Place: Aboard the Brimstone, in transit
"It won't hurt him, will it?" Ness eyed the contraption warily as Nic ran down his arm to sniff at the thing.
"The whole rig only weighs about eight grams." Mac pointed to the little camera on top. "Whatever branch of ISE Julian works for, their equipment's topnotch and the harness is all out of polyglass fiber."
"All right. If Nic lets us put it on, he can try it." Ness held out his hand to let Nic climb back on, whiskers twitching. He kept putting his head back down to sniff the camera harness, though, so he was more curious than cautious.
With more delicate care than Ness would've credited for such huge hands, Mac slipped the harness over Nic's head and body, making small adjustments until it was snug and secure. Nic lifted his head, still sniffing, though he quickly figured out that lifting his head also lifted the camera and he seemed to offer the rat equivalent of a shrug before he went back to the plate of brownie crumbs on the table.
Ness put his head atop his arms on the table to get to Nic height. "How will you tell him where to go?"
"I'm thinking some combo of light trails and treats. But for now, just want to see how he does with it and how clear the camera is when it's inside the guts of the ship."
"Hey now!" Ms. Ivana chimed in on the comm system. "I didn't consent to any rodent running around inside my—insides."
"Technically, we're all running around your insides," Mac said as he adjusted Nic's camera a hair. "This'll help with diagnostics, Ms. Ivana. I know you can tell me when something goes wrong and where, but sometime places are hard for the little camera bots to get to so I can see exactly what."
"Well, I suppose," came over the comm with undeniable flounce and sulk. "Since it's all official."
"Good. I wouldn't want to have non-consensual diagnostics on my record." Mac finished fiddling and opened the grate on the vent beside the galley table. "Off you go then, Nic. Go explore."
Nic sat up on his haunches and glanced at Ness.
"Yes, you may," Ness told him softly. "Go on, but no chewing on wires."
With a squeak and a whisker twitch, Nic scampered into the duct system. Mac brought up the holo display for the camera so they could both monitor his progress. The mini light on the camera did a better job than Ness would've credited and while colors were muted, the display was sharp and clear, showing every seam and rivet along Nic's route.
For the first few minutes, the view remained relatively uniform with only the turns of the ductwork for variety. Then Nic stopped and poked his head through a grate somewhere. Lighting contrast whited out the image for an instant while the camera readjusted and the picture resolved to a view of storage from above with Heckle happily engaged in counting supplies, pirouetting between stacks as he entered totals.
Nic must have squeaked a greeting since Heckle stopped his dance-counting and looked up. His smile immediately became concerned and he approached Nic saying things that Ness couldn't quite make out, though the shooing motions were clear enough. You're not allowed down here, Nic and the captain's going to have you for dinner if he finds out. Go! Go!
Not that Ness really believed Shax would do away with his rat for a minor infraction, but he would be quite annoyed.
Duct corridors came back onscreen for a few turnings, then a shorter whiteout as Nic stuck his head into a dimmer ship space. The lowered lights revealed someone's cabin, not one Ness could place immediately. The camera panned, almost as if Nic had experience in shooting vids, and stopped on a figure curled up into a tight ball on the bunk. Even curled up tight, the thick black hair marked the figure as Julian. He twitched and shifted restlessly, showing eyes slitted open even in sleep. In a sudden blur of motion, Julian whirled to his feet, laser pistol pointed directly at the camera. For just a moment, his expression was flat and cold, eyes narrowed, stock still.
The moment passed and Julian shook himself with a laugh as he waved to Nic and pointed to the camera. He holstered his weapon, sat back on the bed and said something with his eyes twinkling. Nic took it as a signal to leave.
Ness glanced over at Mac with a shudder. "That was…"
"Yeah. Little scary sometimes, that one." Mac shrugged. "But it's the work he does and he's still alive to do it."
"I…" Ness forced himself to think about that without jealous twinges in the way. "I suppose that's true. Can't be an easy life."
The next time Nic emerged, the camera showed a more familiar cabin. A very familiar cabin. Shax stood in front of the mirror in a long coat Ness had somehow missed seeing. The black velvet swirled about his bare ankles as he turned this way and that—preening. There was no other word for it. Shax did that when he was needed a specific look or when he tried out a new outfit. A fond smile crept up on Ness as he watched, though this face heated when he recalled Mac was also watching.
The heat increased to inferno levels when Shax flung open the coat and let it drop to the floor, revealing the black corset and thong—and nothing else—he wore underneath. Ness nearly dropped his mug of tea.
"Well." Mac sipped at his own mug. "That's not something I ever needed to see."
"Nic!" Ness reached over and smacked the all-ship comm. "Nic, you need to come back now, please!"
The vid stayed on Shax for a few more moments as he turned and posed, cocking on foot back and bending at the waist. Then the view shifted abruptly, the camera bouncing as Nic ran at top speed back to the galley. Ness got him treats to work on, hurriedly put his tea mug away, and made flustered sounds that should have been speech.
"I'll get the rig off and make sure Nic gets dinner." Mac made shooing motions. "Go, ah, see to things."
Ness gave him a grateful nod, wings rustling in agitation as he hurried out, hoping by all the holies that Shax would be preening for just a few seconds longer.