I finally found one of the kitchens, which was arranged more like a cafeteria than anything; a great, wide room full of stools, tables and chairs, reflective floors, and like the rest of the facility’s architecture, massive windows from which the bright atmosphere of Voren painted the room. Despite the size of the place, when I hesitantly entered I saw no more than ten humans in various uniforms at the tables. I didn’t pay them much attention at first, instead turning my gaze towards the walls which were lined with machines designed to dispense food and drink.

I grabbed myself a plate and a tall glass and started dishing up some food for myself, conscious of, but trying to ignore, the attention my presence was attracting. I made sure to grab a fork; I learned the hard way while at a restaurant back on Earth that humans usually found it rude to see skythers using their mandibles instead of their hands. I wished to avoid another awkward social encounter like that, and ever since I’d been conscious of how I ate around humans.

The food dispensers didn’t require any credits, thankfully. It was a reminder that this was a government funded station, the purpose of which was more than simply to make money; whatever was going on here, its cause was worth the risk of failure and losing resources. This was the only settlement on Voren, and unless you were going off-world just for lunch, you’d be out of luck if the station didn’t provide food. I was sure they had food synthesizers installed for an operation like this, since importing food out here would have been quite an ordeal. I was honestly impressed at the selection and quality of the food as well. Though they of course didn’t have any skyther dishes, they had some of my favourite human foods, including synthesized rice and chicken. But skythers need much less food than humans. Liquids are our main source of energy, especially sugar water. So when I noticed that they had root beer, my favourite human drink, I let out a stifled “yes!” I was sure to grab a straw, as was customary for such a drink.

I poured myself a root beer, enjoying the sound of the dispenser and the rising pitch of the liquid filling my glass. I moved my ears forward so they dangled on either side of the dispenser to get a better listening angle. Perhaps it was just my personality, but I found that I was often captivated by things which others referred to as mundane.

When I was young, I would eagerly tell my mother that my curiosity made me a perfect explorer, and she always responded the same way. “If there’s anyone who can explore,” she would say, “it’s my son, Osax.” I often wondered if she really meant it, encouraging me to try new things, or if she was simply too afraid of disempowering me with a more honest outlook. From her perspective, I had a lot of expectations to live up to, being her son, and the Prince of Astraloth. But she hated to force them on me, otherwise I never would have gotten to where I was: drinking root beer at a classified TAU station on Voren, graduated from schools on both Astraloth and Earth, on a mission as a loro archaeologist.

I wasted no time afterwards looking for a place to sit, preferring those near the windows. It was at that moment, after I had gotten my food, that I noticed a human sitting alone, silhouetted against the bright light from the outside. She was looking straight at me.

As I approached and her figure became clearer to me, I realized she was different from the others. I wasn’t sure how I hadn’t noticed her sooner. She could only have been K.

Her skin was an azure blue colour, the light from the window shining off its texture. Her overall body, though shorter than mine, was larger than an average human, probably taller than six feet, and with a muscular build. She didn’t look like a body builder (and I was very familiar with what body builders looked like; I had studied the concept in my free time because it intrigued me), but her muscles were nonetheless very well defined, and looked well prepared for all practical uses. She was wearing tall combat boots, pants, and some kind of sleeveless armoured vest. Though her body was symmetrical overall, she had bone-like horns of a light blue colour jutting from her shoulders, forearm, and fists, which appeared different on each arm.

Despite this, her head appeared fairly symmetrical, with two bull-like horns protruding from the top sides of her head above her ears. From the top of her nose bridge began a jagged ridge which traced a central line up her forehead, and I assumed continued down her spine. She had no hair on her head, aside from thick, dark eyebrows, and at the corner of each eyebrow extended more small horns. Her cheeks were slightly rounded, and her jawline was sharp and pronounced. Two of her teeth stuck out over her top lip from her bottom, her mandibular canines judging from their placement.

Her face told me that she was angry about something. Still, she was staring at me, and I knew it would be more awkward if I didn’t say anything at all.

Are you K, by any chance?” I tried to speak in my most nonchalant voice. I was eager to see how she would respond.

Her deep orange eyes, an unusual colour for a human, shifted between each of my own. She seemed to loosen up a little, and leaned back in her seat, putting her arms behind her head. At last she spoke, after eyeing me up and down for a good long while.

What’s it to you?” she asked, bluntly. She continued to stare at me. She was testing me, and she knew I was doing the same to her.

I decided to take my chances and sit down beside her. She seemed mildly impressed at my lack of manners, a slight smile flashed across her face for a second.

My name is Talcorosax,” I said, “I came here to investigate the loro ruins.” She seemed uninterested. “And though I thought I’d be going alone,” I added, “Director Aali informed me that he would be sending you along with me.”

She stayed fairly motionless as I said this. Her eyes looked away briefly. Then, she sat forward, put her arms on the table, and looked into my eyes again. She was waiting for me to continue.

I leaned a little closer as well, trying to meet her unspoken social challenges. I decided I would challenge her as well. “What’s your problem with skythers?” I asked, knowing it was a risky thing to say upfront. Without waiting for a response, I began casually sipping on my root beer, narrowing my eyes a little. I hoped she could sense that my aggression was partially a show; I didn’t want to accidentally get on her bad side by pushing too far.

She relaxed a little, leaning back once more. “No problem with skythers. Never seen one in person until now.” She paused for a brief moment. “My problem is with people who think they can figure the world out just by looking at it.” She raised an eyebrow at me, questioningly.

And I suppose you think I’m that kind of person?” I said, and then added, “Just by looking at me?”

She thought for a moment, motionless. Then, she started chuckling quietly, and picked up her glass, before saying “Ah shit, I’m no good at these mind battles.” She took a sip. “You should challenge me to an arm wrestle, see who wins that.”

I relaxed in my seat, and took another sip of root beer, my other hand attempting to spear some rice with my fork. “A pleasure to meet you, K. I was a little worried you wouldn’t want to talk to me there, so I had to break the ice.”

She looked up at me after stuffing some food into her mouth and mumbled “You’re assuming I want to talk to you now?”

I’m assuming if you didn’t want to talk, you wouldn’t be.”

She shrugged. I think the words she said next were “fair enough,” though it was hard to understand her with her mouth full.

With her mouth finally empty she said, “So, what’s your deal? You think you’re some sort of detective, here to solve the world’s mysteries? Is it mandatory that as soon as anyone finds some ancient junk, they gotta send some expert to come over and show us idiots what’s going on?”

Well,” I responded thoughtfully, “as part of the treaty between Astraloth and Earth, it is mandated that any discoveries pertaining to ancient space faring civilizations, of which so far we’ve only discovered the loro, are reported back to both TAU and skyther authorities as soon as possible. It’s a sort of insurance so that neither group discovers some advanced technology and-”

And uses it to destroy the other?”

I thought for a moment. “Essentially, yes.” I took a bite of ‘chicken’ before continuing. “After talking to the Director, I’m sure he wishes that weren’t the case. It seems he doesn’t want any outsiders interfering with operations here, and would have rather kept the loro ruins secret, or dealt with them himself. It’s not like if he broke the law it would warrant a Code-Alpha emergency or anything… nothing that extreme. But he’s smart enough to know that breaking a law like that, once discovered, would seriously ruin his career, possibly result in jail time, and probably put the station here in jeopardy.” I leaned forward. “What exactly goes on here anyway?”

K looked deep in thought. “Well, I probably don’t know much more than you, and to be honest, what I do know is pretty boring. It’s a multipurpose station, for all sorts of science-y things.” She waved her hands in the air, vaguely. “I don’t know. They study the planet, do experiments, and other things.”

Then what do you do here?” I asked.

She laughed. “That’s a damn good question.” She picked up her drink and began swirling it around, before taking a sip. I had a bit more of my own drink. “We have soldiers here mostly to protect against pirates. An installation like this has a lot of valuable equipment in the eyes of a scavenger.”

She looked outside. “Me personally, when I’m not wasting my time sitting around, or arguing with the Director, I’m getting sent off to escort scientists like you in the snow.” She looked at me with a mischievous smirk on her face. “I think the Director just doesn’t know what to do with me, and prefers the peace and quiet of the place when I’m gone.”

Well, have your services been helpful in your time here?”

She let out a laugh, though I’m not sure what she found funny. “Oh yeah, from time to time. I’ve had to kill my fair share of dangerous predators on the surface. Nothing too dangerous, though.” She leaned forward once again. “If you ask me, this place is a lot more boring than it’s made out to be.”

I got the sense K was being genuine, but it only increased my suspicions of the place.

So what’d you say your name was again?”

Talcorosax,” I replied.

She shook her head. “How about Talco?”

You can call me Osax, if you like.”

Alright,” she said. “Osax. That’s a much better name, where’d you get it?”

Well, my mother used to call me that.”

Your mother?” K chuckled. “If she came up with the name Osax, why did she choose to name you Talco-bo-so, or whatever.” She sipped some of her drink, still eyeing me. “Osax is a much better name. Short and sweet.”

Well,” I replied slowly, “it was my father who named me.”

She shouldn’t have let him!” K folded her hands together and stretched out her arms. My eyes were drawn to the pale blue spikes on her shoulders as her muscles flexed. I was formulating an opinion of her, and it was so far mostly positive. Intriguing, if nothing else.

Well,” said K, “nice meeting you too, Osax.” She gestured to shake my hand. I placed my drink on the table, and returned the gesture, careful not to wrap my relatively long fingers over the spikes on the back of her hand- not that they were sharp.

Her grip was incredibly tight, and I winced, letting go long before she did. When she noticed my eyes squinting and my ears peeling back, she released me. Her face flashed an apology, then hardened. She looked away.

A hollow feeling crept into my chest. I rubbed my crushed hand as the pain slowly receded. Despite her appearances I had almost convinced myself that she was normal, but I began to realize just how little I understood about her. I tried contemplating what it would be like to exist as the result of an experiment. But I couldn’t imagine it.

After a long moment of silence, K turned her body to me again. She looked down at her glass and picked it up. She shook its contents a little, peering into her nearly empty drink, before finally raising it to her lips and emptying it completely. When she put the empty glass back on the table and finally looked at me, she was smirking slightly.

I mindlessly sipped my root beer. “Well,” I said, “when are you prepared to leave?”


About the author

Seb Woodland

Bio: I'm a writer, game developer, artist, and musician. Just a creative guy working on art and trying to make his way in the world.

-There is always hope-

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