“All crew to the Circle,” Crimson’s voice crackled over the ship-wide intercom. Not that Coeleobraevel heard it that way. Braevel, for short, among the other crew, had installed a special sub-router which both broadcast the message under water, and translated it into Vassaquailossian Whale-Song. But even through the most melodic voices of the twelves seas of his homeworld, Braevel did not miss the hot impatience of Crimson’s order.
Braevel blew a sluice of water through his gills and wriggled through the water once again to his air-suit. The over-familiar water-tight suit was like a chubby water balloon. It was held in humanoid shape by retaining gaskets, joints, and a helmet that rivalled most EVA suits. It also kept a layer of water next to his scaly skin at all times whilst out of his tank (which was nice), and allowed him to breathe comfortably through his neck gills (if you didn’t mind the taste of your own scales after a while). He could easily load two compressed water tanks on his back which freshened the water supply for longer stints abroad. It only tasted slightly carbonated then, but definitely gave him the hiccups. That was the price of seeing the universe…
At least a trip to the Mess he could do with just his normal suit, no tanks.
Being from a water planet had its own advantages and disadvantages: his quarters were twice the size of most; but he’d had to pay for the complete installation of his tank. He’d known it though: Duklagan’s weren’t exactly a spacefaring race. The air-suit was only the first of a long list of expensive items he’d had to save up for since deciding to explore the cosmos. With Skyphers at 20,000 a head, High-Altitude Birding had been a dangerous but lucrative way of making it possible.
Now as Braevel sloshed along the hall leading towards the Circle—the round meeting area between the quarters, Mess, and Medical—he both enjoyed his own personal “atmosphere,” and was slipping slightly on the algae in the feet of his suit. Never had space exploration been quite so slimy. Rarely touching any of the environments he visited made it seem a bit like he was only a tourist or voyeur, but he was possibly the most widely travelled Duklagan in Vassaquailos’ history.
He would write it all down, and maybe one day return and become famous—and buy himself a nice coral palace on a reef somewhere.
He squish-squashed into the circular common area between the crew quarters. Many of the crew had already arrived and seated themselves in the maze of curved, dirty-white couches that formed a mini amphitheater. It was merely two shallow tiers down to the floor in the middle, and once as likely an announcement or entertainment area for the inhabitants of the generation seed-ship. Now it served Crimson for her crew briefings.
Braevel mused over what he would write about his motley crewmates. There was the muscular Trivven , Shaak-Rom: a striped and red fighter with horns like a large bull flarfus. Olper and Tager the Visavians, with blue skin and more jewelry than a sunken ship. Clidjitt, an insectoid, 100 times larger than any of the little water skimming pests of Vassaquailos. And Cort, the space rat: a massive version of the vermin that often drowned and polluted the oceans currents. Others were still arriving, including Krevvenar, Gator, and Jumondo. Braevel chuckled at his own humorous descriptions. He had gotten rid of his hiccups from the mission on Qualvana, but they didn’t know that; no one seemed to take his slight jiggling out of order. Behind Gator came Crismon and Andross, and almost at the same time arrived Keffler, the maimed one. Humans: they would likely require a whole chapter in his book. Each one was so vastly different it was difficult to tell which were actually genetic traits and which were not.
Andross flopped on the sofa furthest back, and Crimson stalked to the center of the circle of couches. Keffler zipped to the edge of the circle and wedged his mobility chair between the two couches closest to the hydraulic lift that got him from the Arboretum to the rest of the crew. He never seemed to appreciate these interruptions to the spinning garden kingdom he was building. Whatever experiments he was caretaking in his greenhouses seemed infinitely more important. But he occasionally allowed Braevel to tour his wild glass houses in the Green House, as a fellow scientist of sorts. Really Braevel was a glorified zoologist on his world. But along the intergalactic tradeways this was only a few short qualifications away from medic: a terribly paid post, since space travel regulation required medics on virtually every craft. But it was the quickest way to book passage off Vassaquailos and into the night skies.
“I’ll be brief,” Crimson was saying. Now his transmitters carried her voice directly into the water for his ear frills to pick up.
Surly as ever, the female cyborg captain—oddly the only female onboard—continued, “We’ve been assigned a job, by the Qualvanan Illegal Substance Bureau. We are to pick up and deliver a load of Flyer Crystals to drug dealers on Kaldus Major. They’re going to record the whole thing, bust the perps, and give us a pat on the back and a couple of credits. You’re jobs will be to load the cargo, guard the cargo, and deliver the cargo, while keeping your mouths shut. Anyone got any problems with that?”
No one did. The benefit, Braevel bubbled to himself, of having a deputized bounty-hunting crew, was that they were all legal, if barely. Gigs for the Galactic Precinct were good, if you could get in somehow, even under a ship’s charter. No one would sacrifice—
“Yeah, um, I’ve got a question?” Andross had flung his arm over the back of the couch after waving it for attention. “Do we get to keep any of the, um, evidence, as a reward?”
Well, almost no one.
Crimson’s dark eyes hardened at the human pilot before scanning the rest of the crew. Her purple shock of hair seemed to fall down into her face these days, more than stand up. One eye was mostly obscured, but it probably kept the water in his suit from boiling as her eyes swept across Braevel, with the others.
Crimson stated her position in no uncertain terms: “If anyone touches any of the merchandise except to complete the dummy transaction, I will personally float them out the airlock.”
Andross wobbled his head to goad her. “It’s just a question…!”
“Are these poachers comin’ on our ship?” Keffler piped up. It was usually the humans who had to voice their opinions in these briefings.
“They’ll come as far as they need to, to deliver the goods,” Crimson replied.
“Yeah, well, not in the Green House. Spoors are one thing, but I’m not having the body-countin’, credit-stealing, blood-poisonin’, space trash in my gardens.” The maimed one’s voice was rough and angry too. Braevel always wondered why it did not further anger the cyborg female when Andross’ attempts at humor always did.
Crimson only replied, “They won’t come further than the cargo bay.”
Everyone seemed settled with the plan.
“Standby for further instructions,” Crimson finished with a glare.
Everyone stretched and stood to depart, but Crimson stabbed flesh finger at Braevel. He stood, his suit sloshing, and slid easily down the two steps to where the female had to look up into his polished faceplate.
“Can I assist with something?” Braevel asked. His own voice, bubbling and clicking, sounded funny translated by the Universal Communicator. He’d chosen a pleasant tenor male humanoid voice. He was learning universal for himself, but it was slow going.
“Yeah,” Crimson grunted. “I want you to dig up everything you can on Flyer Crystals. How to detect them in the system, and if you can find and synthesize an antidote.”
“Of course. I’ll see what I can pick up from the local medical databases.”
“Good. I don’t want anyone taking shots; and I don’t want anyone suffering from shots if they have to take it.” She turned and clanked out of the pit of the Circle and back towards the Bridge.
Braevel wondered what it was she feared.