Signing Bonus: Part Two
Written by David Davis
Art by Evo917
Performer’s Park was a rather green slice of what was an otherwise artificial environment that was Teslovia as a whole. What Kracker knew of civic engineering was little, but he knew enough that green spaces were vital in a city, particularly one of Teslovia’s continental-size, as cities trapped heat. As soon as he stepped foot into the park he felt a good ten degrees cooler. Beyond that, greenery was vital to keep one’s sense of a natural connection, and it seemed like a lot of citizens had made their way to Performer’s Park for that connection. Kracker flipped off his sandals and let his feet sink into the soft, tightly trimmed grass. Various musicians occupied public spaces or hastily constructed platforms, performing with their various instruments.
Kracker moved from small crowd to small crowd, sampling each musician’s style. Nothing seemed to click for him. Granted, every musician was talented, but nothing he had heard seemed to convey the mood he was aiming for. Disappointed, he made his way to the edge of the park and took a seat on a bench that had been painted over by dozens of artists over the years. Layers of decals, paint, and do-it-yourself printing made the surface of the bench uneven, but it was still comfortable. From here the individual performers became a discordant mess, their individual refrains coagulating into a tumor of noise.
Then, as he sat, a simple guitar tune drifted by. It was something low key, sure, but there was some underlying vibrancy in the notes. Kracker rose from the bench and looked toward the direction where he heard the music. He began to follow, and as he did he felt the strumming quicken and the music grow more confident. His eyes darted around the park and down toward the various tall buildings. Then he saw a Gomben, guitar in hand, sitting against a small information kiosk, strumming absentmindedly. Kracker approached and noticed the small placard sitting in front of the guitarist. It featured the intergalactic symbol of patronage, an orange, rounded “P” shape, and a mobile-code. Kracker kneeled down and typed the code into his own mobile and threw some credits the Gomben’s way.
“Thanks, man,” the Gomben said. He continued to strum out an improvised melody.
“Not a problem, you’re really good.”
Kracker stood back up and continued to listen. The Gomben smiled and began to improvise a new melody, something a little lazier and more wistful. This was the kind of sound Kracker was looking for.
“You wouldn’t happen to be available for a party tonight, would you?”
The Gomben flashed a wry, toothy grin as his fingers plucked the strings.
“So, my friends, do you have any idea what your flight agenda will be,” Spril asked.
Marken took a sip from his teacup, “Unfortunately that is decided by GalactiCorp. The minute we know we’ll send word your way. I wouldn’t mind having another ship grouped up with us for safety.”
Mara self-consciously picked at her salad, only now aware of how awkward her choice of food was given present company.
A server approach the table and placed a small salad in front of Spril.
“Thank you,” he said, and then immediately stuck several of the leafy greens with his fork, scooping them into his mouth.
Mara and Marken stared at the scene, unsure of what they were seeing. Spril paused for a moment, feeling their eyes on him. He swallowed and smiled.
“I assure you I didn’t just eat my cousin,” he then looked directly at Mara, “though I can’t say if your lunch is a distant cousin or not… we all seem some similar sometimes.”
Mara’s eyes widened.
“I’m joking, Mara. Just because I have plant characteristics does not mean that we don’t need food. Vegetables are the most efficient food source there is. Besides, salads are delicious.”
Mara and Marken began to laugh. She took a bite of her own lunch, but then Spril chimed in “although you plate does remind me of a growth I once had…”
Mara sat her fork down and furrowed her brow toward Marken. He smiled and then turned to Spril, “that’s enough, Spril.”
The Floraran flashed a wicked grin. “I just couldn’t resist.”
“Well I am certainly regretting my lunch choice now,” Mara pouted.
“When in doubt, stew it out, at least that’s what I’ve always said.”
“You’ve never said that before, Marken.”
He leaned toward her, “I always say that. To myself.”
Spril took another bite of his salad. “Don’t worry, Mara, you’re fine. I may be related to plants, but then again… aren’t we all? I just skew a little closer and can take on their genetic characteristics.”
“That’s always fascinated me,” Mara said, “this galaxy is just full of interesting surprises, isn’t it? If I’m not mistaken I think our security guard, Guugel, has some characteristics similar to yours… or at least that’s what his eating habits tell me.”
“Guugel? Oh, yes, that cute little Wot security guard of yours. How is he?”
Marken slurped down some stew.
“I think he’s off spending his bonus on some souvenirs or something.
Guugel at this point had found himself wandering away from the major thoroughfares of the city into the more cramped corridors between the major buildings that made up the blocks. He was still mostly on the top-level of the city, though away from the central routes more and more overhangs and walkways blocked out sunlight. So far he hadn’t found much of interest beyond his dancing Syrien doll. He stumbled into an intersection of two avenues that opened up into a small plaza, and sat himself down for a moment on a curb. He pulled out the doll and jiggled it slightly, watching it perform it’s spring-powered dance.
He peered around the small plaza, particularly at the dried patch of grass in the center. He noticed the sun hit the patch in just the right way to dry out the grass, and he began to think how nice a tree would look in this little spot. Maybe his travels would bring him back here after a while and he’d find it to be a bustling little spot of weary pedestrians resting in the shade.
Guugel put away the doll into his backpack and hopped to his feet. He decided to see if he could find a tree… but where to begin? Guugel studied the four avenues that radiated from the plaza, and proceeded to make his way down the one he was most unsure of. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, he thought to himself.
The ambassador’s office was cramped and stuffy. Dash could see it from out in the secondary lounge where he found himself waiting, his initial visit approved. A tired looking Terrekin of about 70 or so, mid-life, really. His eyes were resting on heavy, dark bags, and the side of his olive green skin was looking jowly and unshaven. He seemed to be talking to someone, who Dash couldn’t see, and noticed the ambassador was growing more and more agitated.
“Well that’s certainly going to make my meeting interesting,” he said to himself.
He continued to watch until the ambassador rose and extended his hand to the other individual in his office. They shook, almost begrudgingly, and the other Terrekin stepped out. Dash couldn’t place what seemed off about him until he turned around to say something to the ambassador. Dash saw that the Terrekin’s shell was an artificial one composed of treated plastic. Dash began to rise, knowing he was next in line to meet with the ambassador. The Terrekin with the artificial shell stormed off, dropping several sheets of paper. Dash kneeled down to pick them up, but by then the gentleman had already wandered off. Dash shrugged, folded the papers, and tossed them into his bag.
Dash stopped in front of the door and turned to the secretary, who seemed busy. He looked in on the ambassador who also seemed overworked. Dash shrugged, and knocked lightly on the door frame. The ambassador’s head rose quickly and his look of frustration was readily apparent. He did his best to mask it with a smile and gestured for Dash to take a seat.
“How can I help you Mister…” the ambassador flicked through appointments on his terminal, “Kameku, yes? I’m Quinlen Sev.”
Dash nodded and took a seat. “Yessir. I was hoping your office could provide assistance in ferrying some sensitive equipment back to Ocia.”
“That seems like something that could be handled via a shipping company though?”
Dash shrugged, “Under any other circumstances I’d agree with you, but given the nature of the equipment and the networking fees involved, I figured I could classify this as a public works project.”
“Well, I am wanting to ship a GIN relay to my home village, and because it is a potential addition to Ocia’s communication network I figured there were maintenance and installation concerns, not to mention that this is a large, expensive piece of equipment to move over public shipping. Given this I also know that I can ensure proper, safe delivery if it’s treated as a public works project, so-”
“Whoa, whoa. Slow down kid.”
“Movari. You’ve probably never heard of it.”
“You’re right. Never heard of it.”
“I’m not surprised, we’re on a small Island off the coast of Konshu.”
“Konshu, huh? My family was originally from there. Tell me more about this relay.”
“Well, Movari is quite small and doesn’t have great access to Ocia’s communications network. We have to use Konshu’s system, but we’re in a bad spot because we aren’t close enough to the island for good signal, and we aren’t a large enough population to be granted a relay by the government.”
“So you’re taking it upon yourself to solve the problem?”
“Well, doing what I can. I came into some money I don’t need, so I figure I can put it toward a good cause.”
“That’s admirable. I think I may be able to help you in that regard. At least there’s something I can accomplish today.” Quinlen’s brow furrowed slightly.
“I imagine the pay you get as an ambassador more than makes up for it though, right?”
“HAH! How much do you think we make?”
“I thought an ambassador would be rich.”
“Do you have any idea what a Federation ambassador makes? Our pockets don’t get lined like ambassadors from the Neutrality.”
“I had no idea, I didn’t mean to assume-”
“It’s no worry kid, I understand. It’s not a great system we have, but I’ve found it to be worth doing what I can from inside. To be honest, I wish I had your gumption regarding another project.”
“What sort of project?”
“Well, my last visitor was my business partner. We’re trying to fund a prosthetic shell lab here on Teslovia. Most prosthetics have to come from Ocia and we figured a lab here would make a lot of sense because it’d be easier to ship the prosthetics if we grew them here.”
“I noticed his shell was a prosthesis…”
“Oh, no, no, we’re talking about full-grown shells that accept nerve connection, like our birth shells. Genetic matches and everything.”
“That’s a great idea.”
“It’s good work. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, for sure.”
“Problem is, my position as an ambassador requires I don’t take a major stake in any businesses that I may potentially have influence in as an ambassador. Then of course there is the idea of raising the money-”
“Do you need another investor?”
“Desperately, but… well, I have to end my involvement here. I suggest you talk to Korl about it.”
Dash reached into his bag and pulled out the papers Korl dropped.
“He left these behind.”
“Good, good. Listen, go see him, I’ll give you his address.”
“Sure thing. About my-”
“Oh, of course, of course. I’ll make sure all the paperwork is in order for your relay. That won’t be an issue.”
Quinlen rose from his chair and extended his hooked-arm ahead of him. Dash rose and did the same. The two touched arms.
“Thank you, Mister Kameku. You’ve certainly made my day a little bit brighter.”
The dingy waiting room of the augment clinic smelled like sweat and alcohol. In truth, it was less of a waiting room than a loading dock with sloppily constructed walls meant to provide some illusion of privacy. The seating was, for the most part, limited to crates, with the exception of a threadbare sofa that Alix had claimed when she arrived. A couple other “patients” wandered around the room, idly occupying their time until their turn for surgery.
Getting here had been a challenge requiring some bribes and stealth, and there was an inherent disappointment in the realization that the operation was going to be handled in such an unhygienic location. She made a note to herself to purchase some antibio patches, just to be on the safe side. She wished her options weren’t as limited as they were, but given her background and the nature of the information she needed to retain, an unregistered storage drive mod was her best option.
A nurse opened the door and poked her head out, asking “Kira Vaan?”
Alix rose and made her way over to the door. The nurse held it open in her strong, Gaur arms. Alix noticed the telltale injection scars on her forearms. Apparently the nurse had some augments of her own, or a potential drug problem. Ah well, Alix thought, too late to back out now. She followed the Gaur down the hallway. Her steps were heavy and lumbering across stubby legs, and several times Alix noticed the nurse do the Gaur “knuckle-walk” – a result of the sheer amount of weight and the length of the arms of the Gaur as a race.
The nurse gestured to a door and Alix stepped inside. The Tentachlid surgeon was already sitting at a counter filling out paperwork. Without looking up at her he said “Please sit on the examination bed.”
Alix looked at the door behind her, which was now shut, and considered simply walking away. She sighed and hopped onto the examination bed which seemed tailored to Blassnaught proportions.
“Sure. Kira,” the doctor winked with a singular eye, that appeared more to be a drawn out blink, “what are you looking for?”
“I need a portable drive implant and access-port implanted into my body.”
“Yes, preferably to be covered by the fur on my arm.”
“Well, that’s going to run you at least 3000 credits for the drive, and another 450 for the cosmetic work.”
“I have the money.”
“Well then let’s get started. Anesthetic?”
“T-that’s not included?”
“Surgical grade anesthetic is expensive and in short supply for pop-ups like this. There’s a premium of 200 credits attached to it.”
Alix gritted her teeth. “Fine. Anesthetic… but don’t skimp on it.”
The doctor tapped a small series of buttons on the side of the bed and forced it to recline, catching Alix off balance.
“Just let me know the drive and adapter you want, and where you want the implant.”
Alix stared at the door one last time, and then turned her attention to the inventory list on the tablet the doctor held in front of her.
Mara, Marken and Spril found themselves back on the Greensleeves, talking over the options of the gardening business. Suddenly Mara felt the mobile in her pocket vibrate. She excused herself and stepped to the side to see she had received a text from Guugel:
GUUGEL: Are you and Marken seeing that gardener today? Can you ask about a sapling for me? I’m looking for one.
Mara smiled and quickly hammered out a message:
MARA: Come see us on his ship. Dock 16, Section Orange, Budget Docking.
She felt a little devious. She could have easily asked for the sapling on Guugel’s behalf, but Spril had been so keen to learn about the Wot that she felt like maybe Spril was interested in him. It was worth a shot, at least, getting them in the same room. She tucked the mobile back into her pocket and made her way back to the others.
Kracker felt optimistic. The guitarist had eagerly accepted the commission to play for the party. He was a nice young Gomben named Jem who was courteous and took copious notes about what exactly Kracker was asking for.
He was on his way now to pick up some snacks and drinks for the party to be delivered to the ship. Nothing extravagant, of course, but something for everyone there. As he made his way down the crowded boulevard a sign caught his eye, he studied it, recognizing the green diamond of the medical industry. He weaved through the crowd and stepped inside. The air was chilly and he immediately knew that this was a Grey establishment. Shelves featured boxes of medical supplies and equipment, and behind the counter were locked cases of premium quality pharmaceuticals. At the counter stood a rather bored looking Grey.
“Can I help you, sir?”
Kracker approached and looked around.
“I’m looking for a medical thing.”
The Grey had no eyebrow, but the muscles above the left eye contorted indicating confusion.
“This is a medical supply shop.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m trying to find a gift for a friend, but I can’t… hm.”
The Grey sighed. “A tool?”
“My friend? Yes. Haha…”
The Grey’s brow-muscle contorted again.
Kracker coughed, “I mean, yes, the thing I am looking for is a tool. Something to deal with triage…”
The Grey rubbed a temple with a finger in contemplation. “I assume you are referring to a diagnostic probe?”
Kracker nodded, “Uh huh, uh huh!”
The Grey step around the side of the counter rather briskly, and Kracker followed him to a shelf displaying different boxes of probes of various brands and specifications.
“Do you know what kind of probe your friend might be looking for?”
“No idea,” Kracker beamed.
The Grey sighed.