It’s been a while since the Ekaterina’s Pride started undergoing her refit and Vechkov Prague – private investigator turned profiteering industrialist – set about seeking bids for contractors to build the new moss farming operation on Mintaka.

Now he watches on a landing pad at the San Angeles spaceport as cargo workers load hoversleds full of supplies aboard the Pride for the trip back out to the newly discovered world.

Sionnach steps up beside Prague, handing him a tablet with some sort of reports on it. “Ship’s ready to go, boss,” he says, his ears tilted forward, “You figure out what we’re doing for a mechanic, yet?”

“No, not yet,” the captain replies with an extended sigh. “Let’s make another refueling stop at the Rucker and hunt for somebody who knows their way around an engine room.” He holds up a PDA. “I’ve been reading up, but I think I know just enough to get us killed.”

“I’d be willing to bet I’d get us killed faster, ” the pilot replies, snorting in self-derision, “We’ll be ready for takeoff as soon as she’s loaded.” He winks before heading up towards the vessel.

A petite brunette trots through the spaceport with a massive backpack threatening to topple her over, and a pda in hand. She’s humming a poppy tune to herself and stepping to the beat, each footfall punctuated with the clatter of metal, plastic, and other materials. When the woman spots the Pride, she double checks the pda and then squeals in delight, “It’s still here!” She practically skips towards the vessel, dodging others with quick apologies.

Standing at the base of the ramp of the pride is a squat, middle-aged man in a beige trenchcoat with a battered fedora, dark trousers, and a charcoal-hued tunic. He squints at the approaching female.

“Hiii!” chirps the woman as she stops in front of the squat man, pushing up her hipster glasses and adjusting her very, very pink sweater, “Are you the Captain? I’m looking for Captain…” she double checks her pda, “Prague? Of the… Eh…ka…ter…ina… Ekaterina’s Pride! I heard there’s places to go and things to fix and whenever there’s places to go and things to fix there’s always need of a grease monkey-” she points to herself and continues without taking a breath, “like me! I’m Lucy. Well, Y’luci, but humans call me Lucy. I’m a grease monkey and I’m really, really good with human ships. Like, REALLY good. They’re my favorite ships, then there’s Yoridini ships and Hekayti ships and…”

She just… keeps talking. So much.

“Hoop, you’re perky,” Prague grunts. “You always this gabby?”

Y’luci stops mid-sentence with a little, “Oop!” She giggles then and explains, “Not always! I’m just excited. I’ve been between ships a while and I LOVE LOVE LOVE meeting new people, and going new places, and fixing new things, and-oh… I’ll, uh… I’ll shut up now?” She gives a wide, sheepish grin, but now she’s staring expectantly at Prague.

“So you say you’re a grease monkey,” the captain says, considering the female. “Good with ships? Well, the Pride’s special to me. You think you can take good care of her? Worth thinking about. But you talk about human ships like you’re not human and you, well, look human. What’s that all about?”

“When on Earth, do as the Earthers do,” Lucy shrugs, then… melts? Slowly her form transforms from the dainty human female to a blob of Yoridini the same pink shade as the sweater she’d been wearing, the backpack laid nearly on the floor beside her.  A face forms in the being’s surface and explains, “I’ve spent lots and lots of time around humans and they usually prefer if I look like them. Plus, Earth spaceports are just so much easier to navigate in a human shape, you know? BUT, as a Yoridini, I’ve got a major advantage over most solid races when it comes to engine rooms. I fit in all the tight spaces! And I can reach things, and I can be a wrench if I don’t have one.” The weird blob face smiles brightly (creepily) and adds, “I’ll take great care of her!”

The Ungstiri tilts his head as he ponders the grinning pink puddle. “OK, well, you make quite the first impression.” He gestures with his head toward the ramp. “Welcome aboard, Lucy. I’m Vechkov Prague. I hope you’re not allergic to Pyracani.”

“Sweet!” squeals the blob, as she surrounds her backpack and lifts it up, “You won’t regret it, Captain!” Lucy makes for the ramp without bothering to retake her human form, “I’m gonna get settled in – and I’m not allergic, no. But I’m not gonna be in charge of the litter if we have any Demarians!” She snickers, oozing her way up the ramp to the ship.

Prague takes off his hat, scratches the back of his head, then makes his way up the ramp after Lucy. “She’s definitely a nice change from the last one,” he mutters.

Y’luci doesn’t seem to hear the captain, squishing around the ship with the vague familiarity of one who has an idea of where everything should be. The superpink Yoridini makes her way to the crew quarters and seeks out an unclaimed space in which to make herself at home.

Hearing a sound from below, the red-furred Pyracani pilot begins to descend the ladder. “Almost ready to shake the dust off, Skipper,” he calls down. Spotting the Yoridini, his eyes widen a bit and he races over to a storage compartment. He pulls out a sealed jar with some kind of moss in it and sighs with relief. “Um, can I help you?” he asks the new engineer somewhat sheepishly.

The blob pauses as she’s lifting her backpack up to her claimed bunk. The weird blob face indents itself into the side facing Sionnach. “Oh, hi!” Lucy chirps chipperly, “I think I’m okay for now, just settling in. Cap just signed me on to be your new engineer! I’m Y’luci; it’s SO NICE to meet you!” A tendril stretches out from her body and forms into a human arm, which waves then offers a handshake. (edited)

The Pyracani blinks, then nods in realization. “You are a Yoridini,” he says, more to himself than the newcomer, “Nice to meet you as well. Meuc Sionnach, pilot.” He reaches out a paw to shake the offered “hand”.

“Yep, I am,” the face nods. Her hand feels authentic as it grips that paw; bony in all the right places, right amount of give, the skin even moves and feels accurate. Y’luci continues to speak, “Sorry if I startled you, Mr. Sionnach, usually I look like a Human when I’m meeting new solid people but I’m so excited I just-” she giggles brightly, “can’t hold myself together!” The giggling continues.

“You’re fine,” Sionnach replies with a toothy laugh, “If anyone should be sorry, it’s me. Haven’t met many Yoridini. And I’m pretty excited myself. Second time going out to a new planet and all. Boss show you what we did to hold this heap together on the way back?”

Y’luci shakes her… something… “Nope, not yet. Just got here! I’m just stashing my bag and I was going to do a full diagnostic next. Speaking of which, I should probably grab my tools, huh?” The backpack is gently lowered to the floor, before the blob opens it and sticks about half of her matter in with the assortment of tools and random parts. The contents of the bag shift and several tools work their way to the surface, in pockets inside the Yoridini’s body. She extracts herself from the bag, places it on her bunk, then shifts towards the ladder. “I think Captain Prague might be busy. You want to show me your rig-job?”

“I take no responsibility for that,” the Pyracani says with a smirk, “And just a heads up, he doesn’t like being called captain.” He gestures aft and starts making his way towards the engine room. “So, there was a Faraday malfunction after our last jump,” he says, “Cascaded down into the main drive unit. We cobbled it all together as best we could, but neither of us are what you would call a decent mechanic.”

Lucy follows along, listening to the explanation as Sionnach leads her aft. “So I should call him Boss, like you do?” she inquires lightly, her tools juggling around inside her pink form. Once the Pyracani is finished, she nods the roughly head-like section with her blob face on it, “Well, decent or no, you guys clearly made it work long enough to get here. I’m curious how close you got to electrocuting yourselves or blowing up the ship, though… or catastrophically crippling the ship to the point where you were hopelessly drifting through space without life support, or…” She continues, each scenario a little more creative than the last, but none entirely farfetched.

“I like the one where we got turned into hobo frogs and the ship was a metal space lily pad,” concludes Prague as he pokes his head down through the ladder well. “So what do you think, Lucy? How long to get the Pride ready for a trip back to Mintaka?”

“I’ll know after my diagnostic, Boss,” Lucy replies as the tools work their ways to her surface. Each is extended from her main form with a tendril, held aloft as two empty ones rub together, “Let’s get started!” With that, the Yoridini dives right into the engine room, touching only surfaces that are safe to touch and maneuvering all the tools at once for each of their assigned tasks. She squishes, squeezes, slides, stretches, and even squelches at times, and is able to do a full, in-depth analysis of the state of the ship in maybe a quarter of the time it would take a single human mechanic. She mutters to herself all the while, little comments like, “Oh, that’s not good at all,” and, “This is in pretty great shape, all things considered.”

Sionnach watches this for a few moments, then glances incredulously over at Prague with his ears leaning back before turning back towards the corridor. “Well, let me know when you want her airborne,” he says.

“Oh… oh that’s BAAAD,” Y’luci quickly extracts herself from the engine compartments, almost seeming to recoil, “That’s so bad! The safety rig is open! No wonder you had a Faraday malfunction, that stays closed for a REASON, who did that??” She closes it quickly before compiling the data from her diagnostic. “As for the damage, your patch job… It shouldn’t have even worked, honestly. You guys got really lucky you didn’t overload the propulsion systems, some of these circuits are screaming for mercy. I’ve got some boards in my collection that’ll fit this class of ship, and I can get the rest easy enough. Worst case, 3 days. Best case, it’s not as bad as it looks and with no distractions I can cut the time in half. I could cut it down more if you want the quick and dirty, but you asked me to take care of her and I wouldn’t go exploring new planets that way.”

The Ungstiri frowns at Lucy’s analysis. “Our last engineer’s parting gift?” He looks at Sionnach and says, “Run your own diagnostics on nav systems. Make sure she didn’t tamper with anything else.”

“Will do, Skipper!” Sionnach calls back from the corridor and makes his way quickly up the ladder to the cockpit.

“Parting gift…?” the blob-face frowns, “Hold up, what the hell am I getting myself into here? What’re you doing that your engineer would sabotage your ship?” Two tendrils form and hold themselves akimbo, “I didn’t sign up for any spy holovids…”

Prague clambers down the ladder into engineering after Sionnach makes his way toward the cockpit. “It’s a fair question. The answer is: I got no idea. We went out to explore one star system and hit paydirt. Then she up and disappeared on us after a refueling stop at the Rucker.” He scratches the stubble on his cheek. “I’ll give you an educated guess, though. She’s got her own angle on Mintaka. Maybe she figured taking out the Pride would leave the planet open for someone else to take advantage.” A dark chuckle. “Maybe we haven’t seen the last of her.”

“Oh dear… Oh my…,” the Yoridini shifts back and forth, fussing, “That’s terrible. You think you can trust somebody and they try to destroy your ship? Oh that’s just awful… I…” She takes up her tools again, “I’m going to fix her up good! The ship, not your last mechanic. Well, maybe her too, I’d like to give her a piece of my mind… but I told you I’d take great care of this ship and I meant that. She’ll be good as new when I’m done with her!”

“I appreciate it,” Prague replies. Then he grunts and starts back up the ladder. “Let me know if you need any parts ordered.” The badly worn soles of his patent leather shoes are the last things Lucy would see before he’s gone into the corridor above.

Sionnach, meanwhile, is still trying to find any errors in the nav system. “What’d she say?” he calls down the ladder as he hears Prague heading forward.

“The short version?” Prague chuckles as he looks up the ladder toward the Pyracani. “She’s going to do a better job than Eloise Sharpers and won’t try to kill us. So, that’s positive, I think.”

“Will do!” Lucy fetches her bag and brings the whole thing to engineering, where she sorts out several spare parts and a tasty mineral snack, and starts working. Anything she doesn’t have is listed (along with images and acceptable price ranges) and sent to Prague. None should be hard to find, though one is expensive. There’s a note that she can rebuild the one they have, but it will take an extra day to do so. If left undisturbed, she’ll work almost non-stop (punctuated by remarkably brief periods of rest) until the job is done or she has to wait for the requested parts.

“Cheerful news,” the Pyracani mutters wryly, “Everything looks ok up here, but these are the same checks I ran when we left the Rucker. If we’re here a bit I can check the wiring over for what that’s worth.”

“I think we have a little time,” Prague replies to Sionnach as he reviews Lucy’s list. An eyebrow goes up at some of the items and their anticipated price tags. “OK. Let’s get to work.”

Lucy keeps her optical micro-organs open for more signs of sabotage while she works. She’s quick, but very careful. Squeeze here, disassemble this, squish there, repair that. Broken parts from her bag are taken apart to rebuild ship parts, and any leftover scrap is set aside.

After a while she starts to hum while she works, causing a shimmering sort of look as the vibrations form fine ripples across her surface membrane.

The Pyracani nods, pulling a somewhat less comprehensive tool kit than Lucy’s from under the helm console. He shuts down the console and begins opening access hatches, following the wire to make certain it goes to the appropriate places.

Everything else seems to be in proper operating order, suggesting that Eloise Sharpers limited her mischief to the Faraday cage.

A short while later, a spaceport technician arrives to deliver the parts Prague ordered on behalf of the ship’s new engineer.

The pink blob forms back into her tiny brunette form to accept the shipment herself, inspecting everything to make sure it’s all accurate and undamaged. Once that’s settled, she hauls the whole bunch back to engineering and resumes her work without thinking to drop back to goo shape. Her arms and such stretch and squeeze as needed, but for the most part she just stays human… ish. The squishing noises die down a great deal because of this.

Eventually she comms that she’s just about done and will be running another diagnostic to make sure everything’s in good working order.

“Engine room reports that as long as we pass the last diagnostic, we should be good to go shortly,” Sionnach says, closing up the access panels up in the cockpit.

Prague finishes transmitting a message via PDA, then settles into his seat behind the Pyracani. “Start calculating the course to the Rucker. That’ll be our new home for a while until I get some professional eggheads to help manage the moss farm on Mintaka.”

The diagnostic goes well, and Lucy gives the green light to go. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to clean up and pass out for a couple hours,” she chirps, packing up her bag of parts and tools, dumping the useless bits into a scrap bin, and making her way to her bunk. Once there she plops as a human, then slowly melts back into a very pink puddle of ooze.

“Course laid in,” Sionnach says to Prague, “And… ready for liftoff.” He glances back at the Ungstiri, ready to fire off the thrusters.

“Good,” Prague says. He nods to the Pyracani. “Take us up and away.”

The pilot nods back, and with a whine from the engines, the Ekaterina’s Pride lifts off the tarmac and surges skyward. The small transport weaves through other traffic and within moments breaks free of the Earth’s atmosphere.

By Brody

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