Shaak-Rom moved quickly through the massive seed ship. The less Vaken Rae and his men could take in, the better. They climbed the final cat-walk stair and Shaak-Rom strode down the hall to the communications alcove. He stepped past the door and stood between the bridge and the drug dealers. He tilted his rack of horns to his left. “In there.”
Rae stepped to the side and said, “Nae, Slie.”
The two Kannazzallians slipped passed him and squeezed into the small workstation. Just three hours before Shaak-Rom had watched as Rullorrg’s technicians had been installing a bug to track the drug dealer’s payment records. Now as the painted Trivven stood over the drug dealers he hoped desperately the ISB techies were good at what they did. He draped his hand casually over the butt of his maser.
Rae was watching him. Shaak-Rom tried not to wince as the drug dealers wrenched off the panel below the desk. Instead he took a deep breath. “How far is Kannazzal?”
Rae’s face remained a placid brook of confidence. “A week. In jump.”
“I thought so. What brought you to Qualvana?” Besides drugs?
Rae smirked, “Well it wasn’t the women!”
One of his lackeys piped up from below the desk, “Nae likes the tentacles!”
Shaak-Rom took a chance. He bent to peer in on the alcove, exposing his back to Rae. His own fleshy dreads on high alert to detect any shift in the hallway’s air, or body heat. “Hey I’m Trivven. No judgment here. How’s it look? Good?”
The thorn-browed Kannazzallians were wedged tightly under the desk with work lights in their hands. Shaak-Rom didn’t tell them there was a maintenance light inside the panel.
“Old piece of brak,” commented one. “You fly around in this?”
Shaak-Rom shrugged. Rullorrg’s techies were good. There was nothing suspicious in sight.
“Looks clean,” surmised the other.
“And now the bridge,” Rae said.
Shaak-Rom straightened, blocking his path again. The drug dealer’s smile was gone. Shaak-Rom shook his head, “We don’t have a comm. Port there. Just a feeder.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
Rae’s lackeys stood adding their weight to the drug dealer’s demands. Shaak-Rom didn’t need a sixth sense to feel their hands move to concealed weapons. He tensed.
Foot fall on the catwalk distracted them all. Shaak-Rom used the moment to grip his maser and slide his finger around the trigger. A distinctive step-and-clank gait proceeded the purple fauxhawk of the cyborg commander. Crimson drew herself up the stairs with both hands on the rail and strode the distance between them. Behind her, toting masers, were Mog Mog, the pile of living rock, and P’Xak, with his boomerang head-shield.
“Any problems?” grunted Crimson.
“I was just telling your compatriot that I need to see the bridge of your vessel.” Rae said innocently.
“I told him we don’t have a comm. Port in there.” Shaak-Rom reported. Now they could look all they liked; four on three were odds not even Rae would challenge.
Crimson shoved her way between the drug dealers with her robotic shoulder and motioned to Rae. “Just you.”
Suddenly compliant, he followed her. She stood in the midst of the cockpit and opened both arms. “Happy?”
Rae only bothered with a cursory glance, half a step onto the bridge. He smiled. “It seems we’re in business.”
The half-a-kilometer march through the generation seed ship back to the shuttle bay was politely quiet. It wasn’t long until Rae’s shipment of contraband was fully loaded and concealed in the cargo hold. Then, with an invisible sigh of relief, Shaak-Rom watched the drug dealers disappear up the ramp of their freighter.
Crimson and the crew retreated outside the shuttle bay and sealed it. Spinning lights signaled red, and alarms everywhere tolled the siphoning of the shuttle bay’s air. It would be at least 30 minutes until the bay was clear and they could eject Vaken Rae and company off the Rival. They had pulled it off, it seemed. The external threat to their safety was lessening for the moment; it allowed them to think about other things. Most of the crew headed back to their duties. Shaak-Rom had something else on his mind.
The yellow Megladyte with the red mohawk turned to go as well. He grunted, “I’ll make sure Rae didn’t leave any bugs of his own!” The enormous space Gator stomped heavily, maneuvering his bulk around to head back through the ship.
Shaak-Rom swallowed his on intimidation; it was for the crew’s safety. He laid a red and striped hand on the scaly arm of the Megladyte. Gator paused.
“Oh right. Here ya go, Roms.” The space crocodile handed over the maser rifle.
Shaak-Rom took it and tossed it beside the others on the electric cart. As anticipated, his white eye-circles were sufficiently narrowed to communicate his displeasure, and keep the Megladyte waiting.”Somethin’ else?”
Jerking his horns sideways, he stepped to the left of the corridor. Gator thumped almost uselessly a step to the side with him. Shaak-Rom squared his shoulders to the massive beast, keeping his hand on his own maser. “If you ever make a threat to this crew or captain, or an attempt at those crystals…” Shaak-Rom said, his voice low through his pointed teeth, “I will personally bring you down.”
It was a bold statement. Not only was Gator clearly senior on the Rival, and Crimson’s right hand man, but twice Shaak-Rom’s size. But he didn’t care. Gator’s look in the shuttle bay over the Flyer Crystals was too deadly to ignore. As keeper of the Rival’s arsenal and their mission’s security Shaak-Rom would make sure Crimson and the crew were protected.
Gator stared at him for a long moment—immobile as a log in a river. Then he tossed back his head and laughed.
Crimson, Cort, and all the others still left in the hallway turned to look. Shaak-Rom tried not to fidget, and kept his eyes locked on the reveling crocodile.
Gator swiped a scaly hand under his double-lidded eye. “Oh man, did I get you too?”
Shaak-Rom suddenly wondered if he had missed something.
Gator dropped a massive paw on the Trivven’s shoulder, “Stripes, I don’t want no crystals. That was an act. I knew Andross would get stupid if I riled ‘im up.”
“That was an… act?” Shaak-Rom stumbled verbally.
Gator puffed up his chest and cackled, “You and Rae bought it!”
Shaak-Rom felt his eye circles turning the color of the rest of his face, but he stood his ground. He’d seen death in the eyes of Tulperion’s gigantic wamerocs. “But your eyes,” he insisted.
Gator opened his palms and barked, “Megladyte!” like it was some sort of explanation. Still chuckling the massive beast lumbered around and thudded away.
By now Shaak-Rom’s attempt at subtlety was wasted. Cort hopped up beside him. Shaak-Rom looked at him for hope. “Did you know he was not serious?”
The space-gerbil’s whiskers twitched in amusement, “Dude, their whole culture is built on deception. They don’t teach you that in Legacy School?”
Shaak-Rom slung the maser strap over his horns and dropped his weapon on the cart with the others. “No. I have never seen one like him in the entire Legacy Galaxy.”
Cort shrugged. He spun the electric cart around and gave it a free-handed push so Shaak-Rom could take the weapons back to the Armory. “Gator’s not much like his kind. But don’t play poker with him.”