Enki looked like he crawled out of a temple statue commemorating the Ancients. He had a reddish brown well-manicured beard that hung like a spike off his angular chin. His eyes were brown flecked with green, red and yellow. His ears swooped upward into delicate little points. His skin tones were like that of soil. It’s coloration altered as moved through the light of the spacious shippers lobby. A progenitor of the wood elves, Shamoo mused, save for the perceived pretentiousness of his attire, he could blend into any woodland environment. His costume was complete with an ornate golden-jeweled cylindrical headdress six inches high in the back angling down to four inches in the front, triangular pointy armored shoulder pads and trapezoidal chest plate, and a utility belt with a rucksack hanging on his right side, and a knee length armored kilt each pleat alternated between a copper and bronze like material. His lower torso was bare revealing a taut muscled abdomen. Slung across his left shoulder, under his armor, was a red sash with blue and yellow stitches composing a curious pattern. He carried no weapons save for a smooth wooden walking stick about six feet in length, which he now used in his right hand. It too was very curious; indeed, both ends were capped with strange metallic substances that appeared to be growing into the wood itself like it were a climbing vine.
Shamoo’s jaw dropped and she absentmindedly chuckled at the sight of him. What kind of nut has my cousin agreed to interview Shamoo thought? Was there some galactic holiday I missed while we were out delivering fuel to Androcon? Shamoo realized that she was staring. She shifted her gaze away from the staff to the kilt to the sash to the headdress and then to his face. When Enki met her eyes for a brief moment she saw extreme age radiating with power. It was like looking into a reactor with tinted safety glasses or gazing at the sun too long. Rapidly Shamoo averted her gaze. She looked down as if she was a slave and he was the master. Shamoo felt like Enki had peered deep into her bones, into her genes, into her essence, into her soul. But when Shamoo looked back, everything she experienced in that moment evaporated into a puff of cloud; all she saw was ageless radiant beauty. Deeply troubled, she was not laughing anymore.
“Who…what are you,” Brakoog asked in awe of his presence, completely oblivious of the interchange that just occurred between Enki and his cousin, “Royalty? A prince or duke perhaps? But you don’t look GP.”
“I’m trader and an adventurer who was born on one of the free independent worlds. Urukoo, to be exact,” Enki said confidently. “And no, I am not royalty. I am something else. I came about the ad.”
“Oh…yes…we have a few openings,” Brakoog replied. “Would you like to join us in the conference room? It is right this way.” Brakoog and Shamoo led the way, walking abreast, out of the main shippers lobby to the common conference room shared by four other shipping companies. Shamoo peaked her head inside to check the schedule. Fortunately, no one else had booked it. Shamoo held the door open while Brakoog and Enki walked in. Light streamed through bay windows ten feet high comprising two of the room’s walls. In each of the corners were tall potted plants with waxy dark green fan shaped leaves. Taking up the bulk of the space was a long table that could seat about fifty. It was a huge slab of wood two inches thick, five feet across, and twenty-five feet long with a polished glass like finish. It had been crafted from a single log dark brown almost red in color, flawless without knots. The floor, too, was wood with a luxurious silky finish. The chairs also looked like they had been constructed of the same material. They were without cushions and had tall straight backs. Enki sat down at the table’s head with his back to the door, which was not something he usually did. Shamoo and Brakoog sat across from one another on either side of him and angled their chairs to face the interviewee: Shamoo on the right and Brakoog on the left.
Straight away Brakoog began the interrogation, “What are your piloting skills like? Have you flown a one seater through inverted space before? How about the multitasking computer? Can you pilot and shoot plugged into the terminal? Do you have a resume?”
“Ok…yes, yes…uh…I’ve piloted many small cruiser’s like your Lavinia. And I am familiar with several models of multitasking couches with gel interfacers and control gloves too. I can even fly manually. I can shoot, operate foot and hand-sticks, wash windows, and talk all at the same time. Multitasking terminals are a chinch to operate. I, myself, prefer the challenge of the old fashioned way. Leavers, wheels, hand controls, and keyboards. Uh…what was your last question Mr. Brakoog,” Enki replied.
“Can I have your resume? I’m assuming you have one,” Brakoog inquired?
“Urukoo…Urukoo…Uru-koo-to?” Shamoo lost in thought puzzled, not realizing that Brakoog had already begun the interview? “Like Urukooto, the paradise, told about in children’s stories? No, you must mean Urukain― the GP throne world?”
“No! I thought already told you, I am not of the galactic! You know, …there are a lot of systems in the galaxy. It’s not possible to know them all,” Enki said in annoyance as he reached with vigor into a pocket on the inside seam of his sash and pulled out a thin flat thumb sized film and handed it to Brakoog.
Driven by intense curiosity, Shamoo snatched the memory chip out of Brakoog’s hand and inserted it into her personal palm computer-interfacing device. ‘He seems a little sensitive about his origins,’ Shamoo thought beginning to settle back into herself. ‘I wonder where he is really from? I wonder what his game is? What his story is?’
“Did you know that the Hivers don’t use multi-terminals,” Enki directed towards the cousins.
“You mean their pilots don’t plug into the computer,” Brakoog asked? “What do they do? Row their boats with raw muscle power,” he joked?
“How old are you,” Shamoo changed the subject while looking into the display? “You’ve been to a lot of worlds and done a lot of odd jobs too. It say’s here you worked as an instructor for quite some time…”
“It is my understanding, that under GP labor law you’re not allowed to ask that question,” Enki sidestepped her questioning.
“What?” Shamoo said quizzically as if she had just been slapped.
“My age. It is against the law to discriminate against age,” he said in a testing manner. “Ok, Ok…I am older than you are. Is that satisfactory?”
Shamoo let it drop. She knew she wasn’t going to get anywhere with that line of questioning. This interview was quickly spiraling out of control. She decided that it was time to drop the big question. She paused, looked inward, and regained her professional composure before asking, “Why do you want to be a mercenary pilot?”
“Mercenary? I thought you were interviewing me to be a partner,” Enki stated. “Your past gunner was a partner. Have I done my homework wrong?”
“What do you mean,” Shamoo asked her eyes narrowed in annoyance?
“All your ship hands are said to be partners,” Enki continued with raised eyebrows.
“No. My cousin, Shamoo is my only partner! I don’t need a third one,” Brakoog countered in irritation. “What you heard was sort of correct, but not really. Some of the crew are shareholders, but most are mercenaries employed by the corporate shipping alliance whose office building we share. The shareholders get their cut after Shamoo and I take our half.”
“Could I buy in as a shareholder then? I have equipment and weapons you could use. One of which could be sold on the black market. …The profit would be enormous,” Enki said in hushed tones.
“We don’t deal with criminals; we are honest law abiding business persons” Shamoo raised her voice!
“That’s not what I heard,” Enki scoffed! “Rumors say, your grandfather purchased two mini-rip lancers and a military grade reactor from a Hooman crime boss― on the other side of the galaxy― in the Bambino system after he almost lost both his life and his boat after being boarded by pirates. Both of you were young in your vocation then; almost still considered children by your people’s standards. It was a several cycles before your grandfather passed on to the Ancients. You were still learning the ins and outs of the shipping trade. It is my understanding that those weapons are not permitted on merchant class vessels by the GP. It amazes me that you haven’t been busted. My question is how did he ever pay for it? A new reactor and rip lancers cannot be afforded by simple furniture movers...” Enki’s words hung in the air like a gaseous expulsion.
“Are you a GP cop or spy?” Brakoog spoke with aggression while vigorously jumping out of his seat with clenched fists! “Humph! That’s why you’re wearing that freaky clown suit!”
“Calm down…settle down my children,” Enki said chuckling. “Here’s my offer. I’ll trade you 13-quantum chameleon torpedoes― if scanned, sensors will read their signature as industrial strength asteroid busters― and my wisdom as a mind scientist. It is a long standing tradition of the Ninutratic dynasty to forbid boarder worlds gifted youth entry into their mind science academies for fear of reawakening the royal lineage of their individual peoples. They consider those rooted to growing things to be inferior to them, which is also why they restrict the kinds of armaments vessels are allowed to carry. They station garrisons in your systems claiming that it is for your protection, but deny you a militia of your own to defend yourself from Hivers or other threats. And you know why? The elves of stone and steel fear you. It’s a feud that goes back to the days before we left the first planet. They allied themselves with the Hoomans― those new arrivals born from dirt and clay― who taught them how to work stone and forge metal. And they who built armies and cities waged war against nature and themselves…. The Ninutra dynasty rules as it does in fear of another civil revolt.”
Brakoog pondered Enki’s words in silence before speaking up, “If you would excuse us for a time, Shamoo and I would like to discuss your offer. You can wait here. We are going to go down to our office and check a few of your references. We’ll come back when we’re done deliberating.”
Enki watched them get up and exit the conference room. Out of curiosity, he got up himself and went over to the bay windows overlooking Barinza Prime’s city and spaceport from the tenth floor. Spacing into the moment, he found himself stroking his beard and further twisting the long reddish-brown hairs together hanging from his chin. The city itself had an ancient feel. Many of the houses and small business were built out of whatever was at hand like mud, river rocks, packed dirt blocks, baked bricks, wood, and a few were constructed of modern plastoid materials. Much of the commerce was also old-world: farmers markets, street vendors, open bazaars, flea markets, cafes and whatnot. If it was a means to churn out a living it was there. The monopolies and conglomerations of the galactic power didn’t seem to have had much effect out here on the border worlds. Most of the streets hadn’t even been paved or cobbled with stones. And the traffic, that was another story altogether. It was a jumble of technologies from multiple parts of the civilized galaxy. Many of the Barinzain farmers and hunters preferred wagons and carts drawn by beasts of burden. The Hoomans liked non-GP built anti-grav scooters and cars. A few even used internal and external combustion engines in their vehicles. Most of the citizens of Barinza walked or used muscle powered carts or whatnot. ‘The future truly is the past,’ Enki mused.
The urban district was home to a hodgepodge of species that contrasted starkly with the industrial-commercial district. The apparent affluence of the interior of this particular shippers office building was vastly different than that of the café Enki had enjoyed an ethnic morning meal. Most of the Barinza natives were hunters or agriculturists. Fewer than fifty thousand of them lived and worked in the city. Elvish engineers and shipwrights did beautiful elegant work. Barinza brand commercial and merchant vessels were some of the best made in this part of the galaxy. There weren’t many tall buildings either in this city though the spaceport itself was a large, most of the structure was subterranean. It moored a thousand vessels from small one seaters to large cruisers on any given day. The shipyard with its conjoined mining refinery was the biggest single structure in the city. It wasn’t exactly in the city itself, but it was within walking distance. A long walk anyhow. However, the largest building, that wasn’t really a building, on the world was the temple. It was built on a bluff above the city fifteen miles away and it towered nearly a thousand feet into the heavens. Enki looked eastward and spotted it immediately. He could see its top through the forestlands surrounding it. Smiling, he thought that it was good to know that these people had priorities. That they hadn’t been completely corrupted by civilization or the galactic power and the others they lived and worked with.