Igneous had never felt this hot before.
Her rocky exterior sizzled and crackled as she sat in the bar’s metal chair. She’d picked the table that sat immediately beneath the old-fashioned air conditioning vent, just ordering a cold drink and a bucket of ice. She kept one hand in the ice bucket, watching as its contents quickly turned to water.
She’d been hot before, of course. She’d crawled through caves in the wall of a volcano while chasing a megalomaniacal bounty on Dentilles IV, she’d been shot with an experimental “death ray” that could melt the flesh off of a human skeleton, and she’d fought off a hive of mechanical ant-like robots while standing on the hull of a ship that was descending into a star while a friend frantically repaired the ship’s engine. She was perfectly aware of just how dangerously hot the universe could get. This heat was oppressive, however, and constant. Just three days ago she’d caught herself mistakenly agreeing with a human who’d been complaining about the humidity since he “couldn’t believe how hot it was”. As her metamorphosis approached, it was becoming harder and harder to stay cool.
She knew it wouldn’t be long until the heat started to radiate off of her, making it unpleasant for anyone around her. She’d been told that after her metamorphosis the heat would become bearable, even pleasant, but she wasn’t eager to find out for herself.
“Evening, Igneous,” said a woman’s voice from behind.
Igneous cursed under her breath.
“Hello, Fletch. I’m meeting someone here, so I don’t really have the time to talk to a human.”
Fletch walked around Igneous and sat in the opposite chair, looking her in the eyes. It was very rare for either of them to casually talk to someone who could kill them; Igneous knew that Fletch had the necessary gear to finish her off, and Fletch knew that Igneous was much faster and more precise than most of her species. Igneous took stock of the visible weaponry on Fletch’s blue techsuit, noting where she most likely kept all of her weaponry for quick retrieval. The electronic reticle that sat like a monocle on her left eye appeared to be looking Igneous over as well, likely documenting the best weak spots for taking Igneous out quickly.
“Off-world if he’s smart,” said Igneous. She knew this conversation would come, and had been practicing it in her head since she’d last seen the scrawny human. “I’d go somewhere far if I were him. Maybe Chargnar. They put a nice bounty on his head last night, and if he learned about it then he’s gone.”
“I want to talk to him about that bounty,” said Fletch. “I also know you spoke to him before midnight, security feeds in the library clearly show that even though we don’t have audio.”
“Yeah, he was finding a book for whatever his latest assignment was,” said Igneous. “Half an hour later and I could’ve nailed him. Don’t think I would’ve, though. He and I go way back.”
“I think you warned him,” said Fletch. “Somehow you heard the right two or three pieces of confidential information and put all the pieces together to figure out that he was going to have a bounty put on his head. And then you warned an enemy of the DMA that they should go into hiding.”
“Hey, what I say to people on my own time is my own business,” said Igneous. “And I don’t appreciate you callin’ me an idiot like that. Anyone in the DMA who helps Gamma’ll land in the same boat he’s in, human. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be hunting him down or anything, but I’m not stupid enough to stick my neck out for him that far.”
“I don’t believe that,” said Fletch. “But I couldn’t prove it, of course. You covered your tracks well. Know that I’m planning on finding him with or without you helping me, and I think it would be better if you helped me.”
“Too bad. There’s no rule that says that I need to aid in the capture of anyone with a contract. We’re mercenaries and bounty hunters, not police. Now, scram before my appointment shows. Someone with your rep’s bad for business.”
Fletch smiled. Igneous didn’t like it.
“Was your appointment with a purple-skinned fellow, about a meter and a half tall, with odd ridges around his skull?
“Funny thing about that. I was coming here to see you, and he was coming in. He had a non-trivial bounty on his head, wanted by local law enforcement for dealing in illicit substances.”
Fletch reached into one of the small compartments on her belt and pulled out two small bullet-shaped capsules. The first was covered with a thin layer of ice while the second seemed to glow through stylized channels carved into its side. Igneous felt her internal temperature rise a few degrees at the sight of them.
“He’s unconscious right now, I left him in a dumpster out back. I’ll be turning him in after we’re done here, but he had this on him. I’m no expert, but if I had to guess I’d say that you’ve got a dose of Teles between those two capsules. Very pricy, and not exactly easy to transport; if they’re handled improperly they could cause big problems, so smuggling both doses involves more than secrecy. Your kind might not have the right sort of nervous system to be affected by it like a human would, but that doesn’t make possessing it legal.”
Igneous took a deep breath and removed her hand from the bowl of ice, though by now it was almost entirely water.
“What makes you so sure he was going to be giving those to me?”
“Don’t play it like that,” said Fletch. “We’re both professionals, we both know how that conversation ends. You’ve been taking extra efforts to stay cool lately. In fact, lots of your people have. Ever since Xol appeared, attempts to lower core temperatures and stave off metamorphosis have been on the rise. And now you’re doing it as well. Does this mean that the rumors are true? That the metamorphosis isn’t the grand gateway to a new life that it used to be?”
Igneous stayed quiet, glaring at Fletch.
“So, yes then. For what it’s worth, I understand. Don’t think that I don’t. You need this to stay cool. Well… you need one of them to stay cool. I don’t know how much longer you have, but this could easily buy you a few more days. And the other one would probably cause the metamorphosis to start instantly. You’re not looking for a risky buzz, you’re trying to live longer. Teles is the only surefire way for you to do that. I’ll be holding onto it for now while I start looking for Gamma. As I said before, I think it would be better if you helped me.”
Igneous stared at the ice-covered capsule. She’d only tried it twice before, but she could still imagine the cool, refreshing sensation of it.
She locked eyes with Fletch again.
“And like I said before, too bad.”
“It really is,” said Fletch, putting the capsules back into her belt’s compartment. “I’ll hold onto these in case you change your mind. I might even have to have someone look at the hot one… convenient how they’re almost bullet shaped already, yes? Anyway, have a good day. I’ve got a traitor to catch.”
Fletch rose from the table and departed, presumably to retrieve her bounty from the dumpster. Igneous ordered another bowl of ice and asked for the air conditioner to be turned down again.