“Deliver nuthin’,” was Crimson’s reply when Kaspellidon’s minions tried to arrange a neutral drop site for the drugs. “We’ve risked enough flying through Pincho space as it is. Had to eject our cargo and 5 good crew mid mag-flight just to get them off board to avoid police detection. You come to us.”
They’d threatened, ummed, awed, and finally capitulated to her demands. Kaspellidon had even come on screen himself: his red face and four sleek crests of coral displayed displeasure and keen evaluation. Crimson returned the glare. “You don’t trust us? We don’t trust you. Bring your money and whatever else you think you need, but the trade happens here.”
Negotiations concluded, Crimson informed Cort. She could hear him roll his eyes through the intercom. “I’ll go syphon the air out of the shuttle bay. Again.”
Several space stations floated high above Kaldus Major and Minor. The twin planets provided a generous gravitational “safe spot,” where the busy trade ports could conduct a steady, accessible trade between the co-orbital planets. Kaspellidon chose the busiest one to mask their transaction. That was fine with Crimson. She and Clidjitt were in the cockpit when Kaspellidon’s ship arrived. The Brev’s compound eyes spotted a conspicuous tail of four other enforcer ships hovering at casual and subtle places nearby, amid the other space traffic. They could hover all they wanted. Out here any aggression would be instantly pounced on by the prevalent police forces in their difficult-to-spot cruisers. Crimson wanted it to go smoothly.
Shaak-Rom reissued everyone their masers, and rehashed their defense plan in a brief meeting at the Circle. Everything planned for Vaken Rae’s visit, plus the extra crew armed and protecting the bridge and engine room.
“Andross, you in?” Crimson asked. The crew’s heads swung to the recovering pilot.
“Hey!” Andross quipped, “I’m on crutches, not a cripple!”
“Hey!” Keffler tossed back, “Don’t worry, pumpkin. While yer fumbling with your crutches, I’ll shoot the baddies for ya.”
Crimson cut in before an argument ensued. “Good. Everybody’s happy. To your posts.”
For the hundredth time this mission they waited in the hallway for the alarm klaxons to sound. When they did, and the bay lights blinked green, everyone trooped into the shuttle bay. Tager and Olper ran straight for the Boatman to take up positions by the crystals. Keffler was added to their present welcome party, a maser resting across his knees.
Kaspellidon travelled in style. It looked like a rental, but a fancy rental. A K-Major luxury yacht with room to entertain your dirty business associates, and enough cargo space to keep you over for a trip to another system. The personnel hatch released with a stylish whiff. The characters that descended the unfolding stairs were becoming all too familiar: well-dressed, heat-packing muscle, followed by the slightly plump sleek-suited, crafty-eyed boss man. Kaspellidon’s goons spread out, not standing on ceremony to appear friendly.
The drug lord walked up between his enforcers. He had golden ropes across the front of his suit as though he were an admiral in some private navy. He was imposingly tall and his sagittal head-coral fins added an air of intimidation. Crimson wondered if he had them surgically altered for effect.
Kaspellidon sniffed, and took stock of her motley crew. Despite Krevvenar, Jumondo, and Gator, Crimson realized that a cyborg, a cripple, and someone on crutches might not seem the most impressive of crews. The drug lord addressed them in a bass voice that dripped with self-importance. “When Vaken Rae informed me he had chartered a shipment with a deputy of the Galactic Precinct I admit I was dubious. I’m not sure my feeling has changed.”
“A hundred million convinced us to make a detour,” Crimson replied. “We usually work for the police, but we work for profit.”
“So it seems,” Kaspellidon murmured, “And you’ve had a time of it! And yet I want to see the crewman purported to have taken the Crystals himself. Your ship could lose its commission for a stunt like that. It gives me great assurance.” His voice was like dusk, comforting yet ominous.
“He’s right here,” said Crimson stepping to the side, fully exposing Andross.
Kaspellidon’s eyebrows lifted, and he puffed, “Indeed? How is he even upright?”
Andross still leaned on one crutch fully, and propped his maser in a casually threatening direction with the other. In his own ornery way, he did look slightly fearsome. “Doc pumped me full of something nasty enough to crash the entire Flight. That and two days on a shuttle with no food, and I’d say it’s been the worst week of my life. Thanks for nuthin’!”
Kaspellidon regarded Andross with a long face and downturned lips.
“You got money for us, or not?” Crimson demanded. She’d risked a lot to get them all here, but she wagered Kaspellidon needed it more.
“And do you have cargo?”
Crimson pointed her robotic hand towards the Boatman and jacked her thumb back to them. Cort hopped up the ramp and disappeared. In a moment his electric cart buzzed out on the shuttle bay deck, and whirred to a halt in front of the drug lord. The Islavian scurried around and opened the closest container exposing the bags of sparkling crystals. Kaspellidon leaned over and evaluated the goods. Then he lifted two fingers over his shoulder and a goon with a small disk attached to his wrist came forward. “You’re payment is here. Bring out the full shipment for counting here in the shuttle bay, and we will conclude the transaction then.”
“Of course,” Crimson said flatly.
It was a bit of time for Clidjitt, Cort, Jumondo, and Krevvenar to pile the containers on the deck. Then Kaspellidon’s goons set about examining and counting the packages. When they had finished, one gave the nod to Kaspellidon and he nodded, satisfied. “I don’t usually come in person, but under the circumstances I felt it necessary. I desire to make my own impressions of the people I deal with. You have upheld your part of the bargain. Perhaps we will do business again sometime.” He flicked his fingers again, and the goon with the wrist disk stepped forward. Kaspellidon waved his own hand over the container and it opened; a payment chip lay inside. “For your efforts.”
Crimson nodded to Shaak-Rom. The Trivven came decked in his full outfit: the strange rock shells on his torso and arms and legs. He produced their bank chip. The two lackeys linked devices. Three harmonic beeps and the transaction was complete.
Crimson leaned slightly to Keffler and muttered, “I hope you haven’t kept any of this shipment for yourself…”
He gave a quiet snort.
Kaspellidon’s goons lowered the yacht’s cargo ramp and loaded the containers. As the ramp closed and sealed Crimson ordered everyone out. They sealed the bay, and began siphoning the air.
“Is that it?” Shaak-Rom asked, as the lights in the bay turned warning-red.
“It’s up to Rullorrg now.” Crimson answered.
“Are Tager and Olper still in the Boatman?” Cort asked.
Everyone looked around. They weren’t present.
“Oh man,” the space rodent shook his head. “Gonna’ have to do this all again…!”