The ship’s bridge wasn’t much of a conference room. For that matter, it wasn’t much of a bridge – civilian vessels didn’t need all that much as it was, and in this case, auxiliary displays and a few secondary stations had been shut down and stripped for parts to keep more essential things running. But it was an even worse conference room, with crash chairs and consoles cluttering the open space. The only reason there was enough room for everyone present to sit facing one another was that the engineer was small enough to perch on top of a console.

In fairness, part of the reason for that was that their security chief and loadmaster took up as much space as any two of the others. Kirrik could have sat in his lap, but the Trygg didn’t really want to draw any more attention to their unconventional arrangement than might already be upon it, not during anything remotely official anyway.

“So what’s this about?” asked the smallish reptiloid (if still much larger than Kirrik) who did this and that about the ship. “You said you had a way to make more out of this than a meagre emergency-service payout spread too many ways.”

“I do.” Their soft-featured captain patted the mostly-intact console next to her. “Right here.”

Over the next few seconds, as the meaning of that sank in, Kirrik felt a knot develop in his gut.

Krinnishka’s voice cut through the whine of laboured air filters once again, this time with a chittering laugh that gradually stuttered to a halt. “Wait, are you serious?” she-for-now asked, cocking her head to look quizzically at the captain. “You can’t be – you are serious! This bucket of bolts?”

Having spent all his duty time and some of what should have been off-duty time struggling to keep the ship running, Kirrik’s first instinct was to agree. His whiskers curled, nose wrinkling in distaste. And yet, even as he processed that thought, he knew there was something wrong with it. After all, he had put in that time and effort…

Which was something their captain had seen, too. “I know the ship’s old, worn, and fragile,” said Zhanis, “but there’s been so much work put into it over the last several weeks that it’s nowhere near as bad as when we first boarded. We’ll also have a much easier time of it now we’re no longer overstraining life support to keep the hold habitable for an order of magnitude more living, active biomass than it’s made to carry, as I understand Kirrik’s reports.”

“That’s true,” the Trygg allowed. “Not all of our problems have had anything to do with life support, even indirectly by way of the power drain, but keeping life-support running that hard has diverted resources we could have used elsewhere.”

“So what’s your plan?” Gorrak, the largest of those present, rumbled.

“Simple enough. The ship’s ours if we want it – saves our old bosses the up-front expense of having it towed for scrap metal. And speaking of metal, I’ve heard of a good deal on a modest load of machined parts – just the sort of thing that’s going to be in demand to get that old station recommissioned.”

Their comm specialist, Kelley, tilted her head, ears canting forward. “If they’re going to recommission…”

“Not soon enough to help us,” Zhanis cut in. “I doubt they can afford to pay wages for full staff and get new materials while the station’s not making money, and whatever the reason, they’re not bringing people back on payroll just yet.”

“With how much they charged for everything and how little they paid?” their four-eyed pilot scoffed. “That sounds like something criminal right there.”

“Well, this is our chance to be part of why everything was expensive,” Zhanis said sardonically. “And that’s not the end of it – it’s just a way to get some actual capital.”

“Capital,” Niemel repeated, all of his eyes intent on her. “You want us to be a merchant crew.”

“I do. I think it’s a better prospect than we have otherwise, with so many workers suddenly competing for so few jobs – including our late passengers and those of our crew who’d already disembarked and vanished.”

Another chittering laugh. “Is that how you decided on this elite guest list here? Look around and see who’s left?”

“That told me you weren’t so sick of the ship as to leave it first chance you got. Not everyone who stuck around was on duty when we docked – and not everyone who left wasn’t.”

“That’s the truth,” Gorrak growled.

“You here,” Zhanis gestured around the circle, “have all been reliable so far, and among us we’ve got the broadest set of skills with as few people as possible to split the profits between. Even after expenses, we can probably make it better as merchants than as wage slaves to other merchants.”

Put that way, it was actually starting to sound appealing. And it would mean Kirrik wasn’t just abandoning his hard work.

“So how would things be split up?” Kelley asked.

“I was thinking an even split of profits. If there’s no objections, I’d take an extra half-share of ownership so there’s a tiebreaker in case of disputes, but leave the profits at even shares.”

“Well, you got us to come this far without killing each other,” Niemel drawled. “I’m in.”

Kelley added her agreement. Ishka’s was more nuanced: “As far as I’m concerned it beats sniffing around with everyone else. You’ll need to ask him in a few days,” she said in the growl she usually used whenever she was referring to zir other persona. “But I’m sure he’ll go along if someone flirts with him a bit or something.”

“Tentatively yes, then.” Zhanis glanced between the remaining two.

Kirrik hesitated. His wasn’t the only stake in his decision; but Gorrak, similarly, said nothing one way or the other, watching him in turn.

“We know you’re getting it on,” Ishka put in, shifting from foot to foot in impatience. “If you need to talk it over, just do it already.”

Gorrak shook his head, gesturing Kirrik’s way to toss the question over to him. “I have no strong opinion about it.”

Down to him, then.

Oh, well. He’d probably regret this at some point, but what the hell? He’d regret not doing it, too. “I’m for it,” he said, and Gorrak nodded as well.

“Then let’s make it happen,” Zhanis said. “Get me some supply lists as soon as you can, sorted by priority. The sooner we’re underway, the sooner we can get paid.”

At that point, as the saying went, the meeting broke up.

Kirrik skittered up the nearest bulkhead and started walking along it. When Gorrak came up beside him and slowed, offering a shoulder, Kirrik was glad enough to hop onto it, curling around the Khamorloagh’s sturdy neck. His hind-hands clung to Gorrak’s carapace plates on what was, from his perspective, the farther shoulder, mid-hands on the nearer, leaving his fore-hands free to pull up his tablet and start sorting lists. It wasn’t the most comfortable perch, with those plates jostling under him, but it wasn’t all that bad and it gave him a chance to get some work done on the way.

Once he’d called up the relevant files, the more mechanical task of sorting didn’t take all his attention. “You have misgivings about this?” he prompted aloud.

“Some,” Gorrak allowed, “but I do for any other thing I could see us doing. This may be riskier than steady jobs stationside, but there’s no guarantee we could get those right now – especially not together.”

“That’s certainly true,” Kirrik sighed, leaning over to give a fond nuzzle to Gorrak’s ear. “And this way, we don’t have to finish packing up.”

“There is that,” said the bigger male, with a rumble in his tone that Kirrik had learned to read as eagerness. “If I know you, you’ll have kept track of inventory already, hmm?”

“Always.” Kirrik grinned. “I’ll probably be done filing my wish-lists within two minutes of getting back to our cabin.”

“I think I could finish in short order, myself,” Gorrak purred. “Especially with the right incentive.”

No guessing needed as to what that was. And once they had their respective reports in, this would be the first time in weeks that they could take their time with it, not have to worry about being called to handle some new emergency.

Probably, anyway. There was only so much that could possibly go wrong while the ship was docked and largely powered down, and all those systems Kirrik had serviced at least a half dozen times over the course of the whole mad scramble.

Once they’d convinced the door to their cabin – now, at last, only their cabin – to close and lock behind them, Kirrik shed and hung his coverall, stretching out on Gorrak’s bunk to finish his list in the comfort of his own fur. In under two minutes, he had his wishlist of stock broken down into Critical, Essential, Important, Useful, and even a few things that, with their excess of passengers gone, he could mark as Surplus for Sale. He had some doubts that their limited budget would even cover all of the Essential column, but for the moment, that needn’t be his problem. He sent it off to the Captain.

Gorrak’s work at the cabin’s single desk took some minutes longer. It might have been slightly faster if he hadn’t been stealing glances Kirrik’s way, but then, those glances told Kirrik that his choice to use the lower bunk instead of his own – and to sprawl half on his side – had been the “right incentive” previously mentioned.

“There,” the Khamorloagh said at last, giving his tablet a swift tap. “Most of mine is low priority, what with all the extras we had even after some accompanied departing passengers and crew, but it’s done.” He took his turn to strip down.

Kirrik reached up to tuck his tablet into its pouch beside his bunk, and to rifle in the one next to it. “I did synthesize a little something on my last shift,” he confessed. He wasn’t very prone to personal use of the fabricator, but this little bottle had all been plentiful CHON material, nothing exotic. “If you feel like being careful enough for another try.”

Gorrak laughed, running a broad hand along the Trygg’s side. “First you set us on the road to riches as travelling merchants, now this? You’re ambitious today, aren’t you?” His fingers slid inward.

In the moments they’d managed to steal together so far, Gorrak’s thick fingers had proven astonishingly deft at fondling his smaller lover. Kirrik squeaked and wiggled as Gorrak coaxed his left shaft into the open; then, when Gorrak’s touch shifted to its as-yet-hidden-twin and he bent down to suckle on the one exposed, the Trygg just gasped, clutched at Gorrak’s skull with four hands, and hung on for dear life.

Gorrak was unsubtle – almost merciless, as though one second’s delay would get them called away too soon. It was no great talent that he got the whole of Kirrik’s shaft in his mouth – he could have done that with both, easily. But the things that tongue was doing, and the stroking he gave to Kirrik’s other shaft when it too was in the open – either would have been intense; the combination had him writhing in under a minute, pulsing over his lover’s tongue, his other shaft bucking in sympathy, but – as Gorrak had read the signs and throttled back his stroking – not giving up its prize just yet.

One release left Kirrik panting and eager for the next, but he contained himself, grinning down at his lover as Gorrak lifted his head. “You’re getting rather good at that,” he purred, “for all our limited opportunities to practise. Coming to like it, are you?” He gestured towards the material evidence of this at Gorrak’s midsection.

“More than I can say,” Gorrak rumbled, rising. Not that he needed to say much at all.

By any relative measure, Kirrik was the better-endowed of the pair, even counting only one shaft rather than both – but Kirrik was small among the smallest known sapient race, while Gorrak was among the largest in their environmental envelope. In absolute terms, the Khamorloagh’s single piece was quite a bit larger than both of Kirrik’s put together. Fore- and mid-hands combined were barely enough to span it without spreading his fingers. The rumbling groan Gorrak let out as Kirrik reacquainted himself with that member, then started slicking it up, was delightful.

Then he stretched out on his back, letting himself melt against the sheets and Gorrak move into place over him.

There was no biochemical reason for them to be so drawn to one another. But Gorrak was male in a way Kirrik understood, not quite too big to fit, and they weren’t allergic to one another. That was all he needed, physically – and though they did have a genuine connection otherwise, right now it was a very physical need that drove him; a need that looked to be about to be answered now more fully than almost anytime before.

The new lube, a pattern he’d found on the infonet years ago but never had the chance to try, was amazing. Its physical properties as lubricant were better than anything he’d used before, with Gorrak or otherwise – more suited to their skin chemistry, perhaps – and it had certain chemical analogues to Trygg hormones that made it so easy to relax and let the big male in. It still took care and involved a great deal of squirming, but in contrast to their earlier attempts, there wasn’t a single moment where the discomfort got to the point of pain before Gorrak could read it and pause; and measure by measure, but without needing to ever back out so much as a finger’s width, Gorrak slid in from tip to hilt.

Not through ten minutes of vigorous churning, and more of his own orgasms on both sides than his bliss-fogged mind could count, did Kirrik once need to slow the bigger male down. And then Gorrak lurched against him, biting off a bellow, and what little space he had left inside him was filled by a pulsing rush of liquid heat.

Practical concerns of the mess they’d made kept them from savouring it for long, but once they and the bunk were tidy again, they sprawled out once more, Gorrak face-up with Kirrik curled atop him. “That,” Gorrak breathed, “bodes well.”

With that, Kirrik was in full agreement – in multiple senses of the word. There’d be plenty of crises for them to handle, trying to keep this aging, long-neglected ship running; but for now, they had a slice of time to just relax and enjoy each other’s company.