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“Oh dear!” the Bluaoc whose scrapyard they’d essentially crash landed on exclaimed once they’d all gathered in his office. “To think how close we all came to – oh, let’s not even think about that! How dreadful.”
Ulatwam was four feet tall and nearly as wide, being a roundish shape. His skin was translucent, like all Bluaoc, but in his case, there was a greyish-blue hue to his gelatinous body. It was hard not to stare at Bluaoc in general; it was fascinating how they wobbled about. Nell did her best not too look too long, but she couldn’t help but watch as Ulatwam formed tentacle-like arms to reach out for a pitcher of lemonade to pour them each a glass.
“Well, it’s clear you’re in no condition to make the delivery I need as you are. It’s a good thing you landed here, though, my friends, a very good thing indeed.” He passed the lemonade glasses around, his ‘arm’ re-forming each time he needed to reach out and then retreating back into his form when he was done with it. “You see, my main business is in retrofitting ships. The scrapyard is just a happy byproduct of all that.”
“We don’t have much money left,” Xendri admitted before any of them had a chance to speak. “We spent our savings on this ship.”
“Oh dear,” Ulatwam repeated, “dearie, me. Tell me, where by chance did you get a hold of such a…”
“Majestic,” Nell supplied helpfully, winking at Xendri.
“Uh, yes, such a majestic…ship?”
“McGrath’s Scrapyard on Mars,” Vox answered.
“Ah,” Ulatwam’s eyes rolled around in his face for a moment, literally. Nell watched the gesture with a kind of fascination mixed with disgust. “I know the man. Unpleasant fellow. You said you’ve had the ship how long now? A couple of weeks? I’m surprised it’s lasted as long as it has, to be honest.”
“Why’s that?” Xendri asked. “Pentaurii engines are supposed to be as reliable as they come.”
“Oh, they are, they are,” Ulatwam assured us, “and your engines are fine. Top-notch. If only they hadn’t been tampered with.”
“Tampered with?” This got Nell’s attention. “What do you mean?”
“My workers noticed it as they were checking the working engine to make sure it wasn’t about to blow like the other one. The grey box in the engine core was welded shut, but customarily they’re not supposed to be opened at all. That’s where all of your wiring comes together. Well, I had them take the liberty of opening the box back up to see what the trouble was and they discovered that the wires had all been stripped. I’m afraid this McGrath fellow sold the four of you a death trap. He wanted the little bit of gold he could take off the wires so badly, he cut into the one part of the engine you shouldn’t mess with.”
Silence filled the tiny office as this information sunk in. Then abruptly, it shattered. “That little-” “If I ever lay eyes on him again, I’ll-” “I knew that man was up to no good-”
“Now now,” Ulatwam did his best to quiet them. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve come to the right place, I assure you. I’ll do my best to get you up and running again so you can make my delivery, and I’ll just take my fee out of what you would have made doing the run. How’s that sound?”
They weren’t exactly in a position to say no, so repairs of their ‘reliable’ Pentaurii engines began immediately, only to be finished three days later.
“Now, I don’t have that delivery you were supposed to take anymore, I had to send it on,” Ulatwam informed them as they were awaiting the final checks from his engineers. “But don’t worry,” he assured them, “I have another job you can do for me. Well, two, in fact. The first one is simple and I’m sure you won’t hesitate in taking it on, but the second one is a little more complicated.”
“Is it legal?” Xendri asked, picking up something in Ulatwam’s tone.
“Well,” he drew the word out, “it’s not illegal. Some friends of mine contacted me to ask for assistance. It seems they need transport out of this system.”
“Friends?” Quattro asked. “What kind of friends?”
“The kind of friends you don’t ask too many questions about,” Ulatwam answered. “It’s not illegal for them to be here, nor is it a problem for them to leave…it’s just that the means may be a little suspicious and they can’t afford to be stopped by Council authorities at this time.”
“You know what,” Xendri said, throwing her hands up. “Don’t ask, don’t tell. If this is a passenger transport, it’s not our business where they are going or for what reason they’re going there.”
“It’s not just passengers, Captain Xendri,” Ulatwam warned. “It’s their equipment, too. It should all fit more than comfortably in your cargo hold, though. I don’t foresee any problems, provided you’re willing to be discreet.”
“Discretion is very important to us, Ulatwam,” Vox answered, “as is your goodwill. You’ve done us a favour with these timely repairs, it only makes sense that we return it.”
“Good good!” Ulatwam exclaimed. “Then I will set everything up! Just leave it to me!”
Justine Alley Dowsett is the author of nine novels and counting, and one of the founders of Mirror World Publishing. Her books, which she often co-writes with her sister, Murandy Damodred, range from young adult science fiction to dark fantasy/romance. She earned a BA in Drama from the University of Windsor, honed her skills as an entrepreneur by tackling video game production, and now she dedicates her time to writing, publishing, and occasionally role-playing with her friends.