chapter one

One of the most common stereotypes associated with war is mud. Nobody really likes to think about it, so most stories like to revolve around either how horrible or how heroic a battle is and avoid mentioning just how muddy the ground can get. This phenomenon of muddy wars  can be observed spanning across the centuries and is experienced by just about every universe-dwelling species one could poke a stick at.

Majority of said populations will, over time, adapt and learn to just put up with it. In some cases, however, groups have been known to embrace the mineral-based matter, by scooping it up and spreading it across the surface of their miscellaneous complexions. Generally, the logic associated with this behaviour was the hope that getting dirty won’t be an issue later on  during a battle, when concern about such matters would be less than convenient. More rarely, the battle was over mud to begin with, but we won’t go there.

In the case of the aliens that the human race was currently dealing with, mud wasn’t an issue they were used to. They were called the Kweezoo, and on their planet they’d never really come into contact with such substances; therefore, the invention of gumboots had never been required. One would imagine that in the case of a soldier, this wouldn’t exactly be high on their list of things to panic about, however the amount of fluff these creatures were covered in made them naturally cautious around anything wet, sticky or slimy, all of which mud happened to be.

It was mainly for this reason that the entire ‘away’ team was hiding in their cloaked ship, floating high off the unsanitary ground. The Kweezoo were far from what the humans had been expecting the first alien race they encountered to look like. The world ‘alien’ commonly brought to mind images of a grey-skinned, large-headed humanoid figure with huge, dark eyes and unsettling psychic abilities. The body of a kweezoo, however, was completely covered in thick, silky, orange fur that gave off a pleasant scent of pine needles and sun-ripened peaches. Its four clumsy, yet sturdy legs ended in feet that were fluffier than the rear end of an angora rabbit, and its hands were warm and soft, like little marshmallow kittens.

In terms of personality, irony had decided not to interfere with their demeanour by making them savage killers, and so instead they were sweet and timid, but also respectably smart, boasting technology human scientists could only dream of.

Originally, their home planet had been much like a giant tropical island, with blazing hot sunlight, golden beaches and a large number of very dangerous carnivores. This climate was perfect for all of the world’s living residents except the Kweezoo, who were significantly overdressed. For thousands of years, their continued survival in the heat was completely dependent on a special bacterium that lived in their bodies, known to them as a kaylue, until they gained their superior intellect and were able to create more effective ways to cool themselves down. Interestingly, they were one of the very few races to invent air-conditioning before the wheel. Their way of life didn’t last long, however, as a sudden ice age at one point wiped out almost every other species who occupied the planet’s surface. Since there were no longer any predators and the Kweezoo were all vegetarians anyway, there wasn’t any need for survival-based traits like fear and aggression, and so a complex society grew.

Lacking any wars or natural dangers, the fluffy aliens quickly learned how to travel into space and, much like humans, sent out an unnecessary number of probes flying at every star they could see, hoping to find another planet with intelligent life. Less ambitious than the human race’s hopes to acquire knowledge and wisdom, however, the Kweezoo’s only real interest was to obtain friendship. They were also rather impatient and, after many failed attempts, eventually mastered space travel and ended up just going out on their own for their life-finding missions.

The human race was the first intelligent species they had met, and they were beginning to seriously regret their choice of communication with them. To one particular individual, though, the behaviour of humans was the least of his problems, as his own species was acting in a far less than reasonable manner.

***

Fawke shoved everything he could think of possibly needing into a small automated backpack, trying very hard not to be distressed by the alarms blaring in his ears from all around him. Coincidentally, alarms happened to be an issue he’d wanted to bring up at the next meeting, along with painting the walls a different colour and labelling the bathrooms a bit more clearly, or at all.

The amount of noise, while effective, was more than a little unnecessary. During any kind of emergency, a simple, calm announcement would suffice. Fawke had an aversion to loud noises, and his internal panic button had been overused, broken and replaced, quite a few more times than he felt obliged to count.

He could feel his kaylue squirming around inside him, wincing as its fear and confusion mingled with his own.

Fawke whacked the sensor on the side of his pack, and watched the metal flap struggle to close itself for a moment, then, tossing it onto his back, threw himself out of his bedroom door before anyone figured out what the alarm was for.

 

He hurtled clumsily around identical corners and through identical corridors, before reaching the pod bay. The walls of the area were painted in the same metallic silver which covered almost every other surface on board the ship. This had made some feel very angry about and blame the engineer, even though it had actually been the architect’s fault. The pods were kept in almost unnecessarily tidy rows, with the bay’s overpriced atmospheric lighting glinting off their polished paintwork.

One of them was already open and prepped for launch. Beside it, Fawke’s closest friend, Graser, was watching the bay doors nervously, and almost jumped out of his skin when he saw the kweezoo, but quickly calmed down when he recognised him. Before Fawke could even utter a word of greeting or gratitude, Graser was already hurrying him towards the access ramp, rushing over to the pod’s terminal, where he began bashing at buttons furiously.

‘Okay,’ the shaking of his voice suggested that he was even more worried than Fawke, ‘once you reach the surface, activate the pod’s cloaking and hide. Don’t let anything see you. I’m going to do everything I can up here to sort this mess out.’

‘Thanks, Graser,’ Fawke rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder, ‘I really appreciate this.’ The kweezoo nodded, though his mood didn’t seem to improve. He cast another nervous glance at the doors. ‘Remember to erase the security footage so no one knows you helped me.’

‘I know, I know.’ He finished his button pressing and shoved Fawke further up the ramp. ‘Now quick, get out of here. And be …’ Fawke didn’t quite hear the end of that sentence, as the pod’s door slammed shut.

Keeping himself together, Fawke plodded through the cramped space to the pilot seat and strapped himself in as tightly as his lungs would allow. He still wasn’t entirely sure why he needed to run away, as he had been under the impression that his status as royalty would allow for a certain amount of questioning before conclusions were leapt at and blame was assigned.

 

Numbers were flashing on the screen in front of him, but he wasn’t in the mood to pay them much attention.

The countdown finished and Fawke found himself being pressed against the back of his chair. For an instant, the pod bay was a blur, as the small ship shot out of the airlock, and the view was quickly replaced by the alien planet’s peculiar blue sky.

Fawke’s chest tightened, as the reality of his situation continued to sink in further. He made sure his pack was activated and sending his breathing holes extra nitrogen. He shuddered a little at the thought of being alone in the oxygen rich atmosphere of a strange alien world and did his best to remember the hours of training he’d had to go through. He made sure he didn’t look back as more space was put between him and the cloaked mothership he was leaving far behind.

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Materials from the Starshifter series are courtesy of Isabelle Fischer.
Starshifter Publishing, Theatrical Rights and Artwork © Isabelle Fischer. 
Starshifter characters, names and related indicia are © of Isabelle Fischer. All rights reserved.