6 || The Hustle

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A gentle rumbling jars Nicholas from his dream, leaving the room a blurry mess. He reaches a hand up to rub the sleep out of his eyes to get focus back. It takes a moment for him to remember what had happened leading up to this point, and it's difficult to tell how long he'd been asleep. Everyone else seems to be heavier sleepers compared to him, no doubt exhausted from their ordeal and lured to slumber with full stomachs. The only other one awake is Tah-Kuell, who peers out the door on to the street as things start to get busy again.

"Oh. You're awake," Tah-Kuell smiles as he notices movement, looking back inside. "You must have been more fatigued than I'd anticipated. You and your friends slept all night."

"No offense or anything, but.." Nicholas responds, slowly pushing his way to a stand. ".. I was hoping that all this was a crazy fever dream and I was going to wake up in the hospital or something."

For a moment, Tah-Kuell's confusion is obvious on his face, but then it suddenly dawns on him. "Ahh. Yes." He looks back at Nicholas and smiles. "Disease for my species has all but been eradicated. Very, very rare for one of my kind to get sick anymore."

"Must be nice," Nicholas yawns, then stretching. "So.. what's on the agenda, then?"

"While you were all sleeping, I've been tracking ships in the system as part of my duties, including your vessel. It's already on its way back. In fact, it never left the system. I followed the path it is taking through one of my observation screens, and based on its consistent speed, by my calculations, it'll be here in less than a day. Probably a few hours from now. Likely where it left. We'll need supplies for sure if you are to get back on it. Food to keep you all going, because who knows how long it'll be until you can visit an inhabited planet again," Tah-Kuell explains, looking back toward Nicholas. "I will assist you in this process, but on one condition."

Nicholas folds his arms across his chest, then frowns. If not for Tah-Kuell's assistance and hospitality, they'd have been in a much worse situation. He decides to be receptive to the alien's request, nodding his head. "Okay? I'm listening."

"Take me with you." Tah-Kuell says, clearly eager for a positive remark from Nicholas. "I've been on this planet for many years, and.. I'll admit, things are very boring here. The spark is gone. One can only study the inhabitants for so long." He releases a sigh, looking back out the door again. He seems to be watching the growing foot traffic as the market awakens from its own slumber. "Getting anywhere else besides other backwater planets like these is basically impossible, especially since my budget is.." He pauses. ".. sufficient to gather supplies, but not so much to buy passage off world."

"I see." Nicholas scratches his neck softly, looking back at the others, who are still sleeping. "I'd have to discuss it with everyone else, but I don't see it being a problem if we all come to an agreement."

"I'll be quite a boon for your journey. I'm well-versed in...well, the Verse," Tah-Kuell chuckles at his own rhyme. "And I speak a multitude of commonly spoken languages. Also English, of course. It should make your trip much smoother."

Nicholas sighs, quietly mulling things over. "Alright, well.. let's go get the supplies first, give everyone a chance to wake up. Once everyone's awake, we'll talk about it."

Tah-Kuell nods and motions toward the door, where he takes the lead by leaving first. Once Nicholas follows and passes the threshold, the door swishes closed behind him, giving the remaining four teenagers some measure of privacy as they sleep inside.

"I think that's fair." Tah-Kuell slows to allow Nicholas to catch up, and the two walk side-by- side through the marketplace. "This planet is known as Ziron Eight." He motions toward a small group of the small, spiky red aliens walking about. "Zironians are the native species on this planet, as with every other planet in this system. They're mostly harmless, and until very recently on the universal timescale, they stopped dwelling underground and began to build above ground. Zironians have long, intricate tunnel work that leads to the core of the planet. Not to worry, though, they can handle the heat. Many Zironians work as what you'd call blacksmiths, smelting metal in the core. Zironian metal alloys are quite powerful, and most machines in the Verse utilize them because they're strong and reliable."

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