The glowing orb of Qwent quickly distinguished itself as a frigid world. Ice caps engulfed its northern and southern hemispheres, and steely green, frozen oceans clasped at gray headlands across the rest. Andross rode the magnetic freefall of disembarking Mag flight with the ease of arranging flowers. Qwent bobbed from the view screen, and back again, as he corrected attitude, and calculated a geosynchronous orbit. “Yeeha,” he hummed to himself. Flicking the ship wide intercom he announced, “This is your pilot speaking. Weeeee’re in orbit around Qwent. Please check that you have your hand luggage with you while exiting the seedship. Aaaand don’t forget to wrap up warm, ‘cuz you’ll freeze your butt off!”
He released the switch and listened to the long silence that followed. He drummed his finger. “They love me.”
Catching a lead took much longer than anticipated. At first Gator sat alone trying to siphon through the tetrabytes of data. He cringed every time he ran across the protected video streams of people’s personal affairs. Raw data from bank computations and transactions, to shipping manifests and invoices, made up the bulk of the encrypted data traffic. But even on frosty Qwent lovers made their steamy video ‘busts, and people discussed personal business, family, and work.
Qwent was of colony planet, settled by Qualvana’s Gortassan and Zeeplan peoples—the stocky tentacled race, and the light-boned butterfly people. Complex hives of bio domes encapsulated the steamy semi-toxic atmospheres the system-natives preferred. But other races from the cold worlds had created sub-cultural work slums surrounding the clusters of Qualvanan hives. Here the rough Lascans, furred Valacians, and Cantacores lived, providing labor services outside of the comfortable bio domes of the natives. But also a conglomeration of non-cold world species collected. Many worked the between-jobs. Liaisons for the cold and muggy atmospheres—using smaller more economical breathing packs—they were the middle men; a class of grifters and scalpers supplying the upper class, and oppressing the lower.
Over all, Gator didn’t like Qwent. But he found himself slouching, squinting through his second eyelids. He rode no high horse, while rifling through people’s personal trash.
Crimson’s incessant visits for progress reports didn’t speed the process either.
Reluctantly he called in help. Clidjitt clattered into Gator’s lair on four of his six legs. As usual the squeaky translation box suspended around his exoskeleton neck related his pops and fizzles into an irrationally cheerful sentence. “What do you need, Gator?”
“Clidj,” Gator sighed, tossing his nav-ball and sitting back, “I need your help. There’s fourteen tetrabytes of data every hour, most of it useless, but I can’t process it fast enough to catch anything significant. I separated most of the personal channels and hubs into a separate receptacle, but I can’t get a decent bead on the business and underworld stuff.” He waved vaguely to the insectoid’s compound eye clusters, which were already catching the blue light of his multiple displays and refracting them like dual disco balls. “Figured your eyes could handle it better. And also you wouldn’t mind a few naked humanoids as much.”
Clidjitt’s head tilted, his forelegs tucked under his chin like a begging dog. “Clothing is one thing we insectoid’s truly do not understand about you endoskeletons. I will not be offended. But tell me: why does it bother you?”
Gator shifted in his forked seat, trying to readjust his tail. “I don’t know. Not all of us have our skeletons to protect us.” He scratched behind his tiny ear hole. “It’s just wrong. It’s people’s personal lives. I haven’t even met anybody down there and I’ve accidentally seen more about them than I ever want to know—and I don’t like them. I’m up here in my little spy roost, and I have the gaul to judge. I got too much power and not enough innocence.”
Clidjitt clattered up beside Gator, easily pulling up a heavy crate with two feet—that would have taken three average humanoids to move—and set himself on it like a stool. He pulled two of Gator’s moveable screen to himself, and began dividing them into an eye-crossing number of sub screens. He affected a humanoid shrug. “In a Brev hive it is considerably different. Every worker can come and go freely into the queen’s and drones’ chambers. Their tasks require it. But the eggs belong to the colony.” He was already splitting off entire categories of data.
“Here,” Gator tossed him a few financial streams with his nav-ball; he should have called on the Brev sooner. He grunted. “I don’t know. Its just different.”
Clidjitt’s claws were flying over the diplays and flicking open video streams and closing them again before Gator’s pupils could even react. “Hm!” the insectoid agreed.