Corwin’s mind raced with all the thoughts a novice pilot’s brain immediately latches onto and won’t let go of when faced with an unknown ship in the middle of nowhere approaching quickly. He had visions of being boarded by a heavily armed pirate crew and spaced, or having his ship blown out from under him before he had a chance to do anything about it. The Night Star was in bad enough shape that he half-expected the latter to happen even without help from an outside force, so he quickly found himself fighting down the urge to panic.
A quick inspection turned up no sign of what he was looking for. No great shock, he thought. If a quick inspection was all it took to uncover smuggling compartments, they’d be worthless.
“I told you,” his portable display read. “There were no hidden compartments detected.”
“I wouldn’t expect them to,” he said.
A more careful inspection showed exactly what he’d hoped to find, based on his study of the ship class’ history; a series of tiny physical latches all down a rounded corner bulkhead’s edge. The physical nature of the latches made electronic detection impossible, there being no electronics to detect, and the latches themselves were so fine they looked like nothing so much as random scratches from collisions with cargo being loaded and unloaded.
You’d never find them if you didn’t know where to look, and these days not many did. There were precious few law enforcement types around who’d ever seen one of these in operation; Corwin himself would never have known without his access to the archives of the Tau Ceti Institute of Galactic History.
The panel popped open after a few moments of manipulation, but stuck. With a grunt fueled by intense relief, he shoved it open with an ear-rending shriek of protest from the rusty metal.
“Gotcha,” he said, partly to the compartment hatch and partly to Aru.
A sensor package mounted on Aru’s large chassis swiveled toward the compartment. The text updated moments later. “That compartment may not be safe.”
“What’d your scan pick up?”
“Very little. It needs a full diagnostic inspection. The total lack of electronic feedback systems leaves me little I can tell you. It’s literally just a hole in the wall. It may not be environmentally sealed. A hull breach could be fatal, and if the inner door isn’t air tight, it would not have to be a breach of the compartment itself.”
“So I’m probably okay as long as we maintain our air?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“But that’s what’s going to matter if our visitors are hostile.”
The bot had little he could say to that.
“Speaking of our visitors—”
“Their trajectory and speed are both changing. It’s too early to say with certainty, but—”
“But they could be angling in for boarding maneuvers.”
“Is there any extra air on board?”
“Some, but it’s for emergency use.”
Corwin stared blankly at the tablet for a moment. “Aru, what do you think this is?”
“… of course. Forward storage compartment.”
He wasted no time in sprinting for the forward compartment. “How long until they intercept?”
“Since I don’t know that that’s what they intend to do, I can’t say precisely. If they continue as they are now, no more than 20 standard minutes.”