"Now I can know when I'm being insulted in an alien language," Julius Nix joked as he gestured to the small interstellar translator he was wearing on his left ear. It cuffed the upper edge of his ear in thin metal the color of antique brass. The model was the same that the Sisters of Celestial Harmony used in their missionary work, and probably had a more extensive database than anything he could afford. It had arrived at his office just the other day, along with a note "I hope human ribs heal quickly" and a payment to his bank account. Father Dominic chuckled as he poured tea. "Do your clients often insult you?" "Not the clients, usually, unless I’m turning them down. But if I always expect the worst, then I get to be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen." The priest shook his head as he sat down at his desk across from his guest. "I can’t decide if that’s rather pessimistic of you, or oddly optimistic." Julius shrugged and sipped the tea. This was the first time he’d been by to visit Father Dominic since the Celestialite business several days ago. He’d thought it would be good to give the guy a chance to get some rest. He also didn’t want to seem desperate. This whole being social thing was kind of new, honestly. Well, the "just talking" kind of social. "Have any more nuns contracted your services?" Father Dominic teased. Julius nearly choked on his tea. "Nope. I might have turned them away if they had. I do have a case though, even if I don’t expect it to amount to much." The copper feathers on the priest’s head puffed a little as he stirred his tea, "I’m glad to hear you have work. May I ask what the nature of the case is?" Julius chuckled, "Yeah, like I said, I don’t expect this to amount to much. A maintenance worker by the name of Jerry Renea claims to have seen ‘weird glowing stuff’ along the pipes under Sector Green-Five." The Slanae’s feathers puffed a lot. "Here?" "I mean, not here specifically, it’s a big sector, but yeah. Supposedly there’s something glowy and unnatural under our feet… and since Jerry doesn’t have any proof of it being there, the Guard won’t listen to him." Father Dominic frowned and poured himself another cup of tea, adding a tiny spoonful of greyish powder from a small bowl. "He has no proof?" "Apparently not. After seeing it a couple times in a row, he went to the Guard to let them know they needed to send down an alien life specialist of some sort. A Guard rep went down with him, and saw nothing. Two days later, the glowy stuff was back again, but the Guard didn’t want anything to do with him." Julius shrugged, "So, he comes to me." "Then you will be spending several nights in the maintenance tunnels of the sector?" "Not several, Jerry's got a job he hasn't been able to finish thanks to glowy stuff. I've got to find this thing tonight and figure out what it is." Father Dominic chuckled. "If there's any way I can assist, don't hesitate to ask." "I doubt I'm going to need any theological research, but if I need someone to be respectable and intimidating, I'll let you know," Julius joked. "Happy to help," Father Dominic leaned back in his chair, relaxed, his fingers languidly stirring his tea. Julius pursed his lips as he looked over his new friend. The rogue Celestialite Sister's venom had done a number on the priest, and he still didn't look a hundred percent back to himself. His skin was a little off-color, not as… plummy violet-black as it should be. His feathers (or whatever they were) seemed thinned out, and his normally prominent cheekbones were too prominent. "May I ask a question?" Father Dominic suddenly asked. "Sure." "Why does the Guard have such a low opinion of you?" Julius sighed heavily. "One of my first cases, this guy wants proof his husband's been cheating on him. So I follow the guy, find out that yeah, he has been, but not with a regular lover. He just enjoys one-night stands and judging by the places he goes and the drinks they order, he treats his dates real well. Hell of a lot better than his husband. But I need proof, right? Picture of two men at a bar or at dinner doesn't mean anything, only reason I know sex is involved is word of mouth. So, I get the brilliant idea to go undercover. I fit the physical profile for his type, figure it's worth a shot, it works, and while he's cleaning up I transfer a copy of his transactions for the past couple months to his husband. "After his husband gets the info and I get paid, I was arrested for unlicensed prostitution. Turned out the cheating husband was a member of the Guard and it wasn't hard for him to track me down. They also didn't have anything to hold me, so I just did a night in a cell as a warning. Later when a member of the Guard wants to hire me and I say 'no,' she spins a tale about it being she couldn't pay my rates, instead of my refusal being that I don't help domestic abusers track down their spouses. "So, yeah. No love for the Guard." Father Dominic was both impressed and appalled. "You were willing to go to such lengths for your client?" Julius shrugged, "Not hard, done it before." Father Dominic was confused. "Done… what?" "I used to live on Luna, born and raised. Shit happened, needed to make a living. Didn't have much by way of skills, but I did have a great ass." Father Dominic's feathers puffed a little. "Ah." Julius mentally kicked himself. He was pretty sure sex work wasn't something priests were generally ok with. At least, that was the stereotype, right? "When you say 'shit happened,' you mean a series of events of misfortune you had no control over, and yet affected your life and the opportunities within negatively?" Julius smirked, surprised. "Yeah, that's what that means." Father Dominic made a thoughtful sound. "Most humans do not use such idioms around me, I am glad to have the practice." "I am more than happy to give you lessons in all the shit people don't say in front of priests," Julius laughed. The priest smiled. "I would like that." Julius was overwhelmingly relieved to hear it. "You're looking better," Julius commented, "but still not great." Ok, maybe he wasn't much good at this small talk thing. Father Dominic made an amused sound. "Healing takes time." "Uh huh. Tell that to someone you didn't instantly heal his head wound." "It wasn't instant, I simply stopped the bleeding and covered the wound with great efficiency." Julius did not hide his skepticism. Father Dominic made a slight shrugging motion and gestured to the small bowl of powder, "The supplement I use is not a perfect replacement, but it suffices." "Replacement for what?" “For my natural diet of certain organic materials. I must make do with what I can. I am on my way to full recovery, I will be fine.” It was obvious this was not a topic the priest wanted to discuss, which Julius found mildly alarming and suspicious. He told himself to calm down. If the guy didn’t want to talk about his eating habits, then it wasn’t anyone else's business. "Have you been working?" Julius quickly added, "I guess you always are, technically, but I mean actual… work. Services?" He rolled his eyes at Father Dominic's amusement, "I'm asking if you've been resting after nearly dying." "I have, though I cannot abandon my regular duties. Mass needs to be served, and I have an appointment in an hour actually to visit a sick parishioner. I did cancel today's confessional hours, not that anyone comes to them." Julius sighed. "At least there's that." He stood, "Alright, I'm going to tell you to get more rest, leave you to your appointment, and grab a bite to eat before I go exploring maintenance tunnels." "Good luck, Mr. Nix." "Thanks. Hopefully it won't be too boring of a night."
The maintenance tunnels of Port Station were in need of maintenance. The guide lights were dim, if present at all, and bits of debris and whatever else managed to fit through a vent scattered the floor at regular intervals. Julius made his way through one of the tunnels under the Religious Sector slowly, flashlight in hand, looking for anything that might explain his client's insistence that something glowing was living down here. He was headed toward the Athee garden, or at least he hoped he was. The job Jerry had been sent down here to do in the first place was to find out what was screwing with the greenhouse's water recycling. In the two days he'd been able to work glow-free, Jerry had spotted some green stuff on the ceiling along the pipes and figured he'd found the culprit, but hadn't been able to clear it out. Something about special equipment? He'd gotten a little sidetracked and Julius had lost track of the conversation, but the important thing was that the glowing stuff came back before Jerry had a chance to finish his work. So here Julius was, holding a flashlight in a tunnel and looking around like an idiot because he wasn't sure if he was supposed to have gone left or right at that last junction. He turned his flashlight off. If something glowing was down here, he'd be able to find it better in the dark, right? "No, Julius, you fucking idiot," he answered his own question with a grumble. "Now you just can't see anything." A guide light flickered on and off again in its death throes, casting the tunnel in pale amber for a moment before plunging back into darkness. Julius flicked his flashlight back on with a sigh and moved forward. "I'm amazed any work actually gets done down here," he muttered. "Maintenance crew deserves a raise. And better funding." Fortunately, it didn't take much longer before the flickering pale amber on the ground was joined by a glowing yellow-green overhead. Julius turned off his flashlight. The yellow-green shape reminded him of the purple vines on the wall of Father Dominic's office, but larger and, well, glowing, with a couple long leafless tendrils extended down. Jerry had been right. The tendrils glistened in the dark, like they were covered with water condensation. "You're probably what's messing with the Athee water recycling, huh?" Julius wondered as he reached up. The vine's tendril wrapped around his wrist as soon as he touched it. "Whoa, ok," Julius tried to pull his hand back and found he was stuck, "serves me right I guess…" The vine tightened, sliding up the sleeve of his jacket. "Nope, we are not that friendly— fuck!" Julius's skin started to prickle under the vine, growing into a burning sensation. Julius pulled, but the vine wasn't going anywhere. He pulled out a pocket tool and started hacking at the tendril as the burning worsened, pulling as hard as he could the whole time until finally the vine snapped. Julius leaped back and peeled the tendril from his arm with a hiss of pain. He pulled out his flashlight to survey the damage. "Oh. Oh shit." A winding line of red, raw skin wrapped around his lower arm, a painful prickling persisting as the vine's residue kept slowly eating away. It seemed like it should be hurting a lot more than it was, but he didn't have time to think of that. He needed medical attention, fast. Fortunately, he was friends with someone in Sector Green-Five who could help. "Hope he's back from his appointment," Julius muttered as he made his way out of the maintenance tunnels and back to the Catholic church.