Kao sat uncomfortably. The Spiral served mostly off-worlders, but it was far from the Draconis League worlds, and rarely had to accommodate his kind. He dwarfed the seat made for particularly obese Goffans, and even seated he was taller than most of the standing patrons. Looking around, he saw that there were only a few Liskani in the bar, despite Kriss being a Liskani world. He saw a group of Goffan merchants celebrating some large haul and nervously eyeing the Jatta explorers seated only a couple of tables away, chattering away about their recent journey, and where they would go next. Kao had always liked the little ratlings, but you had to be careful that your belongings didn’t end up in their pockets if you took them aboard.
In the corner, he saw a couple of shady characters hatching some kind of deal. The one on the left was very fond of his or her privacy, and the cloak that covered its features was soaked in perfume. Kao would be surprised if anyone in the bar could even tell what species the patron was, let alone who. The other was a Liskani that Kao knew by reputation. He was called Rake, and if he was here, it was a sure bet the Red Dawn was in system. Kao ignored the cloaked figure. If the patron wanted to be involved with pirates, Kao had no desire to get himself mixed up in their business.
He gestured for another drink, and he was surprised to see that the barmaid who came to serve him was an Alvani girl. She was young, and was probably attractive by Alvani standards. Draak had other ideas about beauty.
“What can I get you?” There was no hint of disgust, so common among the ‘fair’ races when looking on a Draak. She even looked him right in the eyes. It surprised Kao. Not many of her kind would even let themselves be in the same room as a ‘demon’ for fear of being tainted by proximity.
“Another of the same.”
“One Blue Goro coming right up.” She twisted away, and Kao noticed that her hair was nearly shaved off. That could only mean she was low-born, probably didn’t even have the gift. Or she was a slave, but there was no collar. She was a curiosity, and Kao couldn’t help but wonder how she had ended up serving drinks to off-worlders in a Liskani bar.
He was so distracted by his curiosity that he didn’t notice the newcomer before the young Leonathi took the seat next to him. She was dressed as a peasant, but the way she held herself spoke of higher birth. She was wearing a rain cloak, but that was hardly surprising as it was raining quite heavily outside.
Her features marked her as coreworld, from one of the central worlds of the Leonathi Empire, her golden fur giving away her parentage despite her attempt to hide her nobility. Her speech was heavily accented with their high speech. Which could only mean that she came from a very noble house among her people.
Kao waited for her to speak. She obviously had come to seek him out for a reason, and he was content to wait until she told him what that reason was.
Kao nodded, confirming his identity.
“I have need to charter your ship.”
“For how long a journey?”
“I need to get to Siif.”
Kao thought about that. The journey would take at least three weeks. That would come to about 6,000 credits standard fare.
“But I’d like to avoid Leonathi space.”
Kao started. That changed everything. If she wanted to avoid her own kind then that could bring him some serious problems. Kao couldn’t afford to make powerful enemies among the Leonathi. He spent too much time in their space to have to dodge the authorities.
“I understand that there will be some danger.”
Kao snorted. Danger was an understatement. If he were to take her to Siif without venturing into Leonathi space there were only two other alternatives. Go through the warzone that was heating between the Leonathi and the Warrulf and pray no one spotted him, or go through Warrulf space with a Leonathi noblewoman as a passenger. It didn’t bear thinking about skimming the vortex and risking the wrath of the pirate lords. He wasn’t exactly popular there.
“So I am willing to pay 10,000 credits.”
Kao was given a reprieve from responding when the Alvani girl came back with his drink. She looked at the Leonathi woman a moment, who returned the gaze unflinchingly, but didn’t even ask if she wanted anything before leaving as quietly as she had arrived. Interesting. Kao sipped his drink and considered just walking away from this offer. He could always find another one, but probably for a lot less profit.
The Leonathi woman waited patiently. She had made her offer and it would stand until he made a counter or refused it.
Kao had long since made it a policy not to ask why. When you dabble on the wrong side of legal, it pays to be known for not asking uncomfortable questions, but so many things about this woman were strange. He took another sip. The drink really was quite good. It was one of the main reasons he liked the Spiral.
“Just one carry on.”
Which didn’t mean that she wasn’t carrying something dangerous among her clothes and personal belongings.
“Just one passenger?”
“I need a guarantee that payment is legal. I won’t accept house funds if you’re avoiding Leonathi space.”
“Cash from my own earnings.”
“Thirteen thousand. That’s as much as I can put together on short notice.”
Kao considered what he was about to get himself into and took another sip of his drink.
“We have an agreement.”