Episode 2.19 It’s a Date Then

Welcome Wagon, concept sketch. DanArt

“Deliver nuthin’,” was Crimson’s reply when Kaspellidon’s minions tried to arrange a neutral drop site for the drugs. “We’ve risked enough flying through Pincho space as it is. Had to eject our cargo and 5 good crew mid mag-flight just to get them off board to avoid police detection. You come to us.”

They’d threatened, ummed, awed, and finally capitulated to her demands.  Kaspellidon had even come on screen himself: his red face and four sleek crests of coral displayed displeasure and keen evaluation. Crimson returned the glare. “You don’t trust us? We don’t trust you. Bring your money and whatever else you think you need, but the trade happens here.”

Negotiations concluded, Crimson informed Cort. She could hear him roll his eyes through the intercom. “I’ll go syphon the air out of the shuttle bay. Again.”

*

Several space stations floated high above Kaldus Major and Minor. The twin planets provided a generous gravitational “safe spot,” where the busy trade ports could conduct a steady, accessible trade between the co-orbital planets. Kaspellidon chose the busiest one to mask their transaction. That was fine with Crimson. She and Clidjitt were in the cockpit when Kaspellidon’s ship arrived. The Brev’s compound eyes spotted a conspicuous tail of four other enforcer ships hovering at casual and subtle places nearby, amid the other space traffic. They could hover all they wanted. Out here any aggression would be instantly pounced on by the prevalent police forces in their difficult-to-spot cruisers. Crimson wanted it to go smoothly.

Shaak-Rom reissued everyone their masers, and rehashed their defense plan in a brief meeting at the Circle. Everything planned for Vaken Rae’s visit, plus the extra crew armed and protecting the bridge and engine room.

“Andross, you in?” Crimson asked. The crew’s heads swung to the recovering pilot.

“Hey!” Andross quipped, “I’m on crutches, not a cripple!”

“Hey!” Keffler tossed back, “Don’t worry, pumpkin. While yer fumbling with your crutches, I’ll shoot the baddies for ya.”

Crimson cut in before an argument ensued. “Good. Everybody’s happy. To your posts.”

*

For the hundredth time this mission they waited in the hallway for the alarm klaxons to sound. When they did, and the bay lights blinked green, everyone trooped into the shuttle bay. Tager and Olper ran straight for the Boatman to take up positions by the crystals. Keffler was added to their present welcome party, a maser resting across his knees.

Kaspellidon travelled in style. It looked like a rental, but a fancy rental. A K-Major luxury yacht with room to entertain your dirty business associates, and enough cargo space to keep you over for a trip to another system. The personnel hatch released with a stylish whiff. The characters that descended the unfolding stairs were becoming all too familiar: well-dressed, heat-packing muscle, followed by the slightly plump sleek-suited, crafty-eyed boss man. Kaspellidon’s goons spread out, not standing on ceremony to appear friendly.

The drug lord walked up between his enforcers. He had golden ropes across the front of his suit as though he were an admiral in some private navy. He was imposingly tall and his sagittal head-coral fins added an air of intimidation. Crimson wondered if he had them surgically altered for effect.

Kaspellidon sniffed, and took stock of her motley crew. Despite Krevvenar, Jumondo, and Gator, Crimson realized that a cyborg, a cripple, and someone on crutches might not seem the most impressive of crews. The drug lord addressed them in a bass voice that dripped with self-importance. “When Vaken Rae informed me he had chartered a shipment with a deputy of the Galactic Precinct I admit I was dubious. I’m not sure my feeling has changed.”

“A hundred million convinced us to make a detour,” Crimson replied. “We usually work for the police, but we work for profit.”

“So it seems,” Kaspellidon murmured, “And you’ve had a time of it! And yet I want to see the crewman purported to have taken the Crystals himself. Your ship could lose its commission for a stunt like that. It gives me great assurance.” His voice was like dusk, comforting yet ominous.

“He’s right here,” said Crimson stepping to the side, fully exposing Andross.

Kaspellidon’s eyebrows lifted, and he puffed, “Indeed? How is he even upright?”

Andross still leaned on one crutch fully, and propped his maser in a casually threatening direction with the other. In his own ornery way, he did look slightly fearsome. “Doc pumped me full of something nasty enough to crash the entire Flight. That and two days on a shuttle with no food, and I’d say it’s been the worst week of my life. Thanks for nuthin’!”

Kaspellidon regarded Andross with a long face and downturned lips.

“You got money for us, or not?” Crimson demanded. She’d risked a lot to get them all here, but she wagered Kaspellidon needed it.

“And do you have cargo?”

Crimson pointed her robotic hand towards the Boatman and jacked her thumb back to them. Cort hopped up the ramp and disappeared. In a moment his electric cart buzzed out on the shuttle bay deck, and whirred to a halt in front of the drug lord. The Islavian scurried around and opened the closest container exposing the bags of sparkling crystals. Kaspellidon leaned over and evaluated the goods. Then he lifted two fingers over his shoulder and a goon with a small disk attached to his wrist came forward. “You’re payment is here. Bring out the full shipment for counting here in the shuttle bay, and we will conclude the transaction then.”

“Of course,” Crimson said flatly.

It was a bit of time for Clidjitt, Cort, Jumondo, and Krevvenar to pile the containers on the deck. Then Kaspellidon’s goons set about examining and counting the packages. When they had finished, one gave the nod to Kaspellidon and he nodded, satisfied. “I don’t usually come in person, but under the circumstances I felt it necessary. I desire to make my own impressions of the people I deal with. You have upheld your part of the bargain. Perhaps we will do business again sometime.” He flicked his fingers again, and the goon with the wrist disk stepped forward. Kaspellidon waved his own hand over the container and it opened; a payment chip lay inside. “For your efforts.”

Crimson nodded to Shaak-Rom. The Trivven came decked in his full outfit: the strange rock shells on his torso and arms and legs. He produced their bank chip. The two lackeys linked devices. Three harmonic beeps and the transaction was complete.

Crimson leaned slightly to Keffler and muttered, “I hope you haven’t kept any of this shipment for yourself…”

He gave a quiet snort.

Kaspellidon’s goons lowered the yacht’s cargo ramp and loaded the containers. As the ramp closed and sealed Crimson ordered everyone out. They sealed the bay, and began siphoning the air.

“Is that it?” Shaak-Rom asked, as the lights in the bay turned warning-red.

“It’s up to Rullorrg now.” Crimson answered.

“Are Tager and Olper still in the Boatman?” Cort asked.

Everyone looked around. They weren’t present.

“Oh man,” the space rodent shook his head. “Gonna’ have to do this all again…!”

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Episode 2.18 Snack Attack

Gator, concept sketch. DanArt

Gator had thought about eating Andross… multiple times. Unfortunately seriously. He’d had to lock himself in the back of the Boatman’s cargo bay and bury himself in a pile of machine parts, trying to build some new device, which would do something, that would be applicable somehow. He’d only had to snap his jaws at Andross once (who came in bored, irritable, and looking for someone to entertain him) to get rid of him. Gator’s growl followed the retreating meat bag out the door, generated by both his throat and his ravenous belly. Megladytes didn’t have to eat every day. Often they gorged themselves on an animal carcass, and that could last them most of the week—it was true! But in this case, Gator was due for a full meal. In the end, his little machine only managed to open its arms like an automated spice rack with a pincer complex, and the churning triangular tank tread that was supposed to climb stairs, but instead only rolled in on itself like Gator’s stomach.

While Clidjitt and the others were focused on their stunt arrival (sliding in behind Kaldus Minor, disarming the jammer while masked by the meteor Phaenon—an abandoned satellite of the Kalduses’—and sauntering out like a merchant to rendezvous with the Rival Bay) Gator paced like a wild cat. Finally, in desperation, he soldered chunky, three-meter aluminum silts to his contraption!

After 30 minutes sitting the Rival’s shuttle bay, the alarms finally sounded the all-clear, and Gator even tolerated Clidjitt, Andross, and P’Xak hovering nervously on the back of the cargo ramp for the last five minutes.

At last the ramp hissed and dropped. Gator stood at the top, fingers twitching as the heads, torsos, and legs of Crimson and several others appeared. He stomped down towards them.

“Good work,” Crimson grunted.

“Feed. Me.” Gator growled.

“Right here, Big Guy,” Keffler motioned. Next to his mobility chair was one of the kitchen’s rolling trays. A delicious rack of cattle ribs sat there, raw and dripping. Gator took the tray with both hands and steered it away from the others, before lifting the tender meat, bones, and everything in both hands. Waves of savory euphoria burst in his mouth as his teeth snapped on the ribs and tendons, popping them juicily.

 

*

 

Andross’ grimace followed Gator as he went and crouched over his kill. Turning back to the others the human hunched his shoulders slightly and imitated, “Feed. Me!”

Keffler snorted. “Ha! Made ya’ soup and sandwiches in the Mess.”

“Report,” Crimson asked.

Clidjitt and Andross replied at the same time.

Clidjitt said: “Mission success! We entered Kaldus fly-space without detection and disarmed the jammer in a sensor blind spot. It seems nobody was counting traffic dots.”

Andross said: “I’m much better, thanks. Starving, fer cryin’ out—oh, you mean him.”

Crimson didn’t regard the human, but nodded to the insectoid, “Well done. Get yourselves up to the Mess and have something to eat. I’ve arranged a meet up with Rae’s buyer: a low life called Kaspellidon. We meet him in ten hours.” The pilots nodded and slipped passed her. Crimson continued, “Cort, check on the cargo; make sure it’s all right. We’ll leave it in the Boatman.”

“You got it,” replied the space rodent. He hopped up the ramp and scuttled to the mouth of the cargo bay, where he stopped suddenly, beholding the 3 meter aluminum spider. “What the heck is that?”

From across the shuttle bay Gator slurped his lips. “Spice rack.”

Cort looked at Crimson. She gave a grim shrug of her human shoulder.

Cort went to work.

Episode 2.17 Ace

Usually waiting cast Crimson into a wasteland of dark thoughts and piqued uselessness—the vacuum of inactivity somehow exposed her empty, robotic soul. This time, it didn’t come. Maybe Keffler had ticked her off just right.

Maybe the universe didn’t owe her a soul back. But if a squishy, soft arm and a leg were all she had left, then she wasn’t going to let anyone take those from her without a fight. She called Micron to help her.

The miniature android was illegal in 17 systems simply by existing. Not all androids, or as Micron preferred, Synthoids, reached what most people would consider sentience. Some were clearly under-programmed. But some were more conscious than certain humanoids Crimson knew. Conscious synthetic lifeforms didn’t fit many categories, and several star systems simply refused to integrate them. The ones that looked normal but could perform above normal expectations also made people wary, for obvious enough reasons. Of course, “normal” in a universe of thousands of alien races could mean anything. Fortunately Micron didn’t resemble most humanoids.

Micron was a retired police bot from Andromeda III. Andromedans, genetically, were short; and their heavy brows and face made them vaguely simian (though the lower jaw was thinner than a reptile’s). Crimson didn’t know exactly how old he was, or how long he’d freelanced on various worlds and odd jobs before his programming became fully self-aware. Mostly he was a designed for recon and pursuit. That’s why she’d taken him on. Upon integrating him with the Rival’s sub systems they learned that he came with a curio cabinet of little skills like hacking electronic locks and such. “It is standard Peace Keeper technology,” he’d explained: “for entering a suspect’s domain when necessary.”

The diminutive droid only stood to her ribcage at full height, and had a vaguely werewolf build (if her Mindframe could be believed); his knees were reversed like a dog on its hind legs. He didn’t have hair, or wear clothes usually, though a smooth, matte, skin covered most of his structure, which looked eerily muscular underneath. He was often a chalky gray color, or else he could darken it for more clandestine operations; Crimson had also seen him turn navy blue, and a dirty red. Heavy ankles and wrists however betrayed his non-organic make up. Clean black seams opened to reveal sets of extendable wheels. The ‘pursuit’ function of the android being made evident when he folded in half and became a miniature quad-mounted torso and head that could relay anything through the eye cameras to a slaved computer while on a rapid chase.

He didn’t wear clothes; he didn’t have genitalia. Clothes inhibited his transformation into pursuit mode. Still, out of the corner of the eye, it felt like having a little hairless, naked midget onboard. It had caught her off guard once or twice.

It was his eyes, though, that were disturbingly human. If they had been a beautiful blue, one could almost write them off as idealized glass, like a doll. But Micron’s eyes were a dark brown, and unreadably deep. Crimson made it a point to stare at the fat rubber antennas that stood behind his ears instead. No need to send her into an existential maelstrom of why a synthoid had more depth than her.

But Crimson was interested in none of these functions at the moment. She was hoping he was handy with electronics. With two days until Gator would arrive, hungry and cross, she needed someone else to help her load a concealed firearm into the spacious gap in her left thigh compartment.

The universe didn’t owe her anything, and she was about to make a phony drug deal on unfamiliar territory with a dangerous criminal. A clunky maser wouldn’t be hanging from her hip in plain sight for this one, and she wasn’t going in unarmed. She’d have to apply for the Galactic Precinct’s concealed weapon sub-license after all this was over…