SEASON ONE: ENTRY FIVE
There was only one place worth visiting the rural planet Rqib-kuj-te for and that was the bustling dance hall known through the galaxy as The Ankhall!
Stassi headed to the dance hall at the edge of the town. Other than the spaceport, the hall was the largest planetary building; it had a lofty roof to cater a sharply angled ceiling and was longer than it was wide.
There were people, alien and humanoid alike, hanging out around the main entrance. Clouds of smoke hovered in a fog around the building from cigs. A loud ambiance of chatter drowned out the resonant sound of muffled music coming from inside the hall.
Stassi walked past, the white-tinted vapor curling around her bubble helm. Past the door frame, she took off her helmet. At the coat check, she traded it for a drink ticket and a tag in the form of a chip to reclaim her belonging later. Scents of citrus floor polish and spiced perfumes blasted over the thick smoky scents of leafy herbs bordering the edge of the building. Everyone who was anyone in the remote galaxy came to The Ankhall to dance but tonight seemed to be special. A banner had been strung up with ribbons celebrating someone’s birthday. The band on stage blared with all the might that the trumpets and drums and guitars could muster.
In the center, she recognized the lanky gray-skinned alien holding onto the shiny metal microphone: Martian Joe, a crooner known for his multiple vocal chords and ability to harmonize with himself. She glanced at a poster detailing the singer’s intergalactic tour. What luck that she happened on a busy night like this or perhaps the agents had known and stopped specifically for either the birthday or the concert.
Either way, she relaxed into the festive atmosphere. She smiled at a group of townies, one of whom was looking at her. The native humanoids of Rqib-kuj-te appeared as plain as earthlings other than old gills at the sides of their necks and some odd ear shapes, but the traits were merely vestigial handidowns from their ancestors. They were more Earthian than Stassi herself when it came down to it.
The townie walked over, hands in his overall pockets, and he grinned in a friendly fashion. “You look familiar, haven’t we met?”
“Perhaps.” Stassi shrugged. She glanced away, watching the dancing crowd in the center of the hall. The song playing was fast-paced and the mixed crowd of humanoids and aliens were working up mutual sweat in the rising humidity as evening rolled on.
“Yeah, I remember you. You’re that huntress, aren’t you?” He wagged a finger at her.
She smiled. “Were you going to ask me to dance?”
“Oh,” he nodded and held out his hand. “Yeah, sure!”
He led her into the crowd of swishing skirts and waving arms, paws, and wings. Stassi took to the beat’s rhythm, her heels clicking against the shiny wooden floor. Her partner, being a townie, had plenty of practice though his attention seemed distracted until the song hit a particular riff and he got lost with the passion of dancing. Stassi took an extra step away from him so he wouldn’t accidentally run into her while kicking his legs out.
They made their way through the grooving crowd, swarming with more people arriving. Stassi surveyed the observers standing along the dance-floor edge, hiding between the vertical beams, and sitting in booths against the walls. After a twirl, she caught sight of what she’d been looking for: the agent who’d interrogated her back at Twon-lak-yu. So he did show up.
She tried to get a closer look, spinning about while her dancing partner took her hand for a song change. The agent looked to be alone. He leaned against a beam, watching the crowd and sipping from a glass. He didn’t seem to notice her. She would fix that.
Stassi grabbed the townie’s shoulder and leaned in. She spoke over the music, “Thanks for the swing, catch you later!” He nodded, letting go of her and moving to dance with someone new. She hopped off the dance-floor, as if accidentally coming to a stop from dancing right beside the agent. The huntress brightly smiled at him.
“What? Why-Agent Griffin is that you?” She feigned surprise and fanned her reddened face with her hand. “What a small galaxy!”
The man glanced at her, then looked away without so much as a slight change to his vaguely bored expression.
She primped her hair and tried again. “What are you doing here? Ohh, is this a stake-out? Have I ruined it for you? I’m sorry for that.”
“No,” he answered, then tilted his glass so the ice clinked against it. “It’s the birthday of… someone’s sister.”
“Aww, that’s sweet,” she sighed happily. Placing her hands over her heart, she watched the dancers though her gaze kept moving back to the agent. He was in casual attire and she supposed he wasn’t on-the-clock. She tried to guess which of the dancers were the other agents and which were the townies. Looking back at Griffin, she blurted out, “If you don’t mind, you look miserable. Why’s that?”
He didn’t respond, just sipped his amber drink.
“You don’t like dancing?” She asked, not giving up despite his obvious distaste at her presence. “You’re not supposed to come here and drink yourself silly, you know that right? There’s a bar across the way for that…”
Griffin looked at the stage. The singer had started to hop about with the microphone, singing staccato vowels while trilling his words before switching into a low swinging tune that changed the pace.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” she mentioned, looking over at Martian Joe as well. “Perhaps he’s going to give autographs afterward. Don’t you think he’s just marvelous?”
The agent pushed away from the beam, walking away without a word. He set his empty glass at a table and headed toward a side door.
Stassi frowned. She followed and tried again to get him to talk with her. “I’m sorry about how things were before, Agent Griffin. You can’t restrain a gal like that and expect her to be your friend though.”
He headed outside to a smoking corral. Stassi walked past him, staring out at the view of the wilderness beyond. It was already pitch dark once the lights of the dance hall faded past a yard of twisted grasses. She glanced at the agent, who was retrieving a cigarette from his jacket. Her antennas twitched and she asked, “Mind if I have one?”
The agent hesitated, then offered the pack. She grabbed a stick, then set it against her lips. He tapped a thick ring on his index finger and a small flame jutted from it, lighting her cigarette. She took a deep breath, then smiled.
“You’re not a complete sourpuss then,” she teased him.
He didn’t even offer so much as a shadow of a smile in return. Instead, he started up his own cigarette and smoked in silence.
Stassi tried to wait, tried to outlast him, but the minutes felt suffocating as the quiet between them lengthened. Other than the muffled music and faint sounds of chatting from a group across the way, it was just them. Eventually, she gave up and spoke first, “You weren’t that bad but you’re new at it, aren’t you? How long have you been a lead agent? Maybe… Five months?”
“Four,” he said, then winced like he already regretted saying it. As if to cover the slip-up, he added, “You talk like you’re an old criminal or something. You can’t have that much experience.”
She laughed. “You read my records. I’m not that old but I’ve had plenty run-ins with your organization due to my line of work.”
“And what is that exactly?” He asked.
“I’m a mercenary of course,” she smiled, blowing a cloud of smoke to the side. “I like to… find things.”
“Find things?” He stared at her, awaiting an answer.
She winked instead, refusing to elaborate and taking advantage of his attention. “How about you? What brought you to the IBIA?”
And just like that, she lost him. He turned his gaze away and didn’t answer.
“Okay…” She tried to keep from looking as disappointed as she felt. Tapping her foot against the ground, she thought about how else to get information from the agent. He wasn’t as sociable as past agents. Before she decided on a course of action, the man started walking back to the building door. She held up a hand and said, “Wait…”
Griffin paused at the door frame. He looked over her, then flicked his dying cigarette to the ground and went inside.
Stassi frowned and stomped the cigarette’s ember out.
Author’s Note: Comment below (or use the contact form) to share what you’d like to see more of, questions, etc.
Bit of a longer entry this time around! I don’t know how long we’ll stick around in this remote/rural galaxy area (I’m still leaning toward it being an intergalactic setting instead of interstellar)… I rather like the concept of rural galaxies though.
I might be taking another pause on this project soon in order to finish the next book in The Descent Files. If I can, I’ll keep posting on it regardless though. :)