Rule 7

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Rule 7

He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.*

* Rule 7 of the pirate code as recorded by Captain Charles Johnson regarding the articles of Bartholomew Roberts.

 

I cower on the bed in the corner of my cabin awaiting the dreaded unlocking of the door.Stripped on all my personal effects, my cabin is now my cell.  My eyes fall upon a tube of beans on toast flavour gel lying dejected and undevoured on the floor.  What is the point of feeding myself when my life could be over within the next hour?

Footsteps frequently approach my door – sometimes it is someone bringing me food – they unlock the door, open it a little and toss my meagre rations inside.  Then they lock the door and go.  Other times I hear the footsteps come and then go.  Other than that, the only sounds I can hear are the distant throb of the ship’s engines and constant hum of the artificial gravity motors. 

My nerves are frayed beyond belief.  My constant fear is that at any time they will come for me – it will be my time to be tried and punished for my alleged misconduct.  When the footsteps fade away I get little sense of relief – my anxiety is only heightened even more.  It is this tide of footsteps that come and go outside my door that punctuate my day - the tension is unbearable. 

Over and over I try to rehearse what I will say to them when the time comes to justify my actions: I was not running away, I was simply avoiding being killed, does that really constitute desertion?  I close my eyes and replay the events in my mind:

 

It was a routine attack on a commercial supply vessel headed for Mars.  It should have been easy pickings like the dozen or so similar undefended vessels we had successfully accosted before.  In fact, so many supply ships had been pirated over the last few Earth years that some of them began to employ military escort craft alongside them.  Pirates avoided such vessels as, although we had a fairly well equipped arsenal at our disposal, we were no match to the advanced armaments of specialised military craft.  This one, however, had no such escort and, as usual, we intercepted with speed and stealth.  Curiously, it made no obvious attempt to take evasive action when we approached.  Sometimes they tried to outrun us, or try some outrageous manoeuvre to confuse us, but they always failed.  Our ship, The Stratosfear, was purpose built for the job.

As usual we fired a salvo of warning shots across its bow but it did not slow down.  We fired again with the same result.  As we got closer we could see that it was a new type of transporter, slightly smaller and slower.  I began to have a strange, disturbing feeling about this particular vessel.  It seemed too easy.  Our skipper, Captain Somerset, tried to contact the vessel but there was no reply.  He decided that the vessel was going slow enough for us to dock with it anyway.  We would then follow the usual protocol of boarding the vessel with an armed boarding party.  They seldom met any resistance and would normally try to avoid killing any crew unless really necessary. Once the initial boarding party had secured the ship, they would send in a second group, led by Quartermaster Taunton, to assist in locating and requisitioning what valuable cargo and supplies they were carrying.  I was always in this second group. 

All was going to plan.  There was the usual shudder when our ship engaged with the external docking port towards the stern of the supply ship followed by a rumbling pause as the airlock equalised.  We formed an orderly file in the corridor behind the first boarding party of fifteen men.  My ears popped, then the circular hatch was opened and the first wave of men entered without hesitation, wielding their rifles in front of them.  We moved forwards in our group of fifteen after the last man went out of sight.  I checked my watch.  It normally took around ten minutes before we got the call to go in.  There was no obvious anxiety amongst the rest of my group as we waited; it was more of a nervous excitement to get going.  On this occasion though, I felt uneasy.  Through a porthole in the corridor I could see the closeness of the supply ship to which we were now attached like a limpet mounted on an oyster.  I could read some of the markings on its side and I had a sudden and deep pang of homesickness for Earth when I saw a small European Union flag on the ship’s exterior.  We continued to wait. It seemed a bit longer than usual – fifteen minutes; twenty minutes.  Some of the men were getting restless.  “What’s taking them so long?” said Taunton, sounding frustrated.

“Why haven’t they called us yet?” asked Pilton, a fellow swabbie who had been put in charge of communications.

“Try calling them,” commanded Taunton.

“No. That’s not procedure,” replied Pilton.

“Fuck procedure, I’m going in,” asserted Frome, another fellow swabbie, slinging his rifle over his shoulder.  Taunton reluctantly agreed.

I watched the men in front of me disappear through the hatch as we advanced.  I ducked as I entered the hatch and followed the feet of the man in front through a short tubular passage then through another hatch into the supply ship. We found ourselves gathered in a rather barren, white, dimly-lit atrium with three passageways leading off it.  It felt slightly colder than our own ship and there was a weird, indescribable smell in the air. The unrelenting whirr of the ship’s engines could be heard in the background.

“Now call them, Pilton,” ordered Taunton.

Pilton held the mouthpiece of the communication device close.

“This is boarding party two calling boarding party one, do you read?”  No reply.  He twiddled with some knobs and tried again.  Still no response.  My fears were starting to grow.

“Okay, let’s split up into groups of five and each take a passageway left, middle and right,” asserted Taunton, in a very Quartermasterly way.

We followed the order without question and I found myself following the man in front down the narrow left hand passageway.  We did not run but walked briskly and cautiously, expecting to bump into members of the first boarding party at any moment.  The drone of the engines faded as we got further away from them towards the bow. What was strange, though, was the silence and the apparent lack of crew members aboard.  The passageway was long and monotonous; curving gently towards the bow of the ship unusually with no portholes, doors, ladders, junctions or rooms off it – just a white, featureless tube.  I couldn’t stand the bad feeling I had any longer.

“Stop!” I shouted.  The whole group stopped and everyone glared at me.

“What do you mean, stop,” dissented Yeovil, our point man.

“Just stop,” I repeated, “Something’s not right, I can sense it.”

“Let’s just find the booty and get out of here then,” retorted Yeovil.

“What about the others?” enquired Sedgemoor, another swabbie in our group of five.

“I’m sure they’re fine,” began Yeovil, “They’ve probably rounded up the crew and holding them on the bridge.  Maybe their communication device is broken so they can’t tell us where they are.  In the mean time we’ll just locate the cargo hold and take what we can, that’s our job.”

No-one was going to argue with him, so we continued to walk. 

“Stop,” commanded Yeovil, raising his hand and crouching down, “Someone’s coming.”

From around the curve of the passageway, the sound of shuffling and footsteps grew closer; boots squeaking on the polished floor.

Yeovil took the rifle off his shoulder and we all followed suit.  First, shadows appeared on the walls then human figures came into view.  Straight away I recognised the stocky, hairy figure of Taunton followed by four others.  Taunton didn’t seem too surprised to see us.

“What the hell is this ship? I’ve never seen the likes before,” he grumbled.  In a gesture of exasperation, he banged his hands on the smooth, white walls of the passageway as if hoping that some concealed opening would open up.

“Seems like we’re just going around in circles,” stated Yeovil, “But where are the others?”

It was then that we heard a distant yell come echoing down the passageway.  Instinctively, without a word, we all hurried towards the sound.

Following the passageway round we suddenly stopped in our tracks when up ahead there appeared to be some kind of yellow wall blocking the way.  This barrier appeared to bulge and pulsate as though it was fluid and moving slowly towards us.  Then, the figure of a man emerged from it, wraithlike and silhouetted before we could make out his features.  I could tell from his clothes and the weapon he was carrying that he was one of the other group but his face was gone.  Horrified, we stood motionless as we watched him stumble soundlessly towards us - his head was just an unrecognisable red bulb of steaming flesh.  Then he collapsed in a pathetic heap on the floor a couple of metres in front of us.  We were all speechless.  I have never seen anything so hideously terrifying before in my life.  At first, we were so transfixed on his dead, disfigured corpse that we failed to realise that the thick, sulphurous yellow gas from which he had emerged, was creeping towards us.  Taunton was the furthest forward and closest to it and, almost at the moment he looked up, the yellow mist enshrouded him and he was gone.  I thought I heard him cry out but it was nothing more than a brief whimper.  It was then that we realised what danger we were in and we turned and fled.  The yellow gas followed us and seemed to speed up.  I thought of nothing but distancing myself as quickly as possible away from this mysterious, gaseous yellow death which chased us.  Only once did I turn round and, with horror, I could see it was so close and swallowing up men behind me as it advanced – first Yeovil, then Sedgemoor.  I ran like Hell, faster than the men in front of me, and I found myself barging past them.  It was every man for himself.  I dropped my weapon.  I could sense men falling, tripping and crashing to the ground behind me.  Soon, I was on my own with no-one in front of me and silence behind me.  I reached the atrium where the open hatch was that lead me to The Stratosfear and safety.  I dived through the hatch and into my ship.

“Close the hatch, close the hatch,” I yelled.  I fell to the floor exhausted.  I heard panicked voices and the hatch close.  It was then I must have passed out.

I came-to in the mess area.  Weston, our crew surgeon, was standing over me. “Welcome back,” he said, rather sarcastically.  Then Captain Somerset and a couple of others from the first boarding party walked in. “What happened to the others?” he said.

“The yellow gas,” I said.

“What yellow gas?”

“It chased us; killed men.”

“I don’t believe you,” said the Captain, gravely, “We must have done a complete search of the ship and there was no sign of any yellow gas.  In fact there was nothing at all; no crew, no bridge; just empty passageways going round in circles.  We think it was a drone ship with the cargo stored in sealed and secured containers on its underside where they can’t be accessed.  We returned to The Stratosfear to find you lot had already boarded.  We tried calling you but no-one replied.  You have some explaining to do - only you have returned.”

“Pilton tried calling you but had no reply,” I explained, “We thought you might be in trouble so Taunton decided we should board and locate you and the cargo.  We split up into three groups but, like you, we found only empty corridors which doubled back on ourselves . . . and then the yellow gas.”

“Fourteen of my crew are missing, presumed dead, yet you alone survived – how can you explain that?”

“I ran.  I escaped.”

“You mean you deserted,” asserted Captain Somerset, his pale, unshaven face scowled in anger.

“Under Rule Seven of the Pirate Code you are hereby charged with desertion, the penalty for which is death or marooning.”

I froze as if all my life blood had been drawn from my body.  I tried to protest but was instantly cut short by the Captain’s two henchmen who grabbed me by each arm and marched me to my cabin.  The Captain followed.  “You will be confined to your cabin until we decide what we are going to do,” he said.

They pushed me through the door and locked it shut behind me.

So here I am.

Scared. Alone. Bemused.

There are more footsteps.  The door is unlocked; opens a little and tube of food and a vial of ice water are pushed through.  They topple to the floor.  The vial of ice water cracks and spills its contents.  The food tube is chicken soup - and I hate chicken soup. Periodically, I feel homesick for Earth.  Periodically, I regret taking on the pirate’s life.

I am left to dwell on the dark imaginings of my fate:  Perhaps they will place me in the refuse chute and jettison me into space along with the trash.  When my body hits the void of space, exposure to the vacuum environment would cause explosive decompression of my body resulting in haemorrhaging of my brain with bleeding under my skin, ears and nasal cavity.  Oxygen and nitrogen in my bloodstream would bubble and rupture my blood vessels – the pain would be extreme and last for several seconds - I would remain conscious before the oxygen deprivation would finally render me lifeless.

If I’m lucky and they are merciful they might slit my throat or hang me first.  Perhaps they will put me down on one of the moons so I slowly suffocate or freeze or starve to death. I postulate whether these are better or worse fates than the yellow gas.  Maybe, just maybe, they will listen to my pleas for mercy, accept that I did not desert and drop the charges against me.

And so I sit and wait.  I suck up the spilled ice water from the floor with a straw and just about manage to keep down the chicken soup.  I lie on my bed and try to sleep.  Unlike being on Earth, there is no sense of night and day – no extraneous zeitgebers by which to regulate your time.  I only have the sounds of footsteps to listen out for. 

Footsteps?  Not heard any for a while, I think.  Come to think of it a strange quietness has descended – the ubiquitous background throb of the ship’s engines and artificial gravity motors have ceased.  Where are the footsteps?  I feel myself gently getting lighter.  Droplets of water are lifting off the floor.  There is silence now.  I am willing for the footsteps to return.  Now I am floating.

 

That must have been hours ago but, as I said before, I have no sense of time.  No more footsteps. No more sounds. I am having a nauseous, sinking, chilling realisation that I am now alone on this ship.  For some reason they have abandoned The Stratosfear and left me.  Whether they intended to or not they have meted out their punishment under Rule Seven of the Pirate Code.

Here I remain unto death - marooned on my own ship.

 

 


Submitted: April 17, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Mark William Hurst. All rights reserved.

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Comments

M.C.R.

This is so cool!
A bit of a depressing ending, but still.
Great grammar, descriptions, and space pirates!
So awesome :D

Mon, April 19th, 2021 2:05am

Author
Reply

Thank you so much for your comments :)

Mon, April 19th, 2021 9:47am

M.C.R.

Your welcome!
They're definitely very well deserved :D

Wed, April 21st, 2021 12:00am

AdamCarlton

Sounds like the pirates have all come from Somerset by their names! :)

Good story.

Wed, May 5th, 2021 2:21pm

Author
Reply

Indeed, Adam, well spotted :) I imagine all good pirates speaking in a Somerset (Zummerzet) accent. Thanks for your comments.

Wed, May 5th, 2021 9:52am

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