Time: shortly after the events of Beside a Black Tarn
“Coming up on our two o’clock, Captain Yummy.”
Shax startled out of his half doze. “Visual yet?”
“Give me a sec, sweetie. Just swinging one of the hull cameras,” Ms. Ivana whispered. “There you go.”
The softly glowing bulk of Lunette the space shark registered as a distant blob on the view screen, a graceful, undulating island of light in the vast ocean of black. Except for the murmurs of life support and the occasional pings from the pilot console, the Brimstone’s interior lay wrapped in a blanket of silence in the late hours of night cycle. Shax had volunteered to take watch, a necessary evil while they were in transit, partly because someone had to and partly because he wanted a bit of privacy for this transaction.
“Ship to ship comm range yet?” Shax murmured as he watched Lunette’s impossible bulk increase with every passing second.
“Just coming up on it now. Hailing.”
The familiar set of rotating nebulae images popped up on the holo pad and Shax waited, the steam from his coffee mingling with pictures of astronomical dust clouds. Of course his hail had been recognized, but paranoid procedures were in place for a reason.
Finally, the image of a skinny, rat-faced man appeared above the holo plate. “Hey, Shaxy! How’s all the demon junk hanging?”
“Very well, thank you, Benny. I’ve got you on low volume. Everyone’s asleep.”
Benny nodded, his eyes darting about as if there might be someone in his pod to overhear. “Were you serious, Shaxy? You got the stuff? You’re not just playing with me, right?”
“I’m shocked, Benny. What have I ever done that would make you think I’m that kind of demon?”
“You live to mess with people’s heads.” Benny let out a high-pitched twitter, his version of a laugh. “But it’d be weird for you to come all this way just for that.”
“Truer words, Benny. Far too busy for that.” Shax put his coffee down and started the sequence to maneuver the cargo boom. “Can Lunette match speed and come alongside? If I slow the engines, Ver’s liable to wake up.”
“Good thinking. Yeah, Smoky Horns would just have questions.” Benny bent low to part of his console and whistled softly through his teeth, a wavering, tuneless song, before he cocked his head to listen. “Lunette says no problem. You’re not going fast.”
“Tell Lunette she’s amazing for me. I’ve got the cargo out on the starboard boom.”
It was a matter of some tense minutes and Shax adjusting to meet the trajectory of an oncoming space shark. Boom to boom space transfer was always tricky, but Benny had a light and practiced hand on the controls. He managed to snag the container and bring it into his habitat space atop Lunette’s back.
Shax waited in relative silence while he retracted and secured the Brimstone’s cargo boom. Within five minutes, Benny reappeared above the holo pad, dragging a plascrete container half his size.
“Heavy,” he panted, and Shax realized he’d never seen Benny do anything other than sit at his console.
“They’re fairly dense, and well packed.”
Benny flopped back into his chair, produced a mag wrench from some secret pocket or drawer out of Shax’s sight, and proceeded to open the lid. Frantic ripping of plastic and several curse words later, Benny was back upright, holding a dark brown disc the size of his palm.
“So this is the real thing, right? No cheap knockoff?”
Shax sniffed in offense. “I don’t deal in faux merchandise. Those are real Mittans.”
With a sniff of his little nose, Benny brought the disc to his mouth, took a careful bite, and closed his eyes on a filthy orgasmic moan. “Oh, fuck…Shaxy. This is amazing.”
The combination of dark chocolate, marshmallow, caramel and cherry cordial was a bit much for Shax. He liked his sweets, but Mittans made him feel like he was on a psychedelic sugar high and his stomach hated him afterward. People who loved the evil things, though, loved them with fanatic devotion. Benny was an admitted zealot.
“So what’s the catch?” Benny licked a stray bit of marshmallow off his thumb, his little rat eyes narrowed and suspicious. “What do I gotta do for these?”
Shax put a hand over his heart. “Benny, you wound me. Mortally. I may never recover.”
“C’mon, Shaxy. We’ve always been crystal with each other. Don’t fuck around now.”
“Listen, little man.” Shax leaned forward, his smile melting from cynical to something more sincere. “This is from me to you. Years ago, you helped a couple of bumpkin dirtsuckers when you didn’t have to. You’ve looked out for us all these years. For your own reasons, certainly, but you still do. It’s just a thank you, Benny. No strings.”
“Absolutely no shit involved.” Shax fought a laugh as Benny polished off the first of the Mittans in greedy bites. “Someday I’ll come and ask too much of you. It’s bound to happen. Consider this a proactive apology as well.”
Benny grinned with bits of chocolate stuck in his teeth and signed off without another word.
“Back on course, please, Ms. Ivana,” Shax said with a satisfied smile.
Ivana tsked even as the Brimstone adjusted heading. “What do I tell Mr. Grumpypants about the course diversion? He’s going to see it in his nav calc.”
“Tell him I needed to talk to Benny.” Shax put his feet up on the console and slumped in the co-pilot’s chair for a quick nap. “Always best to stick to the truth when you can.”
“Funny,” Ivana said in a pensive tone. “I didn’t know there were so many versions of truth before I met you.”