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They all started talking at once. “Steal a spaceship?!” Isra exclaimed.

“I didn’t sign up for this!” Jesse’s eyes bulged.

“We still haven’t heard from those ships that went into space about seven years ago in, what, 2023?” Terry asked.

“Everybody calm down, please!” Abigail shouted, glaring at Shudder. “That was too soon to spring on them. They haven’t even had a chance to rest or understand what’s going on, and you ask them to steal a spaceship?”

“I was on the research team that worked on the spaceships that were lost seven years ago. We’ve been trying to send them signals but we’re not getting any response. We can only suspect that due to a time lag, or whatever you call it – the physics doesn’t make sense at this point – outgoing or incoming messages are blocked or just disperse in space. At the time I didn’t know aliens existed so it’s also possible they got lost or encountered some unfriendly aliens. With aliens on our side we should be able to do what we need to do,” Abigail said.

“I’m right here, you know?” Shudder mewled.

“Hang on. I want to hear what they have to say,” Terry said, looking at Jesse and Isra, eyes sparkling inquisitively. “I mean, he just saved our lives, and we don’t have to agree on any course of action yet. Maybe we can listen and sleep on this first. When have you ever heard or seen of any strange undiscovered species, or aliens? What I really want to know is, you just met us, so why are you asking us for help?”

Isra and Jesse sighed, nodding. Now that they got over the initial shock they were also starting to get curious.

“You’re right. I did just meet you. Asking you is a last resort, and I’m desperate,” Shudder squinted. “We need a diverse team from different cultures and ethnicities in order to stop this war. Make no mistake, you may or may not need to fight, but I’m hoping that with different perspectives, we might be able to stop this war.”

“As for you,” Shudder looked at Isra, “You’ve all already seen us, so you pretty much have to choose a side here.”

 

“What if we don’t go with you?” Terry asked.

“Worst case scenario, we lock you up, or try to make you forget. Even if we didn’t lock you up nobody would believe you. Well, except maybe the followers of the Ro Hon will find you and try to extract information from you,” Shudder meowed.

Jesse and Isra grumbled. “What about our parents, families, friends? We just leave them on Earth?” Jesse asked.

“Not many choices here,” Isra sighed.

“If there is an alien war that will happen soon, maybe we can do something about it. If not, then what’s left of the government might try to silence us or call us crazy, or we pretend nothing happened, and let me tell you, I can’t forget what I just saw,” Terry said quietly, unease gnawing at his heart.

“As I was saying,” Shudder said, “I can’t exactly steal a spaceship. I would stick out like a sore thumb – strange English phraseI have no human fingers. For years, we did not have the technology to go back up into space after our own vessel crashed. So we’ve been waiting for you humans to do that. The Ro Hon you just saw earlier were looking for us. They want to go into space and find their own people too. And there aren’t many of us ‘aliens’ left on this planet. We need to do this while we still can. You may be safe for five years, ten years, thirty years, but how long before other ‘aliens’ come to Earth seeking resources? How long before the Ro Hon escape and get help? Your technology isn’t even that sophisticated.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but humans haven’t exactly had a good record with stopping wars. World War I, World War II, Vietnam, the Middle East?” Isra raised her eyebrows.

“I would be indebted to you all if you would help me send a message to my people. Abigail has some knowledge from designing and servicing spaceships – for lack of a better word, since there are several types. I can’t reveal any other details yet in case you get caught, but please, I need to contact my people. Abigail can fill in the rest when we’re on the way.”

“This is too much for me,” Isra said. “Why would these Ro Hon care about a small planet like Earth? Would the Ro Hon leaders risk spending lots of resources just to save several of their people?”

“Good question. The problem is, we’ve been doing experiments on Earth for a while now, and since 5,000 years have passed here, and who knows how many years have passed out there, our leaders may be interested in protecting this planet,” Shudder explained.
“Experiments? Wait, what kind of experiments?” Jesse opened his eyes wide.

“Nothing too serious,” Shudder said evasively.

“I’ll need several days to think about this. How about we meet up in three days time and decide? And by the way, can we call you something other than Shudder? No offense, I know you just saved our lives, but your name sounds like what we do when we’re scared,” Terry said.

“What, you mean you’re not scared?” Shudder asked, whiskers twitching in humor. “Told you so” Abigail muttered, glancing at Shudder. “That name didn’t suit you, and you didn’t listen.”

“How about Whiskers?” Isra wondered.

“How about Timbers?” Terry seconded.

“How about Felix?” Finally everyone agreed on Jesse’s idea.

“Fine. I’ve had many names over the years anyway,” Shudder said.

***

Terry, Jesse, and Isra clambered up out of the manhole cover of the sewers. He waited until nobody was walking around before climbing out of the dank pit of human waste. He stood up and stretched, taking a deep breath of fresh afternoon air.

The streets were pretty deserted anyways, so nobody saw them leave the sewers, which were only partially visible from the road anyways. Many businesses closed down during the near-permanent ten-year government shutdown. As the people getting paid by the government stopped earning money and people on food stamps could no longer collect them, countries around the world lost faith in the United States, the job market dried up, imports and exports ceased, people didn’t spend as much money, and small businesses closed down. There weren’t many people walking in the streets, as some people were either too depressed to take walks, or lacked money to waste on entertainment.

Terry turned to Jesse and Isra. “Hey Isra, it was nice meeting you. Jesse and I have to take care of some things. Can we discuss this tomorrow morning at my house at 9:00 am? Here’s my address.” He gave her a piece of paper he had gotten from Abigail earlier.

They waved goodbye, and Terry and Jesse walked to the entrance, thinking deeply. “So, what are we going to do now?” Terry asked.

“I have no idea,” Jesse said slowly.

“I think we’ll have to quit our job.”

“Already? How are you going to earn any money in this economy?”

“I think you should quit too. It’s not safe for us anymore, no matter what we choose to do.”

They paused outside the doors. Jesse scratched his head. “Well, I guess. We’ve got aliens living in the sewers? How weird is that? I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Well, good thing none of the staff was around at the time. I’ll write a note and leave it for the house mother. I’ll let her know I quit.”

“Okay, I’ll do that too.”

***

That evening, Terry had a lot to think about on the way home. So much had happened in the day that he had been awake. He and Jesse had quit their jobs at the orphanage. They didn’t tell mention they quit because there were aliens living in the sewers and were afraid of possibly getting attacked again. Even though they were innocent, the alien dogs, the Ro Hon, might not see it that way. And Abigail had told them that it was possible that because some of the Ro Hon were killed, their followers might go looking near the area where their leaders were last seen.

Terry was apprehensive about going into space and seeing the galaxy, but it didn’t look like there was much choice if his life could be in danger if he didn’t go. If he did go space might have unknown terrors too. It was a Catch-22. He didn’t quite like the idea of stealing a spaceship, but he understood a giant cat alien couldn’t exactly walk around undetected. Rambling thoughts clung to his heart as he ruminated over what to do, torn over this tough decision.

A newspaper slowly blew by on the rough concrete. The faded letters on the paper were from the current year, 2030. Terry looked at it briefly, noticing the article on the front page about the town he was currently living in: Mala Falls, California. Usually nothing much happened in this medium size town, and yet here he was, walking home in the evening chill, unsure what tomorrow would bring. Nowadays with unreliable internet services newspaper companies had re-opened.

When he got home, he had dinner with his parents. “Ba Ba, Ma Ma, I need to go on a field trip with the kids at the orphanage. I’ll be gone for a while, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” He didn’t like lying to anybody, but there was no helping matters. The less people knew what was going on, the better. He left out the part where he had quit the orphanage, and the kids were already on a field trip.

“Make sure you call,” his mother said.

“I can’t. I won’t have cell service there. Cell service is spotty all over the US, remember?” Terry replied.

“Where are you going?” Terry’s father asked.

“Oh, here and there.”

After a while the conversation turned to politics. “Look, things are uncertain these days. Countries around the world were engaged in trade with the US, and their economies also suffered because of the government shutdown. So many functions of the government had to be de-funded, and it’s not that easy to find a job unless you’re really rich, in which case you don’t need the money as much. I know you don’t want me to quit my job but I don’t have a choice. I just have to go away for a while.”

Terry trudged up to his room above and plopped down on his bag. He stood up again, going over to check the inside of his emergency go-bag. He opened it, then closed it, pacing around his room, then checking the inside of the bag again, then closing it, nerves on edge. Emergency rations, check. Water, check. Gloves, smoke masks, check. He manually went over a list of things he had prepared and sat down again.

A car door slammed outside his house, and he glanced out, swallowing nervously. Just the neighbor. Smiling grimly, Terry lay down on the bed. Sleep would be hard to come by tonight.

The next morning Jesse and Isra showed up at his front door, and he let them in. They trudged up the stairs and sat down in his room.

“I couldn’t sleep well yesterday,” Jesse told Terry and Isra.

“Me neither,” Isra replied, rubbing at dark rings under her eyes.

“I kept jumping when I heard noises outside, thinking it might belong to an alien,” Terry said.

“What do we do? We can’t just forget we saw gigantic dogs and cats. Next thing we know, there might be an alien invasion and it’ll be raining dogs and cats,” said Jesse.

“That joke could have been better,” Terry smiled tiredly.

“Yeah. I’m exhausted,” Jesse frowned. “It would be nice going into space though. Might be fun to see other worlds.”

“I don’t really want to go,” Terry said. “I mean, life is pretty good here.”

Jesse raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, not that good, but still. If we’re currently in a second Great Depression, we’ll come out of it eventually.”

“I’m with Terry on this,” Isra said. “We still don’t know what’s out there. How do we know Shudder…I mean Felix…is the good guy? What if he killed the bad guys, or if there is no clear answer? If there is a war that will soon begin or already began…war is sometimes fought by sides who each think they’re right.”

“I think Felix might be right. If we do nothing, the war might come to Earth eventually,” Terry said. “But I’m also not keen on going on some random journey into space. I just don’t want to leave Earth. It’s comfortable here, and we have good food to eat. If we go out there, things will be tough.”

“But is that a good reason to just give up? Let’s not take the difficult road and let other people do the hard work?” Isra asked.

“I know, and I completely agree. This decision isn’t easy for me,” Terry replied.

Isra continued, “So what are we going to do? Sit here and grow old until it eventually becomes a problem for the next generation, like global warming is for us now? Those Senators and Congressman didn’t do a thing for us decades ago, and now we have rising tides and temperatures.”

“Okay, okay. I get it!” Terry threw up his hands up in the air. “I’m just not always the first person to try new things! It takes me a little longer to make decisions than most people!”

“Woah woah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here,” Jesse said, placing his hands out between Terry and Isra, trying to get them to stop arguing. “Let’s just all agree that we’re all different, and we still need time to process this. I really want to go into space too but let’s all agree we want to make the right decisions before doing something that could get us killed.”

“Look, I’m not saying that I think it’s a good idea to go in without a plan. I’m not saying listening to Felix is a good idea. But there are two options here,” Isra said. “One, we can go to the Ro Hon, which we all know is a bad idea since they tried to kill us, or two, we can follow along with the giant talking cat for now and see what happens. If we do nothing and humanity is doomed, then it’s on us. But if we do something and humanity is doomed one day, at least we tried.”

“Hey, do you think those Ro Hon have human assistants? I felt like I was being followed on the way here” Jesse asked.

The three of them looked outside. Two burly men in large black coats and black sunglasses stood at attention outside, watching Terry’s house. One spoke into a phone. The other pulled his hat down over his head, seemingly trying to be inconspicuous. Their pale skin peeked out from above their large coats.

At that moment, Abigail called Isra. There was some spotty reception today, it seemed. “Hi Isra, this is Abigail. I’ve been monitoring the Ro Hon. Remember I told you they have human followers? They think the Ro Hon can give them access to alien technology, that it will help them be a global power on Earth. Be careful. They call themselves the ‘Dogs of Destruction’. If you ever see them up close, they have scars of a red dog located somewhere on their bodies.”

“There are two men standing outside right now, with black coats and sunglasses. What do we do?” Isra paused, breath catching in her throat. “Uh, they’re walking this way.”

You better get out of there!” Abigail yelled, and Isra hung up her phone, nearly dropping it as her hands shook.

“Let’s climb out the window,” Terry said.

“I’m scared of heights, remember?” Jesse exclaimed.

“It’s either that or they’ll kill us!” Terry hissed, almost biting his tongue. The two men outside were picking the lock to the front door as they spoke.

They grabbed their backpacks and silently went to a corner window that wasn’t above the men picking the lock, and slowly opened the window, trying not to make a sound. The window inched forward at a glacial pace, and the stepped out, edging their way around the outside of the window, away from the men. Terry closed the window behind them.

Trembling in fear, Jesse whispered, “What now?”

Terry got out some rope from his backpack, trailing it down the side of the house and tying one side to the edge of the chimney. He put his finger to his lips, urging silence. “I’ll go last. Isra, you go first.”

Isra nodded in thanks, butterflies in her stomach. If those men caught up to them they might be tortured or experimented on, she thought. They were running for their lives. Luckily she often ran marathons. That would be useful in saving her life today if they needed to run fast, but she was sure she wouldn’t be able to dodge bullets if these men had guns.

She rappelled down the side of the house towards the alleyway below them, grasping the rope tightly. The brown rope creaked and groaned as gravity pulled her weight towards the ground outside. She touched down gently on slushy ground, wet with the recent frost and melting due to the gentle morning sunshine.

Next came Jesse. He whispered a silent prayer, then nodded briefly towards Terry. Thank you, he thought, grateful his friend was looking out for him, letting him go first. He wrapped his arm around the rope. Looking over the edge, the ground seemed so far away. He fell backwards, away from the edge. “It’s too far,” he said, face pale. The cold breeze froze and fear froze his throat, and his body refused to move.

“Just don’t look. Please,” Terry whispered, firmly grasping Jesse’s shoulders. “If you don’t go I won’t go. How about you hold on and I help lower you down. Everything will be okay.

Terry had a sudden thought, and sang “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur.

Jesse chuckled, scrunched up his face, and looked at Terry again. He patted his sweaty hands against his pants, and grasped the rope with both hands. With Terry holding on to the rope, Jesse slowly lowered himself to the ground while keeping his eyes slightly closed, kicking off the side of the building as he did so. It felt like an eternity before his feet finally hit the ground. It could have been his sweat on the ground, and not melted frost, he thought.

Finally, it was Terry’s turn to walk down the outside of the wall. As he prepared to shimmy down the rope, he almost slipped. The tiles were covered in moisture, and he grabbed the rope with both hands, breathing a sigh of relief, heart banging in his chest.

Halfway down the side of the building, his hands were burning. He hadn’t properly grabbed hold of the rope and the sinews were digging into his hands. The strands were chafing at his calluses, which had begun to grow since he had started to lift weights at home several months ago. Gym memberships weren’t worth it nowadays.

Terry reached the ground and hurried down an alley with the others.

Seconds later, voices came out of the open window in Terry’s bedroom. “They must have gone out the window,” one man said in a monotone voice.

“They must be the ones who killed some of our leaders,” the other man screeched, his voice sharp.

The monotone man reached the window. It was closed, but perhaps it had been used recently. “Maybe they’re outside right now. They must have seen us coming.” They dashed down the stairs, hoping to catch their prey before they escaped.

By then Terry and the others had already gone down the alley and turned the corner, out of sight of the two mysterious men. After walking a couple of blocks, they called a taxi. “Cedar cafe, please.”

After the taxi dropped them off, breathing sighs of relief, the trio slumped down onto the chairs. “Hot chocolate please. And a vegetarian taco for me,” Terry said.

“I’ll have a Cappuccino and a chicken sandwich,” Jesse said, looking at the menu.

“Hot chocolate for me too, with whipped cream.” Isra seconded. “And a hamberder, I mean, hamburger.”

“Whew. Got out of that one,” Isra said.

Isra took out her phone, checking for a signal. Seeing a weak signal, she called Abigail.

“You better come back to our base quickly. When you get to the area above the sewers, there will be people to meet you. I’ve dispatched some men to guard the entrance. They’re German triplets. Pretty recognizable,” Abigail said.

Finishing their meals quickly, the trio got another taxi back towards the orphanage, to the smelly sewers.

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About the author

Sean Bai

Bio: I'm a Chinese-American man writing my first science fiction series. I majored in American Multicultural Studies in University. This helps me create fictional alien cultures. But mostly, I just have an imagination. I have 10-15 books and nearly a dozen alien species planned for Aliens Among the Stars.

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