Five hours in Jump put them outside the Pinchava System. A lucky arrival placed them only two hours from the entrance to the Magnetic Tradeways. Given the time of year, they were fortunate that Kaldus Major still on the closer side of the system to Qualvana’s rotation. They would only have to skirt around the co-orbital Kaldus Minor to reach their intended goal. Even so, with eight uninhabited planets to pass, and four magnetic gateways, it was still a solid 22 hours until their arrival at Kaldus Major.
In Crimson’s Mindframe it was just the way of space. To borrow ancient Earth I politician’s Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, “To reach a port we must set sail –Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.” The crew busied themselves helping Gator maintenance the engine systems, or Keffler in the Green House. Shaak-Rom ran security simulations. Time ticked by.
Without Andross in the cockpit, Crimson and Clidjitt were the only two pilots on board sharing duty at the helm. So it was Crimson’s voice which crackled over the ship wide intercom, “Every crewman with navigational experience to the bridge.”
“Uh boy,” grunted the massive Megladyte. He had been tightening bolts on the port fusion chamber’s bulkhead. It rattled a bit in Jump and he liked to keep it snug. The enormous spherical fusion unit hovered a meter-and-a-half from the deck at its lowest point, where the chamber sat on struts and exhaust pipes suspending it off the floor. For most humanoids it was downright spacious, but for a full grown (possibly slightly overweight) Megladyte, it was tight squeeze. Adding a poly-fiber dolly under his back made it even tighter, but it meant less comical wiggling if he could suck in his gut enough to pass each strut. Fortunately he wasn’t deep into his nut-and-bolt hunt, when Crimson’s summons came.
It wasn’t the tight squeeze that alarmed him about Crimson’s order, though. He had limited flight experience, but he had gotten himself off Scathrod. And he and Crimson had gotten the Rival Bay up, running, and to several ports before they’d hired Andross. But if she was calling a conference of the navigationally minded on board, they’d run into some kind of a spatial snag that didn’t pose an easy solve.
He sucked in his belly and gave a two handed shove to roll himself out from under the fusion chamber; he only got stuck for a moment when his 1 meter adjustable wrench got hooked on the deck grate. Then it was a half-kilometer march up to the cockpit.
At the cockpit Gator was surprised to see the new guy, P’Xak. He had leathery gray skin, and a boomerang shaped forehead. Gator hadn’t asked, but he wondered if the guy could do echo-location with the large crest or something. Clidjitt and Crimson were already present. Gator wasn’t about to try and fit into the cockpit if he didn’t have to; he stayed in the corridor and leaned against the pressure seal. “What’s up?”
“This.” Crimson was a pale human, always had been since he’d found her on Xalon XII. She was half swiveled around to face the collection of pilots, and used her right hand to swipe the control panel almost as if to say, ‘I told you so.’
A red warning light flared and an automated voice announced, “Private Vessel: Rival Bay; Serial number: 8199673400Q. Alert from: Customs and Contraband Department, Pinchava System: possible traces of illegal substances detected on board your vessel. Your disembarkation gate will be: Kaldus Major. Inspection required upon arrival. Police action necessary upon failure to cooperate.”
Gator levered himself off the wall. “Ohhhh,” he groaned. Of course they would have screening sensors of the magnetic gateways! Experienced smugglers would have all kinds of kinetic shielding. Good thing Rae hadn’t searched their ship for adequate shielding devices while he was worried about police surveillance. Only now the Rival stood a chance of being caught red-handed with a galactic sized shipment of illegal drugs on board.
“We got this message from the third gateway,” Crimson said, her dark eyes boring holes in all three of them. “They must have scanned us at the first or second and had the message waiting for us. We have 8 hours until we drop out of Mag-flight, and they’ll have a police barricade waiting for us.”
“Can we just hop back onto the Mag-ways,” P’Xak asked. His voice was hard and he tapped his fingers rapidly on the passenger seat arm.
“Gateway Traffic Control is sure to be alerted, and refuse entry,” Crimson stated curtly.
“What about out-running them,” P’Xak continued.
“I’d be surprised if the Rival Bay could outrun a Pincho police cruiser.” Clidjitt replied. His high-pitched translator voice sounded ever-carefree, accompanied by the buzzing and clicking of his insectoid mouth. “And even if it did, it would take us months of in-system flying to make our way to the nearest magnetic gateway. They would never lose us of long range scanners.” He turned his antennae towards Crimson and asked, “What about talking to them? We can just tell them we’re working for the Qualvanan ISB.”
Crimson’s robotic hand tightened into a steel fist. “Unfortunately we have no documentation from Rullorrg that we are working for him; it would have been too risky with Rae snooping all over our ship. It’d be our word against theirs. Even if we could wait for a Linkburst from Qualvana, the whole operation would be in jeopardy because no drug dealer on Kaldus would want to touch us.”
“What about dumpin’ the cargo?” Gator asked, knowing it was a futile question.
Crimson’s flesh hand clenched as well. “Not an option. We’ve come this far to skewer these bastards; we’re not leaving ‘til they’re behind forcefields!”
Gator sympathized, but he was also right. “Yeah, but we havta’ get it off ship before they board us or we’re the ones behind forcefields, right? We wouldn’t have anything, sure, but our commission and our freedom.”
Crimson stared at Gator as if she were trying to convert her human eyes into lasers. He loved the little meat bag; and it wasn’t the first time she’d tried to death-laser him. He crossed his fat, scaly arms and waited.
To his surprise she said, “You’re right. We need to get it off ship. I just… need your help to get it back again.”
Just then an aluminum clicking and bad tempered mumbling interrupted them from behind Gator’s back. “You guys started the diablo meeting without me?”
Everyone looked to see Andross slowly picking his way along the catwalk on crutches. He moved like a crippled old man. After a long moment he arrived equal with Gator and snipped, “Whats-a-matter? They run out of maidens to eat in the engine room?”
“Don’t make me push you over with one finger,” Gator snorted.
“Andross, what are you doing?” Crimson interrupted.
“You called for all crew with nav experience,” Andross said, offended.
“You’re supposed to be resting.”
“The fish-man pumped me with enough of his juice to give me arthritis for the week, but I don’t have diablo Alzheimer’s.” He hobbled his way over to the second workstation along the back of the cockpit and painfully lowered himself into the seat. “So what’s going on?”
At first no one was going to speak, so Clidjitt provided the sing-songiest version of the plot they’d heard yet. Andross listened with a diligent student’s angelic countenance—as if to spurn Crimson’s objection.
But when Clidjitt finished Crimson picked up, as though it had been a flawless military brief. “I want to angle the Rival so we can dump the cargo out while in Mag-flight with enough velocity to receive it on the other end after we pass security inspection. It might take a day or two for the cargo to arrive, depending of gravitational variances. I need you nav-brains to help me pull it off, without it crashing into a heavenly body or rogue comet.”
Andross shrugged, “Or you could just load the contraband onto the Boatman and eject it from the Rival. It’d be more like two or three days,” he corrected her, “but the Boatman with a small support crew should be able to reach Kaldus Major no problem. Assuming we can figure out the exit trajectory from the Mag-way.”
Crimson asked the invisible question: “Is it possible?”
Everyone else exchanged glances.
Clidjitt affected a shrug with his exoskeleton. “I suppose so.”
Gator laughed, “Yeah, why-the-crazy not!”
The cyborg commander’s eyes flitted around each crewman’s face, as she considered. She said, “Do it.”
“Hades-yes!” Andross cheered. “I’m definitely going on the Boatman!”
“You’re not going on the Boatman,” Crimson growled. “Clidjitt. You’re going on the Boatman.”
“Okey-doke,” replied the insectoid.
“Come onnnn!” mewled the human.