The ship is a mess. Power is down. Crewmen are freakin. Drek is scattered everywhere. My head hurts, my ears ache, I’m bleedin, and I’m even more disagreeable than normal. Still, I got a job to do. Juju only knows if we can get home, no power means no jump, no life support and… oh crap—dead cargo!
The thought of going through all this drek for no pay, lights a fire under me.
Pounding down to the external pod access, I run up to the foresail observation window. Spit, the nearest pod isn’t cranked up to the air seal. I thumb the pod cycle and get nothing. Of course, primary power is down. Damn.
I jump on the intercom. “I hope we get some power soon. Anybody remember the victs? If they die we ain’t gettin paid.”
*I’m workin on it,* Boltz’s irritated voice crackles over the speaker. *Them cryo’s have redundant power in the pods, it beh good for bout an hour. I should have primary systems online ‘for that.*
There is a momentary pause then the captain’s voice echoes through the ship. *All crew not engaged in repair activities begin a deck to deck inspection. Report any and all damage found.*
I consider blowin off doing any further inspection, that’s what the grunts are on board for. My headache ain’t getting any better. With a sigh, I suck it up and begin to walk the corridors hunting for damage.
A lot of stuff has been tossed around but nothing has been badly damaged except for those punch-throughs in the cargo bay. At least we won’t suffocate to death.
The comm-link on my hip buzzes. I pull it up to my face and thumb the send. “Donner, go.”
*Clive,* I hear Finger’s raspy voice. *Is Bengal with yah?*
“Nah, I’m walkin the perimeter checkin for leaks.”
*Frell. I can’t find him. I need him to get that fancy loader rig with the maneuver pack.*
“Huh, what for?” I ask. “And why you askin on private comms?”
*’Cause I don’t want to piss off the captain. I want to take care of this quiet like.*
“Piss off the captain?” I rub the back of my aching head. “What’s going on?”
*Come up to the conning hanger and I’ll show you.*
The conning hanger? There was nothing up there. Well, nothing if you didn’t count all the captain’s classic antique vehicles…
*Right, now you get it. I’ll see you up here.*
Normally, I could take the transverse elevator to get up to the conning deck, but main power is still down. So it’s a lot of rungs. Fortunately, we’re in near zero gee so it’s fairly easy to pull up to the top deck.
Fingers is standing in the corridor waiting for me as I get up there. He’s scrubbing a hand through his curly black hair. His face is twitchin like somebody has been hittin him with electric shocks. The airlock door is open behind him. The outer door is still sealed but I can see part of the hangar through it. Even from this vantage I can see floating debris.
We usually keep the runabouts and personal vehicles in the conning hanger so we have something to drive when we make landfall. The captain had some vintage vehicles almost a hundred years old, and some other paraphernalia a lot more ancient than that.
The thing that occurred to me was, “Screw the captain’s crud, what about my ride? I’m still makin payments on the damn thing!” I rush up to the window.
A huge hole has been punched in the hangar doors, and one door hangs half open. The bay itself is a Sargasso of floating debris, ground cars, bikes, fuel containers, tool boxes and tools all pirouetting in hard vacuum. Strands of tie-downs are strung across the bay like confetti. The only thing still sitting where it’s supposed to be is the shuttle.
“Who the frell tied this shit down?”
“That’s the problem,” Fingers says. “See we’re all supposed to check this. It’s a rotating schedule.”
“Yeah, I checked it Sunday. They were fine then. So?”
“So, it’s all our responsibility. We’re all going to get busted.”
“Frell that. Who checked it yesterday?”
“Log says Felix did.”
“Right, so let the captain bust him.”
“Yeah, that’s gonna happen. He don’t make mistakes like that. Someone frelled with those tie downs, we—“ He bit himself off. “Look it don’t matter, get Bengal up here in a suit and we get all the captain’s crap battened down before he starts screaming our asses off and dockin us pay. Besides,” he pointed. “Those are my bikes floatin in there. Six months pay a pop, doin the flipderoo. Damn, I can see the scratches from here…”
“Yeah, yeah,” I wave him off. “I’m still makin payments on mine.” I make a forlorn wave at my new skimmer twisting in the bay. “Damn.”
The lights flicker and I hear the vibration of the primary generators cutting in.
*Secondary power beh up,* I hear Boltz’s voice from the intercom. *Don’t be runnin nothing big, I gots only a temporary bus to jump the gap off the mains.*
What the frell? Was that supposed to mean something to someone? Buses and gaps and jumps. Who the frell did he think he was talking to?
The ship lurches again. There is a definite vibration through the hull like metal hugging metal.
“That sounded like one of the cargo pods kissing an airseal,” Fingers says behind me.
“Yeah.” Strange thing, power just got turned on. I thumb the intercom. “If anyone is messin with external cargo pods, give an acknowledge on the comms.”
There’s a long silence.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Fingers says.
“Yeah, I better get down there. You see if you can dig up Bengal yerself while I check inta things. I don’t want ta get docked pay anymore’n you.”
“Check on that,” Finger’s said. “Watch yourself okay? There’s something weird going on.”
“Ain’t nothing weird,” I answer. “Some drek-head with a knife is screwin around. We prolly got a frellin stowaway on board that thinks he’s bein funny er something.”
“Well, just the same watch your back.”
“You got it.” With a sigh I head back and take the now working lift down to the primary cargo level. As I’m moving I pull my private comms and signal Terry. “Hey, boss, you got a second?”
There’s a comms crackle then Terry’s voice. *Goldstein, go ahead.*
“Boss, I think we got a wacko on board.”
*Really?* There’s a momentary pause. *What makes you think that?*
“Are ya private?”
Another pause. *I am now, what’s up?*
“The conning hanger. Someone must’ve cut all the tie downs. We had a punch through up there, but it couldn’t account for everything in the bay taking wing. What bugs me is only a few of us have keys to get in there. So, I don’t know how any of the grunts coulda done it.”
I hear Terry humming. *The captain is going to shit plasma over this. Does anyone else know?*
“Fingers does, he gave me the heads up.*
*’Kay, I’ll check into it. Are you checking out that pod that snugged up?*
“Yeah, almost there now. Probably some electronics glitching up or something.”
I turn the corner into the external pod access corridor. I already know something is wrong, the isolation door is open. There’s a mist writhing along the floor and I smell ozone.
I clamp my finger on the comms send button. “Boss, you still there?”
“Hold a sec will ya?”
I pull my gun and move slow. It’s quiet in the corridor except for a hissing sound and a rasping that must be electrical arcs. Gun high I step through the air seal and look back at the status panel. The circuit access has been yanked apart and someone has screwed with the wiring.
Frell. I move toward the pod doors, I can already tell they’re open, the mist is coming from there. The rasping sound gets louder as I step close to the hatch.
Hearing nothing, I step around gun pointed. The cargo pod is a mess. Broken conduits spark, and mooring straps hang from the sealing like jungle vines. I finger one of the straps. It appears the rogue strap cutter visited here too. Cryo-chambers are scattered through the area. There’s a couple of dead stiffs that must have died from shock when their container was broken. At least six containers are open and there ain’t nothing inside.
“Boss,” I says in the comms. “We got a problem.”
“Looks like some of our cargo has up and walked off…”