‘Humanity First,’ the sign held by the well-dressed activist read. Bruce swerved the car to avoid the man and the crowd in which he stood. Hundreds of people were crowding the street and holding signs with similar slogans. Some signs were depicting various aliens in amateur drawings, and none of them were flattering; not that they were intended to be. The Humanity First movement was always spouting rhetoric about preserving Arcadia as an Earth colony, but they seemed just as interested in oppressing their non-human neighbors as they were in protecting their own way of life.
Bruce wasn’t interested in politics. He just wanted to get to work. He checked the chronometer on the car’s HUD and saw that he was already late for his shift. This wasn’t the first crowd of protesters he had to navigate, and he wasn’t getting anywhere fast. He honked at the crowd, but this just seemed to rile them up. Several young people lined up in front of the car wearing blue shirts with images of Earth painted on them. They chanted “Keep Arcadia Terran!” in a repeating montage of xenophobia.
“Don’t you people have jobs to go to?” Bruce muttered to no one in particular. He honked again and eased the vehicle forward. The youths must have lost their nerve because they spread out, letting him through.
He looked at them in the mirror as he sped forward and shook his head at the audacity of the spectacle. He didn’t see the woman running out into the road until the last moment. Bruce mashed down on the brake and cut the wheel hard. The car swerved off the road and crashed into the corner of a building.
Bruce released the safety restraints and pushed the door open. His ears were ringing from the noise of the crash. His vision blurred, and as he climbed out of the car he felt like the ground was swaying beneath him. He grabbed the door for support and looked out into the street. The woman lay there, face down and unmoving. Did I hit her? he thought in a panic.
The crowd had grown silent and was staring at him and the woman. Nobody was moving to help either of them, so Bruce stumbled over to her inert form. He grabbed her shoulder, shook her, and said, “Miss, are you okay? Are you hurt?”
She groaned, and Bruce was relieved that — at least — she was still alive. She rolled onto her side and the hood covering her head slipped back some. Looking up at him was the blue face of a Baltarian. Purple, bony ridges dominated her cheeks. Her pink lips stood out as they grimaced in pain. Dark green blood oozed from a cut on her brow.
“There she is!” a voice shouted from among the crowd. Bruce saw four men emerge from the alley across the street. They shoved their way through the dumbstruck crowd, eager for some reason to catch this Baltarian woman. Her hood fell back completely as the dozens of spines on her head and neck stood upright, unfurling webbed fins that ran between the spines from front to back. They were bright purple, and as she glared at the pursuing men splotches of pink grew upon them.
The woman looked back to Bruce, and the color faded from the fins as the spines relaxed. Bruce had never met a Baltarian before, but he had heard that their head fins stood upright and changed color in response to their emotions. He could tell just from her face, though, that she was terrified. “Please, help me,” she said.
Bruce looked over his shoulder. There was an alley that ran along-side the building that he had crashed into. He grabbed the alien by the hand and said, “This way!” They both ran past the wrecked car and disappeared into the shadows between the tall buildings. Behind them, Bruce could see the four men burst from the crowd. One of them pointed at the alley and shouted something. Several of the protesters joined the men in the chase. Damn those bastards, Bruce thought. It didn’t take much to turn people from political protest to outright assault. A dozen men and women now ran towards the alley.
He stumbled and turned his attention back to where he was going. Trash littered the alley. He had crashed into a restaurant of some sort, because his feet were tramping through spoiled food that had spilled out of the trash bins behind the building. The Baltarian had released his hand and was several paces ahead of him, but she turned back. She waved frantically and ran around the corner into a cross-alley. Bruce ran around the edge of the building. She was several paces ahead, but he managed to keep up now that he was focused on where he was going. He wanted to look behind him to see if the mob was gaining, but he dared not risk another misstep. They may be after the alien woman, but he was sure that he would make as satisfying of a target since he had helped her.
At the mouth of this alley they emerged into another crowded street. More people carried Humanity First protest signs here. They stopped their chanting to glare at the blue alien and the human covered in refuse as they burst from the darkness. They both stopped, and their eyes met dozens of angry gazes. The Baltarian’s head spines shot upright in reaction to the crowd’s anxiety, and suddenly another angry mob roared at them. Their words blended together in a cacophony of hatred, but Bruce could make out a few words. “Go home, alien!” “Keep Arcadia Terran!” “Say no to xeno!”
Bruce panicked. An angry crowd shouted before them, and in the alley behind was another, out for blood. He had never been in a situation like this, and he didn’t know what to do. Suddenly — in a reversal of paradigms — the Baltarian grabbed his arm and said, “This way!”
He followed her down the road. He looked back and saw that even more protesters from this second crowd had joined the pursuers from the first. His legs burned as he ran, and his breath came in short puffs. The woman seemed to be handling the sprint without being winded, and Bruce felt that she was holding back so that he would not fall behind. She led him down another alley, and then across a busy thoroughfare. Dodging between cars, they ran across the busy street. Horns blared as they wove through the press of metal and glass. He could tell that the mob chasing them had fallen behind because he did not hear the chaos of horns again for several minutes.
They turned a corner into another alley and the Baltarian woman stopped. Bruce leaned against a wall and struggled to catch his breath. He bent over with his hands on his knees, and suddenly realized he was so dizzy that he might simply pass out. He felt a gentle touch on the shoulder, and looked up to meet the Baltarian’s concerned eyes.
“Not far,” she said, “but we must keep moving.”
“Not far to where?” Bruce asked.
“Safety.” This was all she said as she turned and walked down the alley. Bruce pushed off from the wall and followed her. She stopped at the end of the alley and looked up and down the street. He didn’t recognize this part of the city. He didn’t get out much, and when he did he stuck to his usual stomping grounds. Khellis was one of the larger cities on Arcadia, though, so there were many places he had not been to. The neighborhood was rough looking. There were four-story tenements lining the street Litter was drifting across the pavement in the wind, and very few cars passed by them. Several pedestrians were making their way along the sidewalks, very few of whom were human. Of the dozen figures he saw, there were half as many different species represented.
Bruce realized that they must have ran all the way to Jacobston, a borough of the city otherwise known as Xenotown. It was reputed as a slum, and was home to much if the city’s alien population. He looked back down the alley, but he did not expect to see pursuers. Looking up, he saw alien eyes peering from windows along the alley and the street alike. If the Humanity First mob chased them into Jacobston, they would find themselves to be the minority for a change.
“Come,” the Baltarian said, waving Bruce onward. With the frantic flight behind them, he took a better look at her. She wore a plain sweater with the hood now pulled back. Black cargo pants fit loosely over her legs, pockets bulging. She had a pistol holstered on her hip that she could have used on the crowd at any time. Why hadn’t she? he wondered.
“This way,” she said. Her voice was assertive despite the absence of urgency. She led him into one of the tenement buildings. They took stairs leading down into the basement, and after passing a laundry and storage areas emerged into a utility room. She waved him on as she slid behind a large bank of circuit breakers along a concrete wall.
Where the hell is she going? Bruce thought. He looked behind the electrical equipment and found a rough hole cut out of the wall behind it. He squeezed between the cold metal and warm concrete and sidled up to the hole. As he passed through, he saw that they were in a narrow tunnel dug out of the Arcadian bedrock beneath the thin topsoil.
After a dozen meters of twists and turns, they emerged into a large cavern strung with cables overhead. Bare lights hung from them, flickering in the darkness. In the dim light Bruce saw rows of cots, stacks of crates, and an assortment of people from every race that lived on Arcadia; including humans.
A large figure approached them and came to a stop beneath one of the flickering lights. He stood seven feet tall and was half again as broad as Bruce. He wore military fatigues that we’re far too small for his bulk, complete with modified boots that allowed his clawed toes to protrude from them. He was covered in rough scales that shimmered in the light, reflecting gold and red as he moved. Bruce’s eyes grew wide in terror.
“What’s wrong, human. Never been this close to a Ma’Alasian before?” the alien asked with a grin on his snake-like face. Turning to the Baltarian woman, he said, “Who is this, Kendra?”
“Be kind, Chiss. This human saved me from his own kind,” she said.
Bruce finally had a name for her, and for the figure before him who appeared to be a soldier from his attire. He had seen Ma’Alasians. Chiss had been correct in assuming that this was his first face-to-face meeting. The large reptilian aliens were often employed by the military of the Confederation of Planets. He had seen them in action on the newsvids, so his fear of the figure before him was not unfounded.
“Well,” Chiss said, “I suppose I should thank you.” With that, he reached out a scaled hand ending in sharp claws.
Bruce shook the alien’s hand, his own dwarfed in the grasp. He could not think of anything to say except “You’re welcome.”
Kendra smiled at him and added, “Yes, thank you.”
“Well,” Bruce said as he looked at the growing crowd of inter-species onlookers, “you could start by telling me where we are, and who these people are.”
Chiss laughed, a chortle ending in a long hiss. Holding his hands wide, he said, “Welcome to the Free Arcadian Militia!”
B.K. Bass writes at his studio in Tennessee. He enjoys crafting science fiction, fantasy, and gothic horror. His influences include pulp magazine stories and mid 20th century sci-fi and fantasy. He has long been an avid reader, film buff, and all-around geek.