The loadmaster entered through the bay door what felt like an hour later but according to my HUD was only a few minutes. She bent to check the straps on the first pallet, unaware of me hanging above her like some sort of camouflaged space spider. She stood so close I could hear her breathing, and after that, all I could think about was my own breathing. I had my helmet on, but still I concentrated on every breath, holding my mouth open wide and controlling the air flow to make no noise.
She worked her way through the cargo compartment slowly, checking every connector. Staring down from above, I had time to memorize everything about her. She wore a dark blue jumpsuit, and had close-cropped hair except hadn't had it cut recently, so a layer of fuzz grew on the back of her neck. She hummed a song to herself that I didn't recognize.
After she checked the last pallet, she stood, stretched, and leaned her head back as if to pop her neck. She couldn't miss seeing me. I waited for her to call out, tried to come up with a pithy line that I could use to defuse the situation. Maybe I could get her to keep it between us. Maybe I could get her to throw me off the ship, but not report it. No harm, no crime.
She didn't see me.
I don't know why. Regardless, she gathered herself and made her way back down the dual rows of pallets and out through the bay door. A moment later the back hatch of the ship whirred to life and closed with the sound of hydraulics and success. The lights went out, quickly replaced by the low light amplification of the sensors in my helmet, which cast everything in shades of gray. I considered letting myself down from my ridiculous hiding spot, but decided I'd wait for the ship to start moving to be safe. Then I'd have to bullshit whoever I ran into at the other end, but that was my strong suit. I had plenty of ability to bullshit.
The deep thrum of the ship's engines kicked in, and the hull shimmied a little, shaking me in my roost. The pitch grew higher, rising from an almost imperceptible bass note up through the register to what would soon be a high-pitched whine. I'd heard that sound dozens of times.
The engines died, the wail fading away like the desperate gasp of an electric horn with a dying battery.
My brain whirred, running through a dozen possible scenarios. There could be a legit reason for—
My thought cut out as the lights blazed on in the compartment, blinding me for a split second before my sensors adapted. The ship's door lowered slowly, like the maw of impending doom.
"Come on out." The person spoke with authority, like they were used to being obeyed. A lot of people in the military had that. I think maybe they teach it in a class somewhere.
I didn't answer. I mean...what could I say? I hadn't thought through the part of the plan where I got confronted after the loadmaster left.
"We know you're in there. Stand down."
My mind finally clicked into gear, riffling through potential responses, possible actions, any way out. After a few seconds of thought, I dismissed them all as useless.
"I'm here. I'm coming out."
I unstrapped myself and fell to the top of a pallet of packing crates with a thud that reverberated through the too-quiet compartment. My armor absorbed the minor shock, and I quickly hopped down to the deck and headed for the bay door.
"Halt there." I got my first look at them. A station police sergeant, wearing a black armored vest over a tan utility suit. Three companions flanked them. The team didn't quite have their weapons raised at me, but they certainly had them ready.
I showed them my empty hands, leaving my rifle clipped to the side of my armor. I still presented a threat, wearing power armor—in fact, I could have taken them all out. But attacking UFP soldiers doing their duty was too far. Even though I didn't like it, I was a UFP soldier, and most days we were on the same side.
No, I was caught, and it served my best interests to appear as friendly as possible. Always good business to be friendly when staring down four people with weapons. Besides, now that they'd caught me, I was on to plan B, and for that to work, I had to be alive.
"No trouble from me. Promise."
The four SPs didn't move. "Remove your armor."