Oxygen: the life gas of the galaxies was precious enough that even on a large vessel like the Rival Bay there was no careless venting of air into space. Shuttle bay procedures required the draining of the air before opening the shuttle bay doors. It turned the shuttle bay into a massive airlock. And it was time consuming. Shaak-Rom wasn’t sure if it was a convenience or not that the Rival docked smaller vessels like the Boatman. Was it easier to land shuttles in the depressurized bays, than connecting by the telescopic gangplank? The Rival had one of those that they often used to connect to larger space-based stations. But apparently the age of the seed ship, and model of the airtight gangplank made it incompatible with most smaller craft.
So, he and Cort, the Ilslavian space-gerbil, had to verify that every hole, humanoid size and smaller was checked and double checked for the operation. They’d made a special modification to one of the larger ports before Chief Police Inspector’s techies arrived: a remote-controlled, mounted maser canon. If Vaken Rae tried a hostile takeover, he would be vibrating in a puddle of his own saliva before he made the door to the hallway.
Then they had to receive the cloaked pod for the Illegal Substance Bureau techies delivering the surveillance package. Even with the cloaking device shielding the pod, Clidjitt had to maintain the Rival’s attitude to keep their opening bay away from the planet, and time it with Qualvana’s other manned satellites that none would see her open a door for “no reason.” It was a tricky game of saber-tooth and rodent, or as Cort called it “Them and Us.”
Shaak-Rom chuckled aloud, but wondered internally how big a cat-of-prey must be on Gobe if chasing a 1.5 meter-tall bipedal desert rodent constituted “them and us.” Many of the crew called Cort a rat, but Shaak-Rom was sure he more closely resembled a gerbil. Usually the Cargo Bay Administrator didn’t mind what they said. He just did his job.
But when Crimson had given them the task list, the furry CBA had wiped his paws on his cover-alls. “Cheese, Crim.”
“We have to do it, or this whole thing could go to the poles on us.” Crimson’s dark-rimmed eyes never flinched. Sometimes she seemed like she was all robot.
“Yeah, we can do it…” Cort replied, licking his fingers and smoothing the fur and whiskers from his face, “… long as we don’t eat, sleep, or drink between now and then!”
The hard line of Crimson’s thin lips finally broke. “I’ll have Keffler bring you something to keep you going.”
“Can I get the be-dazzled twins to help out?” Cort asked, referring to the Vizavians, Tager and Olper.
“Whoever you need.”
Cort sighed, “Alright…”
Between them, it was a busy day: mounting a canon, and venting the Oxygen in time for the ISB techies. Then they had to refill the shuttle bay and surreptitiously install the necessary surveillance—in the shuttle bay and the communications alcove. Once done they had to re-vent the bay, and get ISB off ship, all in the calculated gaps between satellites with unfriendly eyes.
Keffler arrived while they were still installing Rullorrg’s security recorders. He tossed a human food, sandwiches, to each of the Rival crewmates. Rullorrg’s ISB techies looked hungrily at the food, their nose tentacles lifting. Keffler just snorted at them. “What? Police canteen didn’t pack you momma’s boys a snack?” He reversed his mobility chair, cut the wheel, and zoomed off leaving a smug track of rubber.
Once everything was done, ISB gone, and the ship was theirs again, Shaak-Rom had equipment to issue.
“Everyone armed?” Shaak-Rom had asked.
Crimson, in a darker mood than usual, look tempted. Her lips stayed sealed tight but moved progressively left across her face. The labored moment was enough to make Shaak-Rom consider his own strategy.
“No,” they said simultaneously.
“We need Rae to think we’re on favorable business terms,” growled Crimson.
“What about Foam Pistols?” a smaller, belt-secured tool that left the eyes and nasal passages whining for mercy upon discharge.
“That’ll work. But concealed.”
Once everyone was assembled and equipped Shaak-Rom arranged them in place, just in time to receive Vaken Rae and his lackeys. Most of the crew stood in ready formation outside the shuttle bay’s pressurized windows. They watched the massive doors clang silently open. Already waiting outside was a sleek upper-class Qualvanan transport. It maneuvered smoothly, and backed in to the open half of the bay beside the Boatman. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but Shaak-Rom was eyeing the extra sets of access ports along the belly of the craft—potentially illegal, mounted guns…. Landing skids deployed, and Rae’s transport touched down.
Amber lights flashed, and the massive doors closed once again. “Fill it,” barked Crimson.
“…again!” Cort sniffed, standing on his electric cart to reach the controls and see through the window comfortably. His furry fingers keyed in the code.
In moments the hissing sound of rushing oxygen reached their ears as it filled enough of the bay to carry the sound to them. Shaak-Rom thumbed the safety on his maser gently to assure himself of its position. On for now; but it wouldn’t be when Vaken entered the room. He, Crimson, Gator, and Andross each held a visible weapon. Cort, Krevvenar, Jumondo, concealed Foam Pistols. Clidjitt had nothing, but the insectoid was 50 times stronger than an average humanoid, and had an exoskeleton. If a fight broke out, he was probably the only one who was guaranteed survival. But he loved to carry things in his mandibles, over his head in the manner of his people; he was part of the cargo team. Olper and Tager were hidden inside the Boatman, also armed—just another precaution.
After a long while the amber lights held constant; then they switched to green.
“Open the door,” Crimson ordered.
Krevvenar hefted the latch, and the pressure seal gave way. The door swung open even as the klaxons for Rae’s cargo ramp were sounding. Crimson and the crew entered and assembled at the foot of the descending ramp.
Any resemblance of an innocent, well-to-do merchant vessel was lost as the black leather, booted, and black-clad crew of Rae’s operation clomped down the ramp towards them. To Shaak-Rom the puff of air from the Qualvanan vessel, though pure enough for normal standards, carried a stench of self-satisfaction that no O2 scrubber would likely evict. Vaken Rae and several other Kannazzallians, blue, bald-headed, horny browed aliens with a superior lift to their chins led the pack. Tough looking Gortassa with guns slung behind their backs followed. Their nose tentacles lifted to absorb as much as they could from the less active atmosphere of the Rival’s galactic standards.
“Captain!” Rae greeted, opening his black-gloved hands, “A pleasure to do business with you.”
Shaak-Rom darted a look sideways to see Crimson. He saw her jaw muscle bulge and wondered if she would sacrifice their plan on the spot. She remained eerily silent. Finally she managed a nod to Cort. The Ilslavian twitched his whiskers and hopped forward, drawing the electric cart after him. He announced, “I’m in charge of cargo. How much you got?”
Rae swept a generous arm up the ramp. “Quite a bit.”
Two more Gortassa steered a zero-g cargo tray down the ramp towards them. Red crates sat stacked corner to corner. They stopped beside Rae, who gestured Crimson forward. She at last grunted, “Let’s see it.”
A nod from Rae, and the closest Gortassa punched a code and released a red crate’s lid. It lifted and revealed tightly packed, clear sealed bags full of tiny sparkles. There was a moment of speechlessness; Andross whistled.
“But first!” Rae interrupted everyone’s private thoughts, “I have a few questions: Why would a crew deputized by the Galactic Precinct agree to do a deal like this? You haven’t been contacted by the ISB by any chance? Maybe talk of a set up?” the drug dealer smiled casually, as though he already knew the answer.
“No,” Crimson replied flatly, “But 100,000,000 sounded like a good enough reason to make a quiet trip to Kaldus Major. You weren’t thinking of blowing the whistle on us, were you? Cuz’ I’d implicate your butt from here to the Martian High Order.”
Shaak-Rom internally applauded. She had casually batted his accusations away, subtly tossed it back at the drug dealer.
Rae smiled, “And jeopardize a good business relationship? Never. But I shall need some proof. My men will search this bay, the cargo storage area, and the communications array for bugs. And then one of you must show me you are not afraid to fly. Or we have no deal.”
Shaak-Rom tightened his stomach muscles. The ISB had mounted several clever bugging devices; some better than anything Shaak-Rom or Gator had ever seen. But Flying? If a blood test ever made it to the Galactic Precinct in the next month showing that a member of the Rival was using crystals… the entire ship could lose its commission, and possibly their freedom.