Meet the New Boss
Maera wasn’t deaf, but she was certainly dancing on the edge. Her hearing loss was no big concern to the Folk with whom she worked, who recognized it as decades of working with various forms of explosive. The only time any of them complained was when the earbud for her chip player wasn’t seated properly and the rest of the crew was exposed to the horrific tones of what she liked to call music. At the volume she was forced to listen to it, the sound could easily be heard by those nearby.
The other hazard was Maera’s speech. She had no concept of how loud she was speaking. In field operations she often stayed silent rather than chance making too much sound, but at the moment she was not in the field. The massive desk that separated her from the chimpanzee behind it was buried in forms that seemed almost to vibrate in response to her voice.
“So he says, ‘make it a double’,” she shouted, breaking into a cackling laugh. Across from her, the chimp chuckled and then laughed with her. His head bobbed as he laughed, and the pen that was tucked behind his right ear slipped free and bounced from the edge of the desk before falling to the floor.
“You should tell that to the Folk down at Four Winds,” he said when the laughter subsided. He bent to retrieve the fallen pen.
“Them idiots can’t appreciate good jokes,” she responded.
As she did so, the door opened and a pair of Folk entered. One was a cheetah in standard casuals. His carbine was slung on his back across his body, barrel-down, and he had a friendly grin that displayed his shining teeth. The other was a snow leopard female in a stylish black-and-blue wrap. Her eyes flitted about the office, trying to take in every detail.
“Misha said to come straight in,” the cheetah began, pausing as he saw that Maera was seemingly alone in the office. He raised his voice a notch and called her name.
Maera wheeled and her lips stretched back in a happy grin. “Kurt!” she shouted. Both of the new arrivals winced at her volume.
“We’re supposed to meet with the Team Leader,” Kurt explained. Maera nodded and jerked a paw over her shoulder.
“Taffy!” she shouted. The chimpanzee raised his head back from beneath the desk. He smiled when he saw the arrivals. He gestured to the chairs in front of the desk.
“Please have a seat,” he prompted. He stood from the desk and made his way around it with a limping gait. It was when he cleared the desk that the reason for his limp became clear. His left leg was a prosthetic. It was a simple piece of plastic and metal, rather than the exotic fibers and motorized replacements that had been popular for the past few years.
“Who’s your friend?” Maera asked of her compatriot. She scanned the snow leopard from head to toe, and while her ears might have been damaged, her eyes were perfectly precise. Her brow furrowed.
“This is Vikki Duris,” Kurt introduced. When he fell silent immediately after, Maera knew that asking further questions would not benefit her.
“Here ya go,” she said instead, rummaging in one of the wide-mouthed pouches at her waist and emerging with a long piece of colorful material. She looked for just a moment at the snow leopard, cocking her head to the side by a few degrees as, at her waist, her paws twisted and shaped the material. A moment later, she extended a braided circlet. The ends were bent to allow them to slip through the loop at the other end.
Vikki took it, a nervous smile splitting her muzzle.
“Thank you,” she said, though her voice was barely heard even by Kurt. Maera had heard the words often enough to recognize the motions of the muzzle and her teeth flashed again.
“My pleasure,” she said. She turned back to see the chimpanzee leaning against the front of the desk. She winked down at the shorter Folk.
“Private, I take it?” she asked. When he nodded, she reached out with a paw and took his hand for a second. The shake was a relaxed one, with no vigor. “See you tomorrow then,” she told him.
“Bring that clacker in and I’ll take a look at it,” he said. The sleek dog turned at the door and waved at him before slipping out and closing the portal behind her.
There was a moment of silence, as was common when Maera left a room. It was that reflexive second when everyone recalibrated their ears and voices to more appropriately deal with one another in her absence.
“I met Maera on the way out,” the Team Leader said. He stroked at the outer rim of his ear in thought. “She and I became fast friends.”
“She is an interesting one,” Kurt agreed.
“She has a very discerning eye,” Vikki said. Her arms were up and she had clasped the choker around her neck. It was just loose enough to not interfere with her throat, but tight enough to remind her it was there. “She got my size right just by looking.”
“Maera is our demolitions expert,” Kurt said. “Estimating length of fuse cord is kind of second nature.”
“Fuse… You mean… She made…” Vikki gasped and made to jerk the circlet off her neck. Kurt laughed and waved a paw to show her she was okay.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We’ve all got something. Necklaces, bracelets, shoelaces. She just compulsively makes things for people. The primer cord is harmless as it is. You have to match it to a blasting cap to fire it.”
“Gara’s tail,” Vikki said, swallowing. She pulled her paws away from her neck with an obvious effort.
“If it goes boom, she’s the one you want dealing with it. Now, if she cooks something for you, that’s when you need to run.”
“Most definitely,” the chimpanzee added, nodding in an exaggerated manner. He chuckled once again and then moved to stand in front of Vikki. The snow leopard was a head and a half taller than him, but he had no difficulty looking her in the eyes.
“My name is Tafiri,” he introduced, shaking her paw. “I’m sure you’ve heard virtually nothing about me, since very few Folk deal with me directly. Kurt, here, is my liaison to the security forces, including Captain VonHogan. I believe you’ve already met him?”
Vikki nodded. “He seemed…intense, I think is the word I would use.”
“He has been tasked with not only providing all necessary security for the colony, but also for scouting the surrounding area and securing an entirely new objective. One can excuse him for appearing focused.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it as a bad thing!”
“No worries,” Tafiri said, shaking his head. “It’s the new objective I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve seen in your chart that you had a very narrow field of specialty before you threw away everything and came with us to Z262.”
“Contract law,” she said.
“Now, I’ll admit, the curiosity of what caused you to abandon everyone and everything you were familiar with in order to come try life as a farmer is driving me positively insane, but I’d like to think we will have time to talk about that later. We will be spending quite a lot of time around one another if you accept the offer I’m about to make.”
Her arms crossed over her chest and she stepped instinctively away from Kurt and Tafiri, taking a step backward. Eyes narrowing, she looked down at the chimp. Her tone was icy when she spoke.
“What kind of offer?”
“Not what you’re thinking, I assure you,” Tafiri said, raising his left hand. “I need your expertise.”
“As a lawyer?” she asked. Her tone changed to incredulity. “I don’t do criminal justice.”
“Oh, we cover that,” Kurt interjected.
“You will recall, I mentioned a new objective that Captain VonHogan is securing for us,” Tafiri continued, unaffected by the interruption.
“ArCorp regulations require a great many things from us as corporate citizens, Vikki. Not least among them is to continue looking for new ways to increase the holdings of the corporation. You are aware of our mining operations, of course. What has not been discussed with any but a handful of Folk is what I brought you here to discuss.”
“Well, my curiosity is piqued,” she admitted.
“I need to be assured of your absolute discretion, Vikki.”
“I am capable of that.”
“I am aware,” he said. His hand slipped into a pocket of the tailored vest he wore and emerged holding a thin coin of hammered gold. “I am placing you on retainer as my attorney,” he said.
“You have me mistaken for – “
“No mistakes,” he said. “I am fully cognizant of what your specialty is and where your talents lie. That is precisely why I am ensuring that I am the first to hire you.”
“You have contracts in mind?” she asked. She glanced down at the proffered coin.
“I do. I need you to write them. Make them airtight. Help our colonists. Do your job, Vikki, and we will all be wealthy beyond avarice.”
“We’ll all what?”
“Take the coin,” Tafiri urged. “Be my attorney.”
Her paw moved forward in slow motion, as if she had no control. In a moment the coin was nestled in her palm. Tafiri grinned widely as she took the money.
“Take a seat, Vikki,” Tafiri said. “Let me tell you a story about a scouting mission that has gone incredibly well.”