I rolled out from under the engine just as it began to start, parts whirring past where I had been hiding. The raider hadn’t appeared to notice me, so I took advantage of the opportunity. I jumped to my feet and snuck up behind him. I landed the hardest punch of my life on the back of his head.
There was no way his head hurt more than my fist. “Ow! Crap!” I clutched my hand to my chest. Soundlessly, the raider fell forward.
Shaking out my hand, I crept toward the cockpit. The raiders’ ship was towing ours, and somewhere on board, they were keeping the rest of the crew. How was I supposed to get to them?
I could break away from the raiders’ ship, but then I’d be leaving the rest of the crew for dead. I couldn’t abandon the Radiance.
The ships were connected by a long, metal rod that could also function as a tunnel. I could steal a weapon from our cargo hold, sneak onto the raiders’ ship, free the crew, and escape. Easy.
I whirled around, coming face to face with the same raider I had only just knocked out. His gun was drawn and aimed at me. But if I’d learned anything in life, it was how to disarm someone.
Slamming his wrist with my own, the gun slipped out of his fingers and clattered to the ground.
I scooped up the gun and sprinted. I didn't want to have to shoot the raider, so that only left me the option of outrunning him. The ship suddenly seemed awfully large. I fought my way to the loading bay, where the raiders had connected the tunnel. The raider wasn’t pursuing me.
The tunnel itself was empty, but I wasn’t sure how long it would stay that way. The tunnel connected me to the raiders' own cargo bay, littered with metal boxes. Even without glancing at any of the labels, I recognized the cargo as our own. After all, I'd spent hours shoving those heavy crates onto the ship. The least I could do was recall them.
Though I spotted no one, there were voices nearby. My heart was already nearly beating out of my chest, but somehow it managed to pump faster at the sound. I dropped to the floor and crawled to one of the boxes, wedging myself between the ship’s wall and the box.
I barely allowed myself to breathe. The voices weren’t nearing me, but if the raider they had left onboard the Radiance entered the cargo bay, he’d see me instantly. I peeked around the boxes, hoping I’d catch sight of the crew.
To my dismay, most of the cargo bay was obscured by oblong metal boxes. One of the voices came into view—a raider, dressed almost the same as I. An olive green flight suit dotted with grease stains, and a pair of boots that had seen better days.
I stifled a sigh. I couldn’t even sabotage their ship long enough to find the crew, because their mechanic would correct anything I managed to disrupt.
Over the intercom, a generic in-flight message sounded, informing the raiders that they would soon be landing. If I was going to do something, I had to do it before the ship landed. Who knew where we would land, anyway? I wasn’t the one keeping track of our location in space. That was Chase’s job.
Using both the dim lighting and the excess of stolen cargo to my advantage, I advanced slowly toward the voices. Where there were voices, there were humans. Where there were humans, there might just be a crew.
Apparently, I’d taken too long. The raiders’ out-of-date ship hit the ground with a resounding thud. I could hear the Radiance bouncing along behind, and winced at the thought of the wreck it had most likely become. A broken ship equated to an angry captain and a lot of extra work for me.
“They’re going to pay us a fortune.” One of the raiders snickered. “This is the first army-sponsored shipping company cargo we’ve gotten in months.”
“Don’t get your hopes too high. That ship was transporting plain old guns, not any lasers or bombs. We’re not going to get much for this stuff.”
“True enough. The people on this planet are such cheapskates. We could bring them the king and they’d pay us a penny.”
“At least pilots are going for a lot nowadays. We’ll sell their pilot, the captain, the mechanic, and anyone else who’s got a useful skill. There’s always someone looking for a crew.”
If things weren’t bad enough, now I had a time limit. They were going to weed out those of us that could be sold to captains, and once they discovered the mechanic was missing, they would come looking for me.
There was an awful screeching as they disconnected the tunnel, freeing the Radiance from the raiders’ ship. “Alright, let’s dump this cargo and see if we can bag us some more by next week.”
A chorus of new voices joined the old, mixed with the sound of sliding metal boxes. The cacophony was almost like action music to me, spurring me on further into the ship. Somehow, feeling like I had an imaginary band cheering me on, I almost felt upbeat. If I rescued the crew in time, we might even make our delivery date.
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