The plain metal insides of the alien spaceship was hardly any contest for Brendan's attention. The stars, as dazzling to Brendan as they were uncountable, quickly dominated his gaze. The Earth, slowly shrinking away in the distance, was soon to be just another dot on the black canvas as the ship plunged deeper and deeper into space.

"Jeez, you'd better be ready to clean those windows if you're just gonna' drool all over them."

Brendan pried his eyes away from the hull window to look over his shoulder, and saw Littich, fiddling with some manner of handheld device, standing behind him. "Sorry," Brendan muttered, his mind not completely ready for a conversation, "but it's just amazing."

"What, that you can stare at nothing for hours and not get bor-"

Littich's words were cut short with a sudden, surprised gasp. Dragista, towering head and chest above her, had dropped one of his massive arms over her head, resting his elbow on Littich's plentiful blonde hair. "Of course she remembers her first time up here," He said, grinning as Littich began to tremble with anger. "Hey, we all do."

Brendan turned back to the window. "I guess it loses its novelty after a few years, huh?"

Dragista shrugged, still smiling as he watched Littich seethe underneath him. "It varies."

Littich reached up, and threw Dragista's arm off of her. "Next time you do that," she quietly hissed, "I'm going to-"

"Do what?" Dragista quietly snorted back at her, still wearing a goofy grin.

Littich just snarled and stormed away. Dragista shrugged, and leaned up beside the window that Brendan was glued to. "Man, this is gonna' be the longest six months of my life," Brendan muttered. "You're sure you guys don't mind swinging back around to Earth?"

"Nah, we'd probably end up coming back anyway. Habitable planets aren't easy to come by," said the muscle-bound giant. Then, nudging Brendan in the ribs, he said, "She gives everyone shit, not just you."

"Nice to know," Brendan muttered. "Ever think of just stranding her somewhere?"

Dragista let loose a bellowing chuckle. "Would be nice," he said, "but then we'd be short our tech wizard."

"What, her?"

"Yeah, it surprised the hell out of me too," Said Dragista. "Like it or not, we're stuck with her."

"So what do you do, other than being big?"

Dragista hummed. "Uh, nothing, really." When Brendan stared at him in disbelief, Dragista continued, "Well okay, I might be the chief's second in command and a pilot too, but I'm mostly here just to break stuff."

Dragista flexed his impressive biceps. "How long do guns like those take you?" Brendan asked, measuring his puny arms against Dragista's.

Dragista shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I haven't worked out a day in my life."

Brendan's jaw dropped. "You're kidding, right?"

"Nope. See this? All natural. Us Titareans build these just by growing up. Our muscle and bone density is roughly three times as much as the others. Hey, you ever seen someone toss a landcraft before?" Dragista asked. When the bewildered Brendan shook his head, Dragista snorted a chuckle. "When we drop you off again, I'll show ya'."

A sudden beeping rang from the watch-like device on Dragista's wrist. "What's that?" Brendan asked.

"Dinner," said Dragista, pushing himself off of the wall, "Follow me."

After following the short, narrow hallway leading into the heart of the alien's spaceship, Brendan found himself in another barren room, decorated only by a circular table in the middle, and a strange upright machine by the wall. Battar, Cova, and Klamoor, already seated, looked up at Brendan and Dragista. "Late fer food?" Klamoor asked, stirring his bowl of the same thick brown mixture Brendan had seen them eating on Earth. "That's a first."

"Someone's gotta' show this guy the ropes," Said Dragista, raising his hand just in time to catch Klamoor tossing an empty bowl his way. Dragista handed the bowl to Brendan, and pointed to the machine at the wall. Littich stood in front of it, her bowl resting inside an internal shelf in the machine. And with a squishy squeaking, a large squirt of the mixture came rushing into her bowl. Muttering something under her breath, Littich took her dinner and sat down beside Cova.

Brendan looked back at Dragista. "Didn't you guys say you had my food covered? You know, before we left?"

"We do," said Cova, as stoic as ever. "That's it."

"What, you're holding out for dessert or something?" Littich snorted.

A small shiver ran up Brendan's spine. Gingerly making his way over the machine, he placed his bowl on the shelf. The same squishy squirt belched out a generous helping of the dark brown gruel, intoxicating Brendan with a thick, nostril-stinging aroma. Brendan made his way around to the far end of the table, sitting down comfortably apart from the rest of his new shipmates. Brendan stared at the gruel. His dull reflection in the gruel stared back at him. Dragista had sat down with a bowl of his own, and when Brendan looked up, he saw all eyes were upon him. Battar had even rolled forward his extra set of pupils, staring just as intently as the rest of his crew.

Brendan looked down at the unsettling soup again. "You're... sure I can eat this?" He asked. Cova nodded. Brendan gingerly reached for a spoon. "How sure?"

Cova cleared his throat. "Though we are of six different species," he began, "we all share a similar physiological makeup. A deep scan of your body upon boarding our ship confirmed what I had long suspected. In addition, your planet's atmospheric composition is all but indistinguishable from that of Tatsis, indicating that our bodies process proteins in remarkably similar ways. Such similarities between the five of us and you, in addition with previous documented experiments with our food in our planet's history, strongly suggests to me that our travel mixture," Cova paused briefly, "shouldn't kill you."

Brendan looked at the gruel one more time. Then, raising his spoon, he took a quiet, deep breath. "Well, nothing ventured..." Brendan muttered, dipping his spoon in. Steeling his nerves as he raised it up again, Brendan slowly leaned forward, opened his mouth, and wrapped his lips around the spoon. He quickly slipped the spoon out, and rested it on the table. The aliens were still fixated on him, not moving a single muscle between them. Finally, after a few seconds that seemed like hours, Brendan loudly gulped down his first spoonful.

"Well?" Dragista asked.

Brendan looked down at the gruel again, and after running his tongue over his teeth, he dug his spoon in again. "You know," said Brendan with a look of surprise, "this isn't that bad."

Brendan filled his spoon to the edges, and downed another spoonful. Littich grimaced. "He likes it?" She groaned. Klamoor's face was a similar twisted mess as Bendan continued to dig in.

"I'm guessing this isn't your regular food, huh?" Asked Brendan. Only Battar managed a bewildered shake of his head. "Man, if this is your idea of slop, I'd love to try-"

Suddenly, Brendan froze. His eyes shot wide as he slowly looked down at his stomach. And with a sudden lurch, Brendan bolted off of his seat, managing to stagger three wobbling steps before collapsing to his hands and knees, and letting loose a roaring torrent from his stomach. As Brendan moaned and cradled his ribs, Battar turned to Cova. "You said it wouldn't kill him," said Battar.

Cova shrugged. "It hasn't."

Suddenly, a shrill beeping echoed through the ship. "The hell is that?" Klamoor asked as the crew bolted to their feet.

"Proximity sensors," said Battar, "Everyone to the bridge. Dragista, drag him along too."

The spacious, empty command centre was suddenly filled by the crew, Littich the first to leap into a chair by a terminal mounted on the wall. "Found it!" She cheered almost immediately. The gigantic screen at the front of the room flashed briefly before displaying the universe outside.

"What have we got?" Battar asked, as Cova and Klamoor filled in their seats behind him. Dragista, after curtly dropping the leg he had been dragging Brendan by, sat at the wide helm in the middle of the bridge.

Littich took a sudden, defeated sigh. "It's Kilhnian."

"Shit," Dragista muttered. Klamoor and Cova also muttered under their breath.

The main screen's display swiftly zoomed in, and as soon as Brendan could lift his eyes off of the floor again, the screen greeted him with a sleek spacecraft, bearing a striking visage of a fighter jet. "Distance?" Battar asked.

"50 units," Littich replied. "We should be just out of range of his sensors. I'm patched into his com, doesn't sound like he's noticed us yet." Littich let out a quiet, nervous laugh. "Guess our stealth's back online after all."

"Thank ye," Klamoor chimed in, "I do my best."

"Good to know," said Battar. "Dragista, keep our distance. Let's see where he's going."

Still reeling from the inside, Brendan used the back of Cova's chair as a support as he glued his eyes on the screen. Within moments, Battar put his hand up, and Brendan felt the ship coming to a slow, drifting stop. The small spacecraft soon became a blip among the stars, with only a rocky, grey planet standing out in front of them. "It's that planetoid we saw coming in to this system," said Dragista. "The one with the wacky orbit at the edge of this system."

"Wacky orbit?" Brendan gasped. "Planetoid? Edge!? That must be Pluto!"

"You know this rock?" Battar asked. "I didn't know your species had come out this far."

"No, just me," said Brendan. "Hey, we're not stuck in a stone age, you know." Battar rolled his eyes. "So- so that spaceship, was it heading to Pluto?"

"I've got bad news fer ya, kid," said Klamoor, "Our friends that toasted Tatsis? They're here."

Brendan's heart suddenly jumped into his throat. "Here?" He gasped.

"Kilhnian scouter craft, standard issue," said Littich. "And he's not alone."

"Lucky we weren't caught coming into this system before," said Battar. "Dragista, get us out of here on the first opening. The last thing we want is to stir up the nest."

"Wait! Nest?" Brendan sputtered. "They've got some kind of base down there?"

"Scouters don't come out this far on their own," said Battar.

"And we're just running away?"

"That's the plan."

"But-!" Brendan protested. "They're the guys that nuked your planet? What about Earth?"

Battar shook his head. "It doesn't look good for Earth. You've got a month at the most."

Brendan was trembling. "Can't we stop them? Can't we do anything?"

"Hey, caveman!" Littich barked, snapping her fingers. "Five of us, five hundred of them. At least."

"But, y-you can't just run away!" Brendan pleased.

"We can, and we will," Battar shot back.

"Hey, I got you guys off of Earth," said Brendan. "Without me, you'd be stuck back there, with no ship, and you'd just have to watch as our planet goes boom along with you."

Battar glared at Brendan. "Are you saying we still owe you something?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying!"

The bridge was suddenly silent. Battar turned fully towards Brendan. Brendan bit the inside of his lip, and glared back at Battar. "Alright," said Battar, with an odd calm, "let's say we do owe you something more." Battar took a step forward, slowly approaching Brendan. "Let's say, even if we still owed you our lives, we just kept on going anyway." Now with their faces only inches away from each other, Battar lowered his voice into a rumbling growl. "What would you do about it?"

Brendan glared back at Battar. Then, with just a blink of his eyes, Brendan looked down at the floor.

Battar snorted. "Thought so." He turned back to the main screen. "Dragista, we're getting the hell out of here."

"Commander, if I may," Cova suddenly chimed in.

Battar paused briefly, then shrugged his shoulders.

Cova cleared his throat. "Encountering a single scouter suggests to me that this forward outpost is a new establishment. Otherwise, we would likely have been met with a swarm instead. It may also explain how we evaded detection coming in. Either way, if the Kilhnians have reached this far this quickly, we will be encountering them again, and soon. Regardless of our course of action now, conflict with the Kilhnians is inevitable."

"Now that's depressin'," Klamoor muttered under his breath.

"However," Cova continued, "were we to disable this outpost as our guest would have us do, depending on it's level of completion, a surprise attack would effectively wipe all knowledge of this system's existence from Kilhnian hands, if only briefly. We will encounter them again, but we will have bought us some time to better prepare. As we stand now, our chances of survival against a Kilhnian squadron is marginal. We may ultimately benefit from a decisive- and successful, first strike."

Battar thought it over for a moment. "Are you saying that's what we should do?" He asked.

"The decision is yours as always, commander."

Battar rubbed his chin, and hummed deeply to himself. Turning back to the main screen, he stood almost like a statue, in stark contrast to Brendan's twitching. Finally, Battar let out a quiet, grumbling sigh. "Dragista, set us down." He muttered. "Littich, we need a deep scan as soon as we're down. Everyone, in the hall, ten minutes." As Battar turned around and headed to the exit, he glanced at Brendan and growled, "You too."


Just creeping out of the spare quarters, Brendan looked down the cramped hallway. Three doors lined the walls on each side, each leading into the other alien's quarters. Suddenly, the door beside him slid open, and to Brendan's surprise, Cova stepped out beside him. Just as Cova passed him, Brendan said, "Hey, you're Cova, right?"

The tall bald alien, expressionless as always, nodded once.

"I-" Brendan stammered, "What I mean is- well, thanks. For helping me out back there."

Cova only raised a hairless eyebrow. No hint of any sort of emotion stained Cova's face. Then, after a short and awkward silence, Cova simply said, "You assume too much."

Cova turned and vanished from the hallway, and Brendan suddenly felt truly alone.