Trouble with Terrans


Author: Emma Locknane – First Place Senior Division 2019

Captain Bror didn’t know what else she could do. A week ago, she’d thought that capturing the distressed human ship was a good idea; figuring it would be easy to make the terrans their lab rats, no problem.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

The matter began when the head scientist, Aldigo, requested an exploratory expedition to the solar system containing the human planet called “Earth.” Though the Intergalactic Council of Research knew little about the terrans, Bror agreed to the mission anyway, despite the risks. Had she known it would become anything other than a simple investigation of the other eight planets, she would have stayed in the Shangri Nebula where the crew was originally posted, and she definitely never would have responded to that distress signal.

But there was no way she could have known this at the time, and so was now presented with a ship-wide conundrum of seven humans on the loose.

When Bror and her crew first captured them, they seemed docile enough. They were nervous, sure, but they honestly seemed more confused than anything, and even slightly grateful their broken and battered ship was no longer adrift in space. When Bror’s crew trained their weapons on the humans, they were especially compliant; enough that they could be led into a cell reinforced with the highest-grade aluminum bars. There wasn’t a doubt in Bror’s mind this would be enough to contain the new lab rats.

Yet she was wrong.

The humans procured an escape plan in less time than an Earth rotation. The moment the guards took their eyes off the terrans, the group assessed their surroundings and escaped.

After locating security footage at a later date, Bror learned their plan wasn’t complicated or an act of genius in the slightest. The humans merely wrapped their hands around the aluminum bars and pulled them apart. The captain watched in awestruck horror as the apparent alpha terran with short black and white hair and a nasty battle scar across one eye pried apart the bars of the cell with little effort. It was no secret some species could perform such an act of raw strength, but it left them drained and exhausted for a rotation. They wouldn’t escape before guards arrived on scene. Yet this human showed no such weakness, and once free, beckoned the rest of the pack to follow as they wandered out of the cell block.

Bror’s crew rounded up the humans for a second time. They were compliant when weapons were involved, and shuffled along to the maximum security cell Bror relocated them to. This one had steel bars considered unbreakable by various races in the galaxy, far stronger than aluminum. Bror believed it would be impossible for the terrans to escape this one. She was right this time. Even the eldest human lacked the strength to do so.

The problem was, they were smart enough to bypass the locking mechanism, and coordinated enough to make a run for it when the guards were on a shift change. Bror was clueless on how they’d managed to circumvent the secret lock mechanism aboard the ship, though Aldigo hypothesized they likely watched the guards type the sequence code into the keypad on the wall. How the humans had the memory to remember the code long enough to escape while the guards rotated position remained a mystery to her. Nonetheless, the humans were corralled a third time, but it was obvious no cell would hold them for long. Even if they changed the security codes, the humans would be watching for the sequence. To boot, the ship left Earth’s system the moment they’d salvaged the human vessel. They ran the risk of more terran ships pursuing them if they didn’t leave immediately. While they possessed superior technology to humans, enough terran forces amassed could be dangerous.

The trip had already exhausted fuel and resources, and was now too far from Earth to release the humans back into their natural habitat. The humans’ ship was irreparable, so sending the terrans back out into space with a broken vessel and no resources seemed cruel. This, and Bror would rather bring the ship and its humans back to the Intergalactic Council for further study.

So, Bror gave the order: poison the humans and end them quickly. The captain was sad to lose such fine human specimens, but they just couldn’t be contained with her ship’s resources. If they were to be safely studied, it would have to be as cadavers. Thus, Bror instructed Aldigo and his team to dart them, using the galaxy’s fastest-acting poison, caffeine. It was quick and painless, and would hopefully solve the crew’s problem.

Except…that didn’t work either. Once again, Bror was shocked by the humans’ tenacity.

Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty, thirty, a whole clock rotation went by, and the humans were still alive. In fact, they were even more active than before! For some reason, instead of convulsing and dying like other species, the humans became excited. The small ones let out strange, shrill squeals, running around and jumping on the adults manically. Even the larger humans seemed more energetic. It was the exact opposite response that Bror and her crew had expected. Aldigo, for one, turned a sickly shade of purplish blue and looked like he was going to shrivel up and perish from shock. Even Sergeant Keein looked concerned, and Bror had never known him to be fazed by anything.

“So, deadly poison doesn’t kill them?” Keein rumbled, cocking an ear as he looked downward at his captain. “What´re we going to do now?”

“I guess we’ll have to try something else,” Bror sighed, running a paw over her ears. “Maybe the Track Car?”

Aldigo gasped, black eyes widening with horror.

THAT?” he turned a deeper shade of purple. “Surely, you mustn’t be considering such a thing?”

“What choice do we have? The poison didn’t work. If anything, it backfired. We can’t contain them like this. Soon enough, they´ll figure out how to get out of this room, too.” Bror sighed. “There’s no other way.”

“I’ll prep the Track Car,” Sergeant Keein grumbled, lumbering off down the hall. Bror exchanged a disheartened look with Aldigo.

“I’m sorry; I know you wanted to study them alive, but there’s too much risk to the crew. If we can’t contain them when needed, then it could be dangerous,” the captain explained. Aldigo blinked sadly.

“Well, at least we learned a little about terrans,” he replied, his purple tint fading into a dark blue instead. “I’m sure the knowledge of their immunity to caffeine will be groundbreaking in and of itself.”

“That’s the spirit,” Bror chirped, but then let out another sigh. “Let’s get this over with.”

* * *

Thankfully, the humans remained relatively docile as they plodded through the halls of the spaceship. Granted, they were still moving as a pack unit despite the crew’s best efforts to split them up into smaller numbers in case they chose to escape en route. This did not go over well with the humans, especially when Sergeant X’orph laid one feather on the smallest one. The tiny, brown-haired earthling let out a shrill yelp when he was pulled away from the others. This event instantly triggered an aggressive, protective response in the eldest female of the group, assumed to be the beta of the pack. Before X’orph had time to react, the adult female pounced the avian sergeant, tackling him to the ground and tearing handfuls of silver feathers from his body with ruthless snarls. The earthling she defended fled and cowered behind the alpha. Bror would have found the pack bond adorable were it not for the sinister glares of the other terrans. Said terrifying looks haunted her every dream for the next several orbits.

In short, splitting humans up against their will was a bad plan, and resulted in the severe injury of the sergeant. It turned out, humans had no rules against biting. Even now, the orange-maned beta was cradling the tiny earthling in her arms, making soft cooing noises to calm its whimpers. Bror and her crew found its cries rather grating, but they weren’t about to become the next victim of the female’s wrath, let alone that of the alpha. If that meant keeping them as a group, then so be it.

Bror and her crew reached the torture chamber. Even Sergeant Keein shuddered and wrinkled his snout at the sight of the Track Car; it was widely considered throughout the galaxy as one of the most feared torture weapons. Nobody wanted to get put into a Track Car; being dragged up and down, left and right, and even twirled upside down at ludicrous speeds while strapped into a metal car attached to a rattling track was thought to be one of the worst ways to go. If the panic didn’t kill the victim, then the blood-curdling, brain-melting gravity forces would. This invention was so notorious that the sight of the Track Car alone would warrant an immediate confession from prisoners, not to mention hysteria.

But the humans, in typical fashion, yielded neither words nor panic. Instead, their faces lit up with amazement at the sight of the death machine, especially the smaller ones. They began jumping around and squealing once more, pointing at the contraption and baring their teeth in what Bror heard was called a “smile.” This was confusing in and of itself; what kind of species used a threat signal as a sign of happiness? Even the adults looked kind of enlivened, though they appeared a little confused.

Bror and her crewmates were stunned. Keein and Aldigo gawked at the sight, mouths agape.

“Well, that’s…not the usual reaction,” Aldigo spoke, dark bulbous eyes squinting suspiciously. Sergeant Keein walked over to the humans, addressing the alpha.

“Oi, why aren’t you afraid? This is a torture device, you know!” he barked.

The alpha terran looked at the sergeant like he’d grown an extra head.

“All due respect, Sergeant, but we haven’t figured out how to communicate with the humans,” Aldigo pointed out. “I doubt it understood what yo–”

Without prompting, one of the younger humans with curiously darker skin than the others repeated Sergeant Keein´s exact words, going so far as to imitate his gestures and facial expression. Granted, it wasn’t a perfect copy, for the human slurred a bit and messed up the finer linguistics, but for a species new to Bror’s ship, it was a vocalized marvel; a huge leap in breaking communication barriers with the terrans. The discovery shocked the entire crew. The other humans seemed to think it amusing, and began chittering and chattering amongst themselves. Some of them mimicked the first human, and eventually all of them joined in, staring dead at Sergeant Keein as they continued to copy him. By this point, the crew understood this was mockery.

“…Load them into the Track Car,” Sergeant Keein growled as he walked away, his eyes flaring an angry shade of red. Despite it all, Bror couldn’t help but stifle an amused trill herself. Nonetheless, she contained her entertainment, and ordered the guards to prepare the Track Car.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take a lot of time or effort to get the humans into the torture device. If anything, they jumped into it willingly. They even knew how to strap themselves in and smiled as they waited for the device to start, which made Bror wonder if humans were just naturally suicidal. Either way, there was, at least, the assurance the humans were okay with death.

Thus, Bror activated the device.

The car lurched forward, barreling along the track at breakneck speed. The humans roared and screamed at once, but it was not a sound of fear or terror, nor that of pain. As the car whizzed by, Bror could see the humans had their mouths open in wide, gleeful grins. All the way around the track, the humans continued their merry shrieking. For them, it was a sound of happiness and joy. But for Bror, it was the sound of nightmares; the call of creatures so insane that even death itself cowered from their snarly, toothy grin. As the Track Car came to a stop, the humans were still chattering in jubilation, and Bror knew that those shrill, raucous calls were going to haunt her sleep-cycle for the rest of her life.

“…It…didn’t work?” Aldigo stammered, the bony red crest atop his head flashing a deep magenta in surprise.

“I can’t believe it…! This…this is one of the most effective execution methods in the galaxy! How did it fail?” Bror shouted. “We even put it at top speed to ensure their death!”

The humans started hollering at Bror and her crew, pointing to the lever that activated the Track Car. Confused, Bror gestured to it as well. The humans began cheering and squawking in their gleeful manner, shaking their heads up and down. Bror felt sick when she realized what they wanted.

“They…want to do it AGAIN!?” she wailed, her black, pointed ears pinning back against her head as she bared her canines in shock.

“Huh. Maybe they know something we don’t?” Aldigo guessed. “Perhaps they know it’ll take more than one round to kill them?”

Could this species be any crazier? Bror wondered in bewilderment.

“So, send them around again,” she ordered impatiently. “It´ll have to kill them off eventually, right?”

Thus, Sergeant Keein pulled the lever again. The Track Car shot forth, speeding around the track once more and eliciting the same shrill cries from the humans. Sure enough, when the car stopped, the humans just pointed to the lever again. This cycle continued on for quite some time before Bror came to the horrible realization that the humans weren’t doing this because it would kill them, but because they thought it was fun; as if it were a game. The notion made Bror´s gizzard writhe.

“I can’t believe this,” Sergeant Keein huffed after nearly three clock rotations. “How are they still alive? Nobody can survive the Track Car!”

“Nobody can survive caffeine, either,” Aldigo rebutted. “And yet here they are, alive and well after both.”

“Ugh; there’s just no way to kill them off, is there?” Keein slammed a fist on the railing, causing the humans to simultaneously turn their heads at the noise. Reluctantly, they were coaxed out of the Track Car, and were lined up against the wall. Rather, they were supposed to be, though Bror got the feeling the humans were growing less and less afraid of the crew’s weapons, and may even believed this was some kind of joke. They ignored the armed guards and were busy chatting amongst themselves, consistently repeating the phrase “rull-er cooster.” The captain resigned herself with a sigh. She didn’t want it to come to this, but her options were wearing thin.

“In that case, there’s only one option we have left to try,” Bror spoke solemnly. Aldigo and Keein turned their gazes to her, curiosity gleaming in both of their expressions. “I didn’t want to have to do this, but we’ll need to use the Hydro-Chamber.”

Everyone minus the humans gasped in horror; even the captain felt as if she’d used a curse word.

“What? Captain, you can’t be serious!” Aldigo exclaimed, skin flickering a bright shade of yellow. “Hydro-torture is illegal in five systems for a reason!”

“I know, but what choice do we have? We can’t contain them for longer than a day at most, I tried and failed to kill them quickly with poison, and even the Track Car didn’t off them! And we can’t return to Earth to release them now; we don’t have enough fuel. There’s no other way!” Bror explained. “I’m sorry, but this is how it has to be.”

Aldigo faded to a dark shade of blue, but said nothing more. With a defeated sigh, Bror walked out of the room, motioning for the guards to follow.

* * *

Shuddering as she looked upon the Hydro-Chamber, Bror couldn’t help but feel a sense of guilt. She hated to be the person to sentence another species to such a terrible fate, but she couldn’t think of any other solution to this problem. She had the guards lead the humans into the room, all of her crewmates staring ominously at the deep pit filled to the brim with that terrifying, clear hydrofluid.

It wasn’t that the substance was instantaneously corrosive; many crew members consumed it in small amounts, but what made it so frightening was the slow death of submersion. Any longer than one clock rotation, and whatever unfortunate being that remained submerged would begin to dissolve. Hence, Hydro-Torture was singlehandedly the most feared practice in the galaxy. If the Track Car could instill terror with the sight of a machine, Hydro-Torture need only be mentioned by name, and prisoners instantly offered up their accounts, sometimes regardless of guilt. Nobody in the galaxy was willing to face the horror of melting in a pool of hydrofluid from whence there was no escape.

Unsurprisingly, the humans didn’t seem worried. They kept looking between the hydrofluid and the guards like they didn’t know what was happening. Their ignorance would have been adorable if the humans hadn’t been so insanely durable thus far.

“Put them in,” Bror barked, the guards grunting in response as they motioned to the pool. The humans offered one last confused glance at the crew before exchanging words briefly among themselves. Reaching some point of finality, the alpha turned and pattered near the Hydro-Chamber. He stared into the liquid a moment before dabbing a paw into the hydrofluid. He did this a few more times before regaining a flicker of previous excitement. He said something to the others, and the enthusiasm was infectious.

Encouraged by the alpha and beckoned by a wave of his hand, the others came forth to investigate. Bror watched, out of the corner of her eye, as one of the youngest terrans, male with a dark scruffy mane, leapt over the others and into the hydrofluid. The small dark-skinned human followed after, chasing the older one all the way to other end of the pool. The remaining humans roared with delight as they jumped into the fluid, hopping and splashing about. At the shallow end of the pool, Bror noticed the only human who hesitated was the smallest earthling, though he seemed content with the beta’s presence. Bror made a mental note not to come between human females and their young; their maternal instinct held aggression more fearsome than any the captain had ever seen.

As the humans frolicked about the Hydro-Chamber, Bror noticed a few of the guards standing nearby, eyes wide with horror. Some were shaking, and others were changing colors at a rapid rate. Noting their fear, Bror sighed and waved them off.

“Go ahead. Sergeant Keein and I will remain. Everyone else is dismissed; you don’t have to look upon this,” she relented. Just like that, all the guards fled the Hydro-Chamber. Despite the dismissal, Aldigo remained. Bror found this odd, as unlike his militant superiors, he’d seldom come into contact with death, let alone that of such gruesome variety. For better or worse, Bror supposed, he was committed to gaining every last scrap of knowledge about the terrans before they perished. It was a quality that, for better or worse, Bror had come to admire through working with the scientist.

And so, the waiting began.

As the minutes ticked by, Bror couldn’t help but feel worse about the gruesome fate the humans were soon to meet. Half a clock rotation, and they were still frisking blissfully in the hydrofluid. They’d throw it at one another’s faces, shove each other beneath the surface; it turned out they even knew how to swim. They weren’t great at it, by any means, not by intergalactic standards, but they could swim. It was almost heartwarming to watch the beta teaching the little earthling how to paddle in the shallows, showing him the art. Even as time went on, the humans were no less aware of the danger and the fate yet to overcome them. Their ignorance was sad.

Except, when the clock rotation was up and the humans still showed no sign of dissolving, it appeared that Bror and her crew were the ignorant ones.

Another half-clock rotation past the limit, and the humans still showed no signs of absolute agony, no discomfort at all. In fact, the only notable thing that happened was the skin on their paws had wrinkled and shriveled a little bit, but it didn’t seem to bother them that much.

Instead, the humans resumed their strange form of play. If they got tired, they’d perch on the steps near the locked exit gate for a while, but within minutes were back at it again. They never stopped talking the whole time, the young ones making awful high-pitched noises of apparent elation. Clock rotations went by, and while the terrans started to display less enthusiasm and give the crew prolonged stares, they showed no sign of dissolving into goo anytime soon. Their joyful chorus became a dull lull, and while some thought the humans might be weakening, Bror came to the realization their fading energy was undoubtedly a symptom of boredom.

And after a week of dealing with them, Bror knew what happened when humans got bored: they escaped.

“Let them out,” she instructed, not sure why she was even surprised at this point. “It’s not working.”

“No way,” Aldigo gasped, jaw hanging open as he stared at the humans, his skin turning a dark purple with shock and awe.

After opening the gate and herding the humans out of the Hydro-Chamber, Bror realized she was right back at square one. She had no idea what to do with the terrans; they were just so…durable. The way things were going, she doubted even her crew’s weapons could harm them. If Hydro-Torture didn’t kill these things, what would?

Certainly nothing Bror had on her ship.

“Well, now what?” Aldigo queried. “I take it we can’t kill them, and imprisoning them seems a futile effort.”

“Fine!” Sergeant Keein roared, irises burning bright red as he clenched his fists in a fit of rage. “If we can’t kill them, we’ll just have to teach them some discipline!”

Bror and Aldigo watched as Sergeant Keein, who was easily three times the height of the human alpha, marched over and stood in front of the humans, looming over their heads. At his throaty growl, they turned their heads up and met his fiery gaze. Bror couldn’t help but take note of the slight apprehension on the humans’ faces. She wasn’t surprised; Keein’s species was known throughout the galaxy for being able to win battles through intimidation alone. His people were some of the tallest and mightiest, and their sheer size often proved too much for any other species to surpass. Combine that with a harsh stare and a low, guttural grumble, and most never dared question his authority.

This concept failed to register with the humans, who weren’t afraid of his size alone. The earthling, in all matter of karma, bared his tiny teeth in an exuberant smile and leapt from the beta’s arms. The humans seemed to collectively stiffen as the small terran reached out and wrapped his limbs around the sergeant’s fuzzy ankle.

“Wh-hey! No, no, no, no! Let go! Get off!” Sergeant Keein barked as he stumbled backwards, desperately trying to get the dwarfish, sopping wet human off his foot. The other humans clearly found this comical, and cackled as if they perceived this as funny. They only laughed harder when Sergeant Keein let out the most shrill, undignified yelp as he stuck his foot out in a desperate attempt to keep the little human as far away as possible. Since the sergeant couldn’t attack or threaten the tiny one for fear it would incur the alpha’s wrath, and Xenoporc knew what he was capable of, Keein had to settle for gently, yet feverishly, shaking the earthling to the floor. It backfired, and the earthling proceeded to climb up his leg and onto his back.

Observing the fun, the small dark-skinned human decided to join in, latching onto Keein’s other foot and holding tight, fastened to his ankle. Three more terrans rushed for a spot on the furry giant, grinning like madmen. Losing his balance, Keein was dragged to the floor and looked up to see them perched atop his frame. The lot of them pinned the screaming, flailing sergeant to the ground as if he was an amateur wrestler. The alpha and beta abstained from the action and stood by the wall. Their expressions showed their lack of viable concern, and they began to egg the others on. At first, Bror worried for Keein’s safety, but upon witnessing the harmless play, realized he wasn’t in any danger. The humans weren’t fighting or inflicting pain. On the contrary, the terrans were giggling and chuckling as they did in the Track Car and Hydro-Chamber. She realized this was all fun and games. Granted, it was a twisted form of entertainment, mock-murder and rough play by nature. But Keein, as frantic as he was, was completely fine. Bror saw no reason to intervene, though she cringed at the thought of trying to stop such creatures. She decided to go along with it, and trilled in amusement as she turned towards Aldigo on her right.

“Well, do you still want to study them?” she asked. Aldigo blinked away his daze.

“R-really? I…I-I can-?” he stuttered.

“Sure; might as well. The more we know about them, the easier they’ll be to contain if we have to, not to mention we might be able to find out a way to communicate with them,” Bror stated. “But for the love of Xenoporc, just…try to keep them in the science wing.”

“Y-y-yes, ma’am!” Aldigo chirruped with excitement, skin taking on splotches of bright pink. He loved learning about new humanoid species, he and his bunch were about to have a field day. “I will! I’ll learn everything about them! You have my word!”

“Very good. Now, uh…how do we get them to stop assaulting Sergeant Keein?”


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