Here is my entry for the August 2021 WEP challenge, Freedom of Speech. It is a new adventure of the Space Fleet Academy cadet Neville. You can read about Neville’s previous escapades here:
On the recording, a young man, no older than Neville, crept along a seldom-used corridor in the D section of the ship. Today marked the fifth day of this trip to Simel, and Neville had been watching this particular fellow since day one. For some reason, his behavior had struck Neville as suspicious from the beginning. He had even made sure to learn the guy’s name – Timothy – from the ship’s manifest.
That first evening, Neville had assigned one of his tiny surveillance drones to follow Timothy because he didn’t have time himself. All seven sleeping holds of the ship were his responsibility, as the captain’s liaison with the passengers, and the thousands of passengers aboard had kept him busy.
This morning, he finally allocated the time to watch the recordings of the previous three days. His suspicions deepened. Timothy went to the same place, far away from his sleeping hold, every day at different times. Oddly, on all three days, the recordings stopped as soon as its subject reached the D5 block. No sleeping hold was close. It was an area of the ship reserved for loading equipment. Lots of little nooks and hiding places among the odd-shaped machinery.
What was Timothy doing there? Alone? Why did the recordings stop? They resumed a couple hours later each day and faithfully followed their charge back to his sleeping berth. But what happened during those missing hours? Obviously, someone jammed the recordings, but why? And who? Was Timothy a part of some secret society? Secret meetings?
Neville frowned in thought. Today, he would follow Timothy himself and see what he could find. Hastily, he programmed the drone to alert him as soon as his interest left his hold. Then he dived into the passengers’ activity for the day.
At about fifteen hundred hours, his drone buzzed in his ear bug. “Oh, feckle!” Neville muttered. He was in the middle of an argument with an old woman in the B section hold about her missing hairdryer.
“Sorry, ma’am,” he interrupted her in mid-tirade. “We’ll talk later. I must run.”
He sped on his silent roller skates out of the hold towards the D5 block. He didn’t follow Timothy but took an alternative route along the service level passageways above, inaccessible to passengers. He would drop down to the main level when he was close to his destination. And do what? Confront Timothy? Spy on him further?
His drone was still recording and sending the signal to Neville’s receiving goggles. It cut the recording in the same place it had done on the previous three occasions – in the D5 block.
Breathing shallowly, Neville checked his stunner gun. He didn’t plan on any stunner fight, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared. He didn’t want to confront Timothy and his associates. He could be severely outnumbered, but he needed to discover what was going on.
He removed his roller blades, unscrewed one of the floor panels with blue markings, and weaseled into a ventilation tube. Such tubes snaked between the levels all over the ship. He crawled along the cramped space, turning several times, until he reached the point in D5 where the recording stopped a few minutes earlier.
He listened – no sound came from below. He carefully pried open a panel under his head and looked down. No one was there, and his drone was gone. Where did it go? Neville scanned the area. It was a long and narrow storage, stuffed with strange contraptions. In the far end of the long and twisted hallway, a hatch loomed. By his schematics of the ship, that hatch led to the block E3. He winced at the weirdness of the numbering system in the ship, replaced his spying panel, and scurried towards E3 along his ventilation pipe.
He heard voices even before he detached another panel to hear better. Unwilling to attract hostile attention, he didn’t remove this panel but shifted it a bit, to allow a narrow gap in the ceiling of another storage.
In addition to the usual clutter of a technical depot, this storage also held about a couple dozen men, mostly middle-aged, with a few youngsters sprinkled about. Neville spied Timothy, sitting on a large loader.
“We need to take control of the ship,” a gray-haired burly man declared.
“Should we talk about this?” someone asked timidly.
“Yes, we should. Our freedom of speech is guaranteed.” The orator pumped his fist in the air. “We are free men. We shouldn’t be obliged to obey a woman just because someone somewhere put her in charge. Captain, my ass! Women are inferior to us. Of course, they have their uses.” He smirked. “But not captaining a spaceship. Not our ship!”
A loud cheer met the last statement.
Neville’s drone, a mini oblong of sheer plastic filled with grayish circuitry, was invisible beneath the gray steel ceiling. It was still active, but the signal was jammed. These pirates planned a mutiny and jammed everything as a matter of course.
Neville listened with growing dread, as the speaker outlined their plan, to be implemented two days before they docked at Simel orbital station. They didn’t want to go to Simel. They didn’t want to be refugees. They were an elite group of men, formerly rich and powerful, and they felt entitled to good life, not common refugee struggles.
Neville’s lips twisted in disgust. They might’ve been rich before the disaster destroyed their planet. Now they were like everyone else and should’ve been grateful to Simel government for giving them a home. Instead, they planned mutiny and piracy and spoke dismissively of his captain.
Neville swallowed his curses and quietly replaced the panel over his spyhole. He needed to get out of here and contact the captain. He doubted his wrist-comm would transmit any better than the drone. Unable to turn around in the narrow shaft, he had to crawl backwards. As soon as he could, he climbed out of his ventilation duct, typed the code for the captain’s station, and brought his wrist-comm to his mouth.
“Captain,” he said quietly. “There is a mutiny being planned in block E3. Could you segregate it from the rest of the ship? There are about twenty men down there. And they’re jamming the signal from my drone. No proof recordings, but I heard them.”
Captain Moss’s answering tirade contained all the swear words Neville longed to spew. He reveled in it, while she turned from the vid camera to do something on her main control board. “Done,” she said a moment later. “Blithering idiots! I hate mutineers. They’ll regret their stupidity. I just stopped heating that section.” She cackled gleefully. “Report to the bridge for the full debriefing, cadet. Good catch.”