Chapter Four: Trini

“Do not tell me Makkar is here to try to get back together with you,” Risti insisted from her perch in the changing room.

It wasn’t much of a dressing room really, just a section cut out of the back storeroom, thin sheets of permisteel roughly welded together to make the walls, a drape over the door.

Considering how much extra business Risti brought in every time she performed, I always thought we should make something nicer.

Maybe even with real furniture.

But she insisted she didn’t care.

“Getting ready I’m not looking at the room, I’m thinking about the act,” she had explained once. “And after, I just want to be done and take a nap.” Her teeth gleamed white against the dark green lipstick she wore. “By myself or with some new friends. It depends how it all goes, you know?”

So here we were perched on crates that at least were softened by cushions covered with a deep burgundy brocade I’d found in one of the smaller shops a few blocks off the Boulevard.

Her cleansers and creams lay strewn across a makeshift shelf topped by a broad mirror.

“No, he’s not trying to get back together with me.” I sighed, flopping back against the wall, trying to get comfortable. “That was years ago anyway. It’s not like I was his one great love affair, that’s for sure.”

I picked up one of Risti’s shimmering creams, held it against my skin.

“Wrong shade for you love,” she said, glancing over. “But you know I’d be happy to glam you up, anytime.”

“Not happening,” I told her. “It looks great on you, but I don’t think I could carry,” I waved at the box of enhancements, “all of it off.”

“Sure you could. Just, not for that jerk, alright? I mean, he’s sorta of cute, I’ll give Makkar that,” she said wiping away her eye makeup. “But if you want cute, it’d be easier to go to one of the gene splicers and custom order up a pet.”

I covered my eyes with my hands.

As much as I hated to admit it, she kind of had a point. Charming, clumsy, and a little bit helpless, yeah a baby zuhair might be pretty close.

“At least he came potty trained,” I defended myself.

“Ewwww…” Risti flicked a hand. “Enough about that. Tell me about tall dark and yummy.”

“Who?”

She looked at me in the mirror, rolled her eyes. “Seriously? The delicious dish you walked into the back, who didn’t even take a second glance at me because he was far too interested in watching you?”

“That’s unlikely,” I picked up a tube of eye shimmer and she switched it for another.

“Try that one, and keep talking.”

I shook my head, then tried out the color. Too bright, too attention grabbing. I grabbed a wipe to tone it down. “No idea, Russar wasn’t sure about him, but that’s nothing new. This guy doesn’t exactly act like one of the corps mercs, but there’s something odd about him.” I checked the mirror again. Better. “He seems all right to me, honestly.”

“I hope so, given the way he was checking you out,” Risti teased, cleaning off a glittering layer of silver from her legs.

“I think you’re imagining things,” I said, handing her back the tube as she started to pack up her kit.

“I have eyes,” Risti said. “And I am perfectly aware when I am being checked out and when I’m not. He wasn’t paying attention to me. I promise you that.” She stood and tossed her hair back into a messy bun. “If I’m gonna get a nap before work tonight I better head out.”

Risti hip bumped me on the way through the narrow room. “And I want to hear all about your mysterious stranger just as soon as he makes contact.”

I laughed, following her out into the back of the bar. “You’re gonna be waiting a long time, girl.”

But there he was, waiting at the table where I’d left him.

Risti flounced through on the way to the street, and he didn’t even turn to watch her go.

I stayed for a moment in the shadow of the door, studying him.

I couldn’t tell exactly why I thought I’d recognized him earlier.

He wasn’t my irregular regular.

I snorted to myself.

Knock it off, Trini.

There’s probably dozens of mercs out there who look like that. Bodywork and enhancers to look a little wild, a little scary.

That’s all it was.

But I knew, even as I grabbed my commpad and headed to his table, that there was something more.

“Sorry about that. Russar needed some help in the front, and then it was time for my break.”

That wasn’t exactly it, of course. Russar hadn’t wanted me near the stranger until he had a chance to interrogate him.

And surprisingly enough, the stranger was still here, but without his bag, I noticed.

“Did he actually rent you a room?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he grinned and his grim face suddenly turned charming. “We finally saw eye to eye on a few things.”

Interesting.

“How long are you going to be staying here?” I wondered.

“Not sure,” he admitted. “I’m trying to get a sense of the city, see if it makes sense for me to stay here or keep moving.” He looked up, tilted his head to the side. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find a reputable guide, do you? There’s these everywhere,” he gestured at the disk on the table, that popped up with advertisements for all the touristy things to do in the city. “But I’d like to get a sense of what the city is really like.”

An utterly ridiculous thought swept through me.

“Well, I could find someone to cover a few hours for me…”

He smiled. “I’m in no hurry. I can wait.” He held up the short glass.

I shuddered extravagantly. “First stop of your guided tour is for something that actually tastes good.”

“I’ll be here,” he promised.

I stepped away, then turned back. “I don’t even know your name.  Or is that part of the mystique?”

The corners of his eyes crinkled, just a bit. “There’s no mystique at all, I promise. Just plain, regular Quinn.”

I went to work the front of the house, emptier now that Risti’s performance was over but still full enough to keep me and the other servers busy.

When I ran back to the bar with my tray Russar was frowning again.

“You can’t be that worried if you let him have a room here,” I said.

“His money is good, Russar admitted. “But he’s not from around here.”

“Nobody’s from Rondi,” I laughed. “Almost nobody anyway.”

“I don’t mean just the city,” Russar said. “Or even Heledae. I don’t think he’s from anywhere in the sector.”

I stopped, blinked. “Well that’s…” I trailed off

Not impossible, there was trade between the corps and the broken Empire out there, or what was left of it.

“I’ve never met anybody from outside the sector,” I mused.

“Doesn’t make him anything special,” Russar growled. “Just different.”

I could agree that Quinn was different, at least.

“So you know how you’ve been saying I should take some time off?”

Black brows drew together. “I’m pretty sure I never said any such thing.”

“But you would have if you’d thought of it,” I pressed on.

“I haven’t thought of it. Which is why I hadn’t said anything like it.”

“But if you had thought of it, you’d have said it, and I really appreciate it,” I rushed. “I’m taking the evening off. I’ve already checked with the other servers. They’ll be happy to take up the shifts.”

Russar blinked, then narrowed his eyes. “What are you gonna do instead? You always want all the hours you can get.”

“I’m gonna go play tour guide.”

His look of shock was enough to make the rest of my shift flyby.

Finally free, I walked back to Quinn’s table, where he was still nursing his drink.

“Out the door and half a block to the left is a shop with a bright pink door.” I paused, waited for his nod. “Meet me there in twenty minutes.”

He took another sip from the glass. “I think I can handle that.”

I dashed up to my room, stripping off my working clothes almost as I went, tossed my clothes on the bed and jumped into the cleaning tube.

By the time I was dry, five minutes were gone.

“Let’s see what we can do.”

Luckily there wasn’t much clutter to distract me. A vase at the bedside table filled with artificial flowers, gold and purple blooms looming over a tacky statuette of a zuhair I’d won during a wild night out with Risti three months ago.

What could I say? We’re easily amused.

Rifling through my closet, I pulled on a loose and breezy jade colored dress embroidered with tiny white flowers at the hem that floated around my knees.

I glared at the tubes scattered across the dresser top.

Risti would know what to do with them. Risti wouldn’t be intimidated by all that potential for ending up looking like a clown.

A tiny bit of gold shimmer later and that was enough. Or at least as much as I was willing to experiment with.

I slipped into sandals and ran down the stairs, out the side door and onto the Boulevard.

Why was I so excited? Was it just the adventure that came from being near a stranger, if Russar was right, someone that didn’t even work for any of the corps?

No, there was plenty of excitement working at the Merry Stormcloud, plenty just living in a city like Rondi.

I didn’t need to go looking for adventure.

There was something about him. Something that drew me, pulled me in.

Darting through the crowd of people, I craned my head to see him.

With that height, he’d be easy to spot.

But my stomach sank.

He wasn’t here.

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