It was his favorite game, hiding amongst the pallets of cargo. The unsecured tarpaulins made excellent canopies for him, the larger crates… valleys of towering polyalloy. Only he could fit between the smallest spaces and he enjoyed this fact; if any member of the crew tried to catch him he could easily disappear between the man-made canyons and fissures.
In almost every cargo hold in the ‘Verse there is a corner filled with random spare parts and small cargo containers that, for one reason or another, haven’t been delivered yet, and likely never will be.
This corner was his secret fortress, set between spare oxygen containers and greycat wheels, covered with an old torn tarpaulin he’d found. It was the place where he felt the safest, with at least a hundred or more freight units of cargo between himself and the aisle where the crew and inspectors would walk by. Between an old UEE ammunition crate, filled with small parts and other odds and ends, the ship’s hull was an old aurora maneuvering thruster nozzle. Inside was an assortment of treasure. Reaching his tiny hand inside he pulled out a dirty scratched hornet ghost model. The wings were chipped, the tail fin was held on by a lone decal sticker and it was missing the ball turret cover which had been replaced by a gaping hole in the center. For all its faults and damage, this was his favorite treasure.
A hollow thud resounded throughout the cargo hold. The deck plating vibrated, as the cargo shifted its weight, groaning against the stor-all’s powered securement. The far airlock opened with a hiss. He could hear his father call his name before the second louder thump shook the crate on top of him. “Maaaaaaaaxxxx!”
Halfway to the ceiling, Max woke up. He had no time to wonder about his predicament, he could only wheeze as he bounced off the top plating, knocking the air from his lungs. He spun in the air and only saw the blur of the floor coming to meet him. He clipped his left shoulder on the cot, pain shooting through it like a knife wound. The deck plating continued to vibrate and shook every last piece of junk in the room. The contents of several loose containers lay under Max, stabbing and poking him in the most painful ways. He reached over to his left shoulder and cried out in pain. Broken? Dislocated? Who cared, it hurt. He tucked his left arm into his open jacket.
Captain Osric’s voice boomed over the intercom, “They’re here for our prizes! Deny them!” Max stood and stumbled to the door wading shin deep through the trash. The door refused to open, actuators damaged, power lost. Pulling the side panel open, Max engaged the override with his good arm. The door popped open a quarter of the way. After a couple of vain attempts to open it further, he pushed himself through the tiny opening, searing pain shot through his shoulder as he did so and he was unable to hold back a yell as he burst free.
Max could hear small arms fire down one of the main corridors. In fact, now that he was out of the room there wasn’t a direction that seemed to not have gunfire echoing from it.
Looking at the littered jungle of salvage and cargo, Max was comforted with the knowledge that whomever was boarding them, their efforts to take the ship must’ve been greatly slowed down by the clutter. He wondered if this was one of the Captain’s absolutely “genius” ideas or just dumb luck. Max’s credits were on the latter.
At a T-junction Max found the captain. His once pristine white suit now covered with crimson red. A smoking rifle with a glowing hole though it, laid beside him. He was slumped against a large pallet, which sat against the wall of one of the main spinal corridors that spanned the ship. His head drooped into his chest. Max checked the corner quickly and slunk closer towards him. The Captain’s head popped up, startling Max. His eyes wide, one of them bloodshot.
“You!” Osric said with a hint of disappointment. His right hand came from behind his thigh, grasping a fusion grenade. He thumbed the safety on. Something down the corridor made a sound, making Max jump back into the crossing hallway. Osric thumbed the safety back off of his grenade. A wily smirk crawled across his face as he turned to look at Max, “Get outta here.”
Max crouched next to the bulkhead. “I’m taking it.” Max replied matching his hushed tone. The captain’s eyes rolled around, “I’ll find you.” Max looked the captain up and down.
“You really believe you’ll survive today?” the Captain stared at Max, eyes half open, “Test me.”
Halfway down the corridor to the hangar, Max heard the fusion grenade detonate. For a moment he felt the pressure on his body. He did not turn, nor did he stop.
The hangar was chaos. A small plasma fire burned the port side. The deck was littered with snapped cargo straps and 20mm shells, a case of ammunition was turned on its side in the middle of the deck. Max was puzzled for a moment; something was different here. Then a small dry metallic ping echoed through the bay, revealing the mystery. The hanger was dead quiet. Max looked down at the shell he had just kicked. Whoever was trying to take the ship, in their rush for the bridge or engine room they had outright ignored the hangar. And who wouldn’t, Max thought as he scanned the space with his eyes. No footing, wide open, hardly any cover except for… what they came here to get back.
The Ghost sat caddy cornered to the fore exit. Its wings diced as close as anyone was willing to go to the landing gear. The top spoiler wing, missing entirely as if it never existed. Black sealant and welded alloy scrap covered the edges that had been cut. Max shuffled his feet through the deck’s litter, knowing that slipping on one of the cases would send him straight to the floor. The turret mount was also missing, a gaping hole through its back, which reminded him of something. The canopy was open but the ladder wasn’t deployed. He was twenty feet from it when he noticed the shells floating ahead of him. The sickening feeling inside his stomach wasn’t from looking at the Ghost. The gravity was off. As with any manual shutoff, which the nuances of the generator were lost to Max, the gravity shut off in waves of ebb and flow until all the tiny objects bounced into the air.
Max slipped through the air at walking speed, keeping his forward momentum. He began to kick his legs and flail with his one good arm. He slowly somersaulted forward. His fingertips reaching out he scraped the lip of the canopy. He stretched and got hold with three fingers on the last knuckle length. and with a gentle pull he sent himself down into the cockpit, tucking his legs and spinning himself into an upright position. He quickly secured himself in, groaning as he pulled his injured arm free of his jacket.
A flaring red light caught his attention. Down the causeway a figure was at the hangar controls. Max could see the forward hangar shield opening up like a sideways maw. He flipped the canopy toggle, it slid back into place. Keeping his eyes on the figure, Max thought to himself, what was he do… Max couldn’t finish the thought. The blue magnetic field holding in the atmosphere dropped.
The explosive decompression was exactly that, fuel cells and ammunition all suddenly bouncing into each other, all flowing in the same direction. Something was eventually bound to hit something it shouldn’t. An eruption out of the ship’s fore section, like a dragon breathing fire into the vacuum. It happened so quickly Max hadn’t had time to react, he just held on.
The Ghost wasn’t secured at all, which is how Max found himself tumbling through the vomitous mass ejected from the maw in a blinding flash of plasma flame. The sound was like flying through a thousand rainstorms at once. Not a single sound but a multitude making the cockpit awash with an intense cacophony of noise. His parting image was that of a metallic hand waving at him as he exited.
Flecks of unidentifiable material tumbled away from the Ghost, the cloud began to disperse. Max drifted away from the dingy maternal ship. He could see the boarding ships now, like carrion beetles attached to the airlocks. Max began the slow process of starting up with one hand. He wondered what he was going to do now as the Ghost drifted farther and farther away, cold and undetected