I arrived in Whitesand and collected the 25-credit objective payout virtually. I now had 75 credits, not much at all, but enough for basic survival for at least two days.
Here I removed my mask and put on a different one, one commonly worn by outsiders to the city as a tradition. This one was amber red, like my hair, and had a certain black Marnolian character painted on it, denoting that I was a human female. I would blend in well here, even wearing my favorite brown faux-leather jacket. Darwin instead chose to remain hidden, flying up to the tops of the buildings to keep sight of me, yet stay out of the sight of others. I placed my sword and my falconry glove into my leather satchel, hiding it.
I entered the main street, a bustling center of activity. It’s best described as a marketplace, with both human and Astentian vendors hawking goods. The streets were lined with booths selling everything from novelty technology and clothing to jewelry and fresh produce. The bright sun made the city glitter with color.
One booth in particular caught my eye. It was offering quant, my favorite food. I’m not exactly sure what’s in quant, but I know it’s a mixture of hot cheese, cooked meat, and something else, creating a concoction so spicy that if an Astentian tried to swallow it, it would melt their insides and kill them. Only the bravest humans try to hold back the tears, yet it remains a delicacy.
I, on the other hand, have a high tolerance for it. The spice accents something in my mouth in the most pleasurable way imaginable.
This particular vendor was selling it for about 10 credits. That was a good price for it; though it was sort of expensive on my budget, I was craving the spicy, smooth, savory taste. I was very tempted to buy.
But then I could hear a small voice rising among the ruckus. “Laser skates! High-quality, hover action! Move quickly, smoothly, and quietly!”
I looked around for the source and saw an Astentian boy with a blue maskmark, holding a pair of ordinary, neat-looking shoes.
Astentians are very different from humans. Their skin is midnight black, except for a mark on their face that looks like a mask, inspiring the traditional masks that humans wear. These masks come in all colors, but males have green, blue, or purple maskmarks, and females have pink, red, orange, or yellow. Age can be determined by the development of thin white stripes on the black skin. The more white lines, the older they are. Astentians are thin and agile. They do not have mouths, but instead have a circle-shaped organ that is nearly invisible to the human eye located in the front of the throat that they use to speak and eat.
This boy had almost no age stripes, so he was under the age of twelve. I was drawn to him, mainly because Astentians have an uncanny ability with technology. If what he said about the “laser skates” was true, this would be a great piece of equipment for my agent’s arsenal. I looked with interest at the purple shoes.
Not noticing me standing a short distance before him, he continued to hawk the shoes. Only when I nudged him did he look up at me. “Yes, ma’am?”
I smiled. “Tell me about them.”
“Invented ’em myself,” the boy told me. “Laser skates. Easy to use. Wanna try?”
Thus I found myself in a dimly lit alley with the boy, wearing the shoes. They felt like a normal pair of tennis shoes, with a barely noticeable weight on the bottoms.
“So how do they work?”
The boy pointed to my ankles. “Just tap the heels twice to turn them on.”
I followed the directions and tapped the heels twice together. In an instant, two beams of plasma appeared under the shoes, causing me to levitate on my feet. I was unsteady, and I nearly fell down on the pavement, but the boy allowed me to lean on his shoulder. As I nervously regained my balance, he pointed forward. “Now, to use these, just pretend that you’re ice skating. Just look forward… no, not down. Don’t look down, look forward. We’re gonna go nice and easy, one step at a time…”
He helped me make my first few steps. I slid smoothly over the concrete, leaving no more than two traces of blue light in my tracks. I pushed forward with his help. When I reached the end of the alley, I slid smoothly to a stop… and then noticed that the boy had let go of me several yards behind.
I was proud of myself. I skated by myself back to him and slid sideways to stop quickly.
“You’re a natural!” he complimented me.
I was sold now. “How much are you asking for them?”
“Not that much,” he admitted. “I sold another pair just the other day for 60, and I still made a decent profit on it.”
Buying these skates would pull me down to 15 credits, enough for a hot bowl of quant. Maybe I could forgo finding somewhere cheap to stay for the night, should I not have found the Plasma base by then.
“It’s a deal.”