Of all the corridors I've been chased down, this is the longest and darkest. And the deepest. I must be in the bowels of the ship. So many doors.
I've opened one door too many.
'Passengers are requested not to leave designated areas.' Ha! Requested. All the fragging doors are locked so how would we leave?
Why did I have to be so damn good with locks? Locks and video games. Ever since I was a kid. All it got me into was trouble. Why don't people ever learn from their mistakes?
Funny thing is, it just occurs to me, I'm not THAT good. There's got to be some pretty heavy security in a Type I Passenger Starliner. None of the other doors I tried on the Second Class deck would open. Just that one door, right at the far end of the corridor past the adult video lounge, with 'Do Not Enter' in big red letters.
No time to think. The chirping sounds behind me are getting louder...
At the end of the 34th century, the Galactic Government are very clear where they stand on the gaming question. Mezopods are our most economically productive citizens. Exemplars of private enterprise. They also provide eighty per cent of the income from luxury starliner fares, a not insignificant consideration.
Just like any other passengers, they require onboard entertainment. Adult mezopod videos just don't cut it. Actually, the very idea is absurd. They are hunters — always have been — and they love to hunt. We give them what they want.
No-one gets too badly hurt. Well, there was that unfortunate accident on the SS Obama, which no-one likes to talk about. The passenger in question should have just surrendered instead of trying to defend himself. Business man in his 50s. How could anyone have known that he was a black belt in kung fu? But no match for the razor sharp beaks of the mezopods.
Difficult to keep the game secret when careless incidents like that happen. His wife was informed that he'd had an accident with a nuclear powered waste disposal unit. Nothing left but a pile of goo. We're so sorry, he should have read the instructions more carefully.
Don't talk about ethics.
The needs of trillions of ordinary citizens throughout the entire galaxy come before the preferences of a few individuals. As for secrecy, the government allows citizens to know what it is beneficial for them to know. Why cause unnecessary upset?
There's no shortage of hares. On every ship, there's always some fool who can be relied upon to press a button marked, 'Do not press this button,' or go through a door marked, 'Do not enter.'
Which brings us back to Mr Marius, currently seventeen floors below the passenger lounge. Good runner, no-one has ever made it that far. Up in the crow's nest, as the young lieutenants like to call the observation room of the SS Icarus, they're placing bets on the outcome. Will he make it to the eighteenth, the nineteenth, the twentieth?
'Listen, I don't know whether this has occurred to any of you,' the newly promoted first lieutenant remarks casually, 'but if Mr Marius gets near the engine rooms there could be a problem. It's not a good idea to let civvies roam around the neutron drive.'
That stops the chatter abruptly.
'We've got to go after him.'
'And do what, exactly?'
'Stop him before he reaches the twentieth floor!'
'No, you idiot, we've got to talk to the mezopods first, otherwise they'll be after us.'
'No can do. Don't you remember what happened on the Obama? We pleaded with them to stop. We said we'd pay the hospital expenses of their pal who got kung fu-ed, plus generous compensation for spoiling their fun, and they just laughed in our faces.'
'You know what I mean.'
Just then the telephone rings...
'Hi there, I'm in the engine room.'
My voice is matter of fact. I don't need to talk loudly. I can see the mezopods pounding the massive glass doors, but in here it is strangely quiet. Just a gentle purring sound coming from the coils towering a hundred feet behind me. I'm safe here, they can't get in.
'There's a red button here which says, 'Do not press this button.' What's it for?'
'For God's sake, don't press the button!'
'Are you coming to rescue me then? I don't fancy spending the rest of my trip locked in the fragging engine room.'
'We can't. All you have to do is surrender to the mezopods. You'll be fine. They won't hurt you. It's only a game!'
'Oh yeah, pull the other one!'
The red button is protected by a transparent dome and an old fashioned mechanical lock. Easy. I have the safety dome off in less than a minute.
What the heck. I press the button. A siren starts to wail. I notice the mezopods have scampered away. I wonder where they've gone to?
Then over the loudspeaker, a pleasant female voice, 'This vessel is now designated a hare. Mezopod pursuit ships are armed and ready. Good luck boys!'
'Bring 'em on!'
I settle down in front of the view screen. This is going to be fun.
© Geoffrey Klempner 2012