Alien Relations - Part IV

August 2942
Sedux Hal Commerce Zone
Virtus System

As Reef brought the Freelancer MAX into Virtus for landing, Photeus was changing clothes behind the cockpit. With the last set of trades, Wohevt had given him some Xi'an outfit to wear; he claimed would help Photeus fit in better. Photeus suspected the real reason was to disguise him, to the casual observer, as a Xi'an, so Wohevt's associates wouldn't know the difference. This was not something that bothered Photeus, and besides, he found the garb quite comfortable.

The MAX lurched to landing and Reef said to Photeus, "We're here. I'm going to lock up the ship and watch your back. I'll have the key fob, so get everything you need right now."

Photeus nodded. Standard procedure was to lock up the ship anyway, so this was no surprise. Photeus as usual was focused on the work. He finished latching his pouches to his utility belt and double checked if his contracts were ready for signature. He was finalizing some information on his Omni-glass when a blaze of fire raked across his chest and down into his lower back. He cried out in pain and fell to the floor. For a brief moment he assumed it was time for his little alien baby to lurch out of him. As the pain faded and he came to his senses, he looked over at Reef.

Reef was staring at him with worry in his eyes. Before Photeus could figure out the exact reason for the worry, the hard-stare had returned, "Get up. We have work to do."

Photeus stood to his feet, a little wobbly at first, but his strength returned quickly. "Ok, I'm all set."

Reef opened the hatch and they exited the Freelancer. Glass surrounded the cargo bay so that everyone in the dock could keep an eye on their ships, but they were warned to "IMMEDIATELY REPORT TO DECONTAMINATION"

They were brought into separate pods. This part had always made Photeus nervous, but the machines could never see the parasite inside of him. He presumed because its genetics were close enough to his own, the machine probably assumed he had some non-contagious cancer. This was not far from the truth.

As he exited the pod, he waited by the next pod for Reef. Reef emerged momentarily and nodded to Photeus. Returning the nod, Photeus turned and headed for the popular bar, Sedux Hal. Along the walk he noticed there were more traders than usual here today. The Xi'an commerce of this world was very expansive and filled with warehouses to store goods for trade, but heavily monitored by the Xi'an Security Forces.

Security walked the squares and patrolled the various warehouse districts, but never seemed to do anything at all, except look imposing. However, Wohevt had shared stories with Photeus that the true authorities were mixed in with the traders, if shady deals were occurring, or a trader was swindling customers, sometimes that trader would just vanish. No traces, no witnesses. If someone every asked the security forces to look for the missing traders, they would 'look into it' and that was the end of it.

The Xi'an enforcers would have their hands full today. Traders simply seemed to flood the squares, hawking wares to each other, haggling, and agreeing and disagreeing with each other loudly. Photeus had never really been into trading, but the gusto shown here today created a hope in him that everything would go smoothly. Then again, he felt his chest tighten against this hope. Ignoring his contradictory feelings, he entered Sedux Hal.

They usually met at the main bar and then would find a table after, so Photeus decided to start there. When he neared the bar he saw a Xi'an already drinking at the bar. Assuming it was Wohevt he walked up and said, "You're here early! Ready to get started?"

The elderly Xi'an looked up at him with confusion in his eyes, "Excuse me?"

Photeus, being a bit surprised, stepped back a bit and said, "Oh, I am sorry. I thought you were the trader I was meeting here today."

The old alien chuckled softly and replied in near perfect English, "It has been awhile since I've been mistaken for a trader. I'm known as Krandul. Would you care for a drink?"

"I'll need to meet my friend...," Photeus scanned the bar, but the Xi'an trader was nowhere in sight, "But then again, he always liked me good and drunk before we start dealing."

Krandul smiled as Photeus sat down at the bar, Krandul ordered a drink for him from the bartender using the Xi'an language. Photeus didn't understand what he said until the bartender finished the drink and sat the glass in front of him. Photeus studied the drink as Krandul studied him. Photeus said, "I had a friend once that called these Xi'an Deceivers. Mostly because of how good they taste at first and then give a horrible aftertaste."

"That's because the human taste senses don't taste the same way ours do. To us it is a bit hard to swallow at first, but provides a pleasant warmth and taste at the end." Krandul smiled and downed several gulps from his drink, the same concoction.

Photeus grimaced, took his drink and drank slowly. He hadn't had one in years, but it tasted as Krandul said. The drink tasted bitter and strong with alcohol at first, but finishing with a delightfully sweet taste. It reminded him of apples, cinnamon, and peaches.

"Well, Krandul, you get to be my new friend for the day. It seems my tastes have changed." Photeus smiled as he took another gulp.

"Odd, that shouldn't be possible. Humans simply lack the proper taste buds," Krandul studied him more, "There's something familiar about you for sure."

"Maybe my outfit came with the taste buds. Not much unique about me other than that," Photeus voice caught briefly, but upended into a joke, "Other than this alien parasite I guess. I'm sure that's what likes your drink so much."

Krandul's eyes darkened and he stared at his drink. They both were silent for a minute. The old Xi'an spoke first.

"I knew a man once. His mate was afflicted by a parasite that tore at her from the inside out, taking her life in the process. It is amazing how a small insect can change so many lives forever. This taught me that small actions have large repercussions."

Photeus could sense how sad speaking about this was to the Xi'an. Photeus could feel and old piece of a former life spring up in him quickly.

"I knew a man like that once as well. He's gone now, but his pain lives on. This taught me that bad things happen to good folks and no one can stop it." Photeus pushed his drink away.

"I'm sorry I stirred such memories. I'll leave you." The elderly Xi'an stood and left. Minutes passed before Photeus thought to look for him again, but by then he was gone.

Hours passed. Photeus had gone back and finished his drink, sipping it slowly, but Wohevt never showed. Photeus ordered another drink and before it was done, a gruff looking human sat down next to him. "Buy me a drink," Reef commanded.

Photeus, not missing a beat, ordered a drink for the man. While the bartender was making it Reef spoke quickly to Photeus, "After a couple hours of Wohevt being late, I started asking around. Apparently early this morning all his booths were taken down and his good returned to his warehouses. Those are now locked up too. The authorities only say that they'll 'look into it.' I'm going to need your help finding out what happened to him."

"Why can't you just asking around? I'm sure someone knows," Photeus didn't like where this was going.

"It's no good. No one knows anything. I need you to head into the Xi'an Quarter and break into one of his warehouses. It's where he was last seen. We need to at least find out what happened to him."

"Reef. Listen to yourself. The Xi'an shoot humans on sight in the quarter. They are nothing if not very clear about the rules," Photeus knew by now that he was the best man for the job. He had some Xi'an garb and was expendable. It was perfect. He entertained a suspicious that maybe Reef just wanted him dead.

"Then don't get seen. Leave an hour after me. I'll get what information I can and cover you."

Reef grabbed the drink and gulped it down in a long gulp. He then gagged and coughed nearly dropping the glass, "How do you drink this garbage?"

"Acquired taste," Photeus replied.