Episode 10: Bait and Switch

Crimson cursed as she vaulted up the catwalk stairs to the bridge. She hoisted her body along like it was a bulky appliance going to the trash compactor. Gator thudded along behind her, every inch of him filling the corridor. From the top of the stairs Crimson sent her surly shout down the hallway ahead, “What, Andross?”

The cocky MiPie arched his back to throw his head over the seat back into view of the oncoming pair, “Oh you’re gonna’ love this one, Mama Bear!”

Under informed Crimson stomped the rest of the way, and heaved her cybernetic arm onto the neck-rest of the co-pilot seat.

Andross was muttering to himself, “Robot-bear? Mama Bobot?”

“What is it?” she snapped.

Andross acted as though he was all business. “Got a vendor on the line. Said he likes your work—” He gestured to the dried blood on her scraped face, “—quality, um… stuff.”

Another two clanks, and she was in the co-pilot seat. “Here,” she grunted.

The holo-board popped “up.” The thorny-browed holographic vendor, from his chest up, seemed slouched casually, and he fingered a lighter-square, illegal in 7 sectors including Agrelius, home sector of Earth II.

“Who is this?” Crimson asked.

The vendor condescended, “Did your captain not tell you?”

“I’m the captain,” Crimson stated, slicing her eyes only briefly at Andross; he shrugged. She continued, “I hear you’re interested in what we do.”

The alien considered her words, then proceeded. “I am looking for a vessel with security measures equal to yours who can protect a valuable cargo and deliver it discreetly to its recipient on Kaldus Major.”

“How discreetly?” Crimson grunted again. She smelled a rat. She didn’t have to look to sense Gator’s suspicion either. The Megladyte was filling the doorframe, and probably looked like an enormous floating head of scissored teeth on the vendor’s screen.

“Have you ever flown, Captain?” replied the man with a hooded smile. His emphasis, and the lift of his thorny eyebrow, incriminated question.

Crimson narrowed her eyes at the man; she checked the link was encrypted. Then she looked to Andross. He squirted both his index fingers into the tear glands of each eye, and made a silent explosion shape with his mouth.

Crimson came back to the screen, impatiently. “Only in space.”

“Ah,” the drug dealer opened his hands, “Then you don’t know what you’re missing!”

“You should demonstrate on yourself for me,” Crimson said, keeping her voice level.

The dealer changed to a serious tone, leaning forward on his elbows, “Captain, I’ll be brief. I will give you 100,000,000, to take my cargo to Kaldus Major to the arranged buyer with no questions asked, and no local or galactic interference. Half transferrable here and half on completion. Do we have a deal?”

“I’ll think about it,” Crimson lied. She swatted the image out. “Pig.”

Andross spun his chair lacsidasically, “Soooo, that’s a no?”

“Space jerk.” Gator croaked.

Crimson stood to leave. Fire burned in her veins, and made her optical relays seem red. Flyer Crystals. She couldn’t name a personal friend who’d experienced it, but then again she couldn’t remember her own past. She’d heard though. Sometimes a single injection could leave you floating for a week. What happened to your body after that was anybody’s guess. More than one naïve girl had suffered at the hands of that ‘flight,’ after getting the drug in a club or public place. “Take us out of orbit!” she barked, “If scum like this is hanging around on Qualvana—”

Communications chimed again.

Gator and Andross looked to Crimson. She nearly whirled and crushed the control console with her robotic hand. Instead she had to twist twice as far to snap the respond button with her human one.

“What?” she demanded.

It was not the drug dealer. An ugly Gortassa, one of the heavy set, pointy-headed native races of Qualvana sat there. A thick mat of nose tentacles dangled over his mouth as he spoke. “I’m Chief Police Inspector Rullorrg of the Illegal Substance Bureau. We have just monitored a conversation between you and a known trafficker of the narcotic crystals.”

“Snake spit.” Crimson shook her head.

Gator piped up unbidden, “You monitored that? That was encrypted!”

“We have our ways. We’ve been watching Vaken Rae for some time.”

“But encrypted ‘bursts are completely undetectable!” Gator continued in his rumbling baritone. “If you can catch outgoing transmissions you’ve got a galactic decoder!” Crimson spun half way around to angle her displeasure at the giant space alligator, but it was sheer admiration in his voice.

Chief Police Inspector Rullorrg gave a satisfied burble that might have been a chuckle. His tentacles trembled. “If only all life’s problems were that simply solved.” He turned his attention back to Crimson; “You are the captain of the… Rival Bay?” the inspector spun through some files with an off screen nav-ball.

“Yes.” Crimson answered slowly. “But we weren’t going to deal with this… Rae.”

“On the contrary, Captain,” the Chief Police Inspector, “I would like it very much if you did.”

Crimson’s eyebrows did a chest bump over the bridge of her nose. Gator bombasted “What?!”

The Chief Police Inspector sighed and reached for a spray bottle. He began misting his nose tentacles and wiping them with a cloth as he began to speak. The motion was fairly casual and familiar. Cleaning his glasses…? Crimson thought with a little disgust.

He said: “One of the peculiarities of Qualvanan law, which you may discover if you spend some time here, is that a criminal is not proven guilty until caught in the act. The best convictions happen, in the case of illegal cargo, just as any electronic transfers are being finalized. It’s a cumbersome requirement, but with all the loopholes today’s technology and legal systems can provide, it’s how we do it. Implications and intentions aren’t enough. We need Vaken Rae’s transaction to happen, and we need to see it when it does.”

“You want us to be your bait.” Crimson liked this even less than Rae’s offer.

“I want,” the inspector said, putting down his spray bottle and leaning forward, “Vaken Rae behind a level 10 forcefield, getting spanked like an Eppellion pony.”

Andross laughed out loud. Crimson stayed on task. “What’s in it for us?”

“I’ll let you keep a quarter of his offer, and you’ll have a badge of cooperation from the Qualvanan Authority—quite handy in this sector.”

Crimson scoffed. “I don’t come here that often.”

“Thirty-five percent, then,” said the Chief Police Inspector.

“And an encryption detector!” Gator barked.

“Thirty percent,” said the inspector, “… and I’ll see if I can have my lab boys talk to yours…”

Crimson felt the weight of Gator’s eagerness on the back of her neck. She was sure she’d regret this: she let out a hiss. “Done.”