“Transition complete,” Mate Spivakovsky announced in the small area of the Gazelle’s bridge. “Jump drive on line and green.”

Captain Gili examined her plot one last time before tapping the command. “3… 2… 1… Jump.” The world outside the bridge’s view screen twisted and shifted from a shimmering star field to the flickering chromatics of jump space.

“I like these gigs from Station 47,” Giselle mused as she reviewed a few of the virtual gauges of her control board. “Short distance to the transit point means saving money on supplies.”

“But less time to get to know the passengers,” Dede mentioned.

“Yes,” Giselle agreed. “That tall one, Talen? He’s a cool drink of water.”

“The tuff on the talawan’s tail,” Dede agreed with a nod.

“Have you actually ever seen a talawan?”

“No,” Dede confessed. “But it’s still a saying.”

“They use that bundle of fur to distract prey before they turn and attack.”

“It’s still pretty.”

Captain Gili chuckled as she secured her board. “Yes it is. Yes it is.”

“We still have a week in jump then four days in transition to Bothecarro,” Dede remarked as the lights flicked off her board one by one. “That’s plenty of time to get to know our four passengers.”

“They are a comely bunch.”

“Are you laying claim?”

Giselle shook her head as she slipped out of her chair and headed for the bridge hatch. “I have a new love.”

“Tell me you’re not going back down to the cargo hold to sniff the customs seals, again.”

We are going down to the hold to make sure the cargo is secure. I might take a brief whiff while I’m down there.”

The lights on Dede’s control pad winked with the security of a successful handoff. A giggle bubbled out of her lips as she shook her head.

“What?” her captain challenged. “That is the smell of honest work.”

*****

It didn’t seem right. Dede held up the multiscanner to the metallic crate one more time to double check the readings. Her eyes scanned up and down the row of similarly packed and sealed crates in the dim light of the hold. A few days of inspections had revealed a gradual uptick in temperature from this particular unit, almost as if it were slowly overheating. Dede checked the manifest. As a rule, containers of absontium retropahge did not overheat.

The Chief Engineer tucked her scanner away in her belt and pulled out a pry bar. Her fingers brushed the custom seal, its raised surface and filigree. She sighed and started working on the crate’s side panel. The captain would forgive her this moment of curiosity, assuming Dede could find the cause of the reading.

The panel popped out, rattling as it fell to the floor. The loud noise in the quiet space cause Dede to jump, started by the sharp clang. The mass of wires, diodes, and what exactly was that? Gave her another shock.

“You don’t look very much like a container of absontium retrophage.”

“You shouldn’t have seen that.”

Dede hopped forward at the sound of the voice then turned. “Avis? Isn’t it?” she asked of the man standing behind her. He nodded, running his hand through the curls of his green hair. “You should not have seen that.”

“It was overheating.” The engineer pointed weakly at the crate behind her. “It’s not a crate full of meds. It’s a power source. Did you know about this?”

The handsome man with the green hair sighed and pulled a device from his belt. “Talen,” he said into the communicator. “We have a problem.”

Knowing who he referred too, Dede wasted no time sprinting for the door.

*****

The kiss put all the right tingles in all the right places. His lips moved from hers to nibble gently at her neck, then her ear. The ear thing bothered her. Gili never cared for the sound of someone slobbering close up. She pulled away. Talen had promise. She could teach him what she needed in the days they together before arriving at Bothecarro. “Fancy a drink?” she asked.

The man nodded as they separated. Gili turned her back on him to cross the short distance to a cabinet suspended on a wall. “I’m surprised at the size of your quarters, Captain,” Talen told her as she retrieved a few bottles and glasses, “and it’s austerity.”

“I’m not one to form attachments,” she replied as she took the caps off of the bottles.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

A wry smile crept across Gili’s face. “As for size. Dede and I try to cram as much cargo and passenger space into the Gazelle when we refitted her.”

“Maybe we should use my cabin, next time.” Her smile widened. “That sounds presumptuous,” she answered. “If there is a next time, there are things you should….”

“Talen, we have a problem.” A harsh squawk from a communicator cut across the room. Gili continued her mixing, as her guest shuffled behind her. The voice quieted as she supposed Talen lifted the device to his ear. She turned, leaving the drinks behind her on the narrow counter. “Is everything all….”

The sight of the gun surprised her, an ugly, snub nose, slug thrower. She should have known better. It wasn’t the first time she should have patted down a guest to her quarters.

“This would have been easier if you were naked.”

“Well,” Gili told him, her lips curling into a frown. “Aren’t you the tuft on a talawan’s tail?”

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