He had spotted her as she entered. She wore a long, black coat that accentuated her human features. She had a matching hat pulled down to hide her face, but he noticed right away. For her sake, he hoped her poor disguise would fool everyone else, because she wouldn’t be welcomed here. He wondered why she ventured here at all. Maybe she didn’t know better, or perhaps she was just hungry. There weren’t many places for her kind in this neighborhood anymore.
She sat at a table close to the fire but off to the side near a wall where she could easily be overlooked. Hungry then, he thought. He tried to be nonchalant about sneaking glances her way. To keep an eye out in case trouble arose. If his friends followed his glances, they would probably start some. He didn’t mind her being there. He actually though she was pretty cute despite her “nonhuman” traits. Only a few of which he made out when she entered. The soft blue of her skin was what had caught his eye when she first came in. The entryway was well lit, but inside the dim lights worked to her advantage. The waiter brought her a drink and took her order without noticing anything off. He drank his beer and chimed in when needed until Midn caught on.
“Where you at Srev?”
Srev shrugged, “I’m right here.”
“Nah, your off somewhere. You usually get heated when Chen starts spouting off about how L-drives are inefficient,” Midn said.
“Prove me wrong,” Chen chimed in.
“Chen’ll never get smart about efficiency.” He turned his full attention back to the table. “Just look at his ‘efficiency’ with the ladies. Playing numbers, sure, but…”
“I get a lady every time,” Chen said.
“Yeah, but only after asking twenty women. And that’s at the end of the night too.”
“Five percent isn’t zero. I’ll play those odds any day. You’ll probably be going home alone again tonight.”
“Yeah, but by choice. I’d rather go home with someone who wants to go home with me than guilt trip some random stranger.”
“Not really your choice then is it?”
“That’s the Srev I was looking for,” Midn said and patted him on the back, “Now, back to the topic of the L-Drive…”
The sound of glass shattering filled the room followed by silence. The waiter had knocked a glass off the table when he swiped the girl’s hat away to reveal a small crown of horns protruding from beneath her black hair. Everyone looked on and the silence held for a moment longer. Then the room exploded as everyone yelled at once. A plethora of profanities were thrown at her. Her cheeks shaded a deep purple and she tried at first to cover her horns then tried to grab her hat back from the waiter.
“Get out of here, spiker,” Chen yelled.
“Fuck off, hypo,” Midn added.
Srev took a drink as an excuse to remain silent.
A glass flew through the air and bounced off her forearm before shattering on the floor. She gave up on trying to get her hat back and ran. Someone tripped her and she fell hard to the floor, but she scrambled back to her feet and made it out as another glass shattered on the door behind her.
The bartender brought the waiter a broom and he began sweeping up the broken shards on the floor. A mutual wave of grumbling followed that slowly died down and everyone returned to their conversations.
“I don’t know why any of them are still around these parts,” Chen said.
“There’s still a colony up north, but word is that it’ll be shut down before the year is out.”
Srev drained the remainder of his beer. “I’m hittin’ the pisser,” he said, and made his way toward the back of the bar. He glanced back before he got to the restroom and then walked strait past it and out the back door. It was freezing. He’d left his coat inside and for a moment he half hoped that he wouldn’t find her. He started off in the direction he thought she had headed.
He didn’t even make it out of the back alley when he saw her huddled near a dumpster.
“Please don’t hurt me.” Her words sounded wet through her tears.
“It’s okay. I’m not a prick like everyone back there,” he said and glanced back down the alley. It was empty.
Her disheveled hair covered most of the horns protruding from her head. She looked up at him and he noticed her eyes for the first time. They were all white except for the pupil. No iris. He’d never really looked at a Geluan’s eyes before. She stared at him. Her tears stopped.
“I’m Srev.” He offered her a hand. She shrank back at first and looked at it like it would bite her. “It’s okay,” he repeated. She slowly reached out and took his hand. He helped her up.
“I’m sorry. It’s not safe for you to be around here since…well…I’m sure you know.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Is there anywhere you can go? Maybe out of town? Off planet, even?”
She glared at him. He raised his hands in defense.
He shivered involuntarily. “Can I at least take you home? Do you live close by?”
“No,” she said quietly.
She didn’t say any more for a while and he was about to give up on his offer until she finally said, “I’m trying to get to Quelen, but no shuttle will take me there.”
“You might have some luck further out from the city. I’ll take you as far as the old tracks.”
He walked out of the alleyway. She hesitated but soon followed. After a few blocks, he grew tired of the silence and attempted small talk. “Is it true Geluan’s don’t get cold?”
She smiled at this. “No,” she said, “not entirely true. Gelu is much colder than it is here on Earth. We don’t get cold here. You wouldn’t survive a frost back home. Your body temperature is far below ours.”
He didn’t question her. He had to fight to keep from shivering, and it had been a mild winter compared to the previous few years.
“I’m Mhina by the way,” she added.
They were near the edge of town when Srev realized a question he wanted to ask her when he first saw her back in the bar. “Why’d you go into that place back there anyway?”
“I was hungry. I haven’t eaten in a few days.”
He nodded, not sure what to say. “Maybe I can grab something for you when we get near the station up ahead,” he offered.
“It’s okay. I’ll-”
“Hey!” It came from behind them. They turned. A group of young men were walking toward them and picked up their pace when they saw Mhina’s face. “That’s her,” one of them said.
She took off and Srev paused. He wanted to talk them down but knew they would ignore him or even turn on him for being with her. He caught up with her and together they ran off into the night. Away from the city.