Leavin Maldiara-4, it would be a three hop jaunt to Denar-5. I didn’t envy those victs we had in storage. Denar-5 was, if possible, a worse dung-heap than Maldiara; not to mention freakin cold. Those sorry buggers would be lucky if they ever thawed out.
Captain Kessler argued with the penal colony admins, they wanted us to set down again, fill the rest of the containers. They promised they had everything under control. No one believed that; probably not even them. Captain wrangled and got an agreement to let us take partial payment for a partial delivery. Let the next shipload of brain dead mooks try and get the rest of those transfers.
We jumped orbit and headed for the lagrange-point. I made my rounds and checked our “cargo”. I cycled the pods and made sure we didn’t have any leaks from stray gunfire. Felix was prowlin around watching me. That synth always gave me the willies.
“What you want?” I ask him.
Felix shrugs. His dark eyes are like black diamonds; ugly in their perfection. No emotion—at least not right now. Why does a frelling synth shrug? “Checking,” he says in that flat voice. There’s a long silence between us, nothing but the rumble of the engines humming through the deck plates.
“Checking? On me?”
He shrugs again. “Checking.”
I roll my eyes. I ain’t gettin no straight answer. Captain probably has him verifying everything. That synth is the captain’s eyes, ears, and fists if necessary. One of the security crew before me tried him once, got a little belligerent. Felix broke his arm in three places and cracked two ribs before the slob could even get his gun from the holster. Nobody tested the tin-soldier after that. Sure as drek I’m never gonna go at him unless I’m inside a tank first.
“Hey,” Felix says as I start to turn away.
“What?” I turn back.
He scuffs something on the floor near the pod hatch with his boot. It’s shiny and small. I come back, lean down and look at it. I pick up a few of the small pieces and put it in my hand. “Looks like welding residue,” I say. “Really small though. That can’t be off any of our repair torches.”
Felix’s brow furrows. He looks up in the shadows above the pod hatch. He reaches up and feels along the lip of the hatch. He pulls back his hand and holds it out. There’s more of the stuff.
“Weird,” I remark.
“I will inform chief McLaren,” Felix says. “Captain says we have twenty minutes more of Bernard burn before we jump out system. Please verify everything is secure.”
Dammit, he was checking on me. I know how to do my job. “Yeah, I’m on it.”
Felix nods and strides away.
I finish checking all the hatches, making sure everything is locked down for jump. It all looks good and I flash the bridge on comms.
At 1635 hours, Captain Kessler rings the warning claxons and announces count-down for jump.
I hate jump space, years of doing it and I still end up feeling like I’m gonna spew. I find a bulkhead transit grip and hang on as the jump field crackles through the ship like living electricity. The hair on my arms stiffens up, and my scalp prickles… it feels like a million bugs are crawling all over me. Then the phase shift begins. Ever had your leg fall asleep? That’s what it feels like… only it’s your whole body. Like you’re being turned to putty and squeezed through a hole. The lights in the corridor flicker out and everything begins to waver and shift in perspective.
Usually, jump don’t last too long. This one is strange, well, more strange than usual. The ship kicks and jerks. I hear a pounding like rocks tumbling in a barrel, only the sound is distorted. Warning bells are sounding—or trying to. The ship continues to buffet, and I hear the clang of metal-on-metal and tearing. My heart is rushing. That’s not a sound you want to hear in deep space… Then a worse one… a howl like a dragon’s roar played backward. A hull breech… we’re leaking atmosphere into h-space. This is not good…