SHIP HIGH IN TRANSIT
A Harja Logistics standard small shipping container was a mainstay of commerce, used galaxy-wide and across governmental boundaries. Produced from high-grade steel in huge quantities, it was precisely two metres long, a metre wide, and half a metre deep.
It seemed a lot smaller from the inside.
Ichabod Drift knew precisely how long it had been since he’d been forced into one with a hood placed over his head and anchored around his neck by a collar that his fingers couldn’t loosen, because his mechanical right eye could call up a chrono display. It had been seventeen hours and twenty-six minutes, and that information wasn’t reassuring him at all. He’d tried to batter his way out at first, but that was futile. He had very little room for leverage, and besides, standard shipping containers were sturdy things. All he’d managed to do was hurt his hands. He’d yelled as well—for someone, anyone—but all that had got him was a dry mouth and a sore throat.
He hadn’t had a drink since, and he was so thirsty his hands were shaking. He’d been unable to restrain his bladder any longer at about the twelve-hour mark. Half of his right thigh was still damp, and the container stank of piss, which was aggravating his throat further. Most of his body was damp, in fact, because although the hood was porous and
airholes must have been added to the container before his incarceration, the limited airflow didn’t have a chance of counteracting the accumulated water vapour from seventeen-and-a-half hours of respiration by a six-foot-four, two-hundred-pound adult male.
A six-foot-four, two-hundred-pound adult male who was, by now, scared so bad he could hardly think straight.
What if they never let him out, whoever they were? What if his container’s current resting place was to be his final resting place? At first, when he was still capable of rational thought, he’d tried to work out who’d grabbed him and where they might be taking him. After a few hours of imprisonment, though, he’d lost his grip on that thread of speculation. He’d started to fear that he wasn’t being taken anywhere, that the container he’d been trapped in had simply been dumped somewhere out of the way, for someone to find days or weeks or months later when he’d long since expired of thirst.
His mind worked away feverishly, focusing on the problem like a hypochondriac with a chest pain. He’d heard that a human could go about three days without water, and the glowing chrono display in his right eye was starting to feel like a clock counting down towards his own end. Yet he didn’t dare turn it off, for fear that abandoning the one constant he had left to focus on would see him pass into a state of true madness. He’d tried sucking the hood to recover the moisture his breath had lost to it; it didn’t seem to do a thing. How badly would he have decomposed by the time someone wondered what this container was and opened it?
Ichabod Drift had made enemies during his career as a smuggler, bounty hunter, and entrepreneurial starship captain; it was true. But this seemed extreme. What if whoever had trapped him in here wasn’t after Ichabod Drift? What if they were after Gabriel Drake, the name he’d adopted when he’d been young and desperate and had agreed to a
career of piracy in service to the Europan Commonwealth in exchange for not being executed for a mutiny that he’d only technically led?
Well, in that case, his captors would likely be from the Federation of African States, and their government would undoubtedly be very interested to hear that he wasn’t as dead as they’d thought. The fate that would await him at their eager, vengeful hands might make dying of thirst over the course of a couple of days in the forgotten corner of a cargo hold somewhere look positively idyllic by comparison. He’d cost them an awful lot of money when he’d repeatedly hit their shipping over several years.
Of course, he’d also caused the deaths of a fair few of their people on the occasions that the crews had tried to resist his boarding parties, but in Drift’s experience, governments mainly cared about money.
There was a jolt. He cried out involuntarily in shock and sudden fear, but his throat strangled it down to barely a whisper. More jolting, and a disorientating swaying motion. He was being moved.
There was a brief sensation of increased weight—being lifted into the air?—and then an impact hard enough to knock the back of his head against the container’s bottom as it landed on something. He groaned, then threw his hands up reflexively and as best he could in the confined space as something hammered viciously on the metal, scant inches from his face.
He might have whimpered. He wasn’t sure if any noise made it out or not. However, the hammering broke off after half a dozen or so impacts and was replaced by harsh laughter that filtered dimly in through wherever the airholes were.
Another faint sensation of movement, this one rather smoother. He forced himself to ignore the burning pain in his throat and concentrate. Something was happening, enacted by people who knew there was a human inside this container, and that meant he wasn’t just going to be left to rot.
So what was happening?
He was still horizontal but apparently moving, and moving smoothly. So perhaps his container was being transported on some sort of maglev bed? That meant a spaceport, presumably. There was certainly some sort of noise from outside his container, but it was hard for him to tell what, exactly.
He didn’t get a quick answer to his question. His right eye’s chrono told him that it was a further twenty-two minutes, containing various other jolts and knocks, before he came to a final halt.
He sniffed. There was a very unsettling smell starting to seep in through the airholes. It smelled like . . .
Meat? Lots of old meat?
Oh, that’s not good. That’s never good.