Captain Ratu Tallar of the Pinchava System Police stood at the top of the Circle, the amphitheater of white pleather sofas which sat the slightly disgruntled crew of the Rival Bay. Crimson, her eyes dark rimmed and dark intentioned, sat on the back of the sofa closest to Tallar. The rest of the bounty hunters scattered across the arrangements of furniture like a school class with bad marks for behavior.
Braevel bubbled in his water-suit. As usual his aquatic environment suit provided him with one degree of separation from the rest of the drama. Duklagan’s didn’t sweat like most mammalian humanoids, but their breath did become rapid when nervous. The semi reflective visor of his suit helped to hide this. He and Keffler had barely actuated the experimental process of adding some stimulants to the nectar of the Syrric Polodus flowers in Keffler’s personal green house. With the help of some of Braevel’s infirmary equipment, they were able to rudely break down a few long-chain fatty acids and plant sterols from an Earth II wood Keffler referred to as Muira Puama. With a little luck, the primitive attempt at a stimulant for treating erectile dysfunction could pass as a semi-illegal aphrodisiac. Braevel suggested they toss in the excess triterpenoid, lupeol, after some hasty research turned up it could help with certain skin conditions. “Keep it on the side,” Keffler had grunted.
Whether or not any of this would deflect the police captain’s suspicions was dubious at best. Braevel thought the officer—with his square, red jaw, wide stance, and hands crossed behind his back—made him look like an executioner rather than a law enforcer. A silly looking executioner—the coral-crested captain would have been home for numerous fish if he were back on Vassaquailos. But, despite the continuous scans his eyes took of the motley crew, his face seemed dimly satisfied. He did not speak after asking a few basic questions of various crew members. Instead, he seemed content to simply detain them, while his men scoured the ship with their scanners.
More than the police officer, it was Crimson who made Braevel uneasy. She had taken one look at the lot of them, and seemed alarmed. Judging by her rapid eye movements round and round the Circle Braevel could only assume someone was missing. But weren’t several crew members sent on the Boatman? What was wrong? Braevel gills sieved through the water in his suit. Yet, when the police captain asked if all were present and accounted for, the cyborg female had brusquely answered, ‘yes.’
But Braevel saw her prolonged stare at Shaak-Rom, keeper of the arsenal. If he didn’t know any better, Braevel guessed that the cyborg was trying to get his attention, and considering some grim plan. Shaak-Rom, for better or for worse, didn’t seem alarmed. He sat three quarters of the way around the Circle, elbows set on his knees, oblivious in boredom. If Braevel’s visor didn’t likely obscure his face the Duklagan might have attempted to signal the Trivven to look at Crimson. As it was he could only stew uneasily in his own environment.
Various police officers stomped in and out of the Circle, bringing negative scan results to the captain. Each report garnered a passive nod from the commanding officer. He continued to wait.
Finally Shaak-Rom’s listless gaze wandered back to Crimson. By now her eyes had crystalized into a glare of robotic fire. They stared at each other before Crimson slightly twitched her head back to the Circle. Braevel held the water in his gills; Captain Tallar was not aware of the exchange… yet.
Shaak-Rom’s horned head slowly swung around the circle. His red irises flitted from one face to another, a frown of curiosity riding his white eyebrows. Suddenly his eyes did a second sweep. Braevel forced himself to remain immobile inside his water-suit. The Trivven looked back to their commander; the look that passed between them remained undecipherable to the medic.
“Sir, we’ve found something!” came a report. The white and black uniformed police officer hurried down the steps from the bridge. He had a police scanner in his gloved hand, no doubt carrying a cloned file from the Rival’s records.
“Ah!” Captain Tallar exclaimed, unclasping his hands and taking the readout. The helpful officer pointed to the screen as he explained, “Crew payroll seems indicate a twelfth crew member: Pi-Ki-Zak? Pczak?”
Braevel held his breath again.
“It appears you’ve lost a crewman,” said the police captain, turning to Crimson.
Crimson responded as though she hadn’t heard a thing. “What?”
Tallar shoved the scanner beneath her nose. Crimson read it, looking more perplexed than Braevel had ever seen her. “Oh! P’Xak!” She looked to Shaak-Rom, “I thought I told you to delete these!”
Shaak-Rom looked a bit stunned himself. “I f-forgot.” He stuttered lamely.
Tallar’s eyebrows had lifted to a height of amusement.
Crimson turned back to the captain. “I fired him at our last port of call. Qualvana. The hammer-head nearly shot me. Twice! Bungled the drop and nearly cost us the goods.” She turned back to Shaak-Rom, some kind of a subtext twinging her remark, “You were supposed to take him off payroll!”
Shaak-Rom lowered his horns, his eyes skirted the Circle as though counting couches. “Sorry—I was—it won’t happen again.”
Crimson turned her attention back to Tallar and looked about to make excuses, but Tallar had a question of his own. His eyebrows were no longer amused, but rode about where a Master Fisher’s eyebrows did when he was trying to keep the last fish from escaping his net. “And what was a bounty ship doing with a goods delivery to Qualvana?”
“We just finished turning in a bounty named Ulsang Jax, a wanted criminal on Berkatol when we were approached by a merchant who needed a secure vessel for an expensive delivery. The pay was good.”
Tallar took a long inhale through his ruddy nose. The police officer who had brought the scanner quickly took it and looked at the Rival’s records. “They did make a delivery to Qualvana. Navigation records, receipt of goods parcel… some damage sustained to cargo…”
Tallar rocked back on his heels. The fish got away. Crimson shrugged her human shoulder. “Sorry about that. Apparently the crew is having difficulty updating our files…” She shot a reprimanding glace to Shaak-Rom.
Suddenly the police com at the captain’s shoulder beeped. A voice called, “Sir, we’ve found the source of the readings. In the centrifuge. It’s coming from a glass house.”
Braevel held his breath again. They had discovered the experiment. It should have been good news, but the Duklagan felt his heart rate elevate nonetheless.
“Anything you want to tell me,” Tallar asked.
“You shouldn’t find any drugs…” Crimson preempted. Then she shot a glance towards Braevel and Keffler.
“Perhaps you could show me and my men what you have in this ‘glass house…’”
Crimson stood, hesitantly.
“Not without me, you don’t! Don’t need you touching anything.” Keffler drove his mobility chair around towards the captain. “I, uh… have some experiments underway. The last thing I need is for one of you boys to touch my Boricilus Balx. Probably kill both of you!”
For the first time of the day Captain Tallar looked like he didn’t know what to say. “Is there something you want to tell me?” he repeated.
Crimson was standing, “Keffler is our cook. And he collects exotic alien plants. It might be better if he comes along.”
Braevel also rose, “Do you need my assistance as well?”
Crimson shook her head. “No, doc.”
“Ah,” bubbled Braevel, slouching inside his slimy suit. It was out of his rubbery gloves now.