Adrift: Arden’s chapters: Scene 03. Rizu Mui Business

Swaying on his feet — one hand on the stair railing — Arden took sutsu to regain his balance. He was suffering the usual side effect of spending time with Doerdah — inebriation. After a detached mental scolding and a wistful vow to learn how to tell the man ‘no’ (in a way that Doerdah would actually acknowledge and respect), Arden carefully descended seven flights of stairs. Before the last step he was dizzy again. He leaned on a nearby support wall and let it hold him up until the station stopped spinning.
“Iblis’ barbs,” he whispered to himself. “It was only two drinks.”

When stability returned, Arden gently pushed himself off the wall and turned down the outer avenue of the market. Built into the walls surrounding the maze of stalls and tents were a number of permanent stores that offered a higher class of goods than the transient traders could regularly supply. One such shop was run by an apothecary from Kobai — a fellow Khol’nara from the marshlands of Mwachisawa. Chiritsi, the apothecary, was a former schoolmate and shared Arden’s passion for experimental farming.

Arden entered the shop with a portentous belch that earned him a knowing look from a Darnoskian perusing the tinned herbs. He apologized and she turned her nine eyes back to the orderly shelves.
“What? Now you arrive?” called a voice from above.
“My regrets, Chiritsi.” Arden stifled another belch, looking around, shoulders hunched and cowl pulled low over his face. He dragged himself up the narrow stair to the landing where his friend waited.
“Are you ill?” The healer asked. “You look grey.”
Arden hiccuped back a greasy throat-ful of drink and acid that burned the back of his nostrils. “Drunk,” he barely croaked out, grimacing at the assault on his digestive system.
Chiritsi led him through a narrow doorway off the stairs and quickly handed him an empty bucket.

Arden spent the next twelve don stretching and retching until he feared his toes were poking from the back of his neck. When the spasms subsided, Arden tipped right until his shoulder found the floor, then he rolled onto his back. Chiritsi looked down from where he stood with a scowl of disdain.
“I’ve never known you to get drunk before. Is everything right with your Oni Modab? At home? With your sister?”
“Doerdah,” Arden replied with a rasp.
Chiritsi looked confused sutsu then made the connection. “The tripper from the ice moon of Rak,” he said. “I’ve seen him drink. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him drunk though.”
“Never,” Arden confirmed as he rolled back to his stomach and tried to get his legs under him.
“Don’t get up too quickly,” Chiritsi warned. “I don’t have another bucket.” The Khol’nara stepped around Arden and took the foul bucket. The contents went into a robustly odoriferous recycling tank.
“Stay down. I have a remedy for your stomach.” Chiritsi walked out of site, then returned with a pair of tongs bracketing a writhing creature with mottled teal bands and a lot of pep. “Eat this,” the healer ordered and Arden did.

There was a satisfying crunch — not the crisp of a twiggy bolumbo but the firm snap of the densely fibrous hishdar worm . A familiar fragrance teased his senses as the larval body broke down in his mouth. The flavor was warm and the odor sweet. Once Arden swallowed, his stomach was calm and his head was cleared of the dizzy fog that had separated him from his thoughts.
“That was amazing,” Arden breathed as he stood up on steadier legs. “What did I just eat?”
“I’m thinking of calling it a Vakushtiva,” Chiritsi replied.
“A new discovery?” Arden asked perching on a riser that led to Chiritsi’s work tables.
“An outrider brought it back to me from the Bands. Pecchal — you’ve met her — she’s one of my best sources for new plants and creatures. I’ve been testing the Vakushtiva for almost a rel to make sure it’s safe. I could use your help testing it further. You have a wider array of crops.”
“Nemet’s glow! Yes. That Vakushtiva did wonders on my system; I feel cleansed. Are sobering and settling the only results of eating it?”
Chiritsi waved a Flare orb to life. “There’s much more to it. Just three of these larva (eaten at intervals) can provide enough nourishment for a full cycle — a healthy nourishment that breaks down so slowly we Khol’nara don’t have to use a radiation source to digest out the waste. They grow from egg to edible in fifteen complete cycles. If you allow them to pupate that’s ten cycles and then they spend three as adults. They die fertilizing the eggs and the whole process begins anew the next cycle. The eggs hatch from inside the parent, ingesting the remains through the egg sac —.”
“Stop please,” Arden waved a hand, his eyes and face pulled into a tight grimace. “I may need that bucket again.”
“We see this all the time in cultivation,” Chiritsi protested.
“I don’t have tolerance for it today, though. Is there a plant or crop that they prefer? Or a flower they choose over all others?”
Chiritsi tilted his head, then rolled it back in the affirmative. “A plant as rare as the moth.” The apothecary gestured toward the humming Flare orb, tapping his Flit on the torque on his head.

The orb moved to hover between them, gleaming to light with a scene of heavy jungle. The plants in view had leaves large enough to wrap a standard sized person head to heel with nothing poking out the ends. The outrider’s hand reached out to tap the edge of a giant leaf. It recoiled as though it could not bear the touch. With tentative steps the hand created a path between the shy fronds.

In a small clearing behind the dense growth, the outrider’s gasp was recorded by her Flare unit. Swarms of fist-sized, marine-colored moths could be seen darting about — dipping, soaring, twirling with a partner until their collaboration pulled them to the ground. Some were at rest on vines and trees with only an irregular pump of the wings as proof they lived; others crumpled like verdant failures strewn about the root-bound turf.

As the outrider moved deeper into the clearing, some of the more active Vakushtiva flew at the viewer, soft bodies whumping against the Flare’s transparent shield. Arden cringed when, for sutsu, the illusion of displacement worked to make him feel the gentle assault was coming at his face. The viewing angle turned at his flinch, showing the clearing to the right. In a curve of the jungle border a row of colossal, spiky plants thrust from the roots and vines to support a host of the adult, winged Vakushtiva. Arden leaned closer to the screen to bring the scene closer. On the cone-shaped fruit that peeked out from between razor-sharp leaves he could see the teal larva undulating gently as they macerated the strange pomme.

“She brought you the fruit too?” Arden asked as a formality.
“Indeed. I’ve cultivated three of those hulking things into maturity. The leaves are as sharp as they look.” Chiritsi waggled his hands; they were striped with dried salve.
Arden chirped softly and smiled. “Have you tested its reaction to other fruit?”
Chiritsi rolled his head in another affirmative. “There are two fruit I’ve had minor success feeding them on, but they barely grow to half the size, the nutrients all but disappear, and they won’t reproduce. Based on my research so far, we need that specific fruit in order to grow the energy-packed Vakushtiva.” The apothecary used his foot to nudge a no-pull crate towards Arden. “I’ve included a manual for growing the plants and setting up the ideal Vakushtiva environment. I’ll tap you the Flare vid; it’s fascinating. The small planet they explored in the Bands was covered with near-sentient interactive plants. Bast’s blessing that the fruit’s plant does not seem to have intelligence. Remember that the find is mine, by rights transferred, but I’ll share the fame with you as a research partner when we break the food industry and rebuild it with our new wonder grub.”
Arden croaked loudly, in a teasing gesture. “Keep your fame. I just want to nourish the Reach. Any warnings?”
“Avoid fermented beverages and be careful around those leaves.” Chiritsi held his scratched fingers in front of Arden’s eyes and returned the croak.


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Adrift by t.s.wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Adrift: Arden’s chapters: Scene 02. Rizu Mui Market

Rizu Mui market had accumulated over time like drifts of dry leaves in the harvest season. Situated on the first deck above the docks, the mayhem of the trader’s floor spread from wall to wall then climbed them eight terraces. Arden looked down on the whirlwind of trade from the cafe mezzanine seven flights up. The stalls, in their motley confusion of colors, were laid out in concentric circles with paths spiraling through that could end abruptly like an elaborate maze. The traders on the floor used this quirk of the layout to entice shoppers to them with whimsical patterns, signs, and warnings drawn or painted on the metal floor. “Wrong way!”; “Stop! You almost missed us.”; and “Welcome back.” were some of the most popular call outs. Curling ribbons of paint directed people to certain kiosks, as well as arrows, pointing extremities, and drawn creatures in slow migration.

This market day seemed unusually frantic. There had been an influx of new bodies in early hours; five large companies had docked offloading entertainment starved crews. Going to market was a welcome excursion when you lived in a shipboard box. Arden guessed it was also pay day for many. It would explain the general sense of glee and mania.

Arden turned from the railing to see a woman had taken his seat at the cafe and, it seemed, eaten his Gloss pastry. Even sitting down she was tall – with a long torso, slender neck, and covered in fine feathers from crest to claw to wingtip. Arden did a quick scan to see if he had mistaken his table for another. He stepped closer to the woman (a Selexais if ever he’d seen one).
“Excuse me. You just ate my tart.” Direct and straight to the key concern.
The bawdy minx licked her fingers before answering. “You let it sit here so long I thought you didn’t want it. I haven’t had a decent sweet in ages. That tart was actually too sweet if you want honesty. You were right to not eat it. Much too sweet.”
Arden chuffed. “I was savoring my cup of bah while it was first hot. Iblis grunts! Do you intend to buy a replacement tart?” Not quite as direct, Arden was feeling uncertain on how to press her to repay him. The tart was not pricey; it was more the principal of the thing. Who steals a tart?
“Are you the tripper Arden Nahi’koa of Koa Fali Stead?”
Arden looked at her a moment agape. The question had sounded so official, so ominous, he had to take a mental inventory of outstanding debts and possible infractions. She had mentioned his home on Kobai — was it something to do with his father? Would they send a giant tart thief to notify him of a death in the family?
“Who is asking?” He replied. It came out gruff, not really his intention but she had unsettled him.
“Silhapedax. People not of Selex origins shorten it to Sil – you can do that. Too long for most.
“I’m sure right now you’re thinking that you know my name. I won’t leave you to stress over it. Why waste time? Reylyn. She would have talked a great deal about me. We lived together on Maphun…during school…we were roommates almost the whole way through. Good friends. Like family. Dweki is your word for it. We were dweki.”
Arden recalled his sister’s stories about a roommate who could never stay out of trouble. And who talked incessantly.
“Silhapedax.” He drew the name out as though he were searching his memory. Mostly he just wanted her to stop talking. Iblis take the tart.
“Yes. My sister has told me of you. Was this a social pastry theft or did you have some business?”
“I need your help. When I told Reylyn that I would be at Rizu Mui she told me that I should look you up on the people finder. She told me you would be here at the same time my ship would arrive for the recreation leave. Reylyn said that if I asked you for help you would absolutely say yes because Reylyn and I are like dweki. She said you’re a good man.”
Arden smiled on the inside. That last sounded like his sister.
“What help?” Arden asked simply, seating himself at the small table across from Sil.
“I need you to take me back to Selex. It’s a family emergency. Urgent family business.”
“I’m not going to Selex. That’s sixty-eight days’ journey in the wrong direction.” Arden felt his vocal sac bulge slightly in agitation. Friend of Reylyn’s or not this woman’s manners were grating.
“This is important,” Sil insisted, “it’s crucial to someone’s life.”
“My commitments are important and crucial to my life. In my business, reputation is everything. There is a wedding on Asogra Xi in thirty-five days that I have deliveries for. That’s thirty days in the opposite direction.” Arden gestured with his head in the vague direction of the Reach.
Sil sat up straight and preened her crest feathers. “That’s easy enough. Just let the wedding people know now you can’t make it. Thirty-five days is plenty of time to find a new source for whatever frippery you were hauling. Maybe they have already changed their mind. Save you all that tripping.”
“Why me? There has to be at least one vessel docked that is already scheduled to hit Selex. Book passage with them.” Arden croaked. He would Flit Reylyn as soon as he was done with his errands.
“Arden,” she whined. “I don’t have the credits for that. Reylyn said you would help me.”
“My sister may always have the light from my center, but she does not make my schedule or run my business. I regret that she gave you false hope, but I am not changing my schedule. I will not be going to Selex for another year at least. I have too much business in the Reach.” Arden stood. “I have an appointment to keep.”
Sil looked at him like he’d just stolen her tart. Then she crumpled into a mound of feathers. “What am I going to do,” she whined at such a volume Arden croaked uncomfortably.
“Sil, please.” People at the next table halted their conversation to look at Sil and then Arden. “Sil, you are drawing attention. If you don’t stop moaning I will walk away from this table and leave you to deal with this on your own.” I should regardless, this is not my problem, Arden thought. He took a step towards the stairs.
Sil cleared her throat and squawked, “Stay. I will try to hold my emotions better.”
Arden was undecided. What good would staying do. He wouldn’t change his course —. Then he considered Reylyn, she such a person, better than him. His sister acquired friends with more ease than picking up sticker pods in summer fields. She had a radiant nature and always spared a sutsu to listen to friend or stranger. Arden admired his sister for it, though he usually found it foolish to invest so much time conversation. He let out a few slight chirps from his vocal sac as Arden denied his instincts and reseated himself across from the Selexais girl.
Sil’s story began in school, her family had not been pleased with the choice of Maphun, the university on Nemet. Her father felt that diplomacy for the people of Selex should be learned on Selex. Despite exemplary scores and honors bestowed, the family saw Sil’s education as a waste. After Maphun, Sil had accepted a contract to work with a small group of trade negotiators as their Selexais labor representative. Again, her father disapproved. He told her that the group she had agreed to work with were thugs of the worst sort. Sil went on to take the job. As it happened, her father had assessed the group correctly. Sil quickly discovered that they were being paid to create dissension, not improve the lives of the common worker. Their insidious machinations had caused riots, bombings, death. Sil was sick at her center for being party to it all.
On a day of a particularly nasty demonstration, a hooded Sil noticed a woman in the crowd who resembled one of her sisters. Sil slipped away from her cohorts to speak with the woman, perhaps help her out of the plaza to safe place. Sil had not had contact with any of her family in more than a year. Before she could weave deep enough into the crowd, a man with a club rushed up on the woman from behind and caved in her head with one swing. Sil had seen this as it unfolded – the man’s face before, his shoulders pulling back for maximum striking power, the way the club vaporised the side of her face on contact. It horrified Sil, and not just because she had hoped the woman was one of her sisters. The Selexais are hated by many in the habitable universe, but this was the first time Sil had seen the hatred first hand and played out for its own sake.
The man who killed the Selexais woman in the crowd had simply blended back into the fray. He did not check if his cruel work had finished her. The violence was his goal and he’d likely moved on to find another easy target for his rage. Sil slipped carefully to the fallen woman’s side to check for any sign of life. The damage to her head was such that Sil did not want to find her alive. To reassure herself that the victim was not family, Sil checked her pockets for an ID. In addition to a work pass identification (not family) the woman had all of her travel documents on her. In one small case she carried her documented life. A documented life.
Sil had six more years on her contract with the thugs. Just days before she’d been brooding on how she would rather die than complete another assignment. Without thinking much on it, she slipped her own work pass into the woman’s pocket and passed the clutch of travel documents and key cards into her own robe. On the ground beside the body was a Flit unit that seemed to match the broken band on the dead woman’s head. The unit itself was undamaged. She pocketed it and left her own in its place. As Sil stood she stepped on the Flit to give the scene authenticity.
For the next three years she had lived as Hexaksaloon, a low level engineer on an Efani ore barge.
“Did you know anything about engine maintenance and repair when you assumed her life?” Arden interrupted.
“The diagnostic machines do all the real work. I push buttons and make reports when asked. It is an easy job. I was so fortunate to stumble into it and on an Efani ship. They have no complaints about the Selexais and they can’t tell us apart. All the same to them.”
“One point I’m unclear on – if your family thinks you are dead why are you going home?”
In short, Sil had been following her family’s lives – as Hexaksaloon – on the social sharing branch of the Flit network. In this way she learned of a death in the family that resulted in an orphaned brood of five. Each of her sisters and the sister of the deceased had committed to raising one of the brood each. Once that was settled the family started combing through their more distant relatives to find a mother for the fifth. Homesick and miserable from being on the outside of the nest watching their lives happen, Sil had called up her mother’s ID on the Flit and initiated a conversation.
“I thought they would be crying and cawing for joy when they learned I wasn’t dead. As it happens, the group I’d been working with never notified my them of my death. The family thought I was still stubbornly refusing to talk to them because of Father’s protests about my life choices. So I’m going home to be a mother. I’ll have family again and a new role to play. Starting over with a chick in my arms. I hope it’s a girl. I would understand a girl better.” Sil opened her mouth slightly and nodded dreamily, raking a clawed hand through her long crest feathers.
Arden wagged his head slowly from side to side and murmured a long, thoughtful croak. “That story was worth the time it took to hear it. Though I do disagree with certain of your choices.” And doubt responsibility for another life is a good idea, he thought. “Maybe there is another way I can help you.” He pulled out his Flit and extended the interface for hand use. It only took a few taps to find that the next trip to Selex left that day and was still offering traveler fares. The rate was 680 credits for a berth and another 680 for food. Twenty credits per day of travel seemed more than fair, but 1,360 credits was more than he could reasonably spare.
“You have no money at all?” Arden asked.
“That’s a rude question.” Sil responded airily.
Arden chuffed, felling the irritation gather at his center. “I am looking for a transport to Selex. I am asking about your funds to see if you can contribute to the journey.”
“I don’t have anything. I spent what I had on buying out the last few months of my contract with the Efani. Used it all.”
“What about the end journey. There will be fees to reenter Selex, transport to the drop zone off the station, transport to your nest village. I’d calculate that as 100 credits for the officials, about 40 for the drop…I can’t even calculate the last because I don’t know where you live in relation to the drop. Will your family be there to pick you up? Can they pay for some of this travel cost?”
“My father would despise me if I asked him for credits, even to come home. Wrong way to start my return to the family.”
“Doesn’t he despise you already?” Arden asked in an undertone. He felt immediate shame at the cruelty of it.
Sil didn’t register insult. “Now that I have admitted he was right – that I shouldn’t have taken the contract – he has forgiven me. I am welcomed home.”
“So you need 1,500 credits plus the cost of ground transport.” Arden poked at his Flit screen thoughtfully. Kah Orekwa had paid for his journey already. His account had increased by 800 credits during Sil’s story. There had been some credits in the account already, and a fair amount in his emergency fund. He had supplies to buy, but he wouldn’t need even the full 800 for that —.
“Last time I paid for a trip home the fare was 78 credits. That was almost five years ago though.”
Arden made three short chirps as he realized what could be done. He tapped the outgoing message feature on his Flit and chose Reylyn.

“Mwaf, time this hissss?”
Arden saw a familiar hand on his screen searching for something.
“Reylyn, it’s Arden. Don’t disconnect.”
“Mwar fuh Arden. Middle of sleeping. Laaaate.” She whined.
“Try to focus Reylyn.” The view went sideways, righted itself, then turned sideways again and leveled. Reylyn was in view but her eyes weren’t open. “I regret the hour dweki, but I need you to pay attention.”
“What?” Reylyn asked without opening her eyes.
“I’m at Rizu Mui. Your friend Silhapedax found me.”
“It’s Sil,” the Selexais girl corrected. “Hi Reylyn. You can just call me Sil,” she repeated to Arden.
Reylyn opened one eye. “O. I forgot to mention that I’d talked to her and suggested she look you up. Hi Sil.” Reylyn croaked.
“Sil needs to get to Selex and I can’t get her there myself. I have to deliver my L’Tiru crop to Asogra Xi in time for the vintner to make the wine for the wedding. That’s in thirty-five days just in case you have another school friend you promised a trip to.”
“Only friends to or from the Reach. Understood. Back to sleep now.” Reylyn’s head began to slide out of view.
“Not done yet. Focus.” Arden spoke a little louder. Reylyn’s head popped back into view.
“Don’t like you right now.” Reylyn murmured in a low croak.
“We are of one mind sister. I need you to Flit me credits. Eight hundred credits would be fair, but you can send more if you like. Sil needs about 1,600 to get home.”
Reylyn’s eyes popped open as she chirruped involuntarily. “That’s a lot of credits.”
“Passage is 1,360 including food. It’s a sixty-eight day trek.” Arden explained.
Reylyn bounced her head lightly against the wall as she calculated the additional costs and weighed it all against her own finances. “I’ll send you 1,100. If you can give her the rest —? You will always have the light from my center dweki. Tell Sil my contribution to her getting home is now the motherhood celebration gift. I can’t afford anything else for a while.”
“Done and done. My light to yours Reylyn. Flit me to message when you are rested.”
Reylyn’s image broke in flecks of color as she disconnected.

Arden tapped another name in his people list. In moments a large, hairy face filled his screen.
“Arden!” The man hailed. “I haven’t talked to you in an age. How is your life?”
“Most excellent, Doerdah. Well met. How is your life?” Arden responded.
“I can’t complain,” the man replied with a toothy grin, “every time I do my mate bites me in the leg.” Doerdah guffawed loudly at his own joke. Arden heard the tell-tale laugh echo faintly up over the edge of the mezzanine. He stood and crossed the narrow aisle to look over the railing.
“Doerdah, are you in the market on Rizu Mui?”
“Not yet, I’m about two flights of stairs away.”
“I’m in the cafe. Could I ask you to come up?”
“Is that the one that sells your worm tarts?”
“Yes. And they are larva not worms.”
“Still gross.” Doerdah laughed. “I’m on my way. O, and there you are.” The man waved with gusto.
Everything Doerdah did was done with gusto. He was two heads taller than Arden, covered in a thick, tight indigo fur. His people came from an ice moon so the fur was a must. The first time Arden had met him, he was terrified of the hulking man with his full maw of pointy teeth and huge furry hands with thick, curved claws. Then Doerdah had started talking and had Arden laughing so hard he couldn’t stop croaking for the next two anecdotes. They only saw each other by chance in Waystations, but Arden always looked forward to their meetings.
He hurried back to the table where he found Sil licking her fingers again. Arden gave her a suspicious eye. “What were you eating?”
In a conspiratorial tone she said, “That man over there just got up and walked away from his food. He never even touched it. Food should not be wasted.”
Arden looked at the man who seemed to be engrossed in his Flit, hopefully unaware his food was gone. “But he’s sitting there now?” Arden pointed out.
“I know,” Sil whispered, “he came back.”
Arden looked at her in disbelief and then closed his eyes. This was not his problem.
“My friend Doerdah will be here in sutsu. Don’t be alarmed by his appearance, he is kind and funny. Please be more polite to him than you have ever been to anyone ever. I am going to ask him for a favor on your behalf.”
“O. I will do my best.” She preened and fluffed her wings out, letting them resettle slowly across her back.
Doerdah called Arden’s name from the top of the stairs and walked to him with one arm in a wide gesture of welcome. The other hand was leading a folded no-pull pallet. Arden met the man, accepting his brute embrace before they greeted Kobailin style with a tight bow.
“Does this caf sell any fermented beverages? I’m thirsty for something with a kick to it.” The big man growled amicably.
“Selexais spiced ale?” Arden suggested.
“For a start…!” Doerdah bellowed jovially. “Add to it two shots of star flare elixir to remind me of home.”
Arden offered Doerdah the cafe chair he’d been using. The big man lifted it as though weighing the chair in his hand. He shook his head and turned to his telescoping no-pull cart. In sutsu he had it unfolded and reconfigured into a sturdy seat, suitable to Doerdah’s bulk, that floated a handspan off the deck.
Once he was situated, Doerdah nodded a greeting to Sil and looked at Arden expectantly.
“Uuuh. This is Sil,” Arden jabbered, “a friend of my sister. Sil is from Selex and eager to return there.”
Doerdah nodded thoughtfully, eyeing Arden with mild curiosity. To Sil he said, “Greetings. Thanks for all the ale.”
She twittered a laugh and smiled at him with mouth open and half-lidded eyes.
Doerdah swung his attention back to Arden. “Those drinks aren’t going to walk themselves over here. Why so awkward, man?”
Arden didn’t want to leave Sil alone with his friend until the favor was asked. He also didn’t trust her to Flit for the drinks with his unit.
“Ah!” Arden remembered something in his pack. He fished through and found a credit stick. Following some swift calculations he tapped a number of credits onto the stick and handed it to Sil. “Can you get us the drinks – just an ale for me and a Gloss tart? There’s enough here for you to drink with us and grab a small meal.”
Sil looked at the stick like it was offensive. As she was opening her mouth to protest Arden pulled her hand to him and pressed the stick into her palm.
“There’s something I’d like to discuss with Doerdah. Please.”
Sil shuffled her wings in irritation but she took the credit stick and walked to the food booth.

“She’s a looker…,” Doerdah commented coyly.
“Don’t. She really is a friend of Reylyn’s. Sil is going through a transition and needs help. Reylyn told her to seek me out so that I could help. The problem is, I can’t do what she needs.”
“So you thought of me and that old Kitchtirazach charm. It’s okay friend, the first step to overcoming something like this is to admit you have a problem.”
Arden dipped his head and tilted it from shoulder to shoulder. “Doerdah, I am fond of your humor but in this case you are on the wrong path.”
“So you didn’t try to…?” The big man laughed at Arden’s frustrated chirrups. “Okay. Apologies. It’s a good thing you don’t need me to take care of that for you. The mate is allergic to feathers. What help?”
“Sil needs passage to Selex. Reylyn assumed I would take her, but that journey is out of my way for many trips to come. My sister and I are pooling credits to send her there, with hope on your vessel.”
Doerdah shrugged. “I’ve got room. I’ll give her a discount on the berth – food’s food, I can’t cut the price on that – but whether the cabin is full or empty it’s going with me. Let’s call it fuel cost. Not all of us have a vessel that finds her own fuel,” Doerdah finished with a wink. He pulled out an aging Flit tablet. “Are you paying the fare?”
“Yes.”
“I’ll send you a one-time discount,” the man murmured as he prodded the screen with one dull claw.” Within sutsu he had clicked off his tablet and tucked it into a pocket.
Arden stretched his Flit to a wider screen and accepted the message. Doerdah had cut the berth rate to five credits per day. Arden booked the room and put Sil on the meal plan.
“Gratitude, friend. Look out for her on the journey. She does not live a charmed life and she doesn’t seem to have much sense.”
Doerdah huffed a breath. “That’s common among the Selexais. They are raised with the sense that the world belongs to them and that people of other homes hate them for their privilege. They don’t entertain the idea it is for their arrogance.” Doerdah put a rough hand on Arden’s shoulder. “I can out arrogant them by a star year. So we get along just fine. Are you lending her the credits?”
Arden clicked abruptly in his throat. “Khol’nara do not lend money. It’s an offensive practice. We give without expecting the gift to return.”
“On Skaul we have a proverb about scratching each other’s backs,” Doerdah looked pointedly and the slick cobalt skin of Arden’s back. “Maybe it’s a clawed and furred thing.”
“We sing to enliven each other’s center,” Arden chirped. “Does your back need a scratch from me for the kindness you shared?”
“I was asked to deliver a time-sensitive shipment to Sheoul Kress Station. You are usually heading into the Reach when we cross paths…. If you deliver it for me, I’ll keep the upfront fees and you can have the completion fee.”
“This is an acceptable exchange. Sheoul Kress is on the way to Brakkana. I picked up a passenger and cargo for Brakkana today.”
“The cargo may be missing a few authorizations…,” Doerdah rumbled low. Sil was approaching with servitor unit carrying the food and drinks. “If you dock on eight to eko’e’kial to spin, my client will receive the shipment at the doc and pay you there. It’ll be his problem to get it through dock security. Just have a plausible reason to be at the station that doesn’t have to do with the delivery.”
Arden lifted his shoulders mimicking a gesture he’d seen Doerdah make before. “On Sheoul Kress they love my fresh spinulaccha sprouts. Their Chef Ko’oy makes a popular dish with them and I have a standing request to drop in whenever a crop is harvested. I have a thriving crop now that will be ready in forty days or so.”
“Space farmer. Who ever would have thought we’d have space farmers?” Doerdah grumbled as he tipped the first elixir back into his maw.
“Thank you, Sil. Good news. You will be traveling with Doerdah to Selex. He’s a competent enough pilot, but his mate is an excellent cook. If you hold out your Flit I’ll tap you the fare sheet.”
Sil shuffled around her six plates of expensive sweet treats and held her wrist unit across the table. Arden waved his in the vicinity until he felt the low force roll of a completed transaction. “Where’s my Gloss tart?” he asked, putting his Flit away.
Sil waved a hand at him, then dropped the credit stick in his hand. “The stick you gave me didn’t have enough credits on it for everything so I had to adjust the order. No tart credits.”
Doerdah chuckled and tipped the second shot of elixir in his direction. “To the stars,” he pledged and threw the liquor into his throat.

 


 
 


 

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Adrift: Arden’s chapters: Scene 01. Rizu Mui Baths

Mirrors bounce and twirl from the ends of hundreds of branches; nine hundred ninety-nine mirrors of different shape and size. It’s the holy day, Kao Wol. The home trees glint. The family is radiant. Bast’s light as she nears the horizon is a blinding yellow, even diffused by stacked orchards of malanga and cyree. Behind closed eyes her splendor leaves a black spot on the translucent flesh of eyelids.

The air is thick with the smell of resin and blossoms, soil and marsh, rain and fire. Stew bubbling over a flame pit. Family gathers in the space between firelight and Bast’s last rays sparkling between 999 shards of silvered glass. Our own galaxy of tranquil light and colloquy. A hot pot and chilled nectar keep the conversation flowing until Nemet’s glow relights the mirrors – his cool white touch greedily covers Bast’s still warm kiss. Nemet’s radiance ignites anew the intimate galaxy of friends and family.

A reverent hush as Maiah stands, leading a small clutch of cousins to a grassy stage behind the fire. With a bellow she breaks the lustrous peace to reshape her own. Voices join the buzz and hum of the insects. They all follow Maiah’s song.

The faces of family float by on the surface of memory, then sink back into her murky depths. Arden holds on to the memory of his sister’s face, then his father’s in turn, and then Maiah’s — though her music is more tangible in memory than the simple lines of her face. She is his third mother by succession, but first in his heart. Arden longed to hear her sing, speak, laugh… Maiah radiated tranquility. Ill for home, Arden meditated on his mother’s calm, Reylyn’s passion, and his father’s strength.

Steam filled the air around Arden with a heady balm of dew that licked his face and slid down his neck to land in the pool below. He stretched a kink from one shoulder, then shifted so the water covered more of his aching muscles. A warning rumbled, then a pleasant rain began to plop all around him. Arden hummed a traditional song to himself as he tried to find his way back to that Kao Wol night before Ishra changed his course and drew a young Yl’nura’s life away from his family and home.

Soft footsteps roused Arden from a languid reverie. He croaked inwardly at the intrusion. The baths of Rizu Mui Station maintained the freshest waters in all galenga’he. Simply inhaling from the doorway was enough to transport Arden home to Kobai on the trails of memory. This would be his last visit for an age and he was feeling greedy for the tranquility. Arden directed his attention to the large portals ringing the ceiling. They offered a vista of stars and other bodies viewable from the station painting a sky over the baths that was both true and incongruous. Centered and magnified to fill half the screen was a star from the system adjacent to Bast’s spiral; the blessing to this viewing angle was that it brought his home star into visibility — even if she was just a bright point in a field of black. The overall atmosphere in the baths was ideal for contemplation and necessary spiritual realignment. He did not want to break his rest and leave the placid pool…the footsteps were almost upon him. Disappointed, Arden mentally prepared to leave. He preferred to be alone with his thoughts for now, but social rules would press him to engage with the stranger.

The adjacent pool sloshed softly with the sound of a bather stepping into the water. Arden submerged himself to the eyes, stealing a few more sutsu of serenity. He fully submerged and spent some time listening to the light splishing of wavelets born of his motion. When he felt the need for dry breath, Arden slowly allowed his head to breach the water to his nose.

“I say, would you be the tripper of that magnificent Oni Modab in the Waystop?” The stranger spoke loudly, as though his first attempt had gone unanswered.
“I am Arden,” replied the Kobailin, raising himself a fraction to lift his lips above water, “and I am the tripper of an Oni Modab. I find her to be magnificent, but if there are more of the Modabi attending Rizu Mui you may find another to challenge her splendor.”
The man in the other pool chuckled. “Not likely. I’ve been enamored of the Modabi since I was a child, f there were a collection in the docks I would not be here. The one I saw is marked ‘Oni’tsuki’ in the logs at the Waystop. She glows with a lavender radiance tinged in cobalt and rose.”
Arden did not claim her; he took delight in hearing how others described his Tsuki.
“Five stalks peeled away from a central trunk? Tentacles and tendrils flow from the barrel ends?”
“Tendrils?” Arden croaked softly in the back of his throat – a tease to underline his tone. “She must have found a tasty food source if you saw her extending those.”
The man nodded. “The Waytenders were reflecting photons her way. She spun and danced to catch them. It seemed as though she was having fun.”
“Oni’tsuki does love her dance,” Arden capitulated.
“Hah! So you admit she is yours. I saw on the schedule that you are traveling to the Reach when you leave here,” the man stated.
“Yes…” Arden replied.
“Perhaps I should start over. My name is Kah Oreckwa. I need passage to the Reach, Brakkana in particular, and I have never in my life traveled with a Modabi but have always dreamed of doing so. Do you still have an open berth I might charter for the trip to the Reach?”
“I do,” Arden replied. “Though I warn you, Oni’tsuki is glorious on the outside, but the interior vessel she carries is merely utilitarian. It is clean and in as good shape as the day she broke free of Mwezi, but our life is focused on transportation and cultivation. There is no call for luxury.”
The man Kah Oreckwa grinned happily. “You won’t scare me off for lack of luxury. The next thirty days will be most memorable. I will require one sleeping berth and I have a fair amount of cargo to bring along.”
“What is your cargo?” Arden slowly rose from the pool, moving a small stone that freed the heated sluice of a waterfall. He allowed the clean water to flow over him, delighting in the sensation. Arden used a handful of damp moss to scrub the sittol down his sides and around his neck. He inhaled deeply then exhaled, sputtering small droplets from the ultra-fine gills. Arden completed his soak with a guttural murmur of thanks to Nemet and Ru’ool, then stepped out of the pool onto the warm moss of the path.

Kah Oreckwa had not responded to his question promptly. Arden turned to the man and tilted his head to the right in expectation. Wraps of soft dry moss that smelled of harvest season were stacked behind the waterfall outcropping of each pool. Arden thoroughly wrapped himself in the moss blanket and squatted a polite distance from Kah Oreckwa.
“I’m delivering seven surgical beds, two therapy beds, and a moderate assortment of diagnostic and treatment equipment as well as medicines and some grow pods for healing herbs and plants.”
“Why do you take it there personally?” Arden asked. He stood, returning the moss blanket to a protrusion in the rock and withdrawing his outwear from the shelf.
“It’s an opportunity to spend time with one of my downline on Brakkana – she is a physician as well as a researcher. They have so little medical technology in the settlements of the Reach and official support from the Twelve Moons Alliance is too slow in coming, people are dying waiting for treatment. The locals have even resorted to cutting people open in order to help them. I can’t imagine! Flibiyan and her mates are building a small clinic in their village to help alleviate some of the more dire statistics.”
“A noble undertaking.” Arden lifted his chin and flexed his primary vocal sac to a moderate bulge, then opened his mouth to release a quick succession of notes. He gestured under the aural breath to wave it in Kah Oreckwa’s direction. “May Bast’s light illuminate her endeavors.”
“With gratitude, Arden. I hope your blessing finds her out there in the dark.”
“We can take it to her, as it happens,” Arden said agreeably as he fastened the first band of his outwear to the thickest part of his calf and began wrapping it, hand over hand around his leg. The gaudi silk cloth clung to itself by wispy gossamer loops woven into the edges of the wide band. Above his knees, Arden wove the criss-crossing bands loosely for ease of movement. Allowing the loops to find each other and mesh together. He secured the end of the first band one third of the way up his torso – just below his sittol. He slipped a loose, mesh tunic over his head, then began wrapping a wider band of outwear up from his other leg. This one he brought around his hips, folding the silk over itself to secure it, tucking in the mesh tunic, and draping the excess cloth loosely over both shoulders. Below the recess of his vocal sac, Arden secured a carved wooden kheru in the image of a Bolombo, taking care that the double wings pointed out and the thin head pointed up. To wear such a charm oriented to the ground was bad luck.
He looked up at Kah Oreckwa, the man was floating slightly in the pool with his head back and chest bobbing up from the murky waters. Arden studied the man’s pale features. Age was evident in the folds and creases around a face as wan as deep-sea dweller. Most of his head had quitted itself of the bristly hair his kind was plagued with, but for some reason Kah Oreckwa held onto a thick brush of yellowed whiskers between his sniffer and his mouth. The weasel tail was not improving the lines of his face. He had random spots in shades of brown; Arden had encountered enough men in his life to know the spots were not a part of the natural coloring. Pity that, the spots gave his bland features a little character.

Kah Oreckwa blinked gummy eyes the color of beach pebbles at Arden. “Did you say something?” The man asked.
“No.” Then Arden asked in turn, “You are of the Laupmada?
Kah Oreckwa bobbed his head in affirmation.
“I am grateful for your peace. On Kobai we are connoisseurs of quiet contemplation.”
The man did something with his face that made the weasel under his nose curve upwards. “Kobai was my home for a time. My first two downlines were born there, in the city of Spring Lacryn. The customs of your people have merit, I respect them even though they are not my own. Impressions there are better made with a still tongue and receptive posture. You have my apology for being so eager to book passage with you that I disturbed your mediation in this peaceful place.”
Arden bobbed his own head, mimicking the Laupmada affirmative, then twisted his head to the left.
“Your apology is received and welcome, Kah Orekwa. I have an appointment to keep, is this your Flit unit?” Arden pointed to a slim curving gadget left beside Kah Oreckwa’s folded outwear. It was a courtesy to ask. Arden knew the device and the owner was obvious; they were the only two people in the baths.
“Yes,” replied Kah Oreckwa without looking. “I may have left it on, I was tracking you through the Rizu Mui’s people finder.”
Arden chuffed a laugh from a quarter-full vocal sac. “I’ll tap it to share the ticket and must-reads for the journey as well as the cargo rates, packaging security…. Did you need a container with pull force?”
“I had it all secured for no-pull just in case,” the man replied.
Arden shifted absently as he tapped some screens on his Flit. “Have the berth payment made before you arrive to board, and make sure the cargo is ready for loading by the time specified. Will you bring your own food or pay for the meal service? There is no chef or fresh cook, only a machine; though I do have some recently harvested raw food in storage.”
Kah Oreckwa considered sutsu then replied, “I’ll pick up some staples in the market and take the food service for the full trip.”
Arden tapped his Flit a few more times then passed it over the other man’s unit until he felt the rolling rub of forces that indicated acceptance of the exchange.
Arden tucked his Flit into its headpiece, an open circlet that rimmed the back of his head keeping the Flit handy and safer from nimble-fingered thieves. Then he pulled the draped fabric over his head forming a dramatic cowl.
“Bast’s blessings until tomorrow, Kah Oreckwa. I look forward to our journey together.”


Author’s note.

As always, this work and all of the writing contained herein is protected by Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No derivatives international license.

I have been hesitant to share this latest installment of my novel Adrift because I am still shaping the character of Arden so I am writing with a focus to get to know him while trying to be mindful of moving the story forward. I am also experimenting with peppering Arden’s side of the book with words from his own world, while being cautious of confusing the reader with gibberish.

I appreciate likes if you like it, but as this story is still developing I also need the kind of feedback that will help make it a better story. Tell me if it’s confusing, stiff, lack-luster – what raises your interest, what kicks you out of the flow of the story. Feel free to ask questions. This work has been on my mind for many years, I may forget to tell the readers something I’ve known for so long I am now taking it for granted.

Also, I’m terrible with punctuation so advice on that score is welcome. Just understand it going in and don’t give up on me for bad comma placement and the like.

Creative Commons License
Adrift by t.s.wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.