The Savra station crawled with specifus, which Ellipse found more than a little disconcerting. Sure, the Sauron system was the newest addition to the intergalactic community, and the specifus built most of the space travel infrastructure, but most planets managed to wrangle back control of their territory within three or four years. The saur had joined the universal party seven years ago.
As Ellipse swung the boom of her crane back towards the Conics and its cargo, she spotted a team of specifus prowling about nearby. They writhed along the ground, roots twirling like sidewinding snakes, and they kept flashing at each other about capturing some escapee. It was unlikely that they were after her, but Ellipse figured that even if they were, she was safe; specifus had zero facial recognition ability for any other species.
She cranked the winch on her crane, careful not to lower the hook too much, and then jogged back to the pile of cargo sitting at the mouth of the ship’s cargo bay. Before she reached up to hook the next crate, she glanced back at the specifus again. They were facing away from her, but their vines waved wildly towards the ship in and up-down motion that Ellipse was almost certain meant they were happy.
Whatever. Ellipse was perfectly innocent. She jerked the crane’s hook into the loop on top of the nearest crate, glad that she was tall enough to reach without climbing, and searched her remote for the up button. She had just pressed it when one of the specifus hailed her with a flurry of vine-waving.
“Do you speak Trade Spec?” they flashed. This one’s lights grew almost at the top of its primary vine, which had for some reason split into two parts early on, and then grafted back together later in life.
Ellipse held up a finger and stepped away from the cargo. She fumbled through her pockets for the light box, and then whipped it out with a flourish. “Yes,” she flashed back. “What can I help you with?”
The ends of the specifus’s roots curled, and Ellipse wondered what that meant. Min and Captain Maj had been reserved with their body language.
“Do you work on the Conics? Could you point me and my friends to Captain Maj?”
Ellipse recalled Wrecktrix and Focci’s warning about Maj’s pro-embargo friends and was tempted to flash something terse and rude, but she restrained herself. “The captain is back in Triune taking care of some legal issues,” she explained. “I am sorry.”
The specifus’s lights all flashed at once, which might have been a laugh, and then they turned back to the threesome behind them. Ellipse could not see what they said, but when the other specifus started laughing too, she assumed it had been some snark about Captain Maj and earthling business.
“Ah, good old Maj,” a difference specifus flashed. This one looked like a head of sad, wilting broccoli. “They never could figure out that dealing with earthlings only brings trouble.” The specifus shifted their two vines in Ellipse’s direction and made a rolling motion. “No offense to you in particular, earthling.”
Ellipse took offense anyway. She pressed the right-left button on her remote, hoping it would discourage the specifus from talking to her, but they all just ignored the giant metal box hurtling through the air and laughed again.
The first specifus tilted their giant torso and waved at Ellipse again. “Earthling, you do not like our kind, right? Your prejudice is legendary, you know. Imagine discriminating against your own species! This is why we do not do business with your kind. We are too morally superior to associate with you.”
If this was moral superiority, then Ellipse was secretly a hydrogen floater. She smiled and changed the subject. “You were looking for someone else too, right? Tell me about them. Maybe they walked by here earlier.”
“See?” the broccoli specifus said. “Then you do this subject change thing and don’t answer questions. Honesty is a virtue.”
Ellipse had not even lied yet. Scowling, she tried to come up with a cutesy stick-it-in-a-blackhole phrase that would translate well. “Min is cool and you guys drool,” probably did not fit that bill, so she ended up just shrugging.
“Just humor it,” another specifus suggested, pushing a leaf away from their tiny black eyes. “Spreading the story around will solidify our position anyways.”
All the specifus flashed their lights again in a laugh, and Ellipse tried not to look affronted at being called an ‘it.’ The specifus only had two pronouns in their trade language, and they would jump into a star before calling another species by the for-people pronoun.
No. Scratch that. Min had almost certainly referred to the rest of the Conics crew with that pronoun. Maybe it was a generational thing.
Keeping her face placid and clueless, Ellipse tilted her head and made a small rolling motion with one hand. “Please, continue,” she flashed.
Specifus number four shifted slightly, and the others stepped aside to make way. This guy had to be the leader, or perhaps the most eloquent of the bunch. Number four was small, but their vines had gone stiff with bark and age, and their roots were an enormous sprawling mess on the floor.
“Have you heard of the RV Impending?” they asked, lights flashing slowly and steadily.
Focci had mentioned that ship before. It was the one that had been destroyed during a test of the miniature fold generator. Pursing her lips, Ellipse nodded, and then for good measure, she flashed an affirmation with her light box.
“There are rumors of survivors,” the specifus said. “No part of the ship ever returned, but when Spec Corp searched the wreckage, the shuttle had gone missing. The intellectual property involved with the Impending belongs to Spec Corp by law and contract. If there are survivors out there, we must return them in order to better understand what happened.”
See, but the thing about intellectual property was that once someone learned it, it was hard to hide and harder to forget. Ellipse hummed, glad that the specifus could not hear her or understand that her raised eyebrows had any kind of meaning.
“Some say that the ship’s communications technician has been spotted on this station, so we’re here to find them. You didn’t happen to see a red specifus pass by, did you?”
Ellipse blinked in surprise. She definitely would have noticed a red specifus; they were rarer than albino earthlings. Oh, but the saur came in many colors, red included. Maybe the technician had come here to blend in.
“I did not know specifus could be red,” Ellipse flashed. “Sorry, but I have not seen them.” She decided not to mention that the group might benefit from looking amongst the saur. If they knew, then power to them. And if they didn’t, then Ellipse would have the advantage.
The old specifus writhed, possibly irritated, and turned to leave. Pasting on an apologetic smile, Ellipse waved the group goodbye and then turned right back to her work. She had wasted a good several minutes conversing with them, and she would feel more than lightheaded afterwards, but she figured she could kick her speed up a notch. Grinning, she pressed the right-left button on her remote again and watched as the crate flew towards the conveyor belt across the hall.
Half an hour later, Ellipse dragged herself down the cavernous shipping hall, legs heavy and slow. She felt like she had thirty liters of water strapped to her body, which, if she did the math correctly, was about how much heavier she would be if she stood on an earthling scale right now. Hopefully Tejal and Focci were holding up.
She kept her eyes peeled as she trudged along, searching for a red bundle of vines, or maybe something that looked like a red dinosaur topiary. Saur in a hundred different colors bounded about the concrete hall, free and light in what they saw as reduced gravity. Surrounded by all the raptor-like aliens, Ellipse felt like she was in a Jurassic Park movie.
By the time she reached Focci and Tejal, Ellipse had a plan. She flagged them down just as they tumbled out of the forklift and took one last look around. She still only saw normal, green-black specifus, but she figured she had a better shot than Maj’s friends at finding the red one.
“Tejal, Focci,” she hissed, alternating between languages. “I heard some interesting news.”
Tejal plopped into the seat of his chair and squinted at her. “Okay?”
She turned to Focci first, settling down on the uneven concrete floor and crossing her legs. “So I met some of Captain Maj’s friends. They are bounty hunters, and they think there is a survivor from the Impending on this station. A red specifus.” Keeping her voice low, Ellipse repeated herself for Tejal and then continued with her plan. “I suspect the target may be pretending to be one of the saur. If they have the right build, it would not be hard to twist into that shape. However, specifus are designed for lower gravity than what is here. Like us, the red specifus cannot move as quickly as a real saur.”
Focci raised a hand and then lowered it, embarrassed. “Are you saying we will go look for this red specifus?”
“Precisely. You two want your device to be a success, right? It will help you to have a first-hand account of the original experiment.”
“It’s a test of a prototype, not an experiment,” Tejal corrected. He leaned so far forward in his chair that Ellipse wondered if he might fall out. “There’s a difference.”
Incredulous, Ellipse gaped at him. “You actually think I care? Just tell me whether you want to look for the red specifus or not. I am perfectly happy either way.”
Having sensed the argument, Focci whapped his tail against the ground and gave a sharp-toothed grin. “I say we look. The worst that can happen is that we lose an hour or two.”
Nodding, Ellipse pinned Tejal with a sharp stare and waited for his answer.
He bit his lip and looked away for a few moments before giving a final shake of his head and a great, loud sigh. His hand moved to pat his pockets, and he glared at the ground with a determined frown. “Let’s do it.”