I was done for. The aliens had taken my ship down, and I was the only one able to get into an escape pod before it exploded. The battle had taken place in an uncharted system, and as far as I could tell, the planet I now found myself stranded on was uninhabited. Red-purple rocks, mountains and brown dirt surrounded me. Here and there were a few blue-green plants with purple fruits, but that seemed to be about as far as life had evolved there. There were enough provisions in the pod to last for two Earth weeks, maybe three if I rationed myself, and I could use the pod’s remains as a shelter. Thankfully my radio was still functional, and my first reflex once I had assessed my situation was to contact Central Command.
“Lieutenant Maverick to Central Command. I am the last survivor of the UCS Bonaparte. I am stranded on Hubble-β-III. Requesting assistance.” It would realistically take at least 24 hours for my message to reach any kind of human civilisation. In the meantime, I figured I should try to triangulate my ground coordinates based on the Bonaparte’s coordinate history, which was stored in the escape pod for precisely that type of situation. Might come in handy once they came to pick me up.
I was about to go to sleep when I noticed a silhouette moving on the horizon. It was humanoid, but there was something in its gait that was characteristic of the N’vath, the aliens we were fighting against. No, surely I was being paranoid. What would they do on this deserted planet? They had won the battle. And yet the silhouette was getting closer, most likely attracted by my campfire. I took out my blaster, and as the silhouette got closer and closer, there was no doubt anymore that it was a N’vath. With its three-fingered claw-like hands and bird-like feet, it had a crystal helmet that protruded at the back to make room for the respiratory tendrils that covered its cranium. The visor was opaque, but I could clearly imagine the two big eyes and three small ones looking at me, and the large mouth filled with pointy teeth probably cursing me in the alien’s tongue. I was ready to shoot it, but as I was about to pull the trigger, I realised that the alien was wounded in the legs, and that its weapon was broken.
“What are you doing here?” I asked using the translating software built into my spacesuit’s radio. “Don’t you realise what I am?
“Please,” the alien replied using its own translating software. “I’m not here to fight. I wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted. I’m wounded and my suit is damaged. If I don’t find a way to repair it soon, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to last until the Kaalar comes to pick me up.”
“What are you doing here?” I said, my finger still on the trigger. “Your army won this battle.”
“I was a recruit on one of the carriers that you shot down with your nuclear missiles. We may have won, but we suffered great casualties. Please, won’t you put our enmity aside and simply lend me something I can repair my suit with? You don’t have to trust me. That’s all I ask of you.”
I put my blaster down, keeping my guard up. Trusting your enemy during wartime could be a fatal mistake, and the N’vath were deceitful bastards. But this one didn’t seem threatening at all, and as I was thinking about how to best react, he lowered his visor’s opacity to let me see his face. He looked tired, and one of his large eyes was dead.
“My name is Lyk’ryk,” he said. “That’s the only thing you need to remember about me.”
“Why are you so friendly towards me? We are enemies!”
“Are we really still enemies when the battle is over? Right now, it’s a matter of survival, don’t you think?”
As he said that, I recalled my veteran father telling me about soldiers in ancient times, who would come together at Christmas to celebrate that old sacred holiday with the other side, only for a day, and how it made them realise that the other side was just as human as they were.
“My name is Maverick,” I said after a while, hesitantly. “Here, I think I have some duct tape in my pod.”
“Thank you. Sometimes I wonder why we are even fighting.” he said as he bandaged his suit. “When I was young, my mentors told me that our two races used to be friends. What happened to that friendship?”
“What are you talking about?” I replied. “I was never told of any friendship between Humans and any alien race.”
“Maybe your race forgot about our past friendship. Or maybe mine simply imagined it.”
“I was told you wanted to invade our system for our resources.”
“Really? I was told you were the ones who wanted to invade us. That you broke our friendship and betrayed us.”
“Really? Well, of course, neither side will paint itself as the bad guy. In this case, I guess this war will determine who is right.”
“Does your race really judge who is right based on military victory? Is this how your morality works?”
“No. It’s just that…”
I thought about it for a moment. It didn’t sound right, but I couldn’t think of any other justification.
“You don’t have to agree with me,” the alien said. “All that matters is that we both survive.”
We stayed a few moments standing still looking at each other, as if the other were about to attack at any moment.
“Do you have any shelter?” I finally asked.
“My escape pod crashed into a flooded canyon,” the alien replied “I barely made it out alive. I was able to send a beacon signal to my mothership and save as many supplies as I could take with me. But as for shelter, I have none.”
“Look, if you promise not to stab me in the back, I’m willing to let you stay close by and use some of my equipment as shelter. But that’s all you’ll get from me.”
“Thank you. That’s already more than I expected. My weapon is broken. As I said, I wouldn’t be able to fight even if I wanted to.”
We spent eight days stranded, and as those days passed, the enmity between us seemed to progressively dissipate to give place to cooperation. The planet’s weather wasn’t clement, and we had to help each other to protect our supplies and equipment from the hail and high-speed wind, lest neither of us have enough left to survive until we got rescued. We couldn’t share any of our food or medical supplies due to our incompatible biologies, but we ended up building a makeshift shelter with the remains of my pod, and on the last evening, we found ourselves telling each other stories about our lives on our respective planets, about our families, our cultures, and wondering how we had come to this point. Our respective armies eventually came to pick us up, but we had to part before Central Command could see him. I never told the army about him, and was sent back home.
They never sent me back to the battlefield, and stationed me on Earth as part of the planet’s defensive reinforcements. The war is still going on while I’m writing this, and I have no idea when it will end. The aliens aren’t going to reach Earth any time soon, so I spend my day packing supplies in cargo to send to the front. I never heard about Lyk’ryk again, nor have I seen another alien since. I’m starting to think that’s the point, that the army suspects I made friends with one of them and is keeping me away from the fight for that reason.
I wonder if Lyk’ryk is having similar trouble back on his planet. Do the N’vath hate us as much as we hate them? The government keeps telling us they started the war, but then why are we the ones who initiate almost every battle? Shouldn’t they be the ones striking first?
Maybe the N’vath are just too alien for us to comprehend. After all, Humans have a long history of being scared of things they don’t understand.
Samuel Gachon is an emerging writer living in Brisbane, currently in the third year of his BFA in Creative Writing at QUT. His work has been published in ScratchThat and AntipodeanSF, and he also works as a freelancer for Collider. You can find his website here: Samuel Gachon (wordpress.com)
Jackson is a Meanjin based non-binary poet that’s made it their mission to see queer representation become commonplace in Australian writing. Jackson has been published proudly in InkBlot Magazine’s Hot & Sweaty 2021 edition, and QUT Glass Issue #11. Keep up with them at the QUT Literary Salon, by reading the ScratchThat newsletters, or on Instagram @deku.of.dune