But, he looked the same, though, brown body hair showed up liken normal against his pale skin, no metal sticking out, no holes, not even a new bump. Ian rubbed his spiky hair, patted it down. He didn’t feel any different. Still a little light, but by then he’d learned that ship gravity topped out at 80% Earth normal. Could use a shave. Maybe he could print up some triple-bladed disposables to deal with that.

“Hey, you okay,” Arl offered with a gentle pat on the shoulder. Iain shook it off. Arl’s fingers didn’t look at all dangerous. But they had somehow gouged strips out of his arm and injected a lethal venom into his bloodstream.

“What are you?” he demanded to know, then an unsettling knowledge washed over him. “I’m not seeing you the way you are, am I?”

The two glanced at each other.

“It’s a sanity thing,” Arc admitted, then pointed at his own oval head. “For your brain health. Most consentients can’t handle the alien. So you see us as not threatening, to keep you sane, until you can handle it. If you ever can.”

“So you’ve got claws, poison claws?” Iain reasoned. He thought about the fact the two talked about, and engaged in pre-digesting each other’s food, something he just could not watch. “And beaks. Feathers too? You’re birds?”

“I guess, kinda,” Arl replied. “If that’s what you’d call us.”

“But we’re more than that,” Arc told him. “We’re evolved, advanced, inter-stellar avians.”

That was up to debate, Iain decided. At least the evolved part.

He felt a little less comfortable around the pair, and decided to move them to a slightly more complicated board game that would hopefully curb their overly violent tendencies. He thought about printing up a deck of cards, but his history with poker suggested he’d better forget it.

So, he tried chess. Then came a few days of very slow learning. Weirdly, the pair had the most trouble to start with where it came to bishops, and their ability to move diagonally.

As they had a meal after an aborted game, he asked something that had been on his mind from even before his surgery.

“Is there any place on this ship where I won’t be spied on by the Skipper?”

“What’s the problem,” Arl said, mouth disgustingly full as he munched.

“It watches me while I take leaks,” Iain said. “And offers unsolicited directions.”

Arc chuckled.

“It likes to do that,” he noted. “Gives you advice does it? It’s a bit intrusive that way.”

Iain nodded.

“I don’t know if I should tell you,” Arc started. “But, why not, you’re a good guy and wouldn’t do anything stupid. There are about twenty decks that it can’t monitor anymore. Twenty-one through forty-three, I think. ”

“Why’s that?” Iain asked.

Arc shrugged, took a swig from his tankard. Spat out some juice back into it.

“Probably a manufacturing defect,” he said patting the wall. “This model has its fair share.”

Iain thought about that for a moment.

“Is there anything down there,” he asked. “Anything dangerous?”

Arl laughed.

“It isn’t locked,” he finally said. “And I think if something dangerous was down there, it would have gotten hungry by now. And we got you from level thirty –seven, so there you go.”

That sounded reasonable to him. Iain finished up, made to leave.

“What? You’re going, already?” Arl asked.

“I’m finished eating,” he stated.

“But not digesting,” Arc added. “And then…”

“I’m fine, really,” Iain replied hastily. He wasn’t a fan of what the pair did during their ‘digestive’ part of the meals they shared.

As he left, he thought about the irony that he wanted to be alone, given he was more than likely the last human being alive in the universe. But there might be hope. Maybe he hadn’t been the only one the ship had picked up all those centuries ago. There had to be better company to be found than these two alien birdbrains.

Iain stepped up the pace when the sounds of ‘sharing’ predigested food started emanating from the lounge behind him. He put a hand over his mouth to help avert another sympathetic reaction.

Go to Chapter Nine

Go to Chapter Eleven

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