I checked with the ship and could see Crawls-Through-Desert next to the refrigerator sized box in the ship’s cabin. In a moment, it was floating out the hatch next to him. I could see that as good news given how much space it freed up, but at the same time, I’d never meant to bring him here and I didn’t know what was in the box.
We all turned to see the plant on the box floating in the air next to the ship.
“Hey,” I used the stealth suit’s speakers to give me some volume. “What’s in the box?”
The plant slowed, branches rustling and bending. Some combination of the implant and my brain interpreted it as having a New York City accent—from the Bronx, maybe? My only knowledge of NYC accents came from movies.
“Stuff that every colonist needs—batteries, solar chargers, water to hydrogen processing equipment and mini fusion plants. All for a low, low price.”
I blinked. “How would they even buy? How would you process payments here unless you take physical cash?”
The plant laughed. “You’re from a low tech world, aren’t you? They’ve got an ansible. They run it behind so many fake addresses it’s practically anonymous, but it works and they’ve got money. Check your implants, you’ll know what I mean.”
I checked. The ansible didn’t call itself the Hideaway ansible. It claimed to be a deep space relay in a completely different sector. I checked if there was an Earth ansible. There wasn’t, but the Xiniti base next to the jump gate did have one. It didn’t have a connection to Earth’s internet and if they listened to our radio or TV broadcasts, they didn’t make them available over the ansible, but how crazy was that?
On the other hand, with the number of extraterrestrial visitors we’d had, it stood to reason that they’d want a connection to galactic civilization.
A quick check told me that ansibles cost a lot of money—the kind it would take to buy your own private planet on the edge of Alliance space. So, at least one of the colonists had a lot of money. My first guess would be Jadzen Akri. She seemed willing enough to order people around.
It seemed like a fairly obvious security problem for Hideaway, though. Even keeping the fake address in mind, it only took one loose lipped colonist to tell everyone where the planet was. Or did it? If I weren’t the pilot, jump space and normal space would look the same everywhere and if the crew deliberately attempted to confuse the passengers, they might not have any clue where they were.
Well, except in this case, they were a blink and jump from K’Tepolu. That wouldn’t narrow it down enough to be easy, especially considering our non-standard drive, but it made it easier.
“I’d like to look over what you’re selling these people before you leave,” I told Crawls-Through-Desert. “We’re supposed to be protecting these people.”
“You betcha, kid.” The plant and box landed in front of me.
Jaclyn turned to me. “Are you even going to recognize something dangerous?”
“Within limits,” I said.
The box opened as I spoke, containing many small devices, all of them embedded in a translucent foam. Light glowing at the bottom of the box made devices at every level visible. They weren’t a consistent shape though many of them were cylinders that could fit in the palm of my hand. Some were almost the height of my knee, but wider. It didn’t take much to identify the devices as exactly what he’d said they were.
I could have taken them all apart to check for bombs, but after randomly inspecting the insides of a few different devices, I believed it.
Cassie questioned it while I dug through the box. “Don’t you think just happening to have exactly the sort of thing that colonists might need is suspicious?”
Crawls-Through-Desert’s leaves and branches rustled. “Not at all! I saw my opportunity and I took it. I needed to get off the station and hide so I bought products that colonists would need. When I saw Tikki, I knew she and her people would need what I was selling. My only miscalculation was choosing human colonists. I wouldn’t have been attacked if I’d been with anyone else.”
“No kidding,” Cassie watched the plant as it floated next to the box. “It seems like the fight worked out pretty well for you though. We didn’t have time to vet you or your stuff because we were in a hurry to leave.”
The plant said, “Eh. I’d have preferred not to get this far out from civilization. I’m going to want to leave after a while, and now I’m betting I’ll have to get a berth on a military ship. That’s a pain.”
I put the casing of the last device back on it and placed it into the box. “Done. It looks like what it says it is.”
Cassie shrugged. “Then I guess you’re free. Just don’t scam them. We’re all stuck here for a while.”
Crawls-Through-Desert flew a little higher as the box shut itself. “I conduct myself with the greatest of all possible personal ethics.”
The box flew off to join it in the air and they floated away toward the eggshell village.
Jaclyn eyed Cassie. “I hope that thing’s just an opportunist. Anyway, I guess we’d better go check out the starport.”
Marcus grinned. “Yeah. For all we know, the guy might only stay there when he knows he’s got something coming in. He might have already left for the day.”
“No,” Jaclyn said. “I’ve been watching.”
“Me too,” Cassie said. “By the way, has anyone else been really looking around this place? Do it right now. What do you see?”
I looked. Plants surrounded the place, many of them two feet around with green stems. There were trees with hard, bark-like protection, but they weren’t the most common large plants. That wasn’t the most interesting thing though. There were white poles of some kind of artificial material around the edge of the starport and the village next to it. Just past the poles, the air glittered up to a height of about one hundred feet.
I could easily see putting up a force field on an alien planet, but one hundred feet seemed like overkill.