Sunday, February 11, 2018

Small Business Bites Scene 2

            The surveyors laid Mooring out a grid. However, nothing required the grids be filled with similar rationality. The block on the North-east corner of Maple and Wraith was given over to a pile of cargo containers. They were laid out in a semi-circle that formed the city's main market. The containers themselves formed as a group of high traffic, but lower rent buildings.
            That were well-positioned to severe both the Brazilian and the Descended neighborhoods of the city. Near the apex of the semi-circle, across the market from the intersection of Maple and Wraith, was the Crook and Cow. Originally built from a single cargo-crate that served the Seabees that built the first dock facilities, the bar had expanded over the years.
            Stepping out into the night air, I was hit by the scent of salt, diesel, a bit of fish, slight acrid industrial fumes: the  smell of the port.   At my side, Camille's nose wrinkled a bit and her tail swished.  Sometimes having more acute senses was a detriment.
            Mooring existed because it was the nearest natural harbor to the Lock that lead back to Piratucu. That shared a  Lock with the inner colony of Conneaut, which had a direct line back to Earth.
            There were four other Locks scattered on this world's oceans. One went back to Imperial Waters which gave some robust trade. The other three Locks went father out to colonies that, while even rougher, did have the resources that made the long transits back to more "civilized" territories worth it.
            It all came down to trade. Trade was why this city, such as it was, existed. And trade was why I had hired Camille.
            I briskly walked down Wraith Street with Camille beside and a bit behind.  Compact white pickups down the road with the occasional compact car purring along.   Despite the massive shipping distances, the number of vehicles in the city was on the rise.             Quite a few were heavily used with fresh primer paint over beaten-into-place panels and tied down bumpers.  Only a handful had rough whines to their engines or sputtering exhausts.  This far out, mechanics were in high demand, even a new motor was far cheaper to ship than an entire car.
            The sidewalks were wide and full of people.  One could tell the newcomers from the natives, or at least those who were familiar with Descended.  The latter knew to keep a little bubble between themselves and anyone else on the street. The former had to deal with glares that progressed into grumbling growls when they inadvertently bumped into some Descended''s personal space.
            "Starting to look like a proper town,"  Camille murmured looking at the storefronts on either side of the road.  Even she kept her tail swishing out behind her, albeit with the spade-tipped end bent back inward.
            "Cargo containers are still the most common building material," I said stopping to get a better view of her and met her eyes.
            "Yeah, but now there's glass. And not the cheap multi-pane stuff"
            I nodded. Things that could be printed up locally were plentiful. Provided raw materials were available and the design was simple enough.  The problem with glass was that the good stuff required large-width fabs.  An easy solution was to  simply make a lot of small panes of glass and hold them in a tessellated pattern in a frame.
            Glancing around the street, I could see more than a few shops that had such wares.  Though, more often than not, those windows had been relegated to the second stories.
            "And, now the lights are brighter," I warmly said.
            Grumbling, Camille frowned as we resumed walking.
            That was not fair. Her kind preferred to retain their night vision.  As a compromise, the streetlights in this part of the city were red.  Combined with the very low, and often as not also crimson, lights in many of the Descended shops gave this neighborhood a certain ambiance.
            Most shops had bright trilingual signs in English, Portuguese, and Otic. Though many of the dimmer shops only bore the flowing script of the latter language.   The ratio of Descended to humans increased as we walked.
            The lighting gave everyone a bit of a ruby hue to their skin.  Even Camille looked a bit more like a Ferri than the purple-hued Vird she was.  I spotted a second hand electronics store and slipped up to the glossy black window coating.
            I gave a little smile at my reflection.  Pale, blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun, minimal makeup, sharp cheekbones and pale green eyes.  Helena said I would look better if I opened up and was more approachable.
            But looking at my features in the dim red light, I was not certain about her advice,  at least in this case. Yes, compared to Camille, who wore no makeup and hardly cared about her appearance, I was only presentable enough, but that was not a fair comparison. Besides, in this light I could almost pass as a Descended.  Not to another Descended,  but a human might be fooled. However, all of that was a brief thought as I used the reflection to gaze behind me.  I even shifted my footing and idly adjusted my hair.         
            Camille did a credible job of looking impatient, but she also used the opportunity.   Though I would have been disappointed if she had not been using reflective surfaces and her other senses as we had walked.  That was what I had been paying for.
             "We're almost there,"  Camille stated when we turned down a side road after we resumed walking.
            I glanced at a building that was set a bit further back from the others.  It's frontage was also dressed up a bit nicer than the others.  You could hardly tell it was made from repurposed corrugated cargo containers.
            The open space between the entrance and street was nearly packed with little clusters of Descended. Tails and wings helped strangers keep a respectful distance, though most of their attention was on the large brazier and smoldering smokehouse that had been setup off to one side.   Each had been constructed out of a repurposed metal drum and a cluster of women alternated between working the cook surfaces,  and rotating through meats as they served customers lined up a  heavy plank that served as the counter.
           Compared to the heavy stone slab that served as the Crook and Cow's bar the little business counter was ephemeral, but fitting for a literal fly by night.
            Camille's nostrils flared a bit as she took in the counter.   She was doing the same counting as I was.  Maybe a third of the small crowd were young things dressed in party clothes getting a warm nosh before hitting some club nearer to the docks.
            Mooring had plenty of naval, merchant marine, and commercial sailors looking for a bit of shore leave so plenty of appetites could be sated.  There were also the local crews for the tugs, pilot boats, patrol boats, and the island's fishing fleet that brought in most of the city's protein intake.
            Another third were older and dressed in clothes that while not as bracingly practical as my associate's had showing off their bodies as a secondary goal.   Most of group also had broodlings with them.  The little ones scrambled about showing less of the guarded hesitation at physical contact as their mothers, but didn't stray far from their elder's apron strings.
            The remainder, about half a dozen, were human.
            Two were a pair of older, weary seeming, men simply enjoying a late meal of grilled fish in, what was functionally, a pita pocket.  There was a young man and what might have been his disinterested date, but both were trying not to gawk.
            "Tourists,"  Camille snickered under her breath as we got closer.
            I shrugged.  Being beneath notice was an excellent cover.   Something that the last two humans did not take.  Those two men were young, strong, one had close-cropped hair, the other bald.  A bit of silver modwork went up the neck of the bald one while his companion had an obviously prosthetic hand.
            Camille murmured as we slipped through the small crowd and towards the shop.
            I gave an expansive shrug.
            "I suppose this is why you fed me in the bar instead of out here?"  Camille did not lick her lips, but given the skill of the women working the brazier I would not have blamed her. There was a heavy, almost garlic spicing coming from the grills which was reminiscent of Vird cooking.
            "Check out the menu,  it's all fish," I replied giving the Otic scrawled on the chalked up board a bare glance.
            "Well yeah,  they're not going to spring for imported meat.  Even the goats they're raising on the mainland would be too pricy for a little operation like that."
            I paused.  That was news to me.  Interesting. "True enough,  let's go check out their source."  I gestured towards the shop that was behind the impromptu eatery.
           There were red lights flanking the doorway,  but the windows glowed with a warm amber color  and the interior was, by human standards, only a bit dim.
            A neon sign above the door proudly announced "Vallisur Myrs Vroz" which was Otic for "Valli and Daughters Meat Importers" or "Meat Procurers."  The exact translation was immaterial.
            There was a steady stream of people slipping in and out of the store.  Including the little Descended running the brazier and smokehouse.  It was not a coincidence that they had setup shop here.
            "Friend of a friend?"   Camille murmured  as I kept the door from closing after a large man in a ruddy cloak slipped out.
            I gave her a tight smile.  Helen was on good terms with Mer Valli and I did not want to disappoint.

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