Chapter 13

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Runt clutched his iced coffee closer to his body, tapping the volume up a little on his headphones as he tried to drown out the thunder of old rails and new workers. Body odor ruined the sharp and comforting smell of his alcoholic coffee, and the sweaty, stained seat he'd had to take on the unhappy metro ride was making his pants ride up his tail.

Nothing about heading to the port gave Runt joy.

Out the grime-slicked window across from Runt, he could make out the searingly hot New Medina port. The misshapen control towers and angular docking scaffolds rose up to half the height of the skyscrapers that graced the horizon at Runt's back. Yet, these crooked towers were the heart of the planet. The commerce and the value that New Medina added to the galaxy all flowed through those towers, lifted into the sky by countless freighters and tugs.

He looked at the port with apprehension as a sweaty human scooted closer still.

The port was also where the holographic meeting rooms were.

He had a bad feeling about this one.

Within minutes, the cackle of the rails had stopped and given way to a symphony of voices and static-laced PA announcements. He'd abandoned his mostly-downed coffee at an overfilled trash can after having it jostled out of his hand for the second time. He was tempted to put his headphones on, drop to all fours, and scramble through the crowd like most of his kind did.

But, he wasn't like most of his kind.

As Runt watched, he saw another Springer male put his head down and plow through the throbbing crowd like a battleship through water. Runt, though, was half that size. He wouldn't be plowing through anything at this rate, except his anxiety medication.

But he did have a way around.

Just because he was small didn't mean he wasn't clever.

Runt glanced up to make sure he was clear, and cocked his legs.

In one powerful lunge, Runt rocketed up out of the crowd and latched tightly onto the bare steel rafters above. His pulse barely ticked up as he looked over his shoulder as the small plug of bare concrete he'd occupied filled up with bodies.

He shivered as he watched a broad shouldered human cut through the crowd below him. He felt a pang of envy. The men... they belonged down there. But here he was, on the ceiling.

He was just...

Out of place.

Runt twisted around and made sure his backpack was tight. With a pivot of his tail, he dropped himself to upside down, hanging comfortably from the ceiling. Not an uncommon way for Springers to travel, really. But ceilings on New Medina weren't made for it like they were back on his homeworld. He traveled like this out of necessity. On the floor, he was his namesake. A runt. The other males of his species just pushed their way through the crowd. He was just part of the shuffle. Because he was small.

Painfully so.

Runt started to skirt above the crowd, and as he did so, he thanked the stars for Quixxa. He glanced down at the crowd below, and imagined himself in it.

He shivered.

His anxiety and his size, both of which would cripple him in the crowd, were intimately linked. And thank goodness that Quixxa was willing to help him safely and quietly get his medication.

He'd needed it ever since he'd been born.

He leapt across a hall, latching onto a beam and swinging for a moment.

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