I must have entered the Lancer between screening releases from the private docking area. Except for the tall black woman wearing a Glenda name tag who had just checked me in I was the only person in the boarding area.
“Stand right there,” she said, and went to retrieve a small box from a wall compartment. Opening it she asked “Is this Yours?”
It was the Glock I’d mailed from Greenbay. What else could I say but “Yes.” I expected a hassle but instead she just asked.
“Know how to use it?”
I nodded my head twice, she handed it to me and said, “Follow me on the double. No questions till later.”
She turned and headed towards a small hatch at the side of the boarding area not the larger one at the rear. I was hard pressed to keep up without breaking into a run. We continued down a corridor for about 50 yards. Then she stopped and did something at a small panel which caused a section of the corridor wall to slide open.
“Bartlett”, she said, steping into the opening and pushing a button causing a second, much thicker, section of what was the outer lock door to slide open. “This is the crew access lock. You stand here with your finger on the close button and listen to the intercom. If anyone, and I mean anyone!… comes down this boarding tube you will shoot. The Lancer will be leaving in”, she hit the display panel again and a countdown readout appeared, “8 Minutes and 27 seconds. Station security is going to try to stop our departure. None must board this ship. When You hear the captain say to secure the hatches, or when this count down timer reaches 25 seconds, take your finger off the button and the hatch will finish closing. Understand?”
I said “Yes Ma’am.” She took off back down the corridor and I looked down the boarding tube. It was an articulated semi cylinder suitable for many different ship types. With the Lancer joined to the station at the larger boarding and cargo hatch this was a second and much smaller passage mostly for ship personnel. In order to match the spacing between the two ports it made several bends between the station and the ship. I could see about 15 yards down the tube to the last turn before the airlock.
I wondered, “Why not just keep the outer door closed and detach the boarding tube?” Then I realized station security could reattach and maybe blow or cut into the lock with no pre warning. I also had the somewhat unpleasant thought that if they did come down the passage, and take me out, my finger leaving the close button as I fell would cause the lock door to seal and might delay their entry just long enough.
Those next eight minutes seemed to last forever. I heard nothing but some muffled shipboard talk and very faint noises coming down the tube. My arm and hand pressing on the button seemed to be made of lead, no not lead; heavier than that, depleted uranium.
With the display showing 45 seconds to go I heard what could have been the clink of metal on metal, and then at the bottom of the tube’s corner a small appendage slowly poked out. Probably a viewing device. As it drew back the timer hit 25 and I took my finger off the lock control and stepped back. Almost at the same instance a voice from the intercom said, “Seal all hatches. Now!“ Just before the door shut, I saw 2 men burst around the corner and rush towards me. Too little too late.
I could feel a change in ship motion as I stepped out of the lock and closed the inner door. I headed back down the passage towards the boarding room thinking “Yep now I get it,” the meaning of the old phrase “They also serve who stand and wait.”