriety can go bother dusty men from wars long over.”

“Wait, you want to emulate them?” cried Cliip, “They’re ignoring every principle of the very foundation of civilized war!”

“And they’re kicking some serious ass because of it,” retorted Blatvec, gesturing to the small group as it approached a squad of tanks from behind. They opened fire in much the same manner as they had against the enemy infantry entrenchment, to much the same effect. Any other Celzi units around them were embroiled in their own conflicts, and were far too busy to notice that a few of their number were acting in a decidedly unpatriotic manner.

His point proven, Blatvec returned his attention to Cliip, who appeared quite impressed despite himself. “And don’t start spouting that drivel about ‘civilized war’. If you can see what’s right in front of you and still talk such nonsense you’ve got dung for brains. Now find anyone you can in the immediate area and tell them to hijack enemy vehicles at all costs. If they don’t they’ll die anyway.”

Turning his back on a spluttering Cliip, Blatvec dashed to the nearest hole which housed a cluster of his few remaining men. As a smile spread across his face, he realized just how much he had hated those imbecilic rules.


 

Dear Journal,

I’m a military genius.

I guess that just comes naturally with being a strategic genius.

Really, outer-space does a lot for a guy’s self-image.

I’d never felt so terribly alive before. Riding my glorious metal steed, I raised my lava scimitars above my head, shouting in pure exhilaration. That was about all I was doing. Really, my squadmates were doing all the work. First time for everything I guess. If only they wouldn’t shoot from so far away. I had to shout it. I had to.

“Drive me closer, I want to hit them with my swords!”

They didn’t oblige. I poked my head through a window which no longer contained glass, preparing an inappropriate and exasperating quip to throw at Manthlel, upon whose hover-hummer I was riding. That’s when I noticed his expression. His face held the unmistakable expression of one who could not believe what he was doing.

Judging by his driving, I couldn’t believe he had managed to keep us out a nasty wreck so far either, but that didn’t explain why Cresh in the next vehicle over had the same shocked look on his face. That guy handled his hover-hummer like a pro, yet he still looked like he’d just let out an involuntary laugh during the scene where old yeller dies. In fact, now that I was looking for it, every single one of my squad looked disturbed by their actions. Maybe they were just surprised they were still alive. Frankly, I was. I hadn’t thought our little tactic of hijacking enemy hover-hummers would have been so effective, but it was like we were invisible to the enemy.

Every time we approached an opposing squadron I was sure someone would notice our odd behavior and open fire, but each time we would manage to get into firing range, destroying them before they even had a chance to retaliate. Our unnaturally good luck couldn’t last us through the entire battle, could it?

Yeah, I actually let my mind conceive such a traitorous thought. I need to see those before they happen and nip them in the bud, because one of these days I’m going to think myself to death. Right on cue, as though it had sensed a being who dared conceive a hopeful thought, a dragon pierced through the veil that had been protecting us thus far. I don’t know what was up with the dragons in this battle, but they were full out flying through the air.

Through my other encounters with these overgrown lizards I’d eventually realized that their wings were more or less just for show than actual use. Sure, they provided another appendage with which to attack me, and made coming at them from the side a downright pain, but the most flying I had ever seen them use their wings for was a short gliding extension to their jumps. Their wings were about as affective as a “flying” squirrel’s.

Not these dragons, though. Apparently they had found the same source of leprechaun farts and pixie tears that planes used, because they were taking to sky with great sweeps of their wings. Well, now that I looked at them they seemed to be working pretty hard to stay up for long, but they were up none the less. One of the devils had noticed our little convoy from above. Folding its wings, the drake rolled into a dive. With the low gravity of this planet, its rate of decent seemed slowed enough to appear comical, but it would still have enough momentum to be deadly when it reached us. Just to sweeten the deal, it was heading straight for my hover-hummer.

As it approached I found myself, rather than frightened, excited.

+Finally some action!+

Wait, had I really just thought that? Where had that come from? I’ve got a damn dragon barreling down on me and I’m excited? Am I insane‽ The dragon was fast approaching, so I stowed this newest development for later. How was I going to deal with this thing coming down on me? My mind, demonstrating more of my newfound madness, presented me with a course of action straight out of Die Hard. Well, close enough. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I groaned, but I couldn’t think of any other way. Let’s just say I’m not a clever man. I waited a single moment more, allowing the beast to close within a mere twenty meters of our craft. Then I jumped.


 

Blatvec knew he shouldn’t enjoy something as grisly as war, but he couldn’t help himself, he was actually having fun. Careening about the battle field in his recently acquired tank, he and a sizable group of other stolen vehicles were, for the first time that day, making headway against the seemingly endless tide of enemies. Perhaps that small convoy of rovers had been able to hide underneath their assumed colors undetected, but a group as large as the one which followed Blatvec, which was still growing as more vehicles changed hands, hadn’t been able to run rampant for long before they had started being noticed.

Blatvec could feel the rage of the Celzi as they realized the treachery the Dominion had committed in the name of victory. Blatvec had come up with a new moto, however, which perfectly characterized his feelings since bucking the old ways: “All is fair in war.” Maybe he’d become famous for it. He had to admit, as brilliant as the plan had been, he didn’t think any other division would have been able to pull it off. Nowhere else would you find a group with so many soldiers able to fight against vehicles and win, albeit with difficulty. You probably wouldn’t have found so many infantrymen who knew how to drive the vehicles either.

This was the 74th, though, and now that they had a fighting chance, they were demonstrating why they were the only division left from the original Dominion army. Turing to Gicerpt, who was manning the main cannon, Blatvec shouted over the tumultuous roar inside the tank. “How are our little upstarts doing?”

“Still up and kicking,” the heavy replied with a grin. “They’re going to have to turn back to us soon though. The Celzi will eventually get everyone on the same page and then they won’t have their surprise factor anymore, which is the only reason they’ve made it so far. They’re a little ways away, though. I don’t know if they’ll be able – shit,” Blatvec’s heart sank at the defeated tone of Gicerpt’s explicative. It was a tone he’d heard far too often today. The tone of one who is about to see another die and knows there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Gicerpt continued, “A Vulza just spotted them and is diving to interce-SHIT!”

That wasn’t a tone he’d been expecting. Blatvec took his eyes off the road ahead and looked in the general direction of where he had last seen the inspiration for the current operating orders. He was just in time to see the little creature that had been standing on top of one of the rovers jump off of the corpse of a Vulza, which seemed to have died mid-flight, and hit the ground with a roll, leaving the dragon to slam into the ground behind it. The small creature didn’t even look impressed with its handiwork, neglecting to even glance at the downed monster it had just slain in an impossible manner.


 

+Oh my god it worked!+

I couldn’t believe it, I’d actually managed to jump on its head, stab it in the skull, then jump off it and roll to safety before it could drag me into a collision I doubted I’d survive. I wanted to jump up and down and squeal like a little girl while flapping my arms, but I had an audience. The occupants of hover-hummer three were watching with a shocked expression I hadn’t seen in months. Hunching my shoulders, I set my entire will to forcing myself to avoid looking back at my kill, reminding myself of the first law of any action movie.

+Cool guys don’t look at explosions. Cool guys don’t look at explosions.+

I couldn’t help it. I looked. I was glad I did. The dragon’s momentum coupled with its weight had left streak marks 10 meters long in the dirt. The impact hadn’t been kind to the corpse either. Crumpled and broken, shafts of white bone stuck from the wings, which were nearly fractured beyond distinction. Its neck had folded over itself and under its body, nearly decapitating it.

Seeing the carnage, the reality of what I had just done came crashing back to me. I sat down for a moment, rethinking what I had just done. I hadn’t even been scared, even though I’d known I could have died. Was that normal? My introspections were interrupted when I got a face full of dirt from an anti-tank pulse striking the ground right in front of me. Choking on earth I dropped to the ground. Apparently my squad hadn’t been the only ones in my audience. I guess jumping eight meters into the air and killing a dragon tends to draw crowd. Too bad this new crowd sympathized with the dragon rather than me.

Three tanks charged my position, death ray guns charging, red light spilling from the cannon’s open maws. They never had the chance to fire. Three dragons fell from the sky like bolts from the hand of a dragon slinging Zeus. Bearing their full weight against the tops of the offending tanks, the seemingly sturdy armor folded under the drakes as if they were no more than aluminum cans. I couldn’t understand the sudden change of amicability the dragons were showing me until another four landed behind me. I got a look into the eyes of one of the first three. I had killed one of their own. I was their kill.

You know how, in action movies, when the protagonist is up against impossible odds, the bad guys play it fair and let him fight them one at a time while the rest just kind of swing their weapons around in the background? Apparently the dragons didn’t subscribe to that playbook. Three attacked at once, two in front, one just peeking out from my blindside. There might have been more coming from behind me, so I jumped the only direction I could: up.

I wish I could say that they all comically smashed into each other, where they promptly lay dazed upon the ground while stars swirled about their heads. These buggers had reflexes though. Eight meters up is a long way, but they could jump farther. Following like scaled homing missiles, my three attackers jumped to meet me. They didn’t make it. Midflight the two charging from the front exposed in bursts of red light, as the third was thrown off course by a hailstorm of anti-tank ray pulses. My squad had arrived. Our small fight exploded into chaos.


 

Rie was beside himself with frustration. The battle had been progressing flawlessly, but now the Alliance’s advance had stalled when they were so close to victory. Command was gibbering about some sort of cowardice in so many garbled transmissions it was impossible to understand what they were upset about, units were being lost all over the field, and now the Vulza were out of control. Only seconds ago three tanks had broken formation, their crews screaming unintelligibly through the comms about the Dominion scum and a façade, when a pod of Vulza came roaring from the sky to flatten the three deviants.

Rie had been unable to believe his eyes. This had never happened before! Sure, in their excitement the Vulza were known to kill an Alliance infantry squad or two who were foolish enough to get too close, but they had never attacked Celzi vehicles before. That was trained into them from birth! More Vulza landed in the clearing created by their brothers, and Rie noticed the figure of the reptiles’ interest.

+A single soldier? They’ve attacked their masters to kill a single soldier?+

The soldier wasn’t a species he recognized.

+A mercenary at that? What could have possessed them t-+

The little creature powered up a personal anti-gravity device. He must have. The alien mercenary shot into the air, followed by three Vulza. Thinking to take advantage of their distraction, a group of nearby rovers decided to eliminate the defective Vulza. There weren’t enough of them to eliminate the entire pod in one volley, and, presented with a new target, the remaining Vulza leapt upon those foolish enough to attack them. Rie couldn’t abandon loyal men to a fate as grim as being torn apart by a Vulza.

“Fleezl!” Rie snapped to his communications officer, “Tell the squad to attack the Vulza rampaging at our [4 o’clock]. I’m not leaving men to those monsters.” A few clipped words was all it required to divert Rie’s squadron of tanks to the fight, where they charged the monsters, coilguns blazing. The situation deteriorated from there.


 

I couldn’t believe it. They were helping us! The enemy was firing on their own monsters! I’d thought I was screwed with the rest of my squad. The four dragons that hadn’t attacked me had scattered our hover-hummers, but I hadn’t been able to see what happened afterwards. My attention was distracted by the only one of my three attackers still alive. Enraged at the not-so-gentle-push that denied him his vengeance, the dragon leapt at me. Classic dragon opening move, that. I’d seen it a hundred times before – maybe more like four – and I was ready for it. I needn’t have been. Unlucky lizard attacker number three exploded in between point A and point B. Whipping around, I saw an entire squadron of enemy tanks descending upon our melee. I prepared to attack, but then I noticed they weren’t attacking me or my squad. They were helping us.

+What. Even.+

I wasn’t going to complain though, and neither was my squad from the look of things. I don’t know how much longer they would have lasted. They had managed to stay in their hover-hummers, which was good since I doubted the magical confusion field that seemed to make the enemy completely ignore our actions wouldn’t last if they got a look at the people inside the crafts. Aside from staying in the hummers, though, they hadn’t accomplished much else. Two were disabled thanks to dragons that had shredded their engine blocks or whatever it was that drove the whole “hover” component.

Aside from the fact that we were surrounded by apparently friendly enemies, things were going pretty well. So well in fact that it was just about time for fate to throw another fast ball our way, which arrived in the form of another clutch of drakes. Pandemonium reigned once more. I was, as per usual, a popular attraction as far as targets were concerned. Two dived for me. What the heck, it had worked once before. Jumping at the first one when it was a mere 7 meters above the ground I jumped forward and under it’s fall, slicing it’s neck and chest as I passed. That was the intent at least. I think I led a little too early with my scimitars and ended up getting it’s jaw and cheek, but I still cut far enough into its head.

Plowing into the ground the unfortunate lizard was hit in the back by the second dragon which had been coming at me from behind, crashing into the ground in a jumbled heap. It’s companion’s body cushioned it’s fall, if metal hard scales can really said to be able to “cushion” anything, and it regained its feet, although unsteadily, and attacked me with quick swipes of its claws.

Crap, I prefer it when they’re charging me. I jumped away from the first few swings, but wouldn’t be able to manage it for long. The air on this planet was ridiculously thin, and while it was thick enough for me to keep my head clear, I couldn’t keep up any kind of large physical exertion for long. I was already slowing. So was the dragon. In fact, he was having significantly more trouble than I was. Breathing great hefts of air, it didn’t seem to be able to get enough. I knew the feeling; I was starting to experience it as well. Wanting to end this fight before both of us ended up passed out on the ground to be run over by a tank, I aimed a swing at his arm on its next pass. The dragon tried to avoid my attack, but couldn’t, and it’s appendage came off at the elbow.

Roaring in pain, it exploded with new vigor. Frightened by its roaring right in my ear, so did I. Adrenaline fueled and angry (or frightened in my case) we spent the next few minutes playing cat and mouse around the corpse of a tank. Guess which one was the mouse. Then he spoiled the sport by flipping the tank out of the way and throwing himself towards me, intending to knock me from my feet with a sweeping blow to my knees with his remaining foreleg. I blocked it with the edge of my lava scimitar.

It turns out lava swards aren’t actually all that great at blocking. They tend to burn or cut off anything that touches their blade. T-rex the dragon only succeeded in loping off his other foreleg. Lucky for me too, since I doubted I would have taken too well to being smashed by the momentum of his attack. As it was I was still thrown off my feet as his arm, newly detached at the bicep, flew into legs, sweeping them out from under me and carrying me a good 50 centimeters back. Apparently dragons don’t take well to becoming wyverns, and T-rex, lacking the balance of his name-sake, flopped on the ground, attempting to balance on the forelegs that, in proportion to his body, appeared stubbier than a corgi’s.

The exertion had pushed me very nearly to the limit of my lungs, already straining to find more oxygen in this accursedly thin atmosphere, and I think I blacked out for a few seconds. When I regained full awareness, a tank had put Big T out of his misery, and several more clutches of dragons and squadrons of tanks had entered the fray around me.

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The Care and Feeding of Humans: Chapter Thirteen

“Why is Muulk always late?” whined Yil, “Just because he doesn’t have legs and can only move using pedal locomotory waves doesn’t mean he has to make all of us wait for him.”

“I think the fact that he’s the Field General of the Dominion military is the reason he can afford to make us wait,” replied Vic, “And I think you should keep your . . . tongue? . . . between your teeth if you know what’s best for you. Just because you’re not technically under the army’s jurisdiction doesn’t mean he can’t make life difficult for you.” Yil huffed, an impressive feat for a creature who didn’t stand upright, settling into a sullen silence. Vic agreed with Yil, although he would rather suffer a hernia before he admitted it. Why did Muulk have to be late for this meeting? For the first time since the Celzi had revealed their demon of a weapon, Vic felt hope. Hope that the Dominion wasn’t fighting a losing battle. Hope that would be proven genuine or false once the meeting was started.

The first glimmer of said hope had come from a minor skirmish on Helictor-4; an unimportant battle on a small planet. Apparently a single soldier, armed only with a Fusion Scythe, had managed to kill a Vulza. Never mind that the Celzi had bothered to commit one of their monsters to such a minor skirmish. How had a single soldier even survived such an attack, let alone retaliate to the point of vanquishing the thing? When the communications officer in charge first received the call from the commander of the 109th, he had assumed it was a joke, and a bad one at that. Once evidence had been provided there was no denying that it had happened, although Vic still did not truly understand how. The important thing was that he had managed it, and he had shown a Vulza could be killed without shooting it in the face multiple times with a coilgun.

Muulk’s shadow lumbered through the door before the General, appearing as though it were attempting to pull its creator through the door at a pace somewhat faster than a crawl. Vic knew that was a pointless battle. Field General Muulk was a Gordikl, a species nearly everyone agreed was gut wrenchingly horrid to look upon; It was even worse to view one in motion. Somewhere down the evolutionary chain a Gordikl had apparently decided he was too good for legs; cursing all future Gordikl to have the bodies of enormous slugs. But as Muulk oozed through the door, Vic didn’t think he had ever seen anything so majestic. They could finally start the meeting.

“I apologize for my tardiness, but I refuse to relinquish lunch for anything short of my death.” Looking at him Vic could easily believe it; although he worried the former would ultimately lead the latter in Muulk’s case. Once he had situated his bulk in the space cleared for him at the head of the table – how would he have used a chair anyway – Muulk motioned with an arm that seemed too small for his body. “Tul’c, if you wouldn’t mind, could you bring us up to date as to your team’s most recent project?”

Tul’c’cttvpxr’kl’nqqtcy’yz rose from his chair, straightening his clothes self-importantly, a smug grin spreading across his face. Vic didn’t really like Tul’c. A Ratak like himself, he annoyed Vic with his greater-than-thou attitude, and the belief that anyone who was not an engineer was not only beneath him in intelligence, but in worth as well. Vic had to admit one thing though. Tul’c was good at what he did. He was the lead engineer for any specialized weapons developments commissioned by the military. As such, nearly all of his projects were classified.

“Thank you General,” Tul’c purred, somehow managing to appear even more pleased with himself. “As most of you know, one standard cycle (6 months) ago, during a pointless skirmish on Helictor-4, a lone soldier managed to slaughter a Vulza with a mere Fusion Scythe. Obviously there was something different about him. Upon conducting a biomedical scan of the subject, we discovered that this soldier possesses a physiology quite unlike anything we’ve seen before. At least, anything we’ve actually been able to strap onto a scanner without it killing everyone in the room.”

A holographic display in the center of the table came to life, displaying a scanner readout of a bipedal creature. Vic couldn’t be sure of the size, since it wasn’t to scale, but he was unable to notice anything particularly odd about the creature. Truly, compared to Hunters, this thing looked hilariously docile. Admittedly, Vic didn’t know how to read bioscanner outputs. Something had to be special about it though, because every scientist at the table made sounds of extreme surprise, bordering on outright shock.

“As anyone who can actually understand bioscanner readouts can see, this creature’s incredible combat abilities come from an array of biological and even mental systems that have never before been seen. He is only one though, and we do not know where he came from, making it impossible to enlist more of his kind into the military. He alone will not be able to staunch the tide of Vulza and turn this war into a victory for the Dominion. Therefore, we decided to use the information gained from him to attempt to replicate his fighting abilities into something our soldiers could use. There were many excellent ideas as to how to accomplish this, as well as several . . . not so excellent ideas, one including the creation of giant robots to punch the Vulza into submission.” Tul’c chuckled – more to himself than anything – at such a ridiculous thought.

“We decided to focus on his skeletal system and its constituent musculature. His bones are a ceramic matrix composite with a hydroxyapatite, calcium phosphate, and an unknown protein base. We had once considered a similar material for the use in a new generation of combat-harnesses, but ultimately discarded the idea due to the cost required to find the necessary raw materials to create enough for every single troop. This material, however, is significantly stronger than our previous attempt, more than justifying the increased cost which production will require. Using this incredible substance, we fabricated an exoskeletal-harness upon which we affixed a weapon previously assumed to be impossible for personal use.”

The emitter on the table flashed, changing to an image Vic instantly recognized, although he’d only ever seen them as a concept, rather than an actuality. A personal plasma rifle. Before the invention of kinetic-pulse weaponry, if one was able to think back that far, a plethora of weapons were used across the galaxy, although most relied upon a soft projectile mechanism. The allure of unlimited ammunition was too great for weapons engineers to resist. It wasn’t long before the potential of plasma weaponry was reexamined.

It made sense. Plasma rifles would be ridiculously overpowered for use as a personal weapon, but who would complain that their gun was too powerful? Even with compression technology as primitive as it was during that time, it was still efficient enough to the point that a single plasma clip would contain upwards of 10,000 shots, which, for all but the most protracted battles, was an essentially unlimited number of rounds. Researchers had assumed creating such firearms would be easy since plasma weapons were already widely used on any medium classed ship worth their salt.

Upon its adaption for personal use however, they quickly encountered several insurmountable obstacles. First and foremost was the recoil. Plasma weaponry required a magnetic coil to propel the shot from the compressor, which created the recoil effect on par with a coilgun. Such powerful weapons were only ever seen on vehicles, turrets, and smaller ships for a reason.

Backlash of such magnitude would turn any unfortunate enough to be holding the weapon upon its discharge into a conglomeration of bloody scraps. Unless the militaries of the future would be handing their soldiers overcomplicated forms of execution, the recoil would need to be solved. The other major problem was the heat. Discharged plasma was hot. Although the combat harnesses could protect from such temperatures for a short time, they would only do so for about twenty shots.

Ways in which to fix plasma weaponry so as to avoid killing its users were never found, for soon after the first prototype had been created, kinetic-pulse technology was invented. Using no moving parts, sufficient, albeit weaker damage output than that of a plasma weapon, and firing a pulse composed completely on energy, resulting in a truly unlimited number of shots, kinetic-pulse weapons were obviously the better choice, and plasma weapons for personal use were completely abandoned. Until now.

“Plasma weapons were never adapted for personal use because of the hazards they presented towards their users. They, unfortunately, conveyed the greatest amount of damage for their size, which is essential if they are to be used as an anti-Vulza countermeasure. With the advancements in today’s technology, however, we have managed to reduce the amount of heat discharge to an acceptable level. At least it won’t melt anyone standing within two borts (1 meter). As for the recoil, the strength supplied by the exoskeletal-harness is so immense that it easily holds up to the destructive backlash. We could probably mount a Mark III coilgun turret on the thing and it wouldn’t break. Such strength did, however, come at a cost. The harness is extremely heavy, though still light considering its strength. Any normal soldier who attempted to move in one unassisted wouldn’t be able to lift a finger.”

“To fix that we installed a muscular system comprised of the most advanced electroactive polymers, biomimetically engineered against the creature’s own skeletal muscle system. Such advanced systems are, of course, quite expensive. I advice that only one soldier in each squad be supplied with one. Even so, the advantage such harnesses convey is undeniably necessary. Not only will a soldier equipped with one be able to kill a Vulza from a short range, they will be impervious to kinetic-pulse fire. Coilguns will still be a problem, but that still makes the harness nearly equivalent to a tank. Questions?”

Tul’c finished in a rush, breathing hard in his excitement. Vic knew he should be just as excited, but instead felt a sense of anticlimax. It just seemed to . . . simple. He had actually liked the giant robot idea, although he could see why this was obviously the better choice. Yil, tactless as ever, voiced Vic’s thoughts for him. “That’s it? That’s all we had to do? Just slap a big gun on a big harness and we’ve beaten the Vulza? Why the hell haven’t we done this before now?!”

Tul’c, looking as though he’d smelled something unpleasant, graced Yil with a glance, voice dripping with scorn, “Because. We only just discovered how to make the “big harness” in the past cycle. Remember the whole “Unknown Protein” part about this creatures bones? That means it was previously unknown, as in, we didn’t know it, as in, we couldn’t have created it until just now. That material is the only reason the harness is able to avoid being completely annihilated by the recoil of the plasma rifle. Any of our previous materials would have either been to weak or too heavy,” he finished in a huff. “Now, are there any more questions that do not insult my intelligence?”

“No, Tul’c,” Muulk replied hurriedly, before Yil could ask another. “On behalf of the Dominion, I would like to thank you and your team for your incredible efforts. You are dismissed.” Once Tul’c and his ilk had left the room, only the military personnel and Yil remained. As loath as Vic was to admit it, the Dominion needed Yil, perhaps even more so than Tul’c.

It had only been through Yil’s prodigious efforts that the military had been successful in the cover-up which was the war with the Celzi Alliance. Of course citizens of the Dominion knew there was a war, but as to its true nature, they were oblivious. No reports of devastating defeats reached the public ear. Even the Vulza were a secret, amazingly. No videos of their terrible battle prowess could be seen within the Dominion, except in meetings of the highest secrecy. Vic supposed these new exoskeletal-harnesses, and the soldier they had been derived from for that matter, would remain a secret as well.

Vic thoughts were interrupted by Muulks rumbling voice. “I haven’t dismissed everyone because we have yet to decide what to do with this soldier. He’s wasted upon such minor battles as are fought by the 109th.”

“Really sir, how invaluable is this soldier?” piped up Vic, “Yes, it’s amazing that he was able to kill a Vulza, but he’s only one. How much of a greater difference does he make that one rover with a coilgun couldn’t match?”

“I’ll assume from your question that you haven’t read any of the reports I sent you.” Muulk grunted. Vic winced. He knew he should have, but really, all the papers had just been incident reports. He had assumed they were just more accounts of the creature killing Vulza, or other similarly heroic acts. Incredible, to be sure, but nothing that could single-handedly turn the course of the war. He was soon disillusioned.

“To bring you back up to speed, over the past cycle the soldier has not only managed to kill three more Vulza, but has also been the reason his squad has been placed on the front line for every single battle.”

What?!” Cried Vic, “That’s a death senten – wait. How have they managed to be put on the front line more than once or twice? No one on the front survives, it’s a meat grinder!”

“Exactly,” Muulk said, grinning at the expression on Vic’s face, “Not only has this soldier successfully led the charge of fourteen battles, he has somehow managed to keep his entire squad alive at the same time. That squad has only lost three of its members since he was enlisted, on a troopship that has such a high mortality rate that entire squads have to be replaced after every battle. This soldier has turned perhaps our worst troopship into one of our most effective. As happy as I am that we no longer have such a substantial drain upon our newly trained personnel, the reason the 109th was assigned to such an inconsequential sector was because every better division was needed somewhere else.”

“We’ll send them some of the new harnesses,” Muulk continued, “Which should be enough for them to deal with what they have over there. Aside from the four Vulza that were, for some unfathomable reason, committed to such a minor front, there aren’t any rovers, turrets, or tanks over there. If these new suits are as powerful as Tul’c says, they should only need three or four. Now that you completely understand how potent this creature is, what should we do with him? He’s wasted on the 109th. Ideas?”

Opening his mouth for the first time since the meeting had started, Ickret, a mere three star general and therefore most junior member at the table, spoke. “I’ve actually been looking into that. It turns out that the squad Human – that’s the soldier’s name – was placed into was already one of the most veteran squads of the 109th. They were considered good enough that a plital was reassigned to their squad when his original was annihilated by a Vulza. Apparently it was reasoned they would be the least affected by not having a full complement of competent members, and it made the paperwork look pretty. Now that they’ve survived more frontline charges than most 109th squads do battles, they’re by far the most skilled on that ship. I think they would survive a reassignment to the 74th.”

“Surely not,” snorted Vic, “I don’t care what kind of experience they’ve gained on the front. The 74th is the only division that we had before the war that isn’t dead now. They’re the only division we can count on giving us victories. The kind of mayhem they’re thrown into on a [weekly] basis would kill anyone from the 109th from the shock alone! There’s a reason we consider the entire 74th to be a special forces division and send only the most gifted recruits as replacements. It’s because they’re expected to go up against everything the enemy has and come out alive. The 109th gets those we don’t flunk out of boot-camp because we’re so desperate for troops. What makes you think they could even last a re (5 seconds) with the 74th?”

“Because they have Human,” retorted Ickret. “He’s managed to kill, on his own, with only a Fusion scythe, the creature that is able to crush turrets, flip tanks, and snap rovers with ease. He’s defeated the very thing that has allowed the Celzi to get this far. If he can face down a Vulza, and that squad is able to follow him as he does, what do you think could stand in their way?”

Vic didn’t really know what to say to that. Muulk made it so he didn’t have to say anything. “Well then, it’s settled. Human and his squad will be transferred to the 74th.” He seemed overjoyed that someone else had done all the legwork for him, probably because he lacked such appendages. “Now that’s settled, we can finish this endless meeting. I’ve a meal I’ve been dying to get to. Dismissed.”


 

Dear Journal,

I’ve found a new family.

Oh, and I think I might have messed up last time.

I don’t care though, King Arthur is better.

Who the hell is St. George anyway?

I’m sorry I haven’t written to you in a while Journal, it’s been kind of hectic. I know I know, stop yelling. Well when you think about it in the scheme of things, does it actually matter how long it was? The point we need to be focusing on here is that I’m back and that I missed you terribly. Trust me, it’s better if you don’t know how long it was. It’s ok, I’m back now you can stop crying. That’s better. Are you ready to listen to my story? Yes? That’s a good Journal.

In case you were wondering, I have not resorted to turning my mental Journal into an imaginary friend due to the extended lack of human contact. I’m perfectly healthy in every way. In the six months (sorry Journal) since I had joined the army, that was surprisingly true, especially given the fact that I was perhaps the most popular target on the battle field. Sure, I was usually in a constantly bruised state, but considering what those shots usually did to anyone else whose shield failed, I was looking pretty chipper.

I’d also been given a new name, although Manthlel and the squad still called me Human: “Vulza’trtr”. I think it was something lame like dragon slayer, but for some reason the first few times people said it they always seemed to get a kick out of it. Aliens, what can you say? To my utter disappointment, I hadn’t been allowed to keep any of their bodies of the dragons I’d killed. I could have made some Dragon Scale Armor! I don’t really know how I would have gone about actually making it, but I’m sure I’d have found a way.

I was lying in bed, munching on the seventh tasteless alien dough sphere of my lunch when Manthlel interrupted my “meal”. I looked up as he started to flail his arms about as though fighting off an exuberant Italian salesman. I would have just enjoyed the entertainment 6 months before, but now I recognized the weird “language” the squad and I had concocted so they could communicate with me. It was extremely simple. Really, it was just a slightly more comprehensive version of the gestures used by the military for silent communication on the battle field, although I doubt their version contained so many variations upon the thumbs up.

<Pack up, we’re leaving soon,> gestured Manthlel, which came across as a finger twirl and then an open palm that made it look like he was waiting for a high five. Really, it would have been a very simple gesture if he had only done it with one of his arms, but for some reason that I had not yet been able to comprehend, he gesture-spoke with all four of his arms simultaneously, making even the shortest conveyance an alarming symphony of twirls and thumbs up.

<Battle?> I gesticulated, making my hand into a gun as I shrugged in question.

<No. We don’t have a word for it. Pack up,> he conducted in reply. I sighed. That hand motion, the same someone who’s drowning makes as they reach towards the surface, was perhaps the second most common gesture, next to the thumbs up. It had been worth it though; to create a sign which admitted a deficiency in our cat fight of a language. After several days of frustrated caveman speak, I had finally managed to get the squad to understand what I had wanted that gesture to convey. Now it was in almost every conversation we had off the battlefield.

I don’t think they quite noticed the grasping gesture my hand had been making at the end of my extended arm, because the sign was starting to look dangerously close to the Nazi Salute, although in Manthlel’s case it looked more like he was saluting hydra with twice the vigor of the usual fanatic. I didn’t feel like correcting them, although it would be great if my laziness led to the first formal contact between humans and aliens looking like a neo-nazi convention.

Heh.

Manthlel walked away, giving me no choice but to cram the last alien dough sphere into my mouth, sling my lava scimitar over my back, and follow him.

<Where are we going?> I motioned, hoping to get a better idea of what this not-battle adventure would entail.

<First, a transport shuttle. Then-> He seemed to struggle with his hands <The troopship, but not the troopship.> Great, now Manthlel was trying to use caveman speak to have philosophical discussions with me. I scratched the top of my head, informing him of my confusion. He seemed to have been holding his breath, hoping that I would catch his drift. He deflated. <Just follow. We’ll talk about it later.> I hated that sign; a shrug accompanied by a bewildered twist of the hands. It usually meant another tedious flail battle of confusion was in the future.

Wherever I was going, it involved a transport shuttle rather than a drop shuttle. Perhaps a barracks? Maybe that’s what he had meant by troopship but not a troopship. I guessed I’d figure it out soon enough.


 

“What are they thinking?!” burst Cresh for the seventh time since the shuttle had started the two ricta (3 week) trek required to take them from what had become one of the safest divisions and into the most dangerous one by far. “We can’t survive in the 74th! Sure, Human’s basically invincible, but we aren’t! We don’t have the kind of training those guys do.”

“Keep your trap shut Cresh,” Growled Trxcl, “If command thinks we can survive up there then we will. They wouldn’t throw away good men. Not with the reserves in the state they are.”

“What if we’re not being transferred to fight?” asked Manthlel into the following silence. After his stunt with the first dragon and his refusal to run away from the following, the squad had become significantly more pleasant towards him. No, they weren’t really willing to be chums with him yet, but at least they didn’t glare at him every time he opened his mouth anymore. “What if the only reason we’re being taken along is because we’re able to issue a semblance of complex commands to Human? What if we’re just being sent as interchangeable translators?”

This utterance plunged the cabin into an even greater silence than before. In fact, very little was said during the entire trip.


 

Oh. that’s what Manthlel had meant. It was a transfer. After what I guessed was about 3 weeks, our shuttle docked with another troopship. I would have said it was identical, except for an extravagant paint job the previous had lacked, which attempted to make the lumbering troopship look like anything other than a gargantuan beached whale. Really, these things were just massive space blimps. How do you paint something like that to look fierce? A few minutes later when I got a look at the kinds of soldiers inside the ship, I figured they could have done better by painting the faces of the personnel on the hull.

If I had thought the soldiers on the last troopblimp had looked professional, then these soldiers were ninjas. Every one moved with the stalk of a killer, something I had yet to have seen in any alien. No one kept their weapons in the storage bins under their beds either. Everyone was in full combat gear, which seemed to be somewhat expanded from the usual gear that was handed out. Lava knives, swords, scimitars, spears, and even a twinblade – maybe he’d trade – could be seen on nearly half of the crew, and those without carried boring if no less lethal non-lava versions. Ray guns were also in supply. Everyone had an anti-tank ray gun, instead of just three per group, an well as two heavy ray guns, a pistol, a backup personal shield, and a grenade.

It was the grenades that had impressed me. I had assumed them to be your normal run-of-the-mill explosive type, but they had proven to be far worse. Instead, they seemed to let off some kind of mind-numbing emission that, if you were too close, would fry you brains out. Literally. Those grenades seemed to be the only thing that could legitimately hurt me. In fact, they were even more potent against me, although I don’t know why.

I was lucky my first encounter with them hadn’t also been my last. I had seen it coming though, and assumed it to be an explosive, which would have been just as lethal, so I jumped away from it. Even with three good four meter leaps between it and myself, it had given me a stunning headache when it had gone off. Now my squad could actually do something for me instead of it just being a one way street. I’d make sure no one could shoot them, and they’d make sure no grenades got too close to me. Turns out you can actually shoot these grenades and they won’t go off.

We’d barely had a second to stretch our legs after having been stuck on that shuttle for nearly a month before an alien I’d never seen before approached our blue-giraffe leader. Yeah, I technically knew his name, but how on Earth were you supposed to pronounce something that didn’t sound like it had any vowels in it? I just called him Turkey, because that was kind of what his name sounded like and it was easier to remember than “Terksal” or however you would spell it in English.

This new alien seemed to have gotten the short end of the stick when it came to balance, although it seemed to make it work with a thick tail. Apparently someone had thought it was a good idea to give a horse the legs of a kangaroo. I will say, however, that this particular biological configuration led to an extremely entertaining form of locomotion. Instead of walking like a normal being, it jumped like a kangaroo. With four legs it created an entirely different effect. Prancing majestically to our fearless leader, horse-kangaroo said something in a coughing dialect, hacking away until I was sure he or she was going to collapse a lung. Apparently it made sense to Turkey, because he started clicking orders at us.

Turning to me, he motioned <We are preparing for a battle. First, follow this one and do as instructed. Meet us back here at the shuttle.> Giving him the thumbs up, I followed after the horse-kangaroo, resisting the urge to make a “boing” sound in time with its jumps as I followed in its hop-steps. My fabulous guide showed me to a weapons depot similar to the one Manthlel had shown me upon my first day, except this one was significantly larger. It was still recognizable though.

“Oh no, I don’t need a ray gun. Wouldn’t work for me anyway. I’ve got all I need right here,” I explained, gesturing to my combat-harness and lava sword. Horseroo jumped up and down excitedly, gesturing towards my lava scimitar with his or – nope, check that – his snout. Definitely a he. It looked like he took more after a horse than a kangaroo. I glanced to where his snout was pointing. “My lava scimitar? Wait, can you get me any lava weapon I want?” He didn’t answer, or course, but kept jumping up and down. I tried a different approach. I pointed to my lava scimitar, then at the weapons depot, then held up two fingers. Horseroo cavorted gloriously to a console near the depot. Sitting on his hind legs like a kangaroo, except with another pair of legs rather than arms.

He somehow used his ungainly appendages to hit several buttons on the console, bringing it to life. It was much more interesting to watch this time though, since it fabricated my new weapon right in front of me. I watched as the alien 3D printer gave me a new sword in a matter of minutes. As I watched, I began to consider all the wonderful possibilities this machine could provide if I discovered how to use it. That would be for a later time, however. The machine presented me with my new weapon, sheath and all. I would have asked for a twinblade, but those looked like they required skill to use, so I decided it was better to stick to my unskilled hack and slash method.

Newly armed, I was escorted back to the shuttle by my guide with magnificent leaps. The rest of the squad were waiting. They too had been newly outfitted, each armed to the teeth.

<Follow us to the dropship> Turkey gesticulated.

Taking a deep breath, I followed the squad. Here we go again.


 

Trxcl seemed to be having difficulty summoning his usual determination as he began to give the squad his pre-game rundown. “There’s not much to this battle as far as strategy, or at least any strategy we need to concern ourselves about. Our orders are about as straightforward as they get. Charge the enemy and punch through their lines. That won’t be as easy as it was when we were with the 109th. There will be turrets, entrenchments, rovers, tanks, Vulza, and if the boys up here don’t do their jobs we might be getting a few Darkbats.”

+You’re not wrong+ mused Manthlel, closely examining his new anti-tank pulse-gun. It was times like these he wished it could actually live up to its name. Apparently there had once been a time when anti-tank guns could actually hurt a tank, but if that had ever been true, it must have been during the very first years of vehicular warfare. Now, you might as well hit the tank with your fists as shoot it with an anti-tank gun. Except for a Fusion weapon, no handheld weapon could harm a modern tank, or even one of the lightly-armored rovers, although it could probably put a dent in those. Manthlel didn’t know how they had been used in the past, but these days they were fastest way to shut down someone’s personal shield, as long as you had the stamina to hold the behemoth thing.

Trxcl wasn’t done yet, although Manthlel had almost stopped listening. “Because of all the coilguns and artillery-pulse fire down there, we won’t be able to use our usual charge tactic.” Shame that, it had been such a comfort. When they had realized that Human couldn’t be seriously hurt by heavy-pulse fire, they had let him lead the charge, the rest of the squad following in a single file line, attempting to cower in the wake of pulse free space Human created as they ran the normally fatal distance towards the enemy encampment. It wouldn’t help them now. Manthlel doubted Human could survive the explosion from a coilgun blast. After all, those were only things that had been able to kill a Vulza before Human had showed up.

“Remember your training, and stick together.” Trxcl seemed to want to say more, but in the end decided to leave it at that, pausing a moment to give Human that odd hand gesture before sitting down. The outer bay doors opened, an open maw into space, and began spitting out waves upon waves of dropships towards the small tropical planet below.


 

The moment our dropship shot out of the launch bay, I could immediately tell this battle was different from the others I had fought in. The scale was just so much more grand. Ours wasn’t the only troopship. 20 other monstrosities poured a steam of dropships to fall to the planet. The Armada accompanying the troopships was larger than I’d ever seen. Before, it had always been our one troopship, supported by two or three cruisers. In this battle, cruisers were the little dogs.

Behemoths I could only assume were battleships launched plasma bolts several times larger than our dropship at each other, which were somehow deflected by powerful shields. Carriers spewed endless ropes of energy from their turrets, attempting to destroy the small fighters that bit at their sides. Weaving in between the mayhem cruisers and destroyers chased each other, firing furious barrages of pulses and explosive projectiles alike, battering each other’s shields or bloodying the flanks of battleships. Even as I watched, an enemy cruiser got too close to a battleship. A port cannon charged and fired a bolt of plasma the size of a 747. It slammed into the cruiser with a terrible force, cracking the hull with the power of its impact, the heat of the plasma cutting the ship completely in two.

With the appearance of the dropships, the enemy fighters refocused their attention, abandoning the troopships and carriers, determined to make sure not one of us reached the ground. That’s when I noticed the addition our dropship had that the others I had been in before had lacked. A turret. Cresh, one of the heavies, was in the gunner seat, and soon our hull reverberated as the whump of heavy weapons fire emanated from a massive turret on our roof.

Cresh, it seemed, had deadly aim in space as well as on the ground. I counted no less than 5 enemy fighters fall to the precision marksmanship of our veteran heavy; an impressive number considering the speed with which the nimble fighters dodged the majority of the death that was flung their way. As impressive as Cresh’s aim had been, it had no effect on the number of enemy fighters who numbered in the hundreds. That’s when our fighters entered the fray.

Our dropship shook violently as explosion that were far too close for comfort detonated outside the window, whether they were fighters or dropships we often couldn’t tell. A stray shot from a battleship flew into the midst of the minnow fight that was the dropship convoy, destroying everything in its wake, leaving a stream of small explosions until it smashed against the hull of a troopship. The troopship was made to take a beating, even on that magnitude, and its shields held.

When our dropship miraculously hit the atmosphere, the roar of the ship entering the stratosphere was drowned out by the chaos around us. While the cruisers and destroyers couldn’t follow us down to the planet, the fighters weren’t about to let a little air stop them. They harried the convoy’s flanks all the way to the surface, only breaking off when the turrets from dropships that had already landed were able to shoot them from the ground.

Our dropship had been towards the end of the convoy, and many had already disembarked upon the battlefield before us. If anything, the chaos of the ground topped that above. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. First of all, there were vehicles. There were a lot of vehicles. Quick nimble hovercrafts toting two massive guns, one on each side, zipped about the battlefield, chasing each other and squadrons of men who were foolish enough to engage one in a formation. Their massive weapons discharging shots a ghastly shade of red which exploded wherever they hit, causing colossal gouts of dirt and earth and anything else that happened to be it way to erupt as though from a geyser.

Tanks, heavy, though still hovering above the ground, roamed around the battlefield, destroying anything in their wake. Bristling with weapons, they launched volley after volley of devastating fire into anything nearby, sending anything without the armor of a dragon into the void. Actually, dragons were included in the mix as well, and there were quite a few of those. Entire clutches (herd? crapload? flock? Metric ton versus imperial?) roamed around the battlefield, killing indiscriminately among the troops, although I guess the majority of the ones they killed were ours.

A particular group I saw were interrupted in their hunting by an equally angry herd of tanks. The ensuing fight was a sight to remember. The lead tank drew a bead upon one of the dragons with its main cannon, announcing it and its brothers presence by engulfing the unfortunate lizard in an explosion of fire and gristle. The drakes immediately disengaged from the soldiers they had been massacring, leaping at the tanks. The herd fired as one, reducing an entire wave of dragons to ash. Then the lines met. Tanks in the front were completely flipped, smashed into each other, the sound of shrieking metal punctuated by the roars of beasts.

The tanks weren’t dying easily. Unloading everything, every tank that died went out in a blaze of glory as every cannon simultaneously fired, engulfing its aggressor in the light from four ray pulses, two death rays (the ones that fire the red lights), and a flamethrower. More often than not, the ferocity of the attack would leave the victorious dragon dazed and bleeding. The tanks gained reinforcements, and the drakes were incinerated unless they ran.

Similar fights had left the battlefield blackened with ash as the burning husks of tanks and dragon remains lit the area with a choking light. Similar battles raged, adding their own luminance with their various firearms, voicing cries of hatred and despair as they locked in mortal combat for this once flourishing land now made barren.

<Follow!> shout-gestured Turkey, and we dived into the fray. We were noticed almost immediately by one of the light Hover-Humvees, which whipped around to face us, raining down the fire of hell upon us from its side mounted cannons. Unfortunately for it, I had seen it as well. I jump-flew. I shot an astounding eight meters! The gravity here was so minimal! I was even more powerful than I’d ever been, and reached the Hover-Humvee before it had been able to loose more than one shot from each of its cannons. It may have been shielded, but unless it had a force field it wasn’t stopping my lava scimitar. Apparently it didn’t have one. The vehicle may have been strong, but the driver was weak, and as both of my scimitars cut through the windshield as though it were butter, into the driver, and out the back of his seat, I could hear the shock and dismay from the enemies within.

Throwing myself at the window, I destroyed it with my lava sword, bursting into the Hover-Humvee’s cabin where two turret operators and an auxiliary manned anti-tank kinetic-pulse turrets on the roof. It was a small space and I was a small guy. We went well together. Too bad I’m not very good at sharing personal space. The hostiles who only moments before had thought to be our executors soon found themselves on the receiving end of their own devices, and were found equally lacking in stamina. Bereft of its driver and crew, the Hover-Humvee slowed to stop, sliding several extra meters to stop in front of Turkey’s stunned face.

“Please tell me you know how to drive one of these things. I don’t want to have to keep you guys alive this entire time.” Turns out, Cresh did. That guy was just chock full of surprises. Only four guys could fit into the Hover-Humvee’s, and we had 17 guys in total including myself. My squad’s personal shields wouldn’t stand a chance to half of the shots flying around. I had to get each of them behind some stronger shields. That meant I had to commandeer more vehicles. Another Hover-Humvee, having noticed my rather less than peaceful takeover of the last one, eagerly offered itself up to become the next on in my fleet, although I guess it didn’t see it that way.

It suffered the same fate as its brother, however, with my scimitars piercing its driver, then moving on to the beings within. A third fell in a similar manner. As my squad piled into the newest addition, I chose my last victim. The fourth Hover-Humvee was a little beaten up, but that described the majority of the vehicles kicking up dust on the battlefield. It would work though, and became the final member of our flotilla. Now our squad could do some damage. Moving in a tight formation, the simultaneous fire from eight death rays annihilated tank shields in a single shot, destroying them on the next. Dragons foolish enough to approach on their own were quickly destroyed, and any infantry who attempted a rush were gunned down by the withering anti-tank ray pulse fire from the turrets mounted above.

I didn’t need a Hover-Humvee. I had two lava scimitars. Giving Manthlel, who was driving the third Humvee, the thumbs up, I charged with my usual battle cry. There was a long way to go.

The Care and Feeding of Humans: Chapter Twelve

Dear Journal,

am xeno St. George.

Except I have an alien lava scimitar instead of some dinky steel sword.

So I’m pretty sure I win.

But at the same time, screw my life.

Again.

I woke up, which is more than I had assumed I would manage when I had gone to sleep. I think I remembered something about the human body only being able to survive 3 days or so without water, and by my estimate I had been in that escape pod with Captain Roids for a good decade, so pretty close to the 3 day mark unless I missed my guess by much. Once I had woken up, however, any expectations I had had from that point on went out the window.

First of all, I was on a ship, but not a ship I recognized. I was pretty proud of myself that I could recognize the humming of a FTL drive without even trying. What can I say? I’m a quick study when it comes to street smarts. The only problem was that this ship which I didn’t recognize did have some rather disturbing similarities to another kind of ship I’d seen only in the movies. A troop transport. From what I could see of it the ship appeared to be merely one massive room, divided into sections with half-walls. Each of these sections contained 10 bunk-beds, most of which were occupied by aliens of all shapes and sizes, each wearing nearly the exact same thing. Well, not the exact same thing, since the participating species couldn’t seem to agree on the correct number of arms or legs or, in a few cases, heads, but the clothes were the same color at least.

Those clothes were a black shirt and red pants, and I have to say, it was pretty sharp. At least, it would have looked sharp if it weren’t for the numerous sweat stains and the fact that not everyone seemed to be wearing a shirt, but at least the potential was there. I had bigger problems other than the blatant fashion crimes taking place right in front of me, like where was I and why hadn’t I been given such a dapper uniform. I could have pulled if off better than half of the xenos there.

Then the thing I’d been trying to ignore hit me like a fly on the windshield of a Japanese bullet train. I was on a troop transport. I was on a troop transportI was a troop being transported! Will Smith’s voice entered my mind, helping me out with the words I couldn’t properly say. “Aw Hell no!” I couldn’t be drafted into the army! I had won! I had beaten back the evil lizard-ants and had even managed to survive getting hit by 1 and a half of those anti-tank rounds, and now I wasn’t even allowed to go back and be adored as a hero again? I had just started being able to talk to Mama too! Really!? Who did I piss off so badly upstairs that they wouldn’t even let me do a victory lap once I had done the right thing!

It’s fine, I’m good, I’m not mad. I just need to take a deep breath and calm down. I’m going to be fine. How bad could it be, anyway? I was alive, which is always a good start, and they had given me a bed, which meant they could see right off the bat that I was sapient, which was better than could have been said for the experience I had endured last time I had awoken on an unfamiliar ship. It wasn’t like the blue-giraffes had been my home, anyway. I was trying to get to my real home, and if this way was faster than I embraced it. I’m ok. I really am. Deep. Breaths.

As I wasn’t dead I could assume my new hosts, whoever they were, were friendly, or, at least, non-hostile. They had even given me my new alien lava scimitar and its sheath! They weren’t studying me like Dick and Shifty had wanted to, either. What did they want from me then? I knew it looked like a troop transport, so maybe they wanted me to be a cook? Perhaps a worker? I didn’t exactly know on what level these aliens waged war, so I could be something as preposterous as a trench digger, although that would suck to an endless degree. But regardless of what role they wanted me to fulfill, why would they have given me a bunk with the rest of the soldiers?

My eyes fell upon the lava scimitar again. Oh. No. No! Seriously? They wanted me to be a soldier? It’s not like I wouldn’t make a damn fine one if the soldiers were anything like the xenos I’d fought so far, but the powers that were had no way of knowing that! What kind of idiot would draft someone they found, metaphorically speaking, on the side of the road and just decide “Yeah, he looks kind of mean, he’d make a great addition to our army.” “But sir” the other guy would say, “He’s drunk and passed out and sleeping in a pile of his own feces. And look, there’s a dead guy right next to him. It looks like he just up and murdered that lizard-ant with a sword. You want that in our ranks?” and then the commander would just smile as he slowly nodded, murmuring “He’s perfect.” Who does that? I can tell you right now, no one in their right minds.

Maybe you’d do that to a guy if you were going to training. I mean, I had been in a pretty bad shape, and if someone had offered to let me join the army or stay in my pod with Roids I would have taken up arms right there, but I obviously wasn’t on my way to training. The aliens around me moved with too much confidence. It wasn’t bravado. They were just sure of themselves. They each looked like a fit specimen of their own species, and the way in which they handled themselves as they moved spoke of training and discipline. I also saw quite a few weapons out of weapons lockers and in the hands of their owners, so that might have helped out my observations as well, just a little.

My brooding was interrupted when a sound issued from the top bunk of the bed I was sitting on. From over the side a long, thin face with orange skin and what looked like a multitude of warts poked into my view. It had slits for pupils in its red eyes, and I have to say that I probably would have peed a little if I’d any water to pee. It said something, and I was almost relieved that it wasn’t a bunch of unintelligible clicks. If I closed my eyes I could almost believe that it was some language from earth that I didn’t know, rather than an alien tongue. This was encouraging, since it meant that I actually had a chance at some basic communication with this guy, so long as I was going to be spending a good deal of time with this guy, which I had a feeling I was.

The reason I’d never tried learning any of the blue-giraffe’s words was because I physically couldn’t. I didn’t think they were even able to talk in the same way I was, and I knew they had made several sounds which I would have been hard pressed to replicate. I couldn’t have even told them my name, since it would have just sounded like grunts to them. But this guy knew I was sapient and had similar vocal chords to me. My time here was already off to a better start than it ever had before. I still couldn’t understand what he said, though. Where was a Yoda when you needed one?

He seemed frustrated that I couldn’t understand him, but at the same time as though he had confirmed something. He hopped down from the bed, where I could see the rest of him. He was about 50 centimeters taller than me, and a good deal thinner. He had five legs and 4 arms, but a normal sized neck and, as I had noticed before, orange skin. The warts also seemed to be a general skin feature as well. Poor bloke. He spoke to me again, but this time as though one with the understanding that I couldn’t speak his language and vice versa. Using all four hands to motion towards himself, he said one word. “Manthlel.” Dang it! Now it would have been rude to call him Toad. I was pretty proud of that one too; it was one of my best. Better than Warty, at least. Fine, I guess I could call him by his real name. I might as well get the pronunciation correct as well. “Manth . . . lel?” I said, looking to him in askance. He nodded which I hope meant the same thing to him as it did to me. Confirming it once more in my mind I said it again. “Manthlel.”

Now it was my turn. I learned my lessons well, and I remembered clearly the words my mother had said to me when I was just a boy. “Son,” she said, “Never give your name to a stranger you have just met on the street. School is fine, but outside of school, and to people who aren’t your own age, they don’t need to know your name, and if they ask, just tell them something else.” Well I sure as heck wasn’t in school, and I had no idea how old this guy was, so I wasn’t giving him my name, no siree. I decided not to lie to him, however. Lying is wrong, that’s another thing Mother said. Gesturing to myself in the same way he had – except with only two arms – I told him as much as I was willing. “Human.” He mouthed the word several time, then said it back to me in the same way I had when I’d heard his name. “HUman. HumAN. HUman.” I gave him a thumbs up without thinking. Then he reciprocated the gesture.

It was so unexpected that I burst out laughing. I hadn’t seen such a human gesture in so long it felt like I’d gone in for a brofist and he’s returned one with a secret handshake. He smiled at my mirth, or maybe he was getting ready to rip my throat out since I had insulted his ancestress with my laughter or something, I don’t know. He didn’t attack, so I guess smiles meant the same thing to him as they did to me. I was so happy with the progress I’d already made. “Manthlel, you’re already a better friend than any alien I’ve ever met. Just don’t try to feed me lettuce or lock me into my bunk and we’ll be off to a good start. As it is though, you don’t happen to have any purple xeno pig rats do you? I’m starving and I would love some if you happen to have any.” Apparently he didn’t, but he had something even worse than lettuce it seemed.

He took me over to what looked like a bird feeder in the back wall of our cubicle which was also the hull of the ship. In the little bucket, which appeared to be the end of a chute that disappeared into the wall and an area unknown, was a multitude of grey spheres each slightly smaller than my fist. I looked at Manthlel and the spheres, nonplussed. He motioned towards the spheres. I continued to stare at him. Exasperated, he picked one up and bit into it. It looked like it had the constancy of bread dough. “You know what? I’ve changed my mind. Lettuce is what I’m craving right now. Please?” Manthlel just stared at me, encouraging me to take one of the spheres. I was starving, and there seemed to be nothing else, so I picked one up and took a bite.

It tasted like nothing. Not the nothing of water, which is actually something, or the nothing of cucumbers bought from Walmart; this was literally nothing. I had been right about the texture though. It was the feeling of bread dough in my mouth with absolutely nothing registered by my tongue except that there was indeed some form of matter in my mouth. It was disgusting, but at the same time, palatable. I ate it, and it seemed my body was in the mood for food more than it was for satisfying my craving for something with a taste. I ate another one. They were actually filling, despite their size. Still, they were about as large as a small apple, and I hadn’t eaten in days. After the first two I guessed how many I would eat and grabbed six more.

After I had as many as I thought was reasonable I looked back up at Manthlel. He was gaping at me, mouth open significantly wider than I thought his jaw should have been able to go. In fact, I think he had disconnected it like a snakes, and it was quite a horrifying sight. I swore and backed away from him, but he just continued to stare. I looked around at the other aliens in our cubicle. I don’t think they had noticed me until now, but they were staring at me with similar expressions as Manthlel. I looked and saw that most of them were holding partially dissembled spheres, except not a one held more than three. “What, I’m hungry!” I protested, “Just because I’m fat doesn’t mean I’m not beautiful.”

Oblivious to how rude their fat shaming was, they continued to stare. I pointedly ignored them and sat down to enjoy my quite literally tasteless meal. I had been very accurate with my guess and felt contentedly full when I had finished off the last of my spheres. I looked up, and sure enough, each and every one of the men – some might have been women – were watching at me, even more shocked than before if that was possible. It seemed like a couple aliens from adjacent cubicles had come to stop and stare as well.

I decided to just ignore the haters, and moved back to the wall where I thought I recognized a tap similar to the one that had been in my cargo bay all that time ago when I had thought I was going to stay there for longer than about an hour. I remembered how Dink had worked it – dang I hoped the kid was alright – and was rewarded by a steam of water running into a trough in the wall next to the sphere depository. The moment my lips touched the water I realized how thirsty I was and drank for nearly two minutes, taking just enough time between drinks to breath and make sure I didn’t puke. They were still staring when I got up and wiped my mouth with the back of my sleeve. “Don’t you guys have anything better to do?!”

It seemed they did, because no sooner had I spoken than an electric buzzer sounded throughout the ship, pausing everyone in their movements. It was eerie. Everyone in the entire ship, it seemed, stood still a moment as the buzzer sounded. Then a collective deep breath ran through the entire ship, as though it was time to face the inevitable. When everyone started moving again, it was with a new sense of purpose, of things to do that could be put off no longer. All the soldiers in my cubicle, or squad I guessed, took out guns from storage bins in their bunks, checking over them with a practiced and efficient ease, although I’m pretty sure I’d seen most of them checking the same weapons only a few minutes before. Combat-harnesses were being donned, and I had the distinct feeling that I was missing out on some serious preparation. The purpose with which everyone was moving did nothing to assuage the fear that was slowly rising in my chest.

Manthlel, quickly got on his gear, then motioned for me to follow him. We walked a short distance to a small booth in the middle of the hall between all of the cubicles. He punched a few keys on a console and a mechanism within the booth clanked and ground as it responded to Manthlel’s request. A gun and a combat-harness were presented by two mechanical arms which came out of the booth. Manthlel grabbed the gun and harness and handed them to me. I knew how to put on the harness, but I think the ray gun was broken. It was all bent up as though for storage, and it didn’t look as though it was supposed to be able to be reconfigured. When I had grabbed the handle and nothing had happened, Manthlel also seemed confused. I looked up when someone else approached the booth, getting out of the way. This new arrival just needed a gun, and when his new weapon was presented to him, similarly bent as mine, he confidently grasped it about the handle and walked away content. I could see why. The moment his hand grasped the thing it seemed to melt and fold upon itself, reconfiguring itself until it seemed to have been custom built for that particular alien.

“Ah.” I said, understanding. “The computer doesn’t know what kind of creature I am, so it doesn’t know how to change to my physiology, and I doubt it’d even let me fire it if it did.” Manthlel seemed to have reached the same conclusion, but he looked a little more put out than I did about it. I tried to reassure him. “Don’t worry about it man, I don’t need a gun anyway. It’d just cramp up my style. All I need is the lava scimitar I got back at my bunk and I’ll be good.” Manthlel didn’t seem convinced. Ok, he just hadn’t understood a word I had said, but even if he had I doubt he would have been convinced. There was nothing we could do, though, so we walked back to our cubicle where I slung the lava scimitar’s sheath over my back, where it fit surprisingly well. I was lucky I still had the sheath, or else I wouldn’t have had a way to turn the thing on or off since it wasn’t genetically sequenced to me like the last one had. Too bad Dick wasn’t here to do that for me. Did I just wish Dick was here? Must have been my imagination.

After everyone in the squad had had time to check their gear and suit up, one of the members, who was perhaps the most fit blue-giraffe I had ever seen, stood up and started delivering a speech or a pep-talk to the group. I hope it was really inspiring, because I missed every word. Guess I’ll never know what was said.


 

“Reports say the battle’s already underway on Helictor-4, and is going badly,” said Trxcl, giving his usual pre-battle rundown. “It seems that the main offensive line broke and is now fragmented over an area of about 4 bortos (8 kilometers). We’ll be dropping into the thick of it. There have also been unconfirmed sightings of a Vulza, so keep your eyes open. Our squad as well as a few hundred others have been tasked with picking up those we can find of the first offensive and then bring them back to base. We’ll be moving in a roaming defensive circle formation. I don’t want anyone breaking away and looking for their own glory. If we see a Vulza, I want an orderly retreat with covering fire in a layered switchback. Any survivors we find are to be returned to the landing zone and then we’ll go back for more. This is a pack-fight like most of what we’ve dealt with, so any enemies we come across will likely be in groups of ten. The skirmishes will be quick and brutal. Any questions?

“What does Human do? He doesn’t have a gun, and he didn’t understand a word you said.” Manthlel probably should have kept his mouth shut, but he wasn’t going to let Human die because he hadn’t been willing to risk Trxcl’s momentary anger.

“If he stays out of the way I don’t care what he does. If he starts tripping us up I’ll shoot him myself. Any other questions?” Trxcl glared at Manthlel, daring him to ask another. Manthlel silently promised Human that he would protect him and keep him from getting in the way.

“Good,” snorted Trxcl. A klaxon sounded. “Get to our dropship then. You know the drill.”

Manthlel swallowed as he strapped himself into the dropship’s harness. Human seemed to have just realized something and was gibbering away excitedly. What was he on about? He better not be about to puke up the massive amount of nutrient spheres he had eaten. Manthlel guessed he would never find out, for at that moment the transport dropped out of hyperspace and into the middle of the part of the battle that was being waged above Helictor-4. The ship began to shake as its shields began absorbing shots. Trxcl’s squad didn’t get to feel the punishment the ship was taking for long, because soon after dropping out of hyperspace their shuttle shot out of the troopship’s bay and began the long decent towards the planet’s surface.


 

Things had gotten worse. A lot worse. I know I should have put 2 and 2 together. I mean, everyone had been suiting up for battle, what should I have thought was going to happen? It still didn’t seem real though, as I strapped myself into a seat next to Manthlel. I mean, I had woken up about 2 hours ago, had my first real meal in 3 days in half that time, and was now about to enter battle against an unknown enemy fighting for an unknown cause over an unknown planet. With all those unknowns combined, I was feeling rather confused, and it didn’t help when the shuttle I was in shot out of the troop ship like a bullet and turned its nose towards the planet beneath us. At first I had a horrible feeling as I thought the planet was Earth. Then I checked the continents and couldn’t recognize any of them, but it still looked a lot like earth. Maybe smaller, but there was no way I could be certain.

My discomfort with the current situation was only increased when shuttles on every side of ours started exploding. Every time one of them decided to see how life was as a fireball our shuttle would rock ominously, and the entire way down to the planet I was clutching my harness, white knuckled and sweating. We made it, though I don’t know how. When the shuttle doors opened, I wished we were back up in space. At least it had seemed cleaner up there.

Bodies were everywhere. Eviscerated, exploded, dismembered, you name it, it appeared down there in one form or another. I know war on Earth is terrible, but at least battlefields don’t look like the only form of firearm used on either side was some form of artillery. If someone was dead, then they were the kind of dead that left you unrecognizable. My squad seemed to know what they were doing, however, and they ran out of the dropship, formed a circle, and began trotting towards an area in the distance where the discharge of weapons could be seen. I followed after them, not wanting to get in the way. Manthlel seemed to approve of my position, because he gave me another thumbs up; I am glad I taught him that gesture. I sent one right back at him and he fell back into formation.

My first pitched battle was actually pretty boring for the first thirty minutes or so. We didn’t come across anyone. Really, it seemed like the dropships could have maybe dropped us a little closer to the actual battle. As it was we seemed about 4 kilometers distant from where the fighting was actually taking place. As we got closer, I could see that the fighting was more like a pack-fight instead, with small groups, each about the size of our squad, fighting each other whenever they met an enemy squad. It didn’t look like there was any overshadowing strategy at all, just a bunch of groups gotten together and then told to fight. I was starting to like my position in this army less and less.

I was dragged out of my musings as our group stumbled upon what I guess was an enemy group. Honestly, I couldn’t tell. The enemy group was composed of an assortment of aliens like our own, carrying guns identical to ours, wearing combat-harnesses identical to ours. The only difference was they were wearing white shirts and brown pants underneath their armor. Their group started shooting at our group, however, and my squad reciprocated, so I guess we were at war with them. Not needing any more instruction I drew my lava scimitar – it was even cooler with a curved blade – and leap-flew towards the enemy.


 

The first ric (30 minutes) after landing was uneventful. The dropship had been blown somewhat off course and had landed 2 bortos (4 kilometers) from where the rest of the ships had landed. Manthlel wasn’t eager to fight though, and the problem was, everyone knew it. Manthlel was a plital. A coward. He should have been dead. His old squad had been completely annihilated when a Vulza, which no one had known was in the battle, had suddenly descended upon the battle that Manthlel’s squad and the Dominion had thought was a victory in their favor. The appearance of the Vulza turned that around. Within a single ric (30 minutes) the Dominions forces had been in full retreat. Manthlel’s squad had been gladly following those orders when the Vulza had decided upon his squad as its next target. Their commander, Crimol, had told his squad to fight and hold as long as possible so that others could get away. Manthlel had taken one look at the creature, and then he had turned and ran. Ran away from the screams of his friends. Ran from Crimol’s curses. Ran from his duty. He hated himself.

What was worse, he had lived to tell the tale. The Dominion was losing, although it didn’t want to admit it, and was desperate for trained soldiers. Manthlel had been reassigned to a new squad to fill up some of the holes in the paperwork, but Manthlel knew it was a good as a death sentence. The men of his new squad hated him, just as he did himself, and he knew that if he ever got in trouble, he wouldn’t be able to count on any help from his team.

Fate, it seemed, didn’t care about Manthlel’s wishes. After a short time jogging, Trxcl’s encountered their first enemy squad. It was an ambush. One moment they were jogging towards where they could see pulse-gun fire, the next they were surrounded on all sides, confused and dazed as enemies appeared where only churned dirt had been before. There wasn’t a Vulza with them, however, as though Manthlel’s squad could have missed one of those and so Manthlel, perhaps not calmly, but steadily, aimed his gun and fired, concentrating his fire on one opponent at a time as he had been trained, trying to wear down his enemies personal shield. Manthlel never got the chance to finish. A blur of brown, whitish-orange, and glowing red flew towards the enemy with which Manthlel had been engaged. The blur shot passed the unfortunate soldier, who immediately stopped firing, which confused Manthlel, until he realized that the soldier had a glowing hole in his gut, left by a Fusion Scythe.

+Human?+

It was Human. Manthlel forgot about the enemy. Forgetting to keep his jaw connected for the second time that day as he watched in awe as the short, bipedal creature moved with the speed and deadly grace Manthlel had only ever seen in a Vulza. Human seemed just about as deadly. Jumping from one enemy to the other, he stabbed, sliced, and chopped his way through the ambush which would most likely would have cost Trxcl half his men if it weren’t for the intervention. Only after a third of their men were dead before the rest of the members of the ambush even realize that they were quickly taking casualties. All fire turned against Human. Nearly all of them missed, and the few that did hit were absorbed harmlessly by his combat-harness. How would they have hit something like that anyway? He changed directions so suddenly and with such precision that the only way to hit him was to shoot all around him and then some.

The enemy squad was dead in perhaps a ri (1 minute). The surviving squad was silent for about that long as well. Manthlel found himself silently laughing as he remembered his promise to protect Human in this upcoming battle. Human had probably just saved his life, and it was only the first conflict of the battle.

“Well.” Trxcl spoke slowly into the silence. “I don’t know what your new bunkmate’s on, Manthlel, but I’ll have some of whatever he’s having.”


 

This battle was intense. Not in the same way my previous alien battles had gone. Those had actually contained more action than any of the fights I was finding down here. No, it was intense because they just kept coming. I’d kill off one group – my squad was basically just letting me do my thing at this point – rest for about half a minute, then run into another enemy squad. I was exhausted. My jumps were a mere three meters now, and were significantly slower. During the last few skirmishes my squad had even managed to take care of a few enemies before I had been able to attend to them.

I found myself thinking these thoughts as I was wading my way through another enemy squadron. I was rudely interrupted when my personal shield gave out and I received a shot to my heart. The worst thing was, I had a bruise there, or maybe it was several. If you’ve ever gotten a bruise after someone punched you, you’ll know how much those things smart. If you’ve ever been punched in that same bruise again, you know that the pain increases exponentially rather than linearly.

The pain focused me like nothing had that day, and I got a whole new burst of adrenaline. I was really starting to rely on that so that I could just feel normal. I hacked the head off of the offending alien, whipping my sword around to slash the legs off of another xeno behind me. He fell on top of me, which was rude, but at least that gave me something to throw at one of his companions that was a little further than I wanted to run. Really, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was in a battle, I probably would have been pretty bored. I took a few more hits, which hurt, but I got through that squad just fine with only a little help from my friends. Hey, at least they were good for something.


 

Manthlel had been worried Human’s personal shield for the past few ris (few minutes). It had taken quite a few hits despite his blinding speed, and it wouldn’t hold out forever. Just as he had feared, during the middle of another skirmish, Human’s shield took one too many hits too fast. It collapsed, and a final shot found its way through the chaos Human had created in the enemy’s midst and hit him in the upper chest.

+Damn, and here I had thought I might get through this battle unscathed. You fought beyond belief, little Human. You won’t be forgotten+

Manthlel hiked his gun back into position and continued firing. That’s when he noticed that Human wasn’t dead. He was in fact, very much alive.

+But, his shield went down! I saw it fail! Didn’t I?+

As Manthlel watched, Human was hit once again, but aside from momentarily causing him to stumble, it seemed to have no more effect on him than it would have against a Vulza.

+What is this creatur- Ah! Not again!+ His jaw was really getting on his nerves today. Trxcl was shaking his head, muttering something about “what he’s having”. Cresh, one of the three heavies in the squad, hiked his anti-tank gun on his shoulder and blew out a long breath. “I don’t know what hellhole he came from, but Human fights like a Vulza, just smaller.”

“And fewer teeth.” Piped in Yicka, the squad grenadier.

“And fewer scal-” Rekt, another heavy, was cut short as the object of their jests suddenly decided to remind them of the reason it deserved their respect.


 

I admit it. I had said that the battle was getting bored. Why I ever let such an idiot statement into my head I have no idea, but I paid for it dearly.

Dragons are real. Check that. Space dragons are real, and they’re every bit as terrifying as they are in the stories.

I guess I’d better specify which stories. Not the Inheritance Cycle, because dragons aren’t magical and don’t talk inside your head. Not Game of Thrones, because these dragons actually show up. Not Dragon Tales, because . . . just . . . not Dragon Tales. We’re talking the original dragons, like the dragon from St. George and the Dragon. The kind of dragon that’s basically just a massive killing machine covered in scales stronger than steel. There’s none of that wisdom or magic crap. Just claws, teeth, and a whole lot of speed. And I was staring at one.

First of all I couldn’t believe it. Here? In this world of fragile beings who were slow, weak, and couldn’t make a serious ray-gun to save their life? Then I hoped it was like the rest of the life I had seen so far, until it jumped the 20 meters between it and our squad with the lithe grace of a pouncing tiger and in about half the time. I barely jumped out of the way, and I mean barely. When I landed I was covered in dirt thrown up by the dragon as its claws gauged massive grooves into the earth where I had been standing before. Another one of it’s claws gouged the earth at one of my squadmates feet as well, except he hadn’t had the foresight to jump out of the way like I had. Ah.

My squad started running as a disorderly mob, and I would have joined them. But I didn’t. I can’t explain it, but I felt protective of them. Even though I’d just met them, they seemed like children to me. They were slow, clumsy, and seemingly new to war, at least war as even I had seen it through my second hand experience. I couldn’t run. That would be abandoning them. This dragon was a being like me, at least as far as my new wards were concerned. Both of us were creatures of death. Faster, stronger, and harder than they could ever hope to be, sweeping away their greatest defenses as though they were merely air. Unstoppable. How could I run away from this foe? I was their only chance. I was their monster from hell. I guess it had only been a matter of time before I met another one.

I turned to face the dragon, raised my scimitar, bellowed a challenge, and charged.


 

Manthlel was crying. Not because of fear, but out of shame. He was doing it again. He was running from a foe that he couldn’t beat because he was afraid, even though his sacrifice might have meant the difference between the life or death of another. He had been given a second chance to redeem himself, and he was making the same mistake. This was why his tears streamed as he ran. Because he was a coward.

A sound like nothing he had ever heard before stopped Manthlel dead in his tracks. It wasn’t actually all that uncommon. It was just a yell. The battle field was filled with those, dripping with them, stained with them. The screams of the dying would haunt this battle field for days after the fighting was over. So why was this yell different? Manthlel looked to its source and saw why.

It was Human, charging the Vulza, Fusion Scythe raised above his head, challenging it in the very moment it was victorious. The rest of the squad, which Manthlel could now see had been running as well, watched in shock as the small alien charged the beast that could not be killed. The yell was different because it was an order. The shouts that filled the battle field were pleas for a savior and cries for release. The screams of the dying and doomed. This was a command. An order directed at everything in its path. A demand that every obstacle bend before it. A promise to anything that wouldn’t bow. An assurance of destruction.

The challenge shook Manthlel to his core, bringing hope where there had once been fear. The fear was still there, and in great abundance. But it was no longer the fear of a frightened creature struggling to deny the inevitable. It was the fear of a man who was fighting for the right to continue to live. Manthlel soon found himself giving voice to the shout as well, turned around, and charged back the way he had come. The squad followed suit. It was a good thing they did. Human was having problems.


 

I may have been a creature from hell compared to your standard alien, but even as much as I outclassed them, this thing outclassed myself even more so. What had I expected, it was a m—–f—ing Space Dragon (I respect my mother and you should too). I’m lucky I hadn’t jump attacked it, or else it would have swatted me out of midair and that would have been the end of my defiance. It swung the massive left forelimb at me, which I ducked. It recovered instantly and jumped at me, attempting to crush me through sheer force of impact. I dived to the side, but it clipped my legs and sent me spinning into the ground. I hit hard, feeling the vibrations in the ground as it landed, spun around and charged me, preparing to finish the job. I knew I was about to die, but who knows, maybe I still had luck. I tried my best move and rolled. It worked. The dragon ate a mouthful of dirt as it closed its maw about the ground where I had been moments before.

The problem after you roll is that you have to stop rolling eventually and take the time to get up. This dragon wasn’t going to give me that time. I finished my role, and could see its clawed foot rushing down to greet me. Damn.

I was blown out of the way of the dragon’s strike by an unknown force. Actually, I’d felt that before. Someone had shot me out way of imminent death with an anti-tank pulse-gun. At least, they’d shot the ground right next to me, which was enough to send me flying several meters out of the dragons reach. It hadn’t come quite fast enough, though, and the dragon’s claws left three red gashes across my back. This was the first time an enemy had made me bleed, and I got to say, it scared the crap out of me, and hurt me more than anything I’d felt in space combat so far.

My new friends were helping me, and boy did I need it. Unfortunately, aside from the helpful push, I don’t think they were managing to do anything but annoy it. Their weapons were even more ineffectual against this beast than they were against me. Heck, I doubt they were even bruising it. It completely ignored them, jumping after me, the only real prey it had found this entire battle. I knew the feeling. As scared as I was, I’d never felt so exhilarated. Springing to my feet, I dashed to its side, ducking under its lunge and scoring a hit on its back leg. It swiped its tale at my feet, which was a really good move, because it worked, and I was on my back again for the second time in the fight.

It spun around, attempting to put me into the same position as before. I knew where that would lead, however, and instead curled up into a ball and somersaulted towards and under the beast, getting out of its immediate line of sight. This is how I know it wasn’t as sapient as dragons in modern stories, because if it had been intelligent it would have just smashed its body against the ground and me with it. Instead it whipped itself around like a cat trying to find the mouse it had just lost, by which time I’d gotten back to my feet and had leapt for its side. It turned into my strike, which meant I stabbed its shoulder rather than its lungs.

Roaring in pain and anger, the dragon snapped its body like a whip, dislodging me and my sword from its shoulder and throwing us 15 meters before we slammed into the ground. My trusty scimitar fell from my hand. Not so trusty after all I guess. I was exposed, out of position for a boost from anti-tank bro, and unarmed. Roaring in triumph the dragon leapt at me to finish the job. It pulled up short again, although more out of shock than anything else.


 

Human was down. He had lost his sword and seemed dazed from the colossal fall that should have killed him. The Vulza could see that it had won. Roaring in triumph it prepared to leap upon the exposed Human. Manthlel didn’t know what made him do it, but he was close enough, and he did. He took two quick steps and then hit the Vulza in the wounded shoulder with his gun. He didn’t even fire it; he just smacked the deep stab wound with his pulse-weapon, using one of the most advanced personal weapons as a club.

“Fight more than one of us!” He screamed. “C’mon, there’s more than just Human, fight all of us.” It actually worked. The Vulza recoiled, although it may have been in shock rather than pain. When Manthlel got a look at its eyes, he could tell that it absolutely was shock. Shock that such inconsequential a creature had dared to lay a finger upon its mighty side. Manthlel could also see that he was screwed.


 

Manthlel had distracted it, which was all I needed. He had also put himself within neck hugging distance of the dragon, which was not a good place for him to be. Dragon neck hugs can be lethal. I had regained my feet, and decided Manthlel could use a little boost of his own. Reclaiming my scimitar, I jumped four times to cover most of the distance, then dive tackled Manthlel. I think I broke three of his five legs on impact, but I was able to drag him five meters behind the dragon, which saved his life as the dragon closed its jaws over where Manthlel’s head had been. Pushing myself off of the now unconscious Manthlel, I faced the dragon again. We were both bleeding, tired – myself more so than it – and ready for this fight to be over. It jumped, unfurling its leathery wings unnecessarily, as it only had to cover a short distance. Screaming a challenge, I charged as well.

The dragon should have watched my hips, because hips don’t lie. It attacked with its head, thrusting it forward to sink its teeth into my soft flesh. My soft flesh wasn’t there. I had dived to the right on the final step of the charge, ending up next to the dragon’s now exposed neck. I plunged the sword as deep as I could into the back of the dragon’s skull. It convulsed, hitting me with its shoulder, ripping the sword from my grip, and throwing me another 7 meters. I have to confess; I landed in a bad way on that last throw, and blacked out on impact.

Letter from an Alternate Universe to a Curious Customer

Author’s Note: 

Every once in a while you want to try something different. Enjoy. 


 

Dear Customer,

Thank you for trying a Sample History Search with Multiversity™, America’s leading Alternate History Research Firm. Thanks to our patented Multiview™ technology, and search algorithms that scour multiple universes with more speed and accuracy, Multiversity™ is able to access nearly 50% more alternate timestreams than either Alternaview or Megapast —for the same cost! And we guarantee our alternate history research with a 100% money back guarantee – we want you to be happy with the accuracy of our alternate pasts, so we can work together in our shared future.

For your Sample History Search, you asked to see THE DEATH OF ADOLF HITLER on the date of AUGUST 13, 1908 in VIENNA, AUSTRIA. As it happens, THE DEATH OF ADOLF HITLER is one of our most popular requests, and Multiversity™ has developed an impressive pre-cached concordance on the subject, spanning most days of this subject’s entire lifespan. What does this mean for you? Simply that as a pre-researched event, if you were paying for this History Search, we could offer you this information on a substantially discounted basis: Some popular searches are available for as much as 65% off the “new search” price!

As you did not specify the particular details for THE DEATH OF ADOLF HITLER on AUGUST 13, 1908 in VIENNA, AUSTRIA, we are proud to offer you a random sampler of scenarios relating to the disposition of your search. In it you will see how varying the details of the event you’ve chosen can greatly influence the course of history. This is the famous “Butterfly Effect” – and we’re sure you’ll enjoy seeing the storms these butterflies bring about!

Because this is a Sample History Search, we regret that we may only provide summaries at this time. But should you wish to explore one or more of these alternate histories in greater detail, Mulitversity™ is proud to offer you a Detailed Historical Statement – a $300 value – for just $59.95. Please contact one of our sales representatives to take advantage of this Special Offer!

Thanks again for choosing Multiversity™—It’s a great time to be with us™.

Scenario #1

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by MUGGING ATTEMPT ON THE STEPS OF THE ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS VIENNA

As a result: World War I proceeds; Weimar Republic proceeds; World War II delayed until 1948; US drops atomic bomb on Berlin in 1952; Neil Armstrong first man on the moon, 1972

Scenario #2

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by OPIUM JUNKIE LOOKING FOR MONEY

As a result: World War I proceeds; Weimar Republic proceeds; World War II averted; Germany and Britain form economic union, declare war on France in 1958; Malcolm Evans first man on the moon, 1975

Scenario #3:

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by RUNAWAY HORSE-DRAWN WAGON FILLED WITH BRATWURST, THE FOURTH SUCH FATALITY IN VIENNA IN SIX DAYS

As a result: Vienna passes tough horse-drawn vehicle laws, prompting the quick acceptance of automobiles; Austria becomes automotive industrial powerhouse; World War I proceeds, Germany and allies win thanks to technological advances; 30s worldwide depression averted; Willy Brandt first man on the moon, 1958

Scenario #4:

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by MULTIPLE KNIFE WOUNDS BY JEALOUS GAY LOVER WHO THINKS HIS BOYFRIEND IS CHEATING ON HIM WITH HITLER, WHO IN FACT IS TOTALLY INNOCENT AND HASN’T HAD SEX OF ANY SORT IN MONTHS, MUCH LESS GAY VIENNESE SEX

As a result: The trial of Felix von Weingartner, director of the Vienna Opera and the closeted, murdering gay lover in question, shocks and delights Viennese society; Hitler’s watercolors, formerly unsellable, become a hot commodity on the auction circuit before the novelty wears off. Hitler’s sister awarded a settlement; World War I proceeds, Germany and allies win; 30s depression not averted; virulent flu wipes out 38% of European population; US becomes world power; John Glenn first man on the moon, 1956

Scenario #5

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by SUFFOCATION WHEN INEXPLICABLY ENCASED IN AN ENORMOUS BLOCK OF UNFLAVORED GELATIN

As a result: Hitler only a random test subject for Gelatin Encasing Weapon, developed by the Russian aristocracy from technology pulled out of the spaceship that caused the Tunguska Event of June 30, 1908; the GEW subsequently used to assassinate enemies of Tsar Nicholas II, and then world leaders; World War I begins when Archduke Franz Ferdinand is spontaneously encased in gelatin while riding in a 1911 Graf und Stift Rois De Blougne tourer in Sarajevo and Young Bosnia opportunistically claims credit; World War I subsequently ends in 1915 when entire German divisions are gelatinized; Russia becomes sole super power. Vladimir Putin first man on the moon, 1988

Scenario #6

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by BULLET WOUND IN CROSSFIRE BETWEEN TIME-TRAVELING ANTI-NAZIS SENT BACK TO KILL HIM AND TIME-TRAVELING NAZIS SENT BACK TO PREVENT HIS ASSASSINATION

As a result: Causality loop annihilates time and space surrounding Vienna, knocking everyone in the city back to 1529 and the eve of the First Turkish Seige; as the 20th century Viennese use their historical knowledge to help the 16th Century Viennese, time-traveling pro-Viennese forces appear and fight a pitched battle with time-traveling pro-Ottoman forces, pushing everyone back to 955 and the Battle of Lechfeld; when the time-traveling pro-Magyar forces show up, they are slaughtered by everyone else which is tired of all this time-traveling crap, thereby ending the causality loop. Vienna becomes world power; Henry Jasomirgott first man on the moon, 1155

Scenario #7

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by MARATHON FORNICATION BY SIX VIENNESE PROSTITUTES

As a result: Prostitutes arrested and revealed as libidinous time-travelers from a very sexy future who teach the Viennese their futuristic ways of astro-pleasure; Janine Lindemulder first woman on the moon, 1996

Scenario #8

Event: ADOLF HITLER is KILLED by VAPORIZATION WHEN METEOR HITS HIM SQUARE ON THE HEAD

As a result: No noticeable historical changes arise from event at all. However, as the meteor is a precursor to a massive asteroid cruising toward Earth, human history had only 22 hours, 16 minutes to develop from that point before being obliterated. Humanity wiped out along with Hitler and 93% of all species; society of rats rises and falls; society of frogs rises and falls; society of pillbugs rises and falls; society of squid rises and sticks; Gluugsnertgluug first squid on the moon, 2,973,004,412

The Care and Feeding of Humans: Chapter Eleven

Dear Journal,

What did I do to annoy God so badly?

So there I was sitting in my little shuttle as it zoomed through the empty void of space. It had a great view out the front window, and a convenient little view screen where I could see my starting location, ending coordinate, and current position. I was moving way too fast for my tastes. It was only going to take me about five minutes. I start talking when I get nervous, and the only one who was there was Dick, so I guess he’d have to do.

“So, once I get there, what do I do”? I could hear him sigh over the loudspeaker.

“As I said before, kill everyone on board. It shouldn’t be hard for someone of your particular physiology.”

“But there are 75 of them!”

“That’s only how many the ship can hold, not the number necessary to crew it. There could be as few as 30.”

“That still sounds like a lot.”

“I didn’t want to tell you about this before you left, since I didn’t feel like arming you while you were right in front of me – just call it sentimental quirk of mine -, but if you look in the compartment to you left I believe you’ll find an old friend.”

I looked to the compartment he had indicated and opened it. “Oh, yes…” In the compartment was the alien lava sword I’d been given from enemy number seven of the pirate blue-giraffes right before Twinkle-Toes had decided to see how space felt without a spaceship. Next to it was one of those vests that Mama had been wearing. There wasn’t a gun like she’d had, though.

“In case you don’t know, that’s your fusion sword you had when your ship docked-” I don’t care what he called it, it was an alien lava sword, “and a military combat-harness mark 2. It’s equipped with one of the later models of personal shield generators this station has to offer. Pulse-guns-” nope, ray guns, “have to be genetically sequenced to their users, and while I was able to do that I didn’t think your particular fighting style would really utilize a gun all that much. Thankfully the combat-harness merely needs to be on you. Put it on and hit the large blue button at your left hip. That will activate the generator. The sword I did genetically bind to you. To turn it on press your thumb to the indentation you see in the middle of the hilt. Turn it off in the same way. Any other questions?”

“Yeah, what are these guys probably armed with?”

“They knew you were here, so I’d expect that after the initial shock of your attack wears off they’ll start grabbing anti-tank pulse-guns.”

“That sounds wonderful. Reminds me of a walk I had in a park once. Or maybe it was a slum in Chicago, I can’t quite recall. How many shots from an anti-tank ray gun could I survive?”

“Probably just one, and that’s only if you aren’t hit in a vital area.”

“Okay, how many shots can my shield take?”

“About the same.”

“Excellent. Any other good news you want to share with me?”

“I project your chances of success to be about one in five.”

“Aww, don’t lie to me Dick, you wouldn’t want me to become too overconfident.”

“You’re right. Lying is wrong. One in ten.”

“Ok you can stop now.”

“That’s good, because our communication will start to be noticed even by their paltry sensors if we keep talking much longer. For my sake, good luck.”

“Screw you.”

“I’d rather not.” And with that final remark he cut off communications. Dang it, I had a bad but snappy comeback to that. It may or may not have included the words “your mom”. My anger evaporated when my communications lit up again, this time with a distinctly alien voice. I had no idea what they were saying, but it sounded similar to the way in which Shifty had talked, albeit in a slightly deeper, more threatening voice. Whoever was talking to me suddenly stopped, and the silence was just begging for a response. Too bad Shifty on the floor wasn’t going to be much help.

I decided that the best course of action was to deal with this situation in the same way that humans in space had dealt with similar situations. In this particular case my mind went to the heroic actions of Han Solo. I pressed my thumb to the alien lava sword. Its edge burst into a red light – that unmanly giggle of delight did not come from me – and I stabbed the speaker the voice had come out of.

I guess that console, which was the only console in the small shuttle, held a few more things than just communications, because a whole lot of lights when out the moment I stabbed it. The sword worked like a light-saber though, and I was so happy with it that it took me a moment to see what else had happened. Thankfully I was in space and I had momentum so I wasn’t going to slow down. I just hoped the voice on the other side of the speaker could tell I’d just had a massive systems failure and would come pick me up, because I sure didn’t know how to do anything in this ship except push the red button and open the left hand compartment.

Apparently they could, because my ship lurched in a direction uncharacteristic of it’s previous vector, and a black ship significantly larger than the blue-giraffe’s cargo ship suddenly appeared above me. Holy crap, did it ever look intimidating… It reminded me vaguely of the shape of a grub, except this grub would have had six arms at the bow, aft, and mid-ship, arrayed in a star-burst formation around the hull, each sprouting what was unmistakable some form of gun (although I hadn’t the slightest idea as to what kind of weaponry they would be sporting). Thankfully, none of the weapons were pointed at me, and my shuttle was being dragged by some invisible force into an opening in the ships belly.

All that I needed now was C-3PO to start shouting that we were all doomed because my main reactor was down or something. That’s what it felt like as my ship was swallowed by the lizard-ant death-grub (I have a way with adjectives, I know). The bay door closed and the lights of the shuttle bay turned on. I remembered that the shuttle’s window was heavily tinted in case you looked at a sun, but I still swore and ducked beneath the console when the lights revealed a group of 20 or so lizard-ants running into the room, all wearing combat-harnesses, although they looked a little more battered up than mine, and ray guns that looked similar in size to the one Mama had used on me.

They apparently couldn’t see me though, because they passed my windshield, with me staring out of it, and even looked right at me, but still crowded around my door in relaxed poses, holding their guns to their sides. They obviously where here to expedite the massacre of everyone else on board the station. That thought got my blood boiling. They didn’t even look like they were bothered by the prospect! Several of them seemed to be laughing.

Their actions urged me to a charge, and I pushed against the door to begin the destruction in my righteous anger. It wouldn’t budge. “Now, wait, how does this open?” I looked around a while. I think it had closed on it’s own when I was in the cargo bay. Stupid Dick, he hadn’t told me how to open the door! Well, I had a light-saber. I stabbed the door and began making my own door. I heard panicked shouts from the other side. Oh right, they thought they were going to use this for a return journey. Holes don’t make for the most space-worthy of crafts. I had only finished half a side of my addition to the shuttle’s hull when the door was opened from the outside. Right, doors could do that too.

The door had been opened by a brutish lizard-ant, which is hard considering they already looked rather barbaric. He looked at me, looked at Shifty’s body on the floor, then back up at me. I don’t know if he was ever able to complete the thought, because the moment he looked at me for the second time I got over the shock of his rather unpleasant visage and launched myself at his face, lava sword sweeping in an arc parallel to the ground that culminated in a beheading. The shuttle bay erupted into chaos. Ten of the closest lizards apparently had gone to the pirate blue-giraffe school of close-quarters combat, and they thought it prudent to whip their guns and attempt to draw a bead on me rather than giving themselves room.

Three full armed swipes was all it required to pacify those who hadn’t backed up upon my arrival in the middle of the group. The remaining nine had taken cover and were now firing at me behind barriers. I was hit several times. Ow. Those shots hurt. Shaking it off I leapt for the nearest lizard-ant, hiding behind a large crate. Two more leaps put me on top of it, from where I sprang atop the unsuspecting lizard-ant from above, leading with the sword. I cleared the remaining targets in the bay in a similar manner, jump-flying about the cargo room in great 4 meter leaps. There was one smart guy who kept changing his position on me. When all his crew mates had been eliminated, he was still up and sprinting across the room away from me, firing over his shoulder with surprising accuracy while he talked at a device on his shoulder. Crap.

I had grown up in significantly greater gravity that this ship, though, and I had adrenaline. I sprang after him, not bothering to run but merely leapt, even using a wall at one point to extend my jump to an astounding 7 meters. I caught up to him in 4 seconds and jumped over him, landing in front of him and driving forward with the sword, which found its way into his gut. He made a gasping sound and raised his gun with his last strength. I did not want to be hit with that thing at this close range, so I desperately yanked the sword up, splitting him from his gut through his neck. One thing about this sword is that it cauterized the wounds, and I was blood-stain free even after going through 20 of lizard-ants.

“Heck, if all my encounters go like that, I’ll be done with thing in no time.” Journal, let me give you a hint. If things seem to be going your way, never, under any circumstance talk about it out loud, and avoid thinking it if you can. The moment the words left my mouth the ship made a sound. It was the kind of sound that made one think about something extremely powerful turning on. Then an ominous hum began to emanate from the entire ship. I knew that sound. That was the sound the cargo ship made when it was traveling.

+Oh, for – that’s the FTL drive!+

Why they started moving I’ll never know, but I still had a job to finish, so I couldn’t really worry about it right now. I moved into the next section of the ship. I only realized after the fact that I’d forgotten to turn on my person energy shield Dick had provided. Oops. Silly me.


 

Captain YecTal sat on his bridge, comfortable for the first time since this mission had started. UtMot had apparently been successful in his mission, seeing as how his shuttle was even now being stowed in his ship’s hold. He had to admit, his engineer’s had been right. This old ship was still suited to this kind of task. The Robalin may not be known for their ship’s weaponry, but when it came to bio-weapons and stealth they were some of the best.

“Shuttle is docked Captain,” reported BecMeq. He was new, and overenthusiastic, but he knew what he was doing. “Eraser team on are entering the cargo bay.”

“That will be fine, Ensign. There’s no need for me to know what order they are entering the shuttle.”

“Sorry sir.”

“Sir.” Commander VulHam’s voice issued from the bridge’s speakers. YecTal sighed. Couldn’t his crew do anything without his guiding them through every single step?

“Go ahead.” YecTal groaned.

“Our sensors were right. The shuttle seems to have gone through heavy systems failure before it reached us.”

“Any idea why?”

“None that I can tell sir. We’ll open it up and . . . hold on . . . what the hell is he doing! We need to fly in that thing!”

“Excuse me commander, what’s happeni-” sudden screams and curses issued from the speakers.

“He just flew out of the shuttle”! “Take cover”! “Back up back u-“!

“What’s happening? Someone tell me what’s going on! Ensign, give me video feed of the cargo bay!”

“Video feeds went down when we got too close to that solar flair. The engineer’s haven’t fixed them in the cargo bay yet.”

“Well get me something I don’t care! Thermal imaging, UV anythi-” a voice that was doing something other than swearing or screaming leapt out of the speakers.

“It was that creature UtMot was supposed to be bringing in sedated! It’s up and it killed UtMot and now it’s killing everyone in the boarding party! It has a godsdamned Fusion Sword!” A tell-tale scream issued from the speakers. “He just took out WilHelm!” the voice shouted. “We keep hitting it and doesn’t die! It doesn’t even slow down! We’re just pissing it off, we need back u-” the transmission cut into static. The bridge was silent with fear. YecTal couldn’t allow it to show, although he himself was frightened. UtMot had said he knew the correct dose of sedative! Now he botched up and dropped demonspawn into his cargo bay!

Controlling his fear and anger, YecTal stood up, allowing his men to see him proud and tall. Calm. “We were prepared for this eventuality. Everyone get on your combat harnesses. Officers arm yourselves with the anti-tank pulse-guns. Flood every compartment of the ship with Yavim-8, I don’t care if it won’t do any good.” Thankfully every member of the crew had been given immunity to the deadly virus Yavim-8. UtMot had expounded in length upon the creatures incredible immune system, but every little bit would help. Besides, it couldn’t be completely impervious.

“Ensign, set a course out of this star system. I don’t want to be detected while we’re dealing with this mess. Once we’ve cleaned it up we’ll come back and deal with the crew still left on the station.”

“Where should I set it, sir”? Ugh. Had he not said out of this star system?

“I don’t care!” YecTal roared. “Set it for the other side of the galaxy for all I care, we’ll be done with this in two hocs (5 minutes) anyway!”

Turning on his heal, YecTal, already in his advanced Mark V combat-harness with personal security-field and shield – a gift from his wife – plugged the anti-tank pulse-rifle he had set aside for himself. Adjusting the sheath of his ceremonial Fusion Scythe, although he might have to use it soon, he set to trying to clean up the mess UtMot had left for him.


 

The first corridor I entered outside the cargo bay was empty. That boded well for Dick’s theory that there might not necessarily be a full crew compliment. I sprinted towards what I was pretty sure was the bow of the ship when something that looked like steam started issuing from air vents in the ceiling. I couldn’t escape the colossal amount of it, but it didn’t seem to hurt me, so I just ignored it. It screwed with my visibility though. I suddenly wished I wasn’t carrying a glowing sword. I turned it off, running as quietly as I could. A noise up ahead made me pause and crouch, willing myself to become one with the steam. I suddenly wished I’d taken Yoga or something.

A group of 5 appeared out of the steam in front of me, but didn’t shout in alarm the moment they rounded the corner. They couldn’t see me! Yet. One of them had a significantly larger ray gun, to the point that it had to be supported by a shoulder strap rather than have him lifting it only with his arms like the other in the group were doing with their smaller counterparts. Not wanting to lose my advantage, I leapt at the one with the big gun, turning on my lava sword and bellowing as I flew through the air. I landed 50 centimeters in front of him and laid about me with my sword like a infant given a wooden spoon whilst playing with his siblings. In case you were an only child, I basically just whacked everyone over the head with it, but when you’re using a lava sword instead of a spoon, it’s rather effective.

The small group never stood a chance, as they were too close together and too unaware of my presence to be of any real danger. The problem arose when another group heard the commotion and entered the fray before I’d finished up with the first group. I was finishing up with the only remaining member of the first group when he was liquified and a massive energy pulse shot through him and took me in the waist. At least, it would have had I not been wearing the lovely personal shield Dick had given me. I wasn’t wearing it for long. He had been right about it’s capacity, the thing shorted out after one hit, at least I think that’s what the smoke and sparks meant. It didn’t matter though, they had kept me from getting hit by one pulse, and that was all I needed.

I jump-flew in a zig-zag patter, avoiding the shots they threw at me. They were so slow, they always seemed to be shooting at where I had been a second ago. I felt like a movie action hero but in real life. Once again I went for the one with the anti-tank ray gun first, then finished off the auxiliaries. They kept making these convenient little clumps for me, all I had to do was swipe around with the lava sword a few times and I had nearly gotten everyone one way or another.

The next hallway had another group of five which I finished off in the same way, except for one little guy armed only with a pistol – poor bloke – who broke away from the main group, which earned him a quick sprint and the failure of one of the doors in the hallway that he tried to use as a barrier. I don’t know what they make spaceship door hinges out of, but they need to find a better alternative.

The next room was a common lounge like the one in the cargo ship, except it was significantly larger and had a group of 10 ant-lizards spread out in a semi-circle around the door I’d just come through, all waiting for me, their guns pointed straight at my chest. Dang, this one was going to require a lot of jumping.

 

The search and destroy parties had been an absolute failure, and YecTal had lost 15 good men because of his foolishness. He’d basically split his men into serving sizes! Now his men were fighting a defensive battle, digging into strategic fighting ground or choke points.

“I can hear it in the hall outside.” PitRuk, YecTal’s tactical officer, said over the bridge’s speakers. “What was that? Did you hear that sound? Did he just rip a door off it’s hinges or something”? Normally that would be a joke. It wasn’t funny this time. The sound of the door opening could be faintly heard, accompanied by PitRuk’s shout.

“Open fire! No, someone draw a bead on him! Damn, hold still! Friendly fire friendly fire watch you’re aimingDon’t aim at where he was you idiots! Ha! Take that yo- crap he’s still up! Someone take him down take hi-” PitRuk’s yell was cut off mid-word. His radio continued transmitting, but other than a few shots and a quickly stifled yell, there wasn’t much more to hear.

The remaining bridge crew had all turned a garish shade of grey, even though their skin was green. YecTal hoped he didn’t look the same. Making his voice as confident as possible, he shouted for no other reason than to snap the bridge out of its collective trance. “Well? What are you all staring at? It’s coming from the starboard side of the ship! We know which door he’s coming through.” The bridge had four doors, two leading to opposite sides of the ship, the other two leading to the halls where you could access the escape pods. It spoke of the valor of this crew that none of them even glanced at either of those two doors. “Find your cover and prepare to deal with this abomination which thinks it can cross a Robalin crew and live to talk about it!”

As the bridge crew began setting itself up, YecTal surreptitiously began entering his command code into his captains wrist-console, readying the automated self-destruct, setting it to the voice activation setting of the shortest countdown available: one hoc (2 minutes 30 seconds). If this creature was going to kill him, which seemed likely, the least he could do would be to drag it down with him.


 

After the common lounge I hit the engine room, at least that’s what I assumed. A massive glowing tube stood in the center of the room, making the sound that emanated through the ship as it propelled it in speeds defying rational thought. There were also a total of 15 lizard-ants arrayed around the room, all too far apart to score a multikill on any of them. The moment I entered the room they opened fire, and I did the exact same thing I’d done in the last room. I did my best impression of a Mexican jumping bean. I actually don’t know what those look like, or what they even are, but the words form a picture of little kidney bean wearing a sombrero bouncing around like an entire bag of unpopped popcorn contained in one bean, and I figured that’s pretty much what I looked like, minus the sombrero.

I was actually getting really tired, but I jumped my little heart out. The number of pulses coming my way was ridiculous, and I had to be careful I didn’t jump into any. As it was I was hit multiple times by smaller pulses, but I was mainly just avoiding the big ones. There seemed to be three lizard-ants with anti-tank ray guns, and they were the first I went for. Flying past one I scored a slice across his face. Leaping down to another I bore him to the ground as the lava sword stabbed down through the crown of his head. The last guy was on the other side of the room, so I decided to take a roundabout way of getting to him. Wrong move. Halfway through my first leap one of his shots hit me. Well, half hit me, but it was enough to drive my breath away and fling me off course. I hit a wall of consoles and fell to the ground.

I rolled – see there’s that move again – and the wall behind me was obliterated in a shower of sparks and debris as it was assaulted by 12 heavy ray guns and an anti-tank ray gun. I sprang to my feet and made a jagged bee-line for Tanko-the-crazy-demolition-lizard. He missed on his next few shots, and his failure to score a successful hit on his fourth shot lost him the privilege of taking a fifth. And to keep his life. After Tanko it was relatively simple to get through the rest. I think I was so bruised that I wasn’t even noticing the heavy-pulses anymore, although if I lived this, which was looking more and more likely, I was going to wake up in some serious pain the next morning. Thankfully my abuse of alcohol had made me very accustomed to pain in the morning.

Once I was finished with engineering I looked around. The FTL drive had stopped humming. I guess shooting out all the consoles in engineering affected it or something asinine like that. Whatever it had been, we weren’t moving again any time soon. Counting up in my head I figured out how many I’d gone through so far. 60. Dick, you lying grey little bastard!

Letting my rage fuel my flagging limbs, I set off to the last pair of doors ahead which I hoped would be the last room.

In a desperate ploy YecTal had ordered the bridge door’s sealed. He had felt a moment of hope until a Fusion Blade suddenly appeared through the door and began melting it down. Oh. right. The thing had a Fusion Blade. Because that’s all YecTal needed. It seemed life heard how disgruntled he was with it and suddenly decided to throw him a bone. The Fusion Blade shorted.

+That’s why they aren’t supposed to be used to cut through bulkheads+ YecTal thought smugly. Then the door shook in its frame and a massive dent appeared in the door.

+Are you kidding me!+ he shouted in his mind, but outwardly he set his jaw and waited for the door to buckle. It didn’t take long. One of the storage crates kept in engineering suddenly burst through the door. It looked like the thing had used it as a battering ram, which wasn’t an encouraging thought since those crates were extremely heavy. The crate flew into the room and fell on YecTal’s chief science officer who had been crouching too close to the doorway. The creature flew into the room a second later. It literally flew, soaring in a dive and tackling a hapless lieutenant.

The bridge crew opened fire, but it was just as PitRuk’s one sided shouting match had indicated, the thing was too fast. It would jump to one officer, crush his neck, steal his gun, and then throw the gun at it’s next victim. The throws were insanely powerful, and YecTal watched in amazement as it’s throws were shown to be just as deadly as it was, which didn’t help as most of the projectiles hit him. His personal security field, able to block solid objects, was overwhelmed after two hits. Soon YecTal, bloodied and firing with only one arm, the other two broken, and Ensign BecMeq were the only two alive. The Ensign didn’t fare any better than his crew mates, but to his credit he continued firing until the end. He did offer one thing to YecTal that the others hadn’t, however. An opportunity. The creature was slowing down. Ha! It had taken on 67 Robalin warriors alone with just a Fusion Blade and it was tired! Apparently 68 was one too many. Killing BecMeq, it stood still a moment longer than it should have and YecTal finally found his aim.

 

He pulled the trigger and the anti-tank pulse-gun responded with a massive kinetic pulse which took the creature full in the gut, flinging it across the room where it slammed against the wall and slid down to the floor behind the helm’s console. YecTal could see the bridge was in flames due to the multitude of sparks coming from broken displays broken by pulses which only seemed to miss, but he would deal with those later. YecTal walked around the console, limping after being hit by several of his crew mates pulse-guns, to where he could see the creature gasping for breath as it lay on the floor.

+Good heavens. It’s still alive+

He wasn’t one to gloat, and aimed his gun at the creatures head to finish the job. He let his gun get a little too close. The creature, suddenly alive again, though YecTal couldn’t explain how, yanked his gun from his arm, snapped it in two and threw the pieces at him. YecTal grunted as he forced one of his already broken arms to take the brunt of the impacts, which hurt like hell, and knocked him from his feet. He scrambled to his feet as quickly as he could, seeing the monster charging him. YecTal drew the curved blade of his Fusion Scythe and swung it at the creature. It dropped to the ground, the sword whistling over its head. It kicked him from it’s lying position, sending it’s foot up into his midriff and flinging him across the room in the same way the anti-tank pulse had to the creature.

As he flew through the air, YecTal’s mind, sharp despite the pain, knew he had lost. Before he crashed into the wall and unconsciousness, he managed one word: “Activate.” And so the computer registered the captain’s final order.


 

I took too long taking out the second to last lizard-ant remaining on the bridge. For my pains I received an anti-tank round straight to the stomach. It picked me up and flung me 6 meters where my flight was abruptly halted by a wall. Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow OW! It kind of hurt, but I shook it off. Really I was fine, it was nothing, it just felt like it’d put a damn hole in my gut. Thankfully I had fallen behind a console and Captain ‘Roids had to walk around it in order to get to me. I was happy to see he was limping. The guy was tough, I’d give him that. Most of his fellows had buckled after getting hit in the chest with one of the their friends guns that I had thrown, but this guy had taken 4 and was still up. Then he stuck the gun in my face. Rookie Mistake. Sensing that the battle wasn’t over yet, my adrenaline surged once again. Whew, that felt good.

Grabbing his gun I broke it and threw the pieces at him. That knocked him down and I rolled back to give myself some breathing room. When I finally got to my feet and the world stopped spinning – maybe I should start rolling less – I could see ‘Roids standing up. I charged. He pulled a Lava Scimitar from a sheath on his back and swung it at me. Dang I wish I had my sword still, we could have had a light-saber battle. He was too slow though, which is why I was able to dodge his very well timed strike by dropping to the ground. I didn’t think I’d have enough time to get up, so I kicked him from my position on the ground. It was significantly more effective than I thought it would have been, flinging him across the room. Heck, maybe I should have been kicking guys all this time.

As he flew through the air he croaked out an unintelligible word. I guess the computer understood him, because red lights started flashing all over the place and a bunch of symbols appeared on every display that wasn’t leaking sparks. It was similar enough to the few science fiction movies I’d seen that I didn’t stop to question what it was. Self-Destruct sequence.

+No!+ I had to find a way off the ship, and fast. I grabbed Roids’ Lava Scimitar – I doubted he would be needing it anymore – and ran to one of the doors that I didn’t know where they led. You could call it coincidence. Or maybe it made sense, since I hadn’t seen any escape pods during my entire time here, but when I went through that door I entered a long hall that ran the entire length of the ship, and on the right wall was the entrance to escape pod after escape pod, at least I assumed that’s what they were as each was like a little cockpit with two oddly shaped seats. I clambered into the nearest one and looked for anything I recognized.

My eyes found the red button. I knew what to do with that. I had just placed my finger on the button when a bellow sounded behind me and ‘Roids, all lively once again, flung himself into my pod and started hitting me with a flurry of kicks and punches, even from his fractured arms. He hit my elbow and my finger jammed into the button. The pod was ejected in a quarter of a second of pressing the button and we were shooting through the stars away from the ship in another quarter second. As he fought me, my respect for him grew, but at the same time I pitied him. He was even more hopelessly outmatched than if he’d been carrying a ray pistol. Still, I wasn’t going to humiliate him, and I reached up past his furious but weak blows and snapped his neck. Now I had the problem of limited space and a dead Ant-Lizard. Great.

You know, they don’t make escape pods with comfort in mind. Or engines. I could just float. Waiting. Without water. Or food. At least I had life-support. Yeah. I was getting pretty thirsty by day two. I passed out after that. I really need to stop doing that. I miss a lot when that happens.


 

“Soldier Manthlel! Get up! You have a new bunkmate.” Manthlel groaned. Why did the squad leader seem to try and find any excuse to wake him up? He hadn’t meant to spill the bleta broth all over the commander’s favorite book, really. Ok, maybe he hadn’t tried all that hard to stop it, but it wasn’t something he’d purposely planned out and maliciously executed. But Trxcl actually seemed to hate Manthlel for it. After all, a new bunkmate was hardly something worth waking him up over.

Manthlel changed his mind when he saw his Bunkmate. He was the strangest, smallest creature he had ever seen, although he’d heard the Corti and a few other species were shorter. Never seen them for himself. Pink skin, brown hair, short but . . . dense, and thin. It didn’t look too healthy. “May I inquire as to what it is Sir?” Manthlel said carefully. He wasn’t supposed to ask questions but Trxcl wasn’t that strict, just a jerk.

“I wish I knew myself. We scrapped it out of an escape pod about a ric (30 minutes) ago. Medic says he’s never seen the like before, but it’s not like he actually has a medical scanner. We found a Fusion Scythe and a dead Robalin in the pod with him. The Robalin was wearing the insignia of a ship Captain from the Robalix war. We don’t know if this thing is a criminal or a patriot, but at this point it seems like command is so desperate for men they’ll take either. It didn’t have any identification, or even a translator, but it can obviously fight, so they told me to find a room for it and unless it’s an idiot it can be used for cannon fodder. I told them I’d take it and thought you’d be the best to look after him.” Trxcl smiled. “He’s your responsibility now.”

“What if he attacks me!” protested Manthlel. “We don’t know anything about him! What if he’s a psychopath?!”

“You think he’s too much to handle? For you? A hardened Dominion soldier? Please. I don’t want to hear about this again.”

“Yes sir.” Manthlel intoned with an inward groan.

“Good.” Trxcl turned on a heel, shaking his head as he retreated. “Poor thing. Doesn’t even know it was just drafted into the army.”

The Care and Feeding of Humans: Chapter Ten

Dear Journal,

I’m killing them.

I don’t know what to do.

I’m . . . scared.

God.

The experiments weren’t going well, at least that was what I assumed. After all, I’d been lying on this freakishly uncomfortable bed almost non-stop for what seemed like weeks now, and the scientists that were studying me didn’t seem to be doing anything different from what they had done the first day they started studying me. I think the grey Yoda was the lead researcher, and I think he was mad at me. Any injections I needed to be given were administered by him, and for a lead medical researcher he either didn’t know how to use a needle to save his life or he made it as painful as possible on purpose. My arm hated him. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a grunt.

And despite all of their tireless work, little progress was being made. I’d fall asleep to their working in the lab and would awake to them doing the same thing. I don’t know much about research, but I think finding a cure requires more than just enjoying the show as the disease in question kills all the cells on your test slide. I guess we had more time than most situations like this one, but the researchers could have at least tried to look as though they were in a time crunch.

The reason we had more time had come as something of a shock to me. I had been in my special little room for so long I hadn’t really seen how the rest of the crew had been faring. I was finally allowed to stretch my legs, which was an arduous process as it required everyone to put on hazmat suits before I left my room, and I saw that nearly every single member of the crew were sealed in little pods along the wall. I didn’t need to be told what the pods where. I could see from the condensation on the lids that it was cold inside, and yet I couldn’t see any of my crew members breath. They’d been put in cryo to keep them alive while the cure was found. The only crew member not in cryo was Mama. Coincidence, that.

It was the sight of the condition the rest of the crew was in that gave me the will to lie still for hours on end as the mechanism in my bed beeped and whirred, gathering information on me of a nature that I couldn’t even begin to fathom. It also helped me scarf down the nutrient supplements they’d been giving me. I felt better, and I assumed that meant they’d figured out what my body needed, but they could have at least made them taste better, right? After the second week of virtually nothing happening, my worst fears were confirmed when Mama had a heated conversation with the grey Yoda. The tones suggested that Mama was angry at the lack of progress, or perhaps was accusing the Yoda of intentionally slowing down the process. I wasn’t as used to the Yoda’s tones as I was to Mama’s but I could tell he was denying it.

The research assistant to the Yoda, a white-alpha-giraffe (that’s what I called the not blue-giraffes that almost looked like blue-giraffes) seemed to stay out of the argument, but if I were a betting man – I actually am but that’s none of your business – I would have put everything on him being guilty. Then there was the other lab assistant. He was an oddly shaped fellow, with green scales for skin and six limbs: three legs and three arms. He looked like a lopsided lizard-ant crossover, hence the name I gave his species: lizard-ant. He was the only one of my researchers I didn’t trust. He had a shifty look about him if I’d ever seen one, and I whenever he was in my room alone he would work with machines I’d never seen the other researchers touch, but only when they weren’t in the room.

I know it’s odd to say that I actually trusted a Yoda over the lizard-ant, named Shifty, but it was true. Sure, Good-Yoda was a jerk, but he was an honest jerk as far as I could tell. He hated me because I had nearly bashed his skull apart. I could understand and respect that. After all, I couldn’t talk to him and apologize. Shifty, on the other hand, legitimately seemed to hate me, but he only expressed it in looks. I assumed they were threatening looks, as they made my skin crawl when he gave them to me and I was the only one I’d seen him use them on. I couldn’t really find a solid reason for why I disliked him, it’s just a vibe I got, but hey, I’d gotten a similar if more honest vibe from Severus and I’d been pretty spot on as far as I could tell, so I decided to go with my instincts. If they weren’t able to detect danger, then what were they good for anyway?

After what happened at that station I decided I should listen to my instincts more often.


 

“You aren’t even trying! You’ve done nothing but stare at your damn test slides since we’ve been here while my family is dying! You’re telling me you haven’t discovered anything of use? You have the most sophisticated equipment the galaxy can offer you and yet you can’t figure out how one little being’s immune system works despite having a machine that can literally give you live video of it doing it’s job??!!” Xan knew she was shouting, but she didn’t care. She had discovered the true nature of these “researchers” work several days ago, although she hadn’t let on that she knew. In essence, the plight of her crew had been put on the back burner, if not completely discarded as insignificant, as the “security risk that this species represents to the rest of the sapient life in the galaxy is investigated”. Essentially, nothing had been done for her crew. The science crew of the “hospital” only seemed to want to understand how to make Cqcq’trtr bleed.

She could foresee the use of such research in a coldly logical way, but it was wrong to do it without Cqcq’trtr’s permission and especially immoral when her crew was frozen in cryo so they wouldn’t die while these scientists attempted to find a vulnerability in Cqcq’trtr’s physical and immunological physiology. She could say without a trace of guilt that she was glad they were as frustrated on that front as she was with them. From what she could tell, they hadn’t managed to inflict anything but a mild response from Cqcq’trtr’s immune system, and physical scans had revealed that he probably could survive several shots from an antitank gun.

The memories of those discoveries brought a cold smile to Xan’s face as the Cinerean explained to her why they really did have her crew’s well-being in mind, and how their work was essential to saving their lives. It had been near the end of the first ricta (1.5 weeks) when the entire research station had been shocked to find that Cqcq’trtr had bones composed of a mix of what the scientists told her was hydroxyapatite, calcium phosphate, and a protein they’d never seen before, but Cqcq’trtr seemed to have in abundance. The apparently a similar mix, except a different protein, had recently been proposed for use in the exoskeleton structure of a new generation of combat harnesses for use in the ongoing war with the Celzi alliance, but the idea had ultimately been rejected when it was discovered that the costs to actually find and mine that much calcium would have put the Dominion in debt. This creature seemed to have one of the proposed exosuits built into him, rather than the galactically standard skeletal system composed of silica based composite.

Not even mentioning his bone structure, his muscles were a study in compacted death hardened in high-gravity and then with a little chaos thrown in. Xan hadn’t understood most of the things the researchers had been saying as they enumerated the destructive and defensive capabilities Cqcq’trtr’s muscles afforded him, but from what she understood they were laughably simple in their composition, except that this simplicity allowed them to be stronger than any living organism in the known galaxy.

From what she understood the only way his skeletal muscles could move was by contracting. Since this afforded an extremely limited range of motion, he required an astounding 650 of them just to give his body the range of motion of a normal organism, as opposed to the average number of about 150. Because they were so simple, however, and their movement so restricted, they were able to be composed of extremely rigid materials which aligned themselves into an interlocking polymer mesh that was nearly impossible to break, explaining Cqcq’trtr’s unfathomable durability. The potential energy able to be contained within them was astounding, and made Xan wonder if he’d even been trying when he’d protected them from Zitik.

On the immunological front, the efforts of the scientists to discover a viral or pathogenic organism that Cqcq’trtr’s immune system couldn’t tear to pieces were also failing. Xan didn’t think Cqcq’trtr had noticed that over the past two rictas (three weeks) he’d survived fifty of the galaxy’s most infamous plagues, usually more than three at a time. The first success the scientists had thought they had only showed them how far they had to go before they could find a biological deterrent for Cqcq’trtr’s species.

After infecting him with a cocktail of the Victen virus, Xilix plague, and Daz-5, a biological weapon outlawed in the peace accords of the Sassinal massacre . . . err, war . . . the researchers had been overjoyed when the onslaught of terminal illnesses were not immediately stifled by Cqcq’trtr’s overpowered immune system. His body flew into a fever and released the Hunter cells, but the trifecta of galactic antigenic superpowers held on, but only just. Then the researchers were introduced to what they would later call the Hunter helpers.

They started appearing after the fever was unsuccessful in slowing down the infection. Then they wouldn’t stop appearing. The smaller hunter cells began augmenting the Hunter cell’s attacks in any way they could, shepherding the protein markers to where they were needed the most, even halting the infections advance by sacrificing themselves to create a nigh impregnable physical barrier the infection could not pass without being blocked or consumed by the sheer number of hunter helpers. Within two rics (an hour) the hunter helpers had become so numerous the scanner was having difficulty picking out anything of the terrifying swarm. After only one ricto (two days) the deadly cocktail had been beaten into submission with the elegance Cqcq’trtr had displayed while gifting off the pirates.

The worst part of the experiment, according to the records, was that once an infection was successfully rebuffed, Cqcq’trtr couldn’t catch it again. His body remembered. They had started running out of biological monstrosities to infect him with and had started mutating their own so they could even continue. They were also unaware that Xan knew of their activities, especially their immunological “studies”. She had to admit, it was sometimes advantageous to be a part of a species that was always discounted as unobservant and unintelligent. It may be true to a certain degree, but that didn’t mean she had been born yesterday. Since they had thought she was still buying their lies, they weren’t bothering to watch her. If they had, they would have seen her discretely copying their records every time they weren’t in the lab.

She hated what they were doing to Cqcq’trtr, but as of yet they hadn’t managed to do anything in the slightest to harm him, and she knew she’d only be able to help him escape the facility once before she was either declared infectious and shoved into a cryo pod, or perhaps merely killed. At first she had doubted the research crew were truly doing this out of malicious intent, and she’d been right. After one ricta and two ricto’s (approximately 2 weeks 1 day) she had found a message from none other than the Dominion Intelligence Agency. It seemed that they had been informed of the potential security risk and ordered the research station to investigate ways in which Cqcq’trtr’s people could be dealt with if they reached the stars and turned out to be hostile.

The only thing that had kept Xan from rushing to Cqcq’trtr the instant she read the message and doing everything within her power to get him off the station was the end of the message which dictated that the research crew were still to try and find a way to cure the infected Vir’tk, but for it to be a secondary priority. After all, they were people in need of protection and that was what the DIA aimed to provide, they just had to also consider the future, and the future was grim if Cqcq’trtr’s people found the rest of the galaxy’s sophants to be vulnerable in every way and fancied a galactic conquest.

That message had been tearing at Xan for the past three rictos (6 days). The researchers who had been dedicated to Xan’s family, who were admittedly the third string researchers on the station, still legitimately needed comprehensive scans of Cqcq’trtr in order for their research to continue. Without him, they wouldn’t have a cure. If she “rescued” Cqcq’trtr from those who wanted to find a way in which to hypothetically destroy him, that would spell the almost imminent death of her crew. She found herself damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. Sometimes sapience was real bitch.

“We have made some progress.” The Cinerean’s words snapped Xan back into the moment. “We’ve just finished the development of an implant we can subdermally inject into . . . uh . . Cqcq’trtr’s . . . body that will prevent him from infecting other beings he interacts with. It is essentially a more permanent version of the front-line inoculation our zoologist give to potentially hazardous creatures.” Xan decided to not point out the flaws in the Cinerean’s wording about his people’s use of their inoculation. She had to admit that this invention would be terribly useful, but she also knew they’d managed to make it after the first ricta (1.5 weeks) of studying Cqcq’trtr, and it had primarily been made to be inserted into kinetic projectiles which would prevent hypothetical Cqcq’trtr-esque prisoners from killing their guards by breathing on them.

“We would have already taken the liberty of injecting him with it, had it not been for his reluctance to allow us to approach him with anything other than minor injections,” said the Robalin researcher. Xan didn’t like him. He seemed slimy, and that wasn’t just because his skin naturally secreted a thin mucus covering over his soft scales. His entire personality reeked of ulterior motives, something she had learned to sense as a cargo ship crew member. She knew she shouldn’t distrust the Robalin. After all, their people had been brought into the Dominions fold after they had failed to create their apocalyptic bio-weapon, but something about this one just didn’t sit right with her. She wasn’t speciesist, was she?

“He seems to trust you, for reasons I still cannot fathom,” the Robalin purred. “If we could have but a single standard cubit of blood (50cc) it would aid our efforts enormously. Scans of his chemical composition can only achieve so much, and seeing how his blood would react to different stimuli outside his body would be invaluable.”

“I have already told you, Dr. UtMot,” snapped Dr. Triv, the Cinerean researcher, “It serves no practical purpose for us to have a sample of blood outside of his body when we have his body here in our lab. I don’t know why you are so insistent on this point.” He took a moment to consider Dr. UtMot, then seemed to snap out of his consideration and turned back to Xan. “However, Dr. UtMot is correct in one respect, Cqcq’trtr does seem to trust you. If you could inject him with this permanent front line solution, it would allow him to walk about the station more often. He does seem to be rather restless.”

“Why, Dr. Triv, I didn’t know you cared for our patients well-being.” Xan simpered in her most scathing voice. Dr. Triv huffed. A very dry huff.

“I don’t, he nearly killed me, but it makes it difficult to get a good scan from him when he’s shifting around on the bed.”

Fair enough. Xan really didn’t need convincing that the permanent front-line solution was a good thing for Cqcq’trtr to have, she just didn’t want Dr. Triv to actually think he could get away with pretending he cared for him. Walking over to where Cqcq’trtr sat on the bed, she could see that he did look restless. He showed his teeth to her, which Xan knew was the exact opposite of a threatening gesture despite all appearances. She attempted to copy the gesture, and Cqcq’trtr started giving his equivalent of a laugh. Xan assumed she looked ridiculous.

Cqcq’trtr had become her only companion after everyone else in the crew had been put in cryo, and they had created an extremely rudimentary form of communication between them based off of gestures, body language, and tone of voice. She could see Cqcq’trtr’s face become the picture of wariness the moment she raised the subdermal injection apparatus in front of her. She quickly used the gesture that roughly translated into “It’s ok this won’t permanently harm you. You need to take it”, at least that’s how Xan used it, and it got the results she desired, so she assumed Cqcq’trtr thought it meant the same thing.

He relaxed, and she placed it against his forearm, lined it up with his bone, and pressed the button. The apparatus made a loud click and Cqcq’trtr gritted his teeth in discomfort, but was otherwise still. Dang he had a pain tolerance. The apparatus had been made specially to get past his tough skin, and was strong enough it probably would have sent the transplant into any lesser being’s bones. She wasn’t as amazed as she would have once been however. It was somewhat comforting to be friends with a creature that could fight his way through everyone in this station. It meant that if she had to get him out for his own good, all she’d have to do was point him in the right direction.

“Excellent,” rasped Dr. Triv. “If your services are needed we will not hesitate to call for you. Thank you.” Clearly dismissed, Xan left the room to grind her teeth in peace.


 

The events which would lead to my life’s third alien upheaval started during the night of in the middle of the third week. After that thing Mama had put in my arm I’d been allowed to move about the station without everyone having to act like I’d swallowed Uranium, which was great because I was feeling weak. My muscles were being destroyed by this weak gravity and I needed to keep my shape up. I’d started doing pushups, situps, and generally any exercise I could think of that didn’t require any equipment. I could do nearly twice as many as I’d been able to do on Earth, but I figured it was still a workout, although I wish I could adjust the gravity.

After my second workout of the day it was bed time. The station dimmed it’s lights approximately every eight hours I guessed, so that everyone could sleep – these creatures did that a lot, they got tired so fast – and I would usually roam around during these times, or exercise, or sleep, depending on what I felt like. I decided to sleep during this sleep period because I had exercised during the last one and again about an hour ago when they gave me a break from being scanned. I was suitably tired, and would have gone to sleep the moment I lay down, if the hairs on the back of my neck hadn’t stood on end the moment I entered my room.

You know that feeling, like someone’s breathing down your shirt, or maybe staring at your soul. It’s the feeling that makes you sure there’s someone right behind you waiting to take your wallet, if you’re lucky. I’ve felt that too many times in my life, and each one of those times I could have avoided something I’d want to if I’d only listened to it the moment I felt it. I listened to it this time. Lucky for me. Shift came dropping down on my from the ceiling – freaking lizards – and I only avoided him by dropping and rolling – I told you that was a good move. He leapt at me, but I was already on my feet and he’d lost the element of surprise.

I could see the panic in his eyes as he attacked me and I evaded him with laughable ease. I got a chance to see what he had tried to stab into the back of my neck when he’d dropped from above. He was holding a purple syringe of sleep. It was a syringe they’d only started using last approximate week. None of the sedatives they’d given me were working, until they came up with this new one which put me down like a horse. Why did he think he had to attack me to sedate me, and why did he have to do it now when no one else was around? I assumed the two were related, and looked at him to see if I could find any other clues. He had a belt on with two other syringes on it, one was empty. The other was the blue syringe of death. Ah.

I hadn’t given this freak my blood, because I wasn’t giving these scientists anything until Mama proved to me that it was okay, since I was starting to get the feeling they weren’t really working on a cure for the rest of the crew. I’d felt sick a few times after they’d given me some injections, and every time I started feeling better they started freaking out. I didn’t like that, but I hadn’t quite figured out why. It’s not like they were trying to get me sick. I didn’t think Mama would let them do that.

That left this guy. He had tried to get my blood on multiple occasions when no one else had been in the room, and each time I’d taken the empty syringe from him and thrown it against the wall. He’d gotten the picture pretty quick. It looked like he’d decided to stop asking me. Thankfully, it really didn’t matter one way or the other what he wanted.

He saw my eyes alight upon the blue syringe of death and turn dangerous. That made him freak out. He started running for the door. I caught him in after about a meter. Why does no one jump in this low gravity, it works so much better than running. I picked the blue syringe of death from his belt. “Now I’m pretty sure I know what this is, but I could also be wrong. A blue syringe is just a blue syringe, and I don’t know much of what you guys are doing. If you’re supposed to be here, then I doubt you were ordered to kill me, either they’d have brought an army with the biggest guns they had and waited until I was asleep. But, on the off chance you’re just doing your job, I’ll let you try this syringe out first. If it’s not what I think it is, you’ll be fine and I’ll let you go get another one and I’ll inject it myself. If it isn’t . . .”

I stuck the needle into his arm and he started struggling harder than ever. Didn’t really bode well for him. It looks like I was right, because ten seconds after I injected him his struggles became less and less, then finally his breath stopped. I had left a little in the syringe so that I had an explanation as to why I’d done it, but I doubted he was here on orders. That started my wondering. Why hadn’t he just waited until I was asleep. I usually slept when everyone else was asleep, just, only every other sleeping period they took. This move of his spoke of illicit action combined with a time crunch. Why would he have needed my blood so soon?

My thoughts were interrupted as the door opened once again. I leapt to its blind side and waited to see who was entering. It was the Yoda. I snarled. Coming to see if his friend had been successful, had he? He heard my growl, and I prepared to leap at him.

“I was not responsible for his actions, and if you kill me your Vir’tk friend will die along with everyone on this station.”

My jaw dropped. It had been so long since I’d heard another recognizable voice other than my own that it took me a moment to figure out what the Yoda had said. “You can talk to me?” I spluttered. “How? Why haven’t you done it before? Why just you? Can the others understand me?”

He held up a hand. My questions ceased. “My race is perhaps the most unethical sapient species among the stars, but we’re also one of the most intelligent. When the searchers, excuse me, zoologists find an up and coming species that will soon reach the stars, we abduct several of their number and study them for a number of reasons. First and foremost so we can create common galactic items fit to their physiology, but that wouldn’t really require an abduction of more than one of two people. The other reason we abduct a large number of the species in question is so that we can learn their weaknesses so that, if we’re ever threatened, we can exploit them. Such experimentation is difficult when the species is a recognized sapient, so we do it before legal matters interfere with our self-preservation. Our advanced understanding of other species and our prowess in cybernetic implants have allowed my kind, and my kind alone, to implant a two way translator into the language centers of our brains, along with a device that allows me to download any pertinent research conducted by my kind regarding any known species I should happen to encounter, or perhaps escaped research subjects that should be dead,” he coughed and looked at me pointedly. ” I and others like me can understand you. If I wanted to I could even act as a translator between you and another, so long as I could understand both. I refrained from doing such as it was advantageous for me to withhold this information from everyone on board. After all, if you could talk, I would have had to ask your permission before I continued my people’s work on you. You gave them quite a bit of trouble, didn’t you?”

“You son of a-”

“My mother was quite normal, thank you. The researchers who abducted you were quite entertained once they discovered what that little saying meant. I’m not here to gloat, though, I just need you to understand that I ‘hold all the cards,’ and also so that you can know why the unfortunate Dr. UtMot,” he motioned to the dead lizard-ant on the floor “attempted what he did. He is of a race known as the Robalin. Approximately twenty of your years ago they attempted to create a biological weapon capable of destroying any organism that displeased them. Thankfully their ambition was greater than their intelligence and they failed. They were quickly defeated and assimilated into the Dominion, of which my people and the many others you see here on this station are a part of. Then you show up at this station. A member of a species that is a gun pointed at the head of the galaxy. You are the only race my people has not yet been able to find a satisfiable and exploitable weakness for, you especially. Your immune system is extremely good, even by the measure of your kind, in case you were wondering.”

“I eat my vegetables.” I said through clenched teeth.

“Very wise of you. The reason I tell you of this is that Dr. UtMot appears to have been a part of a faction within the Robalin that are still looking for their illusive ‘dooms day bio-weapon’, at least I hope it’s just a faction. The important outcome of this, however, is that an old Robalin class-4 biocruiser has just decloaked 300 of your kilometers from the station, and has been sending comlink requests to Dr. UtMot every fifteen ‘minutes’ to check on his progress. I do not believe he will be able to make his next check in, do you?”

I looked at Shifty’s – what kind of name is UtMot – body. I think Dick Yoda here had the right of things. “So why are you telling me this? What do you want me to do?”

He looked at me, apparently annoyed that I wasn’t getting his drift. Dick. “They are here because it is time for them to pick up the last installment of Dr. UtMot’s delivery. It appears he has been attempting to develop a bio-weapon by himself. I have become increasingly suspicious of his activity as of late and so I assume, being frightened that I was on to him, he called for an extraction, which is waiting outside. Even if UtMot is dead, it is too much to hope that he had not already sendt all his work to his friends. With him dead, however, they will know that he has been compromised. That will mean they have a good deal of clean up to do. If the Dominion learns of this, any hope these Robalins have of this plan succeeding will be crushed. They’ve been jamming communications for an ‘hour’ now. With UtMot’s untimely demise, they’ll need to kill everyone on this station and abduct you. They’ve no doubt been informed of your . . . tenacity . . . and will most likely take advantage of the compartmentalization of this station and obliterate all of it except your room, which they will then drag into their cargo bay, cut into it from multiple directions at once, and then fill it with anti-tank fire. You will be subdued. I know this because that’s how I’d do it, and the Robalins are better than I am at strategy.”

“Wow. Nice pep-talk. You should really try coaching t-ball, you’d do wonders for those kids self esteem.”

“At least they would be able to shut up and listen when I’m talking to them, now . . .”

“I doubt it. Did you download any files on human children dude?” Dick ground his teeth. I smiled. Taking a deep breath he continued.

“The only way we can prevent your capture and the death of everyone on this station is if UtMot is successful in his mission.”

“You’re not making me feel any better.” He ignored me.

“If he was successful, then he would have dragged your unconscious body – probably with a transport bed from your cargo ship – into one of this stations shuttles and taken you to his friend’s ship before anyone was the wiser.”

“Why not just eject this room and then let his friends pick that up?”

“Because that would sound a containment breach alarm which would wake everyone up.”

“Do they really think people aren’t going to start wondering why Dr. UtMot and myself are missing when they wake up?”

“Of course we would. If they’re successful in abducting you they’ll still destroy this station, but it’s significantly easier to do so with you off it and everyone asleep. If a containment breach was sounded the computer would go on high alert, and if anyone fired at the station it would detect the shot before it hit and raise the shields. Biocruisers aren’t known for their weapons, and if the shields were raised they’d never get through, so they’d just run away with the information they have so far, hide from the Dominion, and resurface a century later, possibly with their completed weapon. But if everyone is unaware of their presence, they can just use the shuttle UtMot stole to board the station and kill everyone in their sleep, then destroy the station and make it look like a reactor breach.”

“This is ridiculously complex.”

“You tend to make things that way. Also, this station was made to be resistant to the main forms of weapons the Robalins use. This is probably the safest place to hide from them.”

“I still don’t see how I’m going to stop the imminent death of everyone on this station”.

Dick smiled. “I’m thinking we should send UtMot back to them, and give them what they want. The only difference is you’re armed with knowledge and UtMot is somewhat less than healthy. They’ll will not be expecting UtMot to have been so heavily compromised. If a shuttle approaches they’ll allow you to enter, and they shouldn’t be ready for you. After that, do what you do best.”

“Drink beer”? He gave me a flat look. “I’m really good at that you know.”

“You didn’t seem like it when we first picked you up,” he shot back. Ouch.

“I still won that contest, the other guy was just really good too.” Dick snorted. I became serious again.

“How many are there on that ship.”

“A traditional class-4 biocruiser can hold 75 Robalin.”

“Great. What if I can’t kill that many.” Dick reached into a pocket of his garb and took out a small white capsule.

“This is what your species use when you suddenly take the urge to self-terminate. I believe you know it as a cyanide-pill. If you feel you are about to be captured, take this. It has a little something extra which should dissolve you from the inside, making it nearly impossible to study your corpse.”

I put the pill in my pocket where I still had the first blue syringe of death I’d fist taken from Dick here. “Heck, if you have something that can dissolve me, maybe you found your weakness.”

“It only works if you ingest it, and I don’t believe it would be a good battle strategy for my species to need to walk up your soldiers and try to force something into their mouths.”

“Good point. If I succeed, how will I come back?” I asked.

He paused. “We’ll figure that out if we get there.”

“If I don’t make it back, will you still be able to cure the crew of the cargo ship”? He gave me a long, considering look.

“You actually care for their well being?” he asked, incredulous.

“Yes. They were good to me, even though they didn’t understand that I was sapient -” he snorted in derision, “and I don’t want them to die on my account. I’m doing what you suggest because not doing it would end in their death, I don’t give a shit about you.”

“It will be difficult, but we may be able to complete a cure for the various diseases they have contracted without your immune system actually present. I give you my word. We do not have much time. If we do not start soon we will not be able to-”

“What the hell is going on- [unintelligible clicking]?!” Mama burst into the room. I think she’d heard me talking. Dick had turned off his precious little two-way translator though, and I was back to hearing nothing but clicking as Mama moved her mouth in anger. I would have punched Dick in the face if he hadn’t been right in what he had been saying right before Mama interrupted us. It would take too long if we had to explain everything to her. Sorry Mama, I hope Dick explains to you why I did what I’m about to do.

I grabbed the purple syringe from Shifty’s limp hand and leapt at Mama. My weight bore her to the ground, and I hated myself as I inserted the needle into her arm and I injected the smallest amount of sedative that I could. It worked. She fainted mid-click, but continued breathing.

“Thank you. I would not have been able to do that myself and we are pressed for time.” Screw him. I threw the syringe at him, hitting him in the face.

“Mature. Follow me to the shuttle, and bring Dr. UtMot with you.”

“Wait.” I said. I grabbed the empty syringe from Shifty and found a vein. Heck I was better than Dick here. I drew a full syringe of my blood and placed it next to Mama. “So she knows I didn’t just abandon her.”

“How chivalrous of you.” Dick sneered. “Now come, we must hurry.” I picked up Shifty and followed Dick through the station. After a quick jog we entered a cavernous room with several small ships in them. Dick opened up the nearest one and started punching orders into the console. “I’m setting the ships course to the correct location. Once I open the shuttle bay doors, hit that red button to lock the course and the ship will do the rest. Once you land, you won’t have long before they realize something’s amiss, so I’d advise attacking them sooner rather than later. You have the pill?” I showed it too him. “Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to be captured, or else we gave them everything they needed. This is our only chance to destroy any hope they have of ever succeeding. If we mess it up, they’ll still have the research UtMot was able to already conduct.”

“I know, you’ve already said all of this”. He smiled.

“Just don’t want your nerve failing you and forgetting what’s at stake.”

“Believe me, I know exactly what’s at stake,” I said, thinking of Mama, Dink, heck, even Dursley, rat though he was.

“Excellent. Don’t let me die,” Dick said with a greasy smile. Screw him. Too bad I couldn’t save everyone but him. The shuttle door closed and he walked into a room and closed the door. I could see him at a console through the large window that composed nearly an entire wall of the room he’d just entered. He pushed a couple buttons and the cargo bay door began to open. He stopped it when it was open enough and then pointed at me, which I took for a signal. I pressed the red button, and the shuttle lifted from the ground. I hope Mama would know why I left. Really I wasn’t abandoning them. They were safe, right? Why do I still feel guilty?

The Care and Feeding of Humans: Chapter Nine

Author’s note: 

Apologies for the length of time since the last update – as well as the length of this update, clocking in at some 6000 words or so, quite a bit more than I usually do for this story. I graduated from college last Friday (finally), and until this weekend have not had time to catch up on my “for fun” projects. The Care and Feeding of Humans is far from over, and the next update will not take nearly as long. Thanks for reading!


 

Teench was happy. Why wouldn’t he be? He had his old ship, it wasn’t being destroyed by an alien they had picked up off of a Cinerean zoological science vessel, he had lots of money, and his life was simple once again. Then someone woke him up. After he learned why Xan had done such a cruel thing, he revised his last thought and assumed he’d entered a nightmare.

“We need to set course for the nearest category 10 medical station and push the engines to their limits or else everyone on this ship is doomed,” she clicked. Excellent. Great way to start the day. Why couldn’t they all be like this? Several [days] ago, Teench would have asked hundreds of questions before he even considered a detour so far out their way, but now he leapt out of bed without a word and sent a com-message to the bridge to find the nearest category 10 medical station. Category 10’s were few and far between, and none were currently under construction as far as Teench knew. They had been built during the Robalix war [20 years] ago, and had been built under the assumption that the Robalins had managed to create the [apocalyptic] bio-weapon they had been attempting to perfect before they lost the war, an inevitability unless they had actually succeeded in creating it. They had been defeated before they managed to finish, but the category 10’s still stood as a monument to the terror the Robalix weapon had instilled.

Medical facilities given the designation of a category 10 were specifically made to treat and study subjects infected with a disease or diseases or plague proportions. Not only were they possessed of some of the most advanced microbiological laboratories, provided by the Cinerean, and an arsenal of their most potent injections, the facility could also detach any room from its main hull if containment of a disease was breached. Each floor was also able to detach from the main station, fly a few hundred kilometers, then self-destruct. It was a station that assumed that if you were a patient you were essentially already dead, and the only thing you had left to do in your life was offer scientists a chance to study your disease and prevent others from sharing your fate. This was why category 10’s had another name. Death Hospitals.

Only after he received word from the helm that the new course was set did Teench turn to Xan. “Don’t tell me. I think I can guess at this point. A plague has suddenly descended upon our ship and infected nearly all of our remaining crew. This plague is unlike any we’ve seen before and exceeds our worst microbiological nightmares, or at least yours – I don’t have any of that nature – and we have none other to thank than our illustrious guest who can’t seem to decide if he wants to destroy our ship, splatter it with gore, splatter it with gore while saving our lives, or kill us with a disease even the Robalins would have envied.”

“Correct on nearly all accounts. Only half the able-bodied crew have demonstrated symptoms, and we aren’t suffering from just one plague. Those infected so far have shown symptoms of five different epidemics, but the computer has identified more than 794 dangerous micro-organisms on our plague ship of a guest. The only reason we weren’t infected by this point is due to a joint effort of our old ship’s biofilters and what appears to be the remnants of the Cinerean front-line inoculation. The diagnostic reports we still have which inspired us to cut it loose and take this one show that the biofilters were on the verge of failing when we left. It seems they’d been absorbing so many foreign microbes they were unable to kill that they were becoming bacterial nurseries as the pathogens had started colonies on them. The only reason we didn’t notice it is the early alert system had broken a while ago, like most of that ship, and we didn’t notice it among all the other major systems failures Zitik’s attack caused. I doubt this ship’s bio-filters will last longer than a few days, and they’re only able to stop airborne contraction of the diseases. Too many crew members have come into contact with Cqcq’trtr for that to even be an issue. The inoculation the Cinerean gave Cqcq’trtr when they abducted him seems to have worn off sometime last night, which is why we’re just now experiencing these problems.”

The Cinerean front-line inoculation – usually just called “the inoculation” – given to all life-forms upon their unwilling admittance into a Cinerean science vessel was an ingenious biological invention. Rather than kill all microbial life forms within a subject, which would affect any experiment’s results and more often than not hurt or even kill the subject, the inoculation blocked the pathogenic and viral contagion factors. In viruses the inoculation would bind to its glycoproteins, stopping its ability to affect a cell. For bacteria it used a bio-engineered virus of its own to insert a kill switch into the reproduction process of the bacteria. Every time the pathogen would undergo mitosis, the parent cell would be killed the moment it split, ensuring the bacteria colony wouldn’t be able to expand beyond its current population size.

The inoculation even included a phage which temporarily edited the genetic instructions of a subject’s immune system so it would not take advantage of the sudden pathogenic and viral neutralities and completely clear them from its system. The only problem was that the inoculation had to be re-administered every [other day] or else it would begin to fail, completely vanishing after [three or four days]. It seemed Cqcq’trtr had reached that point. Teench let out a long sigh.


 

Dear Journal,

have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

At least, for worlds composed entirely of blue-giraffes.

Which sucks, by the way.

The Death thing, not the blue-giraffes.

Not that I wouldn’t mind being back on Earth, you know.

Mama’s console was still beeping rapidly when she hurriedly pressed a button that was apparently the machine’s power button. The console turned off mid beep. Her actions and the near panicked way in which she completed them did nothing to abate my growing unease at the situation; especially her hitting of the power button. You don’t do that to your computer unless it’s done something horrendous, such as freeze up or murder your family. As it hadn’t frozen up, I assumed it had delivered news of imminent death, the assumption of which seemed to be confirmed by Mama’s actions. I looked about the room.

Several more blue-giraffes had entered during my examination, and they seemed in similar if not worse condition than Drippy, still unconscious, and Jiggles, who also appeared to have fainted, although I couldn’t tell if he’d intentionally stopped breathing so those passing wouldn’t add to the puddle at his bedside or dehydration had gotten to him. The newest admittances appeared ready to faint as well. Several of them, children, appeared to have what Jiggles had gotten, which hadn’t improved the smell by the slightest. Several other adults, including the unwilling assistant I had used when Drippy had left, seemed to be following in his footsteps and expressing their adoration for heavy metal even as they were shown to their beds.

One was being his own independent blue-giraffe, exhibiting traits from neither of the two fads gripping the crew – DeathBreath and Death Metal Enthusiasts – but rather was starting his own trend: Acne from Hell. At least I hoped it was Acne. I was pretty sure I was the reason for this current hullabaloo, and was infecting the crew with diseases and conditions that I was immune to. As such, I sure as hell hoped I hadn’t given this hipster-blue-giraffe smallpox. If Drippy had fallen into a coma – he looked like he had – from a common cold, I didn’t want to think about what a real disease would do to these poor souls.

Newly named Pimples seemed to be screaming, and, upon seeing him, I think I might have joined him. His face and arms were the stuff of nightmares, completely covered in the kind of zits that you go to the hospital to get speared by a professional. He looked like he’d been on the receiving end of an attack from Satan’s personal bee collection; I’m sure they’re one of that jerk’s favorite pets right after wasps and other nopes.

Drippy’s entorage, which seemed to have been recruited by Mama as traffic control, tried to show Pimples to a bed of his own away from the DeathBreaths and Death Metal Enthusiasts, but he cried out in pain the moment he tried to sit down on the bed. I felt sorry for the bloke, but was simultaneously impressed that he’d completely given himself over to this new trend. I’d never known anyone to give up their sitting-parts to the normal variation of Acne, let alone the Acne from Hell. Eventually Pimples just stood by his bed, propping himself against it with his hand, although even that had suffered his newfound infatuation.

Mama, by way of hand gestures, motioned me to a bed farthest away from the trenders. I walked over to it and hopped on, looking at her for more instructions. She grabbed a syringe the same shape as the Cinerean, and I immediately began to feel trepidation. My unease waned somewhat when she put a small amount of clear red liquid in the syringe, but I still backed up when she approached me with it. She started clicking at me in a no-nonsenese “I’m-your-mom-and-you’re-going-to-do-what-I-say-just-because-now-don’t-talk-back-to-me-mister” kind of way. It wasn’t the mom-tone she used which persuaded me to allow her to approach me with the syringe, however. It was the fact that she hadn’t said it to me in a condescending way, as though she were talking to an animal. She knew!

She stuck the needle into my arm. As I watched the red fluid enter my bloodstream, I began to feel a little drowsy. That was it. “Was that supposed to put me to sleep?” I asked. She seemed about as confused as I was, and got another dose of the red stuff, this time filling the needle half-way, which I estimated to be about 20cc. She injected that into me, and the drowsiness increased, but I was still awake. Exasperated, she filled the syringe to my estimated 40cc and stuck that into my arm as well, which was starting to protest. That knocked me out, albeit slowly. Before my vision faded completely to black I saw Mama hit a button near my bed which erected a shining blue wall of energy around my bed.


 

As Xan left Teench’s room, which he had exited a moment before her, heading for the bridge, she thought back to the amount of sedative Cqcq’trtr had required before he’d finally fallen into unconsciousness. She had made the assumption he would require more than a Vir’tk, and had readied twice the dose she normally would have. He’d sloughed the double dose as though it were nothing. The quadruple dose had had similarly minimal effects. She’d finally gotten him down after applying eight times the recommended dose, for a total of fourteen times the usual amount. That much sedative was enough to easily kill four Vir’tk, and probably a few more if you were careful with your administrations.

At least he was behind a dedicated security field. It wasn’t a true quarantine field – those were hugely expensive and were only on the more advanced mercy ships – but Zitik’s engineer seemed to have done a good job, and the security-field-turned-quarantine-field would hopefully stop some of the larger pathogens and all of the multicellular parasites the bio-scanner had detected. Remembering the scanner’s findings after it had scanned Cqcq’trtr sent another shiver down Xan’s spine. How could anything live with so many plagues living inside them.

It seemed her crew were only infected by the weakest and most versatile of diseases Cqcq’trtr carried. She had refrained from telling Teench of the extent that those on this ship were screwed, but now, with a moment to herself, she decided to be honest. The diseases Cqcq’trtr carried, if discovered by a species of ill-intent, could be used to create bio-weapons capable of scouring nearly all life from the galaxy. When Cqcq’trtr’s species discovered FTL propulsion, the galaxy would need quarantine suits just to interact with them, unless a species like the Cinerean came up with an injection which could kill off all of the microbes carried by Cqcq’trtr’s people.

Maybe that was why the Cinerean had been studying him. After all, they knew more about up and coming sapient beings than any other space-faring species, and she doubted the Cinerean, with their expanded intelligence and advanced biological technology, would have thought Cqcq’trtr another dumb animal like she and the rest of the crew had oh so foolishly assumed.

Or perhaps they had been trying to develop a new technology. As worrying as Cqcq’trtr’s microbial abundance had been, it was nothing compared to his immune system. Xan, barely able to believe it herself, had restarted the bio-scanner to ensure it wasn’t making stuff up for the fun of it. It hadn’t been. An immune system consisting of Eucaryotic cells which literally ate offending cells!? What the hells!!? Vir’tk admittedly had one of the weaker immune systems of the galaxy, but it was still of the standard bacteriophage plus viral adaptation model seen almost exclusively in the [Milky way]. Bacteria which infected Xan’s body would soon find their genetic code under a viral assault. The only difference was that the bacteriophage would inject the offending pathogen with RNA which would not only reproduce more of the phage but also neutralize its dangerous characteristics. Offending viruses, on the other hand, would have their way for several days, until her cells modified their genetic markers to which the virus’s glycoproteins would bind, making her immune to it. She doubted that would work for Cqcq’trtr’s virus, as it seemed to mutate too quickly.

Compared to Cqcq’trtr’s immune system, though, the Vir’tk and indeed nearly all known sophant’s immune systems seemed childish, if such a word could be applied to immune systems. Xan shuddered at the thought of what would happen if one of Cqcq’trtr’s t-cells found its way into another being and then decided that being was a disease in need of destruction. Squaring her shoulders, Xan walked back into the medical bay, looking about the mayhem which greeted her. It had gotten worse.


 

Several hours later I awoke from the unconsciousness Mama’s poor little sedative had worked so hard to achieve. The situation in the sickbay had somehow managed to fall further down the declivity it had started down when I had been sedated. Pimples had gained a sizable hipster following, a group of which now stood in a circle around their leader, whimpering in pain as they suffered for their beliefs. DeathBreath was having membership problems, for which my nose was thankful, and only one more had joined Jiggles ranks. Drippy’s Death Metal Enthusiasts were by far the most popular, having nearly doubled in size, head banging away in what I hoped was euphoria. Two new groups had also formed during my forced but by no means unwelcome rest.

The first new group seemed to have liked the sneezing aspect of the Death Metal Enthusiasts, but not the head-banging part of it. They were all lying on their beds, hacking away like walruses during mating season. Their coughs seemed to be just that, rather than the head banging variation of the Death Metal Enthusiasts sneezes, and their heads were staying decidedly unbanged as they lay on their sides, attempting to attract each other with the lush tones of their sensual barks. Or maybe they were just dying. It was one of the two, so I decided to go with the happier option. Mama would find a way to fix them up, because I had no ideas. I’d probably infect someone with the black plague if I tried to help. Judging by how they were holding up to the smaller infections, if I did that they probably wouldn’t show any symptoms, just go from perfectly healthy then keel over dead, or maybe they’d spontaneously explode. I wasn’t going to find out, so I turned my attention to the second of the new fads.

I think the other group was composed of masochists. It looked like their founder, whoever he had been, had seen the other groups and decided none of them featured enough suffering for his tastes, so he started his own that outclassed the others in every way, juxtaposing explosive vomiting, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, heavy sweating, and, unless I misinterpreted the reason some of them were shaking, chills. I think they also had the worst kind of sore throat you can get, unless they were massaging their throats because they thought it would help stop their vomiting. This group truly was the most pitiful of the recent cults.

Several of their members had succumb to the crushing fatigue of their faction, but this hadn’t stopped the other characteristics of their chosen people, and they slept, wheezing, as their overactive GI systems spewed forth their essence where it could begin its olfactory assault upon my senses. I took a moment to step outside of my humorous defense mechanism to take an honest and objective look at the scene around me.

It wasn’t good. The crew was in a bad shape and I doubted they would last much longer. The worst part of it was that this wasn’t something I could help them with. I wasn’t a microbiologist, or even a scientist, or even a smart person. I didn’t know anything about fighting off diseases. The only thing I could protect them from were physical attacks. I felt helpless. This was the first time I’d been helpless since I had escaped the grey Yodas, and I hated the feeling. I wanted to punch something. That wouldn’t have helped anyone, though, so I settled for punching the diseases with my imagination. I don’t think it did anything.

The sickbay had a window, and my attention was drawn to it when something other than the endless void of space flashed by. The window was too small, and I was too far from it, but I could see it was the hull of some other spacefaring object, whether it was station or ship I couldn’t tell. 30 seconds later the ship lurched in what I had come to recognize as our ship docking with something. Without another word Mama and the Drippy’s entourage, which amazingly hadn’t contracted any of the factions beliefs, began helping cultists out of the sickbay. Soon I was the only one left, my energy field glowing around my bed.

“Thanks guys, I didn’t want to leave this room anyway!” No one heard. I tested the energy field around my bed. It felt as solid as a wall. I pushed against it experimentally. It didn’t budge. I threw my shoulder against it and achieved the same result. Not wanting to throw my all at it, I sat dejectedly on my bed and waited. It wasn’t long before Mama came into my room, wearing a grey hazmat suit. I felt a little uneasy, but understood why she was doing it. It just made me feel like I had stayed a little too long in Chernobyl or something similar. She lowered my energy field and motioned me to follow.

We walked through the eerily quiet and empty corridors of the ship, which satisfied my curiosity as to why it had taken so long. I really was a plague ship. Now I knew how the rats who had either carried or chaperoned the black plague around the world had felt, and let me tell you now with my new found expertise. It sucked. When we arrived at the docking bay I could see by benefit of a bay window that we were docked to a large station about the size of a football stadium. It was the sterile white of a hospital.

Entering through the airlock, it was like no hospital I’d seen. Every room was a calming shade of white and blue, which tried unsuccessfully to distract from the seemingly unnecessary amounts of air vents set into the ceiling, or the large glowing blue columns on either side of the walls which hummed with energy which made my skin tingle as I passed them. Paired with Mama’s hazmat suit, I assumed the columns offered another level of sterility to the environment. We walked into large room where I stopped a moment to stare. It was huge, and filled with such an array of alien equipment that I couldn’t even begin to parse together the reasons for a single one, except for the stations which seemed to feature alien microscopes.

The microscopes were my only clue that this was a massive research facility, specifically one dedicated to studying dangerous diseases, since every xeno in the room was wearing a hazmat suit. The diversity of the lifeforms in the room was another reason I paused. There were so many. The suits made it difficult to see the differences, but the heights and breadths alone were enough to show me the differences. Most of the xenos seemed to be taller than me, and nearly all were as spindle limbed as the blue-giraffes. There even appeared to be another variation of blue-giraffes amongst the researchers, except these blue-giraffes were taller and moved with a greater grace and elegance than my new family members, if grace and elegance could be ascribed to four meter high beings with two more arms and legs than the version I was used to.

I also noted that there didn’t seem to be any of the common form of blue-giraffes among the researchers except for patients. What that implied I didn’t know, but I remarked upon it nonetheless. I didn’t stare for long as Mama ushered me around the room and into another about the size of the sickbay back on the ship, except this room appeared to only have a bed for one, and the rest was occupied by an array of equipment which I could only assume was to be used to ascertain the extent of my destructive nature.

I didn’t need to be told where I was going to be staying, so I walked over to my new bed and hopped on. I immediately leapt off again. Despite the fact that he was wearing a hazmat suit, it was unmistakable as a grey Yoda walked into my room carrying a tray filled with an array of syringes filled with different colored fluids, one of which I quickly noticed was a familiar shade of blue. I quickly shot a glance at Mama. Why wasn’t she worried, or afraid? Why didn’t she shout in alarm as that creature entered the room? I doubted I’d been abducted by rogue scientists, so assumed they had worked with their species knowledge and consent. Didn’t Mama know what kind of monsters these things were?

Even if she wasn’t going to act, I sure wasn’t going to let that thing work over me as I lay prone on a bed, especially with the blue syringe of death. I wasn’t as adverse to having it get close to me when I was on my feet. In fact, I welcomed it, which was why upon seeing its ugly oversized alien monster head I not only leapt off the bed but leapt off the bed in its general direction, bellowing as I shot past Mama and landing mere feet in front of the Yoda. He didn’t seem to have the abilities of his namesake, and only managed a pathetic dry squeak as I flung my hand towards his head in an open palmed slam which hit his face plate, shattering it and flinging him three meters where he landed heavily on the floor and slid for another four.

I threw myself after him, preparing to finish the job when an energy field sprung into existence in front of me, which I promptly slammed into and confirmed that it was as solid as it felt. I wildly looked around, not wanting to lose my advantage while the Yoda was down, well, I didn’t really need more of an advantage but I didn’t want to make him wait. That would be impolite, and I try to be courteous when I go about revenge, I mean, self-protection. This wasn’t about revenge, and if it was then I guess I’d think about it later. Right now my blood was up and I wanted that Yoda gone.

My eyes landed on the blue column in the wall which was lined up with another on the wall which the energy field made a straight line in between. I decided this meant they were the emitters responsible for the field and leapt towards the closest one. Half of it was on my side of the field on half on the other side. I supposed that it had been created to keep diseases and other pathogens contained, which is why it was ill-suited to prevent my hand from hitting it and smashing its casing.

I probably should have thought about just what an energy field emitter would exactly contain in order to be emitting an energy field, because it broke, releasing a massive amount of force which picked me up and threw me across the room, slamming me into the base of my bed. On the upside it took the field down and I was alive, so I figured it was a win win situation. Dazed, I ran drunkenly towards the Yoda, who seemed to be unconscious as he hadn’t moved yet was still breathing. I was halfway there when I was slammed in the side by what felt like George Foreman coming to give me something other than a sandwich. I had been unsteady enough that the unexpected blow had knocked me from my feet, and I rolled with the blow – a move which had saved me from enough cracked heads that it had become habit – coming up in a crouch facing my new attacker.

It was Mama. From the pounding of the blood in my ears I hadn’t heard her shout-clicking, but now she released a torrent unlike anything I’d ever heard from her. She wore what looked like an alien bullet proof vest into which was plugged an alien ray gun, significantly larger than the one the blue-giraffe pirates had used. I wondered wryly for a moment if she’d just tried to kill me, but then ignored the thought when she did not continue shooting and instead put the gun down to allow her the use of her other hand so she could gesticulate even more in her tirade.

I didn’t know what she was saying, but I didn’t think I needed to. Now that I was taking a moment to think, I realized that she wouldn’t have taken me onto a station so I could be experimented on and generally abused. I doubted she would have thought that anyone could have done that to me even if they wanted to, anyway. If that had been her intent, then she would have sedated me again and then let the Yodas do their thing. This Yoda might have been a defector, a scientist who had grown weary of his races atrocities and decided to join the nobler alien races. Or maybe those really had just been rogue scientists. Either way, I shouldn’t have attacked him, though I still thought my actions had not been entirely unjustified.

I bowed my head, somewhat ashamed of my behavior, and Mama’s tirade stopped suddenly. I realized that this was the first time I’d shown any remorse for what I’d done. After all, I felt like all my actions up to this point had been completely justified, since I wasn’t the animal they took me for. Now they knew I wasn’t, or at least some of them did, and I would have to show them that I wasn’t a sapient killing machine, which probably would have been worse in their minds. The psychopathic part of me which I’m sure everyone has really liked the idea.

Squashing psychopathic me, I walked calmly over to the where the still unconscious Yoda had dropped his tray of syringes and picked the blue one up from the ground. I showed it to Mama, just so she knew what had specifically set me off – I had not just rage thrown the Yoda – and snapped off the end of its needle, putting the syringe in my pocket. I didn’t know if smashing it against the ground would be bad, so I decided to just keep an eye on it. I hopped back onto my bed and waited calmly as Mama went and carried the still unconscious Yoda out of the room.


 

Xan left the room, still wearing the military combat harness she had found in the storage locker in the main lab, which, now that she thought about, it was rather odd thing to keep in a hospital, but she wasn’t about to question it. Why did the head researcher on this Death Hospital have to be a Cinerean, and what the hells had he been doing carrying a rotgut syringe for a preliminary examination. She supposed she shouldn’t have assumed the heavy pulse-gun would have merely knocked Cqcq’trtr down, but after he had only been been dazed by the full discharge from a quarantine field emitter, she had lit into him with the heavy pulses without a second thought when he began charging towards the idiotic Cinerean. He had been moving so fast she was lucky she had hit him. He hadn’t been hurt, which would have normally shocked Xan, but at this point she would have been shocked if she could find anything that could hurt him.

She was mainly happy that he’d listened to reason. She knew he hadn’t understood a word she’d said, but it felt good to shout after all the frustration he’d caused these past few days. It seemed Cqcq’trtr had understood her tone, and, more importantly, saw the truth in it and felt ashamed for his actions, at least that was her assumption she firmly believed was true, despite any solid evidence. This action removed any remaining vestiges of doubt left in her mind that he was intelligent. Animals feel guilt when caught in wrongdoings. Intelligent, and more importantly, moral creatures feel shame when they do something wrong, regardless of whether they are caught or not.

It took a while to explain why she was carrying the unconscious body of the lead researcher while wearing a military combat-harness and why the Cinerean’s hazmat suit’s face plate was shattered, but the matter was eventually cleared up. The more important outcome of her conversation with the stations security officer and second-in-command researcher was that they were alerted to the threat Cqcq’trtr could propose if he was threatened, and how to avoid doing so, mainly by not being Cinerean or carrying a rotgut injection, although the former had hardly been the lead researchers fault. They didn’t seem to believe her, but she was enough of a nuisance that they finally said they would do as she said.

The second-in-command scientist prepared to do what had previously been the lead researchers job, readying a tray of syringes that was pointedly not containing any injection of the color blue. Under the protection of four guards in full military combat-harness’, three with heavy pulse-guns and the last with an anti-tank gun

+Why do they have an anti-tank gun in a hospital?+

The examination of Cqcq’trtr began. The acting lead researcher was even more amazed by Cqcq’trtr’s immune system than she had been, which was saying something, as she had sworn several times when she found out. The scientist, a Ratak’ktr whose name she learned was Qit’zztktkqn’qr’zvpptrnmct, but he said she could just call him Qit – so kind of him – nearly had a [nerdgasm] as he perused the results of the Mark III bio-scanner and an array of tests which had taken nearly an entire ric (30 minutes). She wouldn’t have been surprised if he had started moaning.

The Ratak’ktr were evolutionary cousins of the Vir’tk, but, as loath as Xan was to admit it, they had a significantly greater capacity for intelligence than all but genius level Vir’tk, of which there were very few in living memory, now that Xan thought about it. She was about as intelligent as a Vir’tk could ever hope to be, but she still had only been able to grasp the bare fundamentals of microbiology. Aside from their intellect the Ratak’ktr had one more pair of arms and legs than a Vir’tk, and skin that was unstriped. They shared a common language though, on account of their similar vocal chords, except the Ratak’ktr’s was hopelessly complex compared to the Vir’tk.

“The immune system of this creature is incredible” Qit gasped. “I’ve infected him with one of the viruses we keep at the lab-”

“You what!” Xan shouted, but Qit didn’t stop. “And his body has completely eradicated it in five minutes! I infected him with Sipulari plague -”

YOU WHAT!” Xan screamed. Qit was too excited to hear her thoughts about his hastily made decision. She guessed it didn’t matter. The Sipulari plague had been cured decades ago, and the developed serum had been compatible with every species’ immune system so far. There was no reason to assume it wouldn’t work for Cqcq’trtr either, she hoped at least. It appeared the serum wouldn’t be needed, though, as Qit continued.

“And his body just turned into an antigen deathworld!! I don’t think we’d be able to kill him with any bio-weapon on record, not even rotgut. I don’t know half of what happened, but his body suddenly heated up as though it were an oven, and then it secreted a hormone that opened up previously small capillaries so they could be invaded by carnivorous Eukaryotic cells which ate anything tagged by another unknown protein, whose sole purpose was to find the antigen and then hold on to it as the Hunter Eukaryotes found it and ate it by turning into a macrophage, and all the while another kind of specialized cell with arms started snagging offending viruses left and right and holding them while the Eukaryotic monstrosities were eating them and it was beautiful.”

He took a deep breath, for which Xan was thankful. His white skin had started to turn blue during his speech. The moment he had his breath back he started up again. “I wonder what would happen if we infected it with a multicellular parasite. It already has several but they seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the creature and are ignored by the immune system.”

“Absolutely not,” Xan interceded. “You’re here to see if we can adapt any of his biological features into a cure for my crewmates, not satisfy your curiosity.”

Qit stiffened, suddenly a professional rather than an overexcited researcher. “I am well aware of my purpose in studying this being, but as it stands, anything we took from his body and tried to use in one of the other patients would invariably kill them the same as if we had put a pulse-gun to their head. His immune system would eat them alive. But maybe, if I study how it works, we’ll be able to bioengineer similar cells which could be specifically made so that they would not kill the patient we injected them into. But before I can do that I need to study how his immune system works. I feel as though I’ve hardly scratched the surface.”

Xan didn’t want to concede the point, but Qit was right. The fact of the matter was, if they didn’t figure out how to adapt Cqcq’trtr’s immune system to her crewmates, they would most likely die. Forcing his immune system to work so they could understand its process was something any moral sapient being would allow, and if Cqcq’trtr wouldn’t allow it . . . well, they couldn’t understand what he said and vice versa, and she was willing to take advantage of that fact if it meant saving her family.

“Fine,” Xan said. “Continue as you see fit.”