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Gleaming silver covered the majestic ship, which was several hundred feet long. The top of the ship arched upwards, then back down, like a cat stretching its back. Terry stood slack-jawed, admiring the curves of the old Mao research vessel. “It’s still functional? After all this time?”

“Don’t doubt me, ye little human!” Perod smiled his hairless smile, his withered skin bristling. Terry shuddered involuntarily.

Perod pointed out several cannons on the front of the ship. Terry’s eyes glazed over in wonder, noticing a pair of cannons at the rear of the ship that could swivel on their mounts.

Dust flew. The ship thrummed invisibly. A light pleasant rumble, barely audible, moved through the ship, as the ship started. Felix was testing the engines and life support for the tenth time. Terry didn’t notice any exhaust pipes, so he assumed the ship didn’t use “human” rocket propellant. He chuckled. I’m starting to think like an alien, he thought. A ramp opened, and Terry strode inside after Perod.

“Now, this here, is the research vessel that crashed about 5,000 years ago.” Perod blinked large green eyes at him. “If we were in space, which we’re not yet, hee hee, we’d use another hatch that has an airlock. I wonder why we can’t breathe in space,” he turned, muttering more random thoughts to himself.

They walked over to the crew quarters. There were two beds to a room.

“You’ll be sleeping here. There’s more room and privacy for crew to sleep on a research vessel.” Perod grinned. “Too bad we’ve been trapped on this mudball of a planet for so long.”

“Man, we had to wait forever just to see the inside of the ship?” Jesse asked from behind Terry. He had just caught up to them. “Oh, sorry, I know you’re not a man,” he told Perod. Felix hadn’t let the humans enter the ship until he and Abigail had made sure the ship was ready for flight. Felix had looked a bit unhappy, whiskers all aquiver, when he found out that over the years, Perod had been flying the ship around trying to make humans think they were seeing flying saucers.

Perod took them in a clockwise tour of the ship, passing through the exercise room at the front of the ship. “Even scientists need to exercise or we’ll become all skin-and-bones. Hee hee! Like me!”

Terry noticed the left and right sides of the ship were for crew to sleep in, and in between the crew quarters were small armories. “Research vessels carry sensitive technology. We need to be able to fight off big squishy aliens!” Perod cackled.

“There are big squishy aliens out there?!” Isra gasped.

“Of course not! That would be crazy! Whoever heard of squishy aliens?” Perod’s eyes opened wide. “At least, I don’t think there are…” He looked off into the distance, thoughtful.

The humans all groaned. He had better be joking like usual.

Terry made sure they had enough vegetarian food in the storage room at the back of the ship. He double-checked the frozen storage, finding all his favorite Chinese veggie meats and other frozen vegetables.

They were joined by Isra, and met Felix at the bridge in the center of the ship. Felix had been elected captain and Dieter was the first mate. Abigail was the weapons officer and the second mate. She’s tough, Terry thought. Really aJill of all Trades, he chuckled to himself. Abigail always liked studying alien technology and could beat Terry, Isra, and Jesse in a fight with one arm tied behind her back. Plus, she had shot some of the Dogs of Destruction with pinpoint accuracy.

“Alright, we’re going to…” Felix started to say.

“Jessie. Team Rocket blasting off at the speed of light!” Isra blurted out.

“Hee hee! Pokemon! I’m Meowth!” Perod put his claws up and curled them, paws facing out.

“As I was meowing,” Felix said, glaring at Perod, “Yoshito Takahashi will be our pilot. I will be checking the overall status of the ship. Abigail and Terry will be our weapons officers. This bridge is in the center of the ship, protected from enemy weapons fire. We are a little understaffed and we have to cross-train in different areas just in case some of us don’t make it.”

“Did you double-check to make sure the humans won’t find your base?” Felix asked Perod.

“Yes, yes,” Perod meowed, looking off to the side. “As I said, only Mao DNA can open my lab now.”

“Terry, you will be assisting Abigail with the weapons. You are both ship weapons officers. You will be focusing on the weapons systems on the back of the ship, and Abigail will be focusing on the weapons systems at the front of the ship.” Felix meowed, turning his whiskers toward Terry.

“Nice!” Terry punched the air in front of him with his right hand.

“I won’t expect you to learn everything all at once. We’ll have time to train before we fly into space and to also do some on-the-job training out there. We’re all new to flying on a spaceship, so we’ll figure it out as we go.”

With that, at the press of a button, doors opened at the top of the large hangar they were in. Sunlight streamed in. Terry held bated breath. He looked at the large viewscreen, with small cameras embedded in the nanocrystals enabling an outside view of his first experience flying in a spaceship.

After the rest of the crew piled onto the spaceship, it rose up and hovered in place. “Turn on stealth systems,” Felix meowed, paws clasped above his tail.

Yoshito manipulated the controls. A silent ripple passed over the surface of the ship as it blended in with its surroundings, becoming invisible to the naked eye.

“Wow,” Terry whispered. He turned to Abigail. “How are we becoming invisible?”

“The tough nanocrystals outside the ship are similar to those found in chameleons. They reorganize as needed so people or radar can’t see the ship. Tiny sensors inside act as cameras so we can see around the ship without needing to have windows. They can also detect the temperature outside and adapt as needed.”

Felix nodded to Yoshito, and he maneuvered the ship out, closing the doors of the hangar behind them.

“Inertial dampeners on. Then life support,” Felix meowed, as the ship climbed steadily.

Yoshito pressed some items on the keypad.

“In order to compensate for the temperature inside the ship, we have a thin layer of chilled sodium potassium running under the layer of nanocrystals. There are sensors inside and outside of the ship that can check temperature and adapt as needed. We can go as low as near absolute zero. It’s very stable, so you don’t need to worry about it exploding or reacting with anything,” Abigail told Terry.

“What if we get hit by a missile or the Death Star?”

“There’s no such thing as the Death Star. A ship that big and so easily destroyed? That’s a waste of money.” Perod chuckled.

Abigail nodded. “Good question. Yes, the nanocrystals can withstand a fair amount of fire if our shields fail, but if the ship is damaged and you’re near the blast radius, first of all, near-frozen liquid is the least of your worries. If you’re not dead from the explosion, the sodium potassium near any breaches will the respective breaches up. Any that make it to you will be mixed with another chemical and it’ll be near-harmless. You won’t freeze to death if you touch it, because most of the time it will quickly adjust to the temperature of the ship.”

“Let’s go to Texas.” Perod cackled, interrupting Terry from his curiosity. Perod’s hair would stand up in delight, except he didn’t have hair.

“Why?” Felix asked.

“Let’s make some crop circles!”

“No! We have more important things to do!”

“Yeah, but think of their expressions when they wonder what those circles are!”

“Nooope.”

“Awww, you spoiled kitten…” Perod muttered.

“Alright, let’s activate shielding,” Felix meowed.

“Shields, on, in 3, 2, 1,” Abigail said.

“Time to break the sound barrier.”

Terry raised his eyebrow, a question stuck in his chest. He looked at Abigail.

“Yes, we can break the sound barrier with a soft thump. This ship doesn’t produce a sonic boom.”

BOOOM! They heard and felt a large sound in and around the ship.

“Okay, that wasn’t supposed to happen. I thought you fixed the ship?” Felix looked at Perod.

“Well, okay, maybe the sonic boom blocker still needs some work. I’ll take a look at it next time. No need to be all catty about it.” Perod grinned.

After less than an hour, they arrived in Egypt. “That was fast!” Terry exclaimed.

“Just the sublight engines on low power,” Abigail said, pressing another button.

The ship circled the dry desert sand, as parched as sandpaper. Perod surveyed the area, directing them until he found what he was looking for. It was about midnight. The ship didn’t emit any lights, and people wouldn’t be able to see them in the dark.

“There it is.” Perod pointed at a pyramid that rose up out of the sand.

“There’s what?” Terry asked.

“That’s our landing area. The pyramids were built as spaceship docks if needed, just in case we needed to use them to go into space.”

“Wow! That’s cool!” Terry’s eyes gleamed.

They hovered for a while, trying to send a message to the inside of the pyramid. Finally, they saw an opening on the side of the pyramid, recessed doors pulling themselves open.

They zoomed toward the entrance and flew through the doors. A large open space was cleared, and Yoshito maneuvered the ship towards the area, before gently settling the ship down. They waited for the dust to clear before exiting the spaceship.

Terry got up and followed the others. When he stepped out of the side of the ship, he looked around in wonder. Dull limestone crunched as he took his first steps in the ancient hangar. Massive posts reached up to the ceiling, preventing tons of old wrinkled stones from crashing down on him. Maybe aliens helped humans build the pyramids? Terry shivered, wondering what else he didn’t know about human history.

“What are you doing here?” Felix’s sister walked out of the dark shadows, speaking in her language, translator turned off. “Never mind. I see you’re set on your plan to go into space and kill innocent Ro Hon.”

“Father is … passed,” Felix meowed, his translator still transmitting.

Felix’s sister paused, her lithe frame still. “What?”

“He was killed by the Ro Hon.”

Terry stood around awkardly, not sure what the other Mao was saying. He shuffled uneasily. Something about the Mao’s tone and body language was a little off. Felix’s sister didn’t seem as relaxed as Felix did.

“I told you that if you kept pursuing this goal, you would end up dead! He’s dead because of you!” Felix’s sister spat and hissed.

“We should continue this conversation later. These humans need rest and shelter,” Felix said in Mao, turning off his translator for a brief moment.

“Ahem, ah, humans.” Perod looked at the others. “Let’s fellow my niece to somewhere we can rest for tonight. We have things to do tomorrow.”

Felix and his sister walked in front of the others. An awkward silence filled the room.

Perod ran up to them and trodded beside Felix’s sister. “Nefer! You know, Felix – that’s his human name now – tried his best to save your father. The Ro Hon did attack us.”

“Why did they attack us?”

“You know how it is. Even if they are following some misguided notions about their leaders from millennia ago, or whether they just like to hurt others, we have to defend ourselves when attacked. They had prisoners, killed humans, tortured many!”

Nefer meow-sighed. “Well…okay. But…couldn’t you have captured them?”

“It’s not that easy when they had knives.” You know Human guns were too small to fit in alien paws.

“Why didn’t they send the humans to do their dirty work for them? The Dogs of Destruction?”

“Ro Hon have too much pride. They believe in their false notion of honor, and would rather fight battles themselves. Besides, we already took care of them.”

“They still wanted to fight to the death, even though there were not many Ro Hon left?”

“Yes, even though they are the last of their kind on Earth. We didn’t see any when we attacked their base either,” Felix added.

“You attacked their base? Why?” Nefer frowned.

“They captured one of the men’s parents. His name is Terry. They killed the human’s parents.”

“That’s terrible.” Nefer’s big eyes softened, and she glanced back.

Terry wished he could hide behind Jesse. The cat’s gaze seemed like it pierced right through him. She growled, and he jumped slightly. She smiled before resuming her talk with the other Mao. Finally, they reached some rooms they could sleep in.

“Hey, how are you living in a pyramid?” Terry asked, folding his arms and tapping a finger against his elbow.

Nefer turned back again, turning on her translator. “Okay, human cubs. You may call me Nefer. This pyramid hasn’t been discovered. Our stealth systems take care of it. We block infrared radiation from being seen from satellites, not that there are many nowadays.”

Perod froze, hairless face turning green. “Ack!” he coughed.

“What’s wrong?! Are you okay?” Jesse exclaimed.

“Hack! Cough! Krrreaah!” Perod looked at the others, hands grasping at air. “Kraough!” He spit up a hairball.

“Gross!” Terry said.

“Wait, how are you coughing up hairballs if you don’t have fur?” Jesse said, wiping tears from his eyes. Apparently he found it more amusing than the others.

“Hee hee! Joke’s on you! I just put this fake hair in my mouth. Been waiting to try it out on you guys, haa haaa!”

Felix and Nefer looked at each, smiling, remember old times growing up around their uncle Perod.

“Sorry I blamed you for father’s death,” Nefer meowed, touching noses with Felix.

“It’s okay. I understand.”

“Rashida, can you help me get some beds ready for our guests? Felix here is my brother that I mentioned to you before,” Nefer meowed out. Felix looked at Nefer, and she smiled shyly. “You’re still my brother. Can’t I talk about my brother?”

A woman with light brown skin and a black headscarf appeared in a doorway next to Terry. Her hijab had sparkles of brightness and laces, and her pointed nose poked out from underneath the folds of the scarf.

“Oh, welcome!” she said, voice light like the wind. “Yallah, come on. Right this way.”

Everyone helped her get the beds set up, keeping their inflatable beds away from the others for privacy. Terry chose a spot next to Jesse.

“Man, our first ride in a spaceship!” Jesse’s eyes gleamed as he moved his bed into place.

“How are you handling your fear of heights?” Terry nudged his bed parallel to Jesse’s with his feet.

“I’m managing. It was hard at first but being in a spaceship is definitely easier than standing on a rooftop with nothing to catch you if you fall. Just think happy thoughts. Maybe being in space will be easier, since there’s nowhere to fall?”

Terry chuckled. “I’m glad you’re doing okay.”

After they had prepared the beds and gotten ready to go to sleep, Terry lay awake in his bed. He looked up at the ceiling, hands on his stomach. He closed his eyes, letting darkness cover his vision. His parents popped up at the corner of his mind, and he shuddered. He tried not to think of them but he kept wondering if they had been tortured, if Yoshito had been lying to him to protect him. His breathing came quick and shallow as a jumble of thoughts threatened to drown his mind.

Take deep breaths, take deep breaths, he told himself as he tried to settle down, the weight of the past couple days threatening to knock him down. His parents death, waking up to an alien attack, having people shooting at him. Maybe I’m better off not knowing what happened to them. I’m not sure I can handle that. ButI’ll always wonder what happened.

He tried pushing the pain away, but he couldn’t do it. Terry struggled. If he pushed the pain away he would forget his parents. His fists turned red as he clenched them.

“Terry,” Jesse whispered.

Terry’s eyes snapped open. He said nothing, staring at the ceiling.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“I…yes…no…no. I’m thinking about…” he choked up, “my parents.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“I don’t know if I should push the pain away, or if I should remember them. But I’m afraid that if I don’t keep the pain with me, I might forget them.” Terry idly scratched at his palm with a nail.
“Hey, don’t do that to yourself. Come on. I can’t watch you do that to yourself. Remember I don’t know who my parents are? Just be happy. That’s what they would want for you.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Try to…I don’t know…let the pain go. Don’t keep it inside. Letting go of the pain doesn’t mean that you will forget them. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about them. It’s going to eat you up like this. What if we have to fight and you freeze up? Do you want to lose your life? Would you want me to lose my life trying to protect you?”

“No! No. I don’t want you to die.”

“Then do me a favor and be strong. Be strong for yourself. But be strong for your friends too. We will protect each other, human or hairless joking cat.”

Terry chuckled. “Yeah, that cat’s something. Okay, you got it. That’s a promise. I give you my word I’ll try to do my best to deal with this. It won’t be easy. I won’t be perfect. But I’ll give it my best shot.”

“Okay, good. Now go sleep. You’re making me worry.”

“G’night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the alien bedbugs bite.”

“There better not be giant alien bugs out there. Good night.”

Terry turned to his side, pulling out a small picture of him and his parents. He looked at with a knot in his chest and put it next to his bed before falling asleep.

***

In the morning, Terry asked Rashida where he could go get some sunshine. He stepped out on a balcony that opened up to the outside of the pyramid. Fresh January air blew gently on his face and he squinted upon seeing the rising sun. He heard chuckling to his right.

“What are you doing?” Terry said, looking at Perod. He was sitting next to Isra, who waved at Terry, smiling. He smiled and waved back. “Good morning to you too, Isra.”

“Trying to hit two birds with one stone, hee hee! It’s harder than you think. I don’t know who came up with this, but they must have been one lucky human!” Perod chucked another stone, and some pigeons squawked, flapping their wings wildly.

Perod quickly dashed forward, grabbing a bird around its body. His flowing robes fluttered in the wind. The pigeon thrummed in the Mao’s hand before he threw the bird at another pigeon. Squawk!

“Oh, managed to hit two birds with one bird! Yay! You see, I am acting human now. I know what you mean by ‘hitting two birds with one stone’, hee hee!” He went over to one of the dazed pigeons, picking it up. Blood gushes as he tore into the head of one of the birds, chewing and spitting out a beak.

“Perod!” Terry exclaimed.

“Gross! A little warning next time?” Isra groaned.

“Oh, so sorry. This is just food,” Perod said, puzzled.

“Yes! I’m vegetarian though.” Terry turned towards the sun, face green.

“I’m not vegetarian, but that’s a little primitive, even for us humans,” Isra said, wincing.

After a while Perod walked back in, mumbling something about pigeons having too much fur. Terry looked at the sun. It reminded him of standing with his parents and indirectly watching the rising sun, breathing the fresh scent of dawn. Calmness suffused him as he thought of his parents.

“Terry?” Isra walked over to stand next to him. “How are you feeling since, you know, your parents?”
“I’m doing okay. I’m trying to adjust. I’m…trying to figure out how to deal with this.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? You know you can talk to us if you need to or want to?”

“Yeah, I know. Thanks.”

“Come on in then. Felix is going to show us to the lab downstairs today. He said something about extending our lives.”

“What? Stop it.”

“No, I’m serious! I don’t know what he meant either. He was being all mysterious. Nefer didn’t seem too happy either.”

“Is she ever? They don’t seem like they get along too well.”

“Well, it kinda makes sense. Your life is going okay, and then all of a sudden you have to drop everything to go to war. Kind of like us right now. We need to be able to cope with PTSD if we get it.”

Terry wondered if he had it already, as he and Isra met up with Felix and the others. Then Felix took them down to the lab, where Terry saw a man with short white hair and a sharp nose. The man looked up, green eyes peering out from underneath light eyebrows. “Oh, welcome to my lab! I’m Merin, also known as Merlin!”

Terry blinked owlishly. He looked at Felix and Nefer. “Uh, did he just say his name is Merlin?”

“Yes, he’s the Merlin you’re thinking of,” Nefer meowed. “He has had nanites injected into his body every so often. The man you see before you is almost 900 years old.”

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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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