“Twuna jko’sow ac ga’flra jcakuror!”
“Vo’rrwo jcakuror, rukk vo’rrwo twulow!”
Several voices called out eagerly between the rustic stalls placed throughout the market. There were vendors selling everything from fresh fruits to furniture, and hundreds of people were milling about on the streets. For such a small town, the market activity was quite impressive.
Unnoticed by everyone, there was a minute distortion moving through the air, passing between the stalls – careful not to touch anyone.
“Sai detects another clothes vendor up front,” the A.I. informed Adan.
“I know,” Adan replied and came to a halt behind a stall selling fabric.
Glancing to the side, Adan could see partially translated sentences flashing by on her status screen, giving her some insight as to what people were saying. She didn’t know exactly what was being said in the previous shouts, but “jko’sow” meant clothes.
Adan had been moving around the town for some time now and had come to the conclusion that the place was likely some sort of outpost; a lot of people were passing through the town, clearly headed elsewhere but stopping here to store up on more wares. The constant stream of new faces were of great benefit to Adan; if she could just find some clothes to wear, she should be able to interact with the townsfolk without being too inconspicuous. Her skin color and faltering language skills would no doubt still draw attention, but it could also give her an idea of how rare other nationalities were around here.
Leaning out from behind the fabric vendor’s booth, Adan glanced at the clothes being sold not too far away.
“These seem more normal. . . .” Adan concluded as she watched two youths trying on some of the clothes. She had passed a couple of stalls selling clothes already, but the previous places’ clothes had been too unique; the saleswomen would have noticed her wearing them.
“I’ll wait until dark before . . . acquiring a set,” she thought, smiling crookedly under the cover of her BioArmor’s camouflage. Judging by the quickly setting sun, it wouldn’t be long now, so Adan leaned back against the fabric stall. “Sai, have you come to any conclusions about the race of these people? Are they human?”
“Sai is uncertain,” the A.I. replied immediately. “The other species Sai has inspected are visually 80-90% identical to species found on humanity’s origin planet, with only minor changes in cellular structure. Sai requires a DNA sample from the humanoids to know if that is the case for them too.”
Adan cringed, unwilling to comply. “Is that really necessary?”
“Sai is only informing you of what is needed.”
“Fine,” Adan grunted, reluctantly slipping out from behind her spot by the stall. She silently moved in behind an old man walking down the street. With her free hand, Adan plucked a single strand of hair from his already thinning scalp. The old man instinctively swatted behind him, as if warding off a fly, but Adan was already gone. She had slipped in behind a young girl instead, and in the next instant, Adan had one of her hairs too. Adan repeated this process another eight times before she returned to the shadows.
With a displeased expression on her face, Adan braced herself before she put the ten strands of hair that she had collected in her mouth. She didn’t swallow, she just kept them on her tongue, letting her saliva gather around the hairs.
“Hurry. . . .” she pleaded to her A.I. and there was a brief period of silence before the awaited message came. “Sai has the DNA data,” reported the A.I., emotionless. Immediately, Adan spit out the hairs from her mouth.
“Sai has trouble understanding why you are so disinclined to taking DNA samples; you regularly eat far more bacteria-contaminated food than that.”
“I know that, Sai, but it just feels . . . wrong.”
A [Searching . . .]-notice flashed by in front of Adan’s eyes, disappearing as quickly as it had arrived.
“. . . Sai has found the responsible trigger memory. Should Sai suppress it?”
Adan seemed to consider it for a while. “Naw, that’s fine,” she said eventually.
It wasn’t rare for a sub-dermal A.I. to control what memories were accessible to its host; it was part of why Adan’s memory was so good and it also helped with removing irrational fears that would be detrimental for a soldier of the Amazon Platoon. What was rare was that Sai seemed to need Adan’s approval before it could make the changes – at least, it always asked first and Adan could see a log of all the changes that had been made if she wanted to. This was one of the many things that made Adan’s A.I. unique.
“Tatta, haf cukk lo oks! Haf cukk lo oks!”
A small child’s excited shout brought Adan’s attention back to the marketplace. Looking around, she quickly found the source; a little girl who was eagerly pulling at her father’s robes.
“Ubro by,” the father replied, clearly not inclined to follow up on the child’s request.
Adan glanced over at the translation for the child’s words and felt a bit confused; the girl was demanding to see fire.
“What an odd request. . . .”
The father kept denying his child’s demand, but every time he refused, the little girl grew increasingly persistent. Just as she was about to start wailing, the most peculiar thing happened; the father lowered one of his hands and, with a poof-sound, a small flame appeared in his palm. It only flickered to life briefly, but the little girl shrieked in satisfaction, giggling wildly. Adan, on the other hand, just stared blankly at the man’s palm. The little flame was already gone, but as far as Adan could tell, there was no fire catalyst in his hand. Where had the fire come from?
“. . . Sai has no explanation,” the A.I. responded to the unasked question. “The highest probability is a hidden contraption. However, for this seemingly underdeveloped planet, it is still highly unlikely.” The A.I. grew silent and Adan frowned.
“What about the DNA?” she asked, considering the options. There were, after all, creatures in the universe capable of spitting fire thanks to highly flammable saliva and the ability to generate sparks. Perhaps this was a version of that.
“Although not entirely like that of Homo sapiens, their DNA does not support such a mutation.”
“What mutations are supported, then?”
“As far as Sai’s analysis can tell, the same as for Homo sapiens. They have the same chromosome count and structure. The difference lies in the actual proteins, which are coated with an unidentified liquid. The concentration and make-up of that liquid has varied with every sample, though.”
Adan sat in silence for a while before she shrugged. She was no scientist, so her A.I. wasn’t focused on biological studies and only had access to what was already stored in its database; it wasn’t strange that it lacked further insights.
However, Adan was never one to care about details anyway, so it didn’t really matter how the fire had been produced, only that it had. Fortunately, her BioArmor would protect her against regular flames, so she had no need to worry about it either way.
Soon the sun started setting, and the vendors at the market took it as a signal to begin closing their stalls. The person selling Adan’s intended clothes was no exception, so she quietly followed the salesman as he rolled his cart down the town’s dusty streets. After the equivalent of roughly ten minutes, the man had clearly reached his destination as he stopped in front of a small warehouse.
Adan watched the man push in his cart and lock up after himself. Once he was gone, she approached the warehouse, but after determining that entering the building would be fairly simple, Adan chose to hold off her theft a little longer. Still hidden by her BioArmor’s camouflage, Adan made her way back down the streets, heading for a pub-like establishment that she had passed earlier.
The language translation was still far from complete, and she wished to learn how much her appearance would make her stand out, before waltzing around in plain view.
Without any kinks, Adan sneaked into the pub. Hidden in the rafters, with her feet dangling freely in the air, she simply listened to the patrons’ conversations. In the beginning there was little she understood, but as time went on and more data was collected for the A.I., Adan started picking up quite a bit.
Apparently, this town was fairly close to the nation’s border but still far enough inland to be safe from the neighboring country’s raids. It appeared that the two or more nations in the region were at war, or at least not on good terms; there was a lot of talk of battles, but also about prosperous merchants, so at least the disputes weren’t bad enough to stop trade.
Even with the advanced translation abilities of Adan’s A.I., there were still some aspects of the conversations she didn’t quite understand. There were words like ‘okscujawo’ and ‘carrobcujawo’ whose translations didn’t match how they were being used, while some discussions simply didn’t make sense. Then again, Adan didn’t expect to understand a foreign culture right away, so she didn’t mull over it too much.
As the night progressed and the amount of spirits in the guests increased, the mood in the bar grew more rowdy. The looser behavior led to looser clothes and Adan noticed that several of the men – if not all of them – had a red tattoo in varying sizes on their chests. She couldn’t say for sure if the women had a similar tattoo, though; they were sober enough to keep their clothes tidy.
Eventually the bar closed and the patrons left. Outside, the first signs of dawn were already showing as the previously pitch black sky had gained some color.
With people heading home, Adan finally decided to sneak back to the warehouse for a set of clothes. She had no troubles whatsoever in picking the warehouse’s lock and, a few moments later, she exited the building with a set of clothes under her arms. Had anyone been there to witness this, they would no doubt have been scared witless by the hovering bundle of fabric making its way towards the tree-line.
Once back in the forest, Adan had Sai deactivate her armor’s camouflage while she inspected her newly acquired clothes. She could have gotten dressed in the warehouse, but if someone had seen her afterwards they would no doubt have remembered her. The hovering bundle, on the other hand, would most likely be discarded as midnight madness.
Although the clothes looked simple on the outside, there were a lot of hidden straps to them, so it took a while before Adan had figured it out. Eventually though the clothes were in place. The top was black with wide sleeves and a wrapped front that just barely covered the fiery crystal in her chest. The bottom part was as red as said crystal and as far as pants go, they were also very wide, almost making them look like a skirt.
“Does it look right like this?” she asked.
“Sai only sees what you do,” the A.I. reminded, yet still added, “but the color scheme is an aesthetically pleasing match to your skin tone.”
“I wasn’t asking about the colors, Sai. . . .”
Shaking her head, Adan sat down on a tree stump. She would yet again wait – this time for some more daylight. That way she could make a less conspicuous entrance to the town.
Those hopes were however quickly shattered; a group of playing children were among the first to see her as she approached the town and as soon as they did, and their eyes widened with surprise and excitement.
“Ywno’blk!” they yelled and rushed over. Uninhibited as children are, they didn’t hesitate to pull at Adan’s clothes and closely inspect her hands, rubbing against them. It almost seemed like they wanted to see if the dark golden color of Adan’s skin would transfer to them simply by touching it.
Naturally, several adults noticed all of this, but while they were surprised by Adan’s appearance they simply stared, whispered a few comments to one another and then returned to their morning duties.
Noticing the grown-ups’ attitude, Adan decided to return to the marketplace; she wanted directions to a larger city and perhaps even a map. Seeing her head for the center of town, the children persistently followed, making Adan’s interactions with the locals a bit tricky.
Eventually Adan found the type of merchant she was looking for, but just as she was about to ask if there was something she could trade for a map, there was a loud crash a few stalls down. Curious, Adan leaned back to get a clear view of what had happened and saw two people standing in front of a table filled with elegant jewelry and glass ornaments. The two of them were engaged in what could only be described as a heated stare-off.
The instigator seemed to be the man on the left – a shady-looking, middle-aged man whose mere appearance screamed ruffian. The person on the right, on the other hand, was a tall and elegant youth; his hair was long and midnight-blue, easily reaching his waist even though it was arranged in a high ponytail. Adan couldn’t really see the young person’s face, but while the ice-blue clothes were clearly feminine, she still had no doubts that it was a man who wore them.
“Cukjob la’rbil,” the ruffian snickered, pulling the refined young man by his arm, trying to embrace him. “Jun rukk tatta!”
Adan narrowed her eyes as she watched the grabbed beauty make weak attempts at withdrawing from the grasp. The other market-goers around the duo stopped and stared, but it was clear from their reactions that they were too afraid to intervene.
“At least they’re progressive enough not to care about gender. . . .” Adan muttered. “Should I help him?”
“The quality of the assailed man’s clothes are significantly higher than average,” Sai commented, not elaborating further.
“True, he could be from a high-class family in the area. . . .”
“He could also be a high-class prostitute,” the A.I. offered.
Adan blinked repeatedly and then chuckled. “Either way, he should know more about the inner workings of this place. Helping him is still beneficial.”
“True . . . unless the other man is his client.”
Adan looked at the icy beauty and then the grimy thug. “I think I could compensate him better for that too, if need be. . . .” she said with a slightly mischievous smile.