Crimson And Clover


Crimson And Clover

The old, boxy starship dropped out of FTL near enough to planet Rike that the baby blue tinted world looked about the size of a baseball through the windshield (spaceshield?). The pine green lizard sitting in the ‘one size fits all aliens’ pilot seat, Kathos DuPaillant, sent a digital request for a dock space. Usually that returns a variety of offers from competing space stations, but on that day, he only got one message in a red outlined box reading, ‘No spaces available. Please wait in queue. Waiting Number 441’.

Just what I need! And, what the hell? Were both thought simultaneously by Kathos. He called flight control directly, but was informed of an estimated forty minute waiting time. So he sat back in his oversized bowl of a seat. His arm rested on his long tail, which was laying by his left side. He was impatiently flicking the shag carpet-like cushioning with the end of his tail by hand, as his tail had little to no muscles of its own. For a Scyllithan like him, tail control was like being able to wiggle your ears. It was also still a little captivating to run his thumbs along the raised groove between his darker backside, and lighter belly side, despite it being a natural part of his body that he already had almost three decades to grow accustomed to. It really did look and feel like the seam that stitched both sides of his hide together.

Flight control took forty two minutes, but finally the salamander looking face of a Canaanean with white quills shooting back from her turquoise cheeks, answered his own ‘monitor lizard who ran into a brick wall, and smushed the end of his nose’ face.

“Oyo sir, sorry for the wait. Questions about the wait?” She answered.

“Yes.” Kathos said simply, as he relaxed with his hands behind his head to hear this story.

She took a breath, and began to relay the situation again, “Hokay, so the Reachuan Empire chased a fleet of mostly civilian escape vessels into our borders, and they happened to arrive here first. The ships are Thaeyamaan, but they’re mostly carrying some other species. I haven’t been given a name for them yet, but they’re big. About the size of a small family sedan, so there’s some logistical problems in trying to figure out what to do with them.”

“That’s quite the story.” Kathos sat up more straight, rather than bend against the back of the bowl, “So has any plan been drawn up to get them out of here yet? This must be costing Rike insane amounts of credits every hour.”

“Weeell, the Thaeyamaan escorts are already going back, but these civilian transports don’t have a place to go back to. The Reachuan Empire has, according to the Thaeyamae, conquered and exterminated their world.” She said.

“So they’ll need to be settled somewhere? I guess we can’t just give them to someone else, and we can’t very well finish them off. How many of them are left, by the way?” Kathos asked.

“About thirty thousand.” She answered.

That worried Kathos a bit, “Gods, this isn’t going to drag us into a war is it?”

“I don’t think so. The talking heads are just ‘deeply concerned’ as usual.” She said with implied quotation.

He should have guessed, “Ah, okay, that’s good. So then, one final question, and probably the most important really: how long of a wait, do you think?”

“Days maybe, and until they decide where to put them, we’re having to do alternate-day docking. But hopefully they will decide quickly! The Union has at least a few mostly empty colony worlds to settle them on.” She replied optimistically.

“Yes, exactly! Alright, thank you for the information. Take care.”

“You as well, sir.” And the call window closed.

Kathos crossed his arms, “Well shit, Yaccovo isn’t going to be in a good mood about this.” Yaccovo being the G-man who sponsored the ship that was Kathos’ place of employment. He sent off an email, and hoped for the best. His two colleagues wouldn’t mind, at least.

The lizard wasn’t the head of the ship. His supervisor, and the real scientist on board, was Beto Amarel. He conducted research on what had turned out to be extremely complex, ancient alien nanobots called ‘Hekates’. They had only figured out that those things were nanobots four years ago, when they found machines in ancient Senek ruins that could manufacture Hekates. Before then, they were thought to be a virus, with programmable mutagen properties. Their success was much more limited beforehand, when their only source of Hekates was from the spinal marrow of the third resident of the ship, Leta. She had no official position on the ship, or legal status in the entire Union of Systems, but she lived with them, and helped at times. She was a one of a kind alien. No others like her whatsoever. To make her stranger yet, she also had psionic powers that could feel moods, or alter the moods of others around her. Even more than that with practice.

The both of them were in the common area, a big round room just behind the helm. Beto was at one of the three counters that wrapped around the outside of the big room, specifically at the counter that was in front of the kitchen area. He was eating fish and chips, resting his pastel blue, big tadpole tail of a body on a stool. A big frog’s leg stood on each side of him, connecting just behind, and slightly above his shoulders, which is to say that his hips and shoulders were both just below the neck. His face had two large, short, thick mandibles on either side of more segmented and flexible mandibles like those over a crab’s mouth hole. His eyes were big, black, and ovular, but raised on short, white stalks, also similar to a crab’s. Up away from the mouth and eyes, the skin over his scalp plate became thin and pale, and under that scalp his brain was encased in a soft sack that resembled an octopus’s head. His feet and hands each had three fat, webbed digits, and as an amphibian, he had to keep moistened to breath through his skin. He kept a spray bottle of water nearby so that he wouldn’t need to sweat so much, and therefore not stink like a toad so much.

In the middle part of the room, down two shallow steps, and under a glass dome showing the stars, there was a big, old, wood trimmed, and marble topped table with the imperial sigil inlaid into it with amethyst. In the middle of that table was a shiny black orb which was their holoprojector, and Leta was playing a game with monster trucks on it. Three maroon coloured, pleather cushioned booth seats with faux wood panelled sides encircled that table, with Leta’s long purple caterpede (as in part centipede, and part caterpillar) looking body laying mostly across one. She wasn’t entirely covered in chitin like a centipede, and had soft, fleshy lavender sides and belly, but her twelve pairs of limbs were covered in segmented exoskeleton similar to a stick bug’s, only lavender instead of green. Her front two pairs of limbs had two long fingers and a hooked thumb at their ends to be useful as hands, while the next three pairs had flat pads with stubby, round thumbs so that her feet looked rather like long, fingerless mittens. The final rear pair of limbs did not have purple periwinkle digits at their ends, but instead came to points, and were like the pincers at the back of a centipede. On her back were many overlapping tear drop shaped plates that were a darker indigo, and had black whiskers coming out from under them to help her know when that long body of hers was brushing up against something. She was actually a bit scrunched up at that moment, but she could stretch herself out until her back plates almost weren’t overlapping anymore. She breathed through holes way deep at the back, and underneath of those back plates. As for her face and head, they were lavender like her arms and skin. She had a long cranial plate that partially fanned out into three segments at its back, and two big, round ocular plates that each held three dark green compound eyes. Her mouth was a round, off-white beak in quadrants, with two fleshy, blue periwinkle mandibles on each side that resembled fingers.

As Kathos expected, neither of them were particularly phased by the news. It wasn’t like they were going to run out of food or power by having to wait a few more days. Yaccovo’s eventual reply email had undirected anger, since he wasn’t really angry with Kathos for those delays, but said that he’d prefer to wait and complain more fully in person, rather than over email.

When they finally were able to get a dock, Kathos immediately had to catch a shuttle to go meet Yaccovo down on Rike’s surface. Kathos met Yaccovo at his private villa out in the country, on quite the palatial estate enclosed by a black metal fence with spear heads all long its top. It was an impressive brick building, sporting three chimneys, and big enough to have a courtyard instead of a backyard. The inside had mostly red painted walls above dark stained wood paneling that came up to abdomen height. In the dining room where they ate over their meeting, the walls had a red and yellow striped wallpaper that had pictures of bloody meat in the red stripes, and buttery or greasy things in the yellow stripes. It was a room designed to make people hungry, especially carnivorous Brinrikians like Yaccovo.

Brinrikians were upright walking, short tailed raptors. They lost the big balancing tail of their ancient ancestors as they came to walk upright, but they kept their long goose necks. Brinrikians came in a few colours, and with varying degrees of plumage, and Yaccovo happened to be a grey scaled, and very white feathered old raptor with very thick plumage. His feathers usually weren’t kept greased down in the best order, so he sort of had that Einstein appearance to him. His head looked like a giant white feather duster, and he had some serious eyebrows going on too.

Yaccovo was eating a very rare steak, and his teeth were yellowed with its blood. Kathos was given the same to eat, by a maid that was probably an android. The Lizard wasn’t sure if the steak was warm because of ever having been near fire, or if it was because the body was still warm. Thankfully, Kathos’ Scyllithan digestive system probably wouldn’t have any problem digesting that raw meat, but most other aliens might not have done so well as Yaccovo’s dinner guest.

“Damned Thaeyamae, dumping these refugees on us, expect us to refuel their ships, and then we can’t even send these… these things back with them!” Yaccovo complained, and tore at some bloody flesh with his sharp, curved teeth.

“Yes, they went and evacuated these aliens, so you’d think they’d have a plan to take them that didn’t involve someone else.” Kathos pointed out.

“Indeed, you would think that! That would make sense! Almost makes me wonder if this hadn’t already been secretly agreed to, perhaps without telling these fuckers in the RUP what the plan was.” Yaccovo took a shot of brandy.

The RUP was the Rike Unionist Party, ruling party of the planet at the moment, but Kathos didn’t know how they were involved yet, “Oh? What’s going on with the RUP?”

Yaccovo grimaced, “You haven’t been keeping with the news, I see. The feds want to settle these, Faffans? No; Frafans? Whatever they are, onto Rike, but the RUP is refusing to find land for them to settle.”

“Why not a more empty planet like Kerek or Saeu Rike?” Kathos asked, “Why are they wasting time trying to settle them onto a planet where it would be a hassle?”

Yaccovo had to finish some more meat while pouring himself another glass of brandy, “Yes, another reason to suspect that some deal was made without RUP being in the loop, and the feds probably just expected the planetary government to capitulate, since they’re part of the same unionist coalition, or, were part of, rather.” After one more shot, Yaccovo said, “I grow tired now, but I spent our meeting getting that off my chest rather than hear how your mission is doing. So you’d better be able to summarize quickly.”

Well, that really put Kathos on the spot! He adjusted his collar, “Yes, well, nothing went horribly wrong, but we still can’t get the new Hekates reproduction rates down to where they’ll eventually all die, and be flushed out by the body as if they were never there. They still become a permanent feature of whatever we inject them into. Other than that, the pictures in the envelope will show you the results better than words.”

“Bah! Still not safe to use on people then! Four years and still not safe… I might need a new idea, but I’m not sure where to find one…” Yaccovo’s attention drifted into the bottom of his shot glass.

Kathos stood up, and pushed his chair in, “I’ll let you know if I find out where you can get a new idea, but until then, I believe you were tired, sir.”

“Yes, yes.” Yaccovo said, waving his hand dismissively.

On the ride back to Rike City, Kathos was unsurprised to find that he would have to wait for at least three days to catch another chrome arrow back into orbit. He would have to let his shipmates know. Kathos made an audiocall from his touchpad. Leta picked up, and was disappointed to hear the news.

“Sorry, Leta.” Kathos said, “I don’t really want to be stuck here either.”

“Too bad we can’t trade places. Beto already doesn’t like going out, and he certainly won’t leave now with all these soldiers about.” Leta bemoaned.

“Oh, the soldiers aren’t that bad! Just mind your own business, and they’ll mind theirs, unless they’re drunk, then you just walk away.” Was the same advice that Kathos’ headmaster gave him, “Most people don’t know that big bugs like you can’t lift a thousand times their weight like little bugs can, so I highly doubt that anyone would pick a fight with you anyways.”

“Yeah, thanks Kats,” Leta replied sarcastically, “but the problem is Beto, not me. I can’t leave the ship on my own, remember?”

“Right, right. Kaplak, I’ll bring you back ice cream or something, okay?” Kathos promised.

“How about, take me down to the surface sometime?” Leta suggested instead.

“On Rike?”

“Yes! What other planet?”

“One that I have permission to take you to preferably.”

“Well, ask Matsily!” Leta exclaimed naively. Matsily was their other sponsor, and she was much more agreeable than Yaccovo, but even she couldn’t give permission to go down to the planet that Yaccovo lived on.

“Yeah, how about you ask her and see how that goes. You have her email. The power is within you to try.” Kathos teased.

“Okay fine! Bring me back ice cream, no wait, an ice cream cake!” Leta settled.

“Alright, can do. Take care of Beto, eh?” He sort-of joked.

“Higig,” She giggled, “Will do. See you, Kats.” And the call ended.

Kathos made a few more calls, to make hotel reservations. He had to pay some money upfront just to hold a cheap room near the edge of town with all the travel delays going on.

During that whole meeting, Kathos had to abstain from Yaccovo’s brandy, and just watch the old alcoholic, but now it was time for him to hit up a pub! He searched for a place that served beer, and also had quiet enough music to stand, that is to say, it wasn’t so loud that he couldn’t hear his own thoughts. That placed ended up being a pub with a weird name, Syzygy, and it had a bronze placard displaying two hooded Brinrikian figures over the name of the establishment. He went in through the black, wooden doorway, and found a high chair at a small table in that cozy hole in the wall. The raw piece of meat he had earlier was okay, but then he needed something for the worms it gave him, so he picked up the food menu first.

Kathos got a Rauian waitress who looked a bit young to be working there. Blond fur covered more than her vest and miniskirt, but her face and hands were fair pinkish skin. Rauians all had big ears, but not all of them flopped over like that girl’s. Kathos ordered three greasy appetizers and a water. When she came back with the food, he also noticed what a perfectly round baby face she had, with a flat brown nose in the middle. She looked like something you would want to buy at a pet store and spoil rotten. Too bad Rauians turn into raisins when they reach their expiry date. Anyways, he ordered a pitcher of gluey tasting Arwa Arwa for his beer, and felt somewhat boring for sticking with Arwa Arwa all the time.

There was more than enough food and beer there for one little lizard, but he did have all evening to get through it, and Syzygy seemed like his kind of pub. Not too bright, or too dark, or too loud. There was a very nice onyx bar counter in the middle, around an impressive whiskey selection, and barrels of ale. Lumber made the floors and half of the walls up to about head height, over which the walls were painted a rusty brown, and displayed all kinds of emblem placards, print outs of nearly ancient paper new articles, paintings, and photos both in colour and not. None of those things were obviously connected at first glance, but they had to do with the name of the establishment. Syzygy apparently had something to do with an ancient oracle, a semi-secret society, two monks who started a brewery-monastery, a new age religious movement, a mob, a paramilitary division, and conspiracy theories on Brinrik. It was a foreign meme to Kathos.

Some other Scyllithans came in, and sat down at the table with him, wreaking of luvamin, the popular Scyllithan drug. To get an idea of how luvamin smells and tastes, imagine black licorice without any sugar, and blended with pine needles. But that didn’t bother Kathos. He shared some of his food with them, and got to snag a luvamin rod off them. They bounced pretty quickly for a stoned trio, apparently looking for another party member they had lost.

The next day, Kathos was still stuck on the planet, and bored. He had pretty well seen all the touristy things in Rike City by that point, but he didn’t want to travel around too much that day anyways.

Luckily there was a big park with lots of willow trees only a few blocks from his hotel, which would be a perfect place to smoke that luvamin rod. It was a square park enclosed by roads on all sides. There was a strip mall with brown brick apartments behind it on the north face, plastic panelled bungalows of various pale colours to the south and west, and modular trailer homes to the east. Those modular homes were sometimes multistory, with trailers stacked up on each other. Most of them also had wooden trusses holding grey shingled roofs added on top to look more like normal houses. It wasn’t a particularly wealthy neighbourhood by Brinrikian standards, but it wasn’t a particularly poor neighbourhood by Scyllithan standards, and there seemed to be a good mixture of those two species there.

The park had cement paths going straight through its middle, from north to south, and east to west, dividing it into quadrants. In one quadrant, Kathos was pleased to see three large, smooth, flat, and black basking rocks. An elderly couple were already basking in their underwear on them, although it looked like they were melting and cooking like an egg with how many loose folds of scales they had. There was a small playground in the opposite quadrant, with sand instead of rocks, so as to ruin shoes faster. The other two quadrants had those thick grey, trunked willow trees that grew all over that continent of Rike. Their leaves grew on vines that sprouted in clumps from branches that reached quite wide.

Under the largest willow in the park, two lizards and a raptor were smoking luvamin together. Kathos, dressed in flowery shorts and a white v-neck, joined their small group with his own luvamin rod. That close to the tree, he could see it had various scars engraved into its trunk, although nothing too profane.

The beige coloured lizard across from him had even shorter than normal Scyllithan legs, and a short face as well. He wore nothing but blue jeans.

The lizard to the left of Kathos was nearly mustard yellow, and wore a big, faded green tunic. Normally the fangs being visible is the easiest indication that a Scyllithan is female, as the men almost always have thick, diamond shaped scales called a ‘profangs’ which hide their fangs, but sadly, that woman had more than just her fangs showing, and her fangs were almost like little tusks, which gave her an unfortunately crocodilian look.

Lastly, sitting cross legged to the right of Kathos, was an entirely crimson raptor. The Brinrikian had a very boxy snout, rather than tapering off like most others of his species, and very little plumage, also unlike most. What feathers he had formed more of a mane than a coat of any sort. Kathos had seen one other crimson raptor up close a while ago, and recalled that he too had a boxy face and was scantly feathered, but not quite so boxy, or naked, or even so bloody crimson as this one. The raptor also dressed better than the other two there, sporting sandals, beige jeans, a white T-shirt, and bright red framed plastic sunglasses resting on his head. He looked familiar for some reason, which Kathos couldn’t put his finger on at that moment.

Kathos sparked up, and the already bleary eyed stoners nodded at his joining them.

“Nice shorts.” Crocogirl said.

“Thanks.” Kathos replied.

“Where do you find shorts covered in flowers like that?” She asked.

“In the swimming trunks aisle.” Kathos answered with a grin.

“Oh, oh. Are you going swimming?”

“Nope.” He replied.

“But, then, why?” She asked.

“Because I didn’t feel like putting on underwear and shorts today.” Kathos answered, and his grin became a big smile.

Crocogirl fell back into the grass, “Oh my god!”

The other two laughed, and the crimson raptor choked on his smoke. As Kathos began to feel the smoke, he found his head bobbing, and became aware that he was listening to music. It wasn’t playing especially loud, but there was an ambient tune in the area.

“What’s the music playing?” Kathos asked.

Instantly crocogirl pointed at the beige one, “See! I’m not just high!”

Again, the other two laughed, apparently having fooled her earlier. Oh yeah, this one was a winner.

Crimson lifted up his touchpad from the grass, turned up the volume, then turned it back down, and set the touchpad back down. Then he asked, “So, how’s things?”

“Flights are delayed. Everything is expensive. Need to get back into orbit to work. But I’m high, so it can’t be that bad.” Kathos replied.

Crimson handed him the little glass rainbow pipe they had going around, so Kathos handed him the luvamin rod.

“I’m Aasus.” The raptor said.

“Kats.” Kathos said, and burnt a bowl. He made a face after. Smoking out of those short little pipes that fit in a pocket was always hot from being so close to the fire, and rough from the lack of a filter. The luvamin rod was mostly a hollow stick with a roll of luvamin at the end, and was tipped like a cigar would be.

When they ran out of luvamin, the two Rikian (denizens of Rike) Scyllithans rolled out into the sun for a nap, but Kathos had just gotten up not too long ago, so he wasn’t ready for a siesta yet. He asked the Brin, “So what was your plan from here? Like I said, I’m just killing time, because flight delays. I imagine you’re not up to anything important since you just blazed.”

“You imagine correctly. First weekend day today. I plan to unwind from looking at properties all around the city. Part of my job, of course. I like to be a bit more sedentary on my weekends, or… hmm, that just sounds lazy, but what I mean is, I like to stay within walking radius of where I sleep.” The raptor said, getting up to stretch out those walking legs. He definitely looked more built to chase down prey than Kathos, who had thick and stubby legs by comparison.

“Eeeh, on Scyllith, you don’t go somewhere if it ain’t free to get to on foot. The light rail is pretty shit here though, in that it doesn’t leave the two,” then in finger quotes, “‘major cities,’ on this continent.” Kathos also got himself up, and shook dirt and grass and bugs off his floppy tail.

“Oh come now, that’s not fair. You’re always within walking distance of billions of people on Scyllith.” Aasus reminded him.

“I guess I have to admit the infrastructure was pretty good back home, even though it was old, and practically a mobile homeless shelter some days.”

“You sure you weren’t adopted by an Arachonese family?” Noting that Kathos pronounced Brinrikian with that kind of accent.

“Nono, I learnt proper Brinrikian from an Arachonese instructor. We don’t speak Brinrikian as our mother tongue like you colonials do, and it’s not quite as similar as native Barasconan or Arachonese either.” Kathos explained.

“Aye, aye, right, right. But the words are still three quarters the same, aren’t they?” Aasus asked.

“They’re more or less three quarters based on Barasconan, not modern Brin Standard, depending which part of Scyllith you’re on. And it’s a creole of Barasconan, so the syntax is completely alien, err, alien to you that is.” Kathos specified.

“I see, so it’s like some real degenerate plebeian speak?” Aasus smirked.

“Correct!” Kathos smiled and pointed back. He followed the crimson raptor into a Kra Kaga’s fast food joint, and clarified, “You’re not just letting me follow you because you’re shy, or because you’re cruel, right?”

Aasus laughed, “Nono, chill lizards are good for a lazy day. Why do you think I was at the park with luvamin? Lizard fishing.”

Kathos laughed hard enough that some people glanced over, “What? So did you even know those other two?”

“Kind of. I’ve smoked with them briefly like that a few other times. They seem like alright trailer trash.” Aasus answered.

“Yep. That’s about what I was thinking. Nothing wrong with that though.” Kathos said.

“Well, that’s why I called them ‘alright’.” Aasus said.

“Right, right. Distinctions are good.”

“Indeed. Even stoned, I can distinguish that you can dress yourself and hold a job.” Aasus noted that Kathos was a cut above those other two.

“More unemployed prols?” Kathos asked about them.

“Hah! No one is unemployed in the colonies. They get subsistence benefits from the guaranteed employment branch of the civil service most of the time. Sometimes they get temporary work in construction or agriculture, and then they’re not so poor for a few months.” Aasus explained.

“Not enough work, or are they lazy, or are they as dumb as they look?” Kathos asked, smirking.

“Heh, probably lazy, ‘though don’t Scyllithans usually call it ‘living the simple life’?” Aasus grinned back.

“Well, a lot of us used to say that, but life wasn’t really simple. It’s just that people like them were relying on the government to figure things out for them. It didn’t work out so well when the government ran out of money, and then collapsed on Scyllith.” Recalling his secondary school years after the Empire capitulated, and the Union tore up or rewrote all the contracts and trade deals with Scyllith.

“How much worse could it have been for the normal kind of perpetually broke person?” Aasus asked, “The feds made sure that no one was starving or dying of disease, so it’s not like civilization collapsed.”

“Let’s order something, and take seat. I’ll tell you just how shitty Scyllith was right after the Empire became the Union. I left it three years after that, so I was there for the three shittiest years.” Kathos told him.

Aasus smiled, looking inadvertently predatory with those sharp, curved Brinrikian teeth, “Great idea. I love to hear crazy tales of far off places.”

Kathos ordered a burger, and Aasus ordered a meatier burger with a side of fried plats.

“Ew, you eat those things?” Kathos said of the fried plats as they were filling their fountain drinks.

“Pfft, says the Scyllithan. Don’t tell me they don’t eat some off putting shit in your part of Scyllith.”

“You’re not wrong, but those are literally blood sucking parasites.” Indeed, the plats were black and grey leeches living in the swamps and shallows of Rike.

“They’re like breaded snails with a metallic taste.” Aasus said, “And every real Rikian has to eat them. You at Rike normally?”

“Yes, I am normally in orbit around here.” Kathos answered, as they took a seat by window with warm sunlight coming down onto them.

“And how many years has that been the case, and you still haven’t had fried plats?” Aasus asked.

“More than four, less than five.” Kathos answered.

“Well then.” And Aasus held out one of the greasy, black centred, battered nuggets to him.

Kathos rolled his eyes, and ate one of the little things. It was as Aasus described, metallic snails. “Would be better with cheese.”

“You can get ‘cheese’ sauce here, but it’s not real cheese, and probably not real sauce either.” Aasus informed him.

“Ah, I see. So about Scyllith, civilization may not have completely collapsed, but it did half collapse. The feds provided emergency aid only, so yeah, they made sure that food staples continued to be distributed, and clean water kept flowing from the taps, and they kept the hospitals open, but that was it. I was fifteen when the Long War was officially over, so I don’t remember what Imperial Scyllith was like in great detail, but I do remember that there used to be a landed class who owned nearly all the properties and businesses, and had been inheriting this for usually hundreds of years in their family line. The government used to control who these people had to rent to, what goods to carry in shops, what prices to charge for everything, to make sure that everyone had a home, and a job, and could afford to eat. It came to be like this by trying to hold onto the status quo, while also dealing with terrible overpopulation. Since people used to just be able to float through life and let the government or the landed tell them what to do, a lot of people were left totally hopeless when both failed.” Kathos explained.

“Both failed? Even the wealthy class wasn’t alright?”

“Eh, well, the landed mostly weren’t that wealthy. Depends how wealthy their ancestors who owned property were. Most landed just own their own home, and are forced to rent out half of it for dirt cheap. A lot of them also only made ends meet because the government guaranteed them business. There was no real competition. Shops were evenly spaced, and all sold the same things for the same prices. I had just gotten a job at a grocery store before the government declared bankruptcy, then tried to pack up and make a run for it the next night when they thought no one was watching. Remember that?” Kathos asked, and started to eat his burger.

Aasus tapped a snipped black claw at the end of a long finger to his chin, from one of his fine, four digit hands. His hands were less slender than most Brinrikian hands, but were still very fine compared to Kathos’ own fat, flat, four pronged starfish-looking hands.

“Wasn’t that when the fleet had to come and extract your President, whatever his name was, because you guys were gonna kill ‘em?” Aasus asked.

“Yes! We only caught some back benchers in the end, and I’m pretty sure they got released with no charges after being terrified in jail for a few days.” Kathos said, trying to recall what happened when he was in tenth grade.

“We don’t lynch politicians any more, Kats. This isn’t the middle ages.”

“I ain’t saying lynching is right, I’m just saying sometimes things happen when you piss off thirty billion people whom you are accountable to, and then get caught trying to bail out. That’s why no one knows where he lives these days, but it’s not on Scyllith, that’s for sure. He’s probably on a tropical Canaanean island with a cute newt girl on either side. He’s not gonna be getting lizard tail anymore, not if he wants to keep hidden and alive.” Kathos made dry, dark humor, or perhaps was just being cynical.

Aasus chuckled, “I shouldn’t laugh, because that’s probably not far from the truth. He got caught in all kinds of lewd scenes during his career, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, he was popular with the party people.” Kathos confirmed. They finished up their burgers quickly once they were done talking, “Well, that was above mediocre food, but now that it’s out of the way, what do you normally do with the lizards you catch? Surely this doesn’t end at Kra Kaga’s?”

“Indeed! There is much more luvamin to do today, and there’s this pub I like call Syzygy-”

“Oh! I was there yesterday!” Kathos exclaimed.

“You liked it?” Aasus asked.

“Yeah man, I love little hole in the walls that aren’t too loud, and play music that isn’t exclusively for the trashiest people.” Kathos answered.

“Excellent! You and I are going to get along just fine.” Again with the predatory grin.

That time the grin triggered a red flag for Kathos, and he figuratively took a step back from the situation to look at it objectively: an apex predator was luring him with drugs. Gee, that situation has never ended with losing a kidney in a back alley.

“So would you like me to pitch in for the luvamin, or…?” Kathos asked.

“If you feel you need to.” Aasus replied nonchalantly.

“That’s awfully generous. What do you do for a living?”

“Realty and vacation sales.” Aasus answered.

And suddenly Kathos realized why Aasus looked familiar, “I’ve seen your face on benches, and in ads on the sides of network sites for some of the space stations in orbit here. Trying to market to new immigrants with those ads on the stations?”

“Yes, and tourists, and business men who spend a lot of time here. I help sell lots of rental properties, and sell vacation packages too. Basically if you need a place to lay your head that’s not just a hotel, I’m the guy to see. During weekdays, of course. During the weekends, I go incognito by not wearing a nice suit, and then most people can’t tell one red raptor from the next. I’m actually very surprised that you figured it out.” Aasus said.

That all put Kathos at ease. A known face and upstanding member of the community seemed less risky than an unknown person, but just to be sure, Kathos said, “Awesome, I’m just gonna text my colleagues back on the ship and tell them I’m hanging out with a celebrity, Aasus the real estate guy.”

“Tell them to tell their friends if they know anyone looking to buy a house on Rike. The city itself is full, but the burbs still have plenty of lots to fill up with trailers and bungalows.” Aasus replied as a salesman.

Alright, Aasus wasn’t worried about people knowing that Kathos was last seen with him, so he probably didn’t have anything too nefarious planned.

© 2019 Arthur Bauin