Zeegon climbed the final ramp and stepped out into the light. Already unwrapping his lunch, he ambled along the gentle slope and groaned his way into a sitting position on the warm metal. He looked up at the sky and tried to figure out when sitting down on anything but a comfy chair had become almost more trouble than it was worth.
“Man, fuck getting old,” he grumbled. “Fuck Molren and their five damned millennia. Fuck aki’Drednanth and their new damned bodies all the time. Also fuck actual damned immortals most of all,” he finished peeling open the steaming wrapping membrane as it finished transforming into leaf-pastry, and picked out a chunk of meat in gravy. “Smumbo Cups can stay, though,” he conceded, and chewed. He didn’t care what they said. He could taste the near-sentience and self-awareness of the things they made them from. And he was shockingly fine with it.
He heard the light echo of footsteps on the roof, and turned to see an alien sidling towards him.
This one was bipedal, with three pairs of small, many-jointed arms folded neatly up against its abdomen. A shiny and rather tasteless suit of metallic blue material covered most of its body aside from head and smooth grey fingers. The head itself was wide and flat, and seemed to be composed mostly of overlapping plates of grey leather with a row of beady black eyes peeping out from between them. Nevertheless, it somehow managed to look friendly.
He had absolutely no idea what the alien was. But the beauty of it was, it didn’t matter. There were no aliens out here. Everyone was one species. Corny but true.
“Chuda po,” the alien said.
“Uh, Smumbo Cup,” Zeegon replied, raising his lunch in salute.
“Chuda … po,” the alien repeated with clear uncertainty, and raised and waved its little column of left hands in unison.
It was clearly a greeting. “Chuda po,” Zeegon said dutifully, “but yeah, sorry, I can’t speak whatever that is. I are tiny Xidhlet,” he offered wretchedly.
The alien made a flappy coughing sound that he guessed was a laugh. “Tiny Xidhlet,” it said, switching to Xidh. “I […] this funny. Do you […]? […]?” it paused expectantly.
“Didn’t catch much of that.”
The alien pulled out a weird little twisty device and angled it backwards and forwards between them in a lower hand. When it spoke again, it was in flawless AstroCorps standard. It even had a Volan accent. “You are one of them,” it said. “A human. A living human. Real. From the Playground.”
“Yep,” he said. “In the flesh.”
“My name is Kolak Moy,” the alien said. “It means Child of a Fallen Race, Triumphant … in a language that is a bit too old for this translator to recognise,” it added with another flappy laugh.
“Zeegon,” Zeegon said.
“Zeegon,” Kolak Moy said with great relish. “What does it mean?”
Zeegon took a bite of his Smumbo Cup and chewed it as he considered his options.
“Nothing,” he eventually said.
“But you are one of them,” Kolak Moy insisted. It crept closer, and when Zeegon shuffled a little to one side and made a brief welcoming gesture, hurried across and folded itself intricately into a crouch by the human’s side. “The crew of General Moral Decay (Alcohol). From the Playground.”
Of course, Zeegon thought. They always want to hear about the brave and dashing Blaran. No, wait – the brave and dashing Molran. Anyone would think he was our Captain. Typical.
“Yup,” he replied.
“Why are you here?” Kolak Moy asked.
Zeegon looked around, taking in the slopes and curves of the shantytown that were visible from this vantage point, the infinite blue vault of the sky above. He took another casual bite of his lunch.
“I live here,” he said simply.
“Does General Moral-”
“Oh,” Kolak Moy seemed to fold in on itself a little. Then it looked across at him with bright inquisitiveness unmistakable in its glossy black eyes. Zeegon looked into those eyes, and saw the gaping deformed gills of a Flesh-Eater. It only lasted a moment, and then it went away … but his hand was shaking as he raised the Smumbo Cup for another bite. “Where are your friends?” the alien asked.
“Most of them?” Zeegon said. “Dead.”
“Oh,” Kolak Moy said again.
In the silence that followed, a hopper rose from a storage block a few sections away. It juddered into the air, went vub-vub-vub-vub for a few seconds before going clonk – that’s a busted mixing vent, Zeegon thought, I could fix that in half an hour but the sketchy fucks who run the shops around here will take a week and charge fifty times what it’s worth – and labouring away across the rooftops. The hopper’s digestive issues were not quite loud enough to drown out the music playing from its open passenger window. Zeegon recognised Bonkin’ on the Wossname, by Son of Gratch. Weirdly catchy tune.
“So what brings you out here, K-Moy?” he took pity and asked. For a heap of grey leather with some black marbles folded into it, the alien’s face sure could look downcast.
“I am from the next arc across and out, and am visiting family in Turgid Stana’s section,” Kolak Moy cheered up immediately. “My second child’s third child’s second wife’s brother’s null-sibling’s contract owner is enjoying a heavy shedding, and we have a party to eat the many, many leavings.”
“So glad I asked,” Zeegon looked down, and quite deliberately took another large bite of his Smumbo Cup. “And you didn’t realise a fr – a former crewmate of General Moral Decay (Alcohol) lived nearby?”
“No,” Kolak Moy said earnestly, then flappy-cough-laughed again. “My second child’s third child’s second wife’s brother’s null-sibling’s contract owner’s workmate said to me that renowned waste sculptor Stanky Stanky Norias lives two sections over, but said nothing about there being a human from the Playground.”
“To be fair, I would’ve led with Stank too,” Zeegon said. “She’s good people.”
“I am just surprised to find you out here,” Kolak Moy confessed. “I thought you were big superstars.”
“Well, that was like a billion years ago in city-time,” Zeegon said, and popped the last folded piece of meat and pastry in his mouth. “Plus, maybe the whole superstar thing is why I’m out here.”
“I am bothering you when you want seclusion.”
“Nah, it’s alright,” Zeegon said with a little sigh. “It’s nice to talk with folks sometimes.”
The human and that alien – the two villagers – sat in companionable silence for a while, watching the endless, featureless blue. Finally, Kolak Moy gathered its nerve and spoke again.
“What is it like inside the Dest-”
“Say,” Zeegon pushed himself to his feet with a muffled groan. Man, fuck getting old. “How would you like it if we went down and I introduced you to Stanky Stanky Norias?”