I wasn't a good soldier, but I was a good friend. A good person to know. If you're in trouble, I'm a guy you want on your side, because I'm going to help. I'm going to lie, cheat, steal, or whatever else it takes to protect my friends. Period. That includes stowing away on a supply ship to a combat zone. Was it the right thing to do? Who knows—right and wrong are personal judgments that people use to make sense of things. To pretend their actions have some sort of justification. Usually, what they really mean when they say right is that it aligns with their personal moral compass. Unless we're talking about some sort of super-evolved person who can see with true objectivity. Maybe you think that's you. You're probably wrong.
My personal moral compass? It has a lot of wiggle to it. But I digress.
I needed to focus. The foot traffic slowed after I passed dock 8—just three people in the wide corridor, two walking the same direction as me and one coming toward me. According to my source, they'd have the ship loaded already, everything completed for launch except for the final inspection by the loadmaster. I had a ten-minute window to get myself on board and hidden well enough that the loadmaster wouldn't find me. Staff Sergeant Ella Jandus had a reputation as a hard-ass. With most people, I'd have tried to make a deal. After all, that's what I do best. But not Jandus. She wasn't the type to turn a blind eye for a favor. That's okay. We need honest soldiers like her to make up for ones like me. It just didn't happen to fit my needs at the moment, and unlike Jandus, I always put the needs of my friends above the needs of the military.
I adjusted my pace so I'd hit the bay door at a moment where nobody else would be close. The ship didn't have dedicated security. It didn't need it.
Nobody wanted to go to Gallia. People tended to avoid areas that might kill them unless they didn't have a choice. Soldiers might try to get on ships leaving the planet, up to the relative safety of the well-defended space station. On the off chance that someone did want to head planetside, they'd take one of a dozen daily shuttles. I'd considered forging orders to get me on one of those, but that would have taken time that I didn't have, and then I'd still have had to explain my armor...and where I was going once we landed.
This was easier. Kind of.
There might have been a lack of security, but there was no shortage of cameras—they covered everything on the station. After the fact, once someone realized I'd gone, perhaps they'd look back through the footage and see me, but I trusted that nobody would notice one random video in real time. The station had thousands of cameras, and I had to believe the AIs had other priorities. Hopefully. As I mentioned, it wasn't a great plan.
But you go with what you've got. I stepped through the bay door onto the ship, crossing the line of no return.
The sensors in the face shield of my helmet automatically adjusted to the lower light inside the freighter's cargo bay, allowing me to see. I hurried past the first stack of crates to obscure myself from anyone outside, then triggered the camouflage feature in my suit. My dull gray armor would change to blend with its surroundings. I didn't have the near invisibility of a scout's suit—they can't build every feature into every suit because of the power drain—but I'd take any advantage I could get.
I moved quickly through the chained-down pallets and webs of cargo- strapped material, searching for a hiding spot. I looked up to the ceiling, some four meters above me, and found what I needed. I opened a storage alcove marked Tie-Downs and grabbed two short straps. Gotta love the military for conveniently labeling everything. I could have clamped onto the ceiling using the magnetic grip of my suit, but the less power I burned now, the better.
I climbed up a stack of crates, balanced myself on top, then leaped for the ceiling using the mechanical assist in my suit's legs to propel me the extra meter I needed. I grabbed both sides of a support beam, then held myself there with one mech-assisted hand while I snapped the hook at one end of a strap to a D-ring in the roof. The rings were probably meant to help tie down cargo, if needed, but now I used them to form a makeshift hammock that would keep me up on the ceiling and hopefully out of sight. My suit's camouflage would hide me, but the straps would stand out clearly if anyone looked. I had to trust the shadows and the hope that the loadmaster wouldn't look up.
The good thing was that she had no reason to look up, with all the cargo below me, but even so, I put my odds at around seventy percent for success. I'd bet more on worse, and as always, I had a backup plan in case I got caught. I liked plans on top of plans, in case the first one went wrong. Because the first one always went wrong.
At least in my experience. Which is part of how I ended up in the military in the first place.