Morning, for once since he arrived, took its sweet... sweet time to come. Those bastard suns knew exactly what they were doing, and, just like everything else, plotted against him. They knew he would be freaked out in this new area, knew he would figure all of this out, and were probably laughing just over the horizon, holding off for as long as they could. The moon was in on it, too, that giant blue pearl gone from the sky long before night fell. It was its new face this week, leaving only the soft light of the stars to twinkle and fill Nick’s heart with dread as he looked out upon the night.
If he had his way, Nick would find the power to strike all of those celestial bastards out of the sky for this. He dared not leave the room the entire night. His prediction was true, hearing them snort and grumble and stir all around all hours of the night. They had adapted to a rotating shift, which only made his mind grind away and buzz in his ear, wondering what was in that forest, what was in this area, to force them to adapt like that. He couldn’t even peg it to a type of creature. Life evolved so erratically on this planet. You had beings who were glorified pacifists to the extreme, cat dancing lines that preyed on giant snake-whales and the pacifists, silver remoras, huge, docile-yet-not insects, sideways strix, and jumping butter scorpions... alongside basic paint horses. In fact, aside the strix, he hadn’t seen a single other bird this entire time. Nor fruit. There were vegetables, but they didn’t seem natural to any area he had seen yet so they must have come from another village. Was there maybe a village that had fruit and haven’t made contact with the others? Then again, after eating the scorpion, he wondered if maybe there was fruit and he simply hasn’t seen it yet. Regardless, he was craving fruit.
Oh, how he came to that deduction far too quick, and far too soon. He glared at the horizon, demanded the sun to show its face, but he knew better. It was still another hour away. So, once more, he was left with his thoughts. Yesterday’s maudlin affair was long since behind, the emotions needed well and spent, leading to only his anger to fuel his ire. That last day at work, all he had worked for; it wasn’t only the job he lost his day. He lost his reference. He lost that bit of work history, the piece he needed to continue his story. If his heart didn’t fail then, his life would have been forfeit regardless since he would be all the way back to square one.
Through no small fault of his own, mind, but those around him. Nick knew he was anal when it came to work, but he was professional about it. He might have been petty, at times, but he was professional about it. He always followed proper procedure when making a complaint, used proper language when voicing that complaint on the online board, and never let it interfere with his work. The same, however, could not be said about those that took offense. Like children, they threw tantrums. They demanded and ranted and stormed through the office, foregoing any sense of professional demeanor and, ultimately, proved how unfit they were for the job.
Yet his “boss” had the nerve to say he didn’t have people skills. Truly? If only he could see Nick now. He had pulled the fleece over two entire cities of another species with his lousy “people skills”, had them eating out of the palm of his hand and treating him like a god among them, but no. He truly was lacking with working with others, with understanding their capacities and their personal lives. That’s the thing with business: it’s cold, logical, and doesn’t give a damn about your feelings. It’s a duty, like any other, and needs to be done, regardless of what you think or say and especially feel.
The worst part of it all? Nick was working at that company, which it was a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a sub-division bought out by another company that was under a mothership conglomerate. Their tasks? Sorting the file work of the subsidiary of a subsidiary... That job was non-essential in every single way. It did not matter to the overall since there were forty others just like it within an hour driving distance that did the exact same thing. That entire place did not matter; the people in it did not matter. So why would Nick care about any of them when he was aiming for a bigger catch far, far away? Why would he exercise his best “people skills” with literal cogs on the workshop floor, the ones that were dropped and forgotten and quickly replaced by others close at-hand, when he was aiming to become the engineer, the mastermind that put those cogs in place? He had less respect for those useless cast offs than those that work at gas stations or supermarkets. At least they helped keep everything running; they were replaceable, sure, the jobs were easy, but they kept the cars rolling and bellies filled. In truth, he would much prefer to work at such locations, instead, but they didn’t exactly add to his resume in any significant way.
But what did it matter now? His entire life was stolen from him, then he was kidnapped and forced to roam this abhorrent world –and he was still craving fruit! It was becoming so hard to sit still, to keep his body rigid as stone, laying in the basket, but, at long last, the sun burst across the horizon. He was on his feet before his sleeping companion could even yawn, charging for the door and throwing it open as he bounded down the hall, through the arch there, and out onto the main stairs. Lon cried out after, which alerted the others of his flight. Doors flew open in his wake, voices shouting after, demanding to know what he was doing while following along.
What a silly thing to ask, he thought, reaching the top of the cave. He stopped, leaning on the side, and looked back to the small herd following him. Though they questioned, there was no fear nor fury to be had in their gaze. No; they held no vehemence for him, not yet. Instead, it appeared they were genuinely curious, eyes brimming with wonder, imagination piqued. Even Lon’s gaze held it, pushing through the others as she rushed to join him.
“It’s quite simple,” he said. “I stayed at Leyshun, so I know how to at least start the fires for the kitchen. I thought I would start with those, to help everyone start the day.”
“A kind gesture,” Lon said, patting his arm. “You are not cook today, though.”
“Are we locked to our roles? Are they static?”
Sad part was they were; he learned that out the hard way in Leyshun. Everyone had their part, and only their part, to play per day. Rylo’s only reason for this was to, “Prevent confusion on who did what task.” Who cared, so long as the task got done? He hoped, though, it was more a “district” norm than an all-encompassing phenomena.
“I do not know how they did it in Leyshun, but only the workers tasked that day may perform those tasks,” Lon answered, and hit the nail on the head for that thought. “It is to account for items and tasks done by everyone on that task for the day.”
It was the way she explained that, though, that made Nick wonder if she believed that or found it just as asinine as him. However, before it could settle in too much, they were pushed aside for the cooks that day to hurry to the kitchen to get the fires going and food cooking. Unlike Leyshun, they had a far larger, varied population to tend to. It wasn’t only the city people, after all, but the traders. There were thirty there that day, their wagons making a complete enclosure around the trading hub. They were exchanging between each other that morning, examining, studying each other’s stock, taking note of the differences, of what they might improve on while, of course, bartering.
These traders stole Nick’s full attention the moment the crowd forgot about him, moving to the tables to wait for their meal. Sadly, that didn’t mean he was left alone. Lon accompanied him as he moved through the market and was growing quite annoyed at how fast he was moving from cart to cart. Nothing was stopping her from looking at her own pace. She didn’t have to keep up with him, but he was a man on a mission. After all, this many traders from so many different towns, regions, walks of life; one of them must have-
“Bingo!” He said, and picked up one of the pink fruits in the trader’s wagon. It was shaped like a pineapple, but was as smooth as an orange. Though it was mostly pink, it had four bright orange rings running horizontally that circled near the top, two bands with a hand’s space between in the middle, and one that circled near the bottom. He pressed his thumb against the skin, running it in between the bands, and found it was as firm as the citrus he compared it to. He looked up at the provider, an older male given how black his hair was and the thick glass creeping onto his pale blue eyes, and held up his other hand. “Do you have a knife?”
“For a Qusan?” The man said, sounding almost bewildered by his request. He leaned forward... and gasped, nodding. “You’re that other they have been talking about. I’m sorry; you simply bite into it. Go on, give it a try; that one’s free.”
He couldn’t argue with that- oh, yes he could! His face felt like it was going to suck itself inside-out from that first chomp. It put pure lemon extract to shame, and made his teeth ache from the sudden, devastating onslaught. It took him a few minutes to swallow what flesh he bit off, having the same texture as a grape, but it took even longer for him to see through the burst of tears that attempted to shield his eyes from that unforgiving assault. When he did, he saw that the inside of the fruit was very fibrous, wrapped around a pit the size of his fist. He reached in, plucked it out- but the trader snatched it out of his grasp, putting it back into his wagon.
“That’ll be fair enough payment,” he said.
“I thought you said-” Nick tried to croak, but his vocal chords were tight, as if scolding him.
“Not for that one. For this.” He handed Nick another fruit, this one reminiscent of a banana. Though this put the simple banana to shame; it had a similar shape, but this fruit didn’t stop at a crescent. Instead, it kept going, spiraling five times to a thick, stubby point. Its skin was burnt orange and had a prickly sensation on the palm, adding up to the idea that he really shouldn’t not be handling it. “Bickaren. You start from the stem- wait. No! Don’t start from the t-”
Humans eat bananas “wrong”. They start from the stem and pull downwards, thus leading to potentially struggling and mushing it. Take a look at monkeys for a proper way, and that way is to start from the “bottom” by giving it a small squeeze and twist then peel from there. Far easier, far cleaner... for bananas.
The bickaren, though reminiscent of a banana, should never be approached like one. For starters, they did not grow in trees but, in truth, flourished from the ground. They start out as little bulbs and grow up to the light, with the older ones having several spirals. This, also, meant they were prime targets for foragers on the ground. Their bright color, their spiny surface, and their saturated sweet smell were enough to detract. However, if something got incredibly generous and, say, went for the tip, the bikaren had one last trick up its sleeve. It could always regrow its spiral, most things that braved it only eating a bit, but its very essence was in that tip, and, unless it was too late, it would not give up without a fight. In the case of any who were foolish enough to go straight for the tip, it had evolved to have a gland that shot out pure, concentrated citric acid, leaving severe burns on whatever it hit –which, in this case, was none other than Lon.
Nick did not know. He did what he learned from the monkeys, and started tugging on the tip, on the root. As it did, he noticed one of the sides start ot engorge, but the trader had not only yelled but also reached out, yanking it to the side and right into poor Lon. She screamed as her hands, her horn and hair hissed and steamed. The skin on her palms bubbled and melted right before Nick’s eyes, splattering to the cobblestone ground as she staggered away, tripping over her feet right before a wagon filled with sharp implements-
Stopped, saved by Nick.
He eased Lon to her feet and guided her from the market stalls, over to the kitchen. The sinks were full of clean water, sullied with blood and muck as he helped clear off her hands and the side of her head. Thankfully, the acid only took a bit of her hair and the last spiral of her left horn, but it had started to eat into her cheek, as well, bubbling softly as he gently cleaned it off. He ripped a bit of his own tunic off to to dry her off, being as careful as he could, shushing her as she still cried and sniffled.
He ripped off a few more strips and wrapped her hands in it, making sure it was as flush as he could to the folds, then pressed them together, holding them.
“There,” he said. “It’s the best I can do, but it could have been a lot worse.
“Th... thank you,” she said. In truth, he should be thanking her. And the trader. Nick would need to talk with him later about procuring even more of the fine fruit, as well as find whichever trader came from the town that made glass so he could start something truly inspiring. For now, though, he will soak up the praise and compliments of his fast thinking... and enjoy the condemnation of the trader for not warning him sooner, all before breakfast no less. It was going to be a good day.