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I peek my head around a corner, clutching my pistol nervously. The hallway is empty. Where the hell are my colleagues? Is anyone else left in this section of the ship? I jog through the corridor, looking over my shoulders every few seconds.
The aliens have been known to sneak up on their prey from behind. They are faster than us, probably because of their thin and stretchy outer flesh-carapace. Teams have investigated innumerable bodies of dead enemies, so we understand their physical characteristics fairly well - in fact, their bodies are not all that different from our own. They have two lower limbs and two upper limbs (however twisted); they seem to regulate their temperature to a constant level; they display a cunning sort of intelligence. Yet so far there has been a complete failure at establishing communication with them, and none have been captured alive. No one knows why they first attacked us, and that fact makes the war all the more frustrating.
A sound comes around the corner I am approaching and I stop dead in my tracks, listening. Could that have been one of the crew or one of the aliens? Do I dare risk checking it out?
No more sounds follow, so I cautiously peek around the corner. Nothing, but I see a door slide closed not far down the hall. I creep forward, my gun aimed not-so-steadily in front of me. Three days of training seminars and a week in the range simulator years back did not exactly turn us scientists into soldiers. As I approach the door it slides sideways, and I find myself face to face with an alien.
I do not know which of us is more surprised, but I manage to activate my gun before it can react. The shot propels the alien backward, bumping it into another one exiting the room behind. I fire again but miss. Before I can get off a third shot, the second alien pounces toward me and pulls the weapon from my hands.
Panic sets in, and I take off running down the hall at full speed. I dare to look behind me only once and note with relief that the alien chose to help its companion rather than pursue me. But now I am unarmed, and soon any attackers in the area will be alerted to my presence. I curse my situation and run onward, looking for some sign of safety. My best bet is probably to hide out in a maintenance tube and hope the ship's security detail finds some way to push back the aliens.
I climb down the first tube I find and begin to crawl my way down to the cramped maintenance area. Unfortunately, my weak nerves betray me and I lose my grip on the ladder, falling a good fifteen feet to the floor below. My legs crumple under me and I bang my arm hard against the ground, but nothing feels broken and I am able to stand. I lean sideways against the wall and shake my leg, which feels sprained. Damn. Now I am really stuck down here.
I hear something shift behind me and spin around to see one of the aliens crouching in the other corner of the small, dark room. I stop breathing and fear shoots through my veins, but the alien is not armed and it does not appear aggressive. In fact, it seems as afraid of me as I of it. I contemplate scrambling back up the ladder, but doubt whether my injured leg would make it. Would the alien gain the confidence to attack me as soon as I turn my back to flee? They have always been encountered in groups before, and any individuals separated from their groups tend to run away. Maybe I have the advantage in this situation. But without a weapon, I dare not try to tackle the creature myself.
After what seems like ten minutes of standing there studying the creature - while it stares suspiciously at me out of those thin little eyes - I finally decide I have no real options. It does not appear to be going anywhere, so neither will I. I resign myself to sit down, back against the wall, facing the alien, until something happens to change the situation. I guess we will just wait here to see which side is victorious in the battle for the ship.
How did the alien end up here in this tube? No injuries are apparent on the outer layer of its body, so maybe it was separated from its group and got lost. Or maybe it was chased in here by crew resistance and is afraid to come out.
Hours pass, and still the two of us sit here on opposite sides of the low-ceilinged room facing each other. At one point, out of impatience, I start to rise, intending to attempt the climb out of the tube, come what may. Unfortunately, the moment I rise so does the alien, and good judgment convinces me to sit back down. More hours come and go and with them my hunger grows. We have seen the aliens eat a sort of congealed food-stuff, so I imagine my unwilling companion is itself getting a little hungry.
Out of desperation I decide to try to communicate with the thing. Cross-species communication has been studied by our people for many years, but those studies have always dealt with other creatures from our own planet, not those that developed in an entirely different ecosystem with entirely different biological pressures.
I speak to it slowly and clearly, saying the word for food while making motions of shoveling something into my mouth. The alien watches me intently but shows no sign of comprehension. I try other signs, opening and closing my mouth to represent eating. "Eating, do you know what that is?" Still nothing. Remembering that our people had discovered their stomachs to be located in roughly the same place as our own, I pat the middle of my torso to indicate that. "Hungry. Understand? Hungry."
It perks up, and I find myself a little surprised. Maybe it comprehends what I am getting at? Then again, maybe it is just annoyed at my behavior and is considering trying to silence me. The alien rises up onto its legs then and says something in its own language. They have been heard to speak before, but their guttural language defies all attempts at understanding based on what little battlefield communication we have overheard. But right now, here in front of me, a member of this other species is actually trying to talk directly to one of us.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what it is saying, but I am determined to get some sort of simple two-way communication going here while I have this opportunity. Maybe one of us will die at the end of the day; but maybe, just maybe the other will go back and share what happens here, and maybe there is some hope in that. Maybe this will be the beginning of the end of the war, right here in this cramped little hideaway.
The alien speaks again, quickly, but seems irritated by my lack of comprehension. Finally, it pats its chest much like I had moments ago and speaks slowly in its own language.
I struggle to pick up the sounds it makes in hopes of mimicking them as a simple start.
As best I can tell, as it pokes at its chest, it is saying something that sounds like "huum-in".