Warning lights and alarm klaxons filled the midnight air as Sam, roused from a very peaceful sleep behind a service tunnel bulkhead, tried to piece together what was the cause of the trouble. Sam had grown well-accustomed to the usual sounds of travel – the rhythmic turning of the engines, parties and their inebriated guests spilling into hallways, the lurch and grown as the ship obeyed the captain’s order to change bearing – screams however were altogether new. The echoes of fearful and excited voices from the guest quarters one deck above and the slightly-accented, automated ship-wide messages ordering security to brace for assault never spake of a good situation.
Slipping into the main cargo hold, there were no crew members in sight; another oddity. Even in the midst of most crises, workers would be checking or re-securing loads, running from one place to another, or at least be present at their normal posts. All of the normally-informative monitor screens flashed “WARNING” in time with the emergency strobes casting long, fleeting shadows with each pulse. No sign of what type of kind of danger caused the alarm; Sam harrumphed at the locked-out displays. No amount of tapping would change the interface’s unhelpfully-generic message. Sam’s business and livelihood were information, and no good could come from staying in the dark about the situation at hand, particularly if an evacuation of some kind were underway. Prying a fire ax from its well-labeled wall mount, the search for answers began.
Before climbing through service stairwells to the floor above Sam had heard the sounds of running boots – no doubt standard-issue dress from the security garrison – and aimless screaming – no doubt from rich passengers. The residential halls were empty but for the incessant, robotic announcement to “keep calm and walk toward the nearest lifeboat station.” The flickering overhead lights did little to instill a feeling of calm, neither did the absolute lack of passengers or crew.
It was standard practice for Sam to memorize all of a ship’s lifeboat locations when sneaking aboard a new vessel – not for the least reason that often nobody searched them for stowaways and they always contained hardy food rations – but well-knew that most passengers paid cursory attention, at best, to the mandatory safety briefing given while the vessel was still in port. Each one trusted that they would be the exception to the rule that when panicked, humans largely behave as unevolved pack animals, stampeding whichever way it seems like others are going. Whether for a short jaunt or a long haul, Sam wanted to make sure all bases were covered, to actually be the exception to the rule.