Chapter 9



            Malacca stretched his arms above his head and yawned loudly.  There was an audible series of cracks and pops as he flexed his interlaced fingers and he grimaced at the sound.  He really wished that Plenthor had not volunteered him for this task.   Not only was it far below his level of skill, it was tedious and time-consuming.  Malacca heaved an irritated sigh and leaned backward onto his hands, being careful not to upset the keyboard balanced precariously on his lap.  Hundreds of wires of all different sizes and colors snaked from various pieces of equipment in a seemingly disordered jumble around him.  A small monitor lay on the floor in front of him, its outer casing removed.  Most of the cords exploded in a twisted confusion from the open monitor.  His eyes picked out a thick black wire from and traced it up the wall next to the door panel of the nursery supply room to its source: the locking system.


            He had really come to hate that little box.  Whoever had done the initial programming must have been a complete idiot.  The locking system was easy to use, but its records were extremely difficult to access and find.  After his first inspection of the system, Malacca had come to the conclusion that this would be a one to two hour job.  That had been early yesterday evening.  It was currently midmorning and here he was, still pouring through the same incredibly long and complicated lists of files and data with no end in sight.  Wiggling his fingers to loosen them, Malacca hunched back over the monitor sitting before him and began to rapidly type in a series of commands. 


            There had been plenty of interruptions since he had started working yesterday.  Apparently one of the Saiyan babies (“Bardock’s kid maybe?” Malacca wondered to himself) was going to be sent on his first mission.  Malacca hadn’t spent much time in this section of the med-center and hence wasn’t familiar with normal nursery procedures, but he assumed that launch preparations were usually fairly uncomplicated; however, Pazru had apparently been put in charge of orchestrating the effort and consequently things had gotten bungled up.  There had been nursery attendants running hurriedly in and out of the supply room for one thing or another, often tripping over the maze of cords snaking across the floor.  The frequent use of the locking system and the disturbance of the connections made Malacca’s computer reset several times, losing all data in the process, and he had had to start over at least twice.  Thankfully he had only come in on the tail end of the mayhem or else the recurrent interruptions would have driven him nearly insane and rendered his task impossible to complete.  Pazru had declared an end to that day’s work about two or three hours after Malacca had arrived.  Things had calmed down considerably since then, and Malacca had been able to accomplish much in the deathly quiet hours between sunset and dawn. 


He had known intuitively when he had first met Pazru that the boy was not suited for leadership tasks.  He was awkward and shy around other people and lacked the conviction and the power to give orders and have them carried out.  Pazru may have the natural talent and the training needed to become a doctor, but it was plainly obvious to Malacca that he would never get very far beyond that.  Malacca’s fingers, a dark green blur over the keyboard, slowed momentarily.  A harsh bark of laughter issued from his throat and his fingers resumed their breakneck speed.  


A new list of files (hard to tell which day’s list of access codes in all the mess of them) popped up on the screen.  An eager—not to mention relieved—look crossed Malacca’s scaly features and he began to look through the lists of data.  Unaware of his actions, he leaned forwards until his nose was just inches from the screen.  These were the files that Scleren wanted. 


“Thank Kami,” he muttered under his breath.  He scrolled down the screen, checking to make sure that all of the correct files were in place.  Yes, yes.  There were the records for two weeks ago, and there, yesterday’s log of entry codes. 


“Sir?”  Malacca didn’t give any indication that he had heard, and the woman took another step into the room.  “Excuse me, sir?”  Malacca grunted and she took that to be a sign that he registered her presence.  “Sir, I have the food you ordered, I’ll…I’ll just leave it here.”  Stepping carefully so as not to disturb any of the wires, she placed a small, carefully wrapped bundle at his side, within reach if he wanted it.  Still transfixed with what was displayed on the screen, Malacca nodded dazedly and grunted in thanks. 


All of a sudden he thrust his fists up in the air and crowed in mingled exultation and relief.  The woman cried out in shock and turned to stare at the source of the noise.  In her distraction, she tripped over one of the thicker cords and landed flat on her face.  The picture on the monitor began to flicker and Malacca immediately quieted, a look of dull horror crossing his features.  The screen flickered once more then steadied.  Malacca sighed in relief and shot an irritated look at the woman sprawled on the floor.  With another cry, she pulled herself to her feet and shot out of the room.  Malacca rolled his eyes and turned back to the screen.  The corner of his mouth crooked up in a victorious grin and he sat back on his hands and stared contentedly at it.  His fingers brushed the wrapped food and he stared at it in confusion.   Eyes narrowing slightly, he glanced quickly at the closed door through which the frightened woman had left.  Shrugging dismissively, Malacca pulled the sandwich out of the paper.  His sharp teeth bit down hard into the toasted bread and with a jerk of his head, he ripped a large chunk from the sandwich.  Jaw working furiously, he stared at the files on the screen, taking a second to gloat over his computer prowess before swallowing. 


Last month’s lists of entry codes (complete with time of entry), all right here in front of his very eyes.  Malacca took another bite from the sandwich and arranged all of records in chronological order, made a copy of that, and then rearranged the copy so that the most frequently used access code would be on top of the list.  Scleren was right after all: someone had been in the nursery storeroom quite frequently in the past few weeks.  That may or may not be conclusive evidence that this particular person was the thief—he or she could just be an attendant who was frequently on call—but the fact that the majority of the time it was either late night or early morning when the code was keyed in suggested that the individual was trying to hide something. 


Malacca’s grin stretched even wider; he just loved a good scandal.  Perhaps it wasn’t just one person but two who were having a sordid little affair and using the supply room as a meeting place.   Malacca suppressed the giddy flush that threatened to rise on his cheeks.  He almost wished that that was the case; it would make for some excellent gossip.  However, Scleren had said that things had been coming up missing, so that just about completely ruled out that thought.  Malacca shook himself from his thoughts.  Sitting here and daydreaming (no matter how pleasant the dreams were) would get him nowhere. 


Moving with the speed and agility that only the best in his line of work could master, he whipped a small disc from his tunic pocket and popped it into the small tray that extended out from the side of the monitor.  He pushed the tray back in and began to copy his finds onto the disc.  The hum of the machinery crescendoed until almost all other sounds were completely blocked out, and then slowed.  The tray slid back out and Malacca pocketed the disc.  He handled it carefully, as if he was worried it would shatter into a million pieces.   Severing the main connection with one hard tug on the thick power cable running from the back of the monitor, Malacca stood and headed for the door.  He would send someone to clean up the rest of the equipment later.  Right now, he wanted to get the disc down to Scleren as quickly as possible.  Not only did he want to put an end to this menial task, he wanted to know who the thief was.  Lightly patting the lump in his tunic where the disc was encased, Malacca chuckled and trotted out to find Scleren. 


He didn’t have to walk far at all.  The old doctor was in one of the delivery rooms fiddling with the computer panel.  “Perfect,” Malacca thought with a smile as he strolled over to the other man’s side. 


“Confounding lump of junk!” Scleren bellowed angrily.  He brought his fist down hard on the smooth top of the panel, with no results.  Malacca cleared his throat loudly. 


“What is it?” he growled, not turning around.


“Sir, I have the data you requested.”


“Not now, I’m busy.”  He pounded on the keyboard this time, and brightly flashing error messages began to fly up all over the display.   “No, no no!  You stupid, son of a—“ 


A faintly superior smile on his face, Malacca leaned forward, reached in past Scleren, and lightly tapped one faintly glowing key.  The error messages disappeared.  Scleren, not quite believing his eyes, leaned forward and blinked. 


“How…how did you do that?” All traces of anger gone from his voice, he turned around to thank whoever had helped him.  Faint shock registered on his features when he realized it was Malacca who had rendered the assistance.  A broad smile spread across the old doctor’s face and he briskly pumped the technician’s hand.    “Malacca!  Well met, indeed.”  He nodded in the direction of the panel.  “Ever since they switched over to the new system I’ve had such troubles getting the damn thing to work.”


Malacca nodded in appreciation.  “No problem, Scleren.”


There was an uncomfortable silence, neither man knowing what to say.  Finally, Scleren, tucking an errant strand of blue-white hair behind one of his ears, asked, “So, what can I do you for you today, Malacca?”  He didn’t want to ask the technician straight out about the situation of the locking system.  He wasn’t too eager to discover who the thief was.  It would mean that he would have to turn the miserable person into the authorities.  He really didn’t want to do that.  He had handpicked each and every one of his employees and was not eager to, even indirectly, inflict pain on any of them. 


Scleren rubbed the bridge of his nose in anxiety.  “So, Malacca, what did you find?” he asked halfheartedly, hoping to whatever powers that be that the whole thing would all turn out to be some big glitch on the computer’s part. Malacca grinned and pulled a small, circular disc from one of his pockets.  He casually tossed it onto the now blank computer panel.  Scleren’s eyes followed the motion with barely disguised dread, twitching slightly when the disk hit the surface with a soft plap.   He picked the disk up between finger and thumb and held it up before his face as if it were some vile piece of garbage.  He hated it.  He wanted nothing more than to snap the disk into pieces beneath one of his shoes.  Better yet, he could break it, burn it, and then sink the still smoldering ashes to the bottom of lake Saladas, Vegetasei’s largest and deepest body of water. 


He set the disk back down on the panel and hurriedly pulled his hands behind his back.  At the moment, he didn’t entirely trust his fingers to do exactly what they wanted and destroy the disk. 


“Sir?”  Malacca raised an eyebrow in question.  “Aren’t you going to check the contents?”


“Of course I am,” Scleren grunted in mock irritation.  Moving as quickly as possible so as to minimize the amount of contact he would have with the disk, the doctor popped it into the computer.  He opened it and scrolled down the list, Malacca eagerly craning his head around the wide shoulder-pads of his tunic.  Scleren’s brow wrinkled in confusion.


“Well?” he asked Malacca expectantly. 


“Well what?”


“Who did it?”


“Did what?”


Scleren sighed in irritation.  “Who has been stealing from my supply cabinet?” 


“I don’t know,” the other man said, shrugging his shoulders.  He returned to gazing hungrily at the screen.  Scleren pushed himself away from the panel, crossed his arms over his chest, and leveled Malacca with an aggravated look.


“I asked for this to be done almost a week ago.  Now, Malacca, I know you’ve been very busy, but what exactly have you been doing these past few days if not working on the locking system?”


Malacca blinked at him.  Realization suddenly flooded his scaly features.


“It’s all here, Scleren.”  He put his hands up in an apologetic gesture and then motioned towards the list on the computer screen.  “See?  All that needs to be done now is for the codes to be matched up to the employee.”


“Well, why don’t you do that then?” Scleren, not convinced, interjected irritably.


“I can’t.”  Scleren’s features darkened and the technician struggled to finish. “You’re the only one who has all of the nursery employee codes.”  To Malacca’s relief, Scleren’s anger abated, replaced instead by a troubled expression. 


“I have the codes do I?”  Malacca nodded eagerly and waited for Scleren to return to the panel.  He did so after a moment of thought, his brow creased with worry. 


“You can go now,” he murmured quietly.  When Malacca didn’t respond to the order, Scleren turned to him and patted him on the shoulder.  “I’m sure you have plenty of other things to do, Malacca, so I won’t take your time.”  Malacca looked crestfallen but complied, trudging slowly out of the room.  Scleren watched until he saw the panel slide closed and then turned back to the screen.  He punched in his access code, which would allow him access to all private files, and then opened the list of codes and names of employees to which they belonged.  He arranged the file that Malacca had given him so that it lay adjacent to that with the code identifications and began the long and tiresome job of matching codes to names. 


Several hours later, and he had it completed.  He had come to the decision long ago that the person responsible for the theft would most likely be one of the more questionable members of his staff.  If so, he wouldn’t feel as horrible for turning them in then if it was one of his more trustworthy employees.  Just matching the code with the person to whom it belonged was helpful, but didn’t give him much certainty as to the identity of the thief.  After all, rotations and the number of babies in the nursery would drastically raise or lower the amount of times an employee entered the supply room.  It wasn’t until he had compared the time of entry to the current rotation schedule that he was absolutely positive of the thief’s identity.


Scleren rubbed at his eyes.  They were grainy and itchy from long hours spent staring at the monitor.  His vision swam briefly with colorful spots at the pressure and he waited for them to clear.  Blinking to clear away the last afterimages, he restudied the results on the screen. 


“Damnit,” he growled. He slammed his fist down on the arm of his chair in anger and frustration and then pushed himself to his feet.  He had come to grips with the fact that one of his own was stealing supplies out from under his nose, but he had had no way of preparing himself for the shock that would come.  “Kami!  Why?!  Tell me why, damnit!”  His clenched fists drummed on the arms of the chair and his hair began to fall from his topknot in bluish-white clumps.  There was no way that he could have been so blind, that someone so innocent and trustworthy could have been involved with such petty theft.  Scleren believed himself to be a fairly good judge of character.  From what he had gathered from the files Malacca had given him, he apparently wasn’t as good as he had thought.


“Damnit.  Why him?  Why?”  His voice quieted to a whisper and he bent over and rested his head on the back of his chair.  He stood like this for a few minutes, mulling over this latest shock (there seemed to be so many lately), then stood and left the room. The locking system couldn’t lie, but it could be tampered with.  Therefore, the only way to assure the identity of the thief would be to follow him around for the next night or two, however long it took to catch him in the act.  What happened then was anybodies’ guess. 


Scleren took a deep breath to steady himself then started to walk determinedly down the hallway.  He hoped to everything that was good and holy that someone had tampered with the system. 


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