The sheer size of the open market worked against me. One thing worked for me though—racial prejudice. The Abominators had used humans as their superpowered stormtroopers before the Xiniti destroyed them. Even though humans and aliens seemed to interact peacefully here on the edge of both human and Alliance space, the aliens gave humans extra space.
It hadn’t been so obvious on the trains where different cars were designed for different species’ needs (chlorine atmosphere, for example, or chair sizes), but the aliens gave humans enough space for three. I didn’t blame them either. Many of the humans here weren’t normal. They looked like supers—whether it was due to glowing eyes, bulging muscles, or wings. Whatever their looks, the humans here wore pistols on the belts, rifles across their backs, and wore armor.
“Do you think you can find her? I can take a few of the bots.” Marcus pulled out his own pair of sunglasses.
We stood next to the base of one of the silver gray towers, flipping from the view of one spybot to another. Above us, the trains hummed, moving away from or into the station above us. Smells of spices, grilled meat, and body odors from aliens and humans alike filled the area. Given the strangeness of some smells, I couldn’t be sure.
No one interrupted us. I imagined it was because we were visibly human in addition to showing up as Xiniti citizens to anyone with an implant.
After a time, Marcus said, “I think I found her. I’ll send you coordinates.”
He sent me video along with the coordinates. Tikki stood in front of one of the floating boxes I’d seen earlier except electronic goods displayed across the top. Two bipedal slugs stood behind it, talking to customers.
“That looks like her,” I said. She wore the same green and white jumpsuit as in the pictures, holding a small cylinder and asking questions of one of the slugs. Whatever the slug said persuaded her to buy. She pulled a device from her pouch, and tapped on it. When she was done, she pocketed both devices.
As she stepped away from the booth, we got to see the other side of hatred for humans. Three hrrnna, horselike aliens the size of ponies, blocked her way. Eight limbed, their front two forelimbs were ready to grab.
She started talking to them, smiling, but her eyes darted between them.
Marcus said, “I’m going,” and wings erupted from his back, his costume parting as they extended. It was good to see that it worked. Programming the costume to adjust to his shapeshifting had been a pain.
I tapped my palm and a helmet extended from my costume and surrounded my head, absorbing my sunglasses. A glance around me confirmed that no one was close, so I activated the rocket pack and shot into the air.
I angled myself forward because I wanted to avoid the level’s ceiling, wheeling around because the coordinates Marcus gave me placed her behind me and to the right. I called back all the spybots, ordering any that were low on fuel back into my pouch. The rest were to fly over to where Tikki stood and give me a 360 degree view of what was around her so that I’d have warning if the hrrnna had friends.
I’d shrunk the window showing Tikki and turned it translucent so that it wasn’t as much of a distraction. Out of the corner of my eye though, I still watched it. A few seconds into my flight and about the time that I passed Marcus, the situation changed. One of the passersby stopped to stand next to Tikki and talked with the Hrrnna.
“Stand” wasn’t the best description though. It was a plant riding in a floating pot. It floated. I wasn’t sure if this was the same plant I’d seen before, but it was of the same species. Several blade-like leaves grew out around a stalk in the middle of the pot. The leaves operated the pot’s controls. Small branches grew out of the stalk. The branches rustled as it faced the hrrnna.
I wished that the spybots were closer so we could get sound, but I didn’t have time to fiddle with them. I’d made it there, allowing me to discover that the spybots had missed an important detail—there were more aliens behind Tikki and the plant in addition to the hrrnna in front. My implant labeled the two bear-like ones with dual segment torsos and six limbs “waroo.”
I landed between Tikki and the waroo, saying, “Your people sent me to help. They’re just about to leave,” to Tikki.
She said, “Thank you. These sophonts were just about to let us go.”
One of the waroo said, “Going to rip you to bits, murderers.”
The plant’s fronds rustled and my implant translated them as, “I hope you brought guns.” It also labeled the plant as an “Emperor’s walking blade” plant.
“Kind of,” I said.
Marcus landed next to me, absorbing the wings back into his body.
The hrrnna hissed and the waroo backed up a step. Interesting, I thought. Shapeshifters get extra points for scariness around these guys—and then I remembered that the Abominators had been gray skinned shapeshifters. Of course, Marcus didn’t look like an Abominator. They’d been five limbed and hadn’t been shaped at all like a human, but once transformed Marcus had grey skin and however many limbs he wanted. Seeing him couldn’t calm things down at all.
“Hey,” I said, “we’re not here to fight you, but as members of the Xiniti nation we’re here to protect her. So if you attack, we will, and you’ll be seen as criminals in the eyes of the Alliance.”
“Won’t be much of a change,” one of the waroo growled and they charged us. So did the hrrnna.
“Dammit,” the plant said, and a turret popped out of the bottom of its pot.