"There, approaching Leviathan 0038."
The Cockatrice declined to add any comments. This was part of his unreasonably nice personality, which he had acquired in the past four days. He had ordered new uniforms, remembered Hanna's 898th birthday and failed to mock Spencer.
"I just think that there's a massive razor blade in this candyfloss somewhere."
"No, not at all."
It glanced at the chronometer like a condemmed being.
"Spencer, I was thinking of buying a robotic cleaner. To save on your workload."
"Stop doing this!"
"What is wrong?"
"I'm just paranoid. What foul task do we have to do?"
"OK, you have to meet my genetic sister."
"Cloned from me. She is quite high up in the legislative section and if she ever found out what a pulsar I am in real life, she would kill me. You two as well, probably. It's only once a decade, it's only once a decade, it's only... You will refer to her as Vera Lovecraft."
"I am now quite scared."
"She will inflict pain on one of you, chosen at random."
The Cockatrice wandered towards Klystrom and suddenly flipped her out of the bunk.
"One of the few things she hates more than me is any kind of dirt. Remove all trace of it."
Spencer started to clean with vigour. After a short while, he noticed that his left leg had ceased to function.
"Keep going Spencer. It's another decade before you have to meet her again. A spirited individual."
Well, I didn't want to remove all of your blood, I just wanted your attention.
Oh, telepathy? Do I have to project my thoughts?
No. You see, I started out as a Flamer. I stopped after I started catching fire.
I want to be a Pilot again but with the ladder of command I would have to be a Spy first.
OK. I could train you.
Spencer was astonished for a moment, but then realised that mind control was underway. Like Korea all over again, but this time it worked. Ah well, when thirty parsecs from a gravity well...
Energy Deck 7, Leviathan 0038...
The corporate grey demon had been and gone, though Spencer was still clutching at his foot.
Spencer's tongue was still in anguish from the venom, so he said nothing.
"We're going to meet an old friend of mine." said the Cockatrice. "Skips was in the H-849 for a while. Great times."
The hovering trolley was scraping along the wall and giving off sparks, but he seemingly didn't care.
"Have a look at the core. Here is about the closest you can get without dying."
Abruptly, the Cockatrice disappeared down another service alley and carried on until the slight smell of disorder alerted him. "Skips", a Marsupial Dragon was in his vaguely habitable warren again.
"No, I'm telling ya, that strike was legal. Yeah, and they let two o' the Trist's gang through to third! World gets stranger every day."
"Crux Australis losing again?"
He let the shock of this hang for a while.
"Orion don't understand the game. At second eater', they had 'health foods'. When you need fat for the sub-zero point course, they have 'health foods'."
It occured to the Cockatrice that as Orion was winning, they technically understood the game more than Crux Australis. He didn't voice this.
"You heard it?"
He put the phone down without waiting for a reply.
Core Viewing Platform, Oxygen-Breathers Only...
Watching the Dantean inferno palled, so Spencer stepped back into the nitrous airs. Wandering into the corridor, he saw another trolley bearing an presumably heavy burden. Its high-crowned head merited a redesign of the stasis tube, and the sharp carapaces of its exoskeleton gleamed in the dull Unbibium glare. It was seemingly painted reflective white and it gazed at him with serene hatred. All of this he noticed in the three seconds before the electroprod was at his neck.
"This is property of the Xenological research department. At your level, even looking at this is forbidden."
"Sorry.", came the muffled reply.
"It's fine, I won't erase your memory."
Spencer's face was a few inches from the creature, and the unrivalled view its teeth (disconcertingly similar to the Protector's) failed to calm him.
"What is it, by the way?"
The unknown Xenologist seemed to brighten at someone taking an interest in his work.
"Ah, the Pyrovoric Reapers! That's our name anyway. This one's 30,000 years old. The last one we've got, fortunately."
"Was it a swarmer?", enquired Spencer, with the one thing he cared to remember from his Xenology Slate course.
"No. So fast, so graceful, and yet so terrible."
The pressure on Spencer's back was relieved, and he stood up. The "Pyrovoric Reaper" continued to stare into space until it rounded the corner with the unseen Xenologist. He hurried back to the core in time to see ice forming on the walls.
Extreme Lifeforms Storage Wing...
"So in short, ya haven't got an ordinary manual."
Xenology was starting to infuriate them both, with its awkward energy draining.
"I've put it in a reactor core, immersed it in acid and fed it to an exhibit. And now, I've got to clean up the grey, congealed remains."