The man who called himself Flowers did not disembark with the rest of the passengers. Xrrt ran a discreet background check on him, not because she thought he could really be a threat to her crew, but because she had the sense that he might be staying for a while. He was like all the others: small, vulnerable, with external tissue as soft and flexible as a newly hatched maggot.
He had a whole variety of identity chips embedded in his arms. Some were clean; some were wanted for crimes in a few systems, but nothing particularly concerning came up during her searches. Living with Sera had taught Xrrt to forgive a certain amount of legal untidiness.
Flowers was polite to her, but then again, most humans were. It wasn’t difficult to command a certain amount of respect when you had eight claws and a healthy acid production. She watched him interact with the rest of the crew, especially the smaller ones, the ones who he might be able to harm. He was direct with Nyx, cordial to Weyland, rude to Sera but no more than she was to him. He maintained a polite distance from Mirelle. Well, he’d kidnapped her not long ago, so that wasn’t too surprising. Xrrt was finding herself growing protective of Mirelle, already fretting about her safety. She was so very small and the universe was so full of things that could pierce her skin.
The Benevolence had dropped off its passengers and refueled several days ago, but Nyx was keeping them in orbit. She wanted more tests run on Mirelle. She wanted a clearer sense of the news from Earth. She wanted to find additional help with security before they headed into an active war zone. She wanted to know what to do with Flowers, who she didn’t trust but needed to keep working with because he was still in communication with this mysterious client. When she came to Xrrt for help on those last two points, Xrrt wasted several frustrating soliloquies on her translator before she could make it say, “Why does that man call himself Flowers?”
It wasn’t quite the question she’d intended to ask, but it was close enough. Nyx gestured at one of her forearms with her opposing hand. “It’s because of the tattoos,” she said. “The flowers–oh, I forgot, they must not look like flowers to you.”
Xrrt said, I have seen flowers before. I admire their ultraviolet fluorescence. I see why your people would want to decorate yourselves with flowers, but I do not understand how they can look like marks on your skin. I do not understand why any of you would puncture your skin voluntarily. I worry about the delicacy of your skin all the time. But since you have told me that his arms look like flowers, I will trust you that this is what you see.
Her translator said, “I’ll take your word for it.”
Later that day, she asked Flowers to accompany her to the room she used as an armory. It wasn’t a place she went often. Her people didn’t have a use for weapons that required fingers. She’d kept the guns left over from the Benevolence’s days with Coalition anyway, just in case anyone on the crew needed them.
Flowers gave a low, appreciative whistle when he saw the racks of rifles and the nearly hung pistols, enough for a whole Coalition ship’s security team. Xrrt unlocked one of the larger rifles and passed it over to him. It was a plasma weapon, so of course she kept it unloaded on board the ship. He checked the cartridge slot anyway to make sure it was empty.
“This is a nice piece,” he told her. “Why are you showing it to me?”
Xrrt said, We are heading into a dangerous region of the galaxy. I know that I am not enough to protect the crew alone. We need additional security officers, but it is difficult to recruit people who are willing to follow Nyx at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. You seem like someone who knows how to handle a weapon. More importantly, you seem like someone who doesn’t have a place in the galaxy at the moment. The Benevolence could be your home, if you want to stay for a while.
Her translator said, “I’m recruiting for the security team. You don’t have anywhere better to be.” That, she thought, got the point across more or less as she’d intended it.
Flowers laughed at that. He looked down at the gun in his hands. “No one’s calibrated this thing for a while. The dampener probably needs adjusting.”
Xrrt unfolded a panel from the wall. It was just the right height for humans to use as a workbench. Sera had stowed a weapon repair kit behind it. The tools were impossible for Xrrt to use; some of them she couldn’t even pick up, no matter how carefully she maneuvered her smaller set of forelimbs. Flowers got to work quickly, his many-jointed fingers swift and sure. Xrrt watched him work.
After a while, he said, “It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”
Sometimes, it was best to remain silent. It wasn’t just because the translator would stumble over what she was trying to say. Humans needed silence now and then. Their minds ran wild in it. Xrrt had learned to tolerate it when she’d left her hive, and experienced for the first time how the rest of the galaxy lives without the constant swell of hive-song.
Flowers worked for a while longer without speaking. He finished what he was doing to the rifle, shut the toolbox, and closed the panel back up. “Do I have to wear one of those stupid uniforms and call you boss?”
Xrrt spread her foreclaws and moved them up and down, approximating a human shrug. She said, I have overseen a full security team for the Coalition. I sent all of them into danger. Many of them died, and I mourned them. I do not understand why clothing is so important to so many sentient species, but they took pride in it. It does not matter to me what you call me, so long as you are willing to risk your life for my crew.
Her translator said, “I don’t care what you call me.”
Flowers laughed. “All right,” he said. “I’ll think about it. But I won’t be calling you boss.”