“Maybe it wouldn’t break if there was some food on it.” retorted Andross.
“Maybe I’ll throw yours out the airlock, and you can put it on your plate yourself!” Keffler wheeled his chair around and scooted back into the kitchen for something.
Cort stepped over the table’s attached bench and sat down the way any large rodent might sit at the edge of its food dish (if it were dressed in a dirty cover-all with a utility belt). His rodent hands and feet were furry, and the little sucker could scamper all-the-heck over the ship like it was his own plastic playscape.
“Ohhh, you look so cute when you sit like that!” Andross cooed.
Cort’s beady black eyes hardened and be bared his buck teeth, “Gimme’ yer finger.” He snapped his incisors.
Shaak-Rom, goody boy, carried the pot of steaming food to the table. His blue and white striped flesh-locks, fleshy tentacles dangling from his head, twitched near the food.
“Hey!” Andross snipped, “Keep your dreads out of the soup!”
The Trivven set the pot on the table, piled high with egg-and-vegetable clumps, and bared his teeth in a sharp-toothed smile. “Smells good, doesn’t it.” His dreads flicked again… smelling the food?
Andross grimaced openly. What do those things do? He wondered. The similarly striped horns that rose from the Trivven’s red head were obvious: dangerous, heavy, boney protrusions that likely wooed females and gouged rival males. But the sometimes animate, sometimes innate dangly bits… Anybody’s guess.
The crew continued to filter in. Braevel, the medic, Krevvenar, Olper. Others were on duty. Some always came late.
Andross plunged his spoon into the pile of steaming fu yung and plopped several onto his plate even as he saw Crimson enter the Mess Hall. Her clanky foot gave her away, before she appeared and strode between the empty tables. She could have been a pretty woman except for her crude robotic arm and leg, and unusually flat chest. The attractive face was lost under the dark eyes and expression; the purple Mohawk fallen sideways (and sometimes into her face) made her look like a gothic Mist-prostitute. Not that he minded a little Mist, or a prostitute. He would be the laughing stock of Talconis VII, working for woman like Crimson, if she wasn’t every bit as tough as an angry Legacy War vet. But she had needed a pilot, and he needed to get off-world for a bit.
The bounty hunting was a fun gig. He was a quick learner with the maser rifles, and side arms he’d carried as a precaution for some time. Converting the empty shuttle bay for a practice range had given him a chance to get better with his pistol at a range longer than a meter. He’d only really needed point-blank skills on Talconis. The funnest bounties the Rival’s crew took on were the ones that ran. It was like Missile racing on foot. But since Shaak had joined they’d taken to planning their raids a bit more. It was a shame really. A little disorganization provided the extra element of chance that made it more exciting. Besides, half of the bounties crumpled to the ground pleading for a second chance. Never gave a body a chance to fire a maser. They shouldn’t waste their only chance at the fun ones.
“Andross,” Crimson quipped. Her voice was lower than he liked his women. “Save some for the rest of us.”
Andross shoved a wad of the glorified veggie omlette into his mouth, and relished the warmth on his palate. “Hey!” he said around the mouthful, “You’re just lucky I waited!”
Keffler drove up with another pot, this one filled with a rudely tossed salad. “Three-a-piece, flyboy!”
Andross threw his hands in the air as he swallowed. “Unless you’re a giant lizard! Speaking of which, is the big lug eating tonight? Don’t want to see the show, if I can avoid it.”
Cort and a few others grumbled audibly, but Andross defended himself. “Hey, if I wanted to see a croc death roll, I’d watch an Earth II nature special Link-burst!”
“Hey, midgets, where’s the grub?” the booming, raspy voice of the enormous space-a-saur Gator thudded into the Mess like a natural disaster, tail swishing along the floor looking for hapless princesses to crush.
Keffler tossed a hand behind himself, “Veggie tonight, Gator. Yours is in the deep freeze.”
“Righto!” Godzilla passed them by, and stomped off into the kitchen to forage for his own kill.
Andross let his groan be heard around the table. “Here we go.”
“If you have a problem, you can have it in your cabin.” Crimson was halfway through dragging her robotic leg over the table’s bench. Andross wondered if she left her mascara to fade down her cheeks, or if she really just looked like that.
“Hey! I just didn’t want to see another wildebeest get mauled.” Andross folded one elbow across the table and slouched himself in front of his dish.
Shaak-Rom added his baritone voice to the pig-pile. “We all have our own ways. Our brother must eat to fill three times our stomachs.” The stripey devil forked his own food into his mouth, but Andross noticed a weird tentacle dribbled on his plate, maybe tasting the egg.
In a moment the heavy tread of Gator returned. A massive, frozen flank of dark, raw meat hung in his huge paws. Andross froze in anticipation, his eyes tracking the Megladyte, waiting for the gruesome show. Gator sat back on his tail like a bean bag chair, close to the table where the crew sat. His jaws opened like scissors to receive the sacrifice. With a snap, half of the carcass tore off. Then the reptile tossed back his head and snapped and choked the poor frozen animal down with much slavering slurping. Andross shook his head and tried to think pleasant fu-yung thoughts.
“So how long will this spoor business take?” Andross said, trying to squint his left eye to avoid Gator’s feast.
“Time table’s posted in the log,” Crimson growled.
“Yeah, but, anything on the police bursts? Do we have any bounties when we get there?”
“We’re in jump, you wanna catch a wave?”
“I’m just sayin’, feels like we’ve cashed in, doin’ a milk run like this.”
Crimson erupted like a solar flare. Her usually sluggish robotic arm fired like a piston, smashing the table with enough force that few egg patties were left on their wobbling plates. She rocked to her feet, her metal thigh colliding with the table and pushing the whole thing, crew and benches included, a several inches back with a loud screech. Her human hand was on his shirt, and her nails scratched him through the cloth as she yanked him forward.
“You will respect my decision! The payoff is more than adequate for this job, and we need the money for repairs! We’ll be back hunting down slime the instant we’ve off loaded these diablo spoors, and you can load them on the Boatman yourself! Now get outta my Mess!”
Crimson released Andross’ collar fiercely, nearly pushing him over his seat. Before he could respond, she heaved her own leg over the bench and stormed off through the Mess. A down-thrust of her cybertnetic arm made yet another table jump like a clown’s see-saw, and then Peg the Pirate was gone.
Andross cursed. “Over react much?”
There was venom in Keffler’s laugh, “Never poke a cyborg, kid.”
Andross glowered, and sat back down.
“You heard the lady,” rumbled Gator. His hard predator eyes mixed with the bloodied jaws for a complete picture of horror. “Show yourself out.”
“You gonna make me?” Andross snapped, “Besides she’s left—”
Gator rose to his feet, dropping the half-shank of cow on the neighboring table, and sporting his crocodile grin. “I would love to make you.”
“All right, all right!” Andross tossed his hands, “It was just a joke, big guy.” Throwing his egg back on his plate Andross made sure to make a dragging sound with both the plate and fork as he yanked away from the table. He channeled his sarcasm into his boots as he stomped off, muttering, “What’s everybody’s problem?!”