Tager’s nasal passages were stinging, right up into the hole of his nose piercing, as they left the Qualvanan atmosphere behind, and moved past the burly enforcer at the entrance. Quickly they retreated down the dank passage towards the alley, coughing, sniffing, and spitting. As they spilled out into the dark alley all three of the bounty hunters inflated their lungs and expelled as much of the rancid air as they could. The frigid wind purified their throat’s, noses, and chests in a chilling gust. Tager was already composing his triumphant report to Crimson when a nasally voice popped at them from under a plastic bag.
The three bounty hunters turned to see the Gortassa enforcer, breathing bag over his tentacles, pointing at them. “You want a job, these two stay!” He motioned to Olper and Jumondo.
Tager’s mind whirled, “No, no, we need to get our credentials. We left them behind!”
The enforcer was unmoved. “You get them and bring them back. These two stay here.”
“They stay or no work.”
Tager felt the cords of manipulation threading around their throats. So this was the game traffickers played—intimidation and promises. He’d studied the circles of deception and power. Now he felt the noose himself, but for a different reason: for their ruse to work they had to play the helpless and vulnerable workers.
He looked from Olper to Jumondo. The Gorbaxian looked unsure, but Olper gave him a curt nod.
Tager spoke slowly, hoping to impress his meaning to his friends. “I will go for our credentials. Be safe, my friends. Let us give the ceremonial farewell!” His mind was racing like a Talconis VII missile pilot. He crossed his arms and bowed at the waist in a bogus gesture. Then he removed his scarf and handed it to Olper. “My farewell gift.” He leveled his eyes into his fellow Vizavian’s.
Olper slowly repeated the gesture, confused. But as he rose from his bow, he understood. Unslinging his small pouch from his waist he handed his credentials and credit chip to Tager. Tager quickly stuffed the bag in his pocket and repeated the gesture to Jumondo. He removed his knit hat and gave it to the Grobaxian; it was going to be a cold journey back.
The big furry troll lacked certain skills of subtlety. “Oh!” he grunted. “Uhhhh,” he fumbled through his own bag. Tager didn’t dare look back to the enforcer, feeling the agony of seconds scraping by. He extended his hands as though anticipating the ceremonial response.
With a grunt of success Jumondo pulled out his credentials, “Here!”
“Oh no, Jumondo!” Tager nearly shouted, scaring the enforcer and the Grobaxian. Lunging forward Tager caught the credentials chip in both hands, “Not your ancestral… spices!” he cupped the chip in his hands, shielding it from view, “This gift is so precious! I will keep it safe for you, my friend!”
Jumondo looked even more confused than before, but Tager played it harder. He turned to the enforcer and bowed as he said, “I will return soon!” With a speedy turn Tager moved away from the group.
Turning back he promised again, “I will return soon!”
Then he rushed down the alley and around the corner, kicking up clumps of snow and trash. Once out of sight he flicked his voice chip. “Crimson, we have something…!”