No one was supposed to know who he was. So why did it feel like every eye in the room was on him?
Devren Tenebris strode through the establishment as if he belonged there, allowing the door to slide closed behind him. The glaring eyes of the patrons turned back to their own business, deciding he wasn’t as interesting as they’d hoped. He couldn’t quite blame them, Loeria was not an interesting planet. And interesting things did not happen here—which was why he’d chosen it.
Dev unwound the thermal wrap around his face and removed his goggles, slipping both into deep pockets on the sides of his long trench coat. His dark, black hair was plastered against his skin, and he wiped it back off his brow with a quick swipe. He gritted his teeth. Was it too much to ask for some punctuality? But then again why would a Swosian be on time?
Dev sighed, then walked over to the bar. The bar top was a solid piece of metal, dented and rusted from years of use, and over the years half-drunk patrons had decided to carve their initials into it using blades, irons or whatever. He surveyed the top, deciding it wasn’t worth touching, lest he wanted to risk some sort of infection from an unknown alien agent. As he reached the bar, he was afforded more looks by those consuming their drinks a few seats down. Criminals—all of them. Exactly the kind of people he’d expect here, though he wouldn’t mind rounding the lot of them up and tossing them behind bars. But that wasn’t how things worked in this part of space. He’d come to this place for a specific purpose, and he couldn’t afford to be distracted.
“Water,” Dev said, louder than he intended as the bartender walked by. He caught a furtive glance from the man sitting closest to him, a typical Grum male with his long, sloped forehead and tiny black eyes. Even with his exaggerated features the man raised an eyebrow. The bartender hadn’t even broken her stride at his request and for a moment he considered the fact she hadn’t heard him. He was about to make the request again, when she slid a glass full of brownish, foamy liquid down the countertop where it skidded and nearly tipped over. Somehow, the glass stayed upright, stopping right in front of Dev with only a small amount of its foam sliding down the side.
Dev recognized it as rank, a cheap, foamy alcoholic beverage he had no taste for. He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “I said, water.”
She looked up this time, her long features contorted in amusement as she drew her lips into a smirk while chuckles from the others at the bar filtered down to him. The bartender worked her jaw then shook her head, turning away. She grabbed another glass, shoved it under a spicket and returned to Dev, placing the second glass beside the first one. “Honestly, hun. You might be better off with the rank.”
She walked away to attend to another patron as Dev leaned down to stare at what she’d brought him. The liquid inside the glass was almost as brown as the first and had tiny bits of debris floating in it. As Dev watched, one of the pieces of debris twitched, then moved in a deliberate pattern, slamming against the side of the glass.
“Kinda makes you thirsty, doesn’t it?” the Grum beside him said, a smile in his voice as he drained the last of his own glass.
Dev took in a breath through his nose and left both glasses on the bar. Instead, he sought out a quiet corner of the room, somewhere he could see all the entrances and exits. And somewhere his back would be up against a wall. He knew how they felt about humans here, and his treatment at the bar had been in alignment with his expectations. The room was crowded, but not so crowded every seat was taken. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Dev worked his way to the edge of the room and followed the wall around until he came to an empty table with two chairs. He took the one facing out, toward the bar, noticing the bartender had already emptied both glasses from where he’d stood moments earlier.
Dev took stock. He’d come in through the main door off to the right, flanked by two glass windows too grimy to be transparent anymore. There was another door to his left, and a third behind the bar which would presumably lead to an employees-only area. He took count of the bodies: twenty-seven. Most humanoid, though a few were more exotic. But then again there was nothing that brought everyone together like the consumption of alcohol or kristaxx or whatever it was that gave them their jollies. None of it concerned Dev. He was here for one purpose, and—checking his internal comm—he determined his contact was half an hour late. He’d shown up later himself as this was how these things were done: each side attempting to outmaneuver the other by making them be patient. Exerting a kind of control before the negotiations even started. Normally he was a punctual person, but sometimes the criminal element had to be placated—massaged so they wouldn’t expect him. Had he shown up on time, or, Kor forbid, early, they would have been suspicious. He already suspected one of these people was a scout for his actual contact, though he couldn’t tell who. No one was revealing themselves yet. As soon as Dev got what he needed—
A raucous voice interrupted his thoughts, its owner stumbling toward Dev so fast he thought the man would run right into him. But at the last minute he stabilized himself just enough to collapse in the chair across from Dev, his handled mug slamming on the table with so much force Dev was sure it had broken. “You!” The man pointed to Dev with his free hand. “You, sir, need yourself a drink.”
“Leave me alone,” Dev said. He suspected the man was a Merlovian. Merlovians had thick necks and swept-back shoulders, so they seemed to form a “v” when looking from a distance. His head was flat, with two eyes on either side and a mouth below that led into the wide neck. He’d heard when Merlovians became distraught a long fan would extend that ran from the top of their head halfway down their backs, but Dev had never seen it. Merlovians generally stayed within the borders of the Coalition, but lately there had been more and more expatriates. Most of his kind were traders, though the currency they liked trading the most was information. No one else seemed disturbed by this person, and no one seemed anticipating anything to happen. Which meant this man was probably just drunk and not some kind of plant or infiltrator.
“Nonononono,” he said, slurring his words. “On Cassiopeia everyone drinks.”
“We’re not on Cassiopeia,” Dev remarked.
The man turned his head one way, then whipped it around the other in a comical fashion. Then he turned back to Dev. “I guess we’re not. How’d that happen?” His eyes shot up to the left like he was trying to remember something, but they only continued to roll back until his head followed suit and a second later, a heavy snore emerged from his mouth.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dev muttered under his breath. He reached over and shook the man back awake, the man coughing once as he worked not to choke on his own saliva. “Leave. You’re wasting my time.”
The man shook his head, as if he were trying to clear it. “Fine, fine.” He took a drink from his mug, which had, in fact, formed a small crack in the bottom and was now leaking liquid. “But don’t say no one ever did anything for you!” He stood on wobbly legs, paused, held up one finger to Dev, then walked away, mumbling as his drink continued to slosh out of its broken container.
Dev relaxed his shoulders and sat back. He hadn’t realized how much he’d tensed up. Coming here had required him to be on edge all the time and it was growing tiring. He would be glad when he was done with these people and could go home. At least there, things made more sense.
The drunken man had found some new…friends. He was currently accosting a group of Erustiaans, which wasn’t the smartest move he’d made all night. “You, sirs, need yourselves some more drinks!” As with Dev, the man slammed his mug on their table and it predictably shattered this time, sending pieces of mug and liquid all over the table. The two Erustiaans shot out of their chairs, their massive two-meter tall bodies rippling with anger. As a rule, Erustiaans’ core temperatures were warmer than most other species, and thus they tended to wear few clothes. Typically, they had more weapons on their muscled forms than garments, however Loeria was a cold world and these two had at least opted for light tunics and pants. But even under those, it was impossible not to see the chiseled muscle typical for Erustiaan males. Even harder to miss were the sharp, spiked hoofs that grew out of the backs of their hands. It was often said a fistfight with an Erustiaan was no fight at all since one hit from that hoof had the potential to impale you on the spot. Dev could see from their faces neither was happy with the drunken man’s antics.
However, he seemed oblivious, instead staring at his hand as if he couldn’t quite figure out what had happened to his drink. Meanwhile, the two Erustiaans rounded the table to get to him.
Stay out of it. Dev gritted his teeth, realizing the bar had gone dead quiet as everyone had turned to watch the action. If he didn’t do something, the drunken man would be dead in less than a minute. He hadn’t come here for this—he was meeting someone and it was a meeting he couldn’t miss. Dev hadn’t spent all this time chasing down leads for nothing, and this was the best shot he was going to get at completing his goal. But at the same time, he couldn’t sit back and watch. Not when he knew he could do something about it.
Dev swore under his breath and stood up.