Naff’s lids were heavy. He wanted to close his eyes for the next week, but he held onto his consciousness, wanting to get home to his apartment. According to the Navigation screen in the Nack Krawler, he had another twenty minutes before he arrived. The Nack Krawler was a free transport vehicle on Marnak. Marnak was a refugee planet, for anyone looking for a safe place to live. The Terrans claimed it, then turned it over to the Federation a hundred years later when too many races showed up – not all of them willing to follow the Terran’s civilized rules. Naff lived in East Pentel, but he worked on the west side because that’s where the better-paying jobs were. He was on his way home from the restaurant and thought about stopping to get something to eat, but he didn’t want to waste the time or the money. If he stopped, it wouldn’t be anywhere that had barbeque sauce on the menu. Three years smelling like cooked meat and bbq sauce would make anyone hate the food.
But he was hungry, and Naff couldn’t remember the last time he ate a real meal. Not that he was starving, but the scraps he shoved in his mouth from half-eaten plates was hardly satisfying.
As tired as he was, he only had five hours to get home, sleep, get back up, shower and report to his second job.
In a few hours he would go from being the silent guy who washed dishes, to an arrogant arena champion that heckled the crowd and broke open blood vessels. He fought at an exclusive club called The Cave, where the clients were high-class, with excessive amounts of money.
Disgustingly, the club members with more money enjoyed fights that were unmatched, and the ends were bloody and humiliating.
He got paid at the end of the night no matter if he won or lost. Of course, he got more when he won, so that’s what he did. Even with strained muscles, broken fingers, and more. For the past month he’d been nursing a few bruised ribs.
The Nack Krawler stopped in front of his building. He hit the release button for the door and slowly shrugged out.
On autopilot, he made it through the double doors that didn’t automatically open like they should. The dark grey stains around the baseboards were getting darker, and the stagnant air was musty with a hint of melted plastic.
The building manager, Frank, liked to turn off the air conditioner to keep out the loiters.
Thankfully, the elevator worked.
He exited on the fifth floor. Walking down the hall, he glanced down at the brown carpet and tried to remember if it used to be green with blue diamonds or black with green diamonds, he couldn’t remember.
The door was flush with no handle. The sleek design looked great when the building was new and almost entirely automated. The keypad on the right-hand side was black with red numbers on the screen. Naff reached up and pressed enter without entering a keycode.
The constant power surges fried the program and now the piece of junk only responded when you hit enter.
Naff pushed open the door and welcomed the chilled air. The extra cooler he bought was worth every kelep.
The door slid shut. Inside, Naff spoke to himself, like he did most days, because it made the empty apartment feel less lonely. “Welcome home…Naff. What’s for dinner? Dunno yet, let’s go check.”
As he opened the refrigerator he heard a female voice behind him say, “I have an extra large bottom rice bowl, if you are interested?”
Naff’s fighting instincts took over as he slid one foot behind him and turned ready to defend himself from the intruder.
In the hall between the kitchen and the living room stood a short, curvy female with a look of both confusion and fear. The connection tapped into his Demon instincts and he saw an image of her running. Naff wasn’t sure if she was going towards or away from something or someone.
Not that he cared, because in another minute she would be gone. He wasn’t opening his apartment to a squatter.
“What are you doing in my apartment?”
The female swallowed and tried to keep her voice firm as she said, “I just signed a lease for this apartment. Were you the previous occupant?”
She leased his apartment? Impossible.
Naff rubbed a hand up his forehead to the base of his right horn. It was dry and porous and the pressure from rubbing it felt good.
He was a Night Demon with a pair of black horns on his forehead. They were unique in that they had spikes on them, making him a rare sight in Pentel. He grew up in the capitol and there were more Demons there.
He moved to Pental three years ago and, in that time, he hadn’t seen another Night Demon on either side of the city.
It was expensive to live in Pental, but he liked it a hundred times more than the capitol. So, he stayed and worked two jobs just to pay his rent and bills. Which reminded him, did he pay rent last week? What day was it?
He must have forgotten to pay again.
Pointing a crooked finger at her he said, “Pack your crap. You’re not staying.”
“I said pack your crap. This is my apartment, and I’m not leaving.” And when he got done with a heated conversation with the manager, he would eat her bowl of bottom rice.
He turned and stomped back out and continued to make a dramatic event of it, all the way down the hall.
When he rang for the elevator he saw the female at his door, staring in his direction, looking at him with curiosity, and not… terror like she should have. He was a Night Demon, and pissed. She should be peeing her pants.
Terrans had the hardest time around him. They said he looked like a hellbeast. The female at his door looked like a Terran. She didn’t have white-pale skin like a Yunkin, or green scales like a Bolark.
Figuring she was still at the door for a reason, he asked, “You going to follow me?”
“I was thinking about it.”
“Fine, then come with me. You’ll hear it from the idiot’s mouth that you rented an occupied room.”
The female shut the door behind her, and to his dismay, she took small baby steps in his direction. Seth of Stars this couldn’t be happening… no one walked that slow. No one.
He tried to glare at her, but she never looked him in the eye so he was left staring at her like a creep.
Creepier, he noticed her long and light brown hair that shined in the fake light. Naff would bet both paychecks that if he grabbed a handful, it would be silky to the touch.
The elevator dinged, and he closed off those thoughts. Terrans, especially this one, would not blitz him. So there was no reason to dream about it.
Naff stepped inside and the female didn’t quicken her pace. He wanted to let it shut on her, to teach her to walk like a normal person, but he forced himself to hold the door, and grit his teeth. Three seconds later he lost his patience and hit the side of the cab. The sound echoed, making the female jerk back.
“Today, Baby Steps.”
Her light brown eyes found his and held on like an animal unable to move, or think. “If you’re coming… you have to hurry. Do you see the door open?”
Baby steps started to move again, and he heard a muffled, “I thought Demons were scary, not jerks.”
Naff narrowed his eyes at the female but she never looked back up at him. Was she talking back to him? The female had the sense of a soggy noodle.
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