Roos wasn’t really a waiter. He was a thief. He was the yellowest thief in all of Krimkus, according to the last description the KSS had sent out to their fleet. Not that they did so with much enthusiasm; Roos hadn’t stolen anything more valuable than a rich lady’s precious kulatstone bracelet. Still, the KSS had to alert its fleet if any known criminal, no matter how petty the crime, was possibly traveling around space.
Roos hated space travel. He hated the idea of being stuck in a can of metal for days on end, never knowing when something might go wrong or when exactly he’d be on safe ground again. It made his stomach churn.
Even more than space, he hated Moonport. He hated the swarms of people, Earthlings and Krimkusians alike, that walked around and pointed at things they pretended to like and oohed and ahed at things that didn’t really surprise them. Roos didn’t like people like that. He liked people who had missions, and did nothing but work to carry those missions out. It was why he liked thieving – you had one simple goal and you had to work to figure out how to achieve it. He had grown up in a rich neighborhood on Krimkus but, on days when he was bored and lonely (as being rich often was), he would travel to the poorer parts of the city, and would observe with fascination the street urchins take a gentleman’s money book without even brushing the back of his coat, or remove a necklace from a jewelry store window, long gone by the time the store owner noticed.
He’d spent so much time observing that eventually he picked up a few tricks himself. And, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, he’d somehow landed himself on Moonport, in the service of Balvin, someone he was regretting being associated with more and more each day.
Roos left the restaurant late that night, the same night the Earthling boy had left the restaurant with the Krimkusian girl. Balvin had given him a photograph of the boy, informing him that he would likely go to this particular restaurant, and Roos had sat waiting for him to appear. He’d slipped a recording device in one of the dishes, but after listening to it hadn’t heard anything worth reporting (though he had to present the recording to Balvin anyway). Roos didn’t like spywork – Balvin had promised him there would be lots to steal in this job, and Roos wasn’t sure if Balvin had been lying or had simply miscalculated the details of Roos’s job. In any case, Roos was getting fed up with Balvin, who so far hadn’t done a single thing he’d promised Roos.
The restaurant was closed. Roos waved goodbye to the head chef – a dumb, nearly blind old man who couldn’t tell the difference between Roos and the waiter Balvin had “replaced” – and sat down at one of the tables. It was dark, and the formerly candlelit restaurant, with its cheery golden glow and welcoming ambiance, was no disturbing, dark, and creepy. Roos shivered, but he wasn’t sure if it was because of his surroundings or the fact that he would have to meet with Balvin soon.
After what seemed like an eternity, the door flew open, and there was Balvin, his hood pulled over his head, breathing loudly and heavily. He looked like he had been running, and running fast. Roos began biting his nails.
“Get some light in here,” barked Balvin, slamming the door, but Roos didn’t move. He stared at Balvin, chewing his nails.
“Did you hear me?” Balvin snapped.
“What happened?” asked Roos.
Balvin snarled – he really snarled, like an animal – and stomped over to the lamp on the host’s table. He began fiddling with various plugs and wires, grumbling the whole time, until he finally managed to turn the thing on.
“Well, someone’s in a bad mood,” muttered Roos.
“If I were you, I would shut your mouth, Roos,” said Balvin, without turning around. “Please remember that you are a dirty, good-for-nothing criminal, and if you didn’t come from Krimkusian high society you’d be in the slums or in jail. It’s only your family name that has gotten you out of both. And me – though goodness knows why I ever entertained the thought of using you.”
“You need me,” said Roos. “Nobody suspects me, remember?”
“Yes, well, everything’s blown,” said Balvin. “Everything.”
“Did you try the diplomatic approach, like I said?”
“He has a Krimkusian girl with him,” said Balvin. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have gotten him.”
“If it wasn’t for her, he never would have come to Moonport,” said Roos.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m going to have to speak to Orthelion about this. And meanwhile, I want you on that ship.”
“You want me where?”
“On the ship,” said Balvin slowly and forcefully. “Whatever ship those two are traveling with, I want you on it in the next twenty-four hours.”
“But – it’s probably already left! Long gone!”
“It hasn’t,” said Balvin. “I arranged for a fresh stock of American omelettes to be delivered to Earthling Captain Charles Fischer, who is currently doing a five-year internship with the KSS. He requests them every few months or so. And you, Roos, are going to deliver them.”
Roos felt dizzy and unsure of where he was. Why did Balvin have to drop new tasks on his lap so quickly? “How in the names of the five Krimkusian moons did you manage to arrange this so fast?”
“If you ever, God forbid, manage to get a job like the one I have now,” said Balvin, hurriedly tapping into his cell phone, “you will learn of a very useful and often lifesaving strategy known as a backup plan. Remember, you are not the only assistant I have, just the most unremarkable, which is why I find I need you the most. Despite your ridiculously colored skin, you manage to blend in to your environment through your sheer lack of charisma and personality. My other assistants have been watching and waiting for the various alternative plans I might possibly set into motion to be set into motion, and this is one of them.” He scribbled something on a piece of paper, handed the paper to Roos, and said, “Your name is Pikus, and you are to arrive at the transporting station in ten minutes. The supply of omelettes is Package #2005. You will be accompanying the supply to its destination because you are planning to visit your cousin, who works at the KSS and whom you haven’t seen in over four years.”
“Right,” said Roos. “And what am I really supposed to be doing?”
“Befriend the boy. Get every ounce of information out of him that you can. Try and remove the girl from the equation. And if you blow our cover, I’ll blow your head off. I won’t even consider doing anything else.”
Roos swallowed. He believed Balvin wholeheartedly.
“It might be best if you didn’t talk too much,” said Balvin. “Be a good listener. And remember – ” he tapped his phone – “I’ll be watching. So don’t even think about doing anything idiotic. Got it?”
“Got it,” choked Roos.
“Good. Your time is running short. Get to the transporting station.”
Roos nodded, shoved the paper in his pocket, and hurried out the door.
As he left, he heard Balvin call out from behind him, “And good luck.”
* * *
“Start over,” said Lieutenant Garah. “What did he say to you?”
Nate and Jena had just boarded the ship, and were telling their story to Lieutenant Garah and the Captain. Garah looked genuinely worried, but Malaa seemed unimpressed.
When they had finished retelling the story, Garah said, “Captain – if you don’t mind me saying so – this is serious. This man, whoever he is, is obviously dangerous. He tried to attack Jena.”
Captain Malaa nodded. “It is a concern, but not a large enough one to justify panicking. We’ll send out a description to the Moonport Police and make sure we are immediately suspicious of any crimson-skinned Krimkusian men wearing hoods. In the meantime, I think we should keep Nate on board at all times, just to be safe. And we should congratulate Jena on her excellent performance in the face of adversity. Very well done.”
Jena felt pleased, but Nate looked angry.
“If we see this man again, I want to be there when he’s confronted.”
“Nate, that’s silly,” said Jena. “You probably won’t even see him again. He’s just crazy or something.”
“Captain Malaa, can I have your word that you will let me speak to him?” Nate said, ignoring Jena.
“No, you do not,” said Malaa. “Not until we find out more about what he wants.” Or what you want, she thought to herself.
“Lieutenant Garah, we are expecting a shipment of Captain Fischer’s famous omelettes any minute now,” said Malaa. “Jena, I want you to go with Garah and oversee their arrival. You can escort Nate to his quarters along the way.”
“Yes, Captain,” said Garah, and the three left.
Jena felt Nate’s discomfort radiating from him, and the silence that ensued among the three of them was all at once the most awkward, uncomfortable, almost frightening silence Jena had ever experienced. She knew Nate was upset about the incident, but she had a feeling he was upset for different reasons entirely.
Nate went into his room without a word, and Garah and Jena continued to the shipping room.
Finally, Garah broke the silence. “Jena, do you notice anything strange about Nate? About how he acts, or what he says, or – “
“No,” said Jena. It was a lie.
“This business with the stranger at Moonport is a little disturbing to me, is all,” said Garah. “We don’t know anything about either of them – Nate or the stranger, I mean. It might be best if you, well, kept your distance from the whole situation until we can figure out what’s – “
“Thanks for your concern, Lieutenant,” said Jena, “but Nate hasn’t done anything wrong, and he’s been a good friend to me.”
“I just think – ” said Garah, but fell silent, unable to continue.
The uncomfortable silence took place again, and Jena almost breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the shipping room.
The supply of omelettes was already there, along with the man who had arrived with them. He was a short Krimkusian with yellow skin. Jena had a strange feeling when she saw him, but it was so fleeting and small that she barely noticed it.
“The shipment has arrived – ” the yellow man looked at a piece of paper he had in his pocket – “Lieutenant Garah?”
“That’s me,” said Garah. “And this is our First-officer-in-training, Jena.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said the man, bowing slightly. “I am Pinkus, and I am most pleased to be traveling aboard your vessel.”
“Wait, you’re coming with us?” said Jena.
“Pinkus is visiting his cousin at the KSS,” said Garah.
The yellow man smiled, flashing a row of unremarkable teeth.
“Whom I have not seen in over four years, I might add.”
TO BE CONTINUED