“You’re late,” Yadek said.
I wasn’t, and I knew it. He was trying to throw me off. He always did that when he didn’t want me asking questions about what I had smuggled him. “We both know that’s a lie,” I said more to assure myself that I didn’t care what he thought than to reassure him I didn’t care what he had bought.
The Pantechnian snorted in that annoyed fashion humans do when they’re not amused with your antics and said, “You’re later than I’d like.” That’s an unsettling sight coming from one of us. It just didn’t look right coming from something with our short builds, sparse features, or large heads. We may be human child sized but not species looks natural when acting like another. It turned my stomach, but I didn my best to hide it.
“Sure. Sure,” I said. “We all want our deliveries yesterday.” There was something about his tone I didn’t like. Something off compared to normal.
Yadek and I went a long way back. He was a Pantechnian with particular tastes. Specifically tastes for rare and expensive Tarkellian herbs. When religious war had broken out between the Casomere Intergalactic Federation and the Tarkellian Empire, over trees of all things, he needed someone willing to smuggle them for him. It was expensive and risky business. I risked losing my ship and crew every time I took an order, but the money was good and the crew none the wiser.
He was off today. Maybe it was something about the way he held himself that hinted at a feeling of defeat or the way his shoulders were more tense than normal. Whatever it was he stuck out like a beacon in the sea of humans that were the spaceport’s crowds. It felt like a set up. I tried to look him in his wide blue speckled eyes but he evaded. So that’s how it was.
I wanted to look around to see where the customs agents would be coming from. It was a paranoid urge. The kind of cold fear that bursts into your chest and makes you want to do something you know is stupid. Humans almost always give in to the urge. The more primitive species gave in to their emotional urges with alarming frequency. I, on the other hand, was above that. Above them. Instead of craning my neck and giving a guilty look I pushed forward in relentless pursuit of pay day. If it were a trap, I’d work through it.
I mentally braced myself for impact as I handed him the package, disguised as a birthday gift for the daughter he didn’t have. My breath held in my chest for several long moments. The anxiety building as we went through the motions of him scanning my bank chip, transferring the pay, and discussing practiced pleasantries.
Only when he started to walk away did I look around. Canada’s largest spaceport Old Growth Station was as busy as any other day. Just people busy with their own lives. Not a single one paying me any more heed than normal. I scanned around looking for the customs agents who should have been homing in by now if this were a trap. When I saw none something in my gut dropped. I ran toward Yadek and grabbed him by the shoulder.
He whirled around eyes wide with a mix of panic and anger. It lingered there for longer than it should have with a Pantechnian. A lot longer. I grew worried he might see the suspicion on my face, but if he did, he didn’t let it show. We stared into each other’s eyes for several seconds, the speckles kaleidoscoping as emotions ran through him, before he spoke. “Garul. You seem sick. I’d suggest taking time off to recover.” He pulled away from me before I could respond. There was a hard stiffness to him I hadn’t seen before.
My skin crawled. Something was very wrong. It wasn’t the set up I was expecting. If it had been I could have handled it, or at least been prepared. You take risks in my line of work. If a client sells you out to save their own hide you understand it’s business and nothing personal. The way he encouraged me to leave wasn’t like that. It chilled me to my very bone. I took a few moments to gather myself, slow my breathing and heart rate. This wasn’t the time to be brash. I needed to think this through.
If Yadek had been compromised, and I was almost certain he had been, then I didn’t need to know how. I didn’t need to know why. At least I didn’t care why. The thing I needed was much simpler than that. As simple as this backwater planet with all its natural splendor in tact. What I needed was as simple as leaving.