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When Terry and the others climbed out of the taxi, a cold wind blew. The taxi sped off, and three people walked out in front of Terry, Jesse, and Isra. One man had blonde hair tied in a ponytail, another had short cropped blonde hair, and the third was bald. They all had square jaws and rough cheeks.

The man with the ponytail stepped up to them. “My name is Dieter Beker. Follow me. The others are waiting.”

“Ja, don’t worry, my brother is serious, not very talkative, ja. I’m Hans,” the bald man smiled, extending his hands in greeting towards Terry, Isra, and Jesse.

Ai, he was just born one second earlier so I guess that’s why he’s the serious one,” the man with short hair chuckled, introducing himself as Gunter.

The triplets led them to the sewer entrances. Dieter inspected the manhole cover, nodded, and pulled it up with rough hands. He probably has seen a lot of action, Terry observed.

Jesse wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Aw, we have to go down the smelly cesspool again?”

“Come on, scaredy cat. Ladies last,” Isra said, pushing him lightly with a twinkle in her eyes. “Oops, we need to reconsider the words we use,” she muttered under her breath, looking around just in case Felix was there to hear her words. No telling how sensitive his hearing was.

Dieter climbed down the ladder into the pitch-black darkness, fumbling for a few seconds with the switch to his flashlight.

A beam of light broke up the gloomy shadows, and Hans said, “I feel like a light bulb just turned on in my head, like in the comics!”

Gunter lightly slapped Hans over his bald head, “How about now? Feel the light fall on your head now?”

Terry followed the rest of the others as they walked through the smell of excrement and urine that wafted through the air around them, trying not to gag.

“Weak stomach?” asked Jesse, smiling with a slight greenish tinge to his cheeks.

Terry glared at Jesse. “You’re probably feeling just as sick as I am. If we talk too much we have to breath more and smell this terrible smell.”

Jesse quickly nodded, agreeing. Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, he thought. “Maybe I’ll use your clothes as a vomit bag,” he whispered.

Terry threw more daggers at Jesse with his eyes. “I heard that!” He hadn’t really smelled the terrible stench the first time since he was barely conscious.

Isra walked on up ahead, catching up with Dieter. “Hey, what’s the rush?”

The quiet blonde man replied grimly. “The Dogs of Destruction, the men who followed you earlier, probably know where we live. Maybe when Shudder, who I hear you’ve renamed Felix, killed them, the Dogs of Destruction, who we call the DoD, tracked our location. Or maybe they’ve just known about us for a while and things didn’t go according to their plans.”

“Hey,” Dieter said all of a sudden with a rare smile. “At least you got Sh- Felix to change his name. People have been telling him forever that that was a bad name.”

“Well, he thought that name would cause his enemies to shudder,” Hans said, catching up to them.

Yeah, that name sounds kind of bland. Sounds like it would make his enemies laugh instead of Shudder,” Isra said.

In the back of the group, Terry glanced at Jesse.

“What?” Jesse asked.

“How will you be able to handle going into space if you’re scared of heights?”

Jesse thought for a few seconds, then let out a huff of air. “You know that astronaut who went into space over ten years ago? He was scared of heights too, but he managed to get over it. I read an article just yesterday night that he realized you couldn’t fall in space. Well, at least not technically. It’s just something I have to get over with. I mean, who wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to go into space?”

“I’m not sure if I want to go,” Terry muttered. “Leave everyone and everything behind? We could die.”

“I realize that, but think of the opportunities. Think of the aliens we’ll meet.”

“Not all aliens are cute and cuddly or come in peace.”

“Yeah, but if we just sit on our butts and do nothing, and the good aliens lose their war, they’ll come looking for us. And what then? We just stand on the ground? Watch our cities get destroyed? Feel helpless as everyone we know and love dies?” Jesse said.

“Good point. I don’t want my friends and family to die either. You better not die either,” Terry joked.

As they came to a corner in the dark sewers, Dieter looked back at the others. “Do you guys know how to use guns?”

Terry and Jesse looked at each other, faces blanched.

“Never mind. You’re more likely to hurt yourself at the moment if we gave them to you. We’ll cover you for now,” he said, turning back to the front.

They reached the lab, and Dieter rapped on the steel door three times.

“What’s the password?” a muffled voice came from behind the door.

“What password?! You didn’t tell us about any password!” Dieter glared at the wall, trying to push it down with his eyes, a vein on his neck throbbing.

“Just joking, meow.” Abigail opened the door, smiling.

“I do not sound like that all the time!” Felix exclaimed.

Cough cough, hem hem, you kind of do,” Hans and Gunter said at the same time.

Abigail, look!” Felix said, pointing at some computer screens in the lab. They quickly ran over, trying to all fit through the doorway at the same time.

“Hey, let me go first!” Terry said, trying to push his way into the room.

“What are you talking about? We’ll all be able to see the screen!” Jesse smiled, not making any move to let Terry go through first.

“Fine.” Terry said, frowning, then chuckling. “Sigh.”

“How many of them are there?” Isra asked, tapping the back of a chair nervously.

“Maybe they followed you? No … I don’t mean to point fingers. Maybe they knew where to look already, or maybe…they just looked where the Ro Hon bodies went missing.” Abigail guessed, face pale.

On the computer screen, they saw several men in black suits walking down the dark pathway in the grungy sewers. “I count five,” Abigail said with a frown.

Dieter rolled up his sleeves. “Hans. Gunter. Take up positions.”

Hans scratched his bald head, pulling out a pistol and looking down the sights. He flipped the safety off, hiding behind a coffee table as he moved to the left side of the room.

Gunter, the triplet with the short hair, took up a position behind the couch on the right, crouching and closing his eyes, breathing deep and measured breaths.

“You guys better get out of here. We’ll hold them off. Anything sensitive that we need to do? Do we need to set the room to self-destruct?” Dieter asked over his shoulder, not breaking a sweat.

“No, we’ve set these computers so they can be wiped quickly in case of emergencies. Finishing right aboooout…now.” Felix said, pressing some keys on the keyboards. He backed away, and the computers sparked and fizzed out.

Felix walked to the corner of the room, pressing something on his watch. “Pretty much out of power now. Figs,” he muttered to no one in particular. He ascended the ladder gracefully. Terry admired the way Felix’s sleek fur barely whispered in such a dark and depressing place.

“What’s that?” Terry asked. Felix didn’t bother to look behind him, already standing outside.

Terry shook himself out of his reverie, clambering up the ladder after Felix. Without looking back, Felix said “It’s, ah, sort of a swear word in our language.”

“Your swear word is a fruit in our language,” Terry said, eyes sparkling.

Felix looked at Terry, staring at him with big eyes.

“Oh, come on, don’t look us with those cute eyes,” Isra said, climbing up after them, followed shortly by Jesse.

Gunfire popped in the room below them, chips flying off the old walls.

“Let’s go!” Abigail called out down below, Felix running to get the large RV started.

“You live in an RV?” Jesse asked, trying to calm his beating heart, which felt like it wanted to jump out of his chest.

“No time to talk!” Felix growled murderously, as he opened the garage door with a clicker.

Down below, Dieter reloaded. Hans aimed and fired several shots through a hole in the wall, hitting one man in the throat and another in the nose. Red blood splattered everywhere.

“Give up! We have the Chinese parents of one of your men!” one man shouted. Shortly afterward, a bullet entered the stomach of the man who had spoken

Time slowed down. There was a clink as something solid hit the steel door.

As Dieter climbed the ladder, with Gunter close behind him, the steel door exploded, sending dust and metal fragments into Hans. Shards lodged into his throat and mouth, killing him instantly.

“NOOOO!” Gunter yelled from the rungs of the ladder, barely able to resist going after his brother.

“Come on, it’s too late!” Dieter looked back and yelled, pulling Gunter out roughly. He had fought in enough battles to know when somebody was dead. The explosion had been too devastating for Hans to have survived, his limbs and torso cut up and barely distinguishable.

Gunter clambered up the ladder, cursing and trying not to shed any tears, as men entered into the living room.

As Gunter stood up on solid ground, he pulled the pin from a grenade, dropping it down into the computer room just as two men walked in, about to fire their pistols. They saw the grenade and started to turn, and Gunter slammed a hatch shut over the ladder.

BOOOM! Another blast rocked the room, dust and debris flying everywhere. One man’s chest was barely recognizable and shredded beyond recognition, while the blood vessels in another man’s legs were torn open. He quickly bled out, eyes staring straight ahead and mouth gibbering nonsense, as Gunter secured the hole in the floor with an iron bar, hands shaking in rage.

Dieter and Gunter ran to the RV, pressing a button on a wall, which was on a timer to cause the secret garage to implode in one minute. They dashed through the RV door, closing it after them.

Abigail slammed on the gas after everybody was safe in the truck.

Why did Hans have to try to fire off those last shots!” Gunter yelled in German, wishing his stupid brother had left earlier instead of trying to be a hero by staying too long.

“Calm down, brother,” Dieter quietly told him in English, steeling his nerves. “He gave his life trying to defend us and help people escape. He was a hero.”

Gunter nodded, drying his tears, eyes and heart hollow. He didn’t know what to think or feel.

The others all expressed their consolation for Dieter and Gunter’s loss. “Thank you guys for saving our lives.” Isra told the brothers.

Terry’s throat felt like a desert. He couldn’t believe the friendly man he had just met earlier was dead, and the sounds of grenades exploding were so loud. Did he really have it in him to go fight in an alien war and possibly die?

Meanwhile, down below, the man who had a bullet in his stomach shuddered with shallow breaths. “I don’t have long left to live,” the man whispered. “My brothers had better get some technology so we can live better lives,” he said, as he breathed his last breath, eyes staring up at the dark nothingness that was the grimy sewers.

***

“My parents were what?!” Terry shouted, face livid.

“They were…captured,” Gunter said, fidgeting. He tried to break the news softly but there was no skirting around the issue.

“How? Why? Where? We have to go rescue them immediately! If you guys hadn’t dragged us into this mess they wouldn’t be captured!” Terry yelled at Abigail and Felix, and he jumped up, pacing around the truck.

Jesse stood up, firmly put his hands on Terry’s shoulders and spun him around, looking him in the eyes. “Terry, blaming them isn’t going to help. Those jackal aliens, the Ro Hon, attacked us first, remember? Felix saved our lives!”

Terry’s eyes were white, lips trembling. He closed his mouth tightly, thoughts whirling in his mind like a tornado. This was Felix’s fault for getting him dragged into this mess, and those bloody dogs for trying to kill him.

“I’m sorry your parents got involved, Terry. We’ll do what we can to save them. I promise,” Felix meowed somberly.

“I promise you that too,” Abigail said softly, driving on Highway 101.

Terry sat down with a thud and folded his arms, dark thoughts swirling in his mind.

“We know who can help us get supplies and maybe find out where they took your parents. We can stay at their place tonight.” Felix lifted his head with determination.

“We need to save them right now!” Terry said, aggressively running his hands through his hair. “How dangerous are they?”

The others ignored the question, not wanting to scare him. “Running after your parents without a plan or without any supplies could get you and your friends killed,” Dieter said, leaning forward. “Get some rest. Eat some food while you can get. Get your energy up.”

“I’m sorry your parents got captured.” Isra whispered, putting her hand on his shoulder.

“Thanks,” Terry responded, eyes misty. “I need some time to think.”

“We’re almost there. It’s getting dark so nobody will see Felix.,” Abigail said. “We’re going to see a rich man by the name of Kai Knight. He’s indigenous, a Pomo Native American who sells paintings. He’s a really good guy. Helps people in the reservations from getting their land and sacred grounds destroyed by oil companies. Helps poor people of all colors and types. We can trust him. He knows about Felix.”

Felix and Abigail climbed out of the RV and walked up to the door, pressing a button near the large black gates.

“Kai, it’s us,” Felix meowed.

“How do I know it’s you?” a deep voice came from some speakers.

“Does a Mao go meow?” Felix said wryly.

The deep voice chuckled. “Anyone else with you?”

“Just like a lot of people. Our hideout was destroyed again. They found us and things are about to change., Abigail spoke up.

The first gate slid open slowly, without a noise. Abigail drove the RV in, and the first gate closed before the second gate opened. After they drove through that, the second gate closed, and the third gate opened. She parked the RV in front of the round driveway, the statues on either side looking up at the moon in reverence. “Lots of security,” Terry muttered.

The seven of them stepped out of the RV. They were in the driveway of a large house, which was surrounded by thick concrete walls on all sides, topped with barbed wire and security cameras. They could see three gates between them and the house. In the two corners that they could see, there were ornate marble statues of a horse and a bear, each rearing up in a majestic pose.

The house wasn’t quite a mansion but it had four flours. More security cameras were placed on and around the house.

The building creaked and moaned ominously in the wind. Terry shivered, partly due to the cold and partly out of a sense of foreboding. He furrowed his brows, folding his arms, worried whether he would live to see the next day, whether his parents would be tortured or killed, worried about whether his friends would survive the days to come.

Terry shook his head, trying to clear his mind. No sense in letting his mind see or fear things that weren’t there. Focus on the present, he thought to himself.

Jesse glanced at Terry and went over to stand next to him, frowning, guessing what Terry must feeling and going through right now. He would try to be there for Terry, no matter what happened. Jesse knew what it was like to have no parents, and wanted to do his best to help Terry get his back.

“Pretty safe in here.” Isra pulled her sweater up, shivering. The sun had set already and she looked around at the green courtyard, admiring the statues.

When they reached the door, a large man, not quite middle-aged, but perhaps ten years older than Terry and Jesse, opened the door for them.

“Welcome to my house!” the brown-skinned man exclaimed, laugh lines crinkling as he smiled at them. “Any friend of Felix is a friend of mine. Come in. Come in!”

“We just escaped the Dogs of Destruction,” Felix said in a hurry.

“They found you again, huh? We’ll have to move out soon. They probably followed you.”

“They took this one’s parents,” Dieter said, jerking his thumb toward Terry.

Terry paled, looking away.

“Ah, sorry to hear that,” Kai said, eyes softening, hands scratching the back of his through a ponytail. “Where’s your brother?” He looked at Gunter and Dieter.

“He … he died!” Gunter said more forcefully than intended. “Those dogs! I’ll kill them!”

“My condolences.” Kai closed his eyes in brief remembrance. “He will be missed. But anger won’t bring him back.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling him,” Dieter spoke up. “He’ll just get himself killed if he starts getting reckless. We were supposed to learn how to deal with this in the army.”

“Have a seat for now. We’ll have to come up with a plan.” Kai went to get them some lemonade and some food. “You guys must be starving.”

Isra plopped herself down on a soft sofa next to Felix and Abigail. The remaining triplets sat next to them and Terry and Jesse sat across from Isra.

As they started eating and drinking, Kai stood tall and said, “They probably won’t dare to attack us tonight, but we need to keep a close eye out just in case we need to run.”

Felix meowed, the translator popping English out with ease. “We plan to leave tomorrow morning.”

“Very well. I’ll go with you. Your RV won’t be enough. We’ll use mine instead.”

Felix sighed, “Do you really want to come? You deserve rest.”

“I’ll be fine. This will be a good adventure. We’ve been talking about going into space for so long, and I for one won’t let the Ro Hon get away with kidnap, murder, and all the rest.”

“I’ll need to train the fresh recruits,” Felix meowed.

“Train? What do you mean?” Isra asked.

“How to fight.”

Jesse shivered in anticipation.

After they finished eating and drinking, Kai showed them to their rooms on the second floor, then took Terry, Jesse, and Isra up to the fourth floor, which consisted of gyms and a shooting range. He left them there, and Felix joined them.

“Okay, let’s train for two hours on your hand-to-hand combat,” Felix meowed, hardening his eyes. “I won’t take it easy on you. I need you to be prepared for the enemy.”

“Yeah, how do we even know they’re evil? Whatever differences there are in time between our solar system and space, whose word do we have to go on but yours?” Terry asked pointedly.

“Do you still need to ask after your parents got kidnapped? All I know is we didn’t start this war,” Felix looked at Terry, not moving a muscle.

Terry gritted his teeth. “That’s the argument of a child. For all I know you guys started it and you’re all evil.”

“Terry, come on man. We’ve been over this already.” Jesse tried to calm his friend down. “Felix saved us. Kai and the others don’t look so bad. If they wanted us dead we’d be dead already. What do they have to gain by getting us to fight for them?”

“Wars are usually fought by grunts who don’t know why they’re fighting,” Terry said, looking Felix in the eyes and not completely listening to Jesse, all thoughts of training suspended. “Soldiers sometimes get lied to. Look at Iraq. They never had weapons of mass destruction, and yet the United States attacked them and labeled all Middle Easterners and Muslims as terrorists just because of the actions of a few. The United States was the one that kept getting involved with them for years, poking their noses where they shouldn’t be. How do we know all Ro Hon are evil? Maybe some of them are killers, and we don’t need to declare war against an entire species?”

Isra interjected, looking at Terry. “Look, I kind of agree with you, but I also kind of agree with Jesse and Felix. Things may not be clear now, and maybe Felix doesn’t know everything that’s going on. Heck, if we got stranded on some island, five generations down the road, will our descendants even know anything about us? When we humans used technology all day, spending all our time hunched over on our phones, did we even have long term memory?”

“We’ll have to go to Mexico later. My uncle is there. If my sister is not there he will be able to find her,” Felix meowed, understanding the others’ skepticism. “I need to let them know my father died. My uncle knows our history and has a better understanding of technology. He’s more of a scientist and historian than me.”

Terry mulled it over for a few seconds, then nodded. “Alright, after we rescue my parents, we’ll go with you to Mexico and see what your relatives have to say.”

“Now, if you don’t have any more questions, we need to train.”

“I’m going to try to punch you, and you’re going to try the first thing that comes to mind,” Felix continued.

Isra stepped up first. She let out a quick breath, balled her fists, and brought them up to eye level. She took several steps in place, getting herself mentally prepared.

Felix’s paws punched towards her and stopped next to her cheeks so fast she didn’t have time to react, and she involuntarily took a step back, letting out a quick delayed gasp. It had happened so fast she didn’t see it coming.

Felix nodded slowly. “Okay, I see. Next.”

Jesse took his turn, and when Felix punched the air next to him, he also backed up, nearly tripping over his own feet.

When Terry stepped forward, Felix said, “Normally, you’d never be able to match us in strength, speed, or stamina. We’ve been genetically engineered by our makers.”

Terry’s eyes widened. “You’ve been genetically engineered?”

“That’s not my point right now. Look, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking and it’s almost 9:00. We need to keep it moving. Like I said, you can’t hope to keep up with us, so I’ll teach you some fighting tips, and later if we find any of my race out there in space, we’ll see if we can help you genetically engineer your bodies.”

“What do you mean?” Isra said in alarm. “You mean we’ll have claws and brown fur?”

“No no, nothing that serious! We’ll have to take it one step at a time so that your bodies can handle it. You will have a choice, don’t worry. But for now, we need to talk about how you took a step backwards when I tried to hit you.”

“Terry, I’m going to go in slow-slower, motion.”

Terry hoped that wasn’t an insult, and brought his fists out in front of him, palms open.

Felix slowly moved his right paw forwards in a straight punch, claws not extended. He didn’t want to kill the humans in a training accident, after all.

“As my punch comes towards you, if you take a step back, you lose ground and you can’t take the initiative. I can follow up with more attacks.” He demonstrated by pushing forwards with his left paw.

Oh, I see. Terry thought to himself.

“So when I punch forwards, put your right arm out, palm upwards. The back of your forearm should redirect the force of my punch.” Felix demonstrated, placing Terry’s forearms in the correct position.

Felix said, “If you redirect my force, you can cause me to lose my balance. Well, maybe not yet.” He grinned, sharp teeth showing.

I’m not sure if that smile is cute or scary, Terry thought.

“Next, when you deflect my strike, you have a chance to strike at me. Now your right hand, which just deflected my right hand…turn your palm down and grab my hand in one move, and pull to your bottom right.

“Now because your hand just pulled my hand down, my body loses balance. Theoretically all my weight would have been in that punch. Momentum pulls me forward. Now I’m open, and you can punch my face with your other hand.

“Most of the time, you won’t need to engage in hand-to-hand combat, but it can happen if you run out of bullets or if whatever weapon you’re using runs out of ammunition or charge, but you still need to know how to defend yourself if it comes down to it, especially if we are going to where I think we’re going tomorrow.

“And these just the basics. Fighting is all about counter and countering counters, reactions, and so on. If you are well-trained, your body will react naturally through muscle memory you picked up. This isn’t about MMA vs. boxing vs. wrestling vs. kung fu. This isn’t about what works better in a street fight or not. This is about what gets the job done, and there is no fixed rule when it comes to matters of life and death.”

After an hour, it was getting late, so they showered and went to their rooms to sleep. Kai and the others had come up to practice fighting techniques while Felix trained the new “recruits”. They had to think of themselves as recruits now if they were to join an alien war, though Terry still had his reservations.

Terry got into a bed in a room with Jesse and Isra. “Good night, guys. What a long day.”

“Good night,” Jesse said. “Don’t worry. We’ll find your parents tomorrow, or die trying.”

“Hey, come on. It won’t come to that. If I had to choose…don’t risk your life or do anything desperate. Just because you lost your parents does not mean you get to decide your life doesn’t matter anymore.”

“I know.”
“Good night,” Isra said, puffing up her pillow. “Please don’t blame Felix. We can take time to decide what’s going on as needed.”

“Okay.”

That night, Terry dreamt of men dressed in black masks and aprons, torturing innocent people, of Hans, the friendly man he had only known a short time dying from fragments of steel from an exploding grenade, of aliens kidnapping him and experimenting on him. He thrashed and broke into a sweat in a rough sleepless night.

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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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