I got absolutely no sleep last night. Literally. Take whatever you got, subtract 100%, and that’s how much I got. No reason. Just couldn’t sleep. So today was not fun.
And yet I persevere! I just whipped this up. I’ve been kinda wanting to do a space western, as I mentioned a few posts back. This might serve as a good starting point, though it’s very rough. I’d probably cut a lot of that action out to get to the interesting stuff faster. What mysteries does the cargo hold…er, hold? Is Jered and his men in over their head? Almost certainly! 1100 words or so.
Jered Imrun watched the convoy across the red dusty plains. A long stream of perhaps fifteen cargo carriers, Jared focused his goggles on the last of them. The trailing carrier hovered a little lower to the ground than the others, which usually meant something heavy. Something expensive. He liked expensive. Being the last carrier in line, it would be the least defended, the bulk of the convoy blocking its own line of fire. The carriers, on the other hand, were just big white targets against the hazy Martian sky.
The small receiver in Jered’s helmet crackled. “Last one in line, boss?” his lieutenant, Boxer, asked. Boxer had good instincts, but often didn’t know when to keep quiet.
“Yeah,” Jered answered. “Now keep off the channels. Ya’ll know what to do.” He mounted up, fitting his boots into his ‘pack’s stirrups, then pulling the steering arms down over his shoulders, gripping each stick firmly. His helmet synched in with the machine, green bars flashing to life as the computer powered up the ‘pack. Jered felt a slight jolt, then lifted free of the planet’s already light gravity well. His HUD flashed six green triangles in the right corner. Everyone was ready.
Jered waited until the convoy soared close. Though bulky and impossible to maneuver off the anti-grav tracks laid beneath the ground below, the carriers were fast. Jered and his crew would get one, maybe two good passes before the carrier was away. He watched the distance counter flicker down, then kicked the stirrups and rocketed from the ridge. He saw the specks of his comrades launching as well, and kept one eye on their positions as they all converged on the convoy.
“Damnation!” Marion, to his left, cried out. “They got a frickin’ eagle eye in that thing.” Jered squinted—sure enough, blue tracers already streaked out from the center of the convoy. The crew’s arc would take them past those ships right directly, but it meant they’d lost the element of surprise on the target ship.
“All the fire’s to the south,” Jered growled. “They might not have seen us yet. So shut the hell up! Boxer, you boys stay on your run. Keep ‘em distracted.”
The ‘packs ate up the ground fast. Boxer and his two wingmen already returned fire, a few scattered shots on random carriers, just for show. There wasn’t much the guns on board the ‘packs could really do against these ships. Boxer’s arc intertwined through the convoy, staying below most of their firing arcs.
Marion and Jered’s other partner, Fyunke, swooped toward the last carrier, still unnoticed. Jered trained his guns on the turrets mounted atop the ship, squeezing off a few rounds just as someone on board took notice of them. Jered’s first target vanished, heavy titanium melted to slag. Two other turrets swiveled to fire. Blue tracers zipped past uncomfortably close before his partners vaporized the other two turrets.
“Drop!” Jered shouted. “Dorsal airlock! Fyunke, the couplers!”
Jered and Marion kicked back the stirrups and fell the last few meters to the carrier’s thick hull. Jered slapped a patch on his left thigh, and his boots clung to the carrier’s outer skin. Marion stumbled down beside him, falling to one knee and then nearly bouncing back out into the sky before switching on his own boots. Jered spared a moment to watch Fyunke slide toward the aft section of the ship, then disappear over the side. Taking out the couplers that kept the carriers in contact with the anti grav tracks was a deadly maneuver, and Fyunke was one of his best hands. He’d hate to lose him.
Marion crouched beside the airlock, a small rectangular portal. With their ‘packs still on, it would be a tight fit, but they’d seen worse. Marion smashed open a control panel, then reached inside and cranked the manual override lever. Jered eased his shotgun from the holster mounted on his ‘pack saddle and checked the chamber. If anyone waited for them in the airlock, it would clear them out quick.
The airlock slid open just as the carrier shivered beneath their feet. Fyunke’s shrill hoot and the sudden lurch of the ship signaled the destruction of the anti grav couplers. Up ahead, the rest of the convoy pulled away. A few parting shots scattered wide. Jered grinned as his four other men soared by and came clattering to the hull around him.
“Clear the hole!” he yelled, and he leaned over the open airlock and fired a blast into the open airlock. The shot scattered across empty metal. Jered waved, and one by one his men, armed with their own boarding weapons of choice, dropped down the hole. Jered left a man at the airlock, then slipped down himself.
“Everything looks clear, boss,” Marion whispered. Small red running lights at the floor served as the only illumination inside. As no opposition showed itself, the crew relaxed and shed their heavy ‘packs.
“Move forward, check the bridge,” Jered said. “Looks like we got ourselves a automated system.” Corporate cost-cutting had led to a drastic reduction in the amount of personnel on board the convoys the past few years. Why man every ship with a full crew when you could man just a couple of the ships with a few men who could remotely control the rest? It made Jered’s work all the easier.
Jered shuffled his ‘pack free, leaving it by the airlock with the others. He motioned Fyunke to stay close, and together they hurried to the aft cargo hold. Carriers had simple design plans, little more than a corridor of living quarters, a control center at one end and the cargo bay at the other, and came equipped with as few amenities as possible. Jered expected even the life support had been shut off, and was thankful for the heavily insulated suits they all wore.
Jered frowned as they approached the cargo bay doors. Heavy, wide doors built to withstand heavy punishment, he’d seen less prepared crews die trying to blast through them, the ship’s hull crumpling before the doors would. The cargo bays always came locked, usually with a simple electronic device easily disabled from the bridge, if a body were smart enough to find it.
This cargo bay door, though, didn’t have a little red blinking light winking contemptuously from the overhead monitor. The monitor was blank, in fact. Instead of an electronic lock, heavy bars had been welded in place across the door frame. The control panels had been seared and blasted.
“What the hell?” Fyunke muttered. “What do you suppose they put in there? Why ship something if you don’t want to take it out of the ship when you get to wherever you’re going?”
Jered put a hand against the door. “I…I think I’ve heard of this…” he whispered. He clenched his fist, then pounded on the door.
Moments later, something pounded back.