Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Seventeen hours. My backside went numb so long ago it’s taken my legs with it. I’m going to be walking like a geriatric, which is ironic considering I’m unlikely to reach any age close to that if I keep pulling sessions like this.
“Have you sorted it, kreepol?”
I think about getting up. Not even going to try. I spin about on the chair.
“Good morning, Tikitah. Define ‘sorted’, and I’ll let you know.”
I see its antennae straighten, a sure sign of annoyance. Good. There’s only one being responsible for this mess, and it’s not the lone human member of technical support who called me when the usual procedures failed to retrieve the failed system.
“By sorted, kreepol, I mean the traffic flows are restored, and the selective rerouting to allow starships through, and cargo to depart, is working as it used to.”
Getting a little tired of being addressed as ‘vermin’, but this spider-mantis with delusions of adequacy is sure I don’t understand.
I switch to speaking High Doktup: ‘In that case, this incident is very much not sorted. Some nameless vermin spent a large amount of time and effort clumsily modifying the traffic system to give preference to certain inbound ships, and cargo vehicles leaving the berths those ships docked in. When a system upgrade was implemented yesterday, some of those clumsy modifications ended up trying to control new procedures. Ones that no longer applied to the intended functions.’
The antennae slowly curl in a careful show of calm. It continues speaking humanese.
“So it was caused by deliberate interference. Get me the timestamps of the modifications, kreepol. I will review the duty rosters. Penalties will be applied. Perpetrators will be eaten.”
Ignoring my fluency, and still calling me a rodent. Not bad. Then again, if I was that scared, I’d hope to be calm and composed, too.
“Not necessary. The modifications contained other hardcoded data, such as key codes for individual vehicles.”
Plus a couple of individuals. Which is why this little game is being played.
It tilts slowly backwards, compressing its rearmost legs, an action with only one purpose: readying for an attack. It’s a tacit admission of guilt. Which would be irrelevant with me as sole witness, as Doktup are mean when cornered. Fortunately, the killing move has been anticipated.
Something huge straightens up from ducking to enter the room. It speaks High Doktup in a grating voice.
‘If your intended strike is as clumsy as your concealment of smuggling, I will not need to tear you apart before you lay pincer upon my companion.’
Tikitah stops moving, turning the same colour as nearby computer consoles. It’s rare to see the ‘flight’ reflex of Doktup. They consider it dishonourable to show in public. But, given what’s arrived, I do sympathise a little.
I raise a hand in greeting, replying in kind: ‘Good morning, Tokok. Please forgive me for not acknowledging a Notary of Doktup sooner.’
‘Forgiven, Swan. Betraying my presence before the vermin gave itself away would have defeated the purpose of you calling me.’
A pincer the length of my entire arm whips out and hits Tikitah somewhere crucial, judging by the way it collapses in a tangle of spasming limbs.
‘My clan thanks you for providing guilty provender for our next repast. You can now restore the traffic system you have already repaired, Swan.’
Surprisingly convivial for a spider-mantis noble, it’s also incredibly observant: knowing how individuals behave, apparently with minimal effort, and without fail. A huge predatory advantage, I presume. It’s certainly scary.
I reach back and tap two panels.