Written for the Aphelion-Webzine August 2013 Flash Challenge. Space and pirates – what could go wrong?
The problem with dealing in illegal tech was that the clientele were both undesirable and untrustworthy. William Pearce reflected on this sourly as he waited near the berth of Captain Goodwin’s ship, the aptly named Reaper.
Get through this, he thought, and you can go home to Lara, to Earth, and never have to see this hell hole again.
Clovelly was a frontier system, right out on the edge. The edge of known space, the edge of civilisation, the edge of humanity itself. It was out on this edge that Will reckoned a man could make his fortune, if he had the nerve for it.
“Change of plan, Mr Pearce”, said Captain Goodwin by way of greeting as his men manhandled the goods from Will’s truck into the Reaper’s cargo bay. “I’ll be needing your technical services for this voyage. You’ll be rightly recompensed for your trouble.”
“Why can’t Gao handle it?” Will asked, remembering the Reaper’s chief engineer, the man who had methodically examined the device when this deal had first been struck.
“He had an ethical disagreement with Sawad”, said the Captain, nodding at his first mate. Sawad smiled like a shark, white teeth and hideous intent. Gao was dead, that was a certainty.
“My payment?” Will asked.
“In full when we return to port, plus a bonus. I give you my word”, replied the Captain with a carnivorous grin.
Under Sawad’s menacing glare Will had no choice but to followed the Captain’s men into the Cargo bay.
Will stared out at the scattered rocks of the Stroma asteroid belt through the flight deck windows and shivered. Never ask why they want it and never get involved. Too late for that now. It was not hard to guess what Goodwin and his men wanted with a superluminal navigation beacon.
The Captain glanced his way and winked. “Not long now, Mr Pearce. Once our man at Launceston sends word, we’ll be seeing action. The waiting is always the worst part.”
The atmosphere was certainly tense. Goodwin’s men were anxious and ill humoured, suited up and ready for egress down below. Will ran a system check on the beacon from the console, for the umpteenth time, and fidgeted.
The Captain stiffened, the blue light of his ear bud indicating an incoming communication. “Mr Pearce”, he said, “power up the beacon if you please. Sawad, prepare the men.”
In contrast to the frenetic bustle around him, Will activated the beacon with the merest touch of his fingers on the console in front of him. It began blasting out its navigation signal into the superluminal ether, drowning out the real beacon at the Launceston space port and sending false information to any ship bearing down on the Clovelly system.
It was over so fast, the eye could barely comprehend it. The wormhole opened five kilometres to port, inside the edge of the asteroid field. The ship transitioned into real space in a blink and collided with the icy rocks spinning out eternity there. The impact was massive. Will watched in horror as the fiery blooms burst across the ship’s hull.
Captain Godwin grinned as he broadcast the doomed craft’s SOS over the ship’s intercom.
“Mayday! Mayday! This is the Napoli. We have lost propulsion and life support. Require immediate assistance.”
“Napoli, this is the Reaper, we are on our way to assist. How many crew and passengers. Over.”
The relief in the man’s voice was palpable. “Twenty-two crew and fourteen passengers. Over.”
“Get everyone to your aft airlock”, replied the Captain, “I’m sending crew over to assist. Prepare for docking and transfer. Over and out.”
The clang of the Reaper’s own airlock rang throughout ship as the Captain’s men exited the Reaper. Will sat impotently and watched as they jetted towards the torn hull of the Napoli. The Captain put the view from Sawad’s helmet camera up on a screen, and they watched in silence as the Napoli’s airlock drew closer.
“Napoli, open the outer door”, Sawad said over the radio.
The door cracked and brief burst of atmosphere vented into space before it slid smoothly into the hull. Rather than enter, as Will had expected, Sawad threw a satchel into the airlock and then quickly manoeuvred to one side. Will saw the camera shake and then gasped in disbelief as atmosphere, debris and human bodies burst out or the Napoli’s airlock. Sawad had blown the inner door.
“Law of salvage, Mr Pearce,” the Captain said as Will watched the crew and passengers of the Napoli writhe, then slowly becoming still as they floated away into the void. “No claim while an officer or passenger aboard lives.”
The sound of a gunshot catapulted Captain Goodwin from his sleep. By the time he got to the cabin it had come from, Sawad was already there, his white teeth flashed their shark like smile but there was a hint of disappointment in his cold eyes. William Pearce lay dead upon his bunk, his brains sprayed across the bulkhead, the gun still clutched in his hand.
“Damn fool could have pierced the hull”, the Captain grunted, checking the bulkhead for damage.
Something on the cabin’s comm terminal caught Sawad’s eye. He poked at it, bringing up the last message. A pretty girl’s face filled the screen.
“William, I can’t wait any longer”, she said into the camera lens, “I miss you so much and I couldn’t keep this surprise until you got back.” The camera shifted clumsily in her hand as she swivelled it to show the swelling bump of her belly then back to her face. “I’ve booked passage on the cargo ship Napoli. I hope you get this message before I arrive. Love you. See you soon!”
“Dump the body out the airlock”, the Captain said, nodding at the corpse and yawning. “And keep this between ourselves, unless you want to split his share with the others.”