They are Smol – Badguys, Boxes and Boops, Chapter 24: Hearts and Minds

IMPROVISE. ADAPT. OVERCOME.

Nate leapt off of Bleppy, his friend recoiling from the flash of light and the cacophony of sound that his suit systems so helpfully filtered out from his helmet. The unfortunate but apparent truth is that his homemade grenades were little more than flashbangs – if that was due to an underwhelming payload or a design flaw, Nate didn’t know and didn’t have the time to care. As his boots hit the floor he ripped an emergency tab from his wrist, his suit’s AI dropping into full emergency mode from the emergency pull.

“MY HAND GLOWS WITH AN AWESOME POWER! IT’S BURNING GRIP TELLS ME TO DEFEAT YOU!”

Scanning. Hit Weak spots for Massive Damage.

Nate leapt forward, rolling his hand back to lock his forearm in a “palm strike” position – his suit taking the physical gesture as consent to electromagnetically fuse the limb into a battering ram. As soon as his front foot hit the rough metal floor he pivoted, spinning his hips and torso to put as much force behind his strike as humanly possible. Conserving the momentum from his leap, he slammed the re-enforced heel of his palm into the Jornissian’s side, his suit visor painting the area a bright neon green. As soon as he connected he was rewarded with a pained grunt, the area disappearing from his vision, and in a split second another reappeared on the side of the intruder’s head.

“CASTLE LAW KICK!”

Continuing his conservation of momentum he leapt up, the lower-gravity environment helping him gain altitude as he spun once more, slamming his shin into the jaw of the errant pirate. The Jornissian leaned with the blow, his body flexing instinctively to absorb the kick. Nate kicked off of the intruder as his suit told him to, missing an errant blind swipe that he was too focused to see. His boots squeaked against the floor as his momentum was immediately halted, and his suit readjusted, scanning his foe a thousand times a second to determine the next move.

Part of the enemy flashed green, and without a second thought Nate lifted his leg as high as he could, and slammed his heel onto his now most-hated enemy’s tailtip.

= = =

Stk’shzsk really, really, really should have seen this coming, and thinking that thought was extra ironic given the fact that he was currently a tad bit blind. If the authentic and totally true series “<Warmcuddle’s day off>” taught him anything (especially Season 37, Episode 115) it’s that a warmcuddle should never be allowed to build their own fireworks unattended. He had no idea why New-Hope had decided to throw celebratory fireworks at his brother; he could only assume it had something to do with the fact that Hrrs-tssk’ must have destroyed, or run into, all of New-Hope’s nesting arrangements. Did that mean the fireworks were in anger? Surprise?

Did Hrrs-tssk’ accidentally propose to New-Hope by wearing all of his nesting arrangements?!

Stk’shzsk felt New-Hope leap off of him, and risked opening his eyes to see what was happening. There was a stinging, ringing in both his sight and hearing, but he forced himself to see through the pain. He saw New-Hope, slighly blurry, but he seemed to be dancing with his brother that is so precious-

New-Hope spun around and tapped Hrrs-tssk’s head with his boot before spinning away, dancing in place! Stk’shzsk half-smiled, half-grimaced through the pain, as he saw his newest and best friend entertain his brother wi-

“YOU SPECIFICALLY ASKED FOR THE OPPOSITE OF THIS”

New-Hope unceremoniously lifted his leg and stepped – no, stomped on his brother’s tail tip, grinding his heel into the ground – and getting a roar of pain out of Hrrs-tssk’.

Stk’shzsk froze for a moment as he realized what was actually going on: New-Hope was defending his territory!

“<Oh dear.>” Stk’shzsk muttered. Leaning forward, half-blind, Stk’shzsk attempted to grab his friend and pull him into a protected and secure hug; unfortunately, either due to his blindness or to the warmcuddles’ newfound speed, Stk’shzsk kept gripping empty air.

Stk’shzsk covered his eyes with his hands as he attempted to force his vision back to normal. “<Please- New-Hope, please, calm down it’s ok->”

A tiny gloved hand pressed against his nose and scratch-patted it. Stk’shzsk darted his hand up to catch the tiny limb, only to grab empty air. Stk’shzsk let out a defeated sigh, and kept his hands over his eyes as he attempted to just think for a moment.

After a few moments of deep thought, Stk’shzsk called out. “<Brother?! I need you to calm down->”

“<CALM DOWN?! YOU UNSHEDDING NITWIT, YOU STOLE A WARM-CUDDLE->”

Hrrs-tssk’ was interrupted by what sounded like a heavily-padded thwump before continuing his rage-fueled tirade.

“<A TRAINED ATTACK WARM-CUDDLE?! YOU CALLED ME A DEGENERATE->

Stk’shzsk felt his blood boil. “<TRAINED ATTACK WARMCUDDLES?! You think I would DO THAT TO HIM?! YOU INVADED HIS TERRITORY WHAT DID YOU EXPECT->”

“<I CERTAINLY DIDN’T EXPECT MY BROTHER TO BE A SLAVING THIEF->”

The two brothers fell back into an ancient tete-a-tete, digging up decades-old arguments, complaints, critiques on personal tastes, insults on lovers brought home – or the lack thereof, and a dozen dozen other things, all of which were punctuated with padded thwumps and paffs from angry shins and fitin’ fists.

“ATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATA-”

paffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffpaffthwump

“<THIS SHIT RIGHT HERE IS WHY MOM MOVED BACK INTO THE CITY!>” Hrrs-tssk’ roared, finally rubbing the strain out of his eyes to look down at his diminutive attacker.

Stk’shzsk recoiled back, shock and pain spread across his face. “<N-No! How- how could you say that!>”

Hrrs-tssk’ seemed to physically wilt as he saw his brother’s expression, raising his hand in a placating gesture as the flurry of tiny punches ceased. “<Wait, wait, I didn’t mean- it’s not you, it’s->”

UOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH-

The two Jornissians stopped their argument to look at the warm-cuddle, who was now howling with rage. Nate’s visor was glowing a bright, blood red as he ripped open the front panel to his suit, gripping something glowy and beginning to pull. Stk’shzsk had no idea what it was, or what was going on, but the cascading and overlapping alarms were definitely not a good thing. Quickly but gently Stk’shzsk darted forward, pointedly avoiding his brother’s gaze, and picked up New-Hope, wrapping him in his coils. The warmcuddle fidgeted for a moment before snapping the front of his suit panel back on, stopping whatever was about to happen in it’s tracks. The screaming, bright lights, and howling of containment fields being breached was replaced with an incredibly awkward and heavy silence.

“<I didn’t mean it.>”

Stk’shzsk didn’t respond, instead gently patting New-Hope’s helmeted head in silence.

“<Stk’shzsk, brother, please. All the fights I’ve gotten in for you, all the things I’ve done for you – you know I don’t mean that.>”

“<Then why’d you say it?>” Stk’shzsk said, gently rubbing out a smudge spot on New-Hope’s visor. New-Hope, for his part, was patting Stk’shzsk’s face and neck, and Stk’shzsk smiled at the attempt to lift his spirits.

“<I wanted to hurt you, alright? I’m just, I’m freaking out right now, all right?!>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, rubbing his sore abdomen. “<I come to check in on you and there’s all these traps->”

“<Warm-cuddle nesting arrangements.>”

Hrrs-tssk’ frowned for a moment but swallowed the comeback. “<Sorry, nesting arrangements. Do you realize what’s been going on in the rest of the station?>”

Stk’shzsk idly played a high-five patty-cake game with New-Hope, answering his brother with only silence. Hrrs-tssk’ sighed internally, but forged on ahead regardless.

“<We – and by we I mean the entire guard – are pulling double-shift patrol routes. We’re doing stop and frisk. We’re confiscating stuff. Everyone here came here to get away from an authoritarian chain around our necks, and now, because of this single warm-cuddle, we’re becoming that authoritarian chain! People don’t eat with us anymore, they don’t drink with us, they don’t even talk to us unless we force them to!>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, curling up as he nursed his various bruises. “<Ach. That’s not counting what the rest of the other groups are doing; Back doesn’t tell us anything other than ‘we’ll know it when we see it’, and just…>”

“<For my part, I’ve been in this cluster after my shift ended.>” Stk’shzsk said, laying down an olive branch with his participation in the conversation. “<A little while later, New-Hope came in through the external vent to my room->”

Hrrs-tssk’ started. “<Wait, you have an external vent? Stk’shzsk, I would have never let you move in here if->”

“<And that is precisely why, my dear brother, that I did not tell you that fact until literally just now.>” Stk’shzsk said, continuing to fuss over New-Hope in a dozen tiny ways to avoid giving away the fact that even he didn’t know the vent wasn’t welded shut.

“<Alright, alright. I’ll tone it down.>” Hrrs-tssk’ grumbled, looking around his brother’s abode with newfound concern. “<We should still get someone in here to make sure this is safe for you, though.>”

“<Well, no one is supposed to come in, that’s the entire point of being way out here – and doubly so, now with New-Hope on board.>” Stk’shzsk smiled, hoisting up the human by his arms gently, adjusting him so he would properly sit in his lap. “<So, he came in a few days later and we’ve been hanging out and watching shows ever since.>”

Hrrs-tssk’ paused for a few moments as a thousand questions bubbled to the surface, his pain from his many wounds subsiding to a dull but omnipresent ache. He wanted to know how the human had survived this long, if the human has always been here, if there were more he should be worried about, if the human would be able to survive here… but none of those questions won out in the end. Instead, Hrrs-tssk’ slumped over in his coils, and let curiosity get the better of him.

“<What kind of shows?>”

Stk’shzsk turned his head slightly up and away from his brother, New-Hope’s hands patting his cheeks. “<Real and authentic warm-cuddle movies that are only shared among true men of taste.>”

Hrrs-tssk’ stared flatly at his brother. “<It was pornography, wasn’t it?>”

Stk’shzsk wrinkled his nose and hissed at Hrrs-tssk’, but the spell was broken – the fight, over. Both Jornissians relaxed a bit, shedding the tension that had built between them over the past few minutes. “<It most certainly was not. It was real movies about real warm-cuddles doing real warm-cuddle things! There were high-rises and jobs and running around and explosions.>”

“<Yes, well.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, watching the human with rapt attention. “<We… we have to figure out what to do.>”

“<Do? We simply do nothing.>” Stk’shzsk responded matter-of-factly, tapping the hands that patted his cheeks. “<We don’t tell anyone, we stay hidden, this blows over, and then we leave and go back home – as a family.>”

“<I. Hmm.>” Hrrs-tssk’ started, before starting again, his brain trying to put together the correct series of words to explain how (1) that was most likely not going to happen, and (2) they were most likely in the deepest shit they had ever been in. “<Alright, let’s call that Plan “A”. We lay low, let this blow over, put the warmcuddle in a … oh I don’t know, in a bag or something and get off these rocks with no one the wiser.>”

“<And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.>”

“<Sure. That’s Plan A.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said as diplomatically as possible. “<Now, just hear me out here, let’s talk about a Plan B. What if we gave him back to his crew? They’re trained to take care of him, and->”

Stk’shzsk instinctively tightened his coils around the human, and a little bit of the hope Hrrs-tssk’s held for dumping the human off on someone else died inside. It also didn’t help that the warmcuddle, New-Hope, also seemed against the idea.

Hrrs-tssk’ mused out loud. “<Alright, Plan C. What if you keep him, here – this is a safe place, easily defensible, you’ve been able to care for him longer than those rock snails->”

“<Hey! I tried! Those little guys just die at the shifting of the sun!>” Stk’shzsk said, pointing an accusing finger at his brother. “<It’s not my fault they can’t survive without a pure-nitrogen atmosphere for five entire seconds.>”

“<Aaah, ah, alright, I’ll give you that. Plan C – you keep him here, but I tell the top brass. AH!>” Hrrs-tssk’ raised his hand to silence the opposition, continuing unabated. “<Let me finish before you scour my scales smooth. I tell the top brass, they do negotiations, and we all leave this trail happy and healthy.>”

“<As a family.>” Stk’shzsk said, defiantly. “<How would you promise that? How would you even get Brains or Bile – or Back to agree to that? Once you let them know you have a general idea that you’ve been searching for a warmcuddle, and that you know where he is…>”

It was Hrrs-tssk’s turn to coil up instinctively, as he began to think. Stk’shzsk sensed his advantage, and pressed it. “<So what, you tell the leaders and they barge in here, kill me, take him. Or if they don’t, they still come in here and kick me out, most likely. Once the council does that, what happens? Objectively, what happens.>”

“<Probably an armed crew revolt.>”

“<A skinning.>” Stk’shzsk said, patting his coils for emphasis. “<And we’re assuming that New-Hope even survives that! No, Plan A – as you call it – is the only option. You go and tell his crew, what happens? Really, objectively, think.>”

Hrrs-tssk’ frowned, scratching the ridge of his hood. “<Probably torture once they know… probably another armed crew revolt.>”

“<Are you willing to risk New-Hope’s life on that?>” Stk’shzsk asked, lifting the human up as his exhibit A. The two aliens looked at each other, before Hrrs-tssk’ met his brother’s intense, pleading gaze.

“<You know he electrocuted me, right?>”

Stk’shzsk rolled his torso as a negative answer. “<You don’t know that->”

“<He also set me on fire.>” Hrrs-tssk’ deadpanned, looking at the human who was sticking his tongue out in mockery.

“<Again, you don’t know that, bro->”

“<Twice.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, with emphasis. “<And then he dropped grit down my suit.>”

An accusatory, awkward silence fell on the group, Hrrs-tssk’ staring down the tiny alien of chaos. Nate, for his part, straightened his shoulders and stared the Jornissian square in the eyes.

“I did it once, I’ll do it again, I didn’t learn nothin’, I ain’t sorry and I told you once you sonofabitch, I’m the best there’s ever been.”

“<See? He’s apologized.>” Stk’shzsk said, with all the conviction a true self-taught humanologist like himself could muster. “<Now you should apologize to him for destroying his nesting arrangements.>”

Hrrs-tssk’ snarled. “<I am not going to apologize for setting off->”

Stk’shzsk held Nate up in defiance. “<You apologize to our new family member right now.>”

The two aliens stared each other down once more – this time, Nate radiated smug as opposed to defiance.

“Say it u lil bitch.”

“<I do not like this warmcuddle right now.>” Hrrs-tssk’ said, tilting his head to the side. “<It’s smug aura mocks me.>”

Nate continued to be held aloft, until with an incredibly exaggerated sigh Hrrs-tssk’ gave in. “<I apologize, warmcuddle… New-Hope, for destroying your dangerous nesting arrangements.>”

Yeah you do.” Nate said, grinning. After a few moments – and after he was put down, he leaned forward and gave Bleppy’s brother a bit of a boop. The larger Jornissian looked down at his muzzle and the gloved hand upon it, and then back up at his beaming brother.

“<Fine, I see the appeal.>”

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