The combined smells of Humans, dirt, a multitude of other species, fungus, mold, garbage and the general funk of an area that had never seen a sun rose in a miasma so thick it was almost as if he had to cut his way through it. It'd been a while since he'd been down the Depths. He had always hoped the smell would become less noticeable as he got used to it, but it hadn't, not so far.
He put up with it. He had to. But that didn't mean he had to like it.
A turn. Up ahead a busy intersection. Malik slowed, then slipped into a cross-passage, ducked behind a pair of L'Taltons. Their feathery crests and round, plump bodies effectively shielded him from view of anyone in the larger corridor he'd just left—especially the pair of patrolling Connies in their grey uniforms that he'd seen turn a corner and start his way.
Malik nodded at the L'Taltons, who squawked a polite reply, and headed down a ramp that led from LevFive into the less crowded—and more dangerous—LevSix.
"Mal! My Hu-man! Come in, take load off! Whatcha got for me this beautiful day?"
The shop was a hole gouged from rock on the broad Zeta Corridor of LevSix, sandwiched between an around-the-chrono bar and an inter-species brothel. The proprietor was a shorter than usual—meaning he came barely to Mal's waist—ginger-furred Bansnict named Mrrrow-Gumg, who had delusions of being a five-star merchant even though his shop barely rated a quarter star on its best day.
Not that it ever had a best day, Malik thought as he looked at the sad collection of wares for sale. Hand tools, obviously not of the highest quality polybdalloy, since many were chipped and rusted from the everlasting humidity; MRIs, meals ready for ingestion, the foil packs quite visibly resealed—Mal shuddered to think what they might contain; ragged clothing with unimaginable stains, and piles of the flotsam and jetsam thrown off from the collision of many cultures.
"Nothing for you today, Mrrow. Looking for Tau the Silent. Seen him around the last few?"
Mrrow shook his head, his wide ears widening further and standing taller. "Not for few. What you want with skinny Hu-man boy? Not even good for eating." Mrrow grinned, displaying a mouthful of sharp teeth, several of them alloy-plated. A long pink tongue snaked out, wiped the corner of one of the Bansnict's green eyes. "That boy trouble. Thief."
"And you're not?"
Mrrow's grin widened. "Merchant. Not same, most times." He gave the wiggle that, in his species, passed for a shrug. "Some times, anyway."
"Well, if you see Tau, telling him I'll buy him a meal at Dhamu's Place."
"That place not good food, Mal! Wait." Mrrow reached into his shop—not difficult, as even his diminutive arm could reach almost to the back wall—and pulled out a selection of MRIs. "Here good food!"
"I don't think so, Mrrow." Mal shook his head, grinned to offset the insult to the Bansnict's wares, and strolled away.
Tau would get the message. Tell a Bansnict, tell the System.
Flaming Core, he'd probably beat Mal there.