Against the Wall – A Short Story

hubble_large_04Hey guys, it’s short story time again. This story came about because I was processing an idea for a longer story and I wanted to get a feel for the setting so I wrote this up as a quick idea then fleshed it out. Let me know what you think. 

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Beckett gripped the ladder, and through a fog of booze, made an attempt at a controlled descent. His knee cracked with every rung, but he wasn’t far from the ground. He still put his footing wrong at the last step and came down a bit too heavy, but he’d done a pretty good job. He checked his surroundings, one of the old Cavalier 2-26s. There was a time when they’d made up most of the Hive’s skin, the place had a little class in those days. Long before he arrived. Still, the Cavs were big ships, high quality, not the like the slums they built around them. By the time he worked the skin, the slums were mostly old cargo haulers surrounded by a network of sealing tubes and snub fighters. God knows what the shell was made of now.

He missed his cosy office, almost wished he’d never taken the job. No, he didn’t.

“How’d you like to nail Dylan for good?” She’d asked. She leaned in, asked him to keep this in her strictest confidence. She was shy, held back on the information until she knew she could trust him. And she could, he’d been working on putting Governor Dylan behind bars most of his life. The Hive was corrupt, everyone knew that. Even in the centre, where the ships still looked new and there were no blackouts, a good coin got you further than a decent job. Dylan was a special kind of corrupt though.

No, he didn’t regret taking the job. What he regretted was taking such a cushy place when he got the chance; it was making him soft. He found the 2-26’s exit without bumping into anyone, but had to squeeze through the old maintenance hatch into a communal hall that looked like a derelict freighter. He had to suck his gut in to get through, desk job was making him a little wider too. A few people milled about the old market stalls, mostly selling food that looked scraped together from vending machine overs. The map on the wall that reassured him; the route was a pretty straight line from here to the shell.

Of all his regrets, moving to The Hive wasn’t one of them. He arrived when he was twenty-three, he’d wanted to see it all his life. For some people, The Hive was the galaxy’s biggest folly; for others, a symbol of human ingenuity. For Beckett, it was just a place to find a good job. It started off as a small cargo fleet that settled a little out of the solar system. Deregulation of the shipping lanes made it more dangerous to travel alone, four or five ships were trading so often they started leaving the docking clamps together and stayed in a loose Orbit around the nearest star. That was ancient history now, for all Beckett’s life, the Hive consisted of tens of thousands of ships. Some big, some small. Some intact, the others broken down and harvested for resources. The up and coming’s in the academy liked to call it a free-form space station, but most of the traders called it Bric-a-Brac Moon.

Beckett was nearly there now. The outer layers of The Hive, the shell, contained the newest ships. Little more than single accommodation craft, wired in for power and emergency propulsion. Things were risky, but there was always work to be done. Truth was a nightmare but Beckett looked at it with all the admiration of a home town. If the little sun glider he’d lived in when he first arrived was still around, it would probably be carved to pieces by now. Hell, he reminded himself, it wouldn’t even be the shell anymore. The place had added twenty or thirty layers since then. He climbed through another sealing tube, breaking through into an observation deck. Crowded as always. The only place the rich bothered to visit in the shell, and they went with an escort. A chance to look out at the stars. And while they stared out, Beckett stared back the way he had travelled.

It had taken him days on foot. The last ten layers were suffering intermittent blackouts as the ships became smaller. There were no elevators, just hatches, doors, small empty cabins, and locked habitation centres to traverse. That had taken a day all by itself, but he had reached the skin. The outer layer of The Hive. Travelling this far was hard work. About the only thing harder was travelling to a specific spot on the skin. Going deep was easy, the centre was almost impossible to miss, but the outer shell of the hive was the size of a small planet. Beckett had been careful to plan his route, and to take his time. Not too much time, if he wanted to meet his contact he could not be late, but people who were careless often didn’t return. He held on to the image of the woman who hired him. No names, be discreet, meet the contact. One of Dylan’s rejects, banished to the shell for knowing too much. And that made sense too, the shell was full of people who had pissed someone off.

After six days of travel, Beckett had arrived. The skin was a thin but busy layer, usually full of engineers and new arrivals sealing their ships into the infrastructure before assessing the resources for harvesting, but the meeting place was empty. He walked the corridors for a bit, getting a feel for the place. He could see the workers through a viewing window, hard at work on the latest member of the hive, a small cargo vessel that was nearly broken down now. The meeting place was in the opposite direction; a small, beaten Nebula Yacht that looked empty. Becket climbed aboard. There was nobody there. He checked his watch. He was early, less than an hour, but better than he expected. He hoped his contact appreciated it.

He examined the ship, he had arrived in a ship like it. It had been his Fathers. He hadn’t thought about the old man in a while, he never appreciated Beckett joining the Hive. Old fool, half the solar system was on board now. Probably living in some slum somewhere, and never even bothered to get in touch. Beckett found an old overturned chair, one of the last bits of furniture left in the craft, and made himself comfortable. Everything had been taken, the slums were so bad these days, the poor sods living there had probably stripped it before the engineers arrived.

After two hours, Beckett gave up. Whoever his contact was, they weren’t coming. He had a feeling he’d been set up, no doubt Dylan had something planned in the city and wanted him out of the way. He felt a fool, before consoling himself. He had, at least, been willing to head out for it. Better than most would do. He lifted himself up and walked to hatch, which slammed shut when he was inches away. A radio crackled behind him, he spun around but he was alone on the ship. It was the craft’s internal radio, but the signal was broken, low powered. A source nearby.

“I’m sorry to mislead you, Mr Beckett.”

“Dylan?” His chest felt tight, this was bad.

“You know, I almost changed my mind.” The radio fizzed again, filling the silence. “But you were so dedicated, who else would have climbed all the way out here.” There was a grinding metal noise above and beneath him.

Beckett closed his eyes. “Oh no.”

“Goodbye, Mr Beckett.” He turned and stared at the stars outside, and felt his heart sink to see the ship was moving. He ran to the dash, looked for controls for the engines, the radio, anything to get control but it was all gone. “Don’t worry, Mr Beckett.” Dylan’s voice was already breaking up. “I’m sure someone will find you before the air runs out.” Beckett’s eyes traced the corners of the ship, trying to measure up the size. He wasn’t so convinced.

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