Sitting in the bridge of her small sloop, Keya pulled out her diet nutrient bar from her pilot seat’s side pocket. She opened the wrapper and took a bite, hating the synthetic, sugary taste. The provider promised they would curb her appetite, though.
They weren’t wrong. She definitely wasn’t hungry for any more diet bars.
Perched on the navigation console was her pet snarett. Standing on her back legs, the long-bodied rodent sniffed the food from a distance. Her little black nose wiggled in the air, making her look pitiful, as if she had been left out of a feast.
Keya shook her head. “We’ve been through this, Luli.”
The snarett clicked at her, reaching for the food.
“You didn’t like this yesterday or the day before. Or the day before that. It’s the same nasty diet bars. Trust me, I wouldn’t eat this if I didn’t have to.”
The snarett bent down to all fours, moved closer, and motioned for the food again.
“Fine. Here you go.” Keya broke off a piece and handed it over with a smug smile.
Luli grabbed the corner with her itty-bitty paws while Keya took the opportunity to rub a hand down the snarett’s slick maroon skin with its mood-changing stripes. Luli opened her mouth, exposing thin, razor-sharp teeth, and nibbled on the crumb.
Immediately, the snarett’s luminescent stripes turned black, and she threw the morsel on the console, scurrying off the lip and returning to her hammock home.
Keya rolled her eyes, picked up the crumb, and threw it into the ejection shoot. “Considering how clever you are, I can’t understand why you keep wanting the same gross food.” After speaking it out loud, Keya realized that she was doing the same thing. Hmm.
In the hammock, Luli began dry heaving.
Keya snorted. “You nibbled less than a crumb, Luli. And you’re an omnivore.”
Dramatic little thing.
Luli angrily clicked and groused. If the snarett could speak, Keya was sure her pet would be cursing her out. Reaching into the other pack, Keya pulled out a packet of kibble and fish and held it up.
Luli’s stripes changed from black to pink. Happy now, her pet jumped over to retrieve the packaged food. Keya didn’t need to help her open it, the sneaky little thief could get into anything—including the pockets on her chair, which is why she’d installed latches a month ago.
Above her console, next to the navigation screen, her Minky screen trilled. She recognized her boss’s non-Federation ID.
If her boss was calling, maybe she didn’t have to wait a week for her next job. Getting paid meant eating better. Seth of Stars was being merciful.
Accepting the voice call, she smiled. “Hi, Villet.”
“Hello, Keya. Are you still in the east quadrant?”
In the background, Keya could hear a bustling din, and a male shouting something. Wherever her boss was, it wasn’t his office.
“Yeah, I’m still here.”
“Perfect. So, this guy came in and told everyone that he found a Numan lab ship in the east quadrant. He said he broke in and discovered it was mostly empty, but there was something still alive in it.”
Keya didn’t know who was inside that ship, but she instantly felt bad for them. She couldn’t imagine how they must have suffered. “That’s sad. Is the Federation headed out to help them?”
“What? No. I want you to go out there first.”
He wanted her to be the first contact for a Numan experiment?
No, thank you. She enjoyed living. Plus, when did Drifting Treasures become a company that rescued people? Since she could remember the company focused on finding random space objects from ancient time periods.
Her last big find was a broken-down satellite. She was able to trace it back to Terran history. It was called Pioneer 11. For that, she received a generous bonus.
But this was outside her job description. “I’m a spacecraft archeologist. I’m not qualified to rescue Numan experiments.”
“I don’t want you to rescue it. That’s not why I called.”
“What do you want me to do then?” she snapped, practically forgetting that she was talking to her boss. “I don’t mean to be rude; I just wonder how I can help the situation.”
“I want you to get there first to check out the ship. The guy said the thing looked old, and I thought you could go and see if it’s worth our time. Take videos and figure out an estimate of value in case I need to put in a claim to keep it. Plus, if you know what kind of ship it is, you can give me the blueprints for my team to use.”
What was she? The outsourced contractor that didn’t count? Jerk. “Are you sending in a video team?”
“Of course, who else would go in?”
“Uh, a Federation person? Someone in security. That seems like the right person for this job. They train for this stuff. I think.”
“No one is prepared for a Numan experiment. Plus, the experiment might not even be alive.”
Holding her hands up, she was more confused now than before. Her mouth couldn’t even form words.
“You do this, Keya, and you will be a big help in making our ratings go supernova. This is a once in a lifetime chance.”
She wasn’t an idiot. She knew he was talking about getting a fat bonus. If the situation didn’t have to do with a living or possibly non-living person, she would have been ecstatic. But she couldn’t shake the sadness of the unnamed person’s plight.
She heard a roar of voices and the clanking of glasses in the background. The question was out of her mouth before she could stop herself. “Where are you?”
Internally, she shook her head, knowing that Villet wouldn’t appreciate her questioning him in any way. Plus, she needed the job so she wouldn’t starve for the week. Not to mention, she really wanted to check out the ship and, if possible, help the sole survivor before someone else went in, guns at the ready.
“Never mind. The east quadrant is huge. I will need specific coordinates.”
Her boss called for someone and then said, “Here he comes. And I’m at The Pit.” The Pit was a local fight club slash bar on Marnak.
Her boss’s voice was somewhat muffled. Still, she heard him say, “I need you to tell my employee where you found the ship.”
“Yeah, sure,” said another male. He gave her the numbers. “And make sure you have a big phaser. I shot it at least three times, and it didn’t stop the thing from chasing me.”
Keya’s blood drained. The guy had shot the experiment? Did he not understand that he was probably just reacting to an intruder being on the ship? How horrible.
“Great, thanks,” Villet said to the other male. “Now, Keya, get to the ship and make sure you’re first.”
Keya stared at the screen, amazed at how soulless Villet was. Did he not care at all that some random guy had broken into a ship, shot an unarmed person, and then left them to die?
Was she the only one listening?
“Yeah. I heard. I’m going.” She was obviously losing her mind because she needed to know if the experiment was okay.
She wasn’t a doctor or anything, but she had a medical kit on board.
“Keya, one last thing.”
Good Seth of Stars, what now?
“Do not go in the ship. It’s not safe. Also, I’m gonna talk to my guy on Lotus Adaamas. He makes the right guns for every occasion. Don’t worry, you won’t have to use one, but I want the supplies already there for when the team shows up just in case.”
Keya was quiet because guns meant death. “So, if he’s not dead, you’re just going to kill him?”
“Keya,” he said soberly, “I’m sending tranquilizer guns. I don’t want to kill him; I want to record his story. I’ll make him a legend. Everyone will know about the experiment that lived. Then we can use the ship as a Marnak attraction.”
Oh, good…he wanted to exploit the person’s torture and make his ship a tourist stop. How awful.
What kind of person did she work for?
“All right. I’ll figure out what ship it is and get you the current value and the blueprints.”
“Excellent. That’s why I appreciate you, Keya.”
“Yeah,” was all she could say.
“Remember, don’t go in the ship.”
“I won’t,” she lied.
“Good. Talk to you soon, Keya.”
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