Spacejacked

The Phorcys 72-72 was unremarkable for a passenger spaceliner as far as most people could tell. However, a handful of engineers at Beryl Manufacturing could point out that it was the only commercial spaceliner with a cargo hold that had a dedicated pressurization system and seals. The design was a marketing tactic that failed to generate any sales, and the feature was discontinued on all subsequent lines. It did find limited use in the guerilla skirmishes during the Belt Uprising a decade back–supplies and clandestine soldiers could exit the craft without cramming into an airlock or venting the main cabin–but those operations were still classified and technically illegal.

Again, unremarkable as far as most people could tell. But Don Capper was not most people.

Before locking himself in the cargo hold, he’d calmly and quietly informed a member of the crew that he intended to detonate the ship, along with its 43 passengers and crewmembers, if he was not supplied with both onboard emergency spacewalking suits as well as $20 million in nontraceable cryptocurrency. He also wanted a gin and tonic.

The crew member, understandably scrupulous, asked how he intended to detonate the ship; he had no luggage, and security was tighter than ever. Capper loosened his tie, pulled aside his jacket and shirt, and revealed a fresh scar on his chest. “Looks like a pacemaker,” he said, adding only, “Antimatter.” He smiled thinly and the crewmember retuned with a glass and unopened bottles of gin and tonic water. No limes.

The crypto was simple. The transport company was insured, and payment went through instantly. Capper sipped his drink and sat comfortably on his crash couch while he moved the money through a hundred different relay accounts with his tablet. The suits, though, those were trickier. There were only two on board, kept in case of a critical maintenance failure midtrip that required a spacewalk. Only the pilots could unlock them, but pilots never leave their suite unless there is a grave emergency. They were trying not to alarm the other passengers, they said. Capper thought they were stalling. To the crewmember who’d served his drink, he said, “Announce that the pilot’s toilet is broken. That’s a sufficiently grave emergency, don’t you agree?” He said it coolly, but an edge was forming in his speech. The crew obliged.

Once the suits were available, he slipped into the cargo hold, quickly put one on, depressurized the compartment, and opened the loading hatch. Now no one else could enter the hold without venting the entire main cabin into space.

They were already over Hygiea, he saw now, coming up on the highlands.

Once he was satisfied that his suit was fully functional and not tampered with, he tossed the spare out the hatch. It safely cleared the engine blast. Besides that little test, he’d only wanted the extra suit to prevent anyone from following him and to imply the threat of taking a hostage. And as for the money, he was happy to have it, but it was a decoy motive. The real prize was in the hold.

The military sometimes bullied the commercial liners into freighting equipment for free. Of course, it was always framed as a goodwill gesture in gratitude for being granted a license to operate. In any case, the military crates were easy to spot. They had expensive locking mechanisms and were robust as hell. Robust enough, even, to survive a suborbital drop.

One, two, three, four. Out the crates went, followed by Don Capper himself, out the back of a Beryl Manufacturing Phorcys 72-72 over the harsh emptiness of Hygiea. And the passengers were none the wiser. The best part about stealing from the military, he thought as he descended in absolute silence, was that they’d never report it. They couldn’t let it be public knowledge. The crates weren’t on any manifest. Capper didn’t even know what was inside–but he intended to find out.

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