"Alright, everyone calm down, everything is fine." Kaz stood in front of the cargo hold and the 15 frightened people inside, all asking questions and demanding answers. Kaz's crewmate, Owen stood next to him.
"Look, everything is under control," Owen said. "We should be back up and running soon. As soon as we know something, you all will know it."
"But what happened?" a voice called out from the back.
Kaz and Owen were silent for a moment. "Our engines just malfunctioned," Kaz finally said.
No one believed him. No one questioned either.
"Please," a quiet, desperate voice said. "I can't find my daughter."
The two men looked at the woman.
"Kit, right?" Kaz asked.
The woman nodded.
"I'm sure she's fine, Miriam," Kaz reassured her. "She's been known to wander off where she's not supposed to be. I know the captain's brought her back here several times. I'm willing to bet they're together right now."
Miriam looked uncertain, but nodded at what the crew member told her.
"Let's go," Owen said quietly to Kaz.
Kaz nodded, and he and Owen pushed the cargo hold doors closed until there was just a small opening between the two sides, giving the people inside some light. They turned, excited the cargo bay, and headed back to their other two crewmembers.
"No way that was an engine failure," Owen said.
Kaz shook his head. "And no way we're going to be back up and running anytime soon. If at all." He paused. "What do you think is going to happen to them? To us?"
Owen shook his head. "No point in thinking about that. Let's just go find out what happened."
The two men approached the head crew member, Cyrus, who was fiddling with a computer. Next to him stood Sted, the youngest of the four. It was his first mission out and he looked terrified.
"Give us good news, Cyrus," Owen said. "What's going on?"
"I can't tell you much," the older man replied. "But the good news is that even though communications are down within the ship, it looks like they should be working for external sources."
"So the captain would have been able to get a distress signal out?" Kaz questioned.
Cyrus nodded. "I don't know how he'll explain that," he said, nodding back towards the cargo bay, "but right now an R.A.S. rescue is our best bet of getting out of here. Because this ship is not going anywhere."
There was silence at that sobering news.
"I'm trying to get life signs back on," Cyrus continued. He hadn't stopped working on the computer. "We'll be able to tell if anyone comes on board for a rescue mission."
"Or something a bit worse than that," Owen muttered under his breath.
At Owen's comment, Sted looked infinitely more terrified, and Kaz shot Owen a sharp look.
"We don't know what happened," Cyrus said. "We don't even know if we were actually attacked."
No one responded. They all knew Cyrus was trying to convince himself of that as much as he was trying to convince the other three.
"Anything we can do?" Kaz asked Cyrus.
There was no response.
Kaz and Owen looked at each other and shrugged. The three men left Cyrus to his work.
With nothing to do, Kaz went to sit by Sted. The youngest crewmember had found himself a corner to sit in, and to Kaz it seemed like Sted never wanted to come out of it. Kaz sat down next to the young man, leaning his back against the wall. Kaz waited for Sted to say something.
"This is just too much," Sted said, staring blankly at the floor in front of him.
"It's not exactly an ideal trip, no," Kaz agreed. "A wild time for your first time out."
"I hate feeling this scared," Sted said. "I hate feeling like a coward."
Kaz shook his head. "Being scared doesn't mean you're a coward," he said. "We're all scared. Some of us are just better at hiding it." Kaz eyed Cyrus who was still calmly and methodically working on the computer, and Owen, staring at a wall. "You're on this crew for a reason, Sted. Trust that, and trust your instincts. They are not the instincts of a coward."
If Sted was comforted or not Kaz couldn't say, but with nothing else to talk about the two men sat in silence, side by side, waiting for something, for anything, to happen.
They didn't have to wait long.
"Got it!" Cyrus exclaimed. Kaz, Owen, and Sted all shot up from their seats and headed back over to the crew leader. The previously black computer screen had come to life with the ship life sign schematics.
"There," Cyrus said, pointing the ship's helm. Clustered there was three dots. Three signs of life.
"The captain, Benny, and Kit?" Kaz guessed.
"But what about the rescue?" Owen asked. "If the captain got a signal out then the R.A.S. Agent should already be here."
"Well, we'll know soon enough," Sted said.
Kaz, Owen, and Cyrus looked at him.
"They're coming." Sted pointed to the screen. The three dots were moving in the cargo bay's direction.
"Another thing to think about," Owen commented, "is what if none of those dots are crew members? Or R.A.S. Agents?"
"Intruders?" Cyrus said doubtfully.
"We were attacked," Owen reminded him.
"Well they would probably bring more than three if they actually boarded us," Kaz said. "So it's unlikely."
"We should still probably close the doors," Owen said. "Give us a slight jump on them if we need it."
Cyrus nodded in approval, and Kaz and Owen went to close the bay doors. They returned to the computer with the other two to watch the approaching dots. When it read that they were right outside, the four men turned to face the closed door, waiting for it to open. Kaz noticed Owen had a very tight grip on his pistol.
The entire room relaxed when the door was cracked open just enough to see Benny behind it. As the opening got wider, the next person to be revealed was Kit, the young girl who had wandered off. Finally, the third person was a young woman. She was dressed in a standard R.A.S. Agent uniform.
"This are way out of here?" Owen asked, jerking his head in Asya's direction.
Kaz winced slightly at Owen's tone.
"This is Agent Asya Daimon, from the Island," Benny introduced her. "Agent, this is Kaz Stone, Owen Kipper, Sted Augustine, and Cyrus Yost."
"Right," Asya said, looking at the four men. "And yes, Mr. Kipper, I am your way out of here. I hope that won't be a problem for anyone." No one said anything. "Well, if this is everyone, I guess let's head for the extraction point. We have," Asya checked her timer, "17 and a half minutes. It should be plenty of time."
"Wait," Owen said, "how would this be everyone? What about the captain?"
"Captain's dead, Owen," Benny said, softly. "He was killed in the attack."
The four men were silent. After a moment, Asya said, "look you can grieve later, but—"
"Kit!" a soft voice rang out from behind the four crewmembers. "Kit, is that you?"
Kaz silently cursed himself as Miriam rushed out of the cargo hold doors. They had never closed them all the way, so the people inside could hear and see everything that was going on. Kit, who had been holding Benny's hand the whole time, wiggled out of his grip and ran to the woman, embracing her.
Asya looked at Benny, then to the other four crewmembers, and finally to the door behind them. Not allowing any of them time to stop her, she strode past the group and threw open the door, revealing the 15 people inside.
Kaz waited with baited breath as Asya turned around to face the crew. Her grip with vicelike on her gun. "Please tell me you aren't slave drivers," she said.
Everyone stood still and a deafening silence filled the room. Kaz glanced sideways over at Benny. He looked like his mind was racing at a million miles an hour, trying to figure out what to say.
"It's a simple yes or no question," Asya said, her voice icy.
"No," Benny said. "We're not slave drivers."
"So who are they?" Asya asked, jerking her head in the direction of the cargo hold.
There was silence once more before Kaz heard Benny whisper, "Ah, hell," to himself.
"They were slaves," Benny said, launching into the story, "but now they're refugees."
"Refugees?" Asya asked doubtfully.
"Look," Benny said. "They were on a pirate ship and about to be sold. But before they are transferred from the pirates to the auctions, there's a small amount of time when they're left barely supervised on the ship. We get them out, get them to the Island, and then transfer them to another ship to get them to a city where they can claim asylum."
"You've done this before?" Asya asked.
"The captain started it," Benny explained, "before any of us were on this crew. The crews have changed but he's stayed with it for years."
"Why didn't the life scan pick them up?" Asya asked.
"The cargo hold is blocked," Benny said. "Anyone can do a scan and it would look suspicious if there were too many people on a cargo ship."
Kaz could see the conflicted look on Asya's face. She was trying to figure out what to think.
"My orders," Asya finally said, "are to rescue everyone on the ship." She paused. "So that means everyone."
Kaz, Benny, and the rest of the crew breathed a sigh of relief. Their passengers would be safe for a little while longer.
"I can't say what will happen once we get back to the Island," Asya warned. "They aren't going to like this, and asylum rights aren't extended to islands."
"Whatever they do," Cyrus commented, "it'll be better than being stuck on this ship."
Asya nodded in agreement and pulled her mobile display off of her belt. She had the ship schematics pulled up. "Right," she said, "we need to get here." She pointed to the pickup location. "We have," she checked her timer, "13 minutes to get there. Benny?" She turned toward the first mate.
"Plenty of time," Benny said confidently, looking up at her.
"Yeah, not so fast." Cyrus was back over examining the computer with the displayed life signs. "About 20 more life signs just appeared."
Asya and Benny looked down at her display. Cyrus was right.
"Any chance they're your people?" Benny asked Asya, hopefully.
Asya shook her head. "No, protocol only allows one person to be sent on these types of rescues. I don't see any reason why they would have changed that."
"So who are they?" Sted asked nervously.
Kaz voiced the thought everyone was thinking. "Pirates," he said. "I mean, its not unlikely that they would have transports."
Benny nodded. "And I highly doubt our shields are still functioning as they should, given our lack of power. It would be fairly easy to circumvent them."
Kaz, his crewmates, and Asya looked back down at the display again. The group was moving toward them.
"Is it possible to get the pickup location without running into them?" Asya asked.
Benny shook his head. "No," he said. "And even if there was a way, it would be too risky with so many people. We draw too much attention."
"Well we can't just sit here," Owen said, impatiently. "We're sitting ducks."
"Bolt the doors," Kaz said.
Everyone turned to look at him.
"Then what?" Owen asked. "We'd just be prolonging the inevitable. We have nowhere to go."
"I'm not so sure about that," Kaz said, thinking quickly. "Look just trust me. I have an idea. I don't know if it'll work, but…"
"Right now, it's the only idea we have," Asya said, nodding. "I agree with Mr. Stone."
All eyes turned to Benny.
Benny nodded. "Do it," he said.
Kaz and Owen went to properly shut and lock the doors to the cargo bay. Once complete, Cyrus ran the lockdown sequence on his computer. The doors were locked.
"Alright, Kaz," Benny said, "this would be a great time for your brilliant idea."
Before Kaz could get a word in, the entire room jumped at the sound of a large bang. One glance at the life scanner told them the pirates had reached the door; they were trying to get in. It sounded as though they had brought some type of battering ram with them.
"How long will that door last?" Asya asked.
"Not long enough," came Cyrus's grim reply.
"What's going on?" Miriam had left the cargo hold and had approached the group. She looked concerned.
"They're coming for you. For all of us," was Benny's honest reply.
The woman looked terrified. There was another bang on the door.
"Alright," Kaz said. "We can't get out through any door, no. But, there are the vents." He looked up at the ceiling; everyone followed his gaze.
"You've got to be kidding me," said Sted, more of a statement than a question.
"Are they large enough for people?" Asya asked, skeptically.
"Yes," Cyrus said. "But there's 22 of us. And we don't have a lot of time."
"But it's the only way out," Benny said. "Let's not waste anymore of the time we have left." He strode over to the cargo hold doors and threw them open. "I'm not going to lie to you," he spoke to the refugees, "we're in trouble. But there's a way out. To take advantage of it, we're going to need to move fast and I'm going to need you to trust me and my crew."
There was silence from the listeners, but they all looked determined.
"We trust you." Miriam spoke for all of them.
Bang! Another hit on the door.
Benny nodded and then turned back around. He looked at Kaz and then up at the vent. "I hope this works," he said quietly.
Kaz hoped so too.
Owen took a running start, jumped, and grabbed the vent cover. After a moment, it pulled off. Cyrus was right, the opening looked big enough for people.
"You should go first," Asya said to Benny. "You know the fastest way to get us where we need to go."
Benny nodded. "Sted, you'll come up front with me," he said. "Cyrus, Owen, spread yourselves out amongst the group and keep everyone calm. Kaz, you and Asya will take up the back. If we're followed…" He didn't finish the sentence.
"We have nine minutes," Asya said quietly. Benny gave a slight nod in acknowledgement.
Asya bent down and locked her hands together, providing a foothold for Benny to hoist himself up into the vent. Sted followed him, and then one by one they got all the refugees, Owen, and Cyrus up as well. Throughout the process, everyone tried to ignore the incessant banging on the door. Finally, it was just Asya and Kaz left on the ground.
"Do you really think this will work?" Asya asked him.
"It has to," came his reply.
Asya took a breath, nodded, and bent down to hoist him up. Once in the vent, Kaz turned himself around and Asya handed vent cover up to him. He then leaned halfway out of the vent and extended his arm, giving his hand for Asya to take. Taking a similar running start that Owen had earlier demonstrated, Asya jumped up and grabbed the Kaz's hand. He pulled her up and Asya entered the vent. Carefully as to not make much noise, they replaced the vent cover as best they could. Turning around, Kaz could see the line of refugees sliding away from them.
"Well, here we go," he said.