Stowaway

Deva strolled along the corridor, terrified that someone would see through her fake nonchalance.

Ahead lay the Hermes, the craft bathed in light and surrounded by workers. They scurried around it, carrying tools and fiddling behind panels. Some used screens, others used oxytorches‌—‌she saw the blue-white stabs of flame, heard the roar of igniting gas.

She’d checked the itinerary, hacking as much data as she dared. The Hermes was on a cargo run, crew the only personnel. And, if her plan came off, one stowaway.

The service hatch at the craft’s rear was her best bet. With her work clothes on, she’d blend in. If anyone asked, she was fixing something. Nobody from refit should be around to call her out, at least. This was routine maintenance.

“Hey, you!”

Deva’s head snapped round to the two supers standing under the craft’s port wing. One of them, the taller, glared at her, but it had been the shorter one who spoke. He smiled, but his brow furrowed.

“Yeah?” She hoped her voice didn’t shake as much as it did in her head.

The tall one looked her up and down. It wasn’t a predatory look, but the other sort she received. The look that said she was beneath contempt. The look that said she was a waste of space.

“You from the mech pool?” That was the shorter supervisor, the one who was clearly in charge. His jacket fitted better, and his boots weren’t scuffed. Not like her own. They were scarred and tarred, proper worker’s boots. And her overalls were the same‌—‌stained, with rips and patches, and with pockets that no longer sealed quite right. The kind of clothing someone wore when they were fixing things. Not what people wore to take a ride on a Hermes.

She nodded. “They said you needed a hand?” Honestly, she had no idea if someone had called for help, but it was a fair assumption. These older craft never ran smooth.

“You know what the job is?”

She snorted. “They never tell me a thing.” At least she didn’t have to act. “So what’s the issue?”

The taller super jerked his head to the side of the craft, near the service hatch. “Possible energy severance.” He looked down at her again. “Take it you’ve had your training?”

Thinks I’m a kid, Deva thought. She pulled a screwdriver from her pocket, tossing it in the air. “Nah. They let any fool prod about behind the panels now. Maybe you should give it a go.”

It was a risk, being cocky like that. But there was always animosity between mechs and supers, usually because supers had no practical knowledge, and thought everything should work like it did in the manuals. They thought mechs were lazy uneducated thugs, and mechs‌—‌and, to a certain extend, Deva herself‌—‌saw supers as stuck-up paper-pushers.

“Bloody cheek!” He stuck his screen out toward Deva. “I’m reporting this. Swipe.”

If she did that, they’d know she shouldn’t be there. They’d lock her up for sure.

But she could play on the earlier confrontation. She glared at the super. “Maybe you should call another mech.” She half-turned. “But we’re swamped at the moment. Doubt they’d send anyone for a good few hours.”

And that worked. Shorty placed a hand on Lanky’s arm, pulling the screen back. “We’ll let your attitude ride, but just this once. And only if you get that power loss fixed.” He jerked a thumb toward the hull of the craft. “Panel R-36.”

She let her face pull into a sneer, as if she was considering their offer. Then she shrugged. “You’re lucky I’m so amenable,” she said, pushing past to the panel Shorty had mentioned.

They followed, which wasn’t good. She couldn’t board with them watching.

Deva used the screwdriver to remove the panel, placing it on the ground. Behind the panel were wires and a couple of copper tubes, all snaking round each other. There were no labels, but Deva didn’t need them.

“Think you can sort it?” Shorty peered round her arm. He didn’t trust her. Wasn’t going to let her be.

Not unless she did something.

Deva shrugged and tossed her screwdriver again. “Doesn’t look too bad. Maybe straighten out some of these, do a de-fur.” She poked with the metal tip, rolling a couple of wires across one another. Lanky took in breath, like he was scared she was going to do some damage.

And that was her answer.

“Hang about,” she said, leaning in closer and sucking air through her teeth. “That’s not good.” She prodded, ramming the screwdriver through to the rear plating, at the same time thumbing the tester circuit.

The spark arced across the wires. Deva cursed, word they wouldn’t expect from a girl like her, as a tendril of smoke rose.

“Worn sheath,” she said, smiling as she turned to the two supers. “No problem, though. I’ll get it sorted.” She bought the screwdriver up, noticed how the tip was blackened. “Shouldn’t take long.”

Lofty and Shorty backed up. Their eyes ran from her to the still-smouldering wiring. “We’ll be back to check later,” Shorty said. “And you’d better do a good job.”

Deva brought the screwdriver up in mock salute, and grimaced when it touched her forehead. Both supers took a step back before they turned and walked away.

She looked back at the wires, laughing to herself. You’d think supervisors would have to know basic maintenance, but the qualifications seemed to consist of arrogance and a superiority complex. That, and being scared of a bit of smoke.

She poked around a bit longer, for appearance’s sake. But she watched the deck, and kept a close eye on the hatch.

Deva checked the time. Only a couple of minutes. Lofty and Shorty were arguing with someone else now, paying her no more attention.

Soon, she’d be shot of this place.


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