With failed attempts to sleep more than a couple hours, Draughton rolled out of the bed as the horizon only began to warm with the sensation of day. He slipped from the room, careful not to wake Benny, though he imagined it difficult with the way the alf went to sleep. On the way out, the dwelen kid behind the desk was half asleep watching a rerun scoopball match from the previous day. With the help of some charades and fudged sign language, Draughton bought a sack of tobacco from the kid, surely overpaying in Imperial credits. The kid quickly returned to his half asleep and reclined state.
Draughton sat on the steps of the hotel and rolled the dry tobacco in the shitty rice paper. He only destroyed two or three before he got the hang of the flip. He rolled two spares and hid them in his already sweaty breast pocket.
A couple cats ran by and a beggar asked him for some change. The sun got less shy and color began to introduce itself back into the world. Like a newborn doe, it stepped unsurely and awkwardly. Blues were purple, green was gray, and the glass of the buildings were aflame with oranges and reds. A beautiful and brief moment. By the time the first tuktuk pulled up to the hotel offering him a ride, the colors of the world had mostly sorted themselves out.
Draughton offered the man his last imperial credits to take him back to the spaceport. The driver didn’t say a word, only firing up the whirring, tired electric motor on his bike.
Luckily, the driver understood the word ‘spaceport’ and they quickly found the busy street from the day before. He tried to ask the driver if he had seen a boy like that, supplementing the driver’s Commen with hand gestures, pointing to his wrist and raising his hand about a child’s height. The driver seemed to at least partially understand, but he laughed and whirred his motor and disappeared back the way they came. Draughton was alone again and he could see the starships in the high atmosphere waiting to unload their daily shuttles.
Draughton sat outside the same cafe from yesterday that faced the spaceport. When he had greeted the waiter, he disappeared back into the kitchen. A moment later an alfish girl came out and apologized for the waiter’s bashfulness due to his lack of Commen. He asked how he knew he was an offworlder. She ignored the question and asked what he needed.
He ordered a cup of coffee and two eggs. The coffee was thin and grainy, probably instant, but every time he emptied it, the waitress seemed to appear with the pot and refill it with more of the piping hot mud. The eggs arrived a cup and half later. The yolks were green and a thick red veins ran throughout a white. Draughton asked the waitress if this was a chicken egg. She said no, but she didn’t know the Commeng word for it.
“Bird?” Draughton asked.
The waitress shook her head and moved her hand like it was crawling along the ground.
“Oh,” Draughton said. “Lizard.”
“Is good,” she assured him and walked away.
Draughton figured if he was going to adjust his gut biome to the food out here, sooner was better than later. He dug in. They were rubbery but eggy enough. He finished one and left the other one for the time being.
Draughton watched the shuttles come in for over an hour. Every time, the herds of merchants, cabbies, and prostitutes would descend onto the unsuspecting travelers. It only took a little while before he found himself caught up in this ceaseless waltz that the locals performed over and over again to make a living. Draughton almost rooted for them like hungry goldfish snatching food and pulling away their prizes. Most importantly he watched underlay of children seeping their way into the crowd. There was an alien organization to them. Theirs was a clear synchronicity, a planned system of attack and zoning. Draughton could swear that when the crowds would diffuse into the city, it was the children who came out more glinting in gold than the merchants.
It also became increasingly obvious that between crowds, and sometimes during an especially busy landing, the children would all seem to funnel to an alley on the farside of the shop street. A new shuttle was arriving and the little urchins made their move toward the crowd, fanning out to cover the most amount of ground. They were organized, but the alley was unguarded. This was his in. He broke into his local cash stock and slid a couple notes under his plate. He left a gracious tip, but he had to follow this trail.
As discreetly as a ginger bearded off worlder could be, Draughton made his way and turned down the alley. The path took him behind an old tobacco shop that smelled of earth and fire. The alley was dingy and littered with trash. Cans and bottles and plastic bags were towards the front, but as he made his way back, there were notable velvet boxes where jewlery ones laid. Old leather bands and sullen silk. Things that were once attached to something of value, but no longer.
He rounded the corner to behind the space behind the shop. The smoky smell became thicker and it became like he was walking into a dream. Sitting there in the alley way was something out of a fairy tale Lola had told him to fuck with him while he was trying to go to sleep. There was a small tent held together by strings and clothes lines hanging between the buildings in the cramped, wet alley. Litter worked its way into the walls of the place, constructing its own landscape of cans and splintered wood. Aluminum wrappers made the hut shimmer like a castle. Unbalanced chimes of broken glass shimmered and sang unevenly in the thick tropical air. The flap lay open as a thick perfumey smoke billowed out of the entrance.
“Well, shit,” he said aloud. He had come too far not to go in.