(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
Daniel Delacroix runs a hand over his close cropped skull, feeling the reassuring thin prickle of new growth. It is a nervous reflex, a gesture he barely notices anymore. The galley clock reads 12:00hrs but is still empty save for Cressida Blythe, perched on a table, quietly resetting the aim on her tranquilator. He had worked once before with her.. how many? maybe fifteen years before. Now her reputation precedes her, twelve successful missions in a row, no lives lost. He hopes her presence will reassure rather than alarm the crew, this mission makes thirteen.
Movement in the corner of his eye makes him jump. Why is he so nervous? The thought irks him, fear is not an emotion he has time for. He had thought the galley was empty but there, on the far wall, something, someone is barely visible, slipping in and out of his peripheral vision. He blinks and misses it.
Cme leans in close to the Pilot as he unblinks. He leaps about half a meter into the air and Cressida chuckles laconically. 'Nice one Cme.'
Daniel tries to recompose himself as Cme tilts it's head to one side quizzically watching his reaction.
'Yes Expedition pilot, I am Cme.'
'Good, great trick, you got me! ' Despite having read the classified file on this Xenograft, he is still unprepared for what confronts him. Cme lets out a giggle. 'I am quite a sight, if you can see me!' and as quickly as it arrived in front of him, it leaps across a nearby table and perches next to Cressida, its skin slowly mottling over in the metallic shades of the galley. Before he can think of anything to say, the rest of the team arrive and he calls the room to order and begins his mission speech.
'I would like to welcome you all, on behalf of the Newtrishia Corporation, on board the Saturn Anne II. I have been successfully piloting this ship for seven years, over six missions to distant galaxies for the Corporation and will expect this mission to also be a success. The key to success is punctuality.' He pauses and glances a the galley clock , now reading 12:07hrs and shakes his head. 'This is the first and last time you will be late. If we are on-world and I say the ship is leaving at 12:00 hrs, we are leaving at 12:00hrs, whether you have made it back from collecting whatever exciting algae or bacterium you think is more important than my orders. Nothing is more important than my orders. Your life, and more importantly my life, depends on your punctuality.'
'Like you were punctual arriving here at the space port...' Grove's voice trails off as he realises he had spoken out loud.
'At the advice of the expedition security expert,' Daniel nods towards Cressida, his voice icy cold, 'Precautions were undertaken to keep the ship off the radar of Newtrishia's biggest competitor, Alimentorum, who has financed an aggressive takeover of the space port in the last twenty-four hours. If they catch wind of our mission, they will endeavour to delay, disrupt or, even worse, quarantine us.' Daniel walks over to where Grove is leaning back on two legs of his chair and looms in close, 'We were punctual, just not easy to find.'
'Why quarantine?' Harp asks, half interested in the answer, half hoping to diffuse the stand-off between the pilot and Grove. It works and Daniel turns away from Grove to answer him.
'This is an Ark class ship, one of the last of its kind. It incorporates what, in its day, was cutting edge biosynthesis within the hull structure. After a space-plague, carried by a biosynth ship wiped out a whole colony a few years back, ships can be quarantined indefinitely by order of the space port. Such tactics have been known to be deployed by Alimentorum, who seize competitors ships, find the mission protocol and hijack it for their own profit.'
Harp whistles softly under his breath. 'I had no idea this industry was so cut-throat.'
Cressida laughs. 'Cut-throat? That's a good name for it. Legalised piracy is what it is. Daniel is right, as your security specialist I can confirm that, as soon as you signed your sweet little name on the contract for this mission, you put yourself in the line of danger and the best way to survive is by working together as a team and by following orders without question. If you are not a team player, you are not welcome on this team.' Her last comment is for the benefit of Grove, still swinging back on two legs of his chair, a look of nonchalant defiance on his face. For a moment he hangs, perfectly balanced, a picture of cool aloofness and then he yelps as, for no reason, the chair suddenly collapses under him. He sprawls on the floor as Cme laughs loudly, its camouflaged outline barely discernible nearby. 'If you haven't got our back, we haven't got yours, see!' Everyone laughs at Cme's joke and even Grove, scrabbling ungainly about on the floor, raises a weak smile.
Cressida turns to Daniel and quietly whispers. 'We need to get Satan out of here ASAP. The space port shift change is at 13.00hrs and all docking bay boards will be updated. I can only pay for so much time.'
Daniel nods and resumes his speech.