by Sean O'Brien
The adventures of two unscrupulous Space traders. -- 3056 words
"Pressed Rat and Warthog have closed down their shop.
They didn't want to, 'twas all they had got.
Selling atonal apples, amplified heat,
And Pressed Rat's collection of dog legs and feet.
Sadly they left, telling no one goodbye.
Pressed Rat wore red jodhpurs, Warthog a striped tie.
Between them they carried a three-legged sack,
Went straight round the corner and never came back."
- Peter Edward Baker
" Best be hurrying along now" Said Pressed Rat a bit agitated. "Won't be wanting the Provost catching up with us."
" Sooner we're off planet the better" snorted Warthog.
They scurried down back alleys and side street on the way to the docks. Always keeping an eye out for Provost officers. The last thing they wanted was to be caught with the sack they carried. They needed to get it off planet. The sooner the better. They rounded the corner leading to the docks and sighed when they saw their ship the S/V Brave Ulysses. An FTL prism propelled lite trader.There was no one guarding it so they might make their escape unscathed. They got to the ship and hoisted the three-legged sack aboard.
Pressed Rat entered the cockpit and went through the Start-up procedure. No matter what kind of hurry they were in there is no excuse for not making sure the ship responds and passes all preflight tests. Their very lives depend on it. No place to cut corners.
Warthog felt the slight vibration as the ships drive started. He was going to be glad to be off this planet. Warthog climbed into the seat next to Pressed Rat and strapped in.
"Dora, plot a course for Beta Centrix 4"
"Aye Aye Boss." The soft contralto voice of the ships onboard computer seemed to emanate for nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
The ship lifted and burst into hyperdrive speeding into the darkness of space.
"Glad to be out of that hell hole. If the Provost had caught up with us and looked in that sack we'd be spending the next fifty years in prison." Pressed Rat mused. " But now we will trade that thing off in Beta Centrix 4 for a tidy profit."
They had spent 6 months in Delrosot a small mining town on the planet glioce 2. When they had arrived they opened a small shop selling "Curiosities". They had done their homework as they always do and arrived in Delrosot with a good load of tradable cargo.
They crossed paths with the Provost twice during their stay. Once for selling what they were told was a jovian moon rock but turned out to be a flacow egg. How were they to know? It cost them a months profit to pay off the Provost.
The second time was for trying to buy an item that was legal in Delrosot but the Provost just wanted his grift. They paid it.
The trip to Beta Centrix 4 would take 2 weeks. Pressed Rat and Warthog spent the time playing computer games with Dora and each other, reading and sleeping.
One thing that was always hard for them was time. Time is not the same everywhere. A month on one planet may not be the same time duration as it is on another planet. A year on their home planet may be longer or shorter than a year on a local planet. Fortunately, Dora kept track of time for them. She kept a clock/calendar for each of their home planets and one for local time. Time was still always a problem.
" 8 hours till landing Boss." the sweet voice of the ship's computer, Dora, announced.
" Good, keep me posted." Pressed Rat told her.The last 8 hours of any trip were the busiest. Port authorities to contact. Berthing assignment to map. Laws to study up on. Seemingly a million things to have ready when landing on a new world. Some planets were easier than others but they all had their protocols that had to be followed and you better know them. And of course, hands to grease. Make sure you have the right monetary units to pay port fees with and to pay off port authorities. Money, the right kind, always made entering a planet go smoother. Time to make sure everything is stowed properly. Some landings in remote planets or remote areas of a planet can be rough. even though Beta Centrix 4 has relatively modern port facilities it is still a good idea to have your ship ready for anything. Pressed Rat went through the ship cabin by cabin making sure everything was as it should be. All of the contacting had to wait until the last 4 hours when they would be in radio range.
"4 hours Boss" Dora's voice drifted throughout the ship.
" Thanks, Little Dora. Let me know at 2" he said.
"Will do Bossman."
Pressed Rat and Warthog have been together for almost 12 years. Twelve years earth time that is. Trading throughout the universe. They had met in a bar. Go figure. Pressed Rat was looking for a partner and Warthog was looking for a free ride to the xaliugn Galaxy which is where Pressed Rat was heading. They hit it off immediately and have been together ever since. Trading anything and everything that will make a profit. Pressed Rat was born on Earth. As an orphan, he lived in the back streets and alleys learning to survive by his wits. He learned how the trade business worked. Finding items for clients that no one else seemed to be able to. He slowly built up a reputation as the go-to guy for just about anything. Legal or not. Always putting money away to fulfill his dream of setting out to the stars. He bought the S/V Brave Ulysses. At 16 years old he left Earth and made his way throughout the universe.
" 2 hours Boss" Dora's voice warned Pressed Rat.
Pressed started making contacts. Getting a berth assignment and letting Port Authorities know what the berth assignment was so they could meet him and go over his papers and the ship's papers. Once he had made all the arrangements he spoke to Dora.
"Dora adorable, berth assignment is B-17A Port side take us in."
" Sure thing Boss, Right away."
The ship started to slow and leave hyperdrive. A small shudder went through the ship as it left hyperdrive. An hour later it banked and slowed some more. Slowly making its way to the assigned berth.Once docked Pressed Rat opened the hatch and welcomed the Port Captain aboard.A little surprised he was so prompt. The officer looked over all of the paperwork including the cargo manifest and seemed to be satisfied.
The sack was not on the manifest. It was not considered cargo. Pressed Rat had put it into his cabin so it would be considered personal. It was in a way. He had risked everything to obtain it. His livelihood even his life. He would be glad when he turned it over to the client. He would also make a very nice profit.
Having been unable to contact the client on the way in he tried again. Again he got no answer. He waited an hour and tried again. No answer. The hailing intercom crackled to life.
" Captain of the Space Vessel Brave Ulysses? Requesting permission to board. This is Officer Litgow of the interfederation Police" The voice crackled over the intercom.
Beta Centrix 4 was one planet in the interfederation of a dozen or so in the Centrix galaxy.
Pressed Rat and Warthog went to the hatch to see what the Police wanted. They couldn't know about the sack. Opening the hatch they saw a man that looked to be no more than 30 but with a full head of grey hair. His piercing grey eyes matched his hair. He wore the uniform of the interfederation police and was holding his ID out for them to examine.
"Yes, officer Litgow what can we do for you. We just got into port an hour ago I can't imagine what this could be about." Pressed Rat wondered.
"Sir, do you know a man named Clinterin Bladsow? The officer ask.
"Yes by reputation. We have never met." responded Press Rat.
"What is this about?" Warthog ask.
" Mr. Bladsow had your name on a card when he was killed." The officer offered.
"Killed?" Pressed Rat pressed.
" Yes, we suspect that he was murdered." The officer looked Pressed Rat squarely in the eye.
" When did this suspected murder take place? " Warthog queried.
"As close as we can tell sometime last evening around 9 pm." Officer Litgow offered.
"Well then you can't possibly suspect us as we just arrived in port an hour ago." Warthog offered.
"No, you are not suspects but we do need someone that can identify the body. I assume that since you have never actually met Mr. Bladsow that you would not be able to help with that."
"No, I wouldn't know Mr. Bladsow from Adam or Eve as far as that goes." Pressed Rat replied.
"What was your business with Mr. Bladsow if I may ask?" the officer inquired.
Pressed Rat loved these civilized planets where the cops were so polite.
"Well I would rather not say at this point." pressed Rat answered.
"Well then may I ask that if you think of anything that might help in my investigation that you contact me." The Officer offered a card.
Pressed Rat took the card and insured Officer Litgow that he certainly would contact him if he thought of anything. The officer turned and walked off. Pressed Rat and Warthog watched as he left. When he was out of site they went back into the ship and closed the hatch.
"What was that all about?" wondered Warthog aloud.
"I think that is pretty clear. Our client is no longer our client. We have an artifact that we need to find another buyer for and I would assume that the cops will be keeping an eye on us whether or not we had anything to do with the client's untimely demise." Pressed Rat went into the lounge and sat down to think. A dead client, Artifact that may very well be hot, police. Things have gone smoother but Pressed Rat was resourceful and knew that he would work things out. Just then the com channel came alive with that annoying chirping that Pressed Rat hated. He wondered why he had never changed it to something more pleasant. He picked it up and spoke.
"Do you have it?" The voice asks.
"Have what? Who is this?" Pressed Rat didn't like games.
" My item, what do you think I mean. This is Bladsow you fool" The voice snarled.
Now Pressed Rat was a little confused and angry and this guy was not making any points with him. Fool huh?
"Mr. Bladsow is it huh? Funny. The Interfederation Police were just here. Do you know why?" Pressed Rat ask.
" Why would I know why the Interfederation is interested in you. I hope you still have my item." The voice that claimed to be Mr. Bladsow said.
"The cops wanted to know if I could ID your body. Seems you were murdered last night." Pressed Rat probed.
"I don't know anything about that. As you can tell I am alive and well and want to get my item. So what's the deal?" Bladsow ask.
" How do I know that you ARE Bladsow?" Pressed Rat ask.
"Does it even matter as long as you get your money?" the man asks.
"You do have a point." Said Pressed Rat. " Put the money into the account I instructed you to and I will deliver your item ."
" Your money will be in your account within the hour." Bladsow promised.
"Then we don't have a problem. Contact me when you deposit the money and we can arrange for your item to be delivered."
Pressed Rat didn't like it. Something just wasn't right.
"Dora see if you can find me anything on one Clinterin Bladsow. This planet or any other you can access." Pressed Rat ask the faithful computer that he had pieced together to meet his own specifications.
"I'm on it."
After a few minutes an image appeared on the viewscreen of a man. Apparently a very flamboyant man. Dressed in multicolored garments with what appeared to be lipstick and eyeshadow of his face.
" Clinterin Erickew Bladsow, born the year of 2153 of the Tranomic calendar in the Tranomic Galaxy to Doremma and Clinterin Bladsow. Studied at the Majestic School of the Arts Cooperative in the same. Graduated with honors. Famous works of art include but are not limited to, Lister Lilly in Pink, Globius man with friend and Lakeside Rendezvous. Net worth approximately 32 million centric credits. Current residence is Beta Centric 4." Dora's research had paid off.
"Well, that certainly doesn't look like it would be the man I talked to on the com. Although I know looks can be deceiving. He certainly can afford our service though. " Pressed Rat noted.
"Dora, can you trace the call?" interjected Warthog.
"Will do my best little boss." Dora had affectionately called Warthog that since the day they met. Not so much for his diminutive stature but because she considered Pressed Rat as boss 1 and Warthog as boss 2 since she had known Pressed Rat longer and after all it was Pressed Rat that had built her.
" Seems like a dead end little boss. The trace takes several bends then drops to a call box."
"Ok thanks, little girl." Warthog looked frustrated.
"Seems we have lost the second client for our item. Hope he hasn't wound up dead as well." Pressed Rat was starting to wonder if they would ever dump that thing. He would be glad to be rid of it but . . . to whom now.
"Maybe he'll call back." Warthog said without much conviction.
He did call back though about 2 hours after he should have deposited the money.
"You still have my item?" The same voice.
Warthog grabbed a hush box and told Dora to try to trace the call.
"I haven't seen the money in my account" Pressed Rat was a little peeved.
"I got cash in hand that work for you?" the man asked.
"Lot of cash to be carrying around." Pressed Rat scoffed.
"Look you want to sell it or what. I got the cash and I can be there in 5 minutes." It was a gruff voice.
" I'll be here." Press Rat said feeling the hair on the back of his neck standing up. He hoped this was going to be the end of it. That is if the man actually had the money. He released the com.
"Boss we've got trouble."
"What baby girl?" He asks Dora
"My external sensors are picking up a lot of bodies close by. Looks like half the interfederation Police on this rock are just down the road hanging out. "
"Ok Dora, keep an eye on them and let me know if they make a move."
The intercom buzzed and the gruff voice announced that the man was here.
"Dora, any movement by the cops? Is our visitor armed?" Pressed Rat rapid fire the words.
"No and yes Boss"
"Ok, keep watching. Any sign of trouble stun our visitor and get us the hell out of here. " Pressed Rat had been in tight situations before and wasn't too worried about this one.
Warthog hung back and off to the side as Pressed Rat opened the hatch. Hand on his blaster just in case.
A large man in a kimberton suit entered the ship. He looked nothing like the picture of Clinterin Bladsow. Surprise surprise.
"You got it?" the man asked.
Let me see the cash. I don't hand anything over until I have the cash." Pressed Rat said sternly.
The man handed Pressed Rat the briefcase he was carrying. Pressed Rat opened it and examined the cash.
"Wait right here." Pressed Rat instructed the man.
Pressed Rat retrieved the three-legged sack from his cabin and brought it out.
"Dora, status?" he asks.
" Good so far boss."
He handed the sack to the man and the man turned and left. Pressed Rat closed the hatch.
"That was a little dicey" Warthog said.
"We've had worse." Pressed Rat refuted.
"Boss cops are moving in. They have taken our friend into custody and Officer Litgow is standing at the hatch. Want me to skedaddle? "
Pressed Rat tossed the briefcase into the cockpit. So it wouldn't be seen.
Pressed Rat clicked open the hatch and greeted Officer Litgow.
"Officer, what can I do for you today?" Pressed Rat ask.
"Just thought that I would let you know that we have apprehended the suspect in the Bladsow murder. His name is Bentran Wilsp. He was Bladsow's lover. Guess he got greedy." Officer Litgow responded with a big smile.
Pressed Rat was a little curious about this whole affair especially the part about being greedy since Litgow wasn't supposed to know anything about the artifact but didn't want to press his luck.
"I'm certainly happy for you. I would assume that you don't need us to hang around since we were not involved."
"Oh no, you are free to go. I have everything I need."Officer Litgow said and threw Pressed Rat a wink.
Officer Litgow turned and strutted down the dock. Pressed Rat just smiled.
Pressed Rat reentered the ship and closed the hatch.
"What the hell just happened?" Warthog was curious.
"Well it would seem to me that officer Litgow knew all along what was going on. He waited until after the transaction to apprehend his suspect so we could conclude our business. He gets his man. He gets the artifact and no one is the wiser. You don't think that artifact will be logged into evidence, do you? No reason to it has no bearing on the case. He can sit on it for a few years and turn it around for a nice bit of cash. Or he can set it on his mantle and just admire his cleverness."
"Well I'll be. He's almost as unscrupulous as you are." Warthog kidded.
"Almost. Dora get us out of here Set course for Proxima 7."