Fifteen minutes is all it took. The white coated inspectors returned to the cargo bay and reported two at a time to their orange collared leader before lining up at the foot of the loading ramp. Kit watched the flow of traffic with suspicion tainted eyes, but other than the smug grinning of Rex on the opposite side of the loading ramp, she saw nothing amiss. Nothing, until the final two inspectors made their report and a small sealed package exchanged hands ending inside a large pocket in the orange collared man’s outer coat.
The last two inspectors exited the bay, joining their comrades at the bottom of the loading ramp. Kit watched the orange collared man as he too approached the ramp as if he were going to exit. At the last moment, he veered off-course and stopped only inches from Rex. The orange collared man lifted the package out of his pocket and waved it in the small space between himself and Rex.
“I’m sorry Rex, but it seems we have problem,” the orange collared man said.
Rex cocked his head at the package. “What you got there?”
At the orange collared man’s touch the package turned from solid orange to transparent. Inside a small syringe was the only visible object. Tara drew a quick breath at the sight. Kit’s jaw tightened and her instincts screamed for her to run. She stood her ground, having no place to go. Quinn watched with impassivity and Rex kept grinning.
The orange collared man said, “I’m going to have to take you into custody.”
“I was hoping not to have to say anything,” Rex said, his eyes looking over the man’s shoulder to meet Kit’s, “but I’m afraid I ain’t the Griffinscape’s captain no more.”
“And who is?” The orange collared man asked.
Kit stepped forward. “I am. What’s going on here?”
The orange collared man turned around to face Kit. “My inspectors found this syringe and their scanners confirmed it is filled with an illegal narcotic, Zumena.”
“The only drugs on my ship are right here in these crates,” Kit said. “If your inspectors found that syringe on my ship, it could only have come from right here and I think we both know if they’ve opened one of these crates, they’re the ones in trouble here.”
“They found it in your medical bay,” the orange collared man said. “I have to place you under arrest.”
“Why me?” Kit asked, glancing around at her companions. “I’m not the only one here and that syringe is definitely not mine. In fact, I’ve never even seen it before.”
The orange collared man said, “You are the owner and captain of this vessel. That makes you responsible for any contraband found on your ship.”
Rex smirked at Kit. “You wanted to keep the ship.”
Kit glared at Rex. Her instincts told her he was responsible for the mess, but she also knew Tara had been inside the crates. Given the location the Custom’s inspectors said they had found the syringe, it was possible Tara had just been careless. She hadn’t known they were about to dock with a Custom’s station.
“How do I know your inspector’s didn’t just plant that thing?” Kit asked. “How do I know they didn’t open one of these crates and just take a syringe out to create a problem?”
The orange collared man said, “My inspectors know better than to open any of these crates and their search of the ship is completely documented on video.”
Kit said, “Video can be edited easily enough. Why don’t we check these crates and just make sure none of them has been opened.”
“Are you suggesting this syringe came from one of these crates?” the orange collared man asked. “Because if you are, it would appear then that you’re confessing to knowingly transporting illegal narcotics under the guise of legally protected pharmaceuticals.”
Don’t be reckless, Jade’s voice taunted in Kit’s ears. Pushing too far could be disastrous, but Kit knew she needed leverage if she hoped to leave Custom’s station any time soon. An open crate would create doubt regarding the conduct of the inspectors. Doubt gave Kit room to bargain. The only problem remaining, centered on the contents of that open crate which Kit feared would be an exact match for the packaged syringe. If the inspectors learned the crates were full of such syringes, Kit and her crew would find themselves caught up in the midst of a criminal investigation directed by politics, not facts.
Kit said, “I don’t know the exact contents of these crates anymore than you do. What I do know is I don’t trust your inspectors.”
“Your trust, or lack of it, is irrelevant,” the orange collared man said.
“What evidence do you have that the syringe in the bag has ever been handled by any of us?” Quinn asked, stepping forward to offer Kit support.
The orange collared man looked to Quinn. “None. The find is documented as occurring in the ship’s medical bay and the contents are identified as narcotic. However, no DNA, fingerprints or fiber particles were found on or around the syringe.”
Quinn raised an eyebrow at the orange collared man. “And that doesn’t strike you as odd or the least bit suspicious?”
The orange collared man said, “Those are matters for the courts, not me.”
Rex cleared his throat and tipped his hat back. “Surely we can find a way not to involve the courts in this little mix up?”
The orange collared man glanced over his shoulder at Rex. “What do you have in mind?”
Rex said, “You already have the syringe, keep it.”
Kit said, “And we’ll just be on our way without causing you more trouble.”
“Alright,” the orange collared man said. “We’ll handle it your way with one condition.”
Kit shrugged. “What?”
The orange collared man looked her straight in the eye. “You take a spanking for having the audacity to accuse my people of corruption.”
Kit’s face reddened with anger. “We all know that evidence was planted, the only question is by whom.”
The orange collared man shrugged. “Well, if you don’t like my suggestion, I suppose we’ll just have to let the courts sort all this out.”
Consequence aren’t just for other people, Jade taunted in Kit’s ear.
Kit sighed. “Fine, I’ll take your spanking, but fifteen minutes from now, my ship, crew and cargo had better be back on our way.”