Author : Ross Baxter

The ducting was tighter than expected, and full of choking dust and accumulated detritus. Filth caked my uniform, the billowing clouds of dirt coating the inside of my mouth and making my eyes stream. But I was nearly there. I struggled forwards to the mesh vent to lever it open and it crashed to the floor below with a painfully loud clatter. I held my breath; there was no knowing where in the ship the pirates were, and capture would result in a swift and violent death.

Dropping heavily to the floor I painfully focused my grit-filled vision. The Control Room of the Happy-go-lucky was mercifully empty. The irony of the vessel’s name still brought a thin smile to my lips; the ship was anything but that – the last six months since signing on being both unpleasant and humiliating. The other eight crew members, all relative youngsters, had been together since being cadets and formed a tight clique which bordered on the incestuous. Being more then twice the age of the eldest, and a decorated veteran of both Segmentum Wars, had instantly singled me out. They could barely bring themselves to talk to me, and when they did it was usually a joke at my expense. Long days passed without a word being said or even an acknowledgment, but I preferred that to the snide comments. The others referred to me sneeringly as “Mister Experience,” which stemmed from when the skipper, playing to her sycophantic audience, had inquired as to exactly how I’d got to be so old, given heavy losses of the last wars. I muttered something about guile and experience, which had earned both loud guffaws and my new moniker.

But they were not so cock-sure now. The cloaked pirate vessel had clamped itself to our forward accommodation section before we even knew they were there. Within minutes they cut through the outer hull and boarded us. We had only enough time to retreat to the citadel, a small armoured section of the ship designed to provide a modicum of security in events such as this. The skipper had not even managed to send a distress signal.

The panic in the citadel was almost comical. Pirates never spared anyone; once they had taken what they wanted, which may include the ship itself, a quick death would be the best one could expect. Only now did the crew of the Happy-go-lucky turn to “Mister Experience”, and I assured them I would put my guile and experience to good use. Christ knows how they expected me to turn the tables on the cut-throat boarders, but they were happy to clutch at whatever straw was offered.

Quickly scrutinizing the plasma-engine controls, I closed all vents and maximised the port and starboard feeds. I withdrew the over-ride key and pocketed it; the plasma drives would be critical in around two minutes and could not now be closed down. Claxons screamed throughout the ship but it was already too late.

I bolted for the aft-escape pod and strapped myself in. With only myself in the ten-man craft there was plenty of room, and enough rations to last for weeks until rescue. Yanking the red launch control I braced myself against the acceleration as the pod fired itself into the void. I braced again moments later as a huge shockwave, the violent epitaph of the Happy-go-lucky and the pirate ship, flung the pod still faster away. I smiled; living proof of exactly how guile and experience can ensure one reaches old age.

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