Jax had found Deneb rather boring. He had expected it would be a good place to find pirates and smugglers and rogues of all sorts. Maybe there had been such people about, but not where they'd been staying; most of the guests there had been Starfleet types. The only rogues he'd seen were those he was traveling with. To top it off, the one timid slime devil they'd spotted had been so boring it might as well have been wearing a uniform itself.
Back on the Dog, he went back to reading a book he'd started on the way to Deneb. On the second night after leaving, he was staying up late to finish it. It was after 2 AM when he did, and everyone was asleep. He was restless, so he got up and decided to wander around the ship.
He started with the bridge. Benton was on duty, presumably the only other person on the ship who was awake. "Hi, Benny."
"Hello, Jax. What keeps you up so late?"
"Oh, I was finishing a book. Now I can't get to sleep. Is there anything interesting going on up here?"
"Not at all. Haven't seen so much as space dust in hours. Not expecting anything to come up anytime soon, either."
Jax sighed. "'Kay. Night." And he wandered out through the back door into the mess hall.
He went to the replicator and said, "Warm milk." It gave him a mug, which he sipped at. Then he spat it back into the mug. "Well, I never expected to like the stuff. Guess I had to try it sometime, though." He put the mug back into the replicator. "Get rid of this, and give me some cold milk."
This he liked better, and took it with him as he walked to the turbolift. "Main cargo."
He wandered through the cargo bay, and didn't see much of interest. He entered Engineering, slowly drinking his milk. He finished the glass and set it in a replicator to be disposed of. He looked around some more, absently reading display screens and playing with tools. He sighed again.
He went back to the replicator. "Peppermint hot chocolate." He took the new mug, walked to another turbolift, and said, "Basement."
He arrived at the lowest level of Engineering, and walked up to what looked like a solid wall. He spoke a command, and the wall slid open. He walked into the smuggling compartment.
The light should have come on when he stepped inside, but it didn't. He frowned. "Computer, lights."
"The lights are to remain off at least twelve hours a day."
"Why? Since when?"
"The cargo currently being stored requires a simulation of its natural environment. It is currently night in its natural environment."
"What new cargo?"
"I am not at liberty to say."
Jax sighed, and went back into Engineering. He found a flashorb, and returned to the smuggling compartment. It didn't take long to find a glass cage that hadn't been there before. He looked at it more closely. "No, transparent aluminum," he said to himself. He squatted down, and swept the flashorb's beam across the length of the cage... the tank, actually. It seemed to contain a bit of a swamp. "Hmmm..." Finally, the light fell upon a tree stump. He couldn't quite get the light to penetrate the darkness underneath....
Suddenly, he saw a single, quick flash of red, and then a dark blur practically flying along the path of the lightbeam toward him. He scrambled backward as fast as he could, until there was a dull thud against the wall of the tank. He sat where he was, breathing heavily. He realized he had dropped the flashorb, and for the first time cursed the outdated tech the Partners preferred to use. Generally Jax enjoyed the old-fashioned communicators and all that, but at the moment he'd rather be using a wrist beacon.
...But soon he calmed down from the start he'd been given, crawled to where his flashorb had rolled, and retrieved it. Cautiously, he shined the light in the direction of the thud he'd heard a few moments ago.
There was a slime devil there, obviously a bit shaken. But not too shaken to growl at him. Jax composed himself, realized it couldn't get through the metal wall, and walked back toward the tank. He squatted in front of the beast, which stood up and growled more fiercely at him.
Jax tapped the glass-seeming metal in front of it, and waved. "Hi there. Looks like I got to see you up close, after all."
He stayed there for a minute, then headed back to his quarters to wake Jacen. But when he got there, he decided to lay on his own bunk for a few minutes first.
He woke several hours later when Jacen shook him. "Hi, Jace. What time is it?"
"Oh-seven-forty. You're usually up by now."
"Well, I was up late last night. Fell asleep maybe around three. I meant to wake you up to show you something while everyone else was still asleep."
"Well, it's almost Jithro's shift. We should hurry, but there's probably still time. What is it?"
"You've got to come down to the smuggling compartment and see."
They arrived in the compartment, and Jacen asked, "Why's it dark, then? Where's th' light?"
The computer started to answer, but Jax cut it off. "Never mind, computer." He took out his flashorb, and handed one to Jacen. "Over here," he said, indicating the tank with his own light.
"Hmmm. Wha's this swamp doin' here?"
Jax approached the tank, and Jacen followed. "Look at the stump."
"I can't see anythin' over..." and then the red appeared. And blinked a few times. "Ohhh..."
The slime devil popped its head out from under the stump, groaned a little, and retreated.
"It got closer, last time," said Jax.
Jacen squatted and tried to angle his flashorb to see into the darkness under the stump. "Wha's he doin' here?"
"A better question," said Jithro from the still-open doorway behind them, "might be what you two are doing here."
"Eh," said Jax, standing and turning to face the Saurian, "not bad, but I still like his question better."
Destiny Dog part 7