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The three inhabitants of the spaceship Drift 9 all sat up front, each according to station – Wendel Harper in the pilot’s chair, Toller riding co-pilot, and Princess Soleil in the passenger fold-down. The passively engaged CD band registered an inclusive address, piping into the momentary quiet. “Advice request for Lowercase T, this is Buzzer Squad 1 calling Lowercase T, calling the great lightweight Lowercase T.”

Toller cleared his throat soberly. “Uh, Captain Wendel? That’s actually for me.”

The captain looked over at the young man warily. “You cooked up a handle? And people know it?”

“It’s mostly what I’ve been doing when I’m up here by myself.” Minding the presence of their passenger, he added, “You know, when we’re parked.”

“Do they know I let you sit pilot?” Slight emphasis on ‘sit’.

“No, and to them I sound like a giant burly man, which lends some comedy to the persona. I found the voice screening utility, and modded my own version of the Night Vigilante preset.”

“Buzzer Squad 1, still asking for Lowercase T to sock it to me.”

Despite his red-handedness, Toller was grinning a little. “Can I answer?”

Eye-checking their passenger, the captain gave a cagey affirmative. “I’d like to hear. Go ahead.”

The boy donned an earpiece microphone and twiddled to open and link his channel. “You’ve found the mighty but tiny Lowercase T, what do you got for me?” At the unexpected resonant gravelly timbre of Toller’s transmission voice, Wendel dissolved into subdued chortles. The Princess’ face wiggled with amusement.

“Hey-O, we lucked out! You gotta help us, Lowercase T. Buzzer Squad was en route to the big Palookatown Bash carrying their exhibition showpieces. We got inspected before getting there, and one of the showpieces, which we only picked up for the bash, held a squirrel stash of Zerite. Regulations have gone wacko on that, so now Squad 7 ship’s locked up, and we’re arguing with P-Town over who can pay to get it out. It’s been a really sucky day, Lowercase T. Can you give us some perspective?” The Princess was listening carefully to the grains of Pan-Galactic news that reached her ears.

“First, I want to tell you that everything is going to be okay! If you’ve done this for them every year, then they can help you with half to make sure you stay with the family. Remind them that there’s no squad like Buzzer Squad, and if they hire anyone else, the price hike and the hassle will cost more than the entire lock-up fee, which I’m surprised they didn’t pony up right away. But since you’ve been arguing, half will do fine. Just show them the way, like I’m showing you the way.” Toller’s offhand matter-of-fact way-of-wisdom voice had Wendel hovering in appreciative surprise.

“You’re the lightweight terror, Lowercase T. Tellin it like it is.”

“You know the truth when you feel it inside of you. Pulling no punches, getting the message across – Lowercase T on standby.”

Wendel broke the silence that followed his CD address. “I think I’m okay with… Lowercase T… being on particle. I’m only surprised I hadn’t found out till now.”

“I think I am too,” said Toller, “it just didn’t bear mentioning, I guess.” His focus remained on the rear longview screen for some time while they traveled. He turned to Wendel with an unconcerned remark. “I think there might be someone behind us.”

Wendel looked over to see what could be seen. “Yeah, there is somebody there. And I don’t recall them being there before. That’s weird.” She remained nonchalant, as she began to consider likelihoods. Sometimes, ships appear behind from nowhere if they were hanging out off-path. Out here though, off-path meant nearly lost and gone from civilization, away from easy safety. “Just coming in from the crisp edge.”

“What’s that?” asked Soleil, aware when new terminology was passing before her.

Captain Wendel and Toller shared a little smile as she began to explain. “It’s the area on the edge of nothing, past the reach of civilization’s tether. Not much of anything exists there, and if there is something, then the crisp edge is just beyond that. It’s odd running into other people out there, because it seems unlikely unless we have the same reasons.” Wendel was aware of the lurking presence in her life of uncertain dangerous elements, and so was Toller; if the film Zero-Clearance was an indicator, the Princess could currently be in similar territory as well. So an appearance on their tail from an unlikely area was a cue for conscientiousness.

As the captain was watching the display, presence indicators disappeared. Well, maybe that was okay – back they go. Then, they reappeared closer. And that was probably not okay, because it was also incongruent with currently known travel physics. “Toller, can you make sure all the mountings are secure on that equipment?” Wendel didn’t think he’d interpreted the data as profoundly as she had, which was fine for the moment. He checked and firmed all connections, and the reading image remained consistent. The equipment was fine.

Wendel set their path for a moment, and turned around with enunciated posture to silently and seriously examine the Princess. This gaze was knowingly returned with an expression of stoic unease. She had seen and understood the odd jump in readings, but also had nothing more yet to say about it. Wendel didn’t think anything would be achieved by abandoning her now, just as the Princess didn’t look sure that any particular action would help the situation for either of them.

Toller was flexing his permission on the CD bands. “Lowercase T, talkin to empties again. Breaking the silence with experience, I’ve got a new one for ya. Let me tell you about this time, it was flitter versus gatorwing. I don’t know what they were fighting for, but that flitter was going to be snack for sure – till a town hunter snagged the gatorwing right there out of the air. I followed the end of the rainbow to the grill where that was getting cooked up, and I toasted the victor of the quarrel with a piece of its enemy. Goes to show, sometimes the one with the upper hand turns out to be tastier pickins.”

 

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