Helotry

Tréy meandered through the cobbled streets of the old town, winding around red brick and concrete buildings. Half of a century ago, this had been the city center when the first humans settled on Kishar. Tréy ran his fingers along the rough exterior of the brick, wondering how many Earthean feet had trod the same spot. He rounded a corner and entered New Time's Square. The antiquated architecture of the clock tower had been preserved, but the hand-ticking face had been replaced with a digital display. Unlike the rest of Cinder's city squares, this one had no fountain, and no musical susurration of running water. So dry and strange.

Tréy's gaze shifted from brick tower to the vagabonds sheltering from the afternoon heat in its shadow. Lifting the camera to his eye, Tréy maintained a respectful distance as he snapped images of the motley homeless. He squinted through the viewfinder, adjusted the aperture and focus on his vintage camera, and, with a definitive click of finger, immortalized the moment, creating art from homeless slumber.

Old men slouched devoured by wrinkles as younger men languished beneath the clock smoking blue cigarettes. The tang of the analgesic herb thickened the air already turned syrupy with humidity.

Not wanting to over stay his welcome among the flotsam crowds, Tréy strolled from the square, hugging the shadows as sweat slicked his chest and shoulders. His feet led him toward the cemetery, the ancient grove of tombstones and monuments for the dead Eartheans, the resting place of those intergalactic pioneers. Here, at least, there was shade provided by the interlocking limbs of trees.

Silence clung to the crumbling tombstones. The cacophony of Cinder respectfully left the dead in a cocoon of quietude, leaving the dead astronauts in peace. Tréy picked his way carefully between jagged chunks of weathered stone; some of the tombstones had already succumbed to time and rot.

The sound of footsteps caused the hairs on the back of Tréy's neck to rise. He turned to find a young man staring at him, a blanket was wrapped around his shoulders.

"Hey ya," Tréy said, in a voice as brittle as Autumn leaves. The man was filthy, but his face possessed a feral beauty with high cheek bones and wide set eyes.

"My greetings," the stranger said, his accent curling around the syllables. The man was tall and strange, his presence incongruous with the surroundings. Their voices were an intrusion on the dead. The man's gaze dropped from Tréy's face to the camera in his hands. Tréy's pulse quickened, feeling so vulnerable in the penetrating stare.

"Sorry if I disturbed you. I was just taking some pictures." Tréy smiled, hoping he wasn't about to be bludgeoned to death. The camera wasn't worth anything really. Just a relic from another age, not even an antique, just obsolete technology from a bygone era. Still, Tréy cradled it in protective hands.

"What?" The man asked, gesturing with an elbow through the blanket toward the camera. How could he stand the heat, sweltering beneath a blanket? Just imagining the additional warmth caused a renewed torrent of sweat between Tréy's shoulders.

"Just an old camera."

The stranger ran his fingers through tight, copper curls. Despite the layer of dirt covering his features, a delicate black pattern emerged, meandering down the left side of his face, along his jaw, and down his neck. Tréy tried not to stare, but the tattoo intrigued him. It looked oddly familiar, but he couldn't place it. Unclipping the bottle from the beetlepack on his back, Tréy took a swig of water. The man watched with hungry eyes.

"You thirsty?" Tréy asked.

"Yes," the man answered immediately, tightening the blanket around his shoulders.

"Well, no wonder. You're wrapped in a blanket, and it's over three hundred."

The ghost of a smile tripped across the man's face, and he shook his head. "That not warm."

An off-worlder; it was the only logical explanation. The man must come from some sun-baked, arid planet to consider three hundred Kelvin on the cool side.

"You want some water?" Tréy asked, extending the bottle toward the man. The stranger nodded and picked his way through the ruins of gravestones. He touched his fingers to his lips before accepting the offered bottle and gave Tréy a shallow bow, uttering something in an unfamiliar language before adding a stilted, "Thank you."

"I'm Tréy," Tréy said, offering his right hand to the man after he drained the bottle.

"I'm dirty." He wiped his hand rigorously on the blanket without offering it.

"That's okay." Tréy dropped his hand. "What's your name?"

"Why?"

"Ah..." Tréy frowned, and then shrugged, considering the most prudent course of action a hasty retreat and escape over the back wall several meters to his right.

"I'm called..." He paused. "Hegira," the man said after several long moments. A class of ship and old Earth word.

"Hegira. Are you hungry?" Tréy slung the beetlepack from his shoulder and offered the man a sealed trail meal. Tréy's stomach rumbled an objection as the man accepted the food.