Place: Amnesia Dock
Shipments were exciting. Heckle had originally been a bundle of nerves with every new shipment. Would it be right? Had he made mistakes? What would happen if he had? Now, though, he knew all of those answers and had the right tools for the job. Getting the boxes into the ship and entered into inventory was actually fun.
He'd even gotten to the point where he could time it so shipments were waiting for them when they docked. He would message one of the Dock Agents en route, they filled the orders, and hooray! Instant shipment as soon as Brimstone opened her hold. Not that he could get everything at every port of call. Oh, no, no. A quartermaster had to know which supplies were local so he wasn't paying a prince's ransom for sugar on Triton Station or three times the actual worth of a seal gasket on Elistrus.
Most of the crew even trusted him with special requisitions, now that he was more comfortable with his job. Sure, there were things the captain wanted to shop for himself still, but Heckle wasn't offended. Captain Shax enjoyed his shopping therapy too much. It would be incredibly mean to ask him to give that up.
Today's shipment was mostly dry goods—coffee, oats, flour, and so on. Heckle stood by the conveyor with its robot arms that took the boxes and crates from dockside up into the hold. The upgrade to a robotic assist loader was exciting too, since now the crew didn't have to help him load the heavy things on the conveyor. Heckle could manage it all himself.
"Gryphon on. Inventory up. Adding quantities." Heckle's tablet chirped and lit up to show the inventory screens. He couldn't read them but he could see the right numbers going in. "Coffee, three crates."
"Coffee, three crates," the pleasant Gryphon voice verified. They were good friends now that they understood each other and Heckle rarely had to make corrections anymore.
"Baking soda, one box."
"Baking soda, one box."
"One package…what in Hell's pits?"
"One package, Worcestershire sauce."
"Delete last entry, Gryphon." Heckle hurried to turn off the conveyor.
The oddly shaped package halfway up the belt didn't have a scanning label or any markings indicating what it was. Several cylindrical lumps showed through the packaging along with a strange collection of other shapes. He was about to call Ness, anxieties about sabotage and bombs forming in his stomach, when three heads popped up on the other side of the conveyor, two pink, one white.
Heckle blinked in surprise at the sudden and suspiciously convenient appearance. "Um, hello, boys."
"Hello. That is mine." Leopold said as Nicodemus scurried from atop his head to explore the strange package. "Special order from Habco. I will take it, please."
"Okay, I guess? I mean, I didn't get a requisition for it?" Heckle caught his tail to twist it between his fingers. This felt like it could be a confrontation soon and he hated those more than anything. "And I don't want to be a pain, Leo, but I kinda have to know what's coming aboard. It's…it's my job."
Leopold stared at him for one of those long, unsettling Leopold moments. Max had joined Nic on the package, tapping here and there with his feelers, singing soft notes to the shapes.
"It's a habitat. For Max and Nicodemus. Papa said I should."
"Oh. But they live in the ship? I don't understand."
Leopold sighed. Anyone who said he had no expressions had never heard Leopold sigh. It was such a long-suffering, aggravated sound that it made Heckle feel smaller for asking the question.
"For when I'm not there. Papa Shax says secure them. I won't use cages." Leopold trundled around to Heckle's side of the conveyor belt, pushing a little cart. "It has nooks and toys. And Copernicus flight pods. And many tunnels."
Heckle picked up the package and turned it over to find the Habco label on the bottom. "Oh. I get it. Someplace fun for them to be when you're not with them. That's a good idea."
"I hope they like it. Some assembly is required. Put it on the cart?"
With a start, Heckle realized he was still holding the package. He placed it carefully on the cart, with the flattest side down so it wouldn't fall off. "Sure. Okay. Could you, um, maybe let me know when you have something coming in next time?"
"I suppose I could. Unless it's super secret. Then I won't tell you." With that, Leopold waddled off on his hind legs, forepaws clutched around the handle of his cart. Max and Nic leaped off the conveyor and scurried after him, climbing up his spines to hitch a ride. No thank you, not even a look back. Leopold did get in strange, secretive moods sometimes, but that probably had everything to do with being a demon princeling.
"Some people's kids," Heckle muttered as he started the conveyor again.