“This is amazing!” Louis yelled as he flung his body in a messy flip through the air. His form was atrocious, but he hung in the air seemingly forever.
“I feel like I can fly!” Luka replied, spinning unbelievably slow into a 1080; his body disappearing behind the glare of the late afternoon sunshine.
They leaped toward each other, exchanged high fives, and floated back down to the dusty turquoise surface of Tirkizan. Their feet barely made footprints as they landed.
“We should just stay here! I could get used to this low gravity.” Luka smiled.
Louis laughed, tucked his head into his chest, bent down, pushed off the ground with his legs, and shot himself high above the 4-story building they were hiding behind.
“What are you doing?! Activate your gravity suits!” Lina’s chiding voice called from behind.
“Fine, Mom!” Luka retorted.
That was a mistake.
Lina, who never wasted her time with the thrills of minimal gravity, ran over to him and slugged him across the jaw. Luka didn’t even have a chance to dodge.
“I’m not Mom. And this isn’t a joke. Turn your suits on before someone realizes we aren’t from around here.”
Luka rubbed his jaw, but didn’t make another sound. He flipped the tiny switch tucked away under his sleeve; his arms fell to his side. It reminded him of pulling himself up from a swimming pool. His own weight feeling unnatural for a moment until he adjusted to the newfound pressure.
Louis did the same behind him. “I feel like Superman—leaping over a building in a single bound.”
“You won’t be saying that when your bones begin to lose their density. Just another reason why you need to keep your suit activated.”
Louis saluted her. “Yes, ma’am!”
Lina rolled her eyes and checked on the package nestled in a tiny bag around her shoulder. “Come on. We need to meet with Sha-rill.”
They each wrapped a long, dark cloth around their heads that fell behind their backs like mini-capes—a common piece of apparel for the locals on Tirkizan, the tiny, sandy planet in the Vrlo solar system.
The three kids walked through a crowded dirt path. Tirkizanis lumbered around in all directions. For the most part, they were humanoid in appearance—two of everything human—arms, legs, eyes—and a mouth and nose in the normal places, but their skin was slightly pale blue. And it let off a kind of glow that seemed to emanate from within. There was something off about how their bodies moved too. Almost like rhinos trying to tiptoe around. They were built a little too compact. Like their bones were crammed too tightly together. Which in fact was the case, and the reason why they lumbered rather than floated on this planet 2/3 the size of Earth’s moon.
It was obvious they weren’t human. But Louis, Luka, and Lina Russo were most definitely human. Three average looking kids from a small town in Iowa. Mahogany hair with eyes to match, and darkened skin, courtesy of their Italian father and Spanish mother. They were young. Lina barely into her 20s; Louis and Luka in the middle stages of puberty. Not quite kids, but not yet the adults they would one day grow to be.
Yet, they were tasked with this important mission. A mission that could decide whether the human race survived or went the way of the elephant: here one day, gone the next.
That’s why it was so important that they blended in with the these Tirkizanis. Sure, the Tirkizanis were some of the most agreeable creatures in the galaxy. And that’s why Sha-rill had them meet there, but that’s not who the Russos were hiding from.
Luckily, there was another hidden switch tucked into the belts of their suits. It changed their appearance just enough to give them that less-than-human look. Goodbye bronzed skin, and hello Kentucky blue. Without it, they’d be discovered for sure, the tiny package around Lina’s shoulder taken from them, and the fate of Earth left in the balance.
Lina darted her eyes around the marketplace as they walked. She was paranoid, but it had kept them alive so far, so she didn’t fight it. They were in some kind of marketplace. Makeshift store fronts dotted the turquoise ground. Tirkizanis slogged around, bumping into each other frequently, but always begging pardon as they did. Miniscule puppy-like animals ran through the beefy Tirkizani legs, with that same awkward tiptoe motion of the larger race. At one point, Louis bent over and pet one of the creatures. It let off a sound that can only be described as a snore. Nasally, loud, and painful to listen to. Luka and Louis burst out laughing.
“Quiet! Leave that thing alone,” Lina commanded, and they fell silent.
They stopped at a small souvenir shop on the corner of the market. But the souvenirs were not things the average person would be interested in. The objects ranged from bones to rocks to materials that let off the smell of rotten diapers, which they very well may have been. Tirkizanis were friendly, but they weren’t known for their cleanliness.
The shop owner looked up at the kids, a toothy grin encompassed her mouth. She was completely unaware of their humanness and said, “You buy something.”
While the tiny piece of hardware surgically implanted behind their ears helped the Russos understand and communicate with anyone from anywhere, it sometimes came out a little stiff and pidgin-like.
Luka sniffed the air with a sickened look on his face. “Got anything that didn’t used to be alive.”
“Heh heh heh that good. You funny,” the shop owner said. “Me gots lots. Come with.”
Lina held out her arm to stop Luka from moving. “We are in the market for snake juice. I have a terrible brain ache.”
The shop owner’s face twisted into recognition. Her blue skin darkened an entire shade as she pointed behind her. “Go to back. I gots the stuff.”
“Thank you,” Lina took a small bow and walked to the back. Louis and Luka followed.
The room was lit by a tiny candle in the corner. The floor was the same turquoise dirt that riddled the rest of the planet. The walls were plastered with some kind of mud.
Other than a large wooden chair by the back wall, the room was empty. The flickering candle cast a shadow of something in the chair.
“Is it Sha-rill?” Luka asked.
“I think so,” Louis replied.
Lina walked forward. “Do you have the snake juice?” She asked the shadow in the seat.
“I have so much more than snake juice,” the shadow said, then stood, turned and looked at the Russos. The man standing before them was not Tirkizani and not human, but something completely different. He stood at least 10 feet high. His body slim. His skin almost reptilian. He stared at the Russos with large eyes that took up more than half his face. As he studied the kids, he blinked, eye lids turned at an angle hid his eyes for a moment. He smiled, but where there should have been teeth, thick, flat pads that looked perfect for mashing things, appeared.
“Ah, Russos. I am glad you made it.” There was no need for a translator; he spoke perfect English.
“Sha-rill?” Lina asked, skeptically.
The man nodded slowly.
“I remember you from when we were kids! You look taller,” Louis said.
Sha-rill let off a tiny laugh. “My species continue to grow throughout life. On my planet, there are elder Velkys twice my size.”
“No way!” Louis exclaimed.
“You’re joking,” Luka retorted.
Sha-rill smiled. “I do not jest. But we will have time to catch up later. Do you have the package?”
Lina squinted at him for a moment, unsure whether she should trust him. But he knew the code, and he did look familiar. She finally relented and handed him the bag on her shoulder.
Sha-rill took the bag in his long, snake-like fingers and opened it. He stared into the opening and let out a small sound, almost an excited squeal.
“We must get this away from here. Come, let us make haste.” He handed it to Lina who placed it back on her shoulder.
“Where are we going?” Lina asked.
“Wait, we just got here. If we’re not staying here, why’d you call us here in the first place?”
“The Tirkizanis are a peaceful race. This planet seemed like the perfect place to load up on my ship.”
“We already have a sweet ship,” Louis interrupted.
“You need a sweeter ship. And I have just the one.” Sha-rill smiled.
Louis and Luka turned to each other and called, “Shotgun!”
The Russos followed behind Sha-rill, who now looked like any other Tirkizani strolling through the market. He had one of the suits too.
They walked down the long row of canvas covered store fronts and passed countless Tirkizanis. The whole marketplace was packed and only seemed to get thicker as they walked on. The smell got worse too. Tirkizani B.O. was once voted the worst in the galaxy. It had been known to literally knock out a race of aliens called the Slabý Zaludek.
Once they finally passed the thick of it, they walked to the back of a tall mud-covered building which opened up to a large field. Enormous silver ships, smaller bronze ones, and a few clunky looking commuter ships were scattered here and there. And in the middle of it all, there was a sleek, blacked out speed cruiser. 30 feet long, it was shaped like a bullet from the 21st century. Slim and fast!
It made the Russos’ ship look like something from a scrapyard, not a top-of-the-line luxury space-yacht.
Louis and Luka’s jaws dropped.
“Where did you get that?” They unisoned.
Even Lina was impressed, and she was harder to excite than a grumpy cat.
Sha-rill continued walking toward it without saying a word. When he was right next to it, he placed one palm on the side and an invisible door popped out from the metal. A set of stairs extended down on the ground like a tongue falling from an English bulldog’s mouth.
They followed him up the metal steps. Once inside, the all-white interior blinded Lina for a moment. When her eyes adjusted, she was even more awed. The console at the front of the ship was made completely of touchscreens. And the eight seats that lined the ship like an old-fashioned jet looked as comfortable as chinchilla fur on a sea of memory foam.
Sha-rill pointed them to the seats, Lina in the front, the other two behind.
“Strap in, my young friends. We must get going.”
They followed his instructions. He sat at the controls, pushing the screens with a speed unknown to man, when the engine roared on. And within a minute, they hovered about the blue sand, spraying it everywhere.
And that’s when they felt an impact in the side of the ship. The ship began spinning uncontrollably. Sha-rill tried to right it, but another impact crashed into the ship from outside, and they spun like a top.
Louis screamed. Luka cried. And Lina looked for answers.
What she saw were glimpses of three of those large silver ships, holding still as Sha-rill's craft spun out of control.
Finally, Sha-rill was able to stop the momentum, and they sat facing this new threat.
“Who are these people?” Lina asked.
Zlo is all he said.
Lina knew all about the Zlo. They were the ones who took her parents away from her. The ones who murdered them in front of her. She had no love for these monsters.
“Can you guess what they’re after?” Sha-rill asked.
Lina cradled the package on her shoulder and looked in on it.
“Let’s get out of here!” She exclaimed.
“Just a few adjustments and we should be set.” Sha-rill furiously pushed at the console, and they finally began to move.
Then something hit them from above. Another ship.
The original three ships surrounded them while the one on top forced them to the ground. They were trapped.
But not hopeless.
“What are we gonna do?” Luka shrieked.
“Just stay calm,” Lina replied. She took the pouch from her shoulder and opened it.
Inside was a tiny bug-like creature called a Mocný. Its tiny mouth opened into a sort of yawn, revealing two tiny incisors. It let out a squeak and then sneezed like a human baby. These creatures once spanned the galaxy, but now there was only one left. Lina liked to call him Pokie.
When her parents first gave him to her, they told her that he was dangerous. More dangerous than any weapon in the galaxy. She knew that was true. But to her, he was family.
He stood up on his miniature legs. Two translucent wings fluttered around him, lifting him up to her face. To Lina, it looked like he smiled at her.
“We are kind of in a pickle here, Pokie? Can you help us out?"
In a movement so small it was invisible to most, he nodded his tiny green head. Then he flew to the viewing window. The silver spaceships were still. Pokie studied them, making a plan.
Then he disappeared. Like a ghost in a nightmare, he was gone.
Lina and the others looked out the window. One by one, the ships began to smoke. And one by one, they exploded. The flames it created were as blue as the sand which turned into glass on impact. At least, that’s what the locals would say years later.
And the next moment, Pokie was floating by Lina’s side. She grinned at him as he did somersaults in the air. Sha-rill maneuvered the ship away from the wreckage and they flew off.
Little did they know they had just begun the war for the galaxy.