Sometimes there’s a reason the unexplored remains unexplored.

“Careful with that sample,” said Aurion.

Brell sensed at him for a second but said nothing, at least not at first. She simply took the foliage scraping and dropped the sample into a nearby containment tube.

“I have been doing this longer than you’ve been alive,” she said firmly.

“But the foliage here—” began Aurion.

“Is extremely toxic, yes,” finished Brell. “However, considering the gravitational force and atmospheric pressure of this planet, any rents in your suit…or mine…would instantly kill us. We’d simply explode, implode, or some combination of the two.”

“I understand that, but—” started Aurion.

“Once we are back on the ship,” continued Brell, “all protocols will be followed to the letter, and this sample will never make skin contact with any of us. As I have previously indicated, Captain, I have over forty cycles of experience in Xenobotany. If I didn’t know what I was doing, I would already be dead.”

Aurion wanted to put her in her place, but he did not argue with her; there was no point. Brell was the one member of his crew he would not argue with. She had that effect on him and…well…everyone else, for that matter.

“Carry on, then,” he sighed.

He turned his senses to the strange alien forest around them. The foliage here was far, far larger than anything he had previously dealt with, as were the strange creatures inhabiting this rogue planet out in the middle of nowhere.

Technically, none of them were supposed to be out here, not out here in the Forbidden Zone, an arm of space few travelers ever returned from, but the scientific discoveries just waiting to be…discovered…were far too tempting to pass up.

“I just wish we’d had more backing,” said Aurion.

He’d said that more for himself than for any wayward senses, but Brell had detected him anyway.

“This was an ‘enter-at-your-own-risk’ proposal by the council,” she replied. “I chose to come because the opportunities for discovery and study were abundant and important. There’s no telling what we may learn from this run. This field study may be the most important research of my life, or for that matter, anyone else’s. Who knows what we might glean from this?”

“No weapons, no armed guards, nothing,” muttered Aurion. “How are we supposed to defend ourselves?”

“The point of a scientist is to unravel the secrets of the universe,” said Brell. “We’re not supposed to destroy them. That’s the military’s job, and they are far too adept at doing just that. I, for one, am quite happy they are not involved with this trip in any way.”

She was right in a sense, because this was a research run, not a scouting foray with military units, but still…he did not like being defenseless.

“If you insist on feeling competent, Captain,” said Brell, “go investigate what the others are doing. You’re wasting your time with me.”

Brell always had a habit of making him feel inferior. In the end, though, he still had the final say when it came to anything on this mission, and he needed to remind her of that.

“Let me know if you find anything unusual,” he said in a firm tone.

“Everything here is unusual, Captain,” said Brell.

Well…she had a point there.

The terrain here was dangerous to the point of stupidity, the foliage was gigantic and quite thick, and the native fauna was to be avoided at all costs.

Aurion had already caught a glimpse of a creature through the clustered convergence of what passed for stalks on this planet, and the thing he’d sensed was three times the size of any of them. He couldn’t even begin to describe it. Brell probably could, but he was not that old witch, and he thanked the gods for that.

He took his leave of the old xenobotanist and trotted off to find Bermoth and Campor. The two were not difficult to locate, however, as they were taking soil and mineral samples a mere tick away from Area 45.

Their xenocartographer, Irdan, had separated all areas within a circular pattern radiating out from their ship’s landing site, each area spanning one tick. Irdan, of course, was currently exploring with Brettel, their only scout. Those two were the farthest out, somewhere Aurion wanted to be at the moment, mainly because neither one of them had reported in.

That made six of them, six researchers for this mission, and in the long run, six was not much for an expedition such as this. Aurion wasn’t technically a researcher, but he did have some passing knowledge in xenoarchaeology, and that little fact had put him at the top of a long list of candidates.

Of course, where they had landed was just wilderness and nothing more. That was just his luck, though, and he couldn’t help that.

There was the ship crew, naturally, but they were by and large irrelevant. The crew of the Brazen were still onboard the ship, and they were not to leave it, so he didn’t count them. They were only there to pilot and maintain the ship, though Aurion was still the one calling the shots.

Nevertheless, the ship crew had explicit instructions to take off and abandon the research team if all six life-signals of the team’s members were snuffed out. It was heartless, and it was cold, but it was also practical. Someone had to report back home to explain what had happened if anything were to happen, and Aurion was truly praying that nothing of that sort actually did happen, for it was not a pleasant thought.

Aurion made his way through the treacherous terrain and even more treacherous foliage to reach Area 46. He took it more slowly than he would have liked, but one could never be too careful in such a hostile environment. True, his powered exosuit was armored with maneuverable plates, and the suit was designed to self-seal in case of injury, but he didn’t want to find out if that experimental feature actually worked or not. That brand-new benefit was still a work-in-progress.

For one thing, the gravity on this world was insane. The G-force here alone would kill any one of them without protection, but considering the atmosphere on FZ-189763G7 was more toxic than the ninth level of the underworld, the crushing gravity was the least of his concerns.

Right now, he had to find Bermoth and Campor.

Bermoth was a younger male than Aurion, but he was talented in his field, while Campor was somewhat older than Aurion, but she was also an incorrigible flirt, and Aurion was now regretting pairing the two together. They were best paired together considering their fields, but still…Aurion needed to keep them on track, not discover them doing…other things.

He discovered Bermoth and Campor with little effort. The two were indeed together, and they were not doing their assigned tasks, but their lack of work ethic was not due to any of Aurion’s private fears. No, they were both staring off toward the outskirts of Area 46, but for what purpose, Aurion did not know.

“What are you two doing?” he asked. “Why aren’t you collecting samples?”

“We were,” said Campor, “but then we sensed an aerometric disturbance five ticks out.”

“An aerometric disturbance?” asked Aurion. “What aerometric disturbance?”

“It was forceful,” said Bermoth. “We sensed it all the way here. Didn’t you feel it?”

“No,” said Aurion, but he was unsure.

Perhaps he had, perhaps he hadn’t. More than likely, his mind had been elsewhere due to his many duties, where he was, and that old witch, Brell. Of course, he had a more pressing matter at hand than whether or not he had sensed any aerometric disturbance.

“Was this in the direction of Irdan and Brettel?” asked Aurion.

“Yes…I think so,” said Campor.

“Did you contact them?” asked Aurion.

“Well…” trailed off Bermoth.

“Well, did you or didn’t you?” asked Aurion.

“We tried,” replied Bermoth. “We tried to contact them, but we haven’t been able to.”

“Hmm,” said Aurion in verbal wonder. “All right. I’ll go and look for them. You two get back to work while I’m gone…and no funny business. This isn’t mating season.”

The hostile tone Campor exuded implied an expression of indignation upon her face that would have been humorous were it not for the fact that Aurion was being dead serious.

“What is that supposed to mean!” she demanded.

“It means what it means,” said Aurion.

“You’re communicating that to me, aren’t you!” asked Campor.

She was sensibly upset, but Aurion didn’t care. He knew full well what she was like.

“Of course, I am,” he said firmly.

“This is because I’m female, isn’t it!” accused Campor.

Of course, one look at Bermoth, and Aurion could sense the discomfort in the young male’s posture. It was clear he wanted no part of this.

“It’s because you have a reputation,” said Aurion flatly. “It’s in your file.”

“That was one time!” said Campor. “It happened when I was younger, and it wasn’t even my fault!”

“I will take that into account,” said Aurion. “We can discuss this later…Just get back to work.”

“Oh, we’ll discuss it,” said Campor in obvious disgust. “We’ll discuss this with Central once we’re back home and I file a formal complaint!”

“You do that,” said Aurion. “Right now, just get back to work. I have to go find our missing xenocartographer and our missing scout.”

He pushed past her and made his way through more thick foliage, but he did catch her parting comment before she disappeared from sight.

“Pompous, egotistical, self-important…” she blathered on.

She was definitely going to be a problem later on. This was concerning, true, but he still had a job to do. He still had to find Irdan and Brettel.

He trudged once more over treacherous terrain and thick alien foliage. He had to make it out to Area 51, the area he suspected his xenocartographer and his scout were currently located.

Irdan was around his age, but he was a giant nerd, a complete geek in the field of xenocartography, and Aurion had little in common with him.

Brettel, on the other hand, was older than Aurion but younger than Brell, and she was a tough, hardened, and weathered female with many years of experience in military survival. Aurion didn’t particularly like her, mainly because of her gruff attitude. He preferred his females submissive.

He had made his way to Area 50 before he’d found them. He’d already known they were still alive because their life-signals had not been terminated, but what they were doing, he had no idea.

They were huddled down, lying flat within the dense shedding of foliage upon the wilderness floor, staring off toward Area 51. Naturally, he walked up to them in order to question them upon what kind of tomfoolery they were currently engaged in.

“What are you two—” he began.

He was cut short as he was yanked flat by Brettel. He didn’t even have time to protest before she mashed his face into the foliage shedding, his only view her unflattering posterior as she turned back around to face toward Area 51.

“Quiet!” she hissed.

Discretion was the better part of irritation here. Aurion wanted to cuss her out, badly so, a long string of expletives that would put her in her place, but he needed to know what was going on first.

“What’s going on!” he hissed in return.

“We were a tick ahead,” replied Irdan, “but then we discovered other beings there.”

“Other beings?” asked Aurion. “What do you mean by that? Are you saying—”

“Unregistered alien lifeforms,” said Brettel. “They’re unlike anything we’ve ever encountered.”

“How so?” asked Aurion, but then he thought better about it. “I mean…No, wait…We scanned this planet before arriving. There are no sentient minds here.”

“Is that so?” asked Brettel. “Tell that to them.”

He was really getting tired of her attitude, but he decided to play along.

“How did we not detect them, then?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” answered the scout. “All I know is that when we tried to communicate with them, we received no reply. It was like communicating with a wall. There was nothing there.”

“What?” asked Aurion. “Are you sure?”

“Yes!” hissed Brettel. “It’s like they’re dead inside.”

“Plus, they’re huge,” said Irdan. “They’re giants.”

“What?” asked Aurion again, but this time in complete disbelief. “You expect me to believe that mindless giants—”

“It’s the truth!” cut in Brettel. “They’re huge, they don’t communicate, and they must be natives to this planet.”

“How can you tell?” asked Aurion.

He had asked that without thinking. All of this was unbelievable, but his mind had already wandered toward the “natives” part of her reply.

“They have little to no protection against the atmosphere,” said Irdan.

“They’re also armed,” said Brettel. “They’re armed with weapons that work specifically within this atmosphere.”

If this was a prank, it was a well-thought-out one. This disturbed Aurion, if only because of its believability.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “We should be safe anyway. Our exosuits have reflective plating.”

“They’re not using beam weapons,” said Irdan. “Their weapons cause some kind of aerometric disturbance, but the damage done is tremendous. Brettel suspects they’re firing metal shards via some unknown propulsion source.”

“Metal shards?” asked Aurion. “We don’t have protection against that.”

“I know,” said Brettel. “We can’t communicate with them, and they’ve already fired at us once… These things are nameless. We have no idea what they are, only that they’re hostile. That’s why we’re leaving immediately.”

“I give the commands around here,” said Aurion firmly.

“You won’t be giving any commands if we’re all dead,” said Brettel just as firmly.

“We need to report this to Central, Captain,” said Irdan. “They have to know about this…if only to protect our people. If we don’t make it off this planet, Central might send more ships for search and rescue. They’d be walking right into a trap.”

“Look, you can take all of the credit for this,” said Brettel. “You can be a hero back home, for all I care. Right now, we need to get off this planet.”

Aurion did not like being ordered around, but they were right. If what they were saying was true, then all of them had to leave immediately. If what they were saying wasn’t true…well, they could be court-martialed upon return.

“So be it,” sighed Aurion. “Let’s make our way back.”

“Good,” said Brettel. “I haven’t sensed them recently, but they’re difficult to sense anyway.”

“Giant creatures that are difficult to sense?” asked Aurion.

He was really beginning to wonder if this was some sort of elaborate prank set up by his research team. He knew they didn’t like him, especially the females. He would not put it past these bitter witches to do this, to make him look like a fool in front of Central.

He would have asked more questions about this, but his irritating scout would not allow it.

“Yes,” said Brettel in flat reply. “I told you, we tried to communicate with them, but there was nothing there to communicate with. Plus, it’s difficult to sense their presence in general. Irdan and I have narrowed down their movement indicators by sensing slight adjustments in aerometric vibrational changes…I’m telling you, it’s like they’re ghosts…

“But that doesn’t matter right now. It’s only a matter of time before they make their way here…We’d better return now…Follow me. I can cut short our travel time with a clearer path through this insane foliage.”

Yet again with the orders. Aurion was the captain here, but he chose to defer to his scout anyway. Next time, however, he was not bringing any females along for the ride. Their sense of entitlement grated upon him.

“Let’s go,” he grunted.

Both he and Irdan followed Brettel along a new path toward Area 46. They had to inform Bermoth and Campor, though Aurion was seriously considering leaving Campor behind. In light of her loose mouth, she was going to be a problem when they finally returned home.

They trudged over unfamiliar terrain through thick foliage as Brettel led them back. Aurion could only hope she knew where she was going, but he had his doubts.

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Brettel, but her attitude was defiant. “This path should lead us back.”

Should lead us back?” asked Aurion. “Is this the path you first took?”

She traveled onward in more defiance, replying as she went. Aurion took this as a deliberate insult, but that insult was short-lived.

“No, it’s not,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m taking a new route because it’s a quicker—”

Her reply was cut short as large metal jaws erupted from the shed foliage upon the planet floor. These huge jaws sprang upwards and closed upon Brettel, crunching through her exosuit with ease, splitting her nearly in two. She popped a moment later from the crushing atmosphere, her internal fluids spraying everywhere as one of her legs flew past Aurion’s face.

This, of course, initiated instant panic, but that was to be expected.

“RUN!” yelled Aurion.

He and Irdan ran for their lives without a second thought.

“That was a trap!” screeched Irdan. “They’ve set traps!”

“I know!” yelled back Aurion. “Just keep running, you fool! We have to make it back to the others!”

He sensed the aerometric disturbance before witnessing the damage it dealt, a shockwave of ambient power, and then Irdan exploded into bits right next to him. The xenocartographer geek’s life-signal snuffed out without any warning at all, just like Brettel’s, here one moment and gone the next.

Aurion scuttled and scampered as fast as he could. More aerometric disturbances vibrated the air molecules, but he made himself a tough target by putting dense foliage between himself and his murderous pursuers.

Bretell had been correct; he could sense them closing in as he weaved this way and that, because they did indeed leave behind aerometric vibrational changes when they moved. However, they were fast, much faster than he could have anticipated for supposed “giants.”

In truth, he had not even caught so much as a sensory scan of them, but he had no desire to. He was afraid if he stopped for even one second, he would be a glob of exploded paste all over the planet floor, just like his two newly-deceased compatriots.

He dashed back toward Area 46, his legs moving as fast as they could, though his powered exosuit slowed him down somewhat. The servomotors simply could not keep up with his brain’s commands to run and then run some more.

He came upon Bermoth and Campor, and they surely had to know by now that Irdan and Brettel were dead. They were probably waiting for confirmation and a lengthy description as to what happened.

And confirm that he did, though he did not elaborate on that confirmation.

“RUN!” yelled Aurion as he scuttled past them. “BACK TO THE SHIP!”

They ran along with him, but that did not stop them from asking questions, especially Campor. She was not about to let this go without an explanation.

“What’s going on!” yelled Campor.

Aurion cringed at this simple question, but he replied anyway.

“Alien giants killed Irdan and Brettel!” he cried. “Just run! Duck and weave!”

“What!” cried out Campor.

Aurion ceased listening to her. No, he was intent on making it to Area 45, preferably alive and unexploded. Of course, this was compounded by the fact that giant, invisible, alien murderers were pursuing him, but that was the reason he was running anyway.

An aerometric disturbance kicked up near him, there was an upwards blast of shed foliage just in front of him, and then there was a cry of pain and fear from Bermoth.

Aurion turned out of reaction, though he had not intended to.

Bermoth was struggling forward, though he was missing a leg. His blood was splattered across the shed foliage, though his suit had sealed at the wound thanks to the new experimental exosuit technology they were all equipped with, and that was good (for Bermoth), but Aurion could tell he was in great pain. That technology wasn’t going to grow back the younger male’s leg.

“Help me!” cried out Bermoth.

“Help me get him!” pleaded Campor.

It did not take two seconds for Aurion to come to a decision over this little dilemma. No, there was only one solution for this, and it was cold, but it was necessary.

“There’s nothing we can do,” said Aurion flatly. “He’s not going to make it.”

There was nothing else to be said, so Aurion took to running once more. Bermoth was already dead as far as he was concerned, and what little was left in the xenopedologist would serve as a distraction for the alien murderers, so the young male’s death wasn’t entirely in vain.

“Aurion!” yelled Campor. “Get back here!”

She chased after him, but neither one of them made it very far before the air molecules vibrated again from another aerometric disturbance.

Bermoth’s life-signal ended. There was no longer any argument as to whether the young xenopedologist needed help or not.

Aurion ignored Campor’s screams of rage. No, he took to running again, because unlike her, he knew the situation at hand, and also unlike her, he was a competent leader.

“You filth!” screeched Campor. “You trash!”

Aurion hit Area 45 without slowing down. There was no way he was going to let some self-righteous female hold him up, or for that matter, get him killed.

Brell stepped out before them, and Aurion was momentarily forced to come to a screeching halt due to the imposing presence of the old witch.

“Stop!” cried out the weathered xenobotanist.

“There’s no ti—!” began Aurion.

“He left Bermoth behind!” screeched Campor. “Bermoth is dead because of him!”

“I didn’t kill him!” said Aurion defensively. “The alien giants did that!”

“What alien giants?” asked Brell. “The only thing I know is that three of our research team are dead, their life-signals terminated.”

“Something killed Bermoth,” said Campor.

Her tone was watery, upset, and completely unprofessional. Her weak personality was just one of the reasons why Aurion was going to oust her the moment he got back home. That was a given.

“Something killed all three of them,” corrected Aurion. “Brettel and Irdan claimed that nameless alien giants were hunting them and were somehow natives to this planet. They also claimed that these giants possessed unknown weaponry that we have no defense against, weaponry that fires metal shards.”

“Giants native to this world?” asked Brell. “And how did we not detect them? We scanned for sentient life.”

“Brettel claimed she had tried to communicate with them,” continued Aurion, “but she said, and I quote, ‘There was nothing there.’ She claimed it was like talking to a wall, like they were dead inside.”

“Were they artificial lifeforms?” asked Brell.

“I…I don’t know,” said Aurion nervously. “I’ve yet to actually sense one in its entirety.”

He had not thought to scan for artificial lifeforms…Such a thing had never crossed his mind. As captain, it was his job to anticipate any and all hostile encounters, especially out here in the Forbidden Zone.

“You didn’t scan for Artificials!” hissed Campor. “Bermoth is dead because of you! Brettel and Irdan are dead because of you! You didn’t scan for Artificials, you moron! By the Thousand Rings, I should kill you, you incompetent piece of—!”

“Enough,” said Brell firmly. “You two will report back to the ship. I will lead off these giants. Either I’ll lose them, or I won’t. Either way, I’ll ensure you have a clear path.”

“You can’t do that!” said Campor in sensible surprise. “You can’t just throw your life away, especially for him!”

“I’m old, and I’ve had my adventures,” said Brell. “This trip to the Forbidden Zone was the last thing on my ascension list. I’ve made my peace already, Campor…Now, I want you two to go…Go now. Go before it’s too late.”

Aurion did not have to be told twice. He simply turned and ran.

“Coward!” yelled Campor.

The old witch, Brell, was not so much of a witch in his mind anymore. She had some real grit, some real and honest sense of priorities, something Campor clearly did not possess. Brell knew it was her duty to ensure the survival of her captain, unlike Campor, who had become a liability some time ago.

Speaking of which, the younger female was the real witch now.

Campor was after him, naturally. The younger witch of the two was not going to leave him be on the matter of Bermoth, but Aurion knew some sacrifices had to be made for the greater good. He had to get his crew safely home, and Bermoth’s abandonment was just one of those cold but proper decisions that captains had to make in the heat of the moment.

“Trash!” hissed Campor as she followed Aurion through dense foliage. “Filthy, cowardly trash!”

Aurion attempted to ignore her as best he could, but her persistence in hostility wore at him. Nevertheless, he made it all the way to Area 40 before he sensed the distant jarring of an aerometric disturbance. This was followed by several more distant aerometric disturbances, but Brell’s life-signal did not end until Aurion had entered Area 38.

Considering the distance between the disturbances and his location, Aurion slowed down to a much more acceptable pace. He was very tired anyway.

“You’re a coward,” said Campor, the hostility still evident in her tone.

“I am the captain,” said Aurion calmly. “I have to make the tough decisions when called upon.”

“That’s an excuse,” replied Campor. “You’re nothing but a coward…a bigoted, self-centered, narcissistic coward.”

“You are going under arrest and review for mutiny as soon as we get back,” warned Aurion. “I think a stay in the brig will do until you can be transferred to a tribunal at Central.”

“What!” cried Campor. “Oh, you are so done when we return. I’m going to let everyone know what happened. You are finished…Do you sense me! YOU…ARE…FINISHED!”

This settled the matter for him; her shouting simply would not do. She was a clear and present danger to the ship and the crew now, so there was only one clear course of action.

He picked up a rather large stone and hefted its weight, checking to sense just how hard and how dense it actually was.

“What are you doing?” asked Campor.

He could sense the nervousness in her. It was that sense of impending doom that was an instinct in all living things.

“I’m doing what’s necessary,” said Aurion matter-of-factly. “You cannot be allowed to jeopardize the safety of the crew. I am hereby terminating you for the good of all.”

“Stop!” screeched Campor. “STOP!”

He came at her a second later. She tried to defend herself, and she shrieked quite loudly, but it only took two good hits to her suit’s exoplating to rupture it.

She ballooned outwards for a second as he backed away, and then she exploded, her blood and guts spraying everywhere, absolutely everywhere, and he knew he was going to have to explain why he was covered in her brains and other parts, but he would cross that bridge when he came to it.

He took his leave of her corpse, though there was not much left of it.

It was a travesty, really, but this had been the alien giants’ fault anyway. Yes, this wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been any alien giants on the planet. Oh no, this was not his fault. He, the captain, was not to blame for this insanity. And speaking of insanity, Campor had gone mad, and he’d had to put her down. It was the giants who were responsible for everyone’s deaths anyway, so he would simply list her as killed by them in his report.

He made his way back to the ship, but he had no further issues. Brell’s sacrifice had paid off, and he was no longer being pursued. He would make sure her sacrifice would not be forgotten, either. He would mention that sacrifice in a memo within his full report. Campor, on the other hand, would simply be listed as “killed by her own incompetence in response to a hostile alien threat.”

Aurion shook off any other doubts as the Brazen came into view just up ahead. It was time to get off of this pit of a planet.


Billy deftly maneuvered a stick through leaves and dirt in order to pick up what was left of the “leg” on the ground. It was long and spindly, about as thick around as a twig or a stick itself, a husk of a thing with a brown, chitinous exterior. It leaked a glowing goo from where it had blown open, a neon liquid of rainbow hues that shifted and shimmered in the dim light of dawn.

“What are these critters, Billy?” asked Jimmy Joe.

Billy dropped the hollow limb and stick, scratched his thick brown beard, and shook his head. He took off his hunter’s cap after that and wiped his brow in confusion. In truth, he had no idea what he was looking at.

“Got no idea, Jimmy Joe,” he said. “They look like big ol’ ticks or mites, but they pop like zits when you shoot ’em. Can’t says I ever seen anything like ’em.”

“Maybe they’re aliens,” said Jimmy Joe.

Billy grinned and nodded a couple of times as he put his hat back on his head. He dropped his shotgun barrel off his right shoulder and gripped the weapon with both hands.

“That they might be, Jimmy Joe,” he said. “If they are aliens, you know what that means?”

“Yeah…We gon’ be rich, Billy,” grinned Jimmy Joe.

“Yepper,” nodded Billy. “We can get ourselves in National Discovery World. Hell, maybe we can even get ourselves in Guns and Women!”

“Aww, you’re thinking too small, Billy!” said Jimmy Joe. “We can get ourselves on TV!”

“Yeah,” breathed Billy as he thought about this. “We can be like those good ol’ boys on that duck show.”

“Now, you’re talking,” said Jimmy Joe. “But first we need to find the rest of these…critters…”

His voice trailed off as both of them stared in the distance at the long, almond-shaped object rising above the morning tree-line. It looked fairly large, even from the distance at which they were viewing it, and it was truly almond shaped, but it was definitely unlike any kind of nut either one of them had ever seen before. It was more like a giant pointed oval with a brown chitinous exterior that was segmented and banded like an insect, like the abdomen of a roach.

“They are aliens, Billy!” breathed out Jimmy Joe in excitement. “That’s their ship… They must be some kinda alien bug hive!…They must be invading! They want to lay eggs in our brains or something…Oh, it’s a good thing we got the ones down here, but they’re gettin’ away!”

“Not for long, Jimmy Joe,” said Billy with a shake of his head. “Not for long…You hear that? Our boys just showed up.”

They both turned to view several fighter jets streak through the dawn sky, the rumbling of the planes an indication that help was already on the way.

“How’d they get here so fast?” asked Jimmy Joe.

“Our boys have been shooting down those commie spy balloons,” nodded Billy. “They been on high alert lately. They pro’lly already knew these critters was here…Ain’t you watched the news?”

A number of missiles slammed into the alien craft in the distance, contrails of debris flying everywhere and in every direction as the strange ship exploded. There was nothing left of the weird alien ship after that, just pieces of it raining down upon the forest treetops some distance beyond their own position.

Billy and Jimmy Joe whooped and hollered as they jumped up and down in excitement.

“Yeah!” yelled Jimmy Joe. “That’s our boys! Woohoo!”

“That’ll teach them aliens not to mess with the good ol’ boys of Earth!” cried Billy.

Nameless Copyright © 2023 Matthew L. Marlott

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