Cabin boy Heimun-Vhi swung down the ladders of Eden’s exoskeleton, heading for the main crosswalk. Chief Engineering officer Cheney hadn’t been at his usual post and the Captain had threatened him with a skinning if the entire prime crew didn’t gather in the Belly immediately ten minutes ago.
This wasn’t technically part of Heimun’s duties, but he took the assignment gladly enough. Cheney never carried the required communicator, but as cabin boy Heimun knew most of the crew by name and could find them often enough. It was a game of hide and seek in a jungle gym where only he knew the rules.
Heimun found the mechanic on the lowest crew deck, leaning over one of Eden’s many parks. He was staring moodily at the peacocks who were wandering around the large green field beneath him. The cabin boy stopped at the wide bay doors next to the elevators and maintenance shafts.
“Captain’s called a meeting,” he called to Cheney.
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“Be there in a minute,” he replied, not looking away from the peaceful scene below.
The meeting wouldn’t start without the Chief Engineer, so Heimun lingered by the door.
“Captain says the loading dock has been blocked,” he informed him.
“Not my department.”
“Chem says the oxygen levels aren’t right. They say it’s not them, but they’re checking the filters anyway.”
“Still not my department.”
Heimun fell silent, but stayed where he was. He felt no humiliation by the older man’s sharp command, he was used to the bluntness. Manufacturing and Supply had given him a new pair of sandals that laced up to his knees. The strings were tight, but if he twisted the shoes against the grating on this level he could push the thick soles sideways and wriggle his toes against the cold metal.
The scuffle of his shoes and flesh seemed to annoy Cheney even more. “Ain’t you got somewhere to be?” he said tersely, still not looking around.
Heimun shrugged, his hand going to his mouth.
“Don’t bite your nails.” Cheney said in the singsong tone that Harriet used when Heimun sometimes wandered into her active med-bay.
Scowling, the boy wiped his hand on the dress shirt. Cheney only ever told him to stop doing stuff when he wanted to annoy him. It worked most of the time. Heimun knew Cheney didn’t really care if he bit his nails.
“Alright,” the engineer said at last. “Lets go see what they want.”
Heimun waited until Cheney passed him and followed silently behind. He would take the elevator up with him. It was faster than the maintenance ladders but far less fun.
They were still waiting when the inter-com boomed overhead, shivering the bare walls of the ship.
“This is your captain speaking. We have been boarded. This is not a drill. The primary crew has been locked below the main deck and we believe that the terrorist group Nova Ordo has taken control of the navigation. If you are able, send a distress call to-“
The speakers cut off suddenly and an electronic whine screeched through the ship.
Cheney cast his eyes up to the ceiling and gave a long suffering sigh. Heimun shrugged his shoulders against the wall and watched the man slowly pull the maintenance door open and step into the maze of ladders, grates and panels.
He clambered up the ladders to the next level and stooped under the stairs. He slowly twisted the bolts out of the wall. Watching him intently, Heimun hung from the railing across the main pipeline, his arms poking through the railings to cling onto the risers of the main walkway.
An entirely new voice started to reverberate through the walls. “This is the voice of Thaddeus Amadeus Rockfelt. Know it. Fear it. We have control of your so-called Eden, and will, in twenty minutes-“
The engineer pulled a thick plug from the exposed switchboard, there was a spark and and the spaceship went dark. For a moment Heimun imagined himself floating in space, the metal disappearing from beneath his fingers and his body drifting apart in the freezing vacuum.
A hand tugged at the communicator on his belt and he dutifully unclipped the device.
Cheney’s voice came out of the pitch blackness with all its usual impatience.
“In a minute, I’m going to pass your communicator back and I want you to say these exact words…”
Heimun listened carefully then hummed an affirmative when Cheney was finished. He waited in complete darkness until he felt the tap on his shoulder.
There was a click in the darkness and the room lit up in dim red. Heimun knew the rest of the ship would be bathed in the same eerie glow.
“This is the Eden ship-board interface,” his words repeated themselves in the confines thrown back and forth into the ship, echoing strangely with his young voice. “The captain has triggered a self-destruct sequence. All personnel to evacuation bays. Countdown has begun.”
He held the communicator down and stared off into the darkness. Cheney appeared to be checking the switchboard intently. Flickering lights were going wild all over the board, pulsating with erratic urgency.
“They’re in loading bay four. That must have been how they got in,” the big man mused quietly, “Give ‘em a countdown. From ten.”
He pushed a warning hand to Heimun’s chest as the boy opened his mouth. “Slowly,” he commanded.
Dutifully, Heimun started to count.
He waited patiently until Cheney had plugged the power back in and the usual bright white lights flickered on, then carefully pulled his communicator out of the nest of wire it had settled into.
“Well.” the engineer said, picking a cigarette out of the turn-up of his overalls, “that’s never going to work again.”