I’m almost on time. Getting writing time is … complicated. I have to find something for the children to do that is so interesting they can’t wrench themselves away to interrupt me every three or four minutes looking for the usual validation appropriate for their age. Which, as delightful as such is, is still incredibly damaging to creative flow. I kinda hate summers, and house arrest, and overreaching tyrants who care so damn much. Anyway, almost have this in on time. Enjoy.
The hatch snicked shut bare centimeters from my bare toes. I’d have been concerned, but that had more or less been my plan. Besides, it wasn’t the first time. I propped myself on one elbow, the non-skid deck surfacing grabbing at my suit, which was a bit of a surprise. Weird garment.
I craned my head to look in the doc’s direction. She lay slumped more or less on Chief Ferrer’s still-unconscious form, her white coveralls scuffed and smudged from whatever was on the deck. Ship lube, coolant, packing grease, who knows.
With a groan, she sat up. I met her gaze and lifted an eyebrow.
“Open up: he’s right behind me?”
She flushed, the blood suffusing her pale skin, though I couldn’t tell whether from embarrassment or anger. After a moment, she flashed me a tight grin.
“At least it worked.”
I chopped my head down in a curt nod, and pushed myself to my feet. I really needed to find some shoes. Non-skid, by some ancient provenance unknown to me, could take off a layer of skin at the lightest pressure. The stuff sure lived up to its name.
I tried the inner hatch, and the telltale flashed red, accompanied by an angry blatt of sound.
“I don’t know who you are,” a voice came from a speaker recessed into the bulkhead just above the hatch, “but the facility’s Assault Corps detachment is on the way. You’d be advised to sit tight until they get here, at which point I’ll open the outer hatch, and you’re their problem.”
I opened my mouth, but Doctor Corama waved me to silence.
“I’m Physician Commander Neia Corama, AC,” she said, her voice flat, “and I have an unconscious patient in here. I’d rather not treat him on the decking.” Her implication was clear, but whomever was on the other side wasn’t having any.
“Sure, you are, Doctor,” the man’s voice dripped sarcasm, evident even over the cheap comm-way of the old ship. “Trouble is, you’re not an authorized passenger aboard the ol’ Sandly Graem, and I’m not paid enough to deal with stowaways, especially from a prison-planet. So you just do your best for your patient right where you are, and we’ll all be better off in a few minutes.”
While he’d been speaking, I stepped over to the service panel for the outer hatch and popped it open. A few seconds’ search gave me what I was looking for. With a deep breath, I manifested my digging claws. I kept the shimmering blades at a bare centimeter in length, and cut through the wire for the remote activation. I released them before turning around.
The doc opened her mouth to argue, but it was my turn to cut her off.
“Look, mate, you’re in a lousy situation. Your milk run just got double rough,” I kept my tone even and calm. After all, I was being reasonable, right? “No captain wants complications. Trouble is, you can’t open the outer hatch, anymore, and you’re beset by desperate men.”
The doc looked at me, down at herself, and then gave me a look. I jerked a shoulder in a half shrug.
“You got a more serious problem, mate,” the voice was angry, now. “You’re attempting piracy of a ship lawfully engaged by the Theban Imperial Courier Service, so attempting to suborn a Courier is an official badness you almost certainly don’t want-“
I winced. Imperial Couriers were considered sacrosanct, and were the only service used to move truly sensitive information of items outside Thebes. All the same, it didn’t carry a death sentence, so I’d only end up right back in Tartarus, which I’m pretty sure the voice on the other end hadn’t considered. Andi was going to be pissed, though. Sigh.
“You have five ticks to open the hatch before I start carving holes in it,” I cut through the tirade. Which was pity. Whomever manned the com had a solid grasp of tone and rhythm. But he — probably he: the speaker was low enough quality there was some distortion — was right about one thing: the AC was on the way, which meant I didn’t have a time to observe niceties.
“Carve holes in hatch?” Incredulity filled the words. “With what, you stupid con?”
Doctor Corama looked at me and touched Ferrer’s sidearm, still holstered about her waist. I shook my head, and called my claws back into existence. Her eyes widened at the glowing blades, and I grinned.
“Now, now, no need to call names,” I said. My eyes roamed over the surface of the inner hatch, looking for a particular stencil. The service panel for this hatch was inside the ship proper, for just such an occasion, but I should be able to tell- “Ah, hah! Now, if you keep your eyes on your damage control panel…”
I drove the claws into the panel over the sensor indicator I’d found, and was rewarded with the shriek of a damage warning in dual notes from the airlock, as well as over the speaker. Poor comm management, that.
“What the Void are you doing?! Leave the ship alone!”
“Now, you can open the hatch, or I’ll just let myself in,” I said. I almost felt bad, but I hadn’t had much fun lately. “The damage to your hatch will be extensive, however.”
“It’s not my ship, you maniac!” Distortion fuzzed out some of the words, but I was pretty sure of the capping epithet. “I’ll open the hatch, just stop breaking the ship!”
True to word, the hatch slid open. I turned off my claws, then waved the doc back when she made to stand.
“Hang with the chief, Doc,” I suggested. At a questioning look, I expanded, “I know my way to the bridge, and I’d rather not have Ferrer waking up alone.”
Not waiting for a response, I turned and padded through the open hatch. A few minutes saw me outside the bridge. I knocked on the metal, and was rewarded with the quiet hiss as it opened. Which gave me next to no time to react to the drawn gun in the hand of the man on the other side.
His face twisted in fury, and the weapon flashed. The pain of the impact arrived before my ears registered the bark of the gun. The weapon was a big-bore plasma thrower, a common ship-board weapon. The plasma packets created awful burns when they hit flesh, but they mostly just made noise and light when they hit a bulkhead. This one spent itself on my chest, and the impact sent the breath wooshing from my lungs and drove me back half a step. It hurt. A good bit, actually, but I felt no heat.
“That wasn’t very nice,” I said and his mouth gaped.
I seized his gun in one hand, and felt the now-familiar sensations of my suit draining the weapon of power. I really had to find some time to figure out the holographic manual Prometheus had left me with. In the meantime, I drove my free hand into the uniformed man’s jaw, remembering at the last second to pull my strike. Judging by what I’d done to Crind, I stood a good chance of punching the man’s head clean off, which wouldn’t improve my situation any.
His head snapped back at the force, and he folded. I caught him before he could crumple to the deck and got him over my shoulder. Which left me holding an unconscious body that outmassed me by a good several kilos, and staring into the shocked eyes of a young woman wearing the same midnight blue uniform as the man I’d just knocked out.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to give me any trouble, are you?”