Fortunately Crimson’s well-practiced hard-stare didn’t waver. “You can make your searches…” she replied. But she was already sipping another breath to begin making excuses when Gator interrupted.
“Oh, yeah! Been waitin’ for a chance like this…! I finally get to Fly again!” The towering yellow monster took an eager step forward. He shot a smug glance at Andross, “Sucker.”
“Hey! No way!” barked Andross, “I volunteered first!”
“I’ll happily Fly you both,” Rae smiled, casually taking a dual-needle cartridge from his packet, and removing the plastic cap.
“No!” Crimson almost shouted. Then she finished, “Only one.”
Andross rolled his eyes, and made the most irritated sounds he could without using words.
“I’m not having half my crew floating to Kaldus Major,” Crimson continued. “I need my engineer conscious; and you’re on parole.” She stabbed a finger at the space crocodile. “Andross, you.”
Gator bared his teeth. The murderous glance he gave the cyborg captain alarmed Shaak-Rom. But he stepped back, growling at Andross, “Pig.”
Andross almost skipped forward. “Do I get a recliner?”
Rae seemed amused with the process, but he shook his head, “Sadly I didn’t bring one.”
Andross shook his head, “’sallright. I don’t need one.”
Shaak-Rom doubted that. He watched Vaken Rae for a reaction, and the drug dealer’s smile only became more slippery. He reached out a hand and another Kannazzallian stepped forward to place a crystal pack in his hand.
“Uh uh,” Crimson growled, “One of those.” She pointed to the open shipment crates, glittering dully in the shuttle bay’s lighting.
Rae shrugged, “As you wish.” He retrieved a fresh pack from the shipment, and stabbed the dual needles through the plastic bag. Instantly the crystals liquidized and disappeared into the syringe. Andross stepped forward. Shaak-Rom winced as the dual needles were adjusted to align with Andross’ tear glands. “Prepare to fly,” smiled the Rae. He injected the drug. Andross inhaled—looked about to speak—when suddenly he went limp, dropped to his knees, and unceremoniously flopped to the deck. Rae stood poised over him for a moment, needles still in hand. Then he smiled to Crimson. “It seems we have a deal. I shall only now require a search of your vessel for police devices and we can all be on our way.”
Crimson threw a hand to Andross and Shaak-Rom. “Get him out of here. See to it that Rae gets a look around.”
Shaak-Rom grabbed the intercom, “Braevel to shuttle bay. Andross is down. Bring the z-g cot.”
Braevel’s voice came back, alarm in the translated tenor voice, “Oh no! Has he been shot?”
Shaak-Rom regretted his choice of words. “No, just took a dose of the crystals. Get him to medical.” He cut off the call and turned to Gator. “Let them examine the shuttle and cargo bays. Show them our arrangements. I will take Rae to communications.”
The Megladyte nodded, still sulking dangerously.
“Is there a problem?” Shaak-Rom challenged him, anger rising like an itch in his horns.
“No,” the space-gator replied flatly.
“Good.” Shaak-Rom turned to Rae. “Follow me.”
Rae seemed to be enjoying his visit. He nodded to two of his Kannazzallian guards, and they made to follow. Shaak-Rom stopped. “Just you.”
Rae came equal with the Trivven. “They go, or we have no deal.”
Shaak-Rom knew every delay was suspicious. “Fine. But tell them to touch nothing. We want no more evidence of you here or your cargo.” He turned without waiting for compliance and led them out of the shuttle bay.
Outwardly he remained calm and moved quickly. But his mind was hurtling back and forth like a gazelle between predators. He was outnumbered. Had Rae discovered Rullorrg’s surveillance devices on his own, Shaak-Rom could have incapacitated him without much difficulty—or else kept him at gun point until they could negotiate his peaceful departure and the termination of their deal. Now there were three. By necessity he needed to lead them, exposing his back. Crimson had wanted as few of the crew present as they thought they could spare. Face recognition among criminals seemed undesirable. Unfortunately the experienced crew were already in the shuttle bay. Only three rookies (veteran only of the Ulsang Jax hunt) remained, likely, in their crew cabins: Mog Mog, P’Xak, and Micron. They would be unarmed and Shaak-Rom had the armory key ring. Worse, he and the drug dealers were headed for the bridge. If Rae decided he wanted the Rival Bay for himself, it would be crucial for Shaak-Rom to stop him single-handedly. He could stop two for sure; the third…?
He led the drug dealers towards the Green House. Already light was spilling copiously into the metal hallway as the Rival Bay rounded Qualvana to catch its sun. Keffler! Shaak-Rom thought wildly. He had a one-in-three chance the gardener would even be on the correct Garden Pane. Without pause Shaak-Rom strode through the change in gravity into the spinning Arboretum. He quietly relished the sound of a stumble and grunt of discomfort from the drug dealers behind him as they stepped into the lighter gravity and onto the moving grass. “Mind your step,” Shaak-Rom said, with all civility.
Where are you, Keffler? He grimaced.
A sharp voice rattled at them from behind a row of short fruit trees. “Hey! What’re those stinking, space-muckers doing in here?”
Shaak-Rom hoped grit his teeth; his wish had been granted. The Gardener came dashing around his potted orchard nearly riding on two wheels. Beneath his wide brimmed hat his dark eyes flashed angrily. Shaak-Rom used the opportunity to switch his maser to his left hand and raise his right in peace. “Try not to talk to our… clients that way. Crimson has permitted them to see our communications alcove and check everything is in order.” He moved between the Gardener and the drug dealers.
“Diablos in the sky! Well, I don’t care where they’re going, I don’t want them in my Green House. Bunch of space-muckin’… cans of Collectine sludge… Ugh! They can put whatever Crimson says they can in the blasted Cargo hold, but not in my Green House!”
Shaak-Rom had been holding his breath. The Gardener had suddenly changed his tone when he noticed Shaak-Rom frantically tapping his free fingers on his thigh and circling them. Then he quickly dropped the Armory key-ring into the grass.
Keffler continued his rant, with careful subservience: “Next thing you know we’ll be having a blasted market out here on the gardens, and then what will happen to my grass? Dead, you hear! It’ll kill everything. I don’t want them, or any other trash-toting, sky-scrappers in here…! So… Get outta’ here!” He waved a surly hand, and used his other to maneuver his mobility chair around, covering where the gold ring fell.
Shaak-Rom nodded and moved off, saying to Rae, mostly truthfully, “Ignore him. He’s always like that.”
They continued on across the long garden pathways, by a small fish pond and irrigation trenches. The medic Braevel hurried passed them with a curious tilt to his water-suit helmet as he guided the zero-gravity cot. Shaak-Rom only nodded.
After several more minutes they ascended the hill to the forward part of the ship and began their climb to the bridge. Hopefully Keffler would know what to do…