Time: Shortly after the end of Potato Surprise
“These are…are these safe to eat?” Shax poked delicately at the pink and blue striped things the restaurant offered as alleged food.
“Yes, sir,” the counter attendant beamed. “Orion Birthday Cake Fungus. Fresh batch just this morning. We get them from an on-site grower."
Shax shot a sidelong look at Verin, but his faithful grouch was concentrating hard on frowning at the strange, frilly mushrooms. “What do they taste like?”
“That’s the thing, sir. The BCF’s are sensitive to your neural transmissions. We don’t really know how it works yet, but they taste like the things you want most.”
“Knock it off, you little shit,” Verin growled at the counter person, who backed up a step and turned a unique shade of gray. “We’re not stupid.”
“Completely serious, sir,” Counter Person squeaked. “And they’re safe. Look. Those little old ladies are eating them. They come in for them every day.”
Shax leaned out to see around Verin. A group of station mechanics in their advanced years were indeed shoveling the fungi down as if they might never get another. They talked and cackled to each other, perfectly healthy and happy.
“Huh. I suppose it won’t hurt to try them. Ver?”
“Oh, no. You first, your pushy highness. You’re the one who whined about coming here.”
With a shrug, Shax took a civilized forkful and took his first tentative bite. The flavor stormed over his taste buds and left him blinking under the assault.
“Well? You gonna die on me, genius?”
Shax chewed, considering. “No. It’s quite astounding. I’m getting garlic and beef. A hint of habanero. Just a touch of port. Quite delicious, actually.”
Verin watched him suspiciously for a few more moments, but Shax was enjoying the BCF too much to try to convince him. Finally, Verin picked up his fork and tried a fingernail-sized piece, unusual behavior for Verin who would normally eat just about anything. The cheerful, bright colors were most likely throwing him off.
“Huh.” Verin grunted and took a larger forkful. “Tastes like beer and smoke.”
“Good beer and smoke?”
“Oh, yeah.” Verin leaned over his plate and began to shovel BCF’s with zeal.
Two plates later, three for Verin, they finally pushed back from the counter with a bit of satisfied stomach patting. Not a bad trip to Orion Station this time around. Shax had sold a couple of choice pieces he’d picked up on Triton, they were flush with credit, and all seemed right with the universe.
Shax went back to the Brimstone for some quiet reading time while Verin headed toward the rougher section of the station to troll for sex. Odd, having more time for reading now that he and Verin were independent agents, but space travel had a surprising amount of downtime. Long journeys between points and pedestrian to boring entertainments on space stations gave a demon a lot of extra leisure time.
In a fit of nostalgia, Shax had started working his way through the Arsène Lupin stories in the original French. They’d never appealed to him when he lived on Earth, since he had lived as a gentleman thief. Why would he want to read about one? Now, though, the descriptions of Paris, the escapades of the charming and ingenious Lupin, and the frustrations of the authorities all amused him.
He was chuckling at the explanation of an imaginative jailbreak, scratching absently at his arm, when he happened to glance down.
“What in all fiery pits?”
Bright spots pocked his arm, little raised bumps of red, yellow, blue, and green, itching spots. Shax flicked off his floating virtual screen and clawed his shirt up his bank to yank it over his head. Both arms. Spots. Chest. Stomach. Spots.
“Ivana?” he called, his voice trembling. “I look like a blasted holiday fruit cake! Why do I look like a fruit cake?”
“Shh, calm down, Captain Hot Buns.” Ivana purred from the speaker. “Come on down to sick bay and let’s have a peek. Not sure I like the new look.”
“I sure as all the pointy spikes on Hell’s gates don’t!”
His comm beeped as he hurried to sickbay, Verin’s voice roaring at him when he tapped it on.
“What the flaming fuck is this shit!”
“Spots? Stupid clown-suit colored spots?” Shax shot back as he wriggled into the chair so the autodoc could examine him.
“Yes! Fucking stupid party fucking balloon spots!” Verin’s swearing could have been bottled as a concentrated acid, so Shax simply let him go for a bit.
“Come on back to the ship, Ver. I’ve got them too. Ivana’s having a look.” He sighed and tried not to scratch. “This better not be contagious. The last thing we need is to be stuck in quarantine.”
Shax turned his comm volume down since it sounded like Verin was going to swear the whole way back as he stomped through the station corridors. When his voice was finally audible in the ship’s corridors, he was still swearing a blistering streak.
“Balls deep in a motherfucking marine and this shit shows up!” he roared as he slammed into sickbay, smoke curling from his nostrils, shirt half undone and eruptions of cheerfully colored lesions all over his dark skin.
Shax fought to keep his expression neutral. “It’s…you’re…”
“You fucking laugh, numbnuts, and you’re going through the donkey-fucking wall!”
“Ahem. Well.” Shax cleared his throat and managed to contain his yelp when the autodoc pricked his skin. “You could warn me, Ms. Ivana.”
“Then you’d flinch, sweetie. Almost done.”
Verin plunked onto the nearest sickbay bunk with a huff and a cloud of smoke. “Ivana think it’s some new STD?”
“Don’t know yet.” Shax slumped in the chair. “Ivana, are Verin’s vitals the same?”
“Not exactly, hot stuff. He’s bigger than you.” Ivana tsked. “But no fever, no elevated vitals, just like you. No pathogens showing up in the scans. I hate to say this…”
“What is it? Ivana?” Shax sat up again, fighting panic.
“Well, you boys both have things like histamines in humans, and those are going crazy. You’re both allergic to something. Did you eat anything new today?”
Verin let out columns of smoke from both nostrils. “That son of a drainpipe fucking pimp. The BCF’s.”
“At least it’s not some obscure space plague. And it’s something we should be able to avoid going forward.” Shax scratched at his arm, then forced himself to stop as the colored bumps grew in size and virulent hue. “What do we do now, Ivana?”
“Synthesizing a magnesium ointment that should work for you, hon. Stay away from the BCF’s, whatever those are, and you should be back to your sexy self in a day or so.”
“Lovely.” Shax drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair, an action made uncomfortable by the swollen lesions now between his fingers.
“What’re you thinking, Shaxy? We go rob the place? Trash it for revenge?”
Shax rose carefully and hobbled over to the comm unit in the corner of the sickbay. “No, Ver. Nothing so common and short-sighted.”
“Well? What’re you doing, bonehead?”
“I’m sending a complaint to the station’s health and safety office.”
Verin flopped back on the bunk with a snort. “Doesn’t sound like a big fucking deal to me.”
“A licensed establishment serving untested substances without cross-species warnings? Stand up, Ver. I need vids to send. This is a class three equity violation. They’ll have to shut down during the investigation. There will be fines. They’ll have to undergo re-licensing. This will be glorious.”
“Huh. I guess reading all those station reg manuals wasn’t so stupid.”
“Thanks, Ver. That means a lot.” Shax shifted uncomfortably. The damn itching polka dots had spread to his butt. “And maybe when I don’t look like a unicorn vomited confetti all over me I’ll steal something fun. Like the security pad to the restaurant owner’s apartment so he can’t get in. Or all his shoes. Or something. And Ver?”
“No more eating stuff that looks like a six-year-old drew it.”