Episode 23: Customs and Contraband

Cloak and dagger wasn’t really Keffler’s style. He was more of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. If you wanted a bed-of-frikkin-roses kind of guy, you had to go somewhere else.

And usually, when they were bagging criminals, Keffler didn’t have much to do with the actual mission. Not his cup of tea. Humanoids weren’t much his cup of tea. Too full of crap. All this sneaking around lately, with a large heap of bull-crapping people on the side was new territory.

Then again, maybe it was fun. Likely bite them in the butt, though.

Keffler powered his way over to the maintenance elevator between the Mess and the crew quarters. It was set back a bit, and he was usually the only one to use it. For some reason Crimson and the party-antlered police chief followed. Keffler whacked the call button and the screen flung open, followed by the garage doors. He wheeled himself inside and banged a tight circle to land next to the inside control panel in a well-practiced maneuver, the back end of his chair nearly catching Crimson and the police chief in the sides. They stepped in once it was safe, and three other Picho police. The rest of the officers stared at the full maintenance lift in bewilderment, looking like a bunch of crustaceans after a seagull had picked through their heads.

“Use the flim flam stairs, you space-bottled morons!” Keffler snarled, flicking his wrist at the dumbfounded underlings. He struck the control panel and the doors closed. He grumbled, “… ‘Think they’d never seen a full elevator…”

In a moment the gray doors were lumbering open, and Keffler zipped out ahead of the others, and trundled around towards the Green House. The police and Crimson strode to keep up.

The artificial gravity weakened near the entrance to the Arboretum, and Keffler sped through it and hung left to stay on the catwalk between the ship and the sky pane. He knew his gardens well enough to see the second garden pane was just coming round from the ceiling. GP2 was where he had built his personal green house, and kept the more exciting plants he had found (and/or the ones it was best if they didn’t cross pollenate with the others). If he rode at top speed he could outpace the Arboretum’s rotation and ride up the cylinder towards the ceiling, but Crimson’s warning voice held him back and he waited for the escort to catch up. He didn’t have much over the lucky brats who still had working legs, but if anyone could demand he slow down for someone’s benefit, it was Crimson.

“Didn’t realize our fine guests couldn’t keep up,” he grumbled.

Crimson’s dark eyes silenced any further remarks, and the police chief, to his credit, didn’t respond.

After a while of marching, they at last came to GP2 and turned right to descend the slope of grass and shrubs.  They passed Keffler’s heavy spruce glades, still young trees, but promising O2 generators for the future. Potted apple trees stood in three lines on their right, and then came the GP2 irrigation pond. It was Keffler’s favorite with the Fijillion Lily Pads, and the alien Whorler Reeds. Beauty and utility. Finding alien plants that were both benign, and compatible with Earth II flora was a quest all its own—finding ones that encouraged fertility in the soil, and rejuvenated their little ecosystem were gems in a galaxy of ‘takers.’

But takers were fun too. He had plenty of those in his green house. He had to keep mice just to feed the Herribus Rat Trap. Keffler chuckled to himself picturing one of these space gonzo’s poking a finger in that one. Wouldn’t be pretty…

They pushed through the plastic flaps, and the heavy moist air met them like a crowded classroom in summer. “Don’t touch anything,” was all her said to his followers.

Crimson was playing nice. She expounded, “Several of these are experimental hybrids; poisonous. Especially pointy ones.”

A smile crimped Keffler’s left eye. That ought to put the fear of pollen rods in them. He imagined the line of officers narrowing to single file and eyeing his plants suspiciously as they carefully edged past. Good.

Suddenly he exploded: “What in a thousand galaxies are you doing man! Put that down you imbecile!”

A pair of officers were already in the green house, with their scanning implement, one holding a trail of ivy in his black gloves. They straightened, their coral-esque head growths clacking into a low misting pipe, and stumbled awkwardly back.

“No! Don’t—touch! Stop!” Keffler babbled racing ahead, and seizing the closest officer by the wrist. The Pincho stopped thrashing and looked bewildered. Keffler didn’t release him for a long moment. He was drawing a deep breath and summoning his worst maldictions, when one of them spotted their commanding officer.

“Sir! We’ve isolated the reading to in here, but the humidity is making hard to find the exact source.”

Captain Ratu Tallar was starting to feel in charge again. He muscled his way up to his men and grabbed the scanner in his large, gloved hand. He turned to Keffler. “Any ideas where we should be looking?”

Keffler figured he had to make this good. He chewed the inside of his lip for a minute, “No—” he said slowly. “Well, maybe, I suppose. Depends on what you fella’s consider illegal…”

“Drugs, mostly,” said Tallar, with eyes that said he was serious.

“Huh,” Keffler grunted, as though that concept was novel. “Well, I suppose it could be a little concoction the doctor and I was working on. Some of the boys on board have a little problem, ya see…” Keffler whipped out a piece of rubber hose he’d been cutting earlier and held it up, only to let it flop. One of Tallar’s men snickered. Keffler drove past the captain and led the rest of the way to the workbench where his and Braevel’s makeshift still was dripping modified nectar into little jars. “It’s all right here. First dose seemed a little more potent then we reckoned. Not only does it enhance the men, it seems to entice the ladies.” Keffler tapped the brow of his hat and nodded discreetly towards Crimson. “Even the robot ladies.”

Tallar watched him with caution. One of his men, who looked the oddest, with a dome of brain coral on his noggin, brought the scanner close. It clicked and beeped for a few moments. Keffler waited with eyebrow raised.

The police officer looked up, “Nope. Not it.” Tallar looked about to release a monsoon, but suddenly the police officer’s careless scanner drifted past another object. It whirred and beeped frantically. The officer squawked and gripped the instrument with both gloves, waving it side to side. “It’s here!”

“Oh, snake’s spit!” Crimson groaned.

The police descended like bees on a honeycomb, hands slapping onto the purplish crate.

“Don’t open that!” Keffler barked, desperate, “That’s a Berkatollian Bubble Spoor!”

The officers—who already had the crate in headlock-of-prying immediately released the container unit—nearly dropped it in their haste to put it down.

“Bubble spoors are illegal in this system,” Tallar growled.

“It’s dormant!” Keffler added hastily. “Kept it frozen. Thought I’d study it a bit after our last job.”

Tallar looked to Crimson, “Is this true? Did you know this?”

Crimson’s teeth were not going to unclench, but words still came out. “You have our log book. We made a delivery of bubble spoors from Berkatol to Qualvanna, just before coming here. I recently learned that crewman Keffler kept one for personal study, but did not know they were illegal substances in this system.”

Tallar blew a long breath between thoughtful lips. “Unfortunately our neighboring system embraces this vile substance. But its worst properties are not felt by the inhabitants of that ecosystem. Here, however,” he said, assuming an authoritative stance, “such goods are strictly embargoed. You’re bubble spoor will come into the custody of the Pincho Police, and not be returned to the bearers. If you dispute this acquisition you may appeal to the Higher Court system for a hearing on behalf of your case. Thank you for your cooperation.”

“Come on,” Keffler crowed, ears tingling with rage. “But… what about the Syrric Polodus, and the… the Potency Wood?”

Tallar’s men were already confiscating the spoor crate. Tallar was half turned to go, but he looked back. “Syrric Polodus? Why would you have that? That stuff gives me a rash.”