Under difficult conditions, I was able to obtain new information.
-2 degrees Celsius, on Microtech that was a mild day. But the wind made it feel like -10 degrees. The leaves and colorful flowers of the tundra were moving back and forth. Actually, it was gorgeous and peaceful. However, ice was forming on my jacket and my plan was causing me some concern. I had asked Brubacker for help and was waiting for him in the solitude of the wilderness. In order to receive messages from my snitch at Shubin Interstellar while out of town, I had to install an amplifier on top of a high-rise building in New Babbage. I had changed the serial number of my Star Runner, but I still didn’t want to fly her into the city. I didn’t want to take her into the lions’ den.
The wind and ice buildup increased. The cold crept through my clothes to my skin. It was starting to get uncomfortable. I went back into the spaceship and put on a spacesuit. Better protected from the cold temperatures, I climbed a nearby hill and waited. Finally, Brubacker showed up with his Aquilla. Exactly the ship I needed now. From the hill, I watched as Brubacker touched down at an angle on a slope near my Star Runner. I shook my head and grinned. He still couldn’t land.
As Brubacker ran up the hill, I heard him breathing heavily through his helmet. The scribbler really wasn’t fit. “Desk jockey…man you need to move more!”
“Out with it. What’s going on?” gasped Brubacker.
“Now that you’re finally up here, we can take a leisurely stroll to your spaceship and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Under protest, Brubacker followed me and I told him about recent events and my plan.
“There is news of the warfare agent we had recovered from the wreckage. The activists have analyzed it. They have never seen anything like it and have no idea what this stuff is. But they found out that you can wipe out life on a whole planet with it. Maybe it really is ENOS. But we don’t know. All we know is, this stuff is crazy dangerous. Question is, why is Hurston Dynamics building a killer satellite with such a dangerous warfare agent?”
We left my ‘White-Rabbit’ in the wilderness and flew the Aquilla from Brubacker to New Babbage. When we arrived over the city I got the Snub Fighter from the Aquilla ready for takeoff. With it I wanted to land inconspicuously on a high-rise building near the Shubin headquarters and install the amplifier. When I climbed into the cockpit of the small fighter, I realized that I didn’t have my helmet with me. Oh well, I thought to myself, the cap would do. At this point, I was not yet aware of what to expect.
I activated the launch sequence, the Snub Fighter detached from the mother ship. There was a crash, a jolt, and sparks flew. I was free, the Aquilla was only two meters above me. I gave careful thrust. The little fighter lurched, reacting reluctantly to changes in direction. It was difficult for me to control it. Then I realized that I was in decoupled mode and all flight supports were disabled. To get more feel for the little ship I flew a few laps and then went into formation flying with the Aquilla.
After I got the hang of it, I dove down into the city. The sun was already low and shrouded everything in a deceptively warm light. The Shubin headquarters could not be missed. The company name was written in large letters on the side of the eye-catching high-rise complex. I circled around the building and finally found a suitable high-rise in the immediate vicinity. I was able to land on the roof of the skyscraper without any problems.
Microtech’s icy wrath hit me hard when I opened the cockpit. A strong wind was blowing, it was -77 degrees Celsius. Breathing was difficult. When I exhaled, white clouds formed in front of my mouth. Now it was cler to see that forgetting my helmet was a mistake. Carefully, I climbed out of the cockpit and looked around on the roof of the skyscraper. Ice crystals flew against my goggles, and my cap immediately set ice on it. Then my spacesuit beeped. Seven minutes to cold death.
In a corner of the landing pad, I found a communications antenna. “Bingo” I thought to myself, this made my plan easier. With icy fingers, I installed my amplifier on the antenna. My device did not attract attention. I had hope that it would go unnoticed. Faster than I thought, I finished and went back to the Snub Fighter. My face felt like a chunk of ice. I was glad to get back into the warm. Then the shock. The ship wouldn’t start anymore. There I was, standing in the freezing cold with nowhere to go. There was only one hope, Brubacker. A faint hope. I wasn’t sure he could land the Aquilla on the roof.
After I radioed Brubacker, he made stupid remarks about me breaking his little ship. Still, he didn’t let me down and went on his way. It took forever for him to arrive. I was running out of time. My suit indicated that I had 5 minutes left to survive. I looked in the direction Brubacker was coming from. Only slowly did the silhouette of Brubacker’s Aquilla grow larger. The murderous ice wind blew directly into my face. Protectively, I raised my hand. It had little effect. The ice crystals pelted my face. I shivered, everything felt stiff. The display said 2 minutes left. I already felt deeply frozen and unable to move. Brubacker would only find a block of ice if he didn’t show up quickly.
Finally, Brubacker was there. His landing was even slower than his approach. It seemed as if his ship was frozen, so slowly was it moving. I was beginning to despair. The saving Aquilla was directly above me and yet out of reach. Brubacker almost landed on the railing. I tried to guide him in, but could barely move my mouth. I raised my arms and tried to grab the ship, to pull the rescue toward me. My movements became slower and slower, everything was frozen. Then the Aquilla finally stood on the land pad, the elevator descending. With the last of my strength, I dragged myself onto the elevator. As if by magic, I was lifted to the top. Warm air enveloped me.
“Now what?” asked Brubacker as if nothing had happened.
“Back to the White-Rabbit.” replied I in a voice shaking with cold.
The Aquilla rose, leaving the city behind us. The sun shone in a warm orange light through the cockpit window. It was a deceptively warm light.
Some time later I looked again into the warm light of the setting sun. By now I was in orbit over New Babbage with the White Rabbit. The central star of Stanton shone warm and friendly into the cockpit of my Star Runner. I activated the communications antenna and connected to the repeater on the skyscraper. A message was transmitted. The connection worked. Relieved, I radioed Brubacker.
“We can go for another drink. Then I can tell you what the message says right away.”
“No thanks. First listen to it yourself in peace. Then explain the most important thing to me.” Brubacker’s answer sounded a bit dismayed.
Then Brubacker disappeared into the Quantum Tunnel.
I opened the message from my informer at Shubin.
“Shubin and Hurston Dynamics are having secret talks about how to circumvent the Fair Chance Act. One code name dropped in the process: starfish. I’ll get back to you when I find out more.“
I looked up what the Fair Chance Act was in the ARK database. It was enacted to protect planets with potentially sentient life. Contact with the system’s inhabitants, terraforming, and mining were then prohibited. I pondered how this piece of the puzzle fit into the big picture.
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