“I dunno,” the man in the fedora said, cig dangling from his pudgy lips as he shoved two meaty fists into his trenchcoat pockets. Raindrops trickled off the brim of his hat as Vechkov Prague studied the gray-black hull of the ship in berth seventeen of Drescher Interstellar Spaceport. “She’s a little roomy, don’t you think?”

The scrawny Lotorian in a blue jumpsuit hopped from one foot to the other, clawed hands clutched together. His shadow bounced in the glow of the overhead port lights. “More for your money, yezzyezz,” he said, gnashing fangs.

Money hadn’t been much of an issue for the private investigator. Not since the lucrative settlement with the Panderyn Mining Co-Operative on Ungstir. His wife, Ekaterina, had been among those killed in an explosion aboard the ore hauler Implacable in June 2650.

He took a drag on the cigarette. Eyed the Calliope-class transport again. “Big, though,” Prague said. “I’m just one guy. Not really looking to take on crew.”

Of course, even if he got a small star hopper, he’d need to hire someone to keep it in good repair. Ideally, a pilot too. Prague considered himself a competent detective, but felt totally off-the-rock when it came to machinery and astrometrics.

“You don’t like?” the Lotorian asked, beady black eyes narrowing within amber patches of fur.

Prague shrugged. He tapped flakes of ash from the cigarette onto the tarmac. Rain splattered in shallow puddles. “She’s got nice lines, I guess,” he said. “Gently used?”

“Barely flown,” the seller replied. “Longest trip was from Tomin Kora to here. Just once.”

“Tomin Kora.” Prague chortled around the cigarette. Homeworld of thieves, mercenaries, and assassins employed by Lord Fagin the Pirate King. Small surprise the ship came from there, he thought. “Snagged the keys from the lost-and-found box, did you?”

“No questions asked, yezzyezz,” the Lotorian said, with a dry tsk-ing sound.

“All right, fine,” Prague said, crushing the spent cigarette under his boot. “I’ll get her inspected. If everything’s solid, you’ll get the second half of your payment.”

“Is good,” the seller insisted, bobbing his snout up and down. “You want transponder changed, yezzyezz?”

“Absolutely,” the detective said. “She needs a new name and ID code before we close this deal.”

“I do this for you, yezzyezz.” The Lotorian unclipped the PDA from his jumpsuit and asked, “What we call ship?”

He didn’t think about it all that long: “Ekaterina’s Pride.”

By Brody

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