“Xaxon, you space hound! How have you been?” The hail came from behind Xaxon Broxes and he turned.
“Javnon Pequent?” Xaxon blurted. “Is that really you?”
Javnon strode up, his lemon-yellow ship-knits clashing horribly with his shock of long orange hair. “Of course it’s me, you pirate! You still piloting that elderly old bird of yours?”
“The ZX-5 is the best in its class,” Xaxon retorted stiffly.
“Of course it is!” Javnon agreed airily. “Come. Buy me a drink?”
By the time Xaxon realized the direction of the suggested transaction, Javnon had already clamped onto his arm and was leading him steadily toward the central grav bar. It floated, gently bobbing, the anti-grav field generators nearly invisible under the heavy synth-wood construction. Brilliant cyan electrified gas tubs leant the drinkers a cadaverous air, but Javnon elbowed his way in to plunk his ample bottom on a stool and dragged Xaxon down onto the adjacent one.
“Two Glaks!” Javnon boomed.
The bartender, a pert Saturnian with electric fuchsia hair and perky breasts – all four of them, nodded, bored. She set the foaming brown sludge in front of Javnon and waited expectantly. Xaxon sighed and swiped his credit chit. She flounced away while Javnon turned to him.
“So. How did you make out in the Martian debacle?” Javnon all but whispered, looking around furtively.
Xaxon shrugged. “I wasn’t stupid enough to get my nose in on that one,” he answered and took a sip. The Glak was stale, but washed a parsec’s worth of space dust out of his mouth.
“Stupid. Yes, hmm, well,” Javnon mumbled. He took a long swig of his Glak and burped phenomenally.
“Nice one,” Xaxon murmured. “You, um, didn’t actually give them money, did you?”
Javnon sighed. “Yes, actually.” He waited a moment, then added plaintively, “It seemed like such a good deal, too!”
Xaxon nodded sympathetically. “But don’t you know the Martians love to defraud us?” he admonished gently. “I mean, what did Binxman say?”
Javnon flushed. “She left me,” he said into his Glak. “Six cycles ago, actually. Got fed up and left me for a Wormhole wildcatter, lucky bloke.”
Xaxon felt a flash of envy. He took a sip of his drink to cover it and looked at Javnon. “You didn’t lose a lot, I hope.”
“Most of it,” Javnon admitted. He glanced at Xaxon so quickly that Xaxon only got a flash of green eye and then was looking at Javnon’s ear again. “The ship, too.”
Suddenly everything made sense. Xaxon’s heart sank. Sure enough, Javnon looked at him pleadingly.
“You don’t have space in your crew, do you? I mean, even if it is just a ZX-5…” he trailed off.
Xaxon thought it was rich to insult his bird at the same time as he asked for a job. But, he’d known Javnon for a long time. “I’ll think about it,” he hedged. “I just might have need of a mechanic.”
“Not a Starnav?” Javnon said hopefully.
Xaxon laughed at that. “You don’t think small, do you?”
Javnon looked guilty, but met his eyes easily enough. “No,” he agreed cheerfully.
Xaxon made his decision. “All right. Meet me at Bay 14 at oh-nineteen station-side.”
Javnon beamed. “Thank you! You won’t regret this!”
Xaxon wasn’t entirely sure he agreed with that, but shook hands dutifully. He checked his chrono and stood. He downed the rest of his Glak in one shot and patted Javnon’s shoulder. “I’ll see you shipside,” he said and left the bar.
He arrived only five minutes late for his appointment with the prostitute. She let him take his time and didn’t overwhelm him with exotic positions, and he enjoyed himself immensely. He even left her a thirty-percent tip in gratitude.
He reached the ZX-5 five minutes before oh-nineteen and saw Javnon waiting with four heavy carbonite crates. He slowed, frowning.
“What the asteroid is that?” he blurted.
Javnon flushed, looking furtive. “It’s just a little cargo, Xaxon. Nothing too weighty…”
Xaxon stopped. “What is it, Pequent? I’ll not have contraband on my ship.”
“It’s not contraband,” Javnon protested. “It’s … um, specimens.”
“Of what, Pequent?” Xaxon pressed.
“Martians,” Javnon whispered, glancing around fearfully. “We should go…”
Xaxon was thunderstruck. He started to step forward, to yell or thrash Javnon’s ridiculous red-headed body, he hadn’t decided. The station klaxon let out with an almighty squeal and Javnon’s face drained of color.
“All ships not cleared for station undock are detained by order of Stationmaster Sylipsyn,” a voice intoned. “All ships not cleared for station undock are detained by order of Stationmaster Sylipsyn.” The voice droned on, repeating its warning in Martian, Salubrian, and even Saturnian – although hearing Sylipsyn pronounced in Saturnian would have made a cat laugh. Unfortunately, Xaxon was not a cat. Nor in a good humor.
“Get on board,” he snapped. He snatched the controls for the nearest crate and jammed the button down. He thumbed his comlink in his collar. “Minkis, coming aboard now. Four new crates and one mechanic. Clear station now, before lockdown. Is that clear?”
There was a startled pause and then Minkis responded. “Aye, sir.”
Xaxon was relieved Minkis was on duty. He was calm in a crisis. He swept on board, Javnon behind him, and they stowed the crates in cargo bay 2.
“Strap in,” Xaxon snapped at Javnon and moved aft to the bridge. Javnon, after momentary indecision, stumbled along behind him. Xaxon ignored him. If he wanted to fly about during undock, fine.
Maybe he’d break that red-headed noggin and save Xaxon the trouble.
They cleared the station doors just before they started to close. Xaxon strapped into the Captain’s lounge and watched Javnon slip into the Starnav’s console. Minkis thumbed a switch and the wormhole flared to life.
“Here we go,” Xaxon murmured.
“Let’s hope they don’t follow us,” Javnon whispered nervously.
Xaxon turned his lounge to stare at him. “Who?”
Javnon turned innocent green eyes to him. “Their parents, of course!”