His stature clogged the photograph with his overwhelming mass, eclipsing the other figure within it. His skin was layered with dirt and grime from years of scrubbing the bottoms of the cities, overall darkening his complexion to a deep brown from its beige undertone. He easily crossed the height of a skyscraper, the other person in the photo was merely up to his stomach if that. His muscles were jagged and pointed, unkempt without the files Bormen usually used to keep their appearance clean. His scales, individually shaped like tiny waffle cones, clumped together and formed a solid mass of deep brown hair-like substitute that likely stuck like pricks in any fabric that they made contact with. The stubby cut still filed down to a reasonable length, glowing brightly with his wide smile. The other person in the picture was not as noticeable as the borman, but their kelkish earlobes expanded forth like large thimbles that hung too and fro from the head by strands of green taffy.
As the visitor examined the photograph carefully- extracting every tidbit of knowledge from its colorful panorama- the prison doors scraped open, passing a loud pain past his ears. Shaking it off he enters the visitors room. Dozens of partitions divided glass barriers, some people in between- likely lawyers or family members- discussing matters with their constituents. The booth the visitor was looking for was at the very end, next to the dim luminescent bulb that wouldn’t quite go out no matter how long they left it running, Its shrill squeak pitching up and down as it brightened and petered out. On the inside of the booth was a chair that looked like it would collapse with a sudden movement or tremor in the ground and a black phone on the left side of the booth with a glossy gleam in the low light.
The visitor came up to the booth and saw his host. Like the photo, he took up the entirety of the glass divider with his back, his now long and unkempt strands of scales acting like a solid chunk of hair akin to that of a porcupine's stretch of protective pricks. The jumpsuit he wore, once a glorious orange, was now washed and shredded around the shoulders where his now razor sharp skin juts out with anguish at its tight confines. The visitor sits down slowly in the dingy office chair he was provided and leans in, awaiting the man to turn around.
He eventually shifts his head around, his deep chasms for eyes penetrating the visitors' own like a hawk, sending a chill directly down his spine and into his boots. The small concave pupils, sitting on the edge of the holes, the prisoner has dilated slightly, somehow building their mass from the divots inside his head. His lips, chipped and dry, turn downwards as he gazes upon his visitor, who continues to look upon him. They are soon both caught in a state of gridlock, peering deep into each other's souls awaiting for the first action to be made.
The visitor makes the first move, slowly lifting the phone from its receiver and placing it to his head. There was no buzzing but a slight beep that rang to the other side of the glass where the prisoner relented and picked up the phone in the same way- though without visible ears the gesture was more to show compliance.
"+-, &^=’ L~O?" The visitor asks.
“No need to speak my tongue,” the prisoner grunts, still looking away, “What are you here for?”
The visitor clears his throat. “Hello. You are Ludo of Bor, yes?”
“My name is Cairo Abdullah Anas Jalid. I was wondering if we could get to know each other better.”
Ludo dismisses, “If it’s an interview you want, I ain't talking. My case file is public knowledge on the government’s website.”
“Oh no no no,” Cairo assures, “I don’t want to dig up those memories. I’m sure you’re sick of dealing with all that.”
“Then why are you here?” Ludo demanded.
“I’m just here to talk.”
Ludo scowls to himself before slowly swiveling in his chair facing Cairo head on, where they can easily see each other eye to eye. Ludo’s eyes barely sit below the top of the glass as he has to lounge downward to be on a more even eye level to Cairo, who Ludo notes as being particularly short statured for an earthman, likely no more than 6 foot. His clothing choice had also made Ludo’s brow extend high for a moment before it sunk back, as he sat firmly- in nearly 100 degree fahrenheit heat- in a thick, blue canvas parka with white fringe at the collar and cufflinks without breaking a sweat. Not to mention his pants, which were equally thick and puffy black snow pants with a shiny gloss that could even blind a blind person. His hair was frizzy and thick, styled in that of a small afro. Matched with the stocky beard on his face, it looked as if his entire head had been covered in hair. His ears crooked outwards with their lack of lobes, making them appear longer and pointier than they should be. His skin was also a deep brown, similar to that of Ludo’s, but with a distinct cleanliness that he sorely lacked.
Cairo looking upon Ludo gave him a feeling of slight anxiety that rattled his glossy black snow boots and stood the hair on his chin straight up. Ludo’s eyes were indeed empty, as bormen’s were- they are holes in the head with small dots of bright rock in their centers- but something rang different about him. His eyes were lifeless, not simply empty. They produced a void greater than that of a black hole, shrouded even further by terrible cuts and crevices like bags that sagged under his eyes. It was as if all the joy had been sucked from his face, the light in everyone's eyes gone, wisped away like steam in the open air. The last bastion of light Cairo could see on Ludo was a small golden necklace wrapped around his neck, the chain barely big enough to wrap around his neck. It gleamed in the shape of a Kemeken Beetle, a species of beetle native to Ludo’s home planet of Bor with large trapezoidal horns, with red rubies for eyes and diamond encrusted wings that shimmered in the dull light.
“What is there to talk about?” He asks contemptuously.
Cairo pondered quickly. “Well, how about proper introductions? Y’know, to lighten the mood!”
Ludo grimaces, lips curling into a sorry neutral expression with squinted eyes that exemplified their deepness.
He starts, “Well… as I said my name is Cairo. I like making ice sculptures, a good drink, and meeting new people!”
They stare at each other for a long time.
“What is the point of telling me these things?” Ludo’s scales rise and shiver, his mouth automatically turning to a frown and brow scrunching.
“Well… I mean…”
“Look, we both know why you’re here,” Ludo starts, “You don’t just visit a convinced killer out of the blue with the intention to make friends. Spill it.”
Cairo sighs, then raspberries a little bit in search of his response. “I hoped it would come up more naturally if I tried being friendly…”
He sighs. “Alright. Well, in truth I’m here on the behalf of my friend Dante Aglow.”
“Coward can’t even show his own face?” Ludo mocks.
“Hey, it’s not like that. He’s just… very busy.”
Ludo smugly chortles.
“He’s heard you have a very good set of skills.”
Ludo scowls and leans into the glass. “I’m no contract killer.”
Cairo’s brow shoots up and he defensively puts up his hand. “Oh no, nothing so heinous! He knows that you’re an excellent mechanic.”
Ludo leans back slowly, clutching the phone nearly entirely within the palm of his hand.
“You see, he’s been trying to get a good mechanic for a while now, but every one they ask has rejected him for one reason or another.”
“Why does he need a mechanic?”
“Because Dante is a Planet-Hopper.”
Ludo looks around the room nervously and leans in closer to the glass with one brow raised and lower lip slightly unhinged.
“What is that?”
Cairo puckers his lips and stares at him, as if he was looking not at him but at his brain that's been placed hundreds of miles away.
“What is a ‘Planet-Hopper’?”
Cairo’s jaw loosens slightly. “You mean you don’t know?”
“Look,” Ludo growls, “If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking you what it was now would I?”
“Fair.” Cairo rubs his lips and racks his brain. “Ok, the easiest way I can explain it is that they are like… space pirates?”
Ludo’s face crosses and scowls, bearing his teeth for the first time, their pearly whiteness contrasting harshly with his deeply layered skin. “I ain’t working for no pirates.”
“No,” Cairo assures, “Let me finish. They’re like pirates without the pillaging- uh, most of the time.”
Ludo keeps his expression plastered on his face.
“Look, I don’t really have time to explain it now, they could only afford me half an hour.”
“How do you honestly expect me to leave my home behind- everything I know and love- for a job working for some pirates I don’t know?” His face tenses, then releases. A long sigh escapes his mouth as he reclines back in the chair. His face turns somberly, his frown growing depressed and sinking into his face slightly. “Plus, I can’t exactly leave even if I wanted to.”
Cairo puffs up his cheek and breathes through his nose. Wiping it softly, he combs his thoughts in search of a memory he had nearly forgotten. When he finds it, his eyes illuminate slightly, holding back his excitement from Ludo to try and pass the excitement through him.
“Okay, you raise a good point.” He adjusted the phone to right hand, reaching deep into his parka before pulling out a small slip of paper. “Dante- or more specifically, his fiance- thought you’d say that.”
Ludo squints at him while raising his eyebrow.
“She was with us when Dante asked for me to try and recruit you,” he explains, “In fact, she was the one who put in your name. She’s said good things- only good things- about your skills as an engineer. Said you took first place in the international inventors fair when you were 11!”
Ludo squints harder. “Who?”
Cairo gestures to the paper, from which he begins reciting.
Please take Cairo and Dante’s offer. It’s the least you could do, considering you still owe me for the last few promises you broke…”
Ludo’s heart sinks as he grips the phone tighter.
“Dante is a great man, you’ll see. Please Ludo, take up the deal. I give you my blessing.
Ludo drops the phone from his face, which was now rendered completely wasted by internal tremors and earthquakes that had shifted his body to the left. Firmly grasping the necklace that glimmered around his neck, the light that Cairo had never seen in Ludo’s eyes began to reconstitute, reflecting brightly in the water that began dribbling out of his sockets. Realizing what he was doing, Ludo quickly turns away and begins to wipe his face with his sleeve which only tore it more as his now chiseled and jagged face buried itself within the cloth.
“I… I-I see…” Ludo sniffs and turns away completely. Cairo sits on the other side and bites his lip while stretching his mouth, slowly folding the letter back and tucking it deeply into his pocket.
A quiet buzzer rings off over the booth and the both of them look up at a timer that Cairo had failed to notice sitting above the glass. 0:00 flashes over and over as guards approach on both sides of the glass, starting to usher the pair out of the room. Slowly standing up, Cairo sees that Ludo resists the guards, meekly pushing against them as he swivels back around to face Cairo. His face is darker still, yet clean, is now moist with the waterfall of tears that had swept the dust and dirt away. Slowly, he picks up the phone again, the guards trying to restrain his arms but in a miserable way. Cairo reciprocates, asking the guard for an extra few seconds, from which they obliged. Ludo’s moan is small and shrill, a fraction of the deep, booming voice that had frightened Cairo into silence before, but the words were clearer than any other that he spoke that day.
“I-Is she happy?”
Cairo’s mouth opens for a second, pausing on his words. Looking down for a second, he hardly thinks.
“I’ll have to ask.”
Ludo sniffs and nods. The guards finally manage to overtake the hulking mass of a man and restrain his arms with oversized silver cuffs that likely did nothing to Ludo but feign restraint.