Draughton emerged on the other side of the security check onto the streets of Daegon. The venom for the boy who took the watch coursed through his veins. The prospect of finding him however, immediately looked bleak. The port concourse opened immediately into a cacophony of hollering taxis and bustling vendor carts. He shouldered his way through the crowd toward the street as a band of sun darkened men all shouted “Where to go? 5 cred. Where to go?”
The vendors looked cleaner, but were just as insistent. They did their best to push fruit or trinkets into your hands, shouting their prices and reprimanding any who would walking past, slighted. Their perfumed wares smelled of spices and flowers, but between the stalls, the clear smell of shit was the true smell of the air. In any Imperial city, this scene would be considered utter chaos, but this was the borderlands.
Daegon was a world that existed beyond imperial space. Beyond the local cluster, there was thought to be nothing but lightyears of darkness. To cross those voids in current era ships would mean certain death. Aside from the extradimensional beings beyond the spectrum of human comprehension that occasionally dipped in and out of the fabric of reality in those parts, there simply wasn’t a big enough ship with enough fuel to make the crossing. One wrong turn meant madness, starvation, and a gravesite never found.
The empire touts that they did the Daegonese a favor by building a cursory spaceport on their small moon. They claimed the influx of imperial influence, customs, and goods were a boon to a disenfranchised, third world culture. The real treasure was the goods leaving the planet. The rugs were of fine make and the produce was novel, but the real prize was gleen.
Gleen was a party drug that was taking over night life in the core worlds. The cartels fought over shipments of it like dogs because no one could figure out where it was coming from. Draughton had met a couple men in their cups who would claim that it was White Fire bringing it in, saying they had a cousin or a friend they used to work with who could corroborate that. Draughton didn’t trouble himself with it too much, considering it far away and unsavory. Fate twists in strange ways.
The Houndmaster had put Draughton on a strict need to know basis, but it didn’t take a political analyst to parse out that gleen was at the center of his mission here. He could see the strings, but still could not trace their origins. He would have to pay attention out here. Nowhere had he seen a guarantee that he was going to come out of this ordeal alive.
Kids ran through rabbit paths between stalls and in the gaps where lost tourists wouldn’t walk. The children were taught how to create diversions, pick pockets, and pry money off soft hearts. Their dark educators were nearby and would collect their tuition. Draughton took a moment with his hands buried in his pockets. None of them were the kid from the tarmac.
He shouldered his bag and wove through the crowd, smoothing his edges and allowing himself to fit into the curves between travelers. His hands were within inches of his pockets at all times. Eventually, he found his way out to the curb, where the dusty street zoomed with electric bikes, tuk-tuks, and the occasional, brave yet cautious car. The traffic was merciless, but it was understood to be so and travelers understood to be so. It was chaos and everyone knew the risks, but did so harmoniously in an orchestra of flowing congestion.
Across the dusty way, under the awning of an older clay building sided with thin aluminum and cheap wood, was as an alfkin man. The alf hid his huge eyes behind mirrored sunglasses and a long smoldering cigarette hung from his mouth. He sat in a plastic chair at a rickety table with a sign in his lap that read: Ulysses, Draughton’s alias. This was obviously his contact.
He watched a few locals cross the street with a slow confidence that allowed the hustling motorbikes to wiz and weave past them. Draughton attempted the same thing, but as soon as he stepped from the curb, a tuk-tuk honked at him and splashed a puddle that smelt like piss in his direction. He waited another moment and tailed a local merchant cart across. The merchant noticed him, but only shook his head as the foreigner tailed him.
The alf watched him, but portrayed no emotion in it. He gave the impression of being local in his indifference to the struggles of those who could not find their feet out there. He patted the merchant on the back in thanks, who promptly returned by swatting Draughton away. He approached the table and the alf could not be bothered to stand and greet him.
He only sipped his beer and said, “This one was told that one would be a professional. Yet he crosses the street like a lost toddler.”
“Disoriented, first time out east,” Draughton said, pulling up one of the cheap chairs. “A kid got my watch.” A thin local waitress with too-young grays in her dark hair approached the table and barked something in Daegonese. The sun had turned her skin into leather, only highlighted by heir white linen dress and canvas apron. Draughton got the impression that she was extremely beautiful not that long ago. He pointed at the alf’s beer and held up two fingers. She nodded and went toward the kitchen.
His eyes followed her into the open building. A slight breeze washed out into the street, coming from overworked and dirty air condition unit, assisted by a series of wobbling fans hanging from the ceiling. The back of the bar was dressed with few bottles Draughton recognized. The decor seemed to match the plastic patio set out front as only a wrought iron gate separated the two. The floor was once a black and white tile, now chipped and tarinshed, and the mosaic walls echoed the same treatment. Some local sport played on the aging holoscreen over the bar that flickered with an unclear picture. The place was simple, but time honored.
“Seems very amature,” said the alf as he looked out into the busy street, revealing a long scar running down his cheek. “Let a child take that one’s watch.”
Not this one, Draughton thought. He hadn’t been pickpocketed in years, not without catching the thief by the wrist and making them pay with a couple teeth. Getting Draughton’s prized possession off his wrist without him noticing was simply uncanny. Was that all the kids out here? Or was the kid with the bottle green eyes something else.
“Benny, I presume?” Draughton spat.
“Is,” said the alfkin.
In surprise and without a word the thin waitress hastily dropped two mugs of amber beer, spilling a healthy portion onto the scarred plastic tabletop and moved back inside. Draughton took a sip to confirm the beer was warm, but still cooler than the thick air that smelled of ozone exhaust and sweat. It was nutty and much needed after a long journey.
Benny finished off his first and pulled his second toward him. He lit a long, thin cigar that smelled like cloves. The alf exhaled saying, “You like it?”
Draughton gulped his mug and sighed with refreshment. “Among old friends to see at the edge of the world, beer is one of the best. Changes, but always stays the same. At least until I get used to the drinking water.”
The alf let out a chuckle and Draughton managed a smile. He had to admit a slight relief. “I mean the city,” Benny said.
Draughton watched the sooty orange air drift in from the streets and slink through the arches of the bar to get caught up in the questionable ceiling fans. Old local men played cards on the shifting tables and the young people shouted at the ballgame. Small groups of off world merchants and researchers huddled uncomfortably, seeking refuge at a watering hole. “Less different than it may seem.”
“Is a shithole,” said Benny. “But it is home. That one’s people wishes us to join their fold, but these ones will never be treated as equals. But our holoscreens will be new and cheap. Food and medicine. Depression and anxiety. All the modern comforts. What do these ones do with that? What would that one do?”
The honesty of the question was refreshing, but the answer no easier to find. “I was born into it. Didn’t have much of a choice. Made the best of what I had. Didn’t turn out great.”
A sleek smile crossed Benny’s face and a chuckle snuck from him. He lowered his sunglasses and placed them in his breast pocket. The cheek scar ran up through his large black left eye. The red fleshtones were skirted by a smoky white. Alfs had no pupils. “In that, perhaps all men are brothers.”
“What about women?” Draughton ask with a sly smile.
Benny heartily laughed at this and grabbed his beer. He waved it, spilling slightly down the side. “Those ones can be brothers too.”