Location: the Brimstone's pilot pod
Time: a few months after the end of Potato Surprise
“Shaxy…what in all the fucks that ever fucked is that?” Benny’s little rat nose scrunched as he leaned closer in the holo imager.
“It’s a statue. Solid gold, I assure you.” Shax shrugged. “Granted, it’s not the loveliest depiction of a woman—”
“She’s got crossed eyes and huge feet and a clock where her stomach should be.” Benny squinted harder. “Come on Shaxy, what’re you trying to pull here?”
“I’m not pulling anything. I’ve had this in my collection for some time. Can’t recall how I acquired it.”
“You accidentally breathed in a roomful of nitrous oxide,” Verin growled. “After that, everything was freaking hilarious. She’s not the only stupid thing you stole that night.”
Shax glared at him. “Unusual, perhaps. But not stupid. Regardless of the bizarre workmanship, it’s still gold. Can you get me a buyer or not?”
Benny let out a long breath, but his beady eyes had shifted from suspicious to calculating. “Lemme see what I can do, your demon-ness. I’ll get back to you.”
Several minutes ticked by on the stomach clock after Benny signed off, Shax sipping at his coffee while he tried his best not to glance over at Verin. He didn’t want to get into it. He really didn’t.
“So give, bonehead.” Verin obviously wasn’t going to let him off so easily. “Why now? You’ve had that butt-ugly thing for years.”
“It was a reminder of our misspent youth, Ver.”
“Don’t give me that sentimental crap. And it doesn’t explain why now.”
Shax let another three minutes tick off on the clock, each movement of the minute hand an abrasive, tinny click. “It’s gotten louder. No matter where I stash it, I can still hear it in my cabin. I’ve been sleeping in the galley the past few nights.”
“Told you not to steal it in the first place, genius.”
“So you say. I don’t recall.”
“Course not. You were high as a fucking orbiting satellite.”
Benny didn’t call back that day or the next. When he did call back on the third day, he was twitchier than usual, his eyes unable to focus on any one thing. “I got you a buyer.”
“But? There’s definitely a but there.” Shax folded his hands on the console, determined to be patient.
“It’s an old lady in the capital on Scarlen. She, um, collects weird shit. But she says she wants you to deliver in person.”
“All right. That’s not so odd.” Shax drummed his fingers beside Benny’s holo image. “Give, Benny. What aren’t you saying?”
“Um…look.” Benny twitched and actually looked behind him, though no one was ever in his workspace. “She collects really weird shit. I looked into it. Like fingers and organs and…demon horns.”
Shax blinked at him, then sat back slowly in his chair. “I see. Huh.”
“You know, Benny, I’ve decided not to sell after all. Someday this will be a museum piece. A historically significant artifact. I’ll wait a few more centuries. But thank you for giving it a try,”
“Anytime, Shaxy.” Benny’s shoulders relaxed, a skitter of a smile rushing across his face. “Anytime.”
Again Verin and Shax were left in the silence of the pilot’s pod with the ugly clock lady ticking away her maddening accounting of the minutes.
“Out the airlock?” Verin asked softly.
“Too damn right. I’ll race you.”
The scramble to the airlock was neither dignified nor safe, but the lady with the clock for a stomach finally turned peacefully, silently in the vacuum of space.