After padding along a near-silent and empty hall for what seemed a lifetime, Zip finally came upon an opening in the featureless wall. He peered in and pulled his head back out quickly so it couldn’t be used for some sort of alien target practice. When no shots came, he peered in again.
A table was set, and behind it sat an old man, who looked back at Zip with a steady gaze.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Zip looked carefully at the rest of the room to ensure there were no others waiting with weapons.
“You have my word, you will not be harmed.”
Zip took a cautious step in and was surprised to find the floor warm. He looked at the floor quickly and then back up at the old man. “What kind of game is this?”
“No games. We simply do not see the point in warming spaces that we do not linger in.”
Zip, space mercenary, afraid of no one, took a hesitant step inside the room.
“Come and eat, you must be hungry,” the old man gestured to the tabletop.
Zip studied his companion before sitting down. There was no way to guess at his age, his skin looked more like aged leather than flesh. His skull was longer than any human Zip had ever met, but he had eyes the shade of blue many women back on Earth would have killed for. He wore robes swirled with many colours, shot through with silver threads reminiscent of nebulas.
“I have given you my word that you will not be harmed,” the stranger gestured to the seat across from him. “That includes the food. You will find it surpasses anything you had back on Earth.”
“Yeah, you’ve given me your word, alright, but I don’t know who you are, so I don’t know that your word means much, do I?” Zip said while approaching the table.
“I am called D’Rar, of the Merudue. This is my ship and my crew. My word means a great deal among my people,” D’Rar lifted the cover off one of the dishes in front of him and the smell of meatloaf wafted up to make Zip’s stomach growl again.
“Humans bodies make strange noises when they have not taken sustenance for some time,” D’Rar observed. “Perhaps you should silence it before it turns on you.”
Zip chuckled, in spite of himself.
D’Rar took all the covers off the dishes spread out on the table, revealing all of Zip’s favorites from home. “We have gone to great lengths to ensure you would enjoy these. Please do not waste those efforts.”
“Fine…” Zip sat across from his host, picked up a scoop-shaped instrument and took a tentative taste of the dish in front of him. It was indeed meatloaf, and it was wonderful.
Zip dug into the dish with no further hesitation, speaking before he’d swallowed. “This is great, but why go through all this, just for me? I was almost dead.”
“We have saved you so that you might do a small favor for us.”
“Yeah? What’s that?” Zip asked as he eyed something that looked like creamed corn.
“We wish to hire you to remove the K’erini.”
“Who’s that, another captain that opposed you or something?” Zip asked as he took a bite of sweet watermelon.
“The K’erini have been my people’s enemies for generations. They steal our young, destroy our outposts, murder us in our sleep if they can find us…we wish them…eliminated.”
“Wait,” Zip held up a hand and swallowed his mouthful of food. “You want me to kill an enemy race that is capable of destroying whole outposts?”
“That is correct.” D’Rar replied with a beatific smile.
To be continued!
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