Editor’s Note: This part originally appeared in Freelance Traveller’s June 2011 issue.
In the cargo bay, Thom Vasquez, covered in the drying gore of others and safe for at least the next several hours in a pressure suit, felt queasy and frustrated at not being able to remove his suit’s large, bubble helmet and stand under the hazmat shower for an hour or so.
Thom wanted out, and knew that if Ilsa—or rather, Second Officer Freilander—were conscious, she’d want out too. But a blast door blocked any exit from the cargo bay, and would remain closed so long as there remained a difference in pressure between the holed cargo bay (now in vacuum) and the rest of the ship.
The simple answer was to patch the holes, and Thom knew right where the hull patches were kept—in portside Emergency lockers number eight. The problem was that a double pallet of large, heavy boxes of supplies bound for Nordic Prime was currently blocking any access, having been pushed too close to the portside bulkhead in the last-minute rush that always seemed to happen right before take-off.
Thom lay the laser back on the deck, got up and went over to the offending pallets, ready to grab the control yoke on the Pallet Master beneath, and simply maneuver the freight out of the way. He reached for the yoke, only to find it neatly sheared off about 40cm down the control column. One of the rail gun’s slugs had obviously gremlinned the pallet mover earlier.
Deciding he was going to have to get to the separate boxes and move them by hand, Vasquez grabbed a cutter from a nearby shelf and went to work on the high tensile, duraweave cocoon that was wrapped around the loaded pallet, and meant to hold shipments together and provide some protection against rough handling.
With several vicious strokes the cutter managed to coax open part of the protective shroud. This, Thom thought, looking at the large stack of boxes beneath, is going to take some time.
The passengers were up and moving. Those on the Passenger Deck had turned out of their staterooms at the first blaring of the Hull Breach klaxon, and, following the signs, had gone down the indicated corridor before descending the ladder to the Boat Deck. Those in Steerage near the cargo bay had taken a more circuitous route which ultimately brought them to the Boat Deck as well; all and sundry assuming it was time to abandon ship.
Standing in the middle of the milling, screaming mob, the heavy needler providing him with a good two meters distance between himself and any of the crowd, stood a small fellow in a sharp, white purser’s uniform. Quentin Isaacs was bright red, like a tomato, from out-screaming the passengers. A trio of bodies lay nearby.
“I told you animals that the boats go nowhere lessen the Captain says so! And the Captain has not said a thing!” the little guy continued screaming at the top of his lungs.
“So like I said, stand the fuck down and return to your quarters! NOW!”
Isaccs stared-down a large blond passenger, an athletic type with one of those furry handlebar mustaches, who looked like he might be contemplating some sort of move. The blond suddenly sprang. The needler flashed in quick succession and the fourth body hit the deck like a poleaxed mule.
Quentin began his speech all over again, yelling “In accordance with Merchant Code four three seven six point two two three point five six point seven A, your presence in an unauthorized section of this vessel may interrupt the crew’s normal duties or lead to inadvertent injury of yourself or others. You are all hereby ordered to return to your quarters immediately!”
This time the crowd broke, and most, being slightly reasonable and very scared, made for the ladder off the Boat Deck. However, a trio of young toughs from Steerage swarmed Quentin, egged on by a shrew of a woman who was traveling with them.
The needler flashed, and one of the three went down in midstep; crumpling on the deck.
The tough in the lead slammed into Quentin, arms wrapping around the purser’s chest as they smashed into the wall opposite the ladder; “Oof”ing the air from their lungs and sending both in a tangled heap to the floor. The tough changed his hold, and closed his hands around Quentin’s throat; choking the life from him. The third tough hung back, unsure of just what to do, and watched for a clear opening.
With an effort that made him feel like he was moving underwater, Issacs aimed the butt of the needler at the tough’s left temple, and swung, putting all of his watery strength behind it. The man’s grip on his throat loosened just enough for Quentin to take a large gasping breath. In the next second the hands were back around his throat, and a knee was pressed into his chest. He fired the needler wildly, catching his attacker in the face and neck.
Crawling from under the dead weight, Quentin shot the hanger-back down like a dog.
As he approached the woman, she cried and pleaded for her life.
A few minutes later, sitting against the wall, bodies everywhere, Mr. Isaccs contacted the Doctor.
“What are you doing down there, Isaccs? These passengers are in an absolute tizzy, I’ll have you know! A tizzy!” Doctor Billings yelled, rattled by the whole experience; then, adjusting his tone, continued “I’ve had to sedate every one of them. Several of whom I’d already sedated earlier in the evening!”
“The mob simply got out of hand, Doctor.” Quentin replied. “There are several bodies requiring your attention down here, and I’m not feeling so good myself.”
“Bodies?” Billings asked, stunned.