"Tetra-8 Zofloxene," Strouthos Lev says, letting his baritone rumble bounce off the skull of the nervous-to-the-point-of-fear space skiff driver standing between two heavily scarred and tattooed low-level enforcers like a priestess calling to morning prayer, "A sweet high, mild crash, smooth addiction curve. Easy to make, if you have the right materiel. In demand for miners working long days- a taste to push through a long and dreary shift; a deeper quaff for celebrating the night, yes?"
Something in the placid, cold gaze makes it clear that he's not expecting a response from the driver. Strouthos stands and moves away from his workspace, crossing the room as inevitable as the tide.
"Yet without certain materiel, the drug cannot be made. Labs sit empty. Whores deal with strung-out, unsatisfied addicts instead of easy marks. Supply chains are interrupted. Miners, distraught, suffer more accidents; they grow lazy and work stops. Profits are down. There is less money." He takes a small breath as a man preparing to lift a load and gazes out the window at the cityscape, the setting sun throwing bright colors and long shadows over the low buildings. Street bustle drifts up from outside, normal sounds and normal traffic. Xuria's sunsets will change with the atmosphere, he thinks, wondering what colors and shadows the tomorrows will bring.
He looks over his shoulder at the driver, calculated and cold. The enforcers shift their weight, ready to act. "Where is the shipment, Micholas?"
The weight of threat in the room make the pilot seem small. He isn’t, in fact, a small person, but he has withered in on himself in fear. Jaik stands in the corner, massive arms crossed, a small mountain of pure threat. It was he who dug Micholas out of the hidey hole. Escaping Strouthos Lev if he wants you, on Xuria or off, is widely held to be impossible.
“Please, Sai Strouthos,” the man’s voice trembles through the air. “I - I don’t know. It was there when I left, like always… I checked it myself! It was there! The station flagged me for customs inspection at random. Everyone knows they’ve stepped things up.”
He glances nervously at the other people in the room. “I went aboard and a Dreamer-cursed lizard and a bunch of inspectors went over the ship. I thought I was headed for the mines for sure. They sat me down in an office and questioned me for three hours! They cited me for transport violations, 5000 credits. Then they let me go. I got out of there fast.”
He wipes at his face with a trembling hand. “When I set down, I checked cargo and it was gone! I…. I panicked. I’m sorry, Sai. I shouldn’t have tried to… to run. Please… I have a family.”
The silence gains weight, an impossibility; yet a fact.
"Perhaps, when the shipment returns to me, so will your family to you. I should think we both want this outcome, yes? Tell me of this lizard, of these inspectors, of the interrogator. I suspect you may meet them soon, if you hope to recover my shipment. What were their names?" Strouthos Lev leans forward slightly, keenly interested in the next part of the tale.
Micholas pales even more at the threat. His eyes widen. "Please, Sai… please don’t hurt them. They’ve done nothing…"
Jaik interrupts in a low rumble. "The Strouthos asked you a question."
Micholas nods. “The… it was the lizard who questioned me. I couldn’t understand half the words he said. I… couldn’t understand his name, something with a Z, you know how they talk, but he was the chief of security from his badge. The inspectors… they were the usual sort. Off-worlders most of them. But I’ve never seen inspectors be this thorough. I…” He flushes. "I tried to persuade the lead inspector to be more careless…Cor his name was… that’s what got me dragged into the interrogation room. I… don’t have any other names."
He draws a piece of crumpled paper out of a pocket, holds it out. "This is the citation they gave me. That’s all I know."
But more information will be needed; Strouthos finds torture tiresome and very often full of misinformation. Very much better to simply pull the facts directly from a mind. With a smooth, practiced motion, he produces a miniature plasma lighter and ignites a tall beige candle on the desk. The tiny click is loud in the quiet room. The candle somehow sucks in the light from the room, or perhaps it just seems like it's getting darker.
It's a simple matter for the Psychological link to be made with the candle's light serving as a distracting focus. As the man tells his story again, largely unchanged, Strouthos Lev is able to walk through his reconstructed memory as a free ghost in a holographic palace. It is almost relaxing to find one motivated to be so forthcoming. He grabs the name of the lizard, Zshayatet. He sees the inspector Cor and his methods. These are now targets for the Strouthos. The skiff pilot finishes his story, fear still evident.
A long breath after the story is over passes. Strouthos declares, "Your honesty is noted. You, Micholas, will continue to drive a skiff. A team will go to the station and recover the shipment. Bring them there and return once their business is concluded and my cargo loaded. I know mistakes happen, Micholas. Do not waste this opportunity to correct the mistake."
Strouthos' eye is caught by a slender silhouette in the side door, watching the exchange unobtrusively.