2. Danger in a Strange Land

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The lost boy limped his way across the windy desert, shielding his eyes from the stinging sand. The sun seared down mercilessly, seemingly larger than usual – and much more red. He had no idea how he'd appeared so abruptly in this blistering hell. All he knew was that it had something to do with that thing on his arm... and that eye.

That horrible yellow eye.

He glanced at the ivory gauntlet fastened to his right hand, which hung heavily by his side. He turned it over again, as he had been doing hesitantly for the past couple hours. Like before, the gem was still a deep blue. That alien iris which had stared right through him had vanished. In frustration, Trey shook his arm and yelled at the strange object.

"What are you!?" he demanded, but got no reply. He grabbed the glove with his other hand, attempting to tear it off, but it refused to yield. "Why did you bring me here!? Why the hell are you doing this to me!?"

Trey fell to his knees and pounded his captive fist into the sand. He stomped on his arm and flung it about, even biting it a few times, and eventually slumped to the ground in defeat. He gazed around at his desolate surroundings, and suddenly missed the comforts of his home. He had taken those simple pleasures for granted, even scorned them, and for the life of him he could not remember why. He would give anything to be back in his room, with air conditioning and digital entertainment to accompany him.

He tried to imagine what his parents were doing right now. His father would still be working, earning the money that funded their stable lifestyle. His mother would be preparing homemade sauces hours before they'd actually eat dinner, just to make sure everything was perfect.

Around that time, Trey would go straight to his enclosed area and sulk, avoiding the questions and fights he knew would arise. Now, though, those quarrels seemed so mundane compared to the problem at hand. Mom, Dad... They'll be looking for me. How will they ever find me out here? Where is here?

He suddenly felt awfully guilty about disappearing. He knew that, logically, it wasn't his fault, but that didn't make him feel any better. He wanted to cry, but his eyes were dried out. They'll be so worried about me. All my friends, too, never knowing where I went... They'll imagine the worst...

Not unless you make it back. Shut up, Trey, and stop worrying about them. Right now you should be worrying about yourself.

The boy stood again, pushed his fears aside and tried to salvage what little hope he had left. He would have to find water and shelter soon, or else he would die in this unbearable heat. Trey dragged his throbbing foot behind him, leaned into the winds that blew from every direction, and wandered aimlessly into the storm.

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The brown blob on the horizon was so vague at first that Trey thought it must a mirage. He continued towards it, eyes straining against the harsh sunlight and blurring sands, until he could nearly make out what it was. He saw movement, and a flood of relief washed over him. He was not alone.

An involuntary peal of laughter escaped his mouth, and the figure turned towards him, its face hidden beneath a brown hood. Trey hopped on his good leg, shouting and waving, and the figure began to run in his direction, jumping in short bursts that seemed too unnatural for any person. In fact, Trey realized, it was impossible for anybody to move like that. He stopped waving, and his laughter faded. Eventually, his fear and confusion returned, as he finally got close enough to make out who it was.

The figure was not so much a 'who' as a 'what'. Its neck was much too long, and its hips much too wide. Its legs jutted out at impossible angles, as did the arms, as if their joints were inside-out. What Trey had thought to be a brown cloak was in fact the creature's skull, encased in a dirty-brown shell of chitin. The bewildered child froze and stared in disbelief at the massive alien insectoid, its forelimbs ending in wicked scythes, while a smaller pair gripped a metal pole with a curved blade.

It was too late to hide. The creature pointed straight at him with its spear and made a series of sharp clicks, which echoed far and wide. Trey took a few steps back, shock keeping him from running any further, then his heart plummeted into the soles of his shoes as more creatures scurried over the dunes, like ants from a hill. There were over twenty, thirty, fifty of them, all clutching barbaric weapons and clicking violently. They charged as one towards him, a cloud of dust billowing in their wake.

The terrified boy stood immobile as they swarmed. His mind screamed at his legs to move, but they would not respond. The creatures grew ever closer, and soon he could see dozens of barbed pincers protruding from their beak-like mouths. As they neared, sharp blades flashing in the malevolent sun, a forgotten instinct took over and Trey finally ran for his life, trying to ignore the pain shooting through his injured foot.

He hobbled forward in pure desperation, refusing to look back at his pursuers. He poured every ounce of energy into fleeing, and it wasn't until the first spear flew past his head that he turned, and realized how close they were. He spun back, screaming out loud at his legs to move faster. They immediately stumbled in the dunes, and his ankle screamed back. His entire leg flared in unbearable agony as he crashed headfirst into a mound of sand, and frantically scrambled for his life on hands and knees.

A spear lanced into the edge of his shoe, pinning it to the ground and slicing Trey's heel open. It happened to be the swollen ankle, and clotted blood gushed from the wound. Trey screamed as he dropped face-first to the ground, losing both his shoe and his last sliver of hope. He cried into a mouthful of sand, afraid to face his end, but a shrill noise caused him to roll over defensively. An alien mantis lunged towards him, raising its spear and releasing a horrible shriek of victory. The monstrous nightmare towered over the boy, blotting out the sun and shadowing him in fear. He could only watch as death closed around him.

Trey couldn't believe he was going to die. He could have never imagined it would end like this. It was unreal – This is real, though. I can't die, not like this...

Suddenly, another battle cry came from above. Trey glanced up as a man literally fell from the sky, an enormous sword raised above his head. As he landed, he swung his blade through the giant insect, and it had no chance to scream as it was sliced in half, both sides flying apart with the force of the blow. Sand settled around the warrior as he crouched protectively between Trey and the creatures, weapon readied for the next strike.

A woman landed next to them, a sleek jetpack lowering her safely to the ground. She hoisted a massive cannon on her hip, aimed at the swarm, and let loose. Stickly limbs and body parts burst everywhere as the wave of energy tore through them, then finally collided with a large dune in a brilliant eruption.

The woman abruptly turned to Trey, who met her gaze with wild eyes. "You okay, kid?"

Trey was speechless. He could only stare at the alien female in amazement, while she looked him up and down in concern. She was humanoid, but her skin was a shimmering gray, and she had no nose. Her feline eyes were a shockingly bright violet, with no whites at all. After a moment, she shrugged at his lack of response and returned to firing.

Her male companion – who looked much more human – charged the monsters simultaneously, a whirlwind of metal that spun fearlessly through their endless numbers. Any insect that dared approached him was cleaved in two, sometimes three, as his sword sliced effortlessly through their armor. Steam burst from their shells as they were dissected, and Trey dimly realized that the weapon left a cauterized wound, which didn't bleed. Its blade burned with an inner light, and fiery blue flames danced each time it struck.

As one of the aliens stabbed with its spear, the warrior held his sword vertically and split the shaft lengthwise down the middle. He pivoted and sliced upward, catching the creature's head with the metal tip of the blade. Its face ripped in half, gushing green ooze everywhere, and the creature shuddered as it collapsed to the ground, where it was trampled by its comrades. Some stayed behind, however, choosing to feast on their dying brethren instead.

"Kaze!" the man shouted, decapitating two more insects with one swing. "They eat their dead! Blast the front rows and let's go!"

The woman nodded curtly in response, aimed the cannon low, and fired in a wide arc. She obliterated the ground beneath the creatures' jittering appendages, and a wall of sand exploded upward, launching them through the air. As the cloud settled, Trey could see that the monsters were indeed tearing into the injured without restraint. The woman shouldered her oversized weapon, content with her work, and turned back to Trey, still lying on the ground in utter disbelief.

"C'mon, kid. Time to move." She hoisted Trey to his feet with surprising strength and ordered, "Grab ahold of me, I got my hands full." Trey obeyed mindlessly, and reached up to wrap his arms around her neck. It was then that he noticed this alien lady was, in fact, naked.

The seamless, gray-blue jumpsuit he had imagined was actually her skin, and the purple decorations were like tribal tattoos that covered her featureless body. When his arms rested awkwardly on her shoulders, they gave way too easily, as if she were gelatinous instead of solid. As disarming as it all was, these facts didn't deter Trey from holding on for dear life. The woman activated her jetpack with her free hand, then hugged Trey close as they lifted off the ground.

They were propelled into the sky, and the boy barely dared to look where they were headed. High in the atmosphere was a small aircraft he hadn't noticed before. The diamond-shaped plane floated perfectly in mid-air, automatically adjusting to the howling gale with ease. His savior positioned them over the open cockpit, then carelessly dropped Trey into a back seat. She cut the jetpack and landed on the floor, dropping all of her devices at once, then slid into the pilot's chair.

"Buckle up," she ordered. Again, Trey obeyed without question.

The alien gripped a pair of orbs to either side, and the aircraft roared into motion. It arced around with precise maneuverability towards her partner, who fought on alone. Insects were rushing at him from all sides, vastly outnumbering the single warrior, but still he stood his ground, swinging the heavy blade like a toy through the onslaught of enemies.

The pilot leveled the plane over the desert, then promptly spun it upside down, causing Trey's stomach to plummet into his skull. The warrior noticed them above the heat of battle, gave a final swing through the endless swarm, and took a superhuman leap straight into the sky. He shot up like a rocket, sword by his side, a free arm outstretched above his head. As the ship hurtled towards him, Kaze reached out as well, and the pair firmly gripped each other's hands. She immediately flipped the ship upright, pulling the man with them, and he landed safely in the seat beside to her. He buckled in as if this were a daily routine, then turned to glance at Trey, an exhilarated grin cracking his hard-lined face.

"Whoo! How's that for a fast extraction?" he bellowed. Trey nodded feebly, eyes bulging from his head. The man laughed and winked at his partner. "Guess he's still gettin' used to your flyin', Kaze!" "

The girl responded by activating the sliding glass cover to the cockpit, sealing off the wind and making the warrior a lot louder. He bashfully repressed his excitement as she steered upwards, towards the faintly twinkling stars above.

"Ya got a name, kid?" the man suddenly asked. When he got no reply, he turned back with a frown. "Hey, can't ya speak? What's your name?" Trey's mouth moved without sound, until his name finally creaked out. The man raised an eyebrow at him in concern. "Well... good to meet ya, Trey. I'm Ryu."

Trey stared at his saviors. Now that he was up close and not about to die, he could see just how bizarre they actually were. The woman, Kaze, was without doubt an alien. Though shaped like a woman, her amorphous skin was smooth and flawless, free of any blemish or discernable marks. In fact, her only distinguishing features were her two purple eyes and lipless mouth. Her white, shoulder-length bob seemed more like porcupine quills than hair. Swirling purple shapes swathed her entire body, outlining every curve and slope.

Ryu, on the other hand, looked quite human, though Trey was doubtful after witnessing him in action. The solid warrior had fiery red hair, which practically stood up on end and ran down his jowls. A thin crown wrapped around his forehead, with a dark green gem in the center. He wore a black leather vest with swirling gold designs, left unbuttoned to display his inhuman muscles. Brown baggy pants draped over his legs, and black boots and gloves with metal braces completed his outfit.

Ryu had no sheath for his sword, choosing to simply lean it against the ship. The boy noticed that only one side of the weapon had a solid edge; the other was open, exposing its searing core. From the hilt of his sword to its pointed tip, a blue thread of consolidated flame burned with intense energy. Trey had no doubt that if it were that side lying against the ship's interior, it would cut through the hull. Fortunately, Ryu kept a steady hand on the hilt at all times, as if he knew this were true – or maybe he just liked to keep a hand on it.

They were, by far, the strangest people he had ever met.

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As the trio continued to fly straight into the stars, Trey made several shocking discoveries. Firstly, he had left his shoe behind, and the loss bothered him more than it had any right to. Secondly, there exists a debilitating fear of leaving Earth's atmosphere, a notion he had never even considered before now. Thirdly, Trey was extremely bad at dealing with this fear. He couldn't speak out in protest, or ask where these aliens were taking him. He couldn't accept that he was actually being abducted. He could barely turn around against the gravitational force, just enough to gaze upon his fleeting home one last time.

As he stared back at the shrinking planet, the fourth and final discovery hit him.

The planet he was leaving was not Earth.

The entire surface of the world was a desert, save for a few mountain ranges and lakes of what looked to be molten metal. No cities, no lights, and no roads – nothing was familiar to him. Trey let his gaze drift back to the darkness of space, hoping that perhaps Earth was somewhere far in the distance, or at least something similar to it. He desperately wanted to see anything that could offer him some comfort and normalcy.

There was nothing. The emptiness was consuming, mocking his desire for a sign of human life. Only distant stars flickered, each one taunting with the chance of being home. Then again, any of those stars might have already died. All around him, the dark abyss of space opened up, and the boy could feel himself shrinking under its vacant gaze.

He was truly and utterly lost.

Trey felt like he should be crying. He wanted to, but after the barrage of impossible events, he was too drained. Instead, he sat silently in his chair, strapped firmly in place, fearful for whatever came next. The sea of lights and shadows swirled in his vision as the spaceship veered drastically, and then, Trey caught view of another vessel in the distance. The sight of it momentarily made him forget his worries. If the ship he was in now could be compared to a fish, the one they approached was a shark the size of a whale.

The boy was awed by the elegant, enormous masterpiece that drifted before them. The closer they flew, the more impossibly large the vessel became, and the greater his wonder soared. The front half looked like a flat, sleek spearhead, with a sharp horizontal edge. It extended seamlessly into a short neck, where strange bumps interrupted its otherwise smooth surface. The slender bridge disappeared into the larger and bulkier rear half of the ship. This section contained the engines, and six delicate but expansive wings protruded from its rigid exterior. Antennae and other devices rose out of the jagged crevices, all blinking and spinning with unknown purpose.

The ship's smooth, reflective hull constantly shifted between pale white and bottomless black, creating patterns like ripples over its surface. Trey also noticed a giant circular dish embedded into its lower head. A nearly infinite series of blue rings repeated inward, each one pulsating with some cosmic glow. He wondered if it was a kind of weapon or sensor, or something else he couldn't even imagine.

Eventually, they were gliding right alongside the vessel, and it became an endless sea of lights and technology. Kaze piloted their dwarfed spacecraft to the rear section, where two massive doors slid open in greeting. As they hovered through the entrance, they passed through a faint blue shield that rippled like electric water, then Kaze activated the landing gears, turned down the thrusters, and set them gracefully onto the polished metal floor. Finally, the cockpit slid open.

Trey stared wide-eyed at the ship's dock as he unbuckled himself. More vessels were located inside, resting or suspended in various spots. Some looked like utility crafts, others like fighter planes. Kaze leapt swiftly from the cockpit as Ryu turned to the mesmerized Trey, who shrank in terror at the warrior's smirk.

"End o' the line, pal!" He picked the boy up with one hand and jumped from the ship. Trey's feet struck the floor hard, and his legs barely kept him upright. Before he had a chance to run or pass out, a door hissed open at the far end of the hangar.

"You found him! Great job, you two!" Trey turned to the speaker and, for what seemed like the thousandth time, was shaken to his core.

Two figures approached, one of which resembled a ten-foot tall wolf walking on its hind legs. All Trey could see was its canine head, for the rest was covered in a draping, pine-green robe with a chrome mantle. Machinery covered the left side of its face, which sported a red orb to function in place of an eye. There was also a tiny port where its other lengthy ear should have been. Other than that, though, it looked just like a wolf – a ten-foot tall wolf, walking on its hind legs.

The one who had spoken was even stranger. He was a small froggish alien, floating on what appeared to be a disc made of solid air. His head and body were stout and rounded, without any neck to separate them, but his arms and legs were incredibly skinny. He was clothed in white and tan robes, an oddly plain outfit amidst all the advanced technology.

What truly shook Trey, however, was the alien's face. He had six green whiskers sticking out around his bulbous eyes, two of which rested on the sides of his head, and a third in its center. The creature had two slits for a nose, two pores for ears, and a large lump behind his head that may have stored a colossal brain. His gaping mouth was stretched into a comically wide smile.

"Welcome, my boy!" he shouted in excitement, and Trey felt ready to faint as the jovial creature floated towards him. "Welcome aboard the starship Kon-Rensa!"