Chapter One

 

Friendship is a valuable asset to every man and it does not wither if they’re true.

 

The heat was unbearable that day. We were far from Adkad City. Adkad City was one of the cities on planet Zelea that our ancestors travelled for generations to reach. Zelea is in an alternative solar system, identical to our original solar system that was the home to planet Earth. Humans demolished the Earth and were forced to seek refuge on another planet or satellite to continue the human race.

I breathed in and activated my eye screen, so the scanner could search the aliens’ corpses stretched out on the dry, cracked ground. The air smelled like rotten rodents, and alien blood. Alien corpses were disseminated everywhere on the arid landscape.

I coughed into my fist almost gagging, “Kraig, dead aliens’ corpses were found in area YR200,” I reported through my Scahet.

“Report your condition, Nat,” Kraig replied.

I coughed, “Dying. Desperately need fresh air.”

“Come on Nat, you’re not supposed to say that if you’re not really dying.” Anderson said into the Scahet.

I moved to one of the dead aliens that lay on the ground. It had a big gray body and a long tail. I searched for any signs of predators’ attack on its body and surprisingly, its front leg had four scratch marks on its thick gray skin. The scratch marks were cavernous and wide, like a giant predator’s work. I covered my mouth and nose and tried to kick it to roll it over, but it was too heavy, especially with my loaded down suit that we all had to wear when out in the field on missions.

“Kraig, Andie, come here!” I called. I had heard screams and animals crying followed by gunshots. It was probably one of the guys, killing an alien. “Guys, what’s going on?” I asked.

“Kraig,” Andie said out loud. “Report your condition.”

But there was only silence.

My breathing quickened, “Kraig?” All I heard was static in my Scahet. Did Kraig die? My stomach dropped. “Kraig, report your condit…” I called, with shaky breath. That’s when I heard a voice.

“Alive and breathing.”

My shoulders relaxed, and I sighed, “Kraig, you scared me to death. You bastard.”

“You should have heard yourselves crying over me!” Kraig laughed with confidence, “So worried and emotional.”

“Kraig, you’re officially a jerk, you know that?” Andie said.

I shook my head, “You guys have to see this.” I said as I bent down to touch the alien’s greasy skin. “This alien was attacked by something.” It wasn’t right; aliens wouldn’t normally attack another species that was in a big group. It looked like a massacre.

I stood up and looked around at the other dead aliens. What attacked those aliens and why? While I was walking around the large red rocks that pocked the land in search of any clues of the predators’ attack, I heard a purring sound behind me. Not the purring of a pet cat or the gentle whining’s of a submissive dog. I touched the gun in my holster checking if it was there and got ready to react at a moment if I was attacked by an alien. If an alien ever tries to attack me, I was going to shoot it. That was always the plan. There were no plans B or C. It was always kill those damn aliens as our boss Gale Shaver told us to do. He ran the Alien Busters institute that sent us on missions to kill the aliens, minimize their population so we could invade the planet, and call it our home, our planet Zelea.

Something grabbed my shoulder, and I reflexively turned with my gun drawn and aimed at Kraig and Andie.

They both flinched and raised their hands in the air in surrender. “Hey, hey, it’s us.” Andie said urgently and ruffled his black overgrown hair with his hand. They dropped their hands to their sides when I put my gun back.

“After all those trainings and missions, you still get scared?” Kraig said. “You, Nat, surprise me all the time.”

I shook my head, “This crap isn’t getting easier.”

“So what do you think happened here?” Andie asked, tilting his head as his eyes rummaged the area.

Kraig kneeled down next to a body and touched the four claw marks on the alien’s back. “It seems like some conflict happened between aliens,” Kraig suggested. “It looks pretty normal to me and they definitely made our job easier,” he continued as he scanned the alien with his eye scanner. Because our job was to kill aliens, no questions, no mercy.

“But don’t you think it’s a little odd that the predators, killed a batch of aliens. You know, like killing their own kind?” I speculated.

Kraig turned to look at me, raising an eyebrow, like I was being paranoid and crazy like my parents were when they made a speech about aliens, before their deaths. “Nat, it’s like you’re saying that people killing other people isn’t normal and yet criminals do it, governments do it, companies even do it,” he said.

“Kraig, it means if the predators killed those aliens, we could be in danger,” I reasoned.

Andie waved his hands to stop me from talking, so Gale wouldn’t listen to my mumbling, but too late.

“Nathalie Jefferson.” Gale called through the Scahet.

Kraig stood next to Andie, and both looked at me with panic.

“Yes, sir?” I replied, because I shouldn’t have acted unreasonable about the aliens, because I was always watched after my parents’ death. Everyone suspected that I was as mad as they were thought to be.

My parents were Alien Busters like I was, but before their deaths, they tried to influence people with speeches and presentations that there was something different about the aliens that we didn’t know about. I believed them though. Unfortunately, they died before any conclusive proof was announced and I had to continue their work by being an Alien Buster myself. “If you only believed,” my dad used to say in his speeches. It meant if I only believed that what my parents discovered about the aliens wasn’t impossible. If I only believed, and yes, I did believe that aliens and this planet were much more complex than we thought, but it was exactly what my parents were proposing.

“What the hell are you doing? You’re supposed to kill aliens not investigate those bastards’ deaths!” Gale scolded in my Scahet.

Andie chuckled and nudged Kraig’s arm with his elbow to deride me.

“But, sir,” I started, “these aliens were killed by predators. I think we’re in danger.”

“I assume you don’t want to end up like your parents. Dead in the field; caused by their lousy curiosity.” Gale bashed, “Focus and start searching for aliens to kill. The squad and the Histers are ready. If you are outnumbered, just beep. You got me?”

I sighed, “Yes, sir.” I looked at the guys who gave me mocking smiles. “Alright, guys. Let’s do this.”

“Okay, paprika.” Kraig teased followed by Andie’s laugh.

Many times, have I told him not to call me paprika, because those days were over when we left Soplea together. Soplea was the name of our school as the Earthies used to call it. Kraig, Andie, and I studied there together.

I shook my head, “Shut up and do your job.” I scolded. “You guys go North and I’ll go West,” and I indicated with my head.

Andie nudged Kraig with his elbow and said, “Ouch, she got ya.”

“Whatever, let’s split up,” Kraig said as they moved North and I headed West towards a group of red rocks.

I scanned the corpses, and moving forward, when I heard purring again, coming from behind one rock. I approached the opposite side of the rock the noise was coming from. There was something on the ground, about the size of a cat, and it purred like a cat. But instead of fur it had gray skin with blue spots and big black eyes. Four legs, or two legs and arms, I guess. Its hands searched a dead alien’s corpse that looked just like it. It wagged its pointy ears. Its mother was dead like the rest of the aliens.

The small alien turned to look at me and purred, and inhaled the air with its nose holes.

“Hey, little buddy.” I whispered and slowly offered my hand to it.

The dead alien was a female and I assumed the little one’s mother. Who would take care of it, it would surely parish out here.

The alien purred and stepped away in fear.

“No, no, no, I won’t hurt you,” I said waving my hands carefully. I checked its mother again, and gulped. I felt bad for it.

“Nat, what’s going on?” Andie asked, on the Scahet.

“Andie, Kraig, it’s a baby alien. Its mother is dead like the rest.” I reported, as the alien was analyzing me with its dark eyes, as if begging me not to kill it. I hoped that they wouldn’t ask me to do it. Please don’t ask me to do it, please, I told myself.

“Nat, kill it.” Kraig said, through Scahet.

“Kraig, but it’s a baby.” I said.

“It’s orders, and it’s our jobs. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Now is not the time to be soft, okay? Hold yourself together.” Kraig encouraged.

“Kraig. I… I can’t,” shaking my head, “I won’t do it.”

Someone heavily sighed in the Scahet in disappointment.

“It’s just an alien. A predator that we’re supposed to kill,” Kraig said. “And stop jeopardizing our positions for this useless creature. Just do it.”

“Do it, Nat,” Andie encouraged.

I took my gun and aimed at the alien, who was staring at me with its big glossy eyes. My hands were shaking, while I held my gun to pull fire. I licked my lips, and wiped the sweat off my forehead, “Sorry, buddy,” I said almost to myself.

And it purred, one last purr before I did what was predictable. I shot the damn thing, and reported, “Mission accomplished.”

“Good, now back to searching” Kraig said.

I placed the gun in my holster and kneeled down next to it, “Hey, buddy.”

It purred and got closer to me, as I reached my hand out to it. Yes, I had just lied to my team and shot the dead alien instead of the infant. It snuffled my hand and licked it with its rough tongue. I covered my Scahet so Gale couldn’t listen, “Now, you be quiet. I’ll put you in my backpack,” I whispered and opened the backpack for it to get inside. “Get in.” I said, in a low voice.

It looked inside my backpack not comprehending what I had said to it, and I let out a breath.

I lifted the alien up and put it inside the backpack, “Okay, here we go. Now be quiet,” and looked in both directions to check if the guys were there. If they found out that I was helping an alien, I’d be in trouble and would probably be fired from my job, or even worse, I could be punished for it.

I took my heavy backpack and reported, “Guys, report your condition.”

“Nothing in here. Heading back to headquarters,” Andie reported.

“Same here. This day was a lot easier. Thanks to the predators for their killings.” Kraig said.

“Okay, meet you there with the rest of the Alien Busters,” I reported. I walked a mile to the flars (Floating Cars), where every Alien Buster gathered before leaving for the day. Some of them asked how the mission went, and I shrugged saying that it was the same as every day. A girl bragged about how she killed tons of aliens in one day.

The guys hopped in and sat near me, so I had to be careful not to show them my backpack as we headed back to Adkad City.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

“The mission of an Alien Buster is to demolish aliens by following the leaders’ commands. An Alien Buster cannot

reject their chosen missions.”

~Alien Busters Manual, section four, page 45

 

When I got back home, I placed the backpack on the floor; next to the sofa and opened it. The alien got out purring and looking around with curiosity. Maybe I had a fancy small house, but it was lonely without my parents. So it was new to me to bring a pet home. An alien for a pet, not too bad for Will and Debra’s daughter, who believed that aliens were much more than what people believed them to be or were allowed to know about them.

“This is your new home,” I said as I bent down, and gestured my hands to the house, “Not too bad for a lonely girl, eh?”

It purred and rubbed its face on my leg, then licked my boots.

I stood and walked to the small kitchen, “You must be hungry,” I said as I took some cereal and poured it into a bowl along with another bowl full of water. I put the bowls on the floor and watched as it tried to eat the cereal with its sharp baby teeth loudly crunching away. Then it sniffled the water and licked it, gurgling in the water, like a little baby playing in the bath.

I giggled, “Okay, take it easy,” and went to sit on the sofa, “On.” I instructed the TV, and the screen flashed from the TV ball showing the videos I always watched, my parents’ speeches. I waved to play the video, “If you only believed,” Dad started, “we’re here to confirm that aliens are much more complex creatures and through our research we found out most of what we thought about them was wrong. And we’re here to say that we have proof, evidence that will change your mind.” My dad had black hair, like mine. Mom stood next to him, with her blond hair pinned back. They both wore green suits, and stood with buoyancy in front of the large crowd. Thousands of people attended their lectures.

I sensed something snagging my boots and looked down to see the alien trying to rip my boot with its teeth. “Hey,” I called, “Bad alien. Bad alien,” and pointed at it.

It purred and walked to the screen, trying to wave it off with its hands.

“Those are my parents,” I explained, “and they almost discovered something about your kind. It was going to change the relationship between humans and alien kind.”

The alien turned to stare at me.

“They’re dead. Well, it doesn’t matter,” I said. “I can’t believe I’m talking to you as if you are a human being. I officially have lost it.”

It turned around in circles and lay on the floor, cuddling itself.

“Are you sleepy?” I asked too late. It had shut its eyelids and fell asleep on the floor at my feet. I sighed; “I guess you were,” and then I watched my parents’ speech for the hundredth time, like it was making them real again. Almost touchable, but they were dead and long gone. And I couldn’t do anything to bring them back to me.

In the morning, I suited up for work, which consisted of hard yellow metal armor and a helmet. It was hard to walk with the suit, but I managed to prepare two bowls to feed the alien. I brewed some coffee and sipped it. The alien ate and then ran to munch my boots again, like it was its favourite chew toy, well, only chew toy.

“I really need to buy you real food,” I said. “For now, stay put. I have to go to work.”

It craned its head up to look at me with its pleading puppy dog eyes.

“Please don’t do that, because it won’t work. Not with me, okay? You need to stay home.” I said, “Before I get back, I’ll get you some dog food. Fine with you?”

It purred.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“R, activate security cameras until I get back.” I commanded the house.

“Security cameras, activated.” R said.

“And please make sure to update me with the footage.” I reminded.

“Connected to your Inhab,” R said.

“Thanks R,” I said, “Gotta go now,” and I left.

Inside the institute in the main hall was where that day’s missions and locations were projected for every Alien Buster group, so in the morning there was a crowd of Alien Busters gathered around to see their missions for that day. Every group was randomly picked by the moderators and matched with their mission location.

Kraig and Andie were standing in front of me; and I rested my hands on each of their shoulder, and peaked between them. “What’s our mission today?”

Kraig turned to me, “Oh hey, Nat. Uh, we got area TF30.”

“Area TF30?” Andie asked, shocked. “Are you serious? The area where split-jawed aliens hide?”

I had no idea what he meant by split-jawed aliens, but I figured they were more dangerous than the last ones we killed in our last missions. “What’s with the split-jawed?” I asked Andie.

“Aliens which have split jaws and don’t get me started,” Andie replied.

Kraig shook his head, “It means we can be eaten up like fresh baked cookies.”

I let out a nervous laugh, “Ha ha, good one.”

Andie raised his eyebrows at Kraig, “She’s nervous, how cute.”

I waved my hand, “I’m not.”

The beeping sounded and we dispersed from the hall to the weapons room, where the employees handed us our weapons, ammo, Scahets and backpacks that easily weighed 75 lbs. We got out of the institute to the parked flars.

After a few hours, we reached area TF30 and the group dispersed in the area. A few of them wished us good luck before leaving or gave us a salute. I was with the two guys, walking on the dry ground, searching for aliens with our guns in our sweaty hands. In that hot environment on the deserted land, it was extra hard not to faint after walking for long hours. We reached a land where sharp mountains formed a shape that looked like a canopy and a shallow river started where alien grass and trees grew from the moisture on the ground. I stepped into the river splashing the water beneath me with my boots, when I heard snapping sounds ahead of us.

We turned to the source of the snapping and stopped as we observed in all directions. “Guys,” I said quietly.

“I know,” Kraig answered in a whisper.

Andie aimed at the air, ready to fire and turned to look back, “Do you think anything followed us?” He asked.

I activated my eye scanner; from the hologram screen I didn’t see anything alive behind us, or in front of us. “We’re clear” I reported, “Let’s get moving.” We continued walking with care not to draw any attention with our heavy boots. But it was nearly impossible to tread silently and we made splish-splash sounds in the river every time we stepped forward.

There was a large dome of formed alien trees and flesh that looked like some kind of alien’s hive, but before we approached it. I stopped them with my hand, “Wait. Look,” and pointed at the hive. They stared at the hive with shock.

“Holy aliens,” Andie spat, and turned to face us, “Wait, we can’t go in there.”

“Andie, we can’t go back,” Kraig said to Andie.

Andie gulped, “Come on, Kraig. We don’t have to do this, it’s suicide.”

I stepped back a few steps looking at the alien hive with terror.

The guys turned to look at me, interrupting their argument. “Nat?” Kraig called.

“No,” I shook my head, “We have to get back. And. Very. Quietly,” I said the words deliberately.

“Why is that?” Kraig asked.

“Because, we’re going to be attacked by split jawed aliens,” then I yelled, “Run!”

Then we heard the sounds again, but this time too many of them. The aliens manifested from the hive in front of us and approached us with great speed.

The guys turned to look at the aliens, “Shit!” We ran into the river. The heaviness of our suits made running frustrating, and the snapping sounds got closer, and closer to us.

Andie screamed, “Can’t we shoot them?”

“Shut up and run!” Kraig shouted at him.

There were a few aliens that went in front of us by clambering up and jumping from one large sharp rock to another, then they jumped in front of us and opened their jaws in a display of aggression. That made us stop abruptly and we opened fire aiming at the wide opened alien mouth. They collapsed on the ground, green blood pouring from their heads. We ran again, this time we avoided tripping over the dead aliens, and the guys were shooting the aliens off the towering rocks around us.

My breathing quickened, and my heart raced while running away from the aliens. I stopped to breathe, but I tripped and my palms hit the damp ground. I winch up my head to see the guys running away, not looking back. I heard snapping sounds behind me that made me turn to look back, when an alien leapt on me and opened its jaws. It had sharp teeth and a long tongue that tried to lick my face. I screamed as I tried to shoot it, but its tongue grabbed my gun and tossed it away.

“No!” I screamed, trying to kick its face. But it was too far away, so I tried punching it on the head. It stared at me with its six eyes, as it tangled its tongue around my wrist and flashed its sharp teeth in my face. Gunshots rang out and the alien staggered back and collapsed on the ground with blood pouring from its face.

Kraig grabbed my hand to lift me up as he screamed, “Come on Nat, run!”

“Wait!” I sprinted back to grab my gun and followed them, but this time the aliens were pretty close. I pressed the Scahet while running and reported with shaky breath, “We’re being attacked by a large group of aliens. We’ll retreat from the mission!”

“Team Nine, report your condition.” Gale asked through Scahet.

“There was an alien hive of some kind, and now we are being attacked.” Kraig yelled in his Scahet, breathing rapidly.

“Retreat from the mission. I’ll send the reinforcements. They’ll be there in a minute.”

“We don’t have a minute!” I yelled to Gale, but he didn’t answer, “Hello? Gale, answer me!” I cursed under my breath.

Andie grabbed something from his backpack. “What’re you doing?” I asked.

“Distracting them,” he replied as he opened a pin from a tube bomb and flung it on the ground. After a few seconds, I heard an explosion, water, rocks and alien bits rained down on us. I covered my head with my hands, avoiding the splattered pieces. Most of the aliens escaped from the explosion and they cried out while loudly snapping their jaws. At least it bought us some time until the Hister (High Speed Copter) came to rescue us.

“You did it!” I said to Andie.

Kraig laughed and looked back, “You scared those bastards!”

We stopped abruptly, when a few aliens jump in front of us, and snapped at us. When I turned to look around to see more aliens behind us, we were trapped in the middle.

“Think fast!” Andie yelled.

Kraig shot a few of them with his gun, “Just shoot them till the Hister comes!”

We started shooting them one by one. Other aliens replaced the dead ones. Soon, we were outnumbered and one alien approached Kraig and bit his arm. Kraig groaned.

“Kraig!” I called, and shot the alien off his arm. Something bit my leg, and dragged me back pulling my feet from under me and I slammed face-first into the ground. I was dragged through dirt and water as I screamed, “Help!”

“Nat!” Andie called and he shot the alien on the chest and head. It fell on the ground, dead. I pressed on my calf with my hand as pain spread to my thighs and I whimpered. The guys helped support me and dragged me along with them.

I walked on my injured leg as pain shot through it, and then I heard the Hister slicing air above. “They’re here…” I said softly, weakened by the pain. The guards in the Hister shot aliens as it landed on the ground, and we sprint towards it. Every step I took was agonizing. We got in the Hister and it flew upward, headed to the Adkad City.

 

Chapter Three

 

“An Alien Buster is responsible for their injuries and the institute will not bear any expenditures for further treatments.”

~Alien Busters Manual, section one, page 12

 

I sat on the bed in the infirmary. The nurse gave me a few stitches on my calf. Luckily the bite wasn’t deep because of the protection of the suit they wear called the Prohemis. After the minor stitches the nurse gave Kraig and I some painkillers to take every few hours and bandaged my leg. Kraig got stitches and a bandage on his arm, bragging about how unpainful it was to get the stitches.

“Yeah, right” I said to Kraig, “I saw you crying.”

Andie coughed in his fist, “Cry baby.”

Kraig spread his hands, “Come on. It was a needle,” he said. My Inhab (Intelligent Hand Band) beeped and I pressed to open the screen. Footage of the interior of my house completely ruined, the sofa was bitten and large chunks of fabric were tore off. The dishes were broken and food was strewn all over the floor. There was only one thing that was able to do this. The alien. Anger surfaced, as I turned the screen off.

“What’s the matter?” Andie asked me.

I hopped on my feet and headed to the door, “I have to go,” I said in a rush.

“Hey, Nat.” Kraig called.

But I was already in the hallway and heading outside. That’s when I heard Gale’s voice.

“Nathalie Jefferson.”

And that made me swivel on my feet to look at his furious face contoured with red.

“In my office, now.”

I followed him into his office, and sat on the metal chair in front of his desk.

He sat behind his desk and pursed his lips staring at me with his intense blue eyes, “This mission was messed up,” nodding his head, “Can you explain?”

“We were walking on the shallow river and found an alien hive, I guess. It was some kind of an outpost ahead of us, but before we moved back, we were attacked by aliens.” I explained.

He rubbed his face and said, “No, really. What happened Nathalie?” This time he was focusing on my words, like he knew I was hiding something.

“What do you mean sir?” I asked and batted my eyelashes in the hopes to look as innocent as possible.

He clutched his hands on the table, “What I mean, is that you lost focus. Is there something on your mind? Something that I probably should know about?” he asked.

I remembered the alien that I was hiding in my house. That made me avert my eyes, so he wouldn’t look me in the eyes and know that I was lying, “Not, really. And it’s not like I had any other choice in the mission. It was either run or die.”

“You could have reported to me when you first found out about the hive, Nathalie.” He scolded, “This thing that keeps your mind busy, whatever this thing is, it can cost us lives. You got me?”

I finally looked at him, “But it wasn’t anyone’s fault.” I shot back.

“I don’t want to hear it, okay?” He scolded, and pointed at me. “This is not an office job. We’re dealing with dangerous aliens here, so keep it together. For the sake of your coworkers and for the sake of your parents.”

My heart ached when he mentioned them. “What’s that have to do with anything?” I spat.

“Enough!” He snapped back, “You behave, or you’ll face the consequences. I’m watching you Nathalie.”

My lips quivered, “Sir, I…”

“Get out.” He dismissed me, by waving his hand.

I tried not to tear-up while I left the office, but I couldn’t hold it back and I cried right there on the street.

At home, I realized that my house’s interior décor was completely wrecked by the alien. “Alien?” I called, as I stepped on the broken plates, glass and squished food. I looked for the alien in my cluttered room and my crammed garage. “Alien,” I called, “come out wherever you are…” Then I heard purring behind one of the boxes in the garage. As I approached the box, something loomed beside some clothes tearing them up. It was the alien, veraciously tearing the fabric with its teeth. My parents’ clothes. “No!” I said aloud, and hurried to lift the alien up, pulling away the fabric from its sharp teeth. “Bad alien” I scolded, and it purred trying to bite my hands, but I pulled away just in time. “What has gotten into you?” I asked furiously and took a look at the ruined cloth. They were my only mementoes of my parents; at least I had something my parents possessed before they died. Something to remember them by, something to hold on to. But the alien just turned the fabric into shreds.

My tears subsided, “That’s it,” I sniffed, “You’re sleeping outside. And if someone finds out about you, and kills you, I won’t care.” I carried the alien in my arms and walked toward the front door and when the door slid open, I tossed it outside on the sidewalk. The neighborhood was quiet that day and the sun was setting with a golden glow. There were no pedestrians walking on the sidewalks or neighbors sunbathing on their yard. “Good bye alien,” I said through gritted teeth, shutting the door behind me. That’s when I heard the screeching on the door, and loud purring that made me soften. “Toughen up Nat, it’s just an alien,” I told myself and sat on the sofa to watch my parents’ speech again. This time I turned up the volume, to muffle the screeching sounds the alien made outside.

“If you only believed,” my dad said.

If I only believed that aliens were mild. If I only believed that I could give an alien a shot and be like my parents who loved learning about aliens. If I only believed that I had the heart to continue their legacy and do what I was born to do. But, no, this alien deserves to be disciplined, and I’ll not in any circumstances give in to its glossy black eyes and purring. After ten minutes, the screeching became more of an exhausted cry. Then it stopped.

My Inhab bleeped. It was a call from Andie, “Hey Andie.”

“Nat, are you alright?” he asked. Andie was always the lenient and supportive one, when I needed him. Just like when I first became an Alien Buster, he never asked about my parents, though he knew they were dead. But somehow he understood that I didn’t want to talk about them, and brought me Znacks every time I got upset.

“Yeah, why not?” I replied.

“Um, I heard the conversation with Gale,” he started.

I stopped him. “Andie, it’s fine. Really.” I interrupted, “I hate him sometimes, but I have to get over it.”

“Cool, then. I’m coming and bringing some Znacks with me, so we can talk a little more,” Andie said.

No, he can’t come in here. He’ll find out about the alien. “You don’t have to do that, you know,” I said.

“I’m coming and it’s final. See ya paprika,” Andie said and ended the call.

“Andie,” I called, but he couldn’t hear me anyways. I cursed to no one in particular. So I had to stash the alien again until Andie leaves, or I’ll be exposed and who knows what will happen to the alien and I when the whole city knows that their loyal Alien Buster, was hiding an alien in her house.

I went to the garage and brought Clero (the cleaning robot) out to mop up the mess on the floor. After I activated it, I went to open the door where I found the alien sleeping, cuddling itself on the sidewalk. “Hey, wake up,” I called. The alien opened its eyelids. I shooed it inside and prepared two bowls of food and water. The alien started biting my boots, “Hey, stop that right now. And follow me.”

It looked at me jumbled.

“Come on,” I told it, and headed to my bedroom, the alien followed me in. I put the two bowls on the floor and instructed, “You. Stay here, okay?” and pointed at the floor. The alien sat down as it ate its food, not paying me any attention. I changed from my Prohemis suit to casual pants and a shirt and combed my short dark hair. “Now be quiet. I’ll come back to let you out.” I instructed, and locked the door with a pin code.

“You have a guest.” R announced. It was definitely Andie.

I breathed in and opened the door with a smile on my face. Andie was standing in the doorway with Znacks in an airtight bag. He looked different in street clothes.

He entered and he noticed the mess on the floor as Clero cleaning the living room, “What happened here?” He asked.

I should have told him it was the alien who did it, but I lied, “I think I got burgled.”

“Burgled?” He repeated, with furrowed eyebrows. “Nat, this is a first class riot. Did you call the Zelea police?”

I shook my head, “But, nothing was stolen. I figured, why call them if nothing was stolen, right?”

“Oh” he said, “R?”

“Yes, Andie?” R replied.

“You’re a bad security system,” Andie grumbled.

“Thank you, Andie,” R said.

He shook his head, “Wow, you have to update her.”

“Right,” I replied.

I gestured for him to sit on the crumbling sofa, and we both sat down side by side. While he rested his elbows on his thighs and handed me the bag, “Look, I know Gale crossed the line there. That jerk. Anyways, just be careful. He’s looking for faults in you. You know what I mean?”

Of course, I knew what he meant. That I could end up like my parents, sympathizing with aliens and that would upset everyone in the city, especially Dean Clarke, the president who reviled about aliens and wanted them completely wiped out. That’s why he started the Alien Busters Institute, to diminish all alien kind.

“I know,” I said, clutching the plastic bag tightly on my lap.

“Maybe I can’t understand how you feel about what happened to your parents, but I know it has been hard for you not to miss them every day,” he comforted.

That’s why I kept their stuff in the garage, so I couldn’t miss them every day. Like those things will bring them back somehow and will fill up my empty life. Andie couldn’t completely understand what I was going through, because he had both parents. Even though his mom had lost a leg in one mission, he can still talk to them and be with them whenever he wanted.

“Well, you’re doing your best. You’re a good friend” I said, and lifted the plastic bag to shake it, “And you bring me Znacks,” I added with a smile.

He snickered, “I have a saying that says, if you’re having an unfixable rough day, eat a Znacks or two and all your troubles will go away.”

“Wow, and you just made that up?” I teased.

He raised his palms in the air, “Okay, this sucks. I can’t even make things up without getting busted.”

I laughed, “Oh, Andie, Andie, Andie. You never learn, do you?”

He let out a breath, “Don’t start with the I know you lecture.” He warned.

“Well, it’s true. I have known you and Kraig since Soplea.” I replied, “I know how you pray before every mission, and how Kraig hates the infirmary, but pretends that he’s okay with it. I know how you put whipped cream on your coffee every morning and how Kraig likes cheese with almost every food he eats.”

He raised his hands to stop me, “Okay, Okay. You win,” and we both tittered.

When we stopped laughing, I glanced at the TV screen on the paused video and said, “I miss them.”

“I know,” Andie said. “Now eat your Znacks.”

I opened the bag and nibbled a chunk of the sweet soft Znacks, “Blueberries.”

“Your favorite,” Andie said.

That made me smile, that I actually had friends who knew me well and cared for me. It made me forget how lonely I felt every night before I went to bed, thinking about my parents and the empty house I was left with. Not empty for lack of furnishings, but the fact that no one was living with me.

“And I bet you’re feeling better.” He said.

He was right, I was feeling better, “I do feel better.” bumping my shoulder to his and he grinned.

“Good.” He said as he tapped me on the shoulder and stood on his feet. “That means my time is up. Gotta go.”

I stood and walked with him to the door, when I heard purring and crying from my bedroom.

Andie turned to look at me with confusion, “What’s that?”

My heart raced, “I think it was from outside,” I lied.

He shook his head not believing me, “No, it was something else,” and headed to my bedroom door.

I strode to get ahead and stood in front of the door to block him from entering, “No, Andie.”

“Nat, please let me check what’s inside,” he said.

“I told you, Andie. There’s nothing in this room.” I tried to convince him, but the purring became louder as the alien blew its cover.

Andie raised his eyebrows, “Nat, stop lying to me. I heard something in your room. Now get out of my way,” he shot back.

I shook my head, but he entered my lousy password beside the door. “Triple two, huh? You never learn.” He said and the door slid open. His eyes widened, and he started cursing, “What the hell!”

The alien dashed to him and chomped his shoe, trying to tear it with its teeth.

Andie stepped back shaking his leg to release the alien and yelled, “Get off me, you ugly alien!”

“Andie, you’ll hurt it!” I warned.

“I don’t care!” He yelled back and pushed the alien away from his shoe and the alien rolled on the floor and got away from Andie and hid behind the sofa. Andie ran to the kitchen and grabbed a gun that I always stashed in the drawer.

Before he could aim down at the alien, I stood in front of him. “No!” I snapped with raised hands, and shook my head. “Please it’s…it’s harmless.”

Andie stared at me with fury, strands of hair covering his forehead. He aimed the gun steadily. “Get out of my way, Nat.”

“I won’t let you.” I said, “Please. Don’t.”

He focused on my pleading eyes, and lowered his gun with care and licked his lips.

“Thank you,” I said with a sigh and lowered my hands to my sides.

He put the gun on the kitchen counter with force and asked, “Why are you hiding an alien?”

“It’s…a silly story,” I said waving one hand.

Andie stared at me with intensity, and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m listening,” he said, as he leaned on the kitchen counter.

I let out a breath, “Okay, remember the mission when we found the dead aliens?”

He nodded with interest and looked at me.

“When you told me to kill the baby alien…” I started.

“No. No, no, no. Don’t tell me you didn’t,” he said.

“Andie, I couldn’t. It’s a baby,” I replied.

He snickered out of rage, and shook his head. “No, it’s an alien. Not a baby. You should have killed it.”

“But I didn’t, okay? Stop telling me what to do,” I shot back.

He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, shaking his head. When he opened his eyes, he said in a calm voice and raised his palms, “Okay we can be rational about this. We can turn it over to the institute and they handle the alien. Okay?” He offered.

“No, I’m keeping it.” I refused.

The alien hid behind my legs and purred with fear. I felt its warm body behind me, and its heart raced at an abnormal speed.

Andie groaned, “Nat, please listen to me. If they found out about your alien, both of you will be punished.”

“I know the rules and I’m willing to sacrifice,” I said, “Andie, my parents were experimenting with aliens. They knew something about them and I have to know what it was.”

Andie stiffened at the taboo subject, but his face softened when I mentioned my parents. “You know Gale, right?”

“Yes, I know and I’ll be careful,” I said.

He looked at me for several seconds before he said, “Okay, I got your back this time.”

“Thank you,” I said as I clutched my hands over my chest.

“You owe me big time,” he said.

“As long as no one knows,” I said, “and I promise the alien won’t be any trouble to anyone.”

“Okay” he said.

I bent down and patted the alien’s slippery head, “You see, Alien? You don’t have to worry about getting exposed.”

It purred and ran to lick Andie’s shoe and he flinched.

“He likes you,” I said.

“Yeah, well. I don’t like it yet,” Andie said and moved to the door as it slid open, but before he headed outside he turned and said, “Take care.”

“I will,” I said and he walked out of the door.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

“An Alien Buster cannot sympathize with aliens, if one found out about it, the leader will announce a punishment.”

~Alien Busters Manual, section one, page 14 

 

In the late afternoon, I was searching for dog food on my Inhab screen. I scrolled the screen to search for a pet shop. There were a lot of pet shops in the city that I could buy from. The fact that we had pet shops was absurd, because we didn’t have enough animals in our city. When our ancestors travelled through space, they thought of carrying animals and insects in their vast spaceship. They took a few from every species, but couldn’t manage to take them all. There were many labs that held animals and forced them to breed so they can populate our city we would regain some Earthly elements. Then people started buying animals as pets and so pet shops were built. I never used the online shopping before. I could order online but the alien and I could use a little walk in the city. Alien was staring at me with its huge black eyes and rubbing its head on my leg. “We have to go to the shop” I told the alien, “And I’m not leaving you here. You have done enough damage already.” But how could I walk with it in the city without being caught? Then I remembered my sand outfit when I was a baby that my parents kept in a box inside the garage, hoping that someday we would take a trip to the sands outside the city. We never did. The sand outfit is for protection from alien attack and harsh climates. Maybe if it fit the alien, with a few sprays of makeup, no one will immediately notice that it’s an alien.

“I have a plan.” I told the alien and strolled toward the garage followed by the alien. I looked for the box with the sand outfit. I wiped over some old dusty boxes and coughed the dust grains in the air. It took me a while to find the outfit and when I did, I lifted it up and looked at it. It was a red hooded jumpsuit. “This might fit you,” I said, opening the zipper of the jumpsuit and got the alien in it. The jumpsuit fit the alien, but the sleeves were a little too short, so its gray-blue spotted hands were visible.

“Okay, you need makeup,” I said and looked inside other boxes and waved the dust away. There was a box of Mom’s makeup somewhere in the garage. She used to love wearing it. Unlike me, I didn’t use it and was not interested in it in any way. I found the makeup spray and started spraying its hands, face and feet with tanned foundation. The color on the alien almost looked real, but I couldn’t hide the nose holes and the big black eyes.

“Okay, done.” I said, “You look less creepy this way.”

The alien walked stiffly with the outfit and sniffed the foundation on its skin. It sniffed the other boxes and tore one with its teeth and sank its head inside the box.

“Hey” I called. It got its head out with a teddy bear toy in its sharp teeth and when it munched the toy, I heard a song I hadn’t heard in years. About an exploding star that exploded in one galaxy and the sound resonated for centuries. Memories rushed in with my parents when they taught me this lullaby and how I used to love singing it and hugging the toy.

My chest ached from the nostalgia. It made me tug the toy from the alien’s mouth and searched for any tore off fabric with panic. Luckily, no harm had been made, and I sighed with relief.

“You have to bite on everything?” I scolded, “You are very lucky that you’re not sleeping outside.”

The alien bent down with its hands on the floor and leapt on me to gnaw on the toy. Its sudden jump made me stumble back and fall flat on my back. The alien was on top of me gnawed the toy as I tried to get it out of its mouth. It pulled the toy with its teeth and the toy glided from my hands as I let go of the alien and it ran to the door.

“No!” I stood up and ran behind it to the living room to find the alien chewing the toy behind the sofa. When the alien chomped down on the toy, the lullaby music started. That made me stop and gaze at the alien who put the toy down on the floor and pointed its ears as it listened to the music. I got closer to it and kneeled down, “You like it?” I asked. It licked the toy and stared at me for approval with those glistening eyes. “Fine, you can have it. As long as you don’t tear it up, like the rest of my furniture.” I warned.

It sniffed the toy and cried with the music.

I laughed, “You know what? I’ll call you Star.” I patted on its head. “Star,” I said to myself. “I think I could get used to that name.”

I walked down to the city with Star walking stiffly in a sand outfit. I felt sorry for Star, having to wear a heavy suit in a very hot afternoon. The sun had almost set, tinting the city’s buildings with a hint of orange. People were staring at Star with disgust while they walked on the pavement and I guessed that was because of Star’s outfit and his weird gait. I called it a he, because he had blue skin in his inner ear. My parents told me that if an alien had purple skin in its inner ear it meant it was a female and blue for the males. We walked in a pet shop and I asked the worker there to escort me to the dog food aisle. As I was choosing the right dog food for Star in the big screen, he was about to chomp one of the dog food pictures on the screen. “Star,” I called in low voice to stop him.

Luckily, he stopped and sat on the floor and kept staring at me.

“Behave,” I warned Star and eyed him.

A bald employee came up to me and said, “Do you want any help?” She stared at Star for a moment and chewed something in her mouth, “You have a weird looking dog for sure,” she said in a bored way.

“Umm, he has skin problems. Doesn’t grow hair.” I whispered to her.

She grimaced at Star, “Oh, sorry for that.” She said, “Don’t worry, we got the right food for him,” and she air gunned to Star. She reached to press on one of the dog foods, and turned to me as she leaned on the screen. Like her work was boring, “This is the best food for your dog. It has all the minerals and vitamins, et cetera, et cetera, that he needs for his growth” She said it like she memorized it from a slip.

“Umm, okay?” I said.

She forced a smile while chewing her gum and bent down to pat Star’s head, “You’re one ugly thing, aren’t you?” She said it like she was talking to a two-year-old. Star opened his mouth to bite her hand, but she pulled it away in time with a shriek.

I tried to suppress a laugh, satisfied by his hostility. “He’s picky,” I said.

She straightened up and looked at me, “Oh, okay, whatever,” she said, “Do you want anything else?” She asked with little patients.

When I thought about it, Star was doing his business on the bathroom floor and that made me clean the floor several times a day. “Actually, I need a litter box and a special shampoo,” I replied.

“No problem. Anything else?” She asked with annoyance. I stared at Star licking his hands and back to her, “That’s all. Thanks.”

She rolled her eyes, “I’ll put the products on the counter,” she said and walked away from view.

I turned to Star and hissed, “What’s wrong with you? You almost chopped her hands off.” Star got to my legs and rubbed his body. “Really? Now you’re using your cuteness to distract me?” I scolded, “I’ll deal with you at home. Let’s go.” I walked to the counter and paid for the items. I carried the shopping bags and headed outside with Star following me.

When Star and I reached home, I placed a bowl of food on the floor, and he ate quietly. I sat on the sofa to watch one of my parents’ videos in the Alien Busters Institute lab with different types of aliens inside separate glass cages. In the video, dad wore a white lab coat and special lab glasses. He held a clipboard with one hand and kept taking notes about the alien in one of the cages as he observed it. He seemed stressed and kept ruffling his short black hair and wiping his forehead with his hand. He finally looked directly at the camera that I guess mom was holding. His eyes were filled with sorrow or confusion. “Darling, can you get it closer to the alien?” he asked mom behind the camera. “Okay” mom sang with shaky voice.

The camera refocused on the alien zooming closer. Then it stopped. My mouth gaped at the peculiar alien. It had long antennas that looked like tangled hair, green skin with sharp razor thorns on its spine, and large black eyes, like Star’s. Though it looked like a different species. The alien screamed revealing long sharp teeth and stared at my dad. The camera was turned to capture dad staring back at the alien with terror, like he’s about to do something. His Adam’s apples moving. He looked at mom behind the camera and said, “I’m going inside.”

“What?” Mom asked with a laugh, “You’re not serious.”

“I am” he replied, looking regretful, “You stay there and record the evidence.”

“Will, it’s too dangerous, I won’t let you,” Mom replied.

“Debra, please” he pleaded and took his glasses off and clutched them in his hands. “This is the only way and we don’t have much time.”

“Will?” mom called, almost saying something, but a male voice interrupted them.

“The only way to what?” asked the male voice. Dad immediately looked to his right, with wide eyes and the camera was off.

I couldn’t identify who was speaking, and I never knew what they were about to do or what exactly happened after that day. There were so many questions in my mind that were never answered. But could it be that they were doing their research without anyone knowing what they were doing? What about their public speeches about their research and their findings? Why did they give the lectures if they didn’t want anyone to know about the research? Is it possible that they were doing other illegal things that no one knew about? Or did they just hide the research results and evidence until the day the wanted to reveal it?

I let out a breath and stared at Star that was on his way to my lap, by digging his claws in my legs’ flesh. I felt a stabbing pain when he climbed all the way and got his face closer to mine. He placed his hands on my cheeks, pressed with its claws into my flesh and looked into my eyes.

“What’s the matter?” I asked and he purred like he understood my words and climbed down. “What are you trying to tell me?” I asked as I followed him to the door. He scrutinized at the door and started scratching it with his claws. I didn’t understand what he was doing or what he was trying to tell me. “It’s night time, you can’t go out,” I said. He stopped, but kept looking at the door, not moving. “Star?” I called. He shot his ears upward and started running to the hallway. “Where are you going?” I called and followed him to the garage. He leapt on one of the boxes and tore it with his teeth and I noticed that its teeth are no longer baby teeth, now they are long and sharper. I ran to the box and pulled Star from it, “No” I scolded, “What did I tell you about ripping up my stuff?” I put him down and looked at the ripped box, and noticed a small silver box. I opened the silver box with anticipation and pulled out yet another box. This one was smaller and plastic. It was one of the ancient music boxes people used generations ago. “Star, look what we’ve found” I said, as I carefully examined it.

I walked to the living room and tried to open the box with waving a hand at it, but it didn’t work. “How on Zelea, do I open this?” I asked Star, who was sitting down beside my feet. I opened the box. That’s when the music started. Star jerked his head up fluttering his ears. The music was slow and had low bass that made me start tapping my foot on the floor, following the rhythm. This music was what my mom always listened to when she was alive. Sometimes we would listen to it while she was cooking dinner, singing together with our invisible voice amplifier and dad would join us.

I felt the pain in my chest. I closed the music box and placed it on the coffee table a little forcefully without even realizing it. I sat on the sofa and placed my hands over my eyes as I sobbed. My cheeks were wet and I kept sniffing and gasping loud enough for Star to hear. I hadn’t realized that grief would strike me again. I wished I could join my parents, but that would make me selfish and irresponsible. I had something that kept me alive every day, something that made me want to wake up every morning that gave real meaning to my life. I never knew it would be an alien who would keep me sane.

I felt Star’s claws on my legs and uncovered my eyes to see him climbing to my lap again. He pressed his palms on my wet cheeks and looked into my eyes. Does Star know that I’m sad? He placed his head and body to my chest as I felt his wild heartbeat and his steady breathing. Then he lowered himself into my lap cuddling his own body.

“We’ll find out what happened to my parents’ research and what happened to your parents,” I whispered to Star, “I promise.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

One can always fill the emptiness in their heart by adopting a greasy alien creature as a pet.

 

My team and I searched area GH80 for aliens. That time we were accompanied by our other team members, Pam, Isabel and Frank to make sure that we didn’t screw up the mission. It was morning and the temperature was at its highest. I was dehydrated and lightheaded, plus my armor, tactical gear and all the guns we were carrying made this mission more difficult than I was used to. My chest heaved as if I had run miles and was soaked with sweat from head to toe. I don’t know how long we walked… hours, maybe. I was behind the team with Andie. Kraig was ahead of us with the rest. We walked in the deserted area until we reached a land that was filled with wide leafless trees. They were at least twenty meters tall and ten meters wide. That was my own estimation of course, but there was something different about these trees. They had holes, like some kind of doorways, and the trees had a hint of ashy gray. When I got closer to one tree’s jagged surface, a green greasy liquid leaked from the inside and I figured that there was something inside those trunks.

Danger. I felt goose bumps all over my skin. Pam studied the trunk as she touched the greasy liquid and stared at her friend Frank. She seemed to know what was going on too.

“I have a hunch that this tree is not just a tree,” she said to all of us.

“Should we inform Gale?” Kraig asked Pam.

Pam shook her head, “No. I’m going inside to see what the hell is in there.”

Frank mouthed, “No.”

Isabel looked at Pam with worry, “Pam that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. What if Gale finds out?” she scolded.

Andie was behind me looking at the tree, when he turned to look at Pam he said, “You can’t do it.”

Pam squinted her eyes like she was daring him. “Watch me,” she said.

Isabel and Frank looked at their friend with wide eyes as she walked to the tree trunk and started climbing.

“Kraig, do something!” I snapped, but he just stood there watching Pam.

“Pam, don’t do it!” Isabel yelled at Pam, who wasn’t listening.

Frank carefully watched how Pam was climbing the tree trunk. He was muttering something. Maybe it was a prayer. Or he was just cursing.

I was about to press the button on my Scahet to call Gale, but maybe he was already watching us. He had the access to our Scahets and sometimes he randomly picked up a time to watch and hear us. He always picked bad times to spy on us and when we needed him most he was away and needed to be called.

Pam climbed a few meters to one of the holes in the tree trunk. She stopped and looked down on us, waving to sign that she was okay. I felt my stomach twisting. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t watch any longer and I didn’t want to hear her body hit the ground. I felt a warm hand clutching mine. I opened my eyes to see Andie holding my hand and his face filled with worry. “I’m fine” I whispered, and pulled my hand from his.

I jerked my head up to look at Pam, who was peering in the hole. Don’t fall, don’t fall I prayed. Everything was still until I heard someone shrieking. My heart raced. It was Pam waving to us, trying to say something.

“Pam what’s going on?” Frank asked Pam, who was terrified and rigid.

Then there was another loud shrieking. This time it wasn’t human and it came from inside the trunks. The ground shook underneath our feet and ashes fell on us from the trembling trees.

“Pam, get the hell out of there!” Isabel shouted, but Pam was shaking with the tree trunk as she was clinging to it. The shrieking sounded again and it made my ears ring, which made me collapse on my knees. The sound was vibrating inside me, vibrating into my hands and legs, making me feel nauseous.

I heard someone yelling at me “Nat, get up right now!”

I looked up and it was Andie. He pulled me up with his hand, trying to get me away from the tree. “Pam!” I said, “She is up there.”

He shook his head. “She won’t make it!” he shouted back. I looked at the others, they were moving away from the tree and jerked my head up to see Pam screaming and crying, clinging to the tree for her dear life. Suddenly, she stopped crying and her hands that were clinging to the tree, slipped from the fierce shaking. She fell down and I saw her body flying for moments. Before she hit the ground, I covered my eyes with my hands and screamed “No!” I heard her body hit the ground and cried in my hands. I was afraid to see her body so I turned around, uncovering my eyes to see Andie pulling my hand to run with them.

We ran away from the trees, heading in the opposite direction and the ground kept on shaking. Isabel was crying so loud as she ran with Frank and Kraig ahead of us. I turned to look back and saw a flock of flying aliens chasing us down. I panicked and screamed.

“Don’t look back!” Andie shouted, holding my hand tighter as we ran.

A land with caves and rocks appeared ahead and I screamed, “Guys, we can hide there!”

The aliens were right behind us but we only had to run a few meters to reach the land. I heard a guy’s scream and my heart skipped.

I turned to look at Frank who was snatched by an alien.

“Fraaaank!” Isabel screamed as she looked back.

He screamed and shot the aliens belly. That made the alien cry and release Frank, but before Frank hit the ground another alien came and snatched him up. It carried him to the land ahead of us and dropped him on the rocks. He was screaming and when the screaming stopped I knew he was died. I gasped, trying to hold back my tears.

We stopped to shoot a few aliens down as we sprint to the land, dodging and passing caves to search for a hiding place. Kraig stopped beside one rock, waving his hand for us to go. We ran to where Kraig stood and he pointed to a hole in the wall. Isabel, who was shaking and crying, got to her knees and crawled inside. I got to my knees and crawled behind her while the others followed our lead. The size of the tunnel was wide enough for us to crawl inside but it was dark and the stench was strong.

We finally stepped inside a cave that had a dome-like ceiling. The walls were covered with blue substance that illuminated the cave. The air was humid and smelled like alien flesh. Isabel was still whimpering and shaking madly.

Kraig got to her and placed his hand on her shoulder to comfort her. “You’re going to be alright.”

She nodded and sniffed.

I pressed my Scahet to call Gale, “Gale, are you there?” I called, “Gale!”

Kraig pressed his Scahet and called, “Gale, we need help right now.”

“He isn’t picking up?” Andie asked Kraig.

I saw fear on Kraig’s face when he slightly shook his head to confirm that Gale didn’t answer.

“Crap” Andie uttered.

“It seems like we’re going to stay here for quite a while,” Kraig said.

Andie shuddered, “What should we do now? Ca, ca, can’t we go out after we lost those aliens?”

I shushed him with a hand and tilted my head to listen to the aliens shrieking above the cave, “You hear that? They’re still here.”

Isabel shrieked but then Kraig covered her lips with his hand “Trust me, we don’t need any more attention from those aliens,” he whispered to her. “So please, be quiet.”

She nodded as Kraig carefully removed his hand from her mouth.

Andie was looking at the ceiling in astonishment. He examined every stone in the wall and touched the blue substance with his fingers, looking at me, “What is this place?”

I turned to Kraig for explanation, he was also checking out the cave. I searched in the dimness for any clues and stumbled upon some kind of a doorway. “Is that a doorway?” I asked everyone and they all turned to look at it.

Kraig turned to look at me and raised his palms, “Uh, no. You’re not going there.”

“Yes, I am. I never agreed to be an alien buster to play it safe,” I replied.

“This is not a game and we have to be careful,” Kraig said.

“He’s right,” Andie said, beside me.

Isabel crossed her arms, like she was feeling cold and said, “Is there going to be aliens?” with a strained voice.

“Maybe,” I replied and averted my eyes. I couldn’t see the blameful look on her face and it wasn’t my fault that her friends got killed, was it? Somehow, I blamed myself for not helping her friends out. I should have done something. Maybe they would have survived.

Isabel’s face twisted in anger, “Do you want us killed?” she shouted and started weeping again as her voice echoed off the cave walls. Kraig shushed her.

Andie and Kraig looked at each other in concern.

“Fine, I’m going there by myself” I said.

“What?” Kraig snapped, “You’re not going there until we get help.”

I felt my head was on fire from fury, “Yes, I am,” I said and started towards the doorway, but Andie’s hand grabbed my arm stopping me.

“Don’t do it,” he said.

That made me more furious with him for not supporting me. I smacked his cheek, making his face look in the other direction, “You said you had my back,” I hissed.

He held his cheek looking at me with remorse.

I walked to the doorway, holding the gun in my hands and pointed to the emptiness in front of me. I turned on the flashlight for a better view and walked carefully on the lumpy ground. The sound of dripping water, echoed in the cave and a few drops fell on my hair at the doorway. I entered to what seemed to be another cave.

This other cave had substance like fleshy spider webs. It was everywhere, in the corners, on the ground. The stench was much more dense here. I covered my nose and lips to stop myself from gagging. I focused the flashlights on the top of the rocks to see large eggs covered with those webs. Lots of eggs, and I guessed they were aliens’ eggs.

I carefully got closer to examine one with my hand. But as I got my hand closer to one egg, I heard something behind me. My body stiffened. I turned around to aim at whatever was behind me.

Andie flinched and raised his palms in the air, “Hey, it’s me,” he in a low voice.

I let out a breath, and lowered my gun to my side “Crap. You scared me,” I said.

“Sorry?” he said.

“What made you come here, anyway?” I asked.

He dropped his hands to his side, “Look, I worry about you, Okay?” he confessed.

“I don’t need your help” I replied.

“I know you. You say you don’t need help when you do” he said, “And why do you always exclude people who want to help you?”

I wanted to tell him because I didn’t need anyone’s help and I preferred doing things alone, but I just stared at him. “This isn’t the time for a warm conversation.” I said and indicated with my head towards the eggs.

He finally noticed what’s around him and looked at the cave. He got closer to where I stood and examined the egg, “Aliens’ eggs.”

I nodded, “They seem to be hiding their eggs inside caves,” I explained.

He side smiled, “We got it,” and looked at me with relief. “Do you know what this means?”

I shook my head with confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“We could tell Gale about this. When we get back we could tell him to instruct the other teams to plants bombs in these caves to kill as many aliens as they could,” Andie said, with wide excited eyes.

This made me think about Star when he was a lost baby. What if his egg was destroyed? I wouldn’t have found him and taken into my home to care for him as my pet. What about those eggs? They all carried infants in them just like Star. I felt a heavy pain in my chest and took one step backward, “You’re not serious?” I muttered.

His shoulder stiffened when he saw the anger in my face. “Nat, this is our way in,” he explained, “We would be called heroes.”

I saw the pride in his eyes and the way he talked all business like. I could have despised him for saying those things, but he was my best friend and deep down I knew that it was the right thing to do. But why did the right thing seem so wrong?

I shook my head in disappointment and covered my Scahet so Gale won’t hear. “If only Star can hear you. He would’ve chomped your hands off” I whispered. He froze, acknowledging what I’ve said to him.

“I didn’t mean to,” he tried to apologize.

“You were doing your job” I shot back, but he looked at me disbelieving. I wasn’t convinced that we should kill those infants. His mouth opened, like he was about to say something, but I walked away.

Kraig and Isabel were sitting on one boulder, and when I entered they both stood up. Isabel looked more stable than she was when we got in.

“Good news, Gale was online. He said he has located us and he’s sending a Hister to pick us up,” Kraig said.

Gale was online? Is it possible that he heard our conversations? “Good” I said. My mind was muddled worrying about what I saw back there in the other cave.

Kraig leaned closer to look at me, “Nat” he called.

I snapped back, “Yes?”

“Did you… find anything there?” he asked.

Andie came closer to Kraig , “No. We didn’t find anything,” he lied, as he looked at me with care. I gave him a faint thank you smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

“An Alien Buster should constantly watch out for their other team members. If one got distracted and a colleague got injured, the Alien Buster will be evaluated.”

Alien Busters Manual, section seven, page 15

 

We got out of the cave and dashed to where the Hister landed. I looked at the sky to check if it was clear from the aliens. The Hister was parked in an empty area away from the caves. My team and I entered the Hister with the help of the guards inside. When the Hister rose to the air, I grabbed the handle for steadiness.

One guard searched for our other team members, “Where are the others?” He asked loudly, his voice muffled by the engine sound.

Isabel looked at him and shook her head.

“They didn’t survive,” Kraig said out loud.

The guard nodded in understanding, “Is any one of you injured?” he asked.

I had flash backs of Frank and Pam’s bodies, falling to the ground and I felt sick in my stomach.

“No” Andie answered.

“Okay, but when we reach the city, you will be expected to go directly to the infirmary for a thorough scan,” the guard instructed.

“Okay,” Kraig replied, “But are we called for interrogation?”

The guard shrugged, “I don’t know, but Gale seemed pretty mad. Good luck.”

My heart raced and I started sweating inside my suit. In our institute, interrogations were called whenever anything went wrong on a mission. Like death of a team members, breaking the rules of the Alien Busters or worse, if anyone was discovered to have an alliance with aliens. What if he heard my conversation with Andie, did that mean that I’ll be expelled? What about Star, who will take care of him if I’m sentenced to jail? They can punish me by killing him. They could kill Star.

My legs felt wobbly. I hurried to sit in one of the seats, and placed the gun beside me. I wished I could take off my mission suit, because it made me feel claustrophobic and like I couldn’t breath. Kraig sat in the other seat beside me, like he knew what I was thinking.

“Remember in Soplea, when I was messing with the toilets?” he started, “Placing froth cubes inside the toilets, and when someone flushed the toilet, it was a foam disaster?”

I turned to him, “You called it cold lava,” I said and arched my eyebrow.

“Yes, and it was genius” he started, “The froth stayed for days and the students couldn’t use the restroom.”

I burst into laughter, “And you got punished for days, scrubbing the toilets,” I said, “And I was surprised that the headmaster was surprised by your action.”

Kraig smiled proudly, “They couldn’t believe a dark, handsome guy could do such thing.”

“And you had to stay in my house for days, so you could get away from your parents. You said they couldn’t stop talking about the incident,” I said. After the froth incident, Kraig stayed with me and he was the worst cooker ever. He couldn’t even get soup right.

“But what happened after that?” he asked.

“You went home after a couple days and everyone forgot about it after a while,” I said, and I knew where he was heading.

“And that happens every time. When things went wrong, it gets back to normal after a while, or maybe better,” he said, and grinned.

“You always have the right thing to say.” I said.

“You’re the only Nathalie I have. So, I kinda have to,” he joked, calmly.

I snickered, and shook my head.

“I’m just teasing you,” he said, “And remember, when you’re ready to tell me what’s going on, I’m all ears,” and arched his eyebrows.

I froze, surprised by his suspicions. I should have told him everything to silence my mind from all the worries. It was really hard to keep this secret from him. But it was harder to lie to him. Kraig was my best friend and despite my fears of being reported, I had to tell him, right? That was the right thing to do for the sake of our long friendship and if he knew that I told Andie about this before him, he would feel insulted, like I favored Andie over him. Here, there was no right or wrong. It was either gray or gray. If I told him, I would save our friendship but he might report me and Star and I would be in trouble. If I didn’t tell him, and later something happened and he knew about it, it would jeopardize our friendship. Either way, it was all gray. I sighed, confused of what to say, “Kraig it’s…” I stuttered, “I mean I can’t…” and shook my head.

“Okay, you can keep this secret you have,” he comforted. “But, if you ever get in trouble because of it, trust me. I will not just scold you and tell you I told you so. Because I’m always right. But I’ll help you as well, until you get out of trouble. And when that trouble ends, you’ll get in some other trouble and you know what it is?”

“Umm, no,” I said.

“You’ll have to drink the soup I make as a punishment for not telling me earlier.”

I laughed, “Deal,” I said. I turned to look at Adkad City from the window; we were almost there.

 

We arrived at the infirmary and the nurse checked us for any injuries. Luckily, no one was injured and she called us to go to Gale’s office. As we walked in the hallway to Gale’s office, Andie turned to me with wide worried eyes, as Isabel and Kraig walked ahead of us.

“If we get interrogated,” he whispered, “we should lie.”

“I don’t think we can.” I whispered back.

“Nat, we don’t have a choice,” he said as he searched my face. His face was covered with ashes from the mission.

If we got into an interrogation, four evaluators will ask us some questions about the mission. They’ll have our data and our reports from all our missions and they’ll read our reports to search for any past charges. My team’s report cards were clean for years as far as I know. We didn’t mess up before and we didn’t break the rules, until now. The evaluators should decide if we are guilty or innocent. Innocent means we’ll be safe from further investigations. The institute’s investigations are the worse, because they’ll search every team member’s house for faults. All this wasn’t necessary, only in one case. If my boss demanded it. Gale.

“They’re going to find out,” I warned.

“Whatever they ask you, just change the subject” Andie said, “Try to distract them.”

“Do you really think they’re stupid?” I said, “That will make them more suspicious.”

“I don’t care, just do what I tell you” Andie said, urgently.

“Andie” I said. I heard Kraig call for us, and realized that they stopped in front of Gale’s office door, waiting for us.

Andie gave me a warning look.

“I’ll try,” I whispered, “But I won’t promise you that it’ll work.”

We walked to where Kraig and Isabel stood, and I heard a male voice inside Gale’s office. The voice sounded familiar and my heart skipped. It was President Dean Clarke’s loud voice, and he seemed to be scolding Gale for some reason. Then I realized that it was probably about us that he was mad about. It was our fault that Gale was scolded for our mistakes. But why would the president leave his office for ordinary people’s deaths like Frank and Pam’s. There was something else going on that we didn’t know about. On the other hand, it was good that we don’t know what’s going on. I didn’t think we were ready to know what was going on, and it wasn’t important. What was important was the interrogation and what Gale was planning to do to us.

I heard Dean’s voice as he said, “You need to fix this mess, and I don’t care how you’re going to fix it.”

Then it was Gale’s turn to reply with a shaky voice, “Mister Clarke, this matter will be cleared right away.”

“It better be,” Dean said, threateningly.

Then they were silent for a few moments and the office door burst open. Dean was in the doorway, staring at us in a shameful way with his neatly combed light brown hair and dark suit. “Alien busters,” he said as he gulped, like he didn’t know what to say to us. He straightened his back and raised his chin, “It’s good to know that people like you, are protecting my city from the invaders,” he complemented, “I appreciate you taking the risks to save us and I know that the citizens of Adkad are feeling the same.” None of us said anything to Dean, and I saw the puzzlement on everyone’s faces. Dean pulled the edge of his suit jacket and nodded to us, “Good day,“ and left.

“That was the president,” Isabel said a matter of factly, her eyes wide with astonishment.

“Yeah, and this doesn’t bode well,” Kraig uttered.

Gale came to the doorway and looked at us with suppressed rage. He didn’t hold any eye contact with any of us for several seconds, like he was shameful of something. “Well, come on. Get inside my office,” Gale said, and ruffled his hair out of tension.

We exchanged glances and with hesitation, we entered Gale’s office and sat on the chairs. Gale sat behind his office desk and clutched his hands on the table, looking at us. He raised both his eyebrows, signaling for us to start confessing about the mission. Each one of us looked at the other to start talking, but no one did.

Gale shook his head, “Can any one of you confess?” he scolded.

Isabel covered her face with her hands and started weeping loudly beside me.

“It was Pam’s idea to climb that alien tree,” Andie started in a calm voice. “We tried to stop her, trust me. But she didn’t listen.” Andie’s face was filled with guilt.

Did he regret for not trying to save Pam? But he can’t feel guilt, because it wasn’t his fault. He reacted to the situation in order for him to save the rest of us. Not us. Me. I couldn’t let him say more than that. When Andie was about to say something else, I interrupted him, “Actually…it was my fault Gale.” My eyes watered, and Gale’s face became blurry. But I knew that he twisted his face with fury. I don’t know why I was about to cry. For the fact that I didn’t do anything to save Frank and Pam, or because Star might get in trouble because of the possible investigations. Mom, dad, where are you when I need you? Where are you when I need your help? When I need your calm voices telling me that everything will be alright. I pressed my nails into my palms, balling my hands into fists over my lap, and I sensed everyone staring at me with shock.

“What are you talking about? You didn’t do anything,” Andie contradicted.

Gale leaned closer in interest, “Can you explain?”

I gulped, “I was supposed to call you when we first found out that we were chased by the aliens.”

Isabel lifted her head the moment she stopped crying and whispered, “Nathalie, it wasn’t your fault.”

I licked my lips to taste the salty tears, “You warned me, Gale. Remember?” I sniffed, “You said I wasn’t focusing on my job.”

His eyes met mine, “I did warn you,” he replied, “But, I won’t just blame you. I mean, you all were there, weren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Kraig, “But after what Pam did, things got worse. The flying aliens woke up and later killed Frank too. We couldn’t do much about it. If we stopped, we would have been attacked by those aliens.”

Gale turned his eyes on his desk that was filled with screens. He scrolled the screen and read quietly to himself and he said, “It says here, that the trees had wild flying aliens and they chased you down?”

How did he know about the aliens who hid inside trees? Had our Scahets been recorded? We all nodded.

“That’s not an issue. Things happen in the field,” he said and nodded sadly, “But what the issue is that I get one of my teams on the field and none of them contact me about the situation,” this time he said it loud.

“We tried to call you Gale, after we hid in a cave, but you didn’t answer,” Kraig confessed and turned to me, “Nat, tell him.”

“I did call you. Many times, but you weren’t online,” I uttered. I wanted to scream at him and tell him that it was partly his fault too. On the other hand, I couldn’t do it, because we should have called him sooner. Maybe things wouldn’t have been so messed up. But out of fear, we did what was logical, we ran for our lives and to find a safe place to hide.

Andie squinted his eyes with suspicion and asked, “Why didn’t you answer our call?”

That question made Gale lean back to his chair as he glared at Andie and Andie stared back. They shared an intense stare for several seconds before Gale said, “You know how busy I am.”

“I don’t believe that,” Andie muttered.

Andie don’t do it, I prayed to myself. Gale finally broke eye contact and looked at the rest of us, who were as shocked as Gale was. Andie was gritting his teeth and was about to say something else, but Kraig broke the tension when he said:

“I’m sure Gale was busy. Why would he lie about it, right?” and eyed Andie to shut up.

Andie didn’t say anything and that made Gale’s tensed shoulders, drop.

“Now, about the interrogations,” Gale started. “You are having one tomorrow morning. The evaluators will evaluate your answers as well as the evidences and that will determine your punishments if they were required and proved you guilty. If you’re innocent, no further investigations will be made.”

Great, that means I can make it through the interrogation. I can distract them when they ask me questions, just like what Andie told me to do. We didn’t say anything to that and I felt the silence drop on us like a giant bolder. Maybe it was fear, doubt, remorse or sorrow. Whatever any one of us felt, it didn’t matter now. Now we had to focus on getting through this.

“What happens when we were found guilty and had to be investigated?” Isabel finally asked.

“The investigators will turn your house upside down and you’ll be monitored while on duty. You’ll be recorded in the field and then asked questions when they find something odd about your actions or recordings.” I didn’t want to hear what happens after they found something odd, like an alien. And I didn’t want to imagine the punishments for it. My heart leaped and I tried to steady my breathing for Gale not to suspect my fear of investigation.

“I rather not see one of you break the rules, because the punishments are severe and could lead to banishment,” Gale warned. “You’re dismissed.”

We got on our feet and headed to the exit and before I got out of the doorway Gale called me, “And Nathalie?”

I turned to look at him as he looked at me with disregard. “Like I said. I’m watching you,” he warned. He returned to his office and shut the door behind him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

“One cannot keep or interact with an alien for the reason that aliens are unintelligent, raw and savage creatures. If one of the Adkad citizens saw an alien down the city, they should call Alien Busters for help.”

~Alien Busters Manual, section seven, page 60

 

I got back home to see Star sitting by the door. “Hey” I said and kneeled down, patting his head. “Are you hungry?”

He droned and gapped his mouth biting my hand. I winced from the pain, “Ow!” I snapped, “Why did you do that?” I yelped, as I pulled my hand from his mouth. I glanced at my shaky bleeding hand to see bite marks on the back of my hand; it almost looked like a shark bite. “I can’t believe you.” I scolded.

That made Star lower his head to the floor and cover his eyes with his hands, looking guilty. Fear overwhelmed me, when I remembered that Star was an alien, not a pet. What if all aliens were the same? That they were all hazards to humans and if I wasn’t mistaken, all aliens we dealt with in my missions were dangerous. Aliens kill humans, that’s what everyone kept saying. That’s what Adkad’s citizens believed in and passed on for generations. That aliens can’t be our friends, they never will. They’re enemies, and always will be. I shook my head to banish those thoughts and walked to the kitchen drawers looking for antiseptic and bandage. I sprayed the antiseptic and rolled the bandage over my hand securing it with tape.

“You know? You have to be careful whose hands you’re biting,” I warned Star, calmly. “You can’t display as an enemy, Star. It’s dangerous out there. If anyone found out that you’re aggressive, someone will report you and you’re history.”

Star ran to my legs and cried like he was sorry for what he has done.

I snickered, “Okay. I forgive you.”

Star jumped up and ran behind the kitchen counter, peeping his head from the bottom of the counter. After a few seconds, he jumped out and ran to my legs again, pacing and circling to get my attention.

“What are you doing?” I asked, sweetly.

Star did the same thing all over again. He hid behind the counter then peeped his head, but this time I ran after him to the living room. We ran around the coffee table and around the sofa. I forgot to change from my mission suit, so it was hard to run with heavy gear on.

“You can run,” I said laughingly under my breath, “But you definitely can’t hide.”

Star squished himself under the sofa.

I stopped, leaned over with my hands on my thighs to catch my breath. “Come out wherever you are,” I said, and looked under the sofa to find Star covering his eyes with his hands. “Got ya.” I said.

Star got out from under the sofa and jumped at my chest, which made me stumble back and fall flat on the floor. Star was on top of me, licking my face with his rough wet tongue as I laughed. He jumped out and landed on the floor, as I lifted myself to sitting position. With my cheeks wet I say, “I think you’re the one who got me,” and raised my eyebrows. I leaned my back on the coffee table and patted his head, “I’m so lucky to have you.” I murmured.

But of course, Star didn’t understand what I meant, so I just stared at him rubbing his head on my leg, thinking about the interrogations and the possible investigations. And all I thought was, I have to survive this. I have to do this for Star.

I took a shower and changed from my mission suit to casual nightwear, boxers and a large dark T-shirt.  I combed my tangled short black hair, while I looked in the mirror. I had the usual frown and my eyebrows were tensed like I was about to fight aliens. My skin was nearly brown because of the repetitive exposure to harsh sunlight during fieldwork.

I took a deep breath and muttered to myself, “You’re always up to something. Aren’t you?” but I didn’t answer my own question. I walked out of my bedroom and sat on the sofa, while Star titled his head and his eyes focused on me. “Don’t even try. I just fed you,” I said. I waved my hand to activate the video again. Just like every day. I watched the video until the end when my dad’s face was frozen with shock. Like he didn’t intend for someone to find out about their experiments. So I stopped the scene, to look closely. “What happened there, dad?” I murmured. But surely no one will answer me, and I was the only one who knew about this. I might have to dig further for more proof. I didn’t know what kind of proof I wanted, but I sensed that the Institute is involved somehow in my parents’ deaths. Maybe someone found out what they did and planned to kill them. No, I told myself, I won’t go crazy about this. My parents weren’t killed by people, but by aliens. At least that’s what I convinced myself to think. That’s what I always taught myself to think when I got paranoid. No Nathalie, paranoid meant suspicion in your society.

“You have guests,” R said in monotone.

I checked the screen from my Inhab to see Andie and Kraig waiting outside. I cursed to myself, grabbed Star abruptly and put him in the garage. “Stay” I instructed, “And be quiet. We can’t let Kraig know about you.”

Star lowered his ears in disappointment. I sighed, “please,” and locked the garage door with a pin code. I dashed to open the door and when the door slid open, Kraig and Andie entered. My heart was racing and I tried to look as comfortable as possible. “Well, look who came for a visit,” I said, “what brought you here?” I looked at Andie for an answer, but he averted his eyes looking guilty.

“I suggested to Andie that we stay the night with you, since you looked stressed about tomorrow’s interrogation,” Kraig said delighted. “But someone insisted on leaving you alone.” This time Kraig glared at Andie.

Andie was tapping the front of his shoe on the floor out of nervousness. “What?” Andie said, “Look, I said that because Nat can take care of herself,” and gave me a help me here look.

“He’s…right.” I defended, “I need to be alone.”

Kraig shook his head disapproving, “Mh, mh. Not this time. I won’t let you get swallowed in a black hole of fear and who knows what you feel right now?” Kraig insisted, “We could stay, only if you allowed us to”

“Actually, you’re right. I do feel bad,” I confessed, “I feel like I can’t stand this job anymore. Can you two stay?”

“Alright,” Kraig answered.

We walked to the sofa and sat beside Kraig.

Kraig clapped his hands softly and rubbed them together, “So, what’s up?”

Andie rubbed his forehead on distress.

“I was watching one of my parents’ videos documenting their experiments,” I said.

He nodded in understanding. The scene was paused to when my dad was wide eyed looking in the other direction.

Then I thought why not tell them about my crazy suspicions. Since they’re my best friends and already thought I was mad. As long as Kraig didn’t know about Star, everything was about the same. “Since you two are here” I started, “You need to watch this video” and I waved it to start over again.

Andie and Kraig watched the video until the end, when my dad was looking at the unknown person.

I waved my hand to stop the video and asked, “So, do you see anything unusual?”

Kraig turned to look at me, “I see they were studying and experimenting with aliens and I think that was part of their job,” and casually shrugged.

“No” I said, “If you look closely, you can see my dad is looking at someone who was talking to him.” My heart ached when I saw both of them looking at me like I was losing my mind, like I was being paranoid.

Andie’s face softened with sympathy, “Maybe the person was working with them?” he suggested.

I couldn’t believe that Andie was on Kraig’s side. He was supposed to have my back, to support me when I needed a friend. But I kind of understood that it was too much for them and I couldn’t blame them for not believing me. I mean the whole city thought my parents were nuts. Why would they think the opposite about me?

“Come on you guys. Can’t you see the fear in his eyes?” I questioned. “Look at his face, he seemed shocked to see whoever was there, or someone who wasn’t supposed to be there.”

Kraig and Andie exchanged a worried look.

“Forget it” I said, and looked the other way in frustration.

“Hey,” Andie called calmly, and I looked at his dark eyes. “I believe you, okay?”

I nodded.

Kraig looked from Andie to me, like he has changed his mind about me “I believe you too, even when you talk crap,” Kraig tried to lighten the mood. “You make me worry, but umm… we’re there for you. No matter what.”

And there it was, the perfect time to tell him what was really going on. But I couldn’t do it, even though I felt guilty for not telling him the truth. That he was there for me no matter what, even when he finds out about Star. Is he really going to be there for me when I tell him that I’ve lied to him? That I’ve kept a big secret in my house?

Andie placed his soft warm hand over mine and said, “Any day, anytime,” and smiled.

“Every day and every hour,” Kraig continued.

“Every second and every minute,” I completed.

“Every heartbeat, and every breath,” Andie said as his eyes met mine.

“We help one another,” Kraig replied as he grinned.

“Forever and ever,” I said. We declared this as our motto back in Soplea, where we went to learn every day, every time any one of us got in trouble. We would always stick together, and help one another. That was what best friends were for. “That means you two are in this mess with me.” I warned.

“Pretty much. Yeah,” Kraig replied.

I needed Kraig and Andie to help me find out what’s going on in the institute, and that meant that we would need to pay extra close attention to everything that was going on in there and maybe poke around a bit. The proper word for that was “spying.” I needed them to spy on everyone who was under suspicion, or anyone related to my parent’s experiments and find out who helped them. There must have been someone who was helping them, to do their experiments in the institute’s labs. A grin spread on my face, and they both studied my face with doubt.

Panic flashed on Kraig’s face “Uh oh,” he said, “I know that little devilish face that has gotten us in trouble many times.” Andie pulled his hand and asked, “What’s on your mind?”

“How about we spy on Gale and the other alien busters to find out who was working with my parents?” I suggested, “I mean, maybe someone can help us find out what’s going on.”

Andie closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, mumbling something and Kraig raised his palms to stop me from talking.

“Whoa, stop right there,” he uttered. “Who said anything about spying?”

“You two said we help each other, right?” I reasoned, “Well, it’s about time to take this crap seriously.”

“Andie,” Kraig called, “do you agree to this?” twisting his face in annoyance.

Andie shrugged casually. “Well, I’m curious to know what’s really going on. And she’s right, we need to take this crap seriously.”

Kraig stood up and pointed at each of us, “No… No… No…No…”

“Kraig,” I called.

He finally pointed at me and said, “Hell, no.”

I got up and got closer to him, waving my hands in the air, “What if I’m right?” I asked. “What if something is really going on? What if I’m not crazy?”

He slightly shook his head; “People have been living in this city for decades. Nothing went wrong and nothing is wrong,” he explained.

“I thought we agreed on helping each other no matter what,” I spat.

“We agreed on believing your crap, but not spying on everyone who worked with your parents, just because you assume that whatever your parents said about aliens was true,” he bashed.

I felt the boiling rage in my veins. I couldn’t believe Kraig said those words, like knives stabbing my heart. No one believed my parents in the city. Not my co-workers, not Gale, not even my best friends. No one but myself. And I wasn’t going to allow that to happen. I’ll prove everyone wrong. “My parents weren’t crazy, okay?” I snapped, “I’m not crazy either.”

His shoulders dropped when he realized that he had hurt my feelings, regret filled his eyes. He sighed, “I didn’t say that,” and he looked at Andie for a while and bit his lower lip, thinking of changing his mind. He shifted his eyes to me and rolled them, “Okay. Just this once. One crazy plan and that’s all,” He said.

I smiled and hugged him burying my face in his chest, smelling his cologne, “This means the world to me” I said and stepped back to look at him.

Kraig chuckled, “But don’t get used to it,” he teased and he looked down at my injured hand, “What’s that?”

“Oh umm,” I said and examined my bandaged hand, “Knife cut. Not deep though. No need to worry about it.” I remembered Star’s bite. Star was in the garage alone and I hoped that he was okay. But I couldn’t help but think of what if. What if he got hungry or thirsty and got nothing to eat or drink? What if he got hurt in there? Why doesn’t he make any noise, is he okay? I had to distract them to go check on Star, “You two need sleeping bags,” I managed to say. “Be right back,” and I walked to the garage.

 

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