The grand flying city of Azure was one of a kind throughout history and the galaxy beyond. It floated high in the atmosphere lazily following the flow of the winds. Come rain or shine, the city gleamed, it’s tall towers of white and silver gracefully cutting through the clouds around it. At it’s heart was an artifact older than written history itself that manipulated gravity in ways never seen before, lightening even the most dense material to to that of the air around it.
Today the sun gleamed off of the towers of the city, the fluffy wisps of clouds surrounding it filled with the different colored sails of airships that followed in it’s wake. It was the busiest city on the planet and the only reason that the planet was even given a second thought by those on other, more developed colony planets.
Aaron hung tight to the ropes of the airship’s sails with one hand, reigning them is as he steered the ship’s wheel with the other. The wind threatened to tear the sails from his control and he heaved on the ropes. He weaved his way in slowly toward the docks that circled the flying city, looking for an open space. Airships and spaceships moored at the city filled what space was available, but Aaron had a special space that he was heading for. A dock that was being held by a friend for him.
Slipping past two larger airships with full crews working them, he spun the wheel of the ship, turning it so that the starboard side faced the white metal of the dock he was making for. There standing on it, one foot up on a thick mooring, arms resting on his knee as he leaned, Keern watched Aaron maneuver in.
With a bump and scrape, the ship contacted the dock. Releasing his grip on the ropes he let the now slack sails go free and held the wheel while Keern jumped across.
“Ahoy! My friend! I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show when you were a day late!” called out Keern as he grabbed the mooring ropes from the deck and tossed them over the mooring pins on the dock.
“I was held up about half way,” called back Aaron releasing the wheel as Keern tied off the ropes. “Pirates.”
“Uh oh. More of ‘em eh? Tough times I guess. They weren’t armed were they?”
“Nope, it was just a cargo ship. I didn’t let them get aboard to see if they had any personal weapons though.”
Keern shook his head as he jumped back over to the dock. “Too bad. Would’a given us a cause to hunt ‘em down.”
Tying up the sails, Aaron smiled. “It’s good to be back. I brought ten crates of fresh fruit from one of the settlements. Should fetch a good price.”
“Aye, I’ll have it unloaded the money transferred to ya.”
“I’ll take it in cash,” replied Aaron.
“As always then.” Keern smiled thought his bushy black beard. He was one of many burly men who worked the docks and was a good friend of Aaron’s. They had known each other for just over a year and traded favors back and forth ever time Aaron sailed into port.
Aaron stepped from the decking to the docks in one fluid motion, coming up beside Keern.
“Off to find your next take then? Or a pair of legs?” Keern asked clapping him on the shoulder.
“A job yes, legs, we’ll see about that one.”
“I’ll give her the work-over then. FTL and all.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Go have some fun!” Keern clapped him on the shoulder once more and turned, heading off to get a few hands to unload the crates.
Aaron nodded. He watched Keern go for a moment before starting off into the docks. The sound of the wind in his ears had kept Aaron company while he was alone in the skies. The sound of the docks was similar. The noise of man and machine alike radiated through the air. A place of commerce and trade, the docks were the gateway into the city, and thus were filled with the many peoples of the galaxy.
Vendors lined the walkways, turning gradually into shops and buildings as Aaron made his way deeper into the city. Stopping on his way into the city, Aaron asked around for jobs, sampled wares at vendors, and chatted up the local populace, catching up on news. He had a specific destination in mind, for where he was heading, but he was in no hurry to get there.
Stepping through the crowd, he caught sight of the flash of an animal through the press of bodies. He stopped short looking through the throng of people where he’d seen it; the orange and red coat, the flash of a tail, a large cat-like figure. It had been quick, following in the footsteps of someone in the crowd. But it couldn’t have been, he thought. No, not here. Not on this planet.
Shaking his head, he ran a hand through his hair. He needed a drink more than ever now.
Turning, he headed through the crowd for the bar that had been his destination all along.
Stepping in out off the bustle into the dim atmosphere, Aaron instantly felt more relaxed. Some modern beat music played and people drank and were having a merry time of it inside. He frequented this bar whenever he was in port. Keern would show up after work and they would have a drink together, but it was never to early to start before he showed up.
Sidling over to the bar, Aarons slipped onto a stool and gave the young woman behind the bar a flashy grin.
“So you dragged your ass back here finally,” she said leaning on the bar top. “To what do I owe this pleasure, dear?”
“Just the winds, Grace.” replied Aaron. It was their usual greeting. He’d dated Grace a while back, but with his too short calls to port and his roaming nature, they had decided to break it off. Whenever he was in need of a good cheering up, Grace was there for him though.
He leaned in and kissed her on the lips. She kissed him back, a thoughtful loving look in her eye.
“Careful,” she said as he leaned back. “If my guy friend catches you doing that, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Hell I can take.”
She laughed lightly and turned from the bar, pulling out a bottle of his favorite brew and setting it before him. Pulling out two glasses, she cracked open the top on it.
“You know you’ve been really popular with one lady around here recently.”
Aaron cocked and eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, she’s been asking around for you. Wanted to know when you would be back in port. I told her that you never really have a schedule and she said that she would wait around.”
Aaron stared at Grace, keeping his face emotionless. He hadn’t just been seeing things then. The animal had been there.
“Grace, where is this lady staying?” he asked, semi-casually.
“I offered her one of the rooms we rent out to people. She went out for a bit earlier and should be back soon. Why? Is she a old ex of yours?” Grace looked at him questioningly.
“Something like that, yeah. Where’s the back door?”
Grace looked startled. “Um, behind the counter.”
“Good, I’m going to take this with me.” Aaron slid from the seat casually and grabbed the bottle. Slipping behind the counter, he scanned the room. She wasn’t in here. He would have known if she had entered because of the big cat that always followed her.
“Aaron, what’s wrong?” Asked Grace, taking a step towards him.
He smiled as casually as he could and shook his head. “Tell Keern I’m sorry I missed him. I need to get back to the skies.”
With that he turned and headed through the backroom of the bar and out the back door. Glancing down the alley that he’d stepped into, he took a long swig from the bottle and set it by the door. Moving quickly he headed to the end of the alley and into the crowd. Flipping up the collar on his coat, he hunched his shoulders and tried not to look suspicious as he made his way through the crowd.
They were definitely following him now. He could feel it. Just the two of them, which was the weird part. He was sure there would have been more.
Turning the corner onto a short-cut that would take him to the docks, he started to move faster as the people thinned out, pulling his coat around him in an attempt to blend or hide… whichever worked better.
It was too late though…
“Aaron Black! Stop!”