Wanna Make a Couple Bucks?

“Stop stalling. A bet’s a bet.”

Xyler’s opened his mouth as wide as he could, stuck his tongue all the way out, and held the pepper in front of his mouth. He sat that way, still as a statue, making an unsure moaning noise, before again pulling the pepper away.

“C’mon, Eb, you know I don’t like spice,” he said.

“You’re such a child. It’s not even that spicy. Give it here.” Ebla grabbed the Vega Grim Pepper and popped it in his mouth whole. Just then, the Orius III slammed out of hyperspace. The freighter’s bulkheads groaned like a capsizing ocean liner and a half-dozen alarms sounded at once, but Ebla’s more immediate concern was the unchewed pepper lodged in his windpipe.

Xyler was already down the hall heading toward the cockpit. What an asshole! It was his pepper Ebla was choking on to begin with. His eyes began to water and his diaphragm fluttered. Screw this. If a pepper was going to kill him, it sure wasn’t going to be one as innocuous as a Vega Grim—it really wasn’t that hot. Ebla propped his chair against the wall at an angle and rammed his stomach into the chair’s back once, twice, three times, and the pepper popped out like a Champagne cork. He gasped, and the pressure in his temples went away.

Xyler’s voice cut in over the intercom. “Hey, stop screwing around, Eb. Get up here.”

Asshole. Ebla picked the pepper off the floor and looked it over. Still clean. He wiped it off on his shirt and took a bite, carefully chewing as he made his way to the cockpit. “What’s going on?” he asked as he fell into the navigator’s crash couch.

“We’re at Gatehouse S-7-12. They pulled us over.” He didn’t take his eyes off the comm monitors.

“What for, an inspection? There’s nothing to inspect, we’re deadheading.”

“That’s why they picked us,” Xyler said, and he swiveled the monitor around so Ebla could read it.

“A murderer?” Ebla’s voice was a half-octave higher than he meant for it to be. Blame it on the pepper. He cleared his throat. “We’re not equipped as a prisoner transport. Why would they ask us to haul a convicted murderer to the pen?”

Xyler swiveled the monitor back and buried his face in it. “Because it’s the middle of nowhere and they can’t get a dedicated transport. We’ve got an empty hold, and the Alcatraz system is on the way.”

“What are you saying?”

Xyler looked up with a wicked grin. “Wanna make a couple bucks?”

Ebla kicked up his feet and leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head. “Alright. I’ll play Marshal with you. But only after you eat one of these peppers.” Now it was Ebla wearing the grin. “What’s it gonna be, hot shot?”

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