“Commander Lupindo, there’s something you might want to look into,” said one of the Spectre Station communications officers. “There’s a problem at comms relay RJ-45.”
“RJ-45? What sort of problem?”
“RJ-45 feeds parts of Dein space. We’re getting complaints of weird programming coming in through that relay.”
“Really bad movies and lots and lots of commercials for strange cute plushy toys.”
“That’s a start on weird. Why do I need to be involved?”
“Because half the people see them and think the toys are amazingly cute and immediately order them, and the other half get sick to their stomachs.”
“That’s just the start of it. They say that one of them looks like you.”
“Not many Cibosans with black and blue striped fur. Sir.”
“That’s really weird. My fur’s black.”
Timby joined Nak, Calafin, Taku, various department heads, and the Xiq Emissary, Kae-Essk of Hive Orruz in the conference room. He took his seat and eyed the big wasp with suspicion and some fear. Something about the yellow and black stripes made him want to run away.
The department heads gave their reports: crime was down, efficiency was up, fewer complaints at the DMV, all apparently thanks to the presence of Xiq in half the station and exerting influence over the other half.
“Taku, how’s progress on the Wanderer coming?”
“Rulinian is finishing up final inspection now. He wanted me to report that the ship does handle all toilets being flushed simultaneously.”
“Why is this a requirement?” asked Timby.
“Because Rulinian is on the job,” said Taku.
There was no second-guessing Rulinian. Sometimes his pranks were just shenanigans. Sometimes they averted serious death or injury. Any rational analysis led one to accept the shenanigans as the cost of avoiding getting killed in bad ways.
“Timber,” said Naketa.
“I got a report of weird activity at RJ-45, a communications relay between here and Dein space. It connects us, the Dein, and Rshast space. Reports are that any streaming video has been replaced by bad movies and worse commercials.”
“That’s what I said. The commercials apparently make half the people immediately order the product and the other half want to barf.”
Kae-Essk looked directly at Timby and rustled his wings.
“I’m sorry if my report offended you.”
“No, your report was direct and to the point. It describes a possible Demon incursion. I strongly recommend we investigate as soon as possible.”
Timby’s eyes went wide.
Nak said, “We’ll take that under consideration. Anything else, Timber?”
“We’ve cleared the system of most of the dangerous debris from the Battle for Surf & Turf. It’s not terribly useful as scrap, but it’s useful to have it not in orbits that could turn ships or argo into scrap. Orbital Traffic is orderly. No one argues with OTC any more.”
“Thank you, Timber. Paladin Kae?”
“I am pleased to be able to send a positive report to Princess Irulan. Despite your colorful backgrounds you are keeping order. Timberwoof Lupindo, my offer of a position on my staff is always open. I could use someone with your no-nonsense approach.”
Timby looked at Kae and furrowed his brow.
“No, thank you, Paladin. I’ve had enough of collars. But let’s discuss that weirdness at RJ-45. We have a ship that needs a shakedown cruise.”
Taku said, “We’ll be ready to go when you are.”
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