Monday, October 13, 2014

11: Zephyr Station (Part II)

Entry 11.5: Where Cor starts to teach Felix the rules of avoiding suspicion.

                Felix stood in line to one of the ticket windows trying not to be conspicuous. Given that all major traffic in the system went through Zephyr Station, Cor had told him that they didn't need to avoid security cameras since Kla undoubtedly knew they were here anyway. Despite that Felix still felt his heart stop whenever he saw one of the cameras mounted to the ceiling swivel in his direction.
                Of course that might be because he had already bought tickets for three other flights to three different planetary systems all leaving in the next hour and he didn't want to find out what station security might make of that.
                He shoved his hands in his pockets as the line moved up, pushing the other six ticket chips deeper down where they wouldn't be seen. He still didn't see how buying their tickets so openly would help them at this point, no matter how many different destinations they tried to confuse Kla with.
                He finally shuffled up to the girl behind the ticket window. Her red-blonde hair was in loose braids hanging over her shoulders and as he approached she beamed at him with an expression that could have outshone Oshi's twin suns. "Good morning sir," she chirped, "how may I help you this fine morning?"
                Felix tired not flinch at her hyper-cheer. "Fine morning my eye." He thought, catching sight of the clock out of the corner of his eye. It was coming on three in the morning now.
                He rested his arms on the ticket counter and mumbled, "Two tickets to Avicii please, quickest flight you have."
                The girl scrolled down the monitor Felix couldn't see and nibbled at her bottom lip as she scanned the options. "That would be Romana Spacelanes, but they're leaving from the other side of the station in twenty minutes. You'll have to run."
                Felix nodded. "Yeah, that's fine." He mumbled, fidgeting a little as he handed over the credits. Now he had passage to Avicii, Tortuga Minor, Crystal Zed, the second moon of Ferris, and still no idea where they were actually going.
                The ticket girl counted out credits swiftly and efficiently before handing him his change. Paying in cash might be suspicious in more populated systems, but Oshi was so small that most people here were hard pressed for any kind of plastic payment method. It was one of the few things they had working for them since Cor's field interfered with the magnetic strip and Felix's credit score was somewhere in the negatives.
                The ticket girl was trying to blind him with her cheerful smile again as she handed him the rectangular, electronic chips with all their recorded flight data that were no larger than his thumbnail. "Here you are sir. Have a great flight."
                Felix nodded bashfully and took the ticket chips and change she handed him before scurrying away to meet Cor at one of the emptier hallway intersections that connected the crowded waiting room with the elevators that Cor and Felix had taken from the outer ring. According to Cor, there was a slight gap in the security coverage there; not much, but just big enough for them to drop out of sight for a few minutes.
                Felix was trying hard not to panic by the time Cor finally showed up five minutes later.
                "You're late!" He hissed when he finally felt the air start to charge from contact with Cor's static field. "What took you so long-?"
                He stopped cold when he realized that Cor hadn't come alone.
                Cor gestured between Felix and the giant behind him with quick movements, obviously not too concerned with the introductions. "Felix this is Grozer. Grozer, my partner Felix." Cor pointed between the human and the towering, mobile statue he'd brought with him.
                Felix had never seen a crystalline zed in person before. Grozer's body was made entirely out of living, semi-transparent crystal set over a liquid core that enabled him to move his heavy body. He towered over Felix like a moving shard of quartz that had been roughly hewn into a vague humanoid shape – two arms, two legs, and a spiky head – and where the overhead lights pierced his rocky skin, the light bounced against planes of semi-solid inner crystal and lit up his body like a holiday light show.
                Grozer craned his head to peer down at Felix with yellow-blue optic stones that looked as if they'd been cut into facets like jewelry diamonds. When he moved, his hard skin rubbed against itself and gave off a shuffling, crunching sound that reminded Felix of tires rolling over gravel.
                "N-nice to meet you." Felix mumbled as he stared up at the crystal creature, suddenly remembering the stories he'd heard of crystalline zeds lifting whole automobiles with one hand because something small had rolled underneath.
                For no reason Felix could discern, Grozer reached out and held out a hand with four, straight-cut fingers expectantly.
                Felix just stared at him, mouth swinging open in the automatic breeze of the station.
                Grozer turned to Cor, a sharp cracking sound – like stone sheering off a cliff – coming from somewhere inside his head. The noises continued in strange, scuffed rhythms and it took Felix a moment to realize he was talking.
                "Where's his mouth?" Felix wondered as he stared at the stony being. Then he frowned. "Does he even have a mouth?"
                Cor held up his hands to the crystalline zed. "Of course he has 'em. The kid's just," he hesitated just long enough that Felix was sure Cor was trying to think of an excuse, "in awe. He's ne'er seen a guy like ya before. He's, eh, he's just impressed is all." He sent his elbow into Felix's side, making him jerk. "Ain't that right, kid?"
                Felix looked up at the crystalline zed that could drop him with a leisurely swing of his arm and nodded. "Yeah." He wheezed. "Impressed."
                He would have liked the words to come out with more strength, but his breath had fled when he'd been distracted by the alien's sheer size.
                Cor tapped Felix's arm with the back of his hand. "Grozer here just wants the ticket chips to Crystal Zed I promised him. Big guy's goin' home fer a spell."
                Felix nodded dumbly as he searched blindly for his pocket. He could have sworn he'd had one a minute ago...
                Felix smiled uneasily as he finally found the right pocket and shoved his hand in, grabbing all the ticket chips he could find. Grozer was still watching him with a stony expression.
                "Guess he can't really help that." Felix thought, but knew better than to say it as he finally found the right electronic chips as large as his thumbnail and dropped them into Grozer's waiting palm.
                "Have fun." Felix breathed.
                Grozer rumbled something that sounded like the beginnings of a rock slide before carefully cupping his digits around the chips. His fingers – if you could call them that – weren't as flexible as most over races and were only able to move at the base where they connected with the zed's palm. Felix couldn't see how he managed to grip anything with those stiff digits.
                The big guy reached up his free hand and Felix leaned back and held his breath on instinct. What could he say? He'd watched too many Dungeons & Dragons-era B-movies as a kid. His mom's favorite had been Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell. Whenever one of them was sick the old VHS tape went into the box he'd jimmied to play it when he was five and they would laugh through their stuffed up noses at the garbage that had passed for an adventure story.
                Naturally Grozer didn't have a medieval flail in his hand or anything like that. However Felix hadn't expected the hooded robe being held out to him either.
                "Oh, um, no thank you-” Felix started to say only to be cut off by Cor's elbow in his ribs. Cor shook his head ever so slightly when Felix glared at him.
                "I mean thanks?" Cor started nodding an affirmative. "I mean thanks." He muttered, eyeing the rough brown fabric the zed held out, not sure what to do with it.
                Grozer rumbled again, the bass sound cut through with little cracks running through stone as he insisted Felix take the unexpected gift. Uncertainly, Felix did, if only to finish their impromptu transaction so Grozer would go away.
                Grozer, for his part, didn't seem intent on sticking around either now that he had his ticket home. He trundled off in slow motion, his footsteps so heavy that they echoed down the hallway over the general noise of the people waiting for their ships to board in the main room.
                When the zed was finally out of sight, Felix leaned over and whispered, "I haven't worn a robe since I dressed up as Luke Skywalker for Halloween when I was ten. Why did he give me this?! " He shook the hood at the Hybridian.
                Cor snorted. "So you could wear it, ya genius. What else are ya gonna do it? Sheesh, it's like ya've never heard of a disguise before." Cor muttered and then clapped him on the back. "Now get the chips for the Ferris moon. Next customers er comin' up fast."
                They were quickly surrounded by a small hoard of insistent creatures, all with hands held out for chips and shoving random articles of clothing at him with the other. Mostly Felix just stood there, overwhelmed, as Cor sorted out who got what.
                "One at a time. One at a time." He hissed even as he quickly handed a pair of matching chips to the mouse-like couple from Ferris with one hand and shoved a poncho at Felix that was striped in various degrees of old mustard.
                By the end of it they had no tickets left and all the apparel of a penniless high school play.
                "I thought the point of a disguise was to not draw attention to yourself." Felix muttered as he followed Cor – now dressed in the wide hat and the mustard-colored poncho that hung to his knees – down the hall with the furry, large eared Ferrisians. Given his options, Felix had opted for the Revenge of the Nerds look rather than the I-just-got-puked-on-by-a-hobo colors Cor was now wearing.
                Cor peered at him from under the wide brim of hat that was apparently all the rage in the Black Tortoise system. "Have ya seen what most of these people're wearin' in there? We'll blend right in."
                Felix supposed he had a point.
                He followed Cor back into the Departure-B waiting room. Like its matching rooms A, C, and D, it was a small, boxy room filled with people waiting for their departure times. All of the available seats were full of exhausted travelers while the more awake ones milled about talking quietly.
                "Wait," Felix muttered under his breath as he followed Cor into the murmured crowd, "what are we doing now? You gave away all our tickets!"
                Cor flapped a hand at him. "That was nuthin'. Just to throw 'em off the scent."
                If that was supposed to clear things up, Felix didn't get it. "That's great until they see we've bought another set of tickets to only stars know where because you won't tell me where we're going!" He hissed.
                Cor just grinned at him and then efficiently made his way through the drowsy crowd to a temporary desk on the opposite side of the room. Felix followed behind in mounting frustration.
                He frowned when he realized that the desk Cor was headed to wasn't a ticket booth. It was a gate, and a fairly empty one at that. A few travelers wearing long coats were boarding, beat up cases in hand, and there was a woman in her thirties behind the desk, but other than that it was quiet.
                Cor stopped at the desk and leaned his new hat back just enough that he could look the woman in the eye. "Mornin' missy," he told her, "m'wife called in our tickets fer me'n my boy here."
                The woman looked up at him blandly, her dirty blonde hair falling out of her ponytail in disarray. "What's the name sir?" She asked as she pulled a key out of her pocket and inserted it into a drawer below the computer.
                "Trikkets." Cor said without hesitation. "Sam and Charlie Trikkets."
                Felix stood there in a cold sweat as the woman sorted through the drawer. He didn't see how Cor could stay so calm. All this lying was giving him stomach cramps.
                He tried not to sigh in relief when the woman finally pulled two chips out of the drawer and removed the sticky note with the name 'Trikkets' on it that had been stuck to them.
                She ran them through the scanner before handing them over. "Enjoy your trip." She told them and then had to cover her mouth as a jaw-cracking yawn escaped her.
                Felix wanted to bolt through the gate door, but Cor whistled low through his teeth and insisted on making small talk. "Ya just get on or just about to get off?" He asked the woman.
                She finally managed to close her mouth. "Been here all night." She told him. "And I'll get off just in time to get my kids up for school."
                Cor winced in sympathy. "Ouch," he chuckled and then tipped his hat at her, "well here's hopin' ya find time fer a nap t'day darlin'."
                The woman gave him an exhausted smile and even waved as he and Felix made their way through the gate to board their craft.
                Felix waited until they were halfway down the airtight corridor that connected their ship to the station before demanding, "What was all that?"
                Cor looked over at him. "That was rule number one of avoidin' suspicion." He told him. "Act normal, no matter what's chasing you. You wanted to just run through the gate as soon as she handed us those tickets, but that woulda been strange, especially at this hour. She woulda remembered the guy that ran to the gate at three in the morning and we don't want anyone to remember us."
                Felix frowned. "Well then we have a problem, because everyone's going to remember the guy wearing the stupid hat. You look ridiculous." He grumbled and then looked down at the brown robe that was too big for him. "Not that I look any better."
                Cor chuckled as he handed the ticket chips to the Tiff flight attendant at the entrance to the ship itself for inspection. With a smile and wave of her two finger hand, she directed them to their seats in the ship's back room.
                They sidled past sleeping passengers and parents trying to settle children that refused to be settled. Felix looked around as they walked. From the look of things they were on an old Sonic Budgerow – not the most pleasant thing to look at but it was surprisingly fast in spite of how ungainly it looked from the outside. They were near the back of the ship in a large, round room with their seats bolted to the walls. Out here in the vacuum buckling up for takeoff wasn't necessary, but they would have to strap in for their atmospheric landing.
                Felix and Cor went and sat down anyway, too exhausted to stay on their feet much longer. A feeling that was shared by most of the other coach passengers, but Felix didn't expect that to last long. In a few hours the kids on board would be wide awake and, shortly after that, so would the rest of them.
                "At the risk of sounding like a broken record," the Earthling mumbled as he buckled in and Cor sank into the chair next to him with a groan, "are you finally going to tell me where we're going?"
                Cor groaned, but before he could speak a soft voice crackled over the intercom.
                "Greetings passengers," the Tiff from before murmured softly to keep from disturbing the early morning weariness of the passengers, "and welcome to flight 254-N8 nonstop to the planet Ryyn."
                Felix blinked. Ryyn? He wasn't sure he'd heard of that one.
                "Is that over in the Vishi system?" He leaned towards Cor.
                Cor had his head back against the headrest. "Nah, Orphius-9 a few systems down."
                "-as the captain runs through our last safety checks I wish to bid you a good morning. Out of respect for those who are still on Zephyr time, we will keep the lights dim until reaching our destination. We will be arriving at 5 pm local time in roughly ten hours-”
                Felix snorted. "When I get my machine to work they'll be able to make it in ten seconds."
                Cor slid half closed eyes towards him. "Kid, it's gonna be a long flight. Do me a favor and shut up and go to sleep until we get there, will ya?"
                Felix leaned back in his seat as Cor closed his eyes again and the flight attendant rambled through the rest of the pre-flight safety course. "Would if I could." He muttered at Cor. "But my heart's still pounding from meeting that Grozer guy."
                He was out like a light before the ship even left the station.

< Entry 11                                                                                                                                                   Entry 12 >

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