Previously, Menagerie: Deadweight.
The explosion rocked Liishi from a deep, troubling sleep.
She jerked awake and half slid from the cot, one hand going for her pistol, the other clutching the messenger pouch . . . which felt lighter than it had when she’d closed her eyes.
She ignored the sounds outside the room of boots slapping the metal corridor. She ignored Tariq’s yelling at whoever was tearing apart his ship. She ignored the continued snoring of her partner in the other bunk.
No. scratch that. She pulled open the messenger bag about the same time she crossed the small room and planted one foot in W.B.’s side and “Yeah, you could say that,” she spat and tossed the bag at him shoved. The shove didn’t work. W.B. just rolled over and mumbled something about tea in the morning. The flickering light in the room showed a metal box with a delicate grillwork on two opposite faces: part of a ship’s air scrubber.
Liishi shrieked and spat a curse of her own.
W.B. sat up and stared at her. “Problem?”
“Plenty,” she growled as she stomped into the corridor, nearly colliding with Tariq as he came down from the bridge.
He took one look at her, eyes sweeping past and noting she wasn’t lugging around a bag loaded with a box of hope, and said one word: “Weasels.”
Her claws flexed and she forced them back. “What else did they do?”
“What didn’t they do?” he muttered. “Somehow knocked us out, killed the sub-light systems, and blew out of here.”
About that time Hobbs emerged from the weasels’ room, toting an armload of parts for the air recycling system, just as W.B. stepped into the hall.
“Simple, Li, just take a sniff around you,” her partner said.
“Yeah, I don’t think your musky aroma is going to—” she shook her head and noticed the faint tickling scent of nuts and mint.
“What is it?” Tariq gestured at Hobbs to get the filters back in place.
“Julip flower,” she replied, “found in the jungles on Jhenos V.”
“Used by the natives to poison their weapons,” W.B. added. “In small doses it is a mild soporiphic. Too large a dose for a smaller creature could paralyze and possibly kill.”
“You mean, smaller creature like the size of my engineer?” Tariq shoved his way past the group, heading toward the engine room.
They were met by Moe coming the other way. The ursa shook his head. “Bil’s not there, Captain. Air scrubber’s a mess.” He glanced over Tariq’s shoulder and noticed Hobbs’ armload of gadgetry and rumbled, “That can be fixed.”
Moe took a deep breath and let it out with a grunt. “I can fix it. Bil would be a heck of a lot faster and more precise. He’s tweaked the engines so much they no longer fall anywhere inside manufacturing spec, but I can get us back up and running—and out of hyperspace—in about an hour or so.”
Tariq nodded, stared at the flooring a moment. “Moe, do your thing. Hobbs, go back to the bridge and look for tracks on the pod. Maybe we can follow it down.”
“Excuse me, Captain,” W.B. interrupted, “I served as general maintenance aboard a liner many years ago and keep myself as thoroughly informed of engineering—and weapons—as I am able these days. I might be of some assistance.”
“Accepted. Go help Moe,” Tariq responded and stepped aside to allow W.B. past. He then looked at Liishi. “I need to help get my ship back up and running, but first,” he said, stepping to the door of the weasels’ room, “we need to see if they left any clues why they were after that box of yours.”