Of Menaces, Hopes and Icky Space Food: Part Three
Art by ssjelitegirl
It turned out that while the dorms of all employees were more or less in the same area, they were divided by job, so Tim was sharing rooms with the other janitors and the Blumaroo trio were technicians. Same floor, three hallways over.
"And the good news is," said the Usul, keycarding himself into the staff area, "that they're all connected with a ventilation system. You're small enough that you should be able to find something out without being discovered."
The Meepits grudgingly accepted that if any sneaking was going to happen, the ventilation system was about the smartest way to go at it in this space station, which was ridiculously prone to open hallways. Frankly, the only problem they had with it was the sheer cliché of it.
"I mean, I'm not one to knock classics by any means," said Bloody Mary, his bright round eyes surveying the area from Tim's shoulder, "it's just that any place with ventilation ducts and a possible takeover plot tends to have so many people already crawling through the ducts on various shady errands that you barely have anywhere to step."
"Point of interest, if you ever find yourself needing to keep hidden in any of the Shenkese villas, you'll have better luck in actual hallways than in the ventilation," Justice said from the bucket. "Hallways have a lot of nice ornamental vases and pot plants. Ventilation has a lot of ninjas. We ran into three in a single stretch before wizening up about it."
Tim opened a metal door and clicked the light on, revealing what anyone with any experience in the world immediately recognizes as a dorm common room populated by guys. It was small, sparse, rather dreary-looking and the grey walls were only marginally improved by various tattered Battledome posters. Nobody seemed to be in at the moment.
"Don't you have work to do?" Bloody Mary asked as Tim opened another door, leading to a tiny bedroom that was apparently his. It had no windows – on a space station, those are hard to come by – and the Battledome posters were a weak substitute. The room contained a small bed, a bedside table, a rickety desk and what looked like an all-purpose cupboard. And a ventilation grate.
"I'll just send you into ventilation and be on my way," said Tim, prizing off the grate. After a set of fairly confusing directions, he fitted the grate in again and disappeared, leaving the light on. The Meepits looked around, decided that this was a decently ninja-free ventilation duct and went off in the pointed direction.
In a few feet, the small duct they were in connected to a main line. The Meepits stepped out and blinked.
"This right here," Bloody Mary said grimly, "is why you get all sorts of resistance cropping up all the time. Look at it. You could fly an Eyrie through the place."
"If they took a bit less space for air to blow through, they might have more to go around for dorm rooms," said Joe the Chef, craning his neck towards the duct's ceiling, which to their tiny heights seemed infinitely far away. The duct may have been a bit snug for an Eyrie, but a Uni would've been perfectly comfortable. It stretched out in both directions and was decently well lit. The meepitgang headed in the approximate direction of the Blumaroo squad.
"The problem I have with this place," said Bloody Mary, conversationally more than for any other reason, "is all the metal. Echoes back and forth something fierce. F'rinstance, you hear this scurrying farther off? How far and how big, what do you think?"
They stopped for a moment and perked their collective ears, then argued a bit between themselves and took the average of all opinions. It summed up as 'roughly northeast, fifty yards away, size of a Grundo'.
"Ooh, this next one is good," Justice said appreciatively after they'd marched on for a bit and rounded two corners. "Knows how to step softly. Probably a ninja."
"One's behind the next corner," Joe the Chef said. "No, two. This is about to get awkward."
The Meepits, who appreciated good awkward, popped their heads around the corner to witness another broad long ventilation duct, in which a slim Blumaroo crept quietly on all fours. It wasn't any of the three they were after, which made the Meepits suspect that Blumaroos were somehow really drawn to the space station. Maybe it was all that bouncing.
They watched with anticipation as the Blumaroo snuck up to another junction in the ducts, stealthy and silent – unless, of course, you had a properly functioning pair of Meepit ears, in which case he sounded like a marching band – and was promptly step on by a Cybunny who was hurrying in from that junction.
The Meepits nodded with satisfaction.
"Are you following me?" the Cybunny demanded hotly.
"Why would I be following you, you stupid twerp?" the Blumaroo demanded just as hotly, jumping up into a crouch. "I have a very important mission!"
"Does that involve sniffing out a trail or did something happen to your back?" The Cybunny jerked a mocking thumb at the duct ceiling, which was twice as tall as she was.
"Well, I wouldn't expect you to be able to understand proper reconnaissance."
The Meepits, long since aware how to spot a good moment in which everyone is distracted, snuck off.
They tracked down the room of the Blumaroo squad a mere hour later, which everyone agreed was a stroke of luck, considering the size of the station and Tim's entirely unreliable directions. The technicians weren't in, which stood well to reason, seeing how it was the middle of the workday. Therefore, the group took the chance to rifle through the room.
"Ooh, awesome!" Bob Squeaky's surprised voice rang through the room. "Check this, they have Chococherry Blumaroo Ears in a box under the bunk here."
"Looks nasty," Bloody Mary said, craning his neck.
"No, no, it's candy."
"Gourmet, no less," Justice said, trotting closer. "I found some Hard Blumaroo Candy in the drawer, by the by."
"Bit of a one-track mind," Joe the Chef noted, "but I won't question tasty things after the slop they serve in mess hall. I'd say no more than a tenth, though, if we're going to listen in on them, we don't want to make them paranoid."
They looted the room to a reasonable extent, withdrew back to the ducts and spent the next few hours snacking away until noise could be heard outside and the door slid open. Lights clicked on and the room was suddenly filled with loud voices, posturing and smells generally expected from hygiene of the young male variety.
"-and it's not up to him anyway, there won't be another supply of oil until Tuesday. So the bay is sort of at a standstill until then, unless they strike a deal with Gargarox and get his leftover cooking oil," one of the Blumaroos, the red one, was currently saying.
"Hey, it's recycling," said the green one.
"I thought they already used Gargarox's oil," said the blue one, to loud laughter.
The Meepits chewed methodically and listened as the conversation wound on, with various attempted witticisms to equally varied success.
"-in any case I think I'll tell them that – dude, which one of you knuckleheads took my candy?!" The red Blumaroo had pulled the drawer open while talking and it looked like his candy was counted to the last piece. The Meepits in the ventilation duct made a halfhearted attempt to look guilty.
"Chill, man, nobody's touched your candy," the green one said gruffly.
"What, you saying I can't count?"
"Y'know, I was trying to be tactful about it."
"Guys, guys." The blue Blumaroo was trying to sound bored in a superior sort of way, which the Meepits filed away as 'self-proclaimed authority and desperate to stay that way'. "There's a new shipment coming in tonight anyway, we'll just take a better cut this time. That good?"
"You think Mednix won't catch on?" the red Blumaroo asked, eyes narrowing.
"Unloading is our job, innit?"
The Meepits listened until they'd finished off their loot, then shuffled off back through the ducts. Tim was in his room, looking anxious.
"Well?" he demanded, relief reflecting on his face, as the Meepits elbowed the grate off the wall and dropped down onto the bed en masse like a shower of ripe plums.
"Well, don't hop up and down there like you're the boss waiting for a mission report," Bloody Mary said with a bit of edge to his voice, "but since you're curious, Melvin and Daisy from the kitchens have been meeting in the ducts since late last year, the old Resistance members have a neat little shortcut from the recreation deck to cleaning staff quarters, thought you might like this one, and I think someone's plotting an assassination of Commander Gormos, but don't worry, it's not your junior elite squad and anyway they won't succeed by a long shot, unless the hitman learns to move through the ducts sounding a bit less like a stampeding Elephante."
Tim stared at them. The Meepits scattered casually around the room, having already figured that this was the Usul's regular look.
"The awkward part is that the hitman is, in fact, an Elephante," Santa said helpfully.
"But the Blumaroos!" Tim wailed in despair.
"Are smuggling sweets into the station and selling them to select crewmembers for a profit," Justice said, landing on his shoulder and patting his ear consolingly. "Honestly, with the grub they serve here, I'd think there's more than one candysmuggling ring taking place anyway. Their contact is someone named Mednix, the next shipment is tonight and if you want to valiantly expose their unlawful actions on spot, we'll be glad to help. As long as we get a cut of the goods, you don't usually get that sort of candy in our line of work."
Tim's mouth opened and closed for a few times, then he got his voice back. "Candy? They're smuggling candy? But I... I thought... Mednix? Mednix is in staff resources, she's kind of a nasty piece of work but I don't think she's hurting for money, why would she do this?"
"Well, we can go and find out tonight if you promise not to hum any themesongs while you sneak," said Bloody Mary.
To be continued...