Kaspellidon was in custody and in the news all in the same day. No help was needed by the swift and efficient Pincho Police for that. Apparently the drug lord had been too hated for any delay. At first Crimson despaired they wouldn’t get a piece of the action. But she had Clidjitt and Shaak-Rom comb through the police news and message boards out of sheer disappointment. A name pinged up.
“Eeg Grula,” Shaak-Rom announced, “Known associate of Kaspellidon’s organization. Considered armed and dangerous. Gave police the slip in a nasty firefight. Only one to escape the string of thirteen arrests!”
“Bounty?” Crimson asked, standing over them in the Archive cubby.
The zebra-devil Trivven’s white eye markings danced, and pointy teeth showing told her it was good. “200,000.”
Clidjitt gave a Brev equivalent of a whistle—a long bubbling hiss. Crimson’s day was getting better.
“Last seen at the gunfight, Horopolus City. Police staked out any and all known locations for Grula’s activities, but he hasn’t shown. They’ve been too busy bagging the rest of Kaspellidon’s gang to dig further.”
“Okay. We go in our way. Make teams of three. We start shaking the bushes around Grula’s haunts. We’ll bag this rat.”
It took a week. By that time Captain Ratu Tallar had even come back by to recognize their service to the Police. Crimson had had to leave her stake-out with Tager and Jumondo to fly back up to the Rival Bay to receive him. He’d given her a star of cooperation as well—begrudgingly admitting they had pulled off a pretty good stunt. She chucked the medal on the dashboard in the cockpit. Then they had to empty the shuttle bay again, and get everyone back down to Kaldus Major to resume their work.
Finally Cort called her.
“I think we got our man,” said the space rodent, “Kaldus Minor. Grula’s got a safe house there. Mog Mog and Olper cornered one of his street dealers, and I got him to spill the beans.”
“You’re the fuzziest Good Cop I know. All right, get everyone back to Horopolus, and send the coordinates for Kaldus Minor to Andross on the Rival. The Boatman leaves in eight hours. Good work.”
“I’m not fuzzy, I’m persuasive—”
She closed the voice chip. They had a drug dealer to catch.
Kaldus Minor was not like its big brother. The arid desert world had more sandstorms than clouds visible from space, and what looked like barren rock was actually dense forests of prickly, short trees call gradlbocks. At full height the spiny, bent monsters were probably chest height to an average humanoid. Keffler would be thrilled.
What the trees lived on was anybody’s guess, but that they came right up the border of every city on Kaldus Minor, and had to be kept out with tall fences, was undeniable. It wouldn’t have been a far reach for Crimson to imagine the spiny dense mat of trees as a slow but sentient riot, thronging about the base of the artificially constructed colonies of humanoids waiting to carry away the dust encrusted metal buildings piece by piece. Her Mindframe clicked. Hardly the benign hedge of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale.
She descended the ramp of the Boatman, left foot clanking, and squinted behind her dark goggles. The sun, Pincha, was high, and it looked like just another baking hot day in a line of a hundred others.
Olper strode out next to her. He alone of the crew refused Shaak-Rom’s goggles at distribution. Now the hard blue skin of the Vizavian caught the sun’s intense light and looked even dryer. He smiled approvingly. With one hand he unhooked a corner of his head scarf and wrapped it around his jewelry-bedangled face, leaving only his eyebrow piercings readily visible. “Like home,” the tribesman nodded.
Crimson risked only a brief glance into the blinding sky. “Snake spit.” Her bare shoulder and the tops of her ears already felt like fried egg whites. “Rom! Gimme’ the poncho or something.”
Shaak-Rom, with his chunky rock-armor and dark goggles, looked like an overdressed kid on a ski slope. He turned his striped horns back into the Boatman and returned with the old poncho she’d refused moments earlier.
The whole party descended the New Lupell space port. They’d pretty much brought everybody. “Have fun kids,” was all Keffler had said as they all loaded into the Boatman. He and P’Xak were the only ones left onboard the Rival. Andross had ensured that. “I’ve missed all the fun this time! And that stupid anti-drug has worn off!” he whined. It was fine. They’d need every gun, if the police reports were accurate about Grula’s escape. Even Braevel came down to stay with the Boatman, in case they needed an emergency medical patch up.
“Rom, get a transport.”
“Right.” The Trivven trotted off down the hot platform to find a rental.
“Micron, you have the coordinates?”
The rib-high synthoid cocked his head, distracted. In a moment, he exchanged his grayish skin for a dusty yellow, matching the predominant terrain. Then he rotated his synthetic skull around towards her, his hominal eyes catching hers before she could avoid them. “They are uploaded, and mapped. It is 16 kliks to target.”
“Fine. Get out there and scope it out. We’ll be along shortly. Don’t let them see you.”
“Affirmative. I’ll remain in stealth mode,” Micron acknowledged with a nod.
The android’s wrists and ankles split and wheels exuded from them. Then his back arched and folded backwards; his arms refolded along his sides and extended to the dust. Now crouched in a strange, all-fours, ATV sort of way, the small synthoid spun his wheels and skidded off into the desert, kicking lose gravel on Andros and Mog Mog with his speed. Andross cursed, but Micron was gone, like a Chihuahua in a dune buggy.
The crew milled about in the shadow of the spaceport authority, a dusty, fat tower with a steel parasol for a cupola. New Lupell was quiet compared to the bustle and commerce of anywhere on Kaldus Major. The minor planet was clearly a publicity colony: if you were wealthy enough to own property there, you were also eccentric enough to. Impractical blue-glass, flying, covered walkways were the most refreshing visible color in the harsh ecosystem. There was little outdoor activity, except for a few busy porters and space port engineers, heavily shaded and eager to return to the environment-controlled indoors. Crimson and the raggedy crew of the Rival were the only pedestrians waiting in the oppressive heat. Hooded, goggled, and shrouded, Crimson felt like a sweaty Christmas gnome, but even in the Space Port Authority building’s shade, she wouldn’t expose her pallid skin to the hard steel refracted boiling light.
Nearly thirty minutes passed before Shaak-Rom finally returned. He dangled a key peg from his red fingers triumphantly. “We have a transport. Full grav, with limited hover capability, but it guzzles fuel. And we have to fill it up before returning it.”
“Lead the way,” Crimson grumbled.
Shaak-Rom turned them down a dark ramp to an underground transport bay. Crimson took one last glance across the dull, prickly landscape. We’re coming for you, sleeping beauty.