“Slap it on yer butt!” Gator said. The homing beacon was microchip no larger than a mole on the skin, but a wary eye could still identify the gray dot. A sensor sweep definitely would, but they had to hope the slavers weren’t expecting a well-equipped spy. Since a faux doctor’s physical was a likely part of the Skeddium slavers’ recruitment ruse, they all hoped Tager could keep his undies on.
Tager twisted his lips into a wry smile. “So what? Slap once for backup, twice for ‘I found them,’ and three times to send mixed messages?” He spanked his rump for effect.
“Yeah!” Gator gave a short laugh, “And hope ya didn’t just break it!”
“I feel good knowing the Rival Bay will know exactly where my butt is at all times.”
“It also has limited sound wave detection, so we’ll be able to hear bits and pieces of what’s happening. Just don’t fart.”
Crimson felt the need to keep everyone on target, “Can we send him with fake credentials?”
Gator snorted, “Yeah! If I had a week maybe I could forge a single credential ring!”
“You mean we hafta actually hand over our real creds?”
Everyone looked around, hoping there was a better way. There wasn’t.
Gator twisted left and right, looking for his tools, “Ummmm, well I can put them in a locking cred-purse…”
“Do it,” Crimson said.
Tager reluctantly handed over the credential rings. “Don’t lose these.”
Gator laughed. “He’s more worried about these things!”
Crimson went for the Boatman’s coded, reserve maser box. It was up in the cockpit. In a few moments she had climbed into the pit, and forced her metal knee down to get under the backup navigation console behind the pilots’ seats. The little ball of nausea and nerves came back as she crouched alone. Her fingers hovered over the code pad. She balled her fist, closed her eyes, and tried to wait it out. Breathing was suddenly rapid. Despite the cold of her metal limbs she felt sweat beading on her forehead and upper lip.
Control. Get control. Willing her Mindframe to assert order through her thoughts, she sent an electrical impulse to open her eyes and punch in the code…
“Crimson? Are you all right?”
It was Shaak-Rom’s voice.
“Snake spit!” Crimson opened her disobedient eyes. There was a time index error in her Mindframe. She’d lost 94 seconds. A blackout.
“Suit up!” she nearly yelled. “We’re out of her in 4.”
She stabbed in the code like a kingfisher spearing fish, and scooped up the three pitiful masers. With a violent yank she was vertical, and followed the Trivven into the hold.
Once there she issued the stun guns to Micron, herself, and Andross.
“But I’ve already got a—” Andross protested.
“Save it!” she snapped. To Shaak-Rom she ordered, “Use your stone.”
The Trivven hoisted his Gripon baton and nodded. She’d seen his stone armor block lasers. She hoped he was fast enough to bat them out of the air with the long rod. There was no time for further preparation.
Everyone looked ready.
“Okay, Tager you go first,” Crimson pointed around the circle, “We’ll follow at a distance. Micron, you first. Catch up and keep an eye on him at all times until he’s in. Shaak-Rom, Andross, Clidjitt you next. Gator and I will swing around the Projects and come in from the other side…” she saw Shaak-Rom nod paternally, and she quickly added, “to cut off escape routes. Remember, this bastard had booby traps and killed several police officers to stay one step ahead.” She added a grim smile, “Don’t envy you boys the front door…”
Tager nearly took a warm hat from the Boatman’s container pods, but stopped himself. He’d have to face the cold without if he wanted to play the part. He’d considered going into theatre on Vizos once. Decided against it in the end; didn’t like the jewelry. But for playing this role, he definitely would deserve the Acting Guild’s Golden Stud.
The journey by Metro car was 30 minutes. But the industrial city slipped past in a dirty white haze, as he tried running every possible scenario in his head. In the end, he would never know what they would do. He was just a desperate gambler wanting desperate work. But he had to get to the others, and then play through to finding surgeon…
The stop for the Gwolporb Projects came up and he disembarked into the bitter wind. Threading his way between the clumps of workers and their barrel fires, he retraced their steps down the narrow alley. If Micron was following him, he was keep well out of sight. Tager added a genuine shiver, and an insincere fervency to his walk. Inside the dilapidated building again, he hurried down the hall; but not before a surreptitious glance allowed him the hit the wall, leaving a shoulder print of snow for Micron to follow. The discomforting voices of unpleasant lives accompanied him down the hall, until he reached the Grotassan enforcer, still on duty.
“I’m back, see?” Tager volunteered, smiling sheepishly. “Got our creds…”
The enforcer grunted, and opened the flaps for him. Tager savored his last clean-ish breath before entering the stinging Qualvanan atmosphere. The recruiter sat beneath the hanging light. This time he looked up.
“Did I make it?” Tager asked.
“What?” asked the recruiter.
“Before the transport?”
“Oh, yeah,“ the slaver held out a hand. “Hurry, the transport is leaving soon.”
Tager took out the credentials-purse. He dropped it on the slaver’s green palm.
“Open it,” grunted the recruiter.
Reluctantly Tager complied, and the recruiter took out the credential rings. He tossed the purse back. Tager drew a burning breath and shoved the useless object back into his pocket. The green recruiter took his time verifying the credentials in a portable terminal he produced from under the desk. Tager tried shallow breathing to ease his discomfort. Finally the slaver looked up.
“All right, we accept you. You will be taken to the transport. We will keep your credentials with us on file. You’ll get them back at the end of your work contract.” He called out to the enforcer, “Brugurrg!”
“H—how long is the contract?” Tager asked as the burly Gortassa entered the room.
The recruiter shrugged, “Depends on your debt.”
Play the part, Tager willed himself to comply as the enforcer showed him the back door from the room. “Thank you! Thank you.”
“All personal items here!” the big enforcer held out a plastic bucket.
“Calculating transport escape velocity. All personal items will be collected and loaded appropriately. You’ll get them later.”
Tager surrendered his voice chip, and few other items from his pockets. Then the enforcer led them out, not knowing Tager still had his pistol concealed in the small of his back.
They passed through another steaming, green misted hall, and then another plastic flap. Beautiful, cold air rushed into the scalded holes of Tager’s nose and mouth. Then the enforcer unlocked a heavy door, and gestured inside a dark room. Tager bowed gratefully and accepted the invitation to step through, searching uselessly for a light panel as he entered. Darkness and a loud clang surrounded him as the door shut behind him. Then he heard the lock.