The massive engines of the Rival Bay were already rumbling to life, before Crimson and the others were free of the engine room. Each had a task—something to investigate to narrow the field further. Cort and Clidjitt scampered and scuttled on ahead. Crimson stumped along the hard metal walk ways, her step-and-clump gait of cybernetic and booted foot carrying her to the shuttle and cargo bays. She was keenly aware that Shaak-Rom was keeping pace. It annoyed her. He could easily stride on, but the striped devil had a habit of “accompanying” her like a little dog. She ignored him, blowing a frustrated breath at the flop of purple hair that had fallen onto her brow.
He was gearing up to talk to her, and she didn’t like the sound of it—kept clearing his throat. Given their recent disagreement, she was sure she didn’t want to know. Was he going to lecture her on the foolishness of taking on a criminal wanted for the very thing that had happened to her? Probably he’d say she shouldn’t get involved; it’d be too personal; she wasn’t being objective.
He awkwardly raised a red hand, “Crimson…”
She wasn’t going to make it easy; she stomped on.
“We—ah, wanted to ask you—I wanted to ask you if we could run training scenarios in Shuttle Bay 2?”
He blurted it a bit—unusual for the composed master of the Duka fighting style of the Legacy Knights. But then again, they hadn’t spoken since Kaldus Minor. She was surprised enough that her mindlink faltered and she stumbled to a halt. Shaak-Rom quickly backtracked several steps to the entrance of Shuttle Bay 2 and poised, a hand over the door code.
He spoke quickly: “There’s a shooting range set up. We could arrange time trials, practice accuracy. Good for crew morale, and performance. If you’d like to see…”
Crimson pivoted and looked, scratching the shaved back of her scalp with her right hand. She hadn’t expected this. Could work. She did not move back towards him. “Uh, yeah.”
“We would need masers,” he gestured vaguely, “That is, could we use the masers on board?”
They wouldn’t break the magnetic seals. She could probably do with being seen to boost morale. “Yeah,” she waved a hand and turned back towards the Bridge.
She turned back towards the Green House, and the Bridge beyond. After the usual waver of the artificial gravity, she stepped into the ballooning, rotating garden-and-sky panes of the Arboretum. The massive terrarium assaulted the senses with the ever-bright constant of starlight, the heavy aroma of living-green, and the disturbing absence of throbbing technology. Keffler, the exobotinist with an attitude, had somehow single-handedly created a working eco-system. Or mostly so—he was still pestering her for permission to acquire bees and flying birds. So far she’d denied him.
The only thing she liked about the half-mile cylindrical hanging gardens was the spongy ground. Keffler had even left a few benches near a fish pond in Garden Pane 3, and created a scenic overlook of some flower beds on Garden Pane 2. Sometimes even the hardened crew of bounty hunters that populated the Rival Bay deigned to come and gaze into the natural beauty, or the endless wonder of space. Crimson saw pollen, and a deadly vacuum that would as soon freeze you as boil your blood.
But, she had given permission for the crew to have some fun in the shuttle bays. She considered even admiring Keffler’s row of potted spruces, and she thumped along the latex and grass walkway. Then she realized Shaak-Rom was back at her elbow; he wasn’t clearing his throat anymore, but usually the Trivven breathed deeply in the Green House. He wasn’t. She shot a suspicious glance sideways.
“Crimson,” he began again. His voice was deep, and the Trivven accent was guttural and rich, not usually conveying nervousness. She stopped again, turning to face him.
If Trivven’s were supposed to blend into the vegetation on Tulperion, they stood out like a swelling thumb in an Earth II garden. The white and blue horns, and long head tendrils, created circus-colored interruptions to the bright red skin. Yet somehow the exotic alien colors, along with the muscle-bound chest and arms and strong jaw-line, made him an attractive male of his species. Crimson tried not to look directly at him for very long. She narrowed her heavily shadowed eyes to block out the thought.
Shaak-Rom summoned his breath. “Is it wise, to pursue this criminal?”
“Oh, snake spit!” Crimson snarled, balling both her fists. She stabbed a finger at his face, “I don’t care.”
She turned and moved away up the path. He strode forward to catch up.
“After Eeg Grula,” he said, as though it were a complete sentence.
She hardened her resolve, plowing ahead. Yes, she’d snapped the drug lord’s arm and leg after apprehension. He deserved it.
Shaak-Rom was not going to be put off. He jumped ahead and placed himself in her path, causing her to pull up. She lifted her chin, refusing him eye contact, looking out the sky pane at the diminishing green disc of Qualvana among the stars and night.
“This Lomblurrg,” Shaak-Rom continued, “he will make you angry. If you do not control it, he will make you like him: a criminal.”
Crimson’s eyes snapped back to Shaak-Rom’s and she held his red gaze. A thousand responses collided within her Mindframe.
“I know why you want him,” Shaak-Rom continued. “But don’t be like him. Let Qualvana punish him.”
Crimson’s lip twitched. Her Mindframe didn’t support her conscience. It hung by a thin organic thread somewhere between the electrical interfaces and her spinal tap. But she and Gator had chosen this life to right a few wrongs in a galaxy of pain.
Grula had ticked her off. Didn’t make it right.
Shaak-Rom was right.
But she only growled, “Just get to him before me.”