Fiction logo

First Cold

A boy's first winter on an alien planet

By E.J. RobisonPublished 3 months ago 17 min read
First Cold
Photo by Jacques Dillies on Unsplash

Vaughn was pretty sure he’d gotten his coordinates wrong.

One moment, he’d been keying in the location of the space station hanging above his home planet Infyllus as he’d done a thousand times before. Sure, Kiefer had thrown a boot at his head as he’d been typing, but his little brother’s antics had never posed a problem before. Now...

Something strange gripped Vaughn’s bones, a constricting, piercing feeling that soon encompassed his whole body.

Is this what teleport sickness feels like? he wondered. I should probably wait until it goes away.

He leaned against the platform’s railing with a sigh. A shiver ran down his spine, an involuntary reaction to the strange feeling. His eyes wandered over his surroundings, and after a moment, Vaughn forgot all about teleportation sickness. The dim lighting and a faint glow coming from several feet away told him he was in a cave—he and Kiefer had wandered into many of those back home. A savoury aroma filled the air, making Vaughn’s mouth water.

An itch in his brain told him to go toward the light, to peek outside and see where he was. Vaughn gripped the railing.

I have to get to work as soon as I’m better. I can’t go gallivanting around on…some other planet…

Imagine telling Kiefer he’d been on another planet! And then…telling him that he didn’t go see what it looked like.

Vaughn huffed, cursing his own logic. “One look,” he muttered. “Then I’m heading to the Station, sickness or no.”

He took a step off the platform and heard his boots crunch into the earth below him. He glanced down in curiosity, but the sight before him made him pause.

He’d trampled on something red.


His heartbeat stuttered. If that was blood, then what had made the crunch?

“Bones,” he whispered hoarsely.

His mind whirled as the reality of the situation struck him. Why would there be a teleport sitting in the middle of a random cave? Why did it smell like food?

Because this was someone’s home. And Vaughn had just stepped on the remains of their dinner.

Before he knew it, he was running.

His heart was a drumbeat in his ears, compelling his legs to pump faster as he put distance between himself and the cave, the bones, the blood. Darkness became light, but Vaughn's surroundings were a meaningless blur as his thoughts were filled with the occupant of the cave, surely a terrifying monster with giant teeth.

Eventually, Vaughn’s breath ran out and he was forced to stop. He gasped in air. His throat and lungs burned. He coughed as dryness persisted in his throat, yet he found himself sniffing as his nose ran.

Another shiver travelled down his spine, stronger this time as it shook his whole body.

Teleportation sickness. It had to be; he knew nothing else that would give him such strange symptoms so suddenly. All he had to do was stay calm, find another teleport, and hope the shop was doing okay…

Vaughn dragged a hand over his face. He could see it now: a wealthy Sorusian strolling through the Station, ready to buy out Vaughn's whole stock of hot tarangi wraps for his ravenous crew, only to stop short at the sight of the closed stall and walk away, pocketing his thousands of credits.

A shiver forced Vaughn’s eyes to see reality again. He wrapped his arms tightly around himself.

“I'm gonna kill Kiefer," he muttered, kicking his boot at a dark object buried halfway in the ground, which he unpleasantly discovered was a rock from the smarting in his toes.

What was more interesting, though, was that the ground sprayed up all around, almost like sand or pebbles. Yet, it was decidedly different. It shone bright red and glittered in the sunlight.


Vaughn's view widened like he was only just now opening his eyes. The red ground stretched as far as he could see in any direction, though the further away it was, the lighter the hue became until the horizon was lined with pink. Oddly enough, the towering dark green trees seemed to be dusted with the substance, too.


Once again, Vaughn kicked—much lighter than last time—though his object was now to know more about this odd ground. He watched the particles fly, then settle back down. He slowly lowered his foot.


Vaughn stared at his feet. Just like the cave...

It struck Vaughn all at once: it hadn't been blood and bones he'd stepped on, but this strange ground. He breathed out a long, relieved sigh as thoughts of monsters faded.

That meant it was probably safe to go back...


Vaughn turned in a full circle. He'd been so bent on getting out of the cave that he hadn't even paid attention to direction. He couldn't see a cave opening anywhere—just mountains of red and resolute trees. The shivers intensified until he couldn't stop them. Something was definitely wrong.


Vaughn gasped at the nearby voice of a young man. His heart pounded rapidly.

“No need to look so terrified; I just thought you looked a little cold.”

Vaughn couldn't see a soul. What was happening? Did teleportation sickness include hearing voices?

“Over here. No. To your left. More left. There! You're staring right at me.”

Vaughn wanted to tell the voice it was wrong; he was, in fact, staring at a hillside. But then a small part of it moved.

Eyes. Blinking.

Once Vaughn saw that, he could finally make out a form blending in with the colour of the strange ground. It was muscular and large, more massive than any predatory animal that Vaughn had ever seen.

But this was no simple animal. Intelligence shone in those glittering eyes. Vaughn gulped at the sight of the fearsome figure and the alien’s rounded ears twitched as if he had heard it.

A Citunen, Vaughn thought. He saw them frequently around the Station, but there, their fur was always a muted grey and he was surrounded by aliens from all over the sector. Here, he was alone, and the Citunen’s fur gleamed stunningly scarlet. Does that mean I’m on Citune?

“There you go!” The Citunen approached Vaughn with an easy gait, and as Vaughn watched him, his eyes were finally able to stop confusing the alien’s fur with the ground. “I tried to get your attention when you bolted out of the cave, but you’re fast for a bipedal, aren’t ya?”

“That was your cave?” Even though Vaughn had already realised the truth about the “bones” and “blood,” he took an instinctive step back away from the Citunen.

The alien shrugged. “I like the dark. Name’s Kiddix.”


Now that Kiddix was closer, his casual posture and careless air didn’t seem so intimidating. Still, Vaughn kept his guard up.

“How did I end up on your teleport?”

Kiddix blinked, his ears standing rigid. “I don’t know; crazy how those things can malfunction, huh?”

Vaughn sensed that something wasn’t right. He opened his mouth to ask more, but Kiddix spoke first.

“Come on, kid, let’s get you back to the cave. I had some stew brewing when you arrived, and I’ve got no one else to share it with.”

Vaughn trembled, unsure if he wanted to go with this alien when he was obviously hiding something. Still, the sickness was obviously getting worse, as he could hardly control his shaking body anymore. “Do-Do you have medicine for teleportation sickness?”

Kiddix glanced up at him. “Teleportation—? No way you can have that if you just jumped within the sector. You…did just jump within the sector, right? You’re not one of those crazy thrill riders?”

“Uh…no. I’m from Infyllus.”

“Ahhh.” Kiddix grinned, revealing two rows of bright, polished, razor-sharp teeth. “No wonder why you look like a fish outta water. You ever been on another planet before?”

Vaughn shook his head.

“So, first winter. Well, whaddya think?” He gestured with a paw as large as Vaughn’s face.

“Um.” Vaughn shuddered. “I…”

“Right. Gotta get you warm. Come on, follow me.” Kiddix strode forward and Vaughn willed his stiff limbs to move.

“Iffff this isn’t teleportation s-sickness, then what’s wrong with me?” Vaughn chattered.

Kiddix stopped abruptly. “You’re shivering.”

“Yeah, but w-w-why?”

With a bewildered blink, Kiddix sat on his haunches. “You’re kiddin’ me, right?”

With effort, Vaughn shook his head.

Kiddix ran his claws through the fur on his head, a strangely human gesture. “Kid, you’re…cold? You know, it’s winter? It’s cold? Chilly? Like a freezer?”

“Oh! I have a freezer at my stall! But I just thought…” Vaughn trailed off, feeling silly as Kiddix stared at him like he was the biggest idiot in the galaxy.

I always thought freezers just worked on food. I mean, my hand gets numb if I hold onto a frozen tarangi stick for too long, but I never thought what would happen if my whole body was in a freezer…

Kiddix slowly lowered himself into a walk again. “Come on, let’s keep moving. So, uh…you ever been to school?”

“My dad doesn’t believe in school. As soon as I was old enough to work the stall, he brought me up to the Station every day to show me how it worked. Once I got the hang of it, he let me run it. My brother’s going to start coming up with me soon.”

“Which stall?”

Vaughn hesitated, lowering his voice and half-hoping that Kiddix wouldn’t hear. “Tarangi wraps?”

“Tarangi? That’s you?” He beamed up at Vaughn. “I love those things! Thought your face looked familiar.”

A bit of warmth bloomed inside Vaughn's chest. Usually, people just treated him as a faceless person who handed them wraps and never considered the work he'd put into them.

Kiddix shook his head. “No school…doesn’t know cold…” He huffed, diffusing some of the strange, light ground.

“Hey, what is this stuff?” Vaughn scuffed some of the red substance with his boot.

With a groan, Kiddix slowly turned to look at him. “Snow? You’ve never heard of snow?”

Vaughn responded with a sheepish grin.

“Kid, don't you watch TV? Read books?”

Vaughn shrugged. “When I'm not at the Station, I'm out exploring with my brother.”

“Yeesh.” He quirked a furry eyebrow. “You gotta stay in more.”

Kiddix lapsed into silence and Vaughn was content to let the conversation dwindle away for now. He took in the world with new appreciation; he’d never known just how different another planet could be. Infyllus was always warm, its temperature never fluctuating. Cold was something brand new, exciting, and, well…cold.

By the time they made it back to Kiddix’s cave, Vaughn could barely move. The Citunen guided him to a fireplace blazing with warmth, and as he slowly started to thaw out, Vaughn’s curiosity came back in full force. Where did all the smoke from the fire go? How had snow gotten inside the cave? Was it always this cold on Citune?

And why was Kiddix suddenly a muted grey with tints of red?

“What?” Kiddix must have noticed Vaughn's stare because he looked down at himself in alarm. “My fur’s not on fire, is it?”

“You’re a different colour!”

“Oh, that.” Kiddix relaxed. “Comes with being a Citunen, kid. Our fur blends in with our surroundings.”

Vaughn smiled. The universe was so cool.

Kiddix disappeared, letting Vaughn enjoy the fire, then returned a short time later pushing a small rolling trolley with his nose. Dominating the trolley’s tray was a massive bowl of stew; a hunk of dark bread the size of Vaughn’s head took up the rest of the space. It was a meal fit for someone five times his size.

Kiddix chuckled as he stopped the cart by Vaughn’s side. “Not sure how much you bipedals eat. Don’t worry if you don’t finish; I’ll eat the leftovers. As soon as you’re done, I’ll get you back home.”

Vaughn reached for the bowl, but at the sight of Kiddix’s amused smile, he stopped.

“No need for that.” Kiddix used a claw to tap on the trolley’s control panel—which Vaughn had only now noticed—and a low hum started up. The tray lifted into the air, hovering just over the trolley.

Kiddix nodded. “Go ahead. You can take it now.”

Vaughn hesitantly grabbed each side of the tray, ready to use all of his strength to haul that giant bowl to the floor. To his surprise, however, he moved the tray with ease and set it down without the stew even spilling over.

“Neat, huh?” Kiddix tapped on the trolley again and the hum stopped. Vaughn pushed the tray experimentally; he could barely shift it.

“How did you do that?”

Kiddix shrugged. “I’m in the tech business, so I get all kinds of useless junk like this.”

“It’s not useless! That’s awesome!” Vaughn wished more than ever that Kiefer could see all of this. “We don’t have anything like that on Infyllus.”

“Yeah, you guys got some pretty harsh tech laws, something about preserving the culture and all that.” He nodded at Vaughn’s bowl. “Eat up; I’ll be right back.”

With no table in sight, Vaughn decided to eat right there on the floor; Kiddix didn’t seem like the type to care much about manners, anyway. He scooted the stew closer and poked at dark lumps with his spoon.

I wonder what kind of meat that is? What if it’s poisonous to humans? I could just sneak a wrap when I get back to the Station…

The steam from the stew filled Vaughn’s nostrils with a warm, savoury smell. His stomach grumbled.

Maybe I’ll try a little and see what happens first.

Proud of himself for making such a logical decision, Vaughn confidently dipped his spoon into the bowl and took his first bite of stew. Wonderful, spicy, aromatic flavours exploded in his mouth, a sensation so wonderful that for a moment, he let the spoon drop back into the bowl and stared down at the concoction in awe. He hardly noticed Kiddix appearing with the trolley again.

“Ah, stop that gawking, you’re makin’ me blush,” the Citunen admonished. He plopped down a few paces away with his own bowl and chunk of bread the same size as Vaughn’s. Without ceremony, he stuck his face directly in the bowl and noisily began lapping it up.

Vaughn chuckled quietly and took another bite, digging in without any more hesitation. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed a meal so thoroughly, especially as Kiddix paused every few minutes to relate stories about all the planets he’d been to—seemingly every one in the sector and beyond.

But as Kiddix lapped up his last bit of stew and used his paws to clean off his face, he uttered the words that made Vaughn’s once-light heart slowly sink down to his toes.

“Well, I guess it’s time I get you home.”

Vaughn sighed, knowing he was right. Dad would already be livid about the stall opening so late in the day. “Yeah.” He placed his still half-full bowl back on the trolley beside Kiddix’s and stood, wiping bread crumbs from his shirt. “Thanks for the food. And, um…” Vaughn looked around, trying to piece his thoughts together. “You have a really cool house.”

Kiddix chuckled. “You’re not so bad yourself; thanks for the company.” He nodded toward the adjacent room containing the teleporter. “Do you need help getting home? Don’t want you to end up on Calyptus or something.”

Vaughn snorted. “There's no way I could end up on the other side of the galaxy.” He headed toward the platform, duty pulling him onward while his heart called him back. When would he ever get the chance to explore another planet again?

Another planet. Calyptus.

Vaughn paused.

“Kiddix?” He wanted to voice his question outright, but his thoughts fired at him from a million different directions. Fear crept through him silently.

Vaughn heard a shift as Kiddix stood—Kiddix, a massive, dangerous creature who could tear Vaughn to shreds in a heartbeat.

Suddenly, Vaughn found it hard to swallow.

“What is it? Something wrong?”

Rushing blood thundered in Vaughn’s ears. He shivered—away from the fire, the cold was claiming him again.

“Kid.” Kiddix stopped by Vaughn’s side and trained an inquisitive stare on him. Vaughn instinctively shuffled away, toward the platform, where he could escape if need be. Kiddix’s ears drooped.

“How did I get here?” Vaughn asked, his voice hoarse and lifeless to his own ears. He stepped onto the platform, ready to disappear. Yes, he could leave now, but he had to know.

“You put in the wrong coordinates, that’s all.” Though Kiddix carefully controlled his expression, his voice wavered.

Vaughn shook his head, staring at the ground, unable to meet Kiddix’s eyes. “I know how teleporters work. You can’t just ‘end up’ on someone else’s personal teleport platform unless they have your port code. The teleport shouldn’t have gone through at all.”

Kiddix sat and dug his claws into the ground. “Teleporters are complicated, kid.”

But Vaughn heard the lack of conviction in his voice. He finally looked the Citunen in the eye. “You have an unlocked teleporter. You know all about tech and you’ve been to lots of different planets. You’re a smuggler.”

Kiddix’s long, thin tail swished back and forth, scattering smatters of snow that had collected on the cave floor. Vaughn’s fingers hovered over the teleport controls. One button, and he’d be home.

But he had to know.

“Calm down, kid.” Kiddix’s voice rumbled softly like a purr. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Aren’t you? I know your secret.”

“So you do.”

Vaughn felt a burst of pride, but the sting of betrayal followed right on its heels. “I’m right?”

“Yeah,” Kiddix said with a huff. “Don’t sound so surprised. You might not know much about the universe, but you’re smart. I don’t know many kids your age who could’ve figured that out.”

“My dad works in customs. He hates smugglers.”

Kiddix’s slitted eyes narrowed and Vaughn winced. He probably shouldn’t have said that.

Kiddix relaxed his gaze. “Not everyone is what they do.”


Kiddix worked his jaw, his eyes rolling upward in thought. “You work at a tarangi stall, right? People see you and they think that all you do is sell wraps. Probably think you’re too dimwitted to work a ‘real job’ or go to school.”

Vaughn turned to a frozen statue, and not from the cold, either. “Yeah.”

“But if you had a choice, you’d rather be doing anything else.”

Vaughn nodded. How did Kiddix know his situation so well?

“Smuggling might not be as harmless as selling tarangi wraps, but it’s the same for me.” Kiddix pawed his ear. “It’s all I know how to do, but it doesn’t mean I have to be the heartless monster that everyone thinks of when they hear ‘smuggler.’”

Conflicting emotions warred within Vaughn. He wanted to believe Kiddix, but how could he after he’d already lied about the teleporter?

“How do I know you’re not just saying that so I don’t tell my dad about you?”

“You don’t.” Kiddix finished scratching himself and looked Vaughn in the eye. “In the smuggling business, they tell you not to trust anyone, but that gets pretty boring. I prefer to make friends.” He smiled gently, without teeth.

Vaughn felt a warm feeling of hope chase away his fears, despite himself. The only real friend he’d ever known was his brother—and he had to be friends with him. He wanted to believe that Kiddix was his friend, too.

But a smuggler…

Kiddix waved a paw and sighed. “Go on, get out of here, kid. I’m sure everyone at the Station is missing you.”

Vaughn shuffled and brought his hand closer to the recall button that would take him home, then from there to the Station. “Kiddix? Can I… Maybe keep these coordinates? In case I want to see snow again?”

Kiddix chuckled. “Knock yourself out.”

Vaughn waited for the inevitable warning. “You’re not going to threaten me?”

“Nope. What did I say? Trust, kid. You can come back here often as you like. I make stew every Wednesday. Heck, bring your dad. I don’t care.”

Laughter burst from Vaughn’s mouth at the thought of his dad, so orderly and stoic, talking with the energetic and careless Kiddix.

“I’ll see you around,” Vaughn said, slipping into a lingo closer to the Citunen’s.

“See you soon, kid. Remember: Wednesdays.” Kiddix shot Vaughn a lazy salute, his smile widening.

Vaughn waved with one hand and pressed the recall button with the other. In a flash, he was home…

And cold was only a memory.

. . .

If you enjoyed this story, please leave a like and a comment and consider visiting my website! Your support means the world to me as an indie writer. ♥️

Young AdultShort StorySci FiFantasy

About the Creator

E.J. Robison

Ever since I could first form words and hold a pen, I've been telling stories - from the sloppily scrawled tales about getting ice cream with my exotic pets to full-blown sci-fi and fantasy epics. Soli Deo gloria!

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.